Various matters

Peter Bergen's drone propaganda; State Department admission on human rights; unpopularity of NATO's Libya war

Published July 7, 2012 11:17AM (EDT)

(1) Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation think tank and CNN has become one of the most vocal cheerleaders for President Obama's Terrorism policies, and has also been the recipient of highly lucrative, exclusive access to classified information granted by Obama's administration. On July 4, Bergen, along with NAF's Jennifer Rowland, published a CNN column lauding Obama's escalated drone attacks, claiming they have "become more precise and discriminating" (even while acknowledging that the "strikes may also be fueling terrorism"). The top of the column features a colorful chart, assembled by the NAF, depicting civilians as a tiny portion of the deaths caused by those strikes; it actually claims that for 2012, 153 "militants" (whatever that means) have been killed by drones in Pakistan versus zero civilians.

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf does an excellent job of documenting how unreliable and propagandistic are Bergen's claims. Bergen, the think tank "Terrorism expert," knows nothing about the identity of the victims other than what media reports, based on anonymous U.S. and Pakistani "officials," claim. But as I've repeatedly documented, and as Friedersdorf notes, these claims are unproven and inherently unreliable for numerous reasons, including the warped Obama re-definition of "militant" to include "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." There is abundant evidence that the number of civilian deaths are vastly higher than official claims, but Bergen's pretty chart acknowledges none of that. That's because most D.C. think tanks -- and especially "experts" enriched by their access provided by government sources -- exist to sanctify and propagate official claims. That's their function.


(2) Associated Press' Matt Lee is one of those rare reporters who frequently challenges U.S. foreign policy hypocrisy, both in general and, even more rarely, as it pertains to the nation's support for Israel. Here is a remarkably revealing exchange he had on Tuesday with State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland:

VICTORIA NULAND, spokesperson for State Department:

Listen, before we leave Syria, I just want to take the opportunity, if you didn’t see it, to draw your attention to the Human Rights Watch report that was released today that identifies some 27 detention centers that Human Rights Watch says Syrian Government intelligence agencies have been using since the Assad crackdown on pro-democracy protestors. The report found that tens of thousands of Syrians are in detention by regime security and intelligence agencies and that the regime is carrying out inexplicable, horrific acts of torture, including – well, I’m not going to repeat them here, but I’ll leave it to you to read the report. And in many cases, the Human Rights Watch asserts that even children have been subject to torture by the Assad regime.

MATT LEE: Do you see that report as credible and solid, and you’re putting – you’re endorsing it? I mean, you’re saying --

MS. NULAND: We have no reason to believe that it is not credible. It’s based on eyewitness accounts, and they’re reporting from a broad cross-section of human rights figures inside Syria.

LEE: So the next time Human Rights Watch comes out with a report that’s critical of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, I’ll assume that you’re going to be saying the same thing, correct; that you think that the report is credible, it’s based on eyewitness accounts?


LEE: And you’re not going to say that it’s politically motivated and should be dismissed?

MS. NULAND: Matt, as you have made clear again and again in this room, we are not always consistent.


LEE: So, in other words, anything that Human Rights Watch says that is critical of someone you don’t like, that’s okay; but once they criticize someone that you do like, then it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on?

MS. NULAND: Matt, I’m not going to get into colloquy on this one.


RAGHUBIR GOYAL (India Globe): India.


Purported human rights concerns from the U.S. Government are virtually always weapons used to undermine governments which the U.S. dislikes for completely unrelated reasons (usually because those nation's governments defy U.S. decrees), and instantly disappear whenever it comes to governments which comply with those decrees ("I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family" -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, March 2, 2009; "the President and the [Saudi] King reaffirmed the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia" -- White House Readout of the President's Call with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, October 12, 2011; "US resumes arms sales to Bahrain. Activists feel abandoned" -- Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2012; "Israeli settlements: US vetoes UNSC resolution" -- BBC, February 19, 2011). Kudos to Nuland for acknowledging this, even if it was forced and sarcastic.


(3) Although most Americans prefer not to acknowledge the fact documented in the prior item, most people in the Muslim world are all too familiar with it. Many advocates of the NATO intervention in Libya claimed that it would improve perceptions of the U.S. in that region, but a recent Gallup poll unsurprisingly demonstrates the opposite:

There are well-intentioned advocates of these interventions who genuinely believe that they will result in humanitarian outcomes by removing horrible tyrants -- that was true for the war in Iraq as well as for Libya -- but such advocates refuse to recognize that this is not the American objective and therefore not the likely outcome. By contrast, that disparity -- between stated goals and actual goals -- is well-recognized among those who have seen the results of American intervention up close.


(4) The LGBT magazine, The Advocate, endorsed President Obama this week, the first time it has endorsed a presidential candidate in many years, and this was the nausea-inducing cover trumpeting its endorsement:

I've praised Obama's record on same-sex equality as enthusiastically as anyone: it's one area where his record has been impressive. I understand, and have expressed, the emotional importance for LGBT Americans of his marriage announcement as well as its political significance. But beyond the gross amorality of being narcissistically fixated on one self-interested issue to the exclusion of all others, hailing Barack Obama as a holy mixture of Abraham Lincoln and God is nothing short of demented. That this deeply unhealthy leader-reverence gushes forward all due to a non-binding, base-pleasing Election-Year statement makes it even more embarrassing.


(5) A large Canadian bank, TD Bank, has begun closing the accounts of its Iranian-Canadian customers out of fear that use of their accounts to send money to relatives in Iran would violate sanctions imposed on that country. As usual, these sanctions regimes end up imposing severe harm on ordinary citizens while doing little to achieve their stated objective.


(6) Last week, I posted the video of the speech I gave on Friday night on Challenging the American Surveillance State, delivered at the 2012 Socialism Conference in Chicago. For those interested, AlterNet has now published a transcript of that speech.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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