Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A necessary digression

I listened to Christopher Lydon's show last night -- it's called Open Source, and it's because Lydon already had the name that Pajamas Media was forced to stay undressed. He had on MSNBC pundit Lawrence O'Donnell and The Nation's John Nichols, among others, to talk about the Libby trial.

Appropriately, the discussion wandered into the case for war in Iraq and Colin Powell's notorious speech before the UN Security Council. O'Donnell zealously defended the performance of the U.S. news media at that time, claiming that they could not possibly have been expected to know that Powell was full of crap. Lydon and Nichols pointed out that British newspapers effectively debunked Powell's speech the following day, but O'Donnell insisted that The Guardian and others didn't find any "smoking gun" to prove that Powell's claims were false and that U.S. reporters had no choice but to simply transmit them.

Right. I'm just going to give you a couple of highlights of my personal experience on that fateful week in February. One of Powell's claims was that there was a facility in Iraq, where al Qaeda was training its operatives in the use of chemical weapons. He showed satellite pictures of the "chemical weapons training facility." So, British reporters decided to go there. The chemical weapons training facility, first of all, was located in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the "no fly zone" protected by U.S. and British warplanes from incursions by the Baathist regime. Since it was outside of Saddam's control, it was easy for the reporters to get there. Out in the desert they found a decrepit, abandoned village of cinder block huts with no electricity, no water, and no chemical weapons or for that matter, weapons or "facilities" of any kind. This went completely unmentioned in the United States. I read it in The Guardian about two days after the speech.

Powell also stated that a terrorist group called Ansar al-Islam was operating "in Iraq," and that it constituted a link between al Qaeda and the Saddam Hussein regime. Powell implied that the leader of Ansar al-Islam was Abu Musab al Zarqawi. I was curious, so I spent about five minutes doing research on the organization. Like the chemical weapons training facility, Ansar operated exclusively in a remote area of Kurdistan. Its leader, Najeddin Faraj Ahmad, whose nom de guerre is Mullah Krekar, was not in fact Abu Musab al Zarqawi, although it was indeed associated with al Qaeda. The principal goal of Ansar al-Islam was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. I also learned that, according to Kurdish Media, a reasonably reputable though fervently nationalist news service, Saddam Hussein had provided weapons to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan on condition that they use them to attack Ansar al Islam. Even though Saddam and the PUK were enemies, this is plausible because Ansar al-Islam was also at war with the secular PUK. Alliance and animosities in that part of the world can be very complex.

So yes, Saddam and Mullah Krekar were indeed "linked," in that they were trying to kill each other, but I don't think that was what Powell was trying to imply. I wrote a letter to the Boston Globe detailing these findings, which of course they did not publish. I also wrote to the ombudsman pointing out that the paper was not providing its readers with essential, readily available information even as their government was taking them to war. They ignored me. This information, which any citizen with an Internet connection could have discovered in five minutes, was never mentioned, as far as I can tell, in any mainstream media in the United States including the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, or anyplace else. In fact, as far as I know they still haven't mentioned it. A curtain of censorship had been drawn over North America. Hell, I even met the Executive Producer of PBS's Frontline at a party and I told him. He scoffed at me.

These people, who consider themselves professionals and make substantial salaries, are "reporters" in the same sense as court reporters. They are transcriptionists. There have been some minor self-critcisms from some of them about how they didn't dig hard enough, but the truth is, they did not tell the public basic facts that they surely must have known to be true. O'Donnell is a pompous, airheaded ass.

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