A Day When Journalism Died

Exclusive: Dec. 9 has a grim meaning for the Republic, the date in 2004 when investigative reporter Gary Webb, driven to ruin by vindictive press colleagues for reviving the Contra-cocaine scandal, took his own life, a demarcation as the U.S. press went from protecting the people to shielding the corrupt, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Looking back over my four decades in the national news media, it’s hard to identify one moment when American journalism died. The process was a slow and ugly one, with incremental acts of cowardice accumulating until mainstream reporters were clearly part of the problem, not anything to do with a solution. But the date Dec. 9 has a special place in that sad progression.

It was on Dec. 9, 2004, when the mean-spirited mainstream media’s treatment of investigative journalist Gary Webb led him his career devastated, his family broken, his money gone and his life seemingly hopeless to commit suicide. It was a moment that should have shamed all the big-shot journalists who had a hand in Webb’s destruction, but it mostly didn’t.

Webb’s offense was to have revived the shocking story of the Reagan administration’s tolerance of cocaine smuggling by the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s. Though the scandal was real and had been partly exposed in real time the major newspapers had locked arms in defense of President Ronald Reagan and the CIA. The sordid scandal apparently was deemed “not good for the country,” so it was buried.

My Associated Press colleague, Brian Barger, and I had written the first story exposing the Contras’ involvement in cocaine smuggling in 1985, but our story was attacked by Reagan’s skillful propaganda team, which got The New York Times and other major news outlets to buy into the denials.

Later that decade, a gutsy investigation by then-Sen. John Kerry filled in some of the gaps showing how the Reagan administration’s collaboration with drug-tainted airlines and other parts of the Contras’ cocaine smuggling apparatus had functioned. But Kerry’s probe was also mocked by the major media. Sniffing out that conventional wisdom, Newsweek deemed Kerry “a randy conspiracy buff.”

Kerry’s brush with this near-political-death-experience over the Contra-cocaine scandal taught him some hard lessons about survival in Washington, which help explain why he was such a disappointing candidate during Election 2004 and why he has shown such timidity in challenging Official Washington’s “group thinks” as Secretary of State.

For both U.S. journalists and politicians, there was no upside to doing the hard work of exposing this kind of crime of state. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What’s the Matter with John Kerry.”]

Same Stonewall

In 1996, Gary Webb encountered the same stonewall when he stumbled onto evidence showing that some of the Contra cocaine, after being smuggled into the United States, had flowed into the production of “crack” cocaine in Los Angeles and contributed to the “crack epidemic” of the 1980s.

When he published his findings in a series for the San Jose Mercury News, the major newspapers had a choice: either admit that they had slinked away from one of the biggest scandals of the 1980s or redouble their efforts to discredit the story and to destroy anyone who dared touch it. They went with option two.

In a tag-team pummeling of Gary Webb, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times all denounced Webb and decried his reporting. Soon, Webb’s editors at the Mercury News were feeling the heat and rather than back their reporter, they sought to salvage their own careers. They sold Webb out and he was soon out of a job and unemployable in the mainstream media.

The bitter irony was that Webb’s reporting finally forced a relatively thorough and honest investigation by the CIA’s Inspector General Frederick Hitz, who concluded in 1998 that not only were the Contras involved in the drug trade from their start in 1980 and through the entire decade but that CIA officers were aware of the problem and helped cover it up, putting the goal of ousting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government ahead of blowing the whistle on these corrupt CIA clients.

Yet, even the CIA’s confession wasn’t enough to shame the major newspapers into admitting the truth and acknowledging their own culpability in the long-running cover-up. It remained easier to continue the demonization of Gary Webb.

At Consortiumnews, we were one of the few news outlets that examined the extraordinary admissions contained in the CIA’s two-volume report and in a corresponding Justice Department Inspector General’s report, which added more details about how criminal investigations of the Contras were thwarted. But, sadly, we lacked the reach and the clout of the major newspapers.

As the controversy bubbled in 1996, I also had joined with Webb in several speaking engagements on the West Coast. Though we sometimes spoke to large and enthusiastic crowds, the power of the Big Media overwhelmed everything, especially the truth. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]

Webb’s Demise

In the years after the Contra-cocaine story was buried once again, I lost touch with Webb who had landed a job with a California state legislative committee. So, I didn’t realize that after that job ended, Webb’s life was spiraling downward. Even modest-sized newspapers refused to consider hiring the “disgraced” reporter.

Webb’s marriage fell apart; he struggled to pay child-support and other bills; he was faced with a forced move out of a house near Sacramento, California, and in with his mother. Deeply depressed, according to his family members, Webb chose to end his life.

On Dec. 9, 2004, the 49-year-old Webb typed out suicide notes to his ex-wife and his three children; laid out a certificate for his cremation; and taped a note on the door telling movers, who were coming the next morning, to instead call 911.

Webb then took out his father’s pistol and shot himself in the head. The first shot was not lethal, so he fired once more. (Yes, I know that conspiracy theorists have seized on the two shots to insist that Webb was murdered by the CIA, but there is no proof of that and by pushing that baseless account, people simply let the real culprits the big newspapers off the hook.)

After Webb’s body was found, I received a call from a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who knew that I was one of Webb’s few journalistic colleagues who had defended him and his work. I told the reporter that American history owed a great debt to Gary Webb because he had forced out important facts about Reagan-era crimes. But I added that the Los Angeles Times would be hard-pressed to write an honest obituary because the newspaper had essentially ignored Hitz’s final report, which had largely vindicated Webb.

To my disappointment but not my surprise, I was correct. The Los Angeles Times ran a mean-spirited obituary that made no mention of either my defense of Webb, nor the CIA’s admissions in 1998. The obituary was republished in other newspapers, including The Washington Post.

Even though Webb’s reputation posthumously received some rehabilitation with a sympathetic portrayal of his ordeal in Jeremy Renner’s 2014 movie, “Kill the Messenger,” some news executives who aided the Contra-cocaine cover-up in the 1980s and abetted the destruction of Webb in the 1990s still won’t admit their complicity in suppressing one of the most important stories of that era, people such as The Washington Post’s Jeff Leen and Leonard Downie. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “WPost’s Slimy Attack on Gary Webb and “How the Washington Press Turned Bad.”]

A few journalists have continued to find nuggets of the Contra-cocaine scandal, including from accounts by former CIA contract pilot Robert “Tosh” Plumlee, who supplied details about his work ferrying guns and drugs for Reagan’s Contras, as reported by John McPhaul of The Tico Times, based in San Jose, Costa Rica. Even Fox News poked into the Contra-cocaine connection in an article about alleged CIA complicity in the 1985 torture-murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

But the resistance from the major U.S. news media and the ferocity from Reagan’s acolytes whenever their hero’s legacy is challenged have left this very real scandal in the netherworld of doubt and uncertainty, a key chapter of America’s Lost History in which Dec. 9, 2004, conveys a baleful message.

[As part of our end-of-year fund drive, Consortiumnews is offering a DVD of “Kill the Messenger” and a CD of Webb and Parry speaking about the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996. For details on this special offer, click here.]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Cruz Threatens to Nuke ISIS Targets

Exclusive: Republican presidential campaign rhetoric is red-hot regarding Islamic terrorism, with Sen. Cruz suggesting the use of nuclear weapons to see “if sand can glow in the dark,” a threat even more troubling than Donald Trump’s call to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the U.S., writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As Republican presidential candidates lined up to one-up each other about how they would fight Islamic terrorism, many mainstream pundits questioned the hysteria and took particular aim at billionaire Donald Trump for seeking a moratorium on admitting Muslims to the United States, but Trump’s proposal was far from the most outrageous.

Getting much less attention was a statement by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is considered by many a more likely GOP nominee than Trump. Cruz suggested that the United States should nuke the territory in Iraq and Syria controlled by Islamic State militants.

“I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out,” Cruz told a Tea Party rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In reference to Cruz’s comment, a New York Times editorial added, “whatever that means.” But the phrase “glow in the dark” popularly refers to the aftermath of a nuclear bomb detonation.

In other words, Cruz was making it clear to his audience that he would be prepared to drop a nuclear bomb on Islamic State targets. While the bombastic senator from Texas was probably engaging in hyperbole as he also vowed to “carpet bomb them into oblivion” the notion of a major candidate for President cavalierly suggesting a nuclear strike would normally be viewed as disqualifying, except perhaps in this election cycle.

While Cruz drew little attention for his “glow in the dark” remark, Trump came under intense criticism for his proposal to block the admission of Muslims into the United States until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on” in the aftermath of the Dec. 2 terror attack by a Muslim husband-and-wife team in San Bernardino, California.

Across mainstream politics and media, Trump’s idea was decried as both “unprecedented” from a top candidate for President and a likely violation of the U.S. Constitution which respects freedom of religion and requires equal protection under the law.

Other Republican candidates, even the more “moderate” ones, also talked tough about Muslims in what shaped up as a heated competition to outdo one another in appealing to the angry and frightened right-wing “base” of the GOP.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush argued that the threat from Muslims was unique: “The idea that somehow there are radical elements in every religion is ridiculous. There are no radical Christians that are organizing to destroy Western civilization. There are no radical Buddhists that are doing this. This is radical Islamic terrorism.”

Bush’s comment failed to recognize that the institution of Christianity has been at the center of “Western civilization” since the latter days of the Roman Empire and that “Christian” nations have routinely plundered other civilizations all over the planet, including across the Islamic world both in Asia and Africa. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Many Muslims Hate the West” and “Muslim Memories of West’s Imperialism.”]

Though inspired by a pacifist, Christianity has established a record as the most bloodthirsty religion in history, with its adherents conducting massacres and genocides in North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia every continent except Antarctica, which is largely uninhabited by humans. In many cases, European Christians justified the repression and extermination of non-Christians as the will of God, deeming indigenous people to be “heathens.”

The violence by Western nations against Muslims also is not something confined to history books and the distant past. In 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair led an unprovoked invasion of Iraq which killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed much of Iraq’s national infrastructure.

In other words, in the view of many Middle Easterners, the West continues to wage war against their civilization. However, none of that reality is reflected in the current U.S. political and media debate, even when a major Republican candidate raises the prospect of dropping the Bomb.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Real Questions for President Obama

Part of Official Washington’s problem is that most journalists at least those called on at presidential news conferences represent the same “group think” that pervades the government, meaning President Obama doesn’t get asked truly probing questions, as William Blum notes at Anti-Empire Report.

By William Blum

Questions to ask President Barack Obama the next time (also the last time) you’re invited to one of his press conferences:

Which is most important to you destroying ISIS, overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or scoring points against Russia?

Do you think that if you pointed out to the American people that Assad has done much more to aid and rescue Christians in the Middle East conflicts than any other area leader that this would lessen the hostility the United States public and media feel toward him? Or do you share the view of the State Department spokesperson who declared in September that “The Assad regime frankly is the root of all evil”?

Why does the United States maintain crippling financial sanctions and a ban on military aid to Syria, Cuba, Iran and other countries but not to Saudi Arabia?

What does Saudi Arabia have to do to lose its strong American support? Increase its torture, beheadings, amputations, whippings, stonings, punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, or forced marriages and other oppression of women and girls? Increase its financial support for ISIS and other jihadist groups? Confess to its role in 9/11? Attack Israel?

What bothers you more: The Saudi bombing of the people of Yemen or the Syrian bombing of the people of Syria? Does the fact that ISIS never attacks Israel raise any question in your mind?

Does it concern you that Turkey appears to be more intent upon attacking the Kurds and the Russians than attacking ISIS? And provides medical care to wounded ISIS soldiers? Or that ISIS deals its oil on Turkish territory? Or that NATO-member Turkey has been a safe haven for terrorists from Libya, Chechnya, Qatar and elsewhere? Or that last year Vice President Joe Biden stated that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime was backing ISIS with “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons”?

If NATO had never existed, what argument could you give today in favor of creating such an institution? Other than as some would say being a very useful handmaiden of U.S. foreign policy and providing American arms manufacturers with trillions of dollars of guaranteed sales.

Does the United States plan on releasing any of its alleged evidence to back up its repeated claims of Syrian bombing and chemical warfare against the Syrian people? Like clear photos or videos from the omnipresent American satellite cameras? Or any other credible evidence?

Does the United States plan on releasing any of its alleged evidence to back up its repeated claims of Russian invasions of Ukraine in the past year? Like clear photos or videos from the omnipresent American satellite cameras? Or any other credible evidence?

Do the numerous connections between the Ukrainian government and neo-Nazis have any effect upon America’s support of Ukraine? What do you imagine would have been the outcome in World War Two if the United States had opposed Soviet entry into the war because “Stalin must go”? Would you prefer that Russia played no military role at all in Syria?

Can the administration present in person a few of the Syrian opposition “moderates” we’ve heard so much about and allow the media to interview them? Have you considered honoring your promise of “No boots on the ground in Syria” by requiring all American troops to wear sneakers?

Don’t tell my mother I work at the State Department. She thinks I play the piano in a whore house.

[Somewhat more probing questions can be asked at non-presidential press briefings because more foreign reporters and some skeptical American journalists are allowed to participate.]

Excerpts from a State Department daily press briefing, Nov. 24, following the Turkish shoot-down of a Russian plane, conducted by Mark Toner, Deputy Spokesperson:

QUESTION: President Obama said he will reach out to President Erdogan over the next few days.

TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did not mention Putin. That really puts you squarely on Turkey’s side, doesn’t it?

QUESTION: You’re saying Turkey has the right to defend itself; President Obama said the same thing. What defense are you talking about? Does anyone think Russia was going to attack Turkey?

TONER: Again, I mean, this is

QUESTION: Do you think so?

TONER: Look, I don’t want to parse out this incident. I said very clearly that we don’t know all the facts yet, so for me to speak categorically about what happened is frankly, would be irresponsible.

QUESTION: Even if you accept the Turkish version that the plane traveled 1.3 miles inside Turkey and violated its airspace for 17 seconds that’s according to Turkey do you think shooting down the plane was the right thing to do?

TONER: Again, I’m not going to give you our assessment at this point. We’re still gathering the facts.

QUESTION: In 2012, Syria shot down a Turkish plane that reportedly strayed into its territory. Prime Minister Erdogan then said, “A short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack.” Meanwhile, NATO has expressed its condemnation of Syria’s attack as well as strong support for Turkey. Do you see the inconsistency of NATO’s response on this?

TONER: As to what President Erdogan may have said after that incident, I would refer you to him.

QUESTION: Turkoman forces in Syria said they killed the two Russian pilots as they descended in parachutes.

TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Turkoman forces are supported by Turkey and are fighting against the Syrian Government, they are part of the rebel force there. Do you consider these rebels to be a moderate force in Syria?

QUESTION: I’m trying I mean, do you think that everybody has the right to defend themselves?

TONER: We’ve said very clearly that people have the right to defend themselves.

QUESTION: Right? Including the Assad regime?


William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others. [This article originally appeared at the Anti-Empire Report,  http://williamblum.org/ .]

Obama’s Credibility Crisis

Exclusive: Inside Official Washington’s bubble, the Important People believe their “group think” is the envy of the world, but the truth is that their credibility has collapsed to such a degree that their propaganda can’t even match up with the head-chopping videos of the Islamic State crazies, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Like the old story of the little boy who cried wolf, the U.S. government is finding out that just when its credibility is most needed it doesn’t have any. With all its “soft power” schemes of “perception management,” funding “citizen bloggers” and sticking with “narratives” long after they’ve been discredited, the U.S. government is losing the propaganda battle against ISIS.

That was the conclusion of outside experts who examined the State Department’s online campaigns to undercut ISIS, according to an article by The Washington Post’s Greg Miller who wrote that the review “cast new doubt on the U.S. government’s ability to serve as a credible voice against the terrorist group’s propaganda.”

In other words, even when the U.S. government competes with the creepy head-choppers of ISIS, the U.S. government comes in second. Of course, the State Department remains in denial about its collapse of credibility and typically won’t release the details of the critical study.

Instead, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel insisted that the State Department’s messaging operation “is trending upward,” although acknowledging that his team is facing a tough adversary in ISIS and must “be equally creative and innovative.” [For more on Stengel’s falsehoods, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Who’s the Propagandist: US or RT?”]

But the U.S. government’s problem is much deeper than its inability to counter ISIS propaganda. Increasingly, almost no one outside Official Washington believes what senior U.S. officials say about nearly anything and that loss of trust is exacerbating a wide range of dangers, from demagogy on the 2016 campaign trail to terrorism recruitment in the Middle East and in the West.

President Barack Obama seems to want so desperately to be one of the elite inhabitants of Official Washington’s bubble that he keeps pushing narratives that he knows aren’t true, all the better to demonstrate that he belongs in the in-crowd. It has reached the point that he speaks out so many sides of his mouth that no one can tell what his words actually mean.

Indeed, Obama arguably suffers from the worst “credibility gap” among the American people since Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon on the Vietnam War or at least since George W. Bush on the Iraq War. As eloquent as he can be, average folk in the U.S. and around the world tune him out.

White Rage

So, on the domestic side, when the President tells Americans that another trade deal this one with Asia is going to be good for them, does anyone outside the opinion pages of the elite newspapers and the big-shot think tanks believe him?

America now has a swelling underclass of formerly middle-class whites who know that they’ve been sold out as they face declining living standards and an unprecedented surge in dying rates. Yet, because they don’t trust Obama, these whites are easily convinced by demagogues that their plight stems from government programs designed to help blacks and other minorities.

This white rage has fueled the race-baiting and anti-immigrant campaigns of billionaire Donald Trump and other political outsiders in the Republican Party. Trump has soared to the top of the GOP presidential field because he says a few things that are true that rich people have bought up the political process and that trade deals have screwed the middle class giving him an aura of “authenticity” that then extends to his uglier comments.

Americans are so starving for a taste of honesty which they’re not getting from Obama or other members of the elite that they will believe a megalomaniacal huckster like Trump. After all, they know that what they get from Obama and his clique is manipulative spin, treating them like dummies to be tricked, not citizens of a Republic to be respected.

The hard truth is that the Great American Middle Class indeed has been sold out, often by fast-talking neo-liberals like President Bill Clinton who with the help of many centrists and conservatives pushed through trade deals and banking “reforms” that gussied up Wall Street while boarding up Main Street. The neo-liberals, working with Republicans, also promoted trade deals with Mexico and other low-wage countries that sent millions of U.S. jobs overseas.

From this experience, many Americans see “guv-mint” to blame for their plight, enticing them down the right-wing path that seeks to negate government power. What these Americans don’t grasp is that this Tea Party ideology is further selling them out to the corporatists and the speculators who will be put in an ever stronger position to gouge what’s left of the Middle Class.

In other words, at a time when Americans need their government to collectively represent their interests to provide for “the general Welfare” as the U.S. Constitution mandated they have no faith that the government is theirs or will protect their interests.

The Propaganda Imperative

A similar realization holds true with foreign policy. The U.S. government has so thoroughly bought into the concept of “perception management” and “strategic communications” blending psy-ops, propaganda and P.R. that the government has decoupled from facts. Information is just there to be exploited for geopolitical gain, usually to pin some offense on the latest “designated villain.”

We saw this in 2003 with the disinformation campaign about Iraq’s WMD, but it didn’t stop there. The U.S. government has used its control of important media levers to demonize a variety of world leaders who have gotten in the way of Official Washington’s desires. Meanwhile, equal or worse abuses by “our guys” are downplayed or ignored.

For instance, Libya’s secular dictator Muammar Gaddafi was mocked when he warned of Islamist terrorists rampaging in eastern Libya. Indeed, Gaddafi’s vow to fight them became the pretext used for a “regime change” operation under the “human rights” banner, “responsibility to protect.”

That operation promoted by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who gloated over Gaddafi’s murder (“We came, we saw, he died”) has transformed Libya into a land of anarchy with the Islamic State and other terror groups seizing ground and chopping off heads. But Clinton, like other architects of this disaster, won’t admit to a mistake.

Similarly, the Obama administration and the compliant mainstream U.S. media pushed a propaganda campaign against Syria’s secular leader Bashar al-Assad, blaming him for virtually all the violence that engulfed Syria despite the awareness of senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, about the key role played by Sunni jihadists and terror groups with the backing of Sunni-ruled Gulf states and Turkey.

So, when a lethal sarin gas attack struck a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, the Obama administration and key “human rights” groups blamed Assad’s forces although some U.S. intelligence analysts and independent observers quickly smelled a rat, the likelihood of a provocation sponsored by Al Qaeda operatives possibly aided by Turkish intelligence trying to induce the U.S. military to destroy Assad’s army and clear the way for a terrorist victory.

Though that “false flag” scenario became increasingly likely as the case against Assad’s forces essentially collapsed Obama and his administration have never corrected the record. They just left what now appears to be a false narrative on the record, so it can still be cited by neocon opinion leaders or “human rights” advocates and thus be used to mislead the American public.

Some people defend Obama for not admitting a mistake because to do so would undermine U.S. credibility, but I think the opposite holds true, that a frank admission that there was a misguided rush to judgment would be refreshing for Americans who are sick and tired of spin.

Similarly, there’s the case of the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, which the Obama administration pinned on ethnic Russian rebels and indirectly on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The case whipped up a frenzy of Russia-bashing across the West and thus became a valuable propaganda club.

But again, as U.S. intelligence analysts shifted through the evidence, some moved off in a different direction, blaming a rogue element of the Ukrainian government, according to a source briefed on these findings.

Yet, instead of either correcting the record or presenting evidence to buttress the initial judgment, the Obama administration has gone silent, refusing to make public any evidence that it possesses about the killing of 298 people. That has allowed the West’s mainstream media and some supposedly “independent” bloggers to continue to push the Russia-did-it line.

Shifting Blame

More recently, the Obama administration has reacted to overwhelming evidence that some of its Mideast “allies” have been aiding and abetting the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other violent jihadists by trying to shift the blame to the Syrian government and Russia.

In other words, we’re told not to blame the Saudis and the Qataris for funding and arming these jihadists (despite admissions from Vice President Biden, former Secretary of State Clinton and the Defense Intelligence Agency). Nor should we notice that the Islamic State has been shipping its illicit oil into Turkey in large truck convoys through Turkish border crossings which also allow jihadist fighters to go back and forth.

The evidentiary record of Turkey’s covert support for these radical jihadists is a long one, including many admissions from Turkish officials and reports from major Turkish media outlets. But we’re told to ignore all that evidence and trust that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doing all he can to seal off his border and stop the terrorists.

Instead, though the Syrian and Russian governments have been delivering heavy blows to the jihadists, including Russia shaming the Obama administration into belatedly joining in the bombing of those ISIS oil convoys, we’re supposed to believe that Damascus and Moscow are actually in cahoots with ISIS. This storyline amounts to the U.S. government’s own crazy conspiracy theory.

We’re also supposed to believe that the Saudis, the Qataris and the Turks are seriously engaged in the grand U.S. “coalition” Obama has boasted of its 65 members to fight ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorists. But these “allies” are mostly just going through the motions.

The overall impact of the U.S. government’s years and even decades of public manipulation has been to “trifurcate” the American people into three groups: those who still believe the official line, those who are open to real evidence that goes against the official line, and those who believe in fact-free conspiracy theories positing that nothing from any official source can be true.

To say that such a division is not healthy for a democratic Republic is to state the obvious. Indeed, a democratic Republic cannot long survive if government officials insist on managing the people’s perceptions through propaganda and disinformation. Nor can it long survive if a significant part of the population believes the craziest of conspiracy theories.

Yet, it seems that President Obama and other senior officials simply can’t resist taking the easy route of deception to reach a compliant consensus, rather than engaging in the hard work of presenting clear evidence and engaging the American people in serious debate.

Or, perhaps Obama and his advisers are too deep into the lies and thus fear the consequences of admitting that many of their claims were false or misleading. That would be like Toto pulling the curtain away from the Wizard of Oz and the wizard immediately confessing. The instinct is to tell the populace to ignore that man behind the curtain.

The Impossible Speech

I have long advocated that Obama should go on television in the style of President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961, sitting in the Oval Office, hands-folded, none of Obama’s glitzy stage-craft, and simply level with the American people.

Before the speech, Obama could release the 28 pages from the congressional 9/11 report about Saudi support for the hijackers. He also could release other U.S. intelligence analyses on the role of the Saudis, Qataris and Turks in supporting Al Qaeda and ISIS. He could toss in what U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded about the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria and about the 2014 shoot-down of MH-17 in Ukraine.

To the degree that the U.S. government had misled the American people, the President could fess up. He could explain how he and other government officials were seduced by the siren song of the propagandists who promised to line up public opinion behind a policy with no muss or fuss. He could admit that such manipulation of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government is simply wrong.

Obama could explain that he now realizes that elitism in the pursuit of the people’s subservience is incompatible with the principles of a Republic in which the citizens are the sovereigns of the nation. He could ask our forgiveness and recommit himself to the government transparency that he promised during the 2008 election. (While at it, he could pardon and apologize to the whistleblowers whom he has prosecuted and imprisoned.)

Having reestablished a foundation of trust and repudiating the past decades of deception he could explain what has to be done in Syria. Most significantly he could demand that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other countries helping ISIS and Al Qaeda shut down that assistance immediately or face severe financial and other consequences, “allies” or not.

Then, he could promise that after reasonable stability is restored to Syria the people of Syria would be allowed to decide who they want as their leaders. Right now, the key obstacle to a new power-sharing government in Syria is the West’s insistence that Assad can’t compete in future democratic elections. Yet, if President Obama is so sure that most Syrians hate Assad, nothing could demonstrate that better than Assad’s resounding defeat at the polls. Why avoid that?

But it’s become painfully obvious that Obama does not have it in him to give that speech or take such actions. It would require defying Official Washington’s neocon-dominated insider community and “allies,” such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel. To appease those forces, he will continue to play word games and to spin propaganda narratives. He is too much of an elitist to inform and empower the American people.

Thus, the Obama administration’s credibility gap won’t be closed. Indeed, it will widen into a chasm, with Official Washington sitting on one side and the vast majority of humanity on the other. The undeserving winners will include the terrorists of ISIS and Al Qaeda. There will be many losers who deserve better.

[Update: Obama’s Oval Office speech on Sunday night attempted to calm the fears of the American public and to defend his anti-ISIS strategy, but the President offered no new information about how U.S. “allies” — such Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey — have been implicated in the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS.]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Trump’s Heresy on Israel

The appeal of Donald Trump’s bigoted comments has exposed an unpleasant truth about the Republican Party, which has been flirting with racism since Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, but his refusal to toe the line on Israel also highlights the groveling by other candidates, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

With less than two months until the Iowa caucus opens the 2016 primary season, Donald Trump’s poll-leading candidacy continues to cause increasing anxiety among Republican Party leaders worried about how he can be stopped from actually getting the nomination.

Trump poses two overall problems for the party. One is how freely he insults, denigrates, and offends a variety of groups, to the extent that Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank flat-out calls him a bigot and a racist and criticizes other Republican candidates for being hesitant to call out Trump in the same way. The political problem for the party, of course, is that Trump’s ignoble attitudes in this respect will become associated with the party as a whole.

A second problem is in one sense a reverse of the first. It involves what Trump, in his unrestrained, not-according-to-script style, says that is distinctly different from what the other candidates are saying and what those differences imply about the other candidates. We saw an instance this week at a candidate forum held by the Republican Jewish Coalition, an important event in the “Sheldon primary,” in which most candidates are seeking the blessing and financial support of Mr. Adelson and other wealthy donors with inclinations similar to his.

Both of the leading outsider candidates made some headlines regarding foreign policy. In the case of Ben Carson it was the continued demonstration of his weak grasp of foreign affairs generally, with the main takeaway from his speech being his repeated mispronunciation of Hamas as “hummus.” In the case of Trump it was a couple of things he said, or didn’t say, about the important foreign policy issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One was Trump’s refusal to say that Jerusalem should be recognized as the undivided capital of Israel. Trump approached the subject partly in his usual didactic way about deal-making, saying “you can’t go in [to a negotiation] with that attitude.”

He’s right about the negotiating reality as it concerns any hope for a two-state solution, and thus any hope for Israel to live in peace, and he is on sound ground regarding why as a matter of U.S. policy and international consensus it has long been recognized as a mistake to prejudge, let alone prejudge in an entirely one-sided way, the final status of a city to which both parties to the conflict have strong historical, religious, and cultural ties. But what Trump said on this subject went over like a lead balloon in the particular room in which he was speaking.

Similarly ill-received by this audience was his noting that Israel is not necessarily committed to making peace. Trump was even more gentle and “even-handed” about this subject than he could have been, with his exact words being “I don’t know that Israel has the commitment to make it [a peace agreement], and I don’t know the other side has the commitment to make it”, as if those under a military occupation should be expected to be no more anxious to end the occupation than the occupier is.

The background fact is, of course, that the current right-wing Israeli government has repeatedly indicated its preference for holding on to the territories rather that making a peace agreement that would involve yielding some of that land and making possible a Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though he is less direct about this than some other members of his government, recently reaffirmed this preference and said Israel should “control all of the territory” and “forever live by the sword.” But for Trump to note this truth and to stray from the Israeli government’s narrative that it wants peace but doesn’t have a willing partner was anathema in the room in which he was speaking.

Trump was still in lead balloon territory with another of his comments at the same event: “I know why you’re not going to support me, because I don’t want your money. You want to control your own politician.” Ouch.

This remark was part of Trump’s “I’m too rich to be bought” shtick, but then the other candidates proceeded to demonstrate how apt the remark was. A visitor who wandered into the room who did not otherwise know which country’s election campaign was in progress would have surmised that the candidates were running for president of Israel rather than president of the United States.

Marco Rubio, for example, was at least as disciplined as any of the others in toeing the accepted line. His speech featured a condemnation of the European Union’s requirement for accurate labeling of goods coming from “what the EU considers ‘Israeli-occupied territories’.” Rubio declared that the regulations in question were “discriminatory laws that apply only to Jews” and that “we need a president who is not afraid to call this out for what it is: anti-Semitism.”

So it is anti-Semitic not only to say or do anything opposed to Israeli colonization of the occupied territories, but even to let consumers know what’s coming from those territories?

No one knows when, between now and the general election next November, Trump’s presidential candidacy finally will implode. But in the meantime he is drawing attention to some unappealing aspects not only of his own campaign but also those of his competition.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

PBS Joins the MSM’s Syria-Russia Bias

Mainstream U.S. media systematically excludes points of view on world affairs that deviate from Official Washington’s “group think.” With no lessons learned from the Iraq-WMD debacle, the MSM only lets on establishment or right-wing pundits with conformist points of view on crises with Syria and Russia, notes Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

PBS Newshour is considered high-quality journalism by many North Americans. But is it? A test case is their report on Nov. 24 when a Russian jet was shot down and one pilot killed as he descended by parachute. This was a significant international event and the situation is still dangerous. The conflict in Syria could get even worse. PBS Newshour presented a discussion/analysis of the event with two guests: Nicholas Burns and Angela Stent. The PBS Newshour host was Judy Woodruff.

This critique applies to that one PBS Newshour broadcast but the essential points are true for much of what you see on the program (and across the mainstream U.S. news media). Assumptions and bias regarding the Syrian conflict are pervasive and persistent. So, how can U.S. foreign policy change (or even show some nuance) if the public is continually fed biased and false information from one point of view? Here are specific points:


PBS Newshour selected two analysts with essentially the same viewpoint, representing the U.S. government and military/security establishment:

Nicholas Burns is a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO. In early 2003 he urged the “unity” of NATO as some NATO allies expressed doubts about the U.S. the invasion of Iraq. In 2006, he urged punishing sanctions on Iran. In 2011, Burn wrote, “President Obama was surely right to commit the United States, however reluctantly, to the NATO campaign [to overthrow Libyan President Gaddafi].” Burns has a track record supporting Western aggression against other countries. He evidently has learned nothing from the resulting chaos, devastation and death.

Angela Stent is associated with conservative think tanks and a former State Department and National Intelligence Officer. She is also author of the 2015 book “The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the 21st Century.” Written in non-academic prose, the book explores what she considers four efforts by the U.S. to reset or start new relations with Russia following the Cold War.

Unfortunately the bias of the author is apparent and inconvenient history is not mentioned. For example, the Project for a New American Century and aggressive U.S. foreign policy under its influence have been “disappeared.” She presents a biased history which ignores or whitewashes examples of U.S. collusion and support of violent coups – from Venezuela to Honduras to Ukraine and Libya.

–The analysts make false or exaggerated claims: Burns said the Russians “did violate Turkish air space” but he offers no evidence and it now appears the Russian jet was shot down over Syrian air space. Both Burns and Stent claim the Russians violated Turkish air space “several” times or “repeatedly.” Woodruff refers to them as “invasions.” Contrary to the allegations, the only confirmed Russian violation of Turkish air space was on Sept. 3 in bad weather at the beginning of Russia’s anti-terrorist bombing campaign inside Syria.

The analysts failed to include relevant information, such as: Air space violations occur frequently and Turkey is a major offender. The normal practice is to usher an intruding plane out of the air space, not shoot it down.

–The analysts are hypocritical about air space violations. Burns claims that Russia’s alleged 17-second violation of Turkish air space “is clearly illegal under international law.” Yet the analysts say nothing about the frequent, much longer and intentional violations of Syrian air space by American jets and bombers that have NOT been authorized by the Syrian government.

–The program fails to consider Putin’s comments that the action was “a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists.” Why wasn’t this comment discussed? A Columbia University researcher lists proof of Turkish collaboration with ISIS here. Another lengthy list is here. American Lebanese journalist Serena Shim documented Turkey’s pivotal role in this video. She was killed the day after publicly expressing fear of the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT). Why did the guests not mention any of this?

The analysts also ignore Turkey’s economic support of ISIS. For example, Bilal Erdogan, the son of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been implicated in purchasing ISIS oil from Syria, mixing it with Iraqi Kurdish oil and shipping it abroad. Bilal Erdogan is co-owner of BMZ oil and chemicals shipping company which has been buying additional ships. Burns talks about the importance of “history and context” but he leaves out essential facts and history about the conflict.

The analysts distort facts to support their biases. Analyst Burns claims “The Russians have been bombing Syrian Turkmen, ethnic Turkmen villages.” Evidence indicates the Russians are not bombing random villages; they are bombing specific terrorist groups in the area. We know that terrorists are in the area because they have been raining missiles into Latakia city, killing 23 students and civilians on Nov. 10. We know the terrorists are there because they video recorded themselves. Other video shows the downing of the aircraft, the pilots descending, the “rebels” shooting at the parachutists, and then the captured dead Russian pilot. Article 42 of Geneva Convention says, “No person parachuting from a plane in distress shall be made the object of attack during his descent.” Why should Russia and Syria be criticized for attacking these terrorists? It has since emerged that the most vocal “rebel” leader in the video is a Turkish citizen.

–Burns conflates a sectarian extremist fringe with an entire religious branch. When he refers to “Sunni” groups he actually means the Wahabi/Takfiri opposition such as Jabhat al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham, ISIS, etc. Most Sunni Muslims in the world oppose the bastardization of their religious faith by the fanatic Wahabi element. Characterizing the jihadis as being “Sunni groups” is comparable to identifying the Ku Klux Klan as representing the “Christian group.” It’s additionally false and misleading because the majority of Syrian Army soldiers are Sunni.

The analysts ignore the fact that Syria has been the victim of severe violations of international law for over four years. Turkey, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France and the United Kingdom have been training armed opposition groups and supplying them with weapons, logistics and salaries with the goal of violently overthrowing the Syrian government. As confirmed by the International Court at The Hague in their ruling filed by Nicaragua against the United States, this is in breach of international law.

–The analysts convey the confusion and contradiction of Western policy toward Syria. Stent says, “We disagree with the Russians on the fate of Assad and we disagree on who the enemy is.” In short: Stent and Burns think the West should be able to dictate who can be President of Syria; they also think Russia should refrain from bombing any group except ISIS. They want Russia to refrain from bombing Nusra/Al Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham and other terrorist groups. It is a duplicitous strategy.

The Russian position is much more logical. They have been clear from the start: They are there to oppose sectarian terrorists threatening the Syrian people and state. ISIS is one of these groups but there are many others. What is common among them is sectarianism and reliance on outside funding. One group consists of Uighurs of Chinese nationality. They are part of the “Army of Conquest” that made a big advance in northern Syria in spring 2015.

The idea that these sectarian terrorist groups should be allowed to roam free is illogical if your goal is to overcome terrorism. There are tens of thousands of sectarian fighters who are not in ISIS. Some of these groups threaten major population areas including Latakia and government-controlled sections of Aleppo. Other groups control border zones which allow for inflow of more weapons and jihadis. It is logical that the Russian Air Force and Syrian Army would prioritize attacks on these groups near major population centers and controlling border zones.

Regarding the “fate of Assad,” the Russians believe the Syrian Presidency should be determined by Syrians not foreigners. They have indicated they would accept internationally supervised elections. That policy is in keeping with international law. The policy of the West trying to dictate who can or cannot be President of Syria is a violation of the United Nations Charter and International Law.

–Stent engages is amateur psychology instead of policy analysis. She speculates that Russia is intervening in the Syrian conflict because “they want the U.S. to come to them, they want to be the leader. … There is some reckless behavior obviously.” It’s a silly analysis that ignores serious issues such as the U.S. policy of “regime change,” the historic links between Syria and Russia, and the credible belief that the attack on Syria is a step toward attacking Iran.

–Analyst Burns concludes with call for war via “No Fly Zone.” He says, “If the Russians don’t restrain the Syrian government from firing barrel bombs into civilian neighborhoods the U.S. ought to consider a No Flight (sic) Zone with Turkey and other countries to shut down the Syrian Air Force. That’s what Secretary [Hillary] Clinton has been advocating and I think she’s right. … The way to save civilians and reduce the number of refugees is to shut down air traffic in the northern part of Syria. That’s an idea that the administration has to consider now given these events.”

Thus Ambassador Burns goes from criticizing Russia for an alleged 17-second intrusion into Turkish air space to calling for Turkey, the United States and other countries to take over northern Syrian air space. It’s a call for more war masquerading as a call for peace.

We can see where his call would lead by looking at consequences of the “No Fly Zone” in Libya. This “humanitarian” effort became a cover for “regime change” that has resulted in vastly more conflict, deaths, displaced persons and refugees. Since the NATO-driven “regime change” in Libya, terrorism has exploded across Libya and into neighboring countries.

Does Burns really want to take the U.S. into a potential war with Syria and Russia by trying to take over northern Syria? What is wrong with following international law and letting the Syrian people determine their leader?

With Russian air support the Syrian Army is advancing on nearly all fronts. Is that what Turkey and other enemies of Syria are really concerned about?

The U.S. has been invading or surreptitiously overthrowing governments around the globe for the past 65 years. This U.S. aggression has usually ended badly, especially for the target country but also for the U.S. economy and population. Why do these wars keep happening? To some extent it is media failure to expose what’s going on and encourage serious debate.

The PBS Newshour program on Nov. 24 is an example of why the U.S. public is so confused about Syria. PBS Newshour could have presented one of the analysts, Burns or Stent, along with an analyst with a different viewpoint who could have challenged the biased perspective. For instance, it could have been someone from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity like Ray McGovern or someone representing Russia or Syria, perhaps the Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations.

Instead we had another propaganda presentation, biased and misleading. PBS Newshour is failing the public. If you agree, consider letting the PBS ombudsman know. His email and phone contact is at www.pbs.org/ombudsman/home/

Rick Sterling is a writer and organizer with Syria Solidarity Movement, Task Force on the Americas and Mt Diablo Peace & Justice Center. 

Learning to Love the ‘Drone War’

The mainstream U.S. news media is so in the tank on the “war on terror” that it ignores critical information that the American people should know, such as the public complaint from four former Air Force drone operators that the lethal program is killing innocents and creating terrorists, writes John Hanrahan.

By John Hanrahan

The polls show it and commentators of all political stripes often cite the figures: Killer drone attacks by the U.S. military and the CIA in the Greater Middle East and Africa have strong U.S. public support.

According to the Pew Research Center’s most recent poll in May, 58 percent, up slightly from 56 percent in February 2013, approve of “missile strikes from drones to target extremists in such countries as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” The numbers of Americans disapproving of drone attacks actually increased from 26 percent to 35 percent over that two-year period, a hopeful sign, but still very much a minority view.

But how well informed can U.S. citizens be on this subject when the major news media time and again ignore or under-report drone-strike stories, as we have discussed here and here in recent weeks? Stories, such as The Intercept’s October series based on a trove of classified materials provided by a national security whistleblower, that would likely raise serious questions about the drone program in many more Americans’ minds if they were actually given the information?

And now, in the latest example of journalistic negligence, The New York TimesWashington Post and other mainstream news organizations in late November continued their apparent policy of no-bad-news-reporting-about-drones.

This time, the major media chose to ignore four former Air Force drone-war personnel who went public with an open letter to President Barack Obama. The letter urged the President to reconsider a program that killed “innocent civilians,” and which “only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruiting tool [for extremists] similar to Guantanamo Bay.”

In strong, dramatic language, the four men, in the letter and subsequent press appearances, challenged the official Obama White House/Pentagon/CIA public view that civilians are rarely killed by drones, and that drones make Americans safer and are helping defeat terrorists. Rather, they said that the U.S. drone war plays right into the hands of ISIS and other extremist groups by terrorizing local populations and killing innocent civilians, resulting in heightened anti-U.S. feeling and more recruits for ISIS.

Now it’s not every day that four former drone operators go public with their anguish-filled stories of the drone program killing innocent people and creating blowback against the United States.

In fact, there has not been any day like that. Until now, that has never happened. You would think that this would meet some textbook definition of news, something new, uncommon, dramatic and consequential. When President Obama or a proven liar about the drone program, CIA Director John Brennan, propagandize about drones and how wonderful and precise and well-nigh infallible they are in crushing extremists, not killing civilians and making us safe, that is what the mainstream media dutifully reports as news.

But when four drone whistleblowers, who sat at the very heart of the system guiding Hellfire missiles from Predator drones to human targets in Afghanistan and Iraq, come forward to undermine that tidy little story, those same news outlets turn their collective back.

Voicing such sharp criticism of a top-secret program with which they were all involved is an especially risky move given that the Obama administration has shown itself to be the most anti-whistleblower administration ever. Obama’s Justice Department has prosecuted more than twice as many whistleblowers under the Espionage Act as all previous presidents combined since the passage of the law in 1917.

The letter to Obama, also addressed to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and CIA Director Brennan, said that the Bush and Obama administrations “have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.” They expressed guilt, and are experiencing PTSD, as a result of “our roles in facilitating this systematic loss of innocent life.”

In a pointed reference to the Obama administration’s statements in support of the drone program, the letter stated: “We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses of power, and our country’s leaders lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program.”

And, drawing a link between the recent Paris attacks and drone killings creating more terrorists and blowback, the whistleblowers added: “We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home. Such silence would violate the very oaths we took to support and defend the Constitution.”

These former Air Force personnel, three former Predator sensor operators (Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant, Senior Airman Stephen Lewis and Senior Airman Michael Haas), and one former drone program infrastructure technician (Senior Airman Cian Westmoreland), had a combined 20-plus years of remotely operating drone strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

All had Afghanistan drone experience, and all but Westmoreland also had Iraq experience. This gave them special, first-hand insight into a program whose operators, in Haas’s words, viewed targeted human beings as “ants just black blobs on a screen” and considered children who came into view on their screens as “fun-sized terrorists.”

Haas and other whistleblowers expanded on the points in their letter in an interview with Guardian reporters, which resulted in two eye-opening articles by Ed Pilkington and Ewen MacAskill. This was followed by a lengthy appearance onDemocracy Now! and a news conference in connection with the premiere in New York of a new documentary, “Drone,” in which two of the whistleblowers (Bryant and Haas) make appearances. Agence France-Presse (AFP), Reuters and Newsweek all carried stories, as did The InterceptShadowproof and other online news sites.

Did you read about any of that whistleblower criticism in The New York Times or The Washington Post, or see a segment about it on television news? No, you did not. If you know about it at all, it’s probably because of The GuardianDemocracy Now!, and online political and progressive blogs and websites.

This marked the second time in just the last two months that mainstream news outlets have given a thumbs-down to a significant drone story. In October, The Washington Post ignored it and The New York Times ran two paragraphs at the end of a 25-paragraph piece about a series of significant drone articles posted in The Intercept. The articles were derived from documents, referred to as the “Drone Papers,” that were provided to The Intercept by an anonymous intelligence whistleblower. (We wrote about that here.)

As ExposeFacts has previously noted, mainstream news organizations make only occasional forays once or twice a year into reporting that is critical of the drone program (for example, this New York Times article from 2012 and one earlier this year).

What many Americans see or hear most of the time from the self-censoring mainstream media is superficial reporting on the latest drone strike that killed a certain number of what are almost always described in sketchy news stories as militants of one type or another. They also get frequent doses of propaganda and soothing assurances from the President and other Obama administration officials that the program of drones and other aerial bombardments is precise, takes special precaution not to kill civilians, but most importantly is making America safer by killing militants while keeping U.S. troops out of harm’s way.

Typical was Obama’s speech in May 2013 at the National Defense University, where he said this: “And before any [drone] strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured the highest standard we can set.” He said civilian deaths constituted “a risk that exists in all wars.”

But as Commander-in-Chief, he went on, “I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold.”

And who, if they were paying attention at the time, can ever forget major-league truth abuser John Brennan, when he was Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, saying in June 2011 that for almost a year, “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”

In reporting that whopper, The New York Times in August 2011 further reported this: “Other officials say that [Brennan’s] extraordinary claim still holds: since May 2010, C.I.A. officers believe, the drones have killed more than 600 militants including at least 20 in a strike reported Wednesday and not a single noncombatant.”

Given the Obama administration’s control of the drone narrative and the paucity of mainstream press coverage, the 35 percent opposition figure shown in the Pew Research Center’s poll in May is a bit surprising for being as high as it is. Especially given that so many Americans buy into the notion that the nation is in a war against terrorism, that drones make us safe, and that killing remotely by drones is preferable to sending U.S. soldiers into combat areas and risking their lives.

Curiously, that same Pew Research Center poll, in addition to showing 35 percent opposition, found that 48 percent said “they are very concerned that U.S. drone strikes endanger the lives of innocent civilians.” This higher figure suggests that even some Americans currently favoring drone attacks have doubts about how well civilians are protected, and thus might be open to opposing drone use if the mainstream media would let them know what the four whistleblowers said.

Or if the mainstream press would let them know what was contained in The Intercept’s “Drone Papers” articles, such as the revelation that during one five-month period of Operation Haymaker in northeastern Afghanistan, “nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. In Yemen and Somalia where the U.S. has far more limited intelligence capabilities to confirm the people killed are the intended targets, the equivalent ratios may well be much worse.”

It’s worth noting that The GuardianAFP and Reuters , outlets that did cover the four drone whistleblowers, are all headquartered outside the United States and are not part of the inside-the-Beltway media crowd that influence what is and isn’t news at the national and U.S. governmental level.

Also, because those news outlets all have high levels of newspaper and Internet-based circulation in numerous countries, what they report can make citizens of other countries better informed than Americans about certain aspects of U.S. life. This meant, for example, that Singapore readers of The Straits Times and the Dublin, Ireland readers of TheJournal.ie got to read about the four whistleblowers via an AFP article online. Meanwhile, sadly and ironically, readers of The New York Times and Washington Post were left in the dark.

Across the waters in the drone-deploying United Kingdom, public opinion on drone use appears to be the direct opposite of the United States. A Pew Research Center poll in July 2014 found that the U.K. public opposed the use of drones by a 59-33 percent margin.

With The Guardian and others providing more critical coverage of drones than U.S. mainstream media, and with the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism regularly pumping out information that challenges U.S. government claims about limited civilian drone-strike deaths, it’s a good bet that U.K. citizens are more exposed to criticisms of the drone programs than are their U.S. counterparts.

Additionally, many members of Parliament are much more critical of Britain’s drone policies than are members of Congress critical of U.S. policies, and they are often in the news with their criticisms and concerns. Not so in the United States where, with no serious congressional oversight or debate about drones, there is seldom any anti-drone news generated in the House or Senate, which means citizens hear nothing from the legislative branch to counter the White House views.

As long as major U.S. news organizations continue to ignore, downplay or under-report drone stories, much of the American public will remain under-informed or ill-informed about what our drone strikes are doing to the citizens of many other countries, while at the same time turning ever more people against the United States.

[Disclosure: The four drone whistleblowers are represented by attorney Jesselyn Radack, who is national security and human rights director of the ExposeFacts WHISPeR program.]

John Hanrahan, currently on the editorial board of ExposeFacts where this article first appeared, is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. He also has extensive experience as a legal investigator. Hanrahan is the author Government by Contract and co-author of Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska. He wrote extensively for NiemanWatchdog.org, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

When Mass Killings Aren’t ‘News’

The 24/7 coverage of the San Bernardino mass killing, perpetrated by a Muslim husband and wife, has alarmed and frightened Americans, but there is next to no mainstream interest in disclosures about far worse mayhem carried out by the U.S. government’s lethal drone program, writes David Swanson.

By David Swanson

We now know this. A young man who had successfully killed on a large scale went to his religious leader with doubts and was told that mass killing was part of God’s plan. The young man continued killing until he had participated in killing sprees that took 1,626 lives — men, women, and children.

I repeat: his death count was not the 16 or 9 or 22 lives that make top news stories, but 1,626 dead and mutilated bodies. Do such things bother you?

What if you learned that this young man’s name was Brandon Bryant, and that he killed as a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force, and that he was presented with a certificate for his 1,626 kills and congratulated on a job well done by the United States of America? What if you learned that his religious leader was a Christian chaplain? Do such things still bother you?

What if you learned that most of the people killed by U.S. drones are civilians? That the pilots “double-tap,” meaning that they send a missile into a wedding party or a house and then wait for people to try to help the injured and send a second missile into them? That as a result one hears the injured screaming for hours until they die, as no one comes to help? That a drone pilot sent a missile into a group of children from which three children survived who recognized their dead brothers but had no idea that various pieces of flesh were what was left of their Mom and Dad and consequently cried out for those now gone-forever individuals? Is this troubling?

What if President Obama’s claim of few or no civilian deaths was proven false by well-documented reporting? And by the fact that most victims are targeted without even knowing their names?

What if a leading candidate for president in the past week were to both declare that the way to win a war is to start killing whole families, and stage a public Christian prayer session in order to win over a certain demographic of voters? Is that bothering?

What if it became clear that police officers in the United States have been murdering people at a higher rate than drone pilots? Would you want to see police videos of their killings? Would you want to see drone videos of their killings? We have thus far gained limited access to the former and none to the latter.

What if it were discovered that gun murders in San Bernardino are almost routine. Would they all be equally tragic?

My point is not to cease caring about the tragedy that the television stations tell you to care about. I wish everyone would care 1,000 times more, and even better do something to take away the guns and the hatred and the culture of violence and the economic injustice and the alienation.

My point is that there are other tragedies that go unmentioned, including larger ones. And exploiting one tragedy to fuel hatred toward a large segment of the human population of earth is madness.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. You can follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook. [This article first appeared at http://warisacrime.org/content/do-mass-killings-bother-you]

NATO Picks a New Fight with Russia

Exclusive: The Obama administration and much of Official Washington have dangerously lost touch with reality, ginning up a costly new Cold War with Russia even as expensive wars continue in Afghanistan and Iraq/Syria. The latest provocation against Russia is to invite Montenegro into NATO, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

If insanity means trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is best understood in a psychiatrist’s office. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that NATO plans to expand east by inviting Montenegro to join is guaranteed to destroy hopeful prospects of renewed cooperation between Russia and Western powers over Syria.

The move follows NATO’s recent defense of Turkey’s calculated and provocative decision to bring down a Russian bomber just seconds after it may have entered Turkish air space. More important, planned expansion follows years of bad faith on the part of NATO toward Russia, led by Washington.

NATO’s eastward expansion following the purported end of the Cold War lies at the heart of Russia’s chilly reaction to Washington’s attempts to build a uni-polar world. Many authorities agree that in 1989, Secretary of State James Baker and West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher explicitly promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not “take advantage” of upheaval in Eastern Europe by expanding toward Russia.

But it didn’t take long for the Western allies to break that promise and flex their muscles against a radically weakened Russia that had been stripped of most of its empire after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1999, against Russian opposition, NATO absorbed the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. In 2004, it added Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Albania and Croatia joined next in 2009.

The latest move to incorporate tiny Montenegro followed a 2011 decision by NATO to formally recognize several aspiring members, including also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Macedonia.

Most brazenly of all, in 2008, NATO invited Ukraine to join the Western alliance, putting Russia on the defensive. That aggressive announcement set the stage for the dangerous escalation of military tension between the world’s two great nuclear powers after the 2014 Ukrainian putsch that ousted the elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych, who was friendly toward Moscow.

There is much that could be said about the madness of Washington leading NATO deeper into needless confrontation with Russia, exactly how will guaranteeing Montenegro’s security and antagonizing the Kremlin advance U.S. interests?, but many of the keenest observations have already been crowd-sourced, so to speak, through an unlikely source: insightful comments from New York Times readers to an article on the topic, such as:

“Obama will do just about anything to prevent collaboration with Russia against ISIS, even increasing the threat of war between the nuclear superpowers.” JDD, New York

“I am completely lost. Why are we going to any and every length to alienate and threaten Russia when Russia is the staunchest ally we have in fighting against wildly violent insurgents in the Middle East who are a threat to us all? The way in which we have vilified Russia, as though only wishing another Cold War, is beyond all my understanding. Russia should be our partner now.” Nancy, Great Neck

“In the ‘poor timing’ department, it looks like we couldn’t have thought of a better way to plant obstacles in the path of improving relations with the Russians – say what you will about Putin – at a time when both sides really need the dialogue. This NATO business could have been easily postponed. Or scrapped.” Rocky, CT

“We can all rest safely, Montenegro is now firmly in our corner. It was touch and go there for a while, but now – Onward to Victory!!” Clotario, NYC

“Why do we suggest such stupid ideas. Assad is a pimple. Montenegro is a nothing regarding NATO. The enemy is ISIS and probably Turkey, but certainly ISIS. Keep your eyes on the ball. The ball is flattening ISIS. It is not to make Russia mad. How stupid can our government be? We are not fighting the Cold War of the 1960’s. Sheesh!” Dick Diamond, Bay City, OR

“The US will now have to defend Montenegro should the tiny country come under attack. How many Americans could find Montenegro on a map? This is in addition to the other 27 NATO countries that the US is currently obligated to go to war for should they come under attack. All this happens while the US has a $19 trillion debt and annual deficits of $500 billion. The US is currently fighting endless and counter-productive wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq while our gallant allies hold our coats. Add Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and other Asia/Pacific countries that the US is obligated to defend under current treaties. Congress has appropriated $300 billion in infrastructure spending over 5 years while trillions of dollars are needed. Yet there is always money to sustain the empire. Our priorities are so misplaced.” Jeff Clark, Reston, VA

“I’m also no fan of Russia, but the US and the West seems a lot more concerned with weakening Russia and expanding their political agendas than truly fighting ISIS and radical Islam. The world will greatly suffer for this self-centered myopia.” Peisinoe, New York

“Great, more aggression against Russia by our government and NATO that they will of course deny. There is no other explanation for them inviting a tiny powerless Montenegro with no military to speak of to join NATO other than get closer to Russia’s borders and threaten the Russians. Of course, this means more money for the military industrial complex, the usual winner. Then there is Kerry’s delusional statement about not allowing the Syrian government ‘to implode’ although it is Assad and his allies who are holding it together. Without them, Syria will devolve into anarchy like Libya with Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Sunni Extremists running everything. When will Obama wake up and join reality?” Simon, Tampa

“Russia is no saint, but in 1996 the West should have listened to the legendary diplomat and father of Cold War containment policy, George Kennan, who warned that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territory was a ‘strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.’ The current crisis with Russia over Ukraine came as no surprise to those of us who understand that great powers react negatively to encroachment by foreign alliances. We may think of NATO as a values-based organization devoted to peace and democracy, but the Russians see it as a threat to their security.” Adam, Minneapolis

Jonathan Marshall is an independent researcher living in San Anselmo, California. Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]

Obama Ignores Russian Terror Victims

Exclusive: President Obama has displayed a stunning lack of sympathy for the Russian civilians killed in an ISIS plane bombing in Egypt and for two Russian military men slain as victims of U.S. weapons systems in Syria, putting insults toward President Putin ahead of human decency, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Normally, when a country is hit by an act of terrorism, there is universal sympathy even if the country has engaged in actions that may have made it a target of the terrorists. After 9/11, for instance, any discussion of whether U.S. violent meddling in the Middle East may have precipitated the attack was ruled out of the public debate.

Similarly, the 7/7 attacks against London’s Underground in 2005 were not excused because the United Kingdom had joined in President George W. Bush’s aggressive war in Iraq. The same with the more recent terror strikes in Paris. No respectable politician or pundit gloated about the French getting what they deserved for their long history of imperialism in the Muslim world.

But a different set of rules apply to Russia. Along with other prominent Americans, President Barack Obama and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman have expressed smug satisfaction over the murder of 224 people aboard a Russian charter flight blown up over the Sinai and in the slaying of a Russian pilot who had been shot down by a Turkish warplane and the killing of a Russian marine on a rescue mission.

Apparently, the political imperative to display disdain for Russian President Vladimir Putin trumps any normal sense of humanity. Both Obama on Tuesday and Friedman on Wednesday treated those Russian deaths at the hands of the Islamic State or other jihadists as Putin’s comeuppance for intervening against terrorist/jihadist gains in Syria.

At a news conference in Paris, Obama expressed his lack of sympathy as part of a bizarre comment in which he faulted Putin for somehow not turning around the Syrian conflict during the past month when Obama and his allies have been floundering in their “war” against the Islamic State and its parent, Al Qaeda, for years, if not decades.

“The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly,” Obama said. “In the interim, Russia has lost a commercial passenger jet.  You’ve seen another jet shot down. There have been losses in terms of Russian personnel.  And I think Mr. Putin understands that, with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in a inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict is not the outcome that he’s looking for.”

In examining that one paragraph, a “fair-minded” reporter could find a great deal to dispute. Indeed, the comments suggest that President Obama has crossed some line into either believing his own propaganda or thinking that everyone who listens to him is an idiot and will believe whatever he says.

But what was perhaps most disturbing was Obama’s graceless manner of discussing the tragedy of the Sinai bombing, followed by his seeming pleasure over Turkey shooting down a Russian SU-24 last week, leading to the killing of two Russian military men, one the pilot who was targeted while parachuting to the ground and the other a marine after his search-and-rescue helicopter was downed by a TOW missile.

Even more troubling, the key weapon systems used the Turkish F-16 fighter jet and the TOW missile were U.S.-manufactured and apparently U.S. supplied, in the case of the TOW missile either directly or indirectly to Sunni jihadists deemed “moderate” by the Obama administration.

The Ever-Smug Friedman

Columnist Friedman was equally unfeeling about the Russian deaths. In a column entitled “Putin’s Great Syrian Adventure,” Friedman offered a mocking assessment of Russia’s intervention against Sunni jihadists and terrorists seeking to take control of Syria.

While ridiculing anyone who praised Putin’s initiative or who just thought the Russian president was “crazy like a fox,” Friedman wrote: “Some of us thought he was just crazy.

“Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-ISIS militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him.”

Ha-ha, very funny! And, by the way, it has not been established that the Russian SU-24 did stray into Turkish air space but if it did, according to the Turkish account, it passed over a sliver of Turkish territory for all of 17 seconds.

The evidence is quite clear that the SU-24 was ambushed in a reckless act by Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been collaborating with Syrian and foreign jihadists for the past four years to overthrow Syria’s secular government. And the murder of the pilot after he bailed out of the plane is not some reason to smirk; it is a war crime.

Even uglier is the lack of any sympathy or outrage over the terrorist bombing that killed 224 innocent people, mostly tourists, aboard a Russian charter flight in Egypt. If the victims had been American and a similar callous reaction had come from President Putin and a columnist for a major Russian newspaper, one can only imagine the outrage. However, in Official Washington, any recognition of a common humanity with Russians makes you a “Moscow stooge.”

The other wacky part of both Obama’s comments and Friedman’s echoes of the same themes is this quick assessment that the Russian intervention in support of the Syrian government has been some abject failure as if the U.S.-led coalition has been doing so wonderfully.

First, as a “fair-minded” reporter, I would say that it appears the Russian-backed Syrian offensive has at least stopped the advances of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its jihadist allies, including Ahrar al-Sham (which technically separates itself from Al Qaeda and thus qualifies for U.S.-supplied weaponry even though it fights side-by-side with Nusra in the Saudi-backed Army of Conquest).

The Afghan Memories

Obama’s reference to Afghanistan was also startling. He was suggesting that Putin should have learned a lesson from Moscow’s intervention in the 1980s in support of a secular, pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, which came under attack by CIA-organized-and-armed Islamic jihadists known then as mujahedeen.

Wielding sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and benefiting from $1 billion a year in Saudi-U.S.-supplied weapons, the Afghan fundamentalist mujahedeen and their allies, including Saudi Osama bin Laden, eventually drove Soviet troops out in 1989 and several years later behind the Taliban completed the reversion of Afghanistan back to the Seventh Century. Women in Kabul went from dressing any way they liked in public, including wearing mini-skirts, to being covered in chadors and kept at home.

Obama’s bringing up Afghanistan in the Syrian context and Putin’s supposed one-month Syrian failure was ironic in another way. After Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of bin Laden and has been bogged down in a quagmire there for 14 years, including nearly seven years under Obama.

So, Obama may not be on the firmest ground when he suggests that Putin recall Moscow’s experience in Afghanistan a few decades ago. After all, Obama has many more recent memories.

Further, what is different about Putin’s Syrian strategy compared with Obama’s is that the Russians are targeting all the terrorists and jihadists, not just the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh). While U.S. propaganda tries to present the non-ISIS jihadists as “moderates” (somehow pretending that Al Qaeda is no longer a terrorist organization), there is, in reality, very little distinction between ISIS and the alliance of Nusra/Ahrar al-Sham.

And, as for Official Washington’s new “group think” about the Syrian government’s lack of progress in the war, there is the discordant news that the last of rebel forces have agreed to abandon the central city of Homs, which had been dubbed the “capital of the revolution.” The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that “thousands of insurgents will leave the last opposition-held neighborhood in” Homs, with the withdrawal beginning next week.

Al-Jazeera added the additional fact that the remaining 4,000 insurgents are “from al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army.” In other words, the “moderate” Free Syrian Army was operating in collusion with Al Qaeda’s affiliate and its major jihadist partner.

While it’s hard to get reliable up-to-date information from inside Syria, one intelligence source familiar with the military situation told me that the Syrian government offensive, backed by Iranian troops and Russian air power, had been surprisingly successful in putting the jihadists, including ISIS and Nusra, on the defensive, with additional gains around the key city of Aleppo.

The Belated Oil Bombings

Also, in the past week, Putin shamed Obama into joining in a bombing operation to destroy hundreds of trucks carrying ISIS oil to Turkey. Why that valuable business was allowed to continue during the U.S.-led war on ISIS since summer 2014 has not been adequately explained. It apparently was being protected by Turkish President Erdogan.

Another irony of Obama’s (and Friedman’s) critical assessment of Putin’s one-month military campaign came in Obama’s recounting of his meeting during the Paris climate summit with Erdogan. Obama said he was still appealing to Erdogan to close the Turkish-Syrian border although radical jihadists have been crossing it since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

“With respect to Turkey, I have had repeated conversations with President Erdogan about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria,” Obama said. “We’ve seen some serious progress on that front, but there are still some gaps.  In particular, there’s about 98 kilometers that are still used as a transit point for foreign fighters, ISIL shipping out fuel for sale that helps finance their terrorist activities.”

In other words, all these years into the conflict and about 1½ years since Obama specifically targeted ISIS Turkey has not closed its borders to prevent ISIS from reinforcing itself with foreign fighters and trafficking in illicit oil sales to fund its terror operations. One might suspect that Erdogan has no intention of really stopping the Sunni jihadists from ravaging Syria.

Erdogan still seems set on violent “regime change” in Syria after allowing his intelligence services to provide extensive help to ISIS, Al Qaeda’s Nusra and other extremists. The Russians claim that politically well-connected Turkish businessmen also have been profiting off the ISIS oil sales.

But Obama’s acknowledgement that he has not even been able to get NATO “ally” Turkey to seal its border and that ISIS still remains a potent fighting force makes a mockery of his mocking Putin for not “significantly” changing the situation on the ground in Syria in one month.

Obama also slid into propaganda speak when he blamed Assad for all the deaths that have occurred during the Syrian conflict. “I consider somebody who kills hundreds of thousands of his own people illegitimate,” Obama said.

But again Obama is applying double standards. For instance, he would not blame President George W. Bush for the hundreds of thousands (possibly more than a million) dead Iraqis, yet Bush was arguably more responsible for those deaths by launching an unprovoked invasion of Iraq than Assad was in battling a jihadist-led insurgency.

Plus, the death toll of Syrians, estimated to exceed a quarter million, includes many soldiers and police as well as armed jihadists. That does not excuse Assad or his regime for excessively heavy-handed tactics that have inflicted civilian casualties, but Obama and his predecessor both have plenty of innocent blood on their hands, too.

After watching Obama’s news conference, one perhaps can hope that he is just speaking out of multiple sides of his mouth as he is wont to do. Maybe, he’s playing his usual game of “above-the-table/below-the-table,” praising Erdogan above the table while chastising him below the table and disparaging Putin in public while cooperating with the Russian president in private.

Or maybe President Obama has simply lost touch with reality and with common human decency.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.