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UK destroys Guardian hard drives to stop Snowden publications

by Carlous Latuff

Al Ahed news “Security experts” raided the British Guardian’s office and destroyed hard drives to stop publications of documents leaked by former NSA contractor whistleblower Edward Snowden. The daily along with the Washington Post had published classified documents on the tight surveillance that the American National Security Agency (NSA) has over citizens worldwide and in the US and revealed monitoring of internet activities, which sparked debate among Americans and worldwide governments. The US administration claims that this surveillance aims at stopping potential terrorist threats and plots, however controversy questions how effective this surveillance when it comes to monitoring activities made on the internet. On this note, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote in the Monday issue of the paper that the British government officials watched as computers containing classified information passed on by Snowden were physically destroyed in one of the newspaper building’s basements. The officials had ordered Guardian employees to destroy the paper’s hard drives in an attempt to halt further publications of the Snowden documents. “Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that [reporter Glenn] Greenwald lived in Brazil?” Rusbridger wrote. Rusbridger further pointed out that “the whole incident felt like a pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age.” This “security” procedure comes after Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was held at London’s Heathrow airport under the UK Terrorism Act for nine hours before being released without pressing charges. Moreover, Rusbridger promised that the paper “will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.” Greenwald, who first published secrets leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, had also promised to release more documents. He added that the UK would be “sorry” for detaining his partner for nine hours. Snowden, who has been granted asylum by Russia, gave Greenwald up to 20,000 documents with details about the US National Security Agency and the UK’s GCHQ surveillance operations. The latest release of top-secret documents revealed last week by the Washington Post that the NSA has broken privacy rules thousands of times each year since 2008.

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Al-Khalifa regime blocks Al-Manar website in Bahrain

Al Manar

Bahraini authorities blocked Al-Manar Website on Saturday claiming it violates the laws and provisions adopted in the country.

The website blockage comes after tightening sanctions by the National Council and the threat of the government to implement the recommendations, which tighten the noose against the opposition before the date set for Tamarrod (Rebellion) – Bahrain opposition peaceful protests on 14 August.

In the meantime, Bahraini authorities also banned demonstrations following the dubious bombing in Riffa city.

Canada continues heavy-handed media repression

Press TV

Canada is seeing an increasing number of its journalists and photographers being criminalized and arrested by law enforcement officers for recording incidents involving police brutality, Press TV reports.

On numerous occasions, Canadians have been taken into custody after legally documenting police incidents.

Among the most notable cases is the arrest of Jennifer Pawluck in April after she posted a photo online of someone else’s graffiti depicting a Montreal police commander, Ian Lafreniere, negatively. She was later charged with criminal harassment.

In September 2012, Jakub Markiewicz, a 16-year-old, was arrested by police when he filmed security guards and police officers detaining a man at a shopping mall in the British Columbia city of Burnaby. Markiewicz was never officially charged over the incident.

Furthermore, officers at Vancouver International airport confiscated in 2007 a video taken by Paul Pritchard, showing police officers tasering a Polish immigrant to death.

Pitchard finally filed a lawsuit against the police in a bid to retrieve the footage.

The recording was later used as evidence against the police and the involved officers eventually admitted that they had misled the public in several statements about the tasering death.

Meanwhile, critics say that the so-called “tough on crime” agenda by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has given many Canadian police officers the impression that they are above the law.

They also say that the impression has led to the increase criminalization of Canadians, who were serving the public interest when they documented incidents involving the police.

Erdogan threatens to sue Times over critical letter

(Turkey-file photo)

Press TV

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to launch a lawsuit against a British newspaper for publishing an open letter criticizing the excessive use of police force against anti-government protesters.

Erdogan made the remarks on Friday in comments broadcast by Turkey’s NTV channel.

A group of celebrities and academics, including US film stars Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, and film director David Lynch, signed the open letter published in the Times this week.

The signatories accused the Turkish government of “dictatorial rule” and of causing the deaths of five protesters who died in police crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Erdogan said, “The press wants to throw mud to see if it sticks. The Times is renting out its own pages for money,” adding, “This is the Times’ failing. We will pursue legal channels regarding the Times.”

The Turkish Prime Minister also said those who signed the letter had “rented out their thoughts” and did not genuinely support democracy.

“If they truly believed in democracy, they couldn’t have displayed such a lack of character to call the leader of a party that won 50% of the vote a dictator,” he also said.

The signatories also accused Erdogan of undermining the principles of a free press for imprisoning dozens of journalists in the past few years.

Turkey has been rocked by nationwide protests and strikes against the policies of the prime minister.

The unrest began on May 31 after police broke up a sit-in held at Istanbul’s Taksim Square to protest against the demolition of nearby Gezi Park.

Erdogan has described the protesters as vandals, looters or terrorists, and claims the demonstrations are part of a plot to topple his government.

Turkey’s opposition lambastes PM over media freedom

Al Ahed news

Turkey’s main opposition leader accused Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday of cowing local media into self-censorship after a journalist group said dozens of reporters were fired for their coverage of anti-government protests.

The Turkish Journalists Union [TGS] said at least 72 journalists had either been fired, forced to take leave or had resigned in the past six weeks since the start of the unrest, which spread to cities around the country.

The demonstrations, which began as a small effort to save an Istanbul park from redevelopment, quickly mushroomed into an unprecedented show of defiance against the government, emerging as the most serious public challenge to Erdogan’s 10-year rule.

The protests have now largely died down although smaller demonstrations have persisted in Istanbul and Ankara.

“Why are you letting the journalists go? Why are you forcing them to take leave? Because they write stories their bosses don’t like,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the CHP party.

“We are now facing a new period where the media is controlled by the government and the police and where most media bosses take orders from political authorities. A period where stories approved by political authorities are published and those that aren’t are censored,” he said.

Kilicdaroglu was speaking to reporters in Ankara at the launch of a report by his party on imprisoned journalists in Turkey. According to the report, 64 are now in jail.

Turkey has slumped to the bottom of international rankings on press freedom in recent years and has come under increasing criticism over the jailing of reporters, with one media group dubbing it the “world’s biggest prison” for journalists.

Erdogan’s government says most of the detained media workers are being held for serious crimes, such as membership of an armed terrorist group, that have nothing to do with journalism.

The Turkish leader dismissed last month’s protesters as “riff-raff” manipulated by “terrorists” and blamed foreign and local media for inciting the unrest.

Mainstream media outlets, many owned by big conglomerates with links to the prime minister, self-censored their coverage of the protests, stepping up reporting only after Erdogan himself commented on the unusual scenes of chaos, prompting many Turks to turn to social media to follow the events.

Helen Thomas: A journalistic human persona

by Khalil Bendib

by Leila Diab, source

Upon hearing the sad news of Helen Thomas’ departure from life on July 20, 2013, at the sprightly age of 92, this renowned American Arab journalist’s legacy will continue to seal the notoriety of trust and truth in reporting news events in the world, let alone her remarkable impact and role model persona that broke all barriers for women journalists.

Helen Thomas was born in Kentucky and raised in Detroit, Michigan to immigrants parents from Lebanon. She was also the first woman in American journalism to interview and report on U.S. Presidents from President John Kennedy to President Barack Obama. As the lead U.S. press core correspondent, with always a front row seat, for over 49 years, Helen Thomas was always well prepared and the first to ask timely questions relevant to major events confronting the United States home front and the world. And when all was said and done, Ms. Thomas would always reply, ‘Thank you Mr. President.”

Accordingly, as a significant bright beam to journalistic history, Helen Thomas traveled to China with President Nixon, as well as broke many news stories that uncovered the truth of deceptive government practices.

As a White House correspondent for 60 years, Ms. Thomas revealed the many disturbing truths and consequences of unjust power and crimes against humanity.

For example, Thomas uncovered the scenes behind the U.S. Government’s Watergate scandal. Never to fear the unknown, Ms. Thomas was well known for her tenacious questions to the then President George Bush, such as why is the U.S. Government in a war with Iraq when, quote unquote, “they haven’t done anything to America or us.” Ironically, the president would meander around the question by interjecting comments on Afghanistan. Helen Thomas’ response was, “I asked you about Iraq, not Afghanistan.”

Throughout her illustrious career as a journalist and humanitarian, she always felt the need to save humanity ad pave a brighter future for those in dire need of democracy, self-preservation and dignity with honor.

I personally, never met Helen Thomas, however, as a woman journalist, I was introduced to her journalistic skills and magnifying accomplishments through a Lebanese friend of mine. Since then, I followed Helen Thomas’s unique gift for reporting authenticated news events, and her role as the first woman to be President of the White House Correspondent Association.

Helen Thomas was never one to rescind unmitigated sparks of criticism for what she knew was the truth to perfect humanity. She was and still is in my heart and mind a journalist who opened the reality gates of trust and truth to save a nation and all of humanity.

Helen Thomas was and still is in my heart, a woman of all seasons who manifested a genuine, ethical and most astoundingly a worthy human persona for truth, thrust human dignity.

Helen Thomas will be remembered as a journalist for all reasons of righteousness and acclaimed human resolutions.

As journalist, I believe she stood her ground, and fought the fight to reveal the truth…to make this a better world for cultures and humanity. Helen Thomas, I venture to say, will continue to write her caring words of truth from heaven .RIP.

How the Western media distorts the historical legacy of Nelson Mandela

by Danny Schechter, source

There’s anger amidst the apprehension in South Africa as the numbers of “journalists” on the Mandela deathwatch grows.  Members of his family have about had it, comparing what even the New York Times called a “media swarm” to African vultures that wait to pounce on the carcasses of dead animals.

President Obama  was soon in South Africa, carrying a message that he hyped as one of “profound gratitude” to Nelson Mandela. The Times reported,

“Mr. Obama said the main message he intended to deliver to Mr. Mandela, “if not directly to him but to his family, is simply our profound gratitude for his leadership all these years and that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with him, and his family, and his country.”

It doesn’t seem as if the South Africa’s grieving for their former president’s imminent demise are too impressed with Obama seeking the spotlight. Some groups including top unions protested his receiving an honorary degree from a university in Johannesburg.

Interestingly, NBC with its team buttressed by former South African correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault did not bother to cover the protest but relied on Reuters reporting “nearly 1,000 trade unionists, Muslim activists, South African Communist Party members and others marched to the U.S. Embassy where they burned a U.S. flag, calling Obama’s foreign policy “arrogant and oppressive.”

 ”We had expectations of America’s first black president. Knowing Africa’s history, we expected more,” Khomotso Makola, a 19-year-old law student, told Reuters. He said Obama was a “disappointment, I think Mandela too would be disappointed and feel let down.”

South African critics of Obama have focused in particular on his support for U.S. drone strikes overseas, which they say have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, and his failure to deliver on a pledge to close the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba housing terrorism suspects.” (Oddly, The South African police detained a local cameraman who used his own drone to photograph the hospital from above. He was stopped for “security” reasons.)

For symbolic reasons, as well as because of his global popularity, Nelson Mandela seems to be of special interest to the American media with the networks, nominally in an austerity mode, busting their budgets to have a dominant presence.

South African skeptic Rian Malan writes in the Spectator, “Every time Mandela goes into hospital, large numbers of Americans (up to 50) are flown here to take up their positions, and the South African network is similarly activated. Colin, (A cameraman who works for a US network) for instance, travels to Johannesburg, hires a car and checks into a hotel, all on the network’s ticket. Since last December, he’s probably spent close to 30 days (at $2000 a day, expenses included) cooling his heels at various poolsides. And he has yet to shoot a single frame.

As Colin says, this could be the worst disaster in American media history, inter alia because all these delays are destroying the story. When the old man finally dies, a lot of punters are going to yawn and say, Mandela died? Didn’t that already happen a year ago?”

Hostility to the this media is satirized in an open letter by Richard Poplak from the foreign media to South Africa that appears in The Daily Maverick:

“As you may have noted, we’re back! It’s been four long months since the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing thing, and just as we were forgetting just how crappy the Internet connections are in Johannestoria, the Mandela story breaks.

We feel that it is vital locals understand just how big a deal this is for us. In the real world—far away from your sleepy backwater—news works on a 24-hour cycle. That single shot of a hospital with people occasionally going into and out of the front door, while a reporter describes exactly what is happening—at length and in detail? That’s our bread and butter. It’s what we do.

And you need to get out of the way while we do it.”

Why all the fanatical interest? The US media loves larger than life personalities, often creating them when they don’t exist. Mandela has assumed the heroic mantle for them of Martin Luther King Jr. whose memory enjoys iconic status even as his achievements like Voting Rights Act was just picked apart by right-wing judicial buzzards in black robes. (Kings image was also sanitized with his international outlook often muzzled).

It wasn’t always like this. For many years, The US media treated Mandela as a communist and terrorist, respecting South African censorship laws that kept his image secret. Reports about the CIA’s role in capturing him were few and far between. Ditto for evidence of US spying documented in cables released by Wikileaks.

In the Reagan years, his law partner Oliver Tambo, then the leader of the ANC while he was in prison, was barred from coming to the US and then, when he did, meeting with top officials. Later, Dick Cheney refused to support a Congressional call for his release from jail.

In 1988, I, among other TV producers, launched the TV series South Africa Now to cover the unrest the networks were largely ignoring as stories shot by US crews ended up on “the shelf,” not on the air.

A 1988 concert to free Mandela was shown by the Fox Network as a “freedom fest” with artists told not to mention his name, less they “politicize” all the fun. When he was released in 2000, a jammed all-star celebration at London’s WembleyStadiumwas shown everywhere in the world, except by the American networks.

Once he adopted reconciliation as his principal political tenet and dropped demands for nationalization anchored in the ANC’s “Freedom Charter,” his image in the US was quickly rehabilitated. He was elevated into a symbolic hero for all praised by the people and the global elite alike. Little mention was made of his role as the creator of an Armed Struggle, and its Commander in Chief,

US networks also did not cover the role played by the US dominated IMF and World Bank in steering the economy in a market -oriented neo-liberal direction, assuring the new government could not erase deep inequality and massive poverty and that the whites would retain privleges.

The American press shaped how Mandela was portrayed in the US. The lawyer and anti-nuclear campaigner, Alice Slater, tells a story of her efforts to win Mandela’s support for nuclear disarmament.

 “(When)… Nelson Mandela announced that he would be retiring from the presidency of South Africa, we organized a world-wide letter writing campaign, urging him to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons at his farewell address to the United Nations. The gambit worked. At the UN, Nelson Mandela called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, saying, “these terrible and terrifying weapons of mass destruction –why do they need them anyway?” The London Guardian had a picture of Mandela on its front page, with the headline, “Nelson Mandela Calls for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.” The New York Times had a story buried on page 46, announcing Mandela’s retirement from the Presidency of South Africa and speculating on who might succeed him, reporting that he gave his last speech as President to the UN, while omitting to mention the content of his speech.”

And so it goes, with his death seeming to be imminent, he has become reduced to a symbolic mythic figure, a moral voice, not the politician he always was. He became an adorable grandfather praised for his charities with his political ideas and values often buried in the either of his celebrity.  He has insisted that he not be treated as a saint or a savior. Tell that to the media.

As ANC veteran Pallo Jordan told me,

“To call him a celebrity is to treat him like Madonna. And that’s not what he is. At the same time, he deserves to be celebrated as the freedom fighter he was.”

Watch the coverage and see if that message is coming through, with all of its implications for the struggle in South Africa that still lies ahead.

US Congress advisor: Banning different voices hallmark of tyranny

Al Ahed news

A US Congress policy advisor Frederick Peterson said that taking Iranian channels off air and depriving people of alternative views is “the hallmark of the tyranny of the mind,” Press TV reported.

Peterson told Press TV on Monday that limiting “debate and intimidate dissent, and actions made to close off positions with which one may disagree internationally are also common hallmarks of tyranny.”

“You exchange freedom for thought-thuggery and it is an easy way out for tyrants to limit the thought and the information available to its people and not to trust its people to make intelligent, rational decisions in their own interests,” Peterson further remarked.

“It is certainly not the hallmark of a free state or of free people to allow that to happen and I am appalled at that,” Peterson said.

On June 19, Intelsat said it would no longer provide services to Iranian channels, including Press TV, as of July 1. The decision has been made under the pretext that the company should be “abiding by” the sanctions against the president of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Ezatollah Zarghami.

“This violates fundamental principles of freedom and liberty and if we seek the truth, the truth needs a free and open exchange of ideas in order to be found and I am appalled at what is happening domestically in the United States and by extension this is another example of that same thinking or I should say non-thinking or thug-like behavior that is being practiced in the international community as well,” Peterson added.

Why aren’t Israeli F-16s over Beirut headline news?

by Moe Ali Nayel, The Electronic Intifada

Recently there has been a sound coming from the skies over Beirut triggering unpleasant recollections: the distant roar of Israeli fighter jets as one lies in bed at night.

This noise brings with it images and memories from the last war Israel waged on Lebanon, the 33-day war during the summer of 2006. Even as I write this from my office near the center of the city, the ominous rumbling of Israeli fighter jets, announcing their illegal incursions into Lebanese airspace, can be heard over the capital.

But this threatening behavior above Lebanon is non-existent, or so the Western media corporations would have us believe. While information-sharing web tools have broken the mainstream media’s monopoly over covering and analyzing world developments, there is still a long way to go. The Israeli politics of dispossession enjoy near unconditional support in the editorial rooms of New York, London and Paris, a bias still undetected by most of the Western audience they claim to serve.

On 25 April, these editors saw to it that one story dominated the front pages: reports of an alleged unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, that flew from Lebanon to historic Palestine, with accompanying reportage and commentary treating information given by Israeli government and military sources as the definitive truth of the incident.

The Israeli Air Force said it shot down a UAV several miles off the coast of the northern city of Haifa after it entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon. Israel’s deputy defense minister Danny Danon accused Hizballah of sending the drone: “We’re talking about another attempt by Hizballah to send an unmanned drone into Israeli territory,” he told army radio (“Israel shoots down Lebanese drone,” DefenseNews, 25 April 2013).

Shortly after the Israeli announcement, Hizballah issued a statement denying this was the case (“Hezbollah denies responsibility for drone shot down by Israel,” Al-Akhbar English, 26 April 2013).

This is in contrast to October last year, when Israel said it had shot down a drone over the Negev (Naqab). In that case, Hizballah proudly claimed the drone as its own and celebrated this demonstration of its technological prowess (“Hezbollah admits launching drone over Israel,” BBC).

For its part, a spokesperson with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) announced after the Israeli statement on 25 April: “We learned from the media that the Israeli Air Force has shot down a drone and we’re investigating these reports.”

As part of its peacekeeping mandate, UNIFIL has radars along the coast to monitor Lebanon’s entire airspace, and a few hours later UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said the UN force could not confirm that a drone had flown from its area of operations in southern Lebanon (“Israel shoots down drone off Haifa, Hizbullah denies responsibility,” Naharnet, 25 April 2013).

Inconvenient facts

So Hizballah denied responsibility and the UNIFIL couldn’t confirm that a drone flew over south Lebanon into Israeli-controlled airspace, but far be it for these inconvenient facts to get in the way of a good story. This newest threat to Israel burned like wildfire across the pages of major Western media outlets like The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, France 24, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC, which dutifully reported the worries over Israel’s security being breached.

Poor Israel: one of the strongest armies in the world, sitting on a nuclear arsenal.

These news reports demonstrate the systematic bias of Western corporate media when it comes to Israel. While the reports all spoke of Hizballah’s violation of Israel’s “borders” and sovereignty and the threat this posed to Israeli civilians, none mentioned the daily Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and the threat this poses to Lebanese citizens. Without this, a reader might easily mistake the aggressor for the victim.

Then there was the one-sided sourcing of “facts” to back up the story and the rush to judgment. On 26 April — the day after the alleged drone was downed — the Israeli government itself began to shift its narrative to more ambiguous finger-pointing at Iran, rather than directly blaming Hizballah (“Israel points finger at Iran over drone from Lebanon,” The Daily Telegraph, 27 April 2013).

Meanwhile, a 8 May story in Lebanon’s daily As-Safir newspaper claims it was actually an Israeli drone that had been intercepted by resistance fighters en route to Lebanon.

According to unnamed sources close to Hizballah and Western diplomatic circles cited by the paper, when the Israeli Air Force noticed that its UAV was out of its control, it shot it down over the Mediterranean. This suggestion seems at least plausible when stacked next to the UNIFIL report and Hizballah’s denial.

But taking this into account or following up on it would have required understanding Arabic, which few foreign journalists do.

Daily terror

Israel inflicts different methods of terror on Lebanon daily: F-16s and F-15s stage mock raids and drones stalk our skies — all in violation of UN resolution 1701. Lebanese citizens are kidnapped near the border, Israeli landmines and cluster bombs continue to await their victims on Lebanese soil, not to mention the Israeli army’s continued occupation of parts of Lebanon.

While the UN occasionally condemns these acts of Israeli aggression, the fact that they continue unabated reminds us in Lebanon that accountability and international law end at our southern border. So too does objective journalism, it seems, given that in the past month Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace have heavily intensified, but none of this has made it into the Western press.

As a journalist, I’ve tried to pitch stories to mainstream media outlets on the constant Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty and have been lucky enough, from time to time, for an editor to bother to reply, if only to say that the story is irrelevant.

The adage goes that real journalism is publishing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations. By publishing Israel’s claims as fact, and ignoring the reality on the ground in Lebanon and Palestine, mainstream journalists show how well practiced they are in the art of PR.

‘What lies behind the battle for Qusair’: Opposition media lies and spreading strife

‘A handout photograph distributed by Syria’s national news agency SANA, on May 20,2013, shows a vehicle which it says is an Israeli military vehicle being used by rebel fighters in Qusair near Homs city.’ (Reuters / SANA)

by Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT

As the Syrian army and rebels fight for control of Qusair, it is necessary to realize why the town is strategically important and vital for Shias on both sides of the border, making it a military and media battleground.

There are far more elements surrounding the situation in Qusair than first meet the eye, RT’s Nadezhda Kevorkova reveals.

The army’s advance to Qusair is a key strategic operation. Qusair is near Homs, which is located on the road connecting Damascus with the Mediterranean seaport. And Qusair itself is the closest town to the Lebanese border. So taking control of it allows the forces to control the Lebanese border with the Shias living on both sides. There is an important high point between Qusair and the Lebanese village Al-Qasr. The Syrian army was forced to leave this area in the fall of 2012, so locals lost their protection. Opposition fighters took over the region and tried to chase out the Shias and take control of the high point – there were severe battles here in April 2013. (I was in Lebanon’s Al-Qasr at the time – the village came under heavy fire). But the rebels lost to the fighters from the Syrian People’s Committees. They were able to hold the high point.

Had the opposition forces won over this rather small and seemingly insignificant area, there would’ve been major consequences. The war would’ve spread to Lebanon, and Hezbollah would’ve been obligated to get involved. Jihadists would’ve been able to get into Syria from Lebanon and attack Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley.

Opposition propaganda resources in major mass media and social networks have deployed a campaign in the Islamic world aimed at bolstering the idea that all the Shias are apostates – they are not Muslims, not native to these regions and are simply a tool that is used for proliferating Iranian policy across the Middle East. That is why jihad regards killing a Shia as noble. A number of propaganda resources that different sheikhs were using to broadcast anti-Shia sermons, were involved with the campaign.

Moreover, the mass media are thus instilling the minds of Muslims with the idea that all the Shias, including ordinary peasants, are Hezbollah militants, and Hezbollah, in its turn, is a supplement to the ‘dreadful thugs’ of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.

Such an approach, which is used by the opposition and backed by the world’s major mass media, has a precise analogy.

The scorched-earth policy was first used in the region by the Irgun Jewish settlers in April 1948, when several Palestinian villages were wiped off the map (Deir Yassin is the most well-known). The goal was simple: the news about the massacre of 254 Palestinians – kids, women and old people would terrify all the rest so much, that they would run away voluntarily. The news about such unprecedented atrocities as, for instance, disembowelling pregnant women did strike terror into people: unarmed and unskilled in terms of war 740 thousand Palestinians fled from their home villages becoming refugees. Zionist ideologists still claim that the Palestinians are not native to Palestine and they were invited there as migrant workers, so they are either Bedouins, or nomads, or Gypsies from the Middle East who didn’t have any skills in agriculture and didn’t know how to farm.

This is also the reason that has been driving the mass-media campaign to discredit Hezbollah that has been accused of allegedly fighting against the Syrian people. Video footage and photographs of fallen Hezbollah fighters dating back to the 2006 Lebanon War have been circulated as “proof” that Hezbollah is involved in Syria and suffering losses. Back in 2006, 800 Hezbollah fighters put up resistance to the ground invasion of Lebanon by Israel, and these numbers were officially announced by the party leader Hasan Nasrallah.

I met with families that were forced to flee Syrian villages by the border. These were mostly large families who feared that their women, wives and daughters, would be raped by the opposition fighters and criminals that accompany them. Many also said that it was their strategy to intimidate the local population on purpose to have the houses vacated. Nonetheless many stayed and organized community defense volunteer squads to protect themselves from the rebel forces and mercenaries with arms in their hands.

The battle of Qusair has been of strategic importance, but not only that – Qusair is the only town, however small (with 50,000 people of population ) that had been given up by the government forces in the past – while the rest of the towns in Syria are under the government’s control. Mass-media that are telling their audience that the purpose of the battle of Qusair was “to regain control over the Mediterranean coast” and “re-deploy the government forces to Aleppo” are lying. The army is already in full control of the coast. Last Sunday, the army launched a massive offensive on all transit routes for weapons and supplies coming into the country.

As of today, Qusair is surrounded by the Syrian army, which is also in control of the downtown area. An escape corridor is being kept open for the fleeing population. The militants who fail to use it are contained in town’s quarters.

As for the losses, all the numbers cited are pure speculation and part of the propaganda attack on Syria. For example, the opposition initially reported online that they had killed “90 Hezbollah militants,” yet after a while changed the number to 30, and that’s in addition to the Syrian army’s losses of 20 soldiers reported by the army itself.

Spying on the media and the US Congress: The AP seizures

…and the frightening web they’ve uncovered

What We Know is Bad; What’s Behind It is Worse!

by Alfredo Lopez, Global Research News

“Paranoia,” said Woody Allen, “is knowing all the facts.” By that measure, we’re becoming more and more “paranoid” every day.

This week, we learned that the Obama Justice Department seized two months of records [1] of at least 20 phone lines used by Associated Press reporters. These include phone lines in the AP’s New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn offices as well as the main AP number in the House of Representatives press gallery, the private phones and cell phones belonging to AP reporters and a fax line in one AP office.

The government effected this massive seizure “sometime this year” according to a letter from the Justice Department to AP’s chief counsel this past Friday (May 10).

The letter cites relevant “permission” clauses in its “investigative guidelines” and makes clear that it considers the action legal and necessary.

In many ways, this is the most blatant act of media information seizure in memory. It affects over 100 AP journalists and the countless people those journalists communicated with by phone during those two months. It violates accepted constitutional guarantees, the concept of freedom of the press and the privacy rights of literally thousands of people. Predictably and justifiably, press, politicians and activists have expressed outrage.

But as outrageous as the admitted facts are, the story’s larger implications are even more disturbing. It’s bad enough that the Obama Administration has grossly violated fundamental constitutional rights, acknowledged the violation and defended their legality. Even worse is that likelihood that the intrusion will probably be ruled legal, that it has been ongoing against other targets for some time and that this is only the tip of the intelligence-abuse iceberg.

The facts are still tumbling out daily but here’s what we know. While the Justice Department’s letter of notice to AP didn’t provide the reason for the seizure, the date of the seizure or the dates of the data seized, the timing hints strongly that this is tied to a major investigation of “whistle-blowing”. Last year, the AP used unnamed sources in a story about a Central Intelligence Agency effort to disrupt a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner. The AP, at the government’s request, held that story for several days but published it on May 7, 2012 after it was confident the plot had been foiled. Because the AP’s story ran a day before Federal officials were scheduled to announce their “victory”, it’s logical to assume Associated Press honchos knew the government would be unhappy.

So they were probably not surprised that, led by the U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, federal investigators spent a year aggressively searching for the people who leaked the information. That’s vintage Obama. With six government “whistle-blowers” in jail or being prosecuted, federal law-enforcers have prosecuted twice as many whistle-blowers [2] as all previous Administrations combined over the course of two and a quarter centuries. But until now, the media-savvy Obama people have been careful to restrain their pursuit of the corporate press, limiting confrontations to an occasional request or demand for one source revelation.

That’s why these revelations are so shocking to media professionals and advocates. As AP’s CEO Gary Pruitt told Attorney General Eric Holder in his letter of complaint this week [3], “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-months period, provide a road map to AP’s news gathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

There, in a nutshell, is the problem. For the corporate media, there is still such a concept as “no conceivable right to know”. Up to now, part of Obama’s information policy has been that mainstream media qualifies for First Amendment protection but “alternative” journalists and the news organizations they work for, as well as bloggers, activists, writers and others who work independently of major news organizations and who use the Internet as the free vehicle of communications it was invented to be have absolutely no protections. Since 2009, this government is known to have taken action against Internet activists and truth-tellers: seizing servers, email records and virtually all forms of on-line communications and then prosecuting people in over a dozen cases based on some of those seizures. There’s been very little action taken against the corporate press, which for its part has largely ignored or blacked out any reporting on the government attacks on its smaller media competitors.

This “favored status” commercial media has enjoyed has now been trashed. The “protected press” is as exposed as the rest of us. In answering Pruit’s letter, the Justice Department said as much. “We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation,” U.S. Attorney’s Machen spokesman William Miller explained, in a remark that went way beyond the traditional exemption for protecting lives. He added, “…we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws.”

In fact, there was no urgency involved in the government’s assault on AP’s news operation — the incident in question was over — and seizure of this kind of information has traditionally been allowed only if a court-ordered subpeona is issued, after the targeted media parties have had a chance to challenge the government intrusion in court. The courts, after all, constitute one of the protections of privacy and free speech we citizens have. Under our Constitution, the courts, not the government, are supposed to decide what is “the right balance,” as Miller put it.

Most of us lost those protections with the Patriot Act and the Justice Department’s updated guidelines [4] which allow the government to engage in secret seizure if its investigators believe there is a real “security threat”. In fact, it is only required to announce that seizure when “it is determined that such notification will no longer pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.” In other words, they can seize anything without a subpeona if they think they should seize it without a subpeona.

That I have learned personally and this is either a disclaimer or a claim to authenticity. Last year, the FBI snatched a server co-located at May First/People Link (my organization) from its location. We believe they were investigating some nut using anonymous servers (servers that don’t maintain records of who used them) to mail threatening emails to students at the University of Pittsburgh. We co-locate one such server for our colleagues at Rise-Up [5].

The AP case applies the suspension of our rights to the “established” media, finalizing a remarkably swift collapse of balance of power protections by removing the courts from the equation.

It’s a moment described in the famous Civil Rights Movement saying, quoted by Angela Davis: “If they come for me in the morning, they’ll come for you at night.” After years of chipping away (largely without protest or even acknowledgement from the mainstream corporate media), at the rights of what the Administration considers the most dangerous and uncontrollable information source — the Internet and the activists and independent journalists who thrive on it like Wikileaks or Mayfirst, the web hosting service I helped found — they’ve now knocked on the door of the mainstream media.

To get a feeling for how dangerous this is, all one must do is trace how these investigations unfold and visualize the investigative web that is developing.

First, they get the phone records. In this case, the phone companies apparently just gave it to them. Protestations that these include “only” phone numbers called and nothing else collapse upon careful examination. Seized cell phone records (and their logs of emails, websites visited and texts sent) are now in the Justice Department’s hands along with all the numbers called by over 100 reporters on 20 phone lines. Starting with the phone numbers called, investigators can then go to commercial email providers (like Google’s Gmail) and seek records of everyone who the reporters contacted. After all, they can now search the providers’ databases against the acquired names and phone numbers!

Email on AP’s servers wasn’t seized — that could never be done “secretly”. But some AP reporters probably use their non-company email as well and investigators can go after that. Internet providers are under enormous pressure to give up those records and many, like Google, will do so voluntarily upon official government request. They’ve already done it for the Chinese government to help it go after its critics.

So anybody who gets a phone call from one of the seized lines during this period can now be investigated more aggressively without subpeonas using the powers of investigation the government already has and information it has already gathered in secret from reporters who had promised them anonymity.

Where is the limit? Without a court hearing, there is none. If an AP reporter called your phone or emailed you from a targeted cell phone, the government now knows it and your phone number (and possibly email address) is now part of the investigation. That gathered information now includes your name, address, phone number, calls you received and calls you made. If they got to the email, all of that is theirs. No matter what those phone calls or email messages from your cell phone are about, they are a part of a government investigation into a major security leak.

Once you’re in the mix, the government can then declare you an investigation “target” and legally seize and read all your email and seize all the email of anybody your wrote. All of this activity is legally covered and, based on past government practice, can be done without informing you.

What’s more there are now indications that the government isn’t stopping there. According to the Washington Post, you don’t even need to be part of an investigation.

“Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications,” the Post reported [6] in its extraordinary series on government intelligence. “The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases.”

The Guardian’s Glen Greenwald argues that such numbers are only possible if the government is recording [7] every phone call, text and email being transmitted in this country. Several FBI whistle-blowers and former agents, he points out, have attested to that scope of activity.

To say you will be part of a prosecution or that the investigation would reach such lengths may, at this point, border on paranoia. But not long ago most of us would have considered paranoid the idea that such collection of data is even taking place. “Mass surveillance is the hallmark of a tyrannical political culture,” Greenwald wrote. To deny the danger in all this is to trust that the government won’t abuse this power or consider your completely legal activities to be dangerous.

Does the Obama Administration deserve that trust? Its stated position is that the government can collect and use any information of this type if there is a security reason to do so. The issue is what is a “security reason” and, since courts have been effectively removed from the process, that definition is completely in the hands of the Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI and the National Security Agency. If one of those agencies says you have no right to privacy, you don’t.

There are many people in this country working in opposition to the government. Many of them oppose policies and challenge laws. Many of them have relationships with similar activists in other countries and take up issues that affect those other countries. Should we really feel comfortable giving some government functionary the power to decide if our activities are “dangerous” or “pose a threat”? This is an Administration that has criminally charged Internet activists for violating terms of service agreements, smeared the reputations of countless legitimate activists in all kinds of movements and kept scores of people in Guantamo’s prison for years without charges, in most cases knowing and even conceding that they are innocent of any. Does that track record offer any assurance that they will be judicious and restrained with your information?

Should we trust them with the powers they have amassed? Clearly not, because, given the facts we already know, mistrust isn’t paranoia; it’s knowing the facts.

Links:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/us/phone-records-of-journalists-of-the-associated-press-seized-by-us.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[2] http://www.salon.com/2012/02/09/obamas_unprecedented_war_on_whistleblowers/
[3] http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2013/05/Letter-to-Eric-Holder_reporter-call-records.pdf
[4] http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/05/doj-got-reporter-phone-records/
[5] https://riseup.net/
[6] http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/print/
[7] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/04/telephone-calls-recorded-fbi-boston

“Pro-democracy terrorism”: The Syrian observatory for human rights is a propaganda front funded by the EU

by Tony Cartalucci, source

The NYT admits fraudulent Syrian human rights group is UK-based “one-man band” funded by EU and one other “European country.”

In reality, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has long ago been exposed as an absurd propaganda front operated by Rami Abdul Rahman out of his house in England’s countryside. According to a December 2011 Reuters article titled, “Coventry – an unlikely home to prominent Syria activist,” Abdul Rahman admits he is a member of the so-called “Syrian opposition” and seeks the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad:

After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term.

“I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes,” Abdulrahman said, referring to Bashar’s father and predecessor Hafez, also an autocrat.

One could not fathom a more unreliable, compromised, biased source of information, yet for the past two years, his “Observatory” has served as the sole source of information for the endless torrent of propaganda emanating from the Western media. Perhaps worst of all, is that the United Nations uses this compromised, absurdly overt source of propaganda as the basis for its various reports – at least, that is what the New York Times now claims in their recent article, “A Very Busy Man Behind the Syrian Civil War’s Casualty Count.”

The NYT piece admits:

Military analysts in Washington follow its body counts of Syrian and rebel soldiers to gauge the course of the war. The United Nations and human rights organizations scour its descriptions of civilian killings for evidence in possible war crimes trials. Major news organizations, including this one, cite its casualty figures.

Yet, despite its central role in the savage civil war, the grandly named Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is virtually a one-man band. Its founder, Rami Abdul Rahman, 42, who fled Syria 13 years ago, operates out of a semidetached red-brick house on an ordinary residential street in this drab industrial city [Coventry, England].

The New York Times also for the first time reveals that Abdul Rahman’s operation is indeed funded by the European Union and a “European country” he refuses to identify:

Money from two dress shops covers his minimal needs for reporting on the conflict, along with small subsidies from the European Union and one European country that he declines to identify.

Abdelrahman leaves the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after meeting Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in central London November 21, 2011.

Abdelrahman is not the “head” of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, he is the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, run out of his UK-based house as a one-man operation.

And while Abdul Rahman refuses to identify that “European country,” it is beyond doubt that it is the United Kingdom itself – as Abdul Rahman has direct access to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who he has been documented meeting in person on multiple occasions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The NYT in fact reveals that it was the British government that first relocated Abdul Rahman to Coventry, England after he fled Syria over a decade ago because of his anti-government activities:

When two associates were arrested in 2000, he fled the country, paying a human trafficker to smuggle him into England. The government resettled him in Coventry, where he decided he liked the slow pace.

Abdul Rahman is not a “human rights activist.” He is a paid propagandist. He is no different than the troupe of unsavory, willful liars and traitors provided refuge in Washington and London during the Iraq war and the West’s more recent debauchery in Libya, for the sole purpose of supplying Western governments with a constant din of propaganda and intentionally falsified intelligence reports designed specifically to justify the West’s hegemonic designs.

Abdul Rahman’s contemporaries include the notorious Iraqi defector Rafid al-Janabi, codename “Curveball,” who now gloats publicly that he invented accusations of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the West’s casus belli for a 10 year war that ultimately cost over a million lives, including thousands of Western troops, and has left Iraq still to this day in shambles. There’s also the lesser known Dr. Sliman Bouchuiguir of Libya, who formed the foundation of the pro-West human rights racket in Benghazi and now openly brags in retrospect that tales of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s atrocities against the Libyan people were likewise invented to give NATO its sought-after impetus to intervene militarily.

Unlike in Iraq and Libya, the West has failed categorically to sell military intervention in Syria, and even its covert war has begun to unravel as the public becomes increasingly aware that the so-called “pro-democracy rebels” the West has been arming for years are in fact sectarian extremists fighting under the banner of Al Qaeda. The charade that is the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” is also unraveling. It is unlikely that the New York Times’ limited hangout will convince readers that Rami Abdul Rahman is anything other than another “Curveball” helping the corporate-financier elite of Wall Street and London sell another unnecessary war to the public.

Photographing tragedy: What victims actually want

issawi

Samer Issawi, a Palestinian political prisoner: Photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org

by Ramzy Baroud, source

When one looks at scenes of fleeing refugees from Syria via images of their squalid refugee camps and hears their pleas for solidarity, mercy or for God’s help to end their suffering, one finds eerie similarities between their experiences and those of the Palestinians, Lebanese and Iraqis. However, the worse part of the tragedy occurs  when it is so prolonged that video footage, photos and personal accounts meant to delineate an urgent reality, wind up becoming the ever-present state of affairs, a painful and humiliating status quo.

But is there a line of demarcation that people cross, where they cease to represent a real crisis – humanitarian, political, or any other – merely subsisting in their anguish, simply counting days in their UN-supplied blue tents as they await salvation? What is the use of a photo when the human conscience has grown numb, and barely appreciates the artistic expression of the photo, not the moral and political crisis it represents?

These thoughts and more occupied my mind when on February 15, Paul Hansen, a Swedish photographer from the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, convincingly won The World Press Photo of the Year in 2012. This is according to Reuters “the world’s largest annual press photography contest.”

The winning photo documented an event that has been repeated hundreds of times in Gaza in the last few years. Bereaved families and neighbors that are filled with pain and despair, carry the frail bodies of little children who died in one Israeli strike or another. They walk shoulder to shoulder in the alleyways of their towns or refugee camps, weeping, chanting and praying to God to send their little ones to Paradise. Photographers snap numerous shots, selected ones get published and the most prized wins awards. Sadly, even then, nothing changes the persistently agonizing reality.

An almost trademark demand that most victims have is for the world to know of their plight. There is a pervading impression that when the “world” knows, the “world” will not allow injustice to perpetuate. Of course, it is not so simple, especially in the case of the Palestinians.

Referring to the winning photo, jury member Mayu Mohanna said, “The strength of the picture lies in the way it contrasts the anger and sorrow of the adults with the innocence of the children. It’s a picture I will not forget.” Photos taken in Palestine often reflect that very experience, a contrast between one thing and something else: a woman crying for her demolished house while settlers celebrate a new conquest or a family terrified by a raid on their home as soldiers enthusiastically destroy their furniture, and a million more. Needless to say, they are often bloody, and ever “artistic”.

Of course, it is not exactly the responsibility of the photojournalist nor that of the photography awards judges to ensure that the meaning of the photo is diffused in such ways as to affect political and humanitarian outcomes. It is still disturbing, however, that those painful conflicts are reduced to photos, footage and sound bites and eventually are appreciated for something other than the urgent and utter need to compel whatever action is needed in bringing people’s suffering to an end.

There is a photo of Samer Issawi, a Palestinian political prisoner who has reportedly staged the longest hunger strike in modern history, as he was wheeled to and from an Israeli court room. It was taken by activestills.org, whose work has left an important mark in terms of disseminating powerful imagery pertaining to the Palestinian struggle, the Israeli occupation and more. In the photo, Samer looks like a shadow of his former-self (the already slim young man had lost 77 pounds), his hands clasped at his chest, his beard long and untrimmed, yet his face is glowing as if he were grateful to the man or woman who snapped his photo while being dragged somewhere by impatient Israeli prison and court officials. Samer naturally hopes that photo, and many others, will be used as a tool to spread a message of his critical situation, but more importantly the collective cause he represents. His supporters want to achieve a similar end. But without political will, real action and pressure, that photo is likely to end up in some archive with little consequence in the fate of Samer and the freedom of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Starting most noticeably with the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987, Palestine offered incredible photo opportunities for journalists. It was not exactly common that a whole nation take to the street where youth battled well-equipped soldiers with sling shots and empty fists for several years non-stop. Even a random photo that involves barefooted children at war against Israeli tanks would have many ‘contrasts’ and artistic worth. Back then, many Palestinians were convinced that once these images reached the world, the tide would turn in favor of Palestinian rights. In fact, to a degree, it did, as if it were suddenly discovered that Palestinians do exist beyond whatever stereotypes Israel has managed to concoct about them through its media influence.

However, the barrier between public sentiments and government action remained erect. It would have made little difference whether US officials viewed Intifada photos or not, for the US government’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was never determined by values such as human rights, freedom and the right to self-determination. The entirety of the photos of all the dying children will not alone alter even a single footnote in the US’ ‘unconditional support’ of Israeli doctrine. These images must be coupled with passionate political activism, decided public pressure, legal action and numerous other methods to hold Israel accountable for the gory images as well as the US for allowing Israel free range in murdering Palestinians.

A photo, on its own, no matter how artistic, compelling, captivating, even incensing, is not enough. It must be combined or followed by solid actions and a clear strategy to ensure that someday no such tragic contexts exist for photographers to freeze them in time and place.

Palestinians – and Syrians – are not mere opportunities for award-winning photos to be snapped. “My people are not animals in a zoo” is the famous quote from Palestinian novelist and intellectual, Ghassan Kanafani to a Danish journalist who later became his wife, as she requested to visit refugee camps in Lebanon. “You must have a good background about them before you go and visit”, he said. Kanafani was assassinated in an Israeli Mossad car bomb, along with his niece, in July 1972, but his words endure.

Palestinians, as well as other peoples who are undergoing protracted tragedies, are neither ‘animals in zoos’ nor only mere subjects of artistic expression, no matter how noble. Their tragedies, no matter how long-lasting, deserve resolutions and tangible remedies. All that victims in photos hope to achieve is for their oppression to end, not for the victimization itself to become such an accepted state of affairs, an end in itself, detached from any serious political dynamics that could propel change.

Exploited and misused: The impossible discourse of the ‘Arab Spring’

by Carlos Latuff

by Ramzy Baroud, source

A reductionist discourse is one that selectively tailors its reading of subject matters in such a way as to only yield desired outcomes, leaving little or no room for other inquiries, no matter how appropriate or relevant. The so-called Arab Spring, although now far removed from its initial meanings and aspirations, has become just that: a breeding ground for choosy narratives solely aimed at advancing political agendas which are deeply entrenched with regional and international involvement.

When a despairing Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire on December 17, 2010, he had ignited more than a mere revolution in his country. His excruciating death had given birth to a notion that the psychological expanses between despair and hope, death and rebirth and between submissiveness and revolutions are ultimately connected. His act, regardless of what adjective one may use to describe it, was the very key that Tunisians used to unlock their ample reserve of collective power. Then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s decision to step down on January 14, 2011, was in a sense a rational assessment on his part if one is to consider the impossibility of confronting a nation that had in its grasp a true popular revolution.

Egypt also revolted less than two weeks later. And it was then that Tunisia’s near-ideal revolutionary model became prey for numerous, often selective readings and ultimately for utter exploitation. The Egyptian January 25 revolution was the first Arab link between Tunisia and the upheavals that travelled throughout Arab nations. Some were quick to ascribe the phenomenon with all sorts of historical, ideological and even religious factors thereby making links whenever convenient and overlooking others however apt. The Aljazeera Arabic website still has a map of all Arab countries, with ones experiencing revolutionary influx marked in red.

Many problems have arisen. What tools, aside from the interests of the Qatari government, for example, does Aljazeera use to determine how the so-called Arab Spring manifests itself? And shouldn’t there be clear demarcations between non-violent revolutions, foreign interventions, sectarian tension and civil wars?

Not only do the roots and the expressions of these ‘revolutions’ vastly differ, but the evolvement of each experience was almost always unique to each Arab country. In the cases of Libya and Syria, foreign involvement (an all-out NATO war in the case of Libya and a multifarious regional and international power play in Syria) has produced wholly different scenarios than the ones witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt, thus requiring an urgently different course of analysis.

Yet despite the repeated failure of the unitary ‘Arab Spring’ discourse, many politicians, intellectuals and journalists continue to borrow from its very early logic. Books have already been written with reductionist titles, knitting linear stories, bridging the distance between Tunis and Sanaa into one sentence and one line of reasoning.

The ‘Arab Spring’ reductionism isn’t always sinister, motivated by political convenience or summoned by neo-imperialist designs. Existing pan-Arab or pan-Islamic narratives however well-intended they may be, have also done their fair share of misrepresenting whichever discourse their intellectuals may find fitting and consistent with their overall ideas. Some denote the rise of a new pan-Arab nation, while others see the ‘spring’ as a harbinger of the return of Islam as a source of power and empowerment for Arab societies. The fact is, while discourses are growing more rigid between competing political and intellectual camps, Arab countries marked by Aljazeera’s editorial logic seem to head in their own separate paths, some grudgingly towards a form of democracy or another, while others descend into a Hobbesian ‘state of nature’ – a war of all against all.

But reductionist discourses persist, despite their numerous limitations. They endure because some are specifically designed to serve the interests of certain governments – some with clear ambitions and others are simply trying to ride the storm. In the case of Syria, not a single country that is somehow a party in the conflict can claim innocence in a gory game of regional politics, where the price tag is the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians.

Western media continues to lead the way in language-manipulation, all with the aim of avoiding obvious facts and when necessary it misconstrues reality altogether. US media in particular remains oblivious to how the fallout of the NATO war in Libya had contributed to the conflict in Mali – which progressed from a military coup early last year, to a civil war and as of present time an all-out French-led war against Islamic and other militant groups in the northern parts of the country.

Mali is not an Arab country, thus doesn’t fit into the carefully molded discourse. Algeria is however. Thus when militants took dozens of Algerian and foreign workers hostage in the Ain Amenas natural gas plant in retaliation of Algeria’s opening of its airspace to French warplanes in their war on Mali, some labored to link the violence in Algeria to the Arab Spring. “Taken together, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, the Islamist attacks on Mali, and now this Algerian offense, all point to north Africa as the geopolitical hotspot of 2013 — where the Arab Spring has morphed into the War On Terror,” wrote Christopher Helman, in Forbes, on Jan 18.

How convenient such an analysis is, especially when “taken together.” The ‘Arab Spring’ logic is constantly stretched in such ways to suit the preconceived understanding, interests or even designs of western powers. For example, it is now conventional media wisdom that the US is wary of full involvement in Syria because of the deadly attack on the US embassy in Benghazi. When seen from Washington, the Arab region appears less compound and is largely understood through keywords and phrases, allocated between allies and enemies, Islamists and liberals and by knee jerk reactions to anything involving Israel or Iran.

One only needs to compare media texts produced two years ago, with more recent ones. Whereas the first few months of 2011 were mostly concerned with individuals and collectives that had much in common with Mohamed Bouazizi – poor, despairing, disenfranchised, and eventually rebellious – much of the present text is concerned with a different type of discussion. Additionally there are almost entirely new players. The Bouazizis of Tunis, Egypt and Yemen remain unemployed, but they occupy much less space in our newspapers and TV screens. Now we speak of Washington and London-based revolutionaries. We juxtapose US and Russian interests and we wrangle with foreign interventions and barefacedly demarcate conflicts based on sectarian divisions.

“Arab awakening is only just beginning”, was the title of a Financial Times editorial of Dec 23. Its logic and subtext speak of a sinister interpretation of what were once collective retorts to oppression and dictatorships. “The fall of the Assads will be a strategic setback to Iran and its regional allies such as Hizbollah, the Shia Islamist state within the fragile Lebanese state,” the editorial read. “But that could quickly be reversed if Israel were to carry out its threats to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, enabling Tehran’s theocrats to rally disaffected Muslims across the region and strengthen their grip at home. It is easy to imagine how such a conflict would drag in the US, disrupt the Gulf and its oil traffic, and set fire to Lebanon.”

Note how in the new reading of the ‘Arab Spring’, people are mere pawns that are defined by their sectarian leanings and their usefulness is in their willingness to be rallied by one regional power or another. While the language itself is consistent with western agendas in Arab and Muslim countries, what is truly bizarre is the fact that many still insist on contextualizing the ever-confrontational US, Israel and western policies in general with an ‘Arab Spring’ involving a poor grocer setting himself on fire and angry multitudes in Egypt, Yemen and Syria who seek dignity and freedom.

Shortly after the Tunisian uprising, some of us warned of the fallout, if unchecked and generalized discourses that lump all Arabs together and exploit peoples’ desire for freedom, equality and democracy were to persist. Alas, not only did the reductionist discourse define the last two-years of upheaval, the ‘Arab Spring’ has become an Arab springboard for regional meddling and foreign intervention. To advance our understanding of what is transpiring in Arab and other countries in the region, we must let go of old definitions. A new reality is now taking hold and it is neither concerned with Bouazizi nor of the many millions of unemployed and disaffected Arabs.

Why the Washington Post killed the story of Murdoch’s bid to buy the US presidency

Carl Bernstein Caught in the Matrix

by JONATHAN COOK, source

Carl Bernstein, of All the President’s Men fame, has a revealing commentary in the Guardian today, though revealing not entirely in a way he appears to understand. Bernstein highlights a story first disclosed earlier this month in the Washington Post by his former journalistic partner Bob Woodward that media mogul Rupert Murdoch tried to “buy the US presidency”.

A taped conversation shows that in early 2011 Murdoch sent Roger Ailes, the boss of his most important US media outlet, Fox News, to Afghanistan to persuade Gen David Petraeus, former commander of US forces, to run against Barack Obama as the Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Murdoch promised to bankroll Petraeus’ campaign and commit Fox News to provide the general with wall-to-wall support.

Murdoch’s efforts to put his own man in the White House failed because Petraeus decided he did not want to run for office. “Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran,” Petraeus says in the recording, “but I won’t … but if I ever ran, I’d take him up on his offer.”

Bernstein is rightly appalled not just by this full-frontal attack on democracy but also by the fact that the Washington Post failed to splash with their world exclusive. Instead they buried it inside the paper’s lifestyle section, presenting it as what the section editor called “a buzzy media story that … didn’t have the broader import” that would justify a better showing in the paper.

In line with the Washington Post, most other major US news outlets either ignored the story or downplayed its significance.

We can probably assume that Bernstein wrote his piece at the bidding of Woodward, as a covert way for him to express his outrage at his newspaper’s wholesale failure to use the story to generate a much-deserved political scandal. The pair presumably expected the story to prompt congressional hearings into Murdoch’s misuse of power, parallel to investigations in the UK that have revealed Murdoch’s control of politicians and the police there.

As Bernstein observes: “The Murdoch story – his corruption of essential democratic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic – is one of the most important and far-reaching political/cultural stories of the past 30 years, an ongoing tale without equal.”

What Bernstein cannot understand is why his media masters don’t see things the way he does. He reserves his greatest dismay for “the ho-hum response to the story by the American press and the country’s political establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes and Fox – or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch’s, Ailes’ and Fox’s contempt for decent journalistic values or a transparent electoral process.”

But in truth neither of Bernstein’s explanations for this failure is convincing.

A far more likely reason for the US media’s aversion to the story is that it poses a danger to the Matrix-like wall of static interference generated by precisely the same media that successfully conceals the all-too-cosy relationship between the corporations (that own the media) and the country’s politicians.

The Petraeus story is disturbing to the media precisely because it tears away the façade of US democratic politics, an image carefully honed to persuade the American electorate that it chooses its presidents and ultimately decides the direction of the country’s political future.

Instead, the story reveals the charade of that electoral game, one in which powerful corporate elites manipulate the system through money and the media they own to restrict voters’ choice to two almost-identical candidates. Those candidates hold the same views on 80 per cent of the issues. Even where their policies differ, most of the differences are quickly ironed out behind the scenes by the power elites through the pressure they exert on the White House via lobby groups, the media and Wall Street.

The significance of Woodward’s story is not that it proves Rupert Murdoch is danger to democracy but rather that it reveals the absolute domination of the US political system by the global corporations that control what we hear and see. Those corporations include, of course, the owners of the Washington Post.

The saddest irony is that the journalists who work within the corporate media are incapable of seeing outside the parameters set for them by their media masters. And that includes even the most accomplished practitioners of the trade: Woodward and Bernstein.