Sick Sophistry – BBC News On The Afghan Hospital ‘Mistakenly’ Bombed By The United States

In Media Lens ALERTS 2015

One of the defining features of the corporate media is that Western crimes are ignored or downplayed. The US bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on the night of October 3, is an archetypal example.

At least twenty-two people were killed when a United States Air Force AC-130 repeatedly attacked the hospital with five strafing runs over the course of more than an hour, despite MSF pleas to Afghan, US and Nato officials to call off the attack. The hospital’s main building, which contains the emergency operating room and recovery rooms, was heavily damaged. Dave Lindorff noted:

‘the hospital was deliberately set ablaze by incendiary weapons, and the people inside not incinerated were killed by a spray of bullets and anti-personnel flechettes.’

Lindorff added:

‘The AC-130 gunship is not a precision targeting weapon, but a weapons system designed to spread death over a wide swath.’

Shockingly, MSF had already informed US military forces of the precise coordinates of the hospital in order to prevent any attacks. Indeed, the hospital is:

‘a well-known and long-established institution with a distinctive shape operating in a city that until recently was under full [Afghan] government control. That the US/NATO command did not clearly know the function of that structure is inconceivable.’

MSF were unequivocal in their condemnation of the American attack. The hospital was ‘intentionally targeted’ in ‘a premeditated massacre’.  It was, they said, a ‘war crime’. The organisation rejected US assurances of three inquiries – by the US, Nato and the Afghan government. Instead, MSF demanded an independent international investigation.

In the days following the attack, the US changed its official story several times. At one point, as Glenn Greenwald observes, the dominant narrative from the US and its Afghan allies was that the bombing had not been an accident, but that it had been justified because the Taliban had been using the hospital as a base; an outrageous claim that MSF vehemently rejected. It was even reported that an American tank had later forced its way into the hospital compound, potentially destroying evidence of the war crime that had just taken place.

Yes, the bombing was reported in the ‘mainstream’ media; sometimes with harrowing footage of ruined hospital corridors and rooms. Hospital beds were even shown where patients had burned to death. But the US bombing did not receive the extensive headline coverage and editorial outrage that it deserved.

If you are unsure of that, just imagine the response of the British media if it had been a Russian gunship that had bombed a hospital with the loss of 22 lives, despite pleas from doctors to call off the attack. Western leaders would have instantly condemned the Russian bombing as a ‘war crime’, and the corporate media would have taken their lead from the pronouncements coming out of the offices of power in Washington and London.

By contrast, we have not found a single editorial in any UK national newspaper condemning the US bombing of the hospital or calling for an independent investigation. This is one more example of the dramatic subservience of the corporate media to the state and indeed its long-term complicity in state crimes against humanity.

In the meantime, with nothing to say on Kunduz, the Guardian has found space to publish editorials onhoverboards and the Great British Bakeoff, as well as Guardian editor Katharine Viner’s ‘grilling’ of George Osborne at the Tory party conference. To compound the paper’s ignominy, it still proudly carries Tony Blair in its Comment section where it describes him merely as ‘a former British prime minister’, rather than the notorious and unpopular war criminal he so clearly is. That accurate description is only emphasised by the weekend’s revelations of a memo written by Colin Powell, then George Bush’s US Secretary of State, that Blair had pledged his support for a US invasion of Iraq fully one year in advance, even while telling Parliament and the country that a ‘diplomatic solution’ was still being sought.

 Sopel’s ‘Mistake’

On BBC News at Ten on October 15, 2015, BBC North America correspondent Jon Sopel told viewers over footage of the ravaged Kunduz hospital that it had been ‘mistakenly bombed by the Americans’. Not intentionally bombed, as MSF were saying, but ‘mistakenly bombed’. BBC News were thereby adopting the Pentagon perspective presented earlier by General John Campbell, the US senior commander in Afghanistan, when he claimed that:

‘A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility’.

In fact, the US has done so before, many times. In November 2003, the first target of the huge American ground assault on Fallujah, following several weeks of bombing, was the city’s General Hospital. This was a ‘war crime’, Noam Chomsky noted, and it was even depicted on the front page of the New York Times, but without it being labelled or recognised as such by the paper:

‘the front page of the world’s leading newspaper was cheerfully depicting war crimes for which the political leadership could be sentenced to severe penalties under U.S. law, the death penalty if patients ripped from their beds and manacled on the floor happened to die as a result.’

Going further back in time, US veterans of the Vietnam war have reported that hospitals in Cambodia and Laos were ‘routinely listed’ among targets to be struck by American forces. In 1973, Newsweekmagazine quoted a former US army intelligence analyst saying that:

‘The bigger the hospital, the better it was’.

And now, in the case of the MSF hospital in Kunduz, Associated Press reported that:

‘US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital’.

Moreover, it has since emerged that the American crew of the AC-130 gunship even questionedwhether it was legal to attack the hospital.

Our repeated challenges on Twitter to Sopel and his BBC News editor Paul Royall were ignored. Is this really how senior BBC professionals should behave when publicly questioned about a serious breach of impartiality? Simply deign not to answer?

However, one of our readers emailed Sopel and did extract a remarkable response from the BBC North America correspondent which was kindly forwarded to us.

Sopel wrote in his email:

‘At this stage whether the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz was deliberate or accidental is the subject of an investigation – and I know there are doubts about the independence of the inquiry – but what it most certainly WAS was mistaken. Given the outrage the bombing has provoked, the humiliating apology it has forced the US into, the PR disaster it has undoubtedly been, how can anyone describe it as anything other than mistaken? If I had used the word accidentally you might have had a point.’

But this is, at best, disingenuous nonsense from Sopel. Most people watching his piece, and hearing him say that the hospital had been ‘mistakenly bombed by the Americans’, would have assumed he meant that the Americans had not intended to bomb the hospital rather than that bombing the hospital was misguided.

As we saw above, the notion that US forces did not know the target was a hospital is the Pentagon propaganda claim, and is not the view of MSF. Moreover, it contradicts the evidence that was both available at the time of Sopel’s BBC News report and what has since come to light (that the US aircrew actually questioned the legality of the strike on a hospital). Christopher Stokes, general director of MSF, told Associated Press that the US bombing was ‘no mistake’.

‘The extensive, quite precise destruction of this hospital … doesn’t indicate a mistake. The hospital was repeatedly hit’.

The rest of Sopel’s remarks in the exchange are irrelevant (the bravery of war journalists), verging on cringeworthy (his proud support of MSF with a standing order).

Sopel’s attempt to exploit ‘the outrage’, ‘the humiliating apology’ and ‘the PR disaster’ to justify his use of ‘mistakenly bombed’ is desperate sophistry. Is he really trying to say that a war crime is ‘mistaken’ because it is a ‘PR disaster’, requiring a ‘humiliating apology’?

Perhaps the airstrike was a ‘mistake’ in much the same way that the killing of eight Afghan schoolboys by US-led troops in 2009 was a ‘mistake’? This was a ‘mistake’ that Nato brushed away with payments of $2,000 for each dead child, in a kind of macabre ‘fire sale’.

Perhaps the airstrike was a ‘mistake’ in much the same way as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in the eyes of Bridget Kendall, the BBC diplomatic correspondent. She declared on BBC News at Six:

‘There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?’ (BBC1, March 20, 2006)

That the Iraq invasion was, in fact, an illegal and immoral war of aggression – indeed, the ‘supreme international crime’ judged by the Nuremberg standard of war crimes – was not a permissible description for BBC News.

But that is the ideological norm shaping corporate media output and ‘mainstream’ debate. Western political and military leaders may occasionally make ‘mistakes’ or ‘disastrous miscalculations’. But their essential intent is always honourable: to ‘keep the Taliban at bay’ (Sopel again), to destroy Islamic State or to ‘bring peace to the Middle East’.

We asked John Pilger to comment on Jon Sopel’s report for BBC News and his subsequent remarks on email. Pilger told us (via email, October 19, 2015):

‘Serious journalism is about trying to set the record straight with compelling evidence. What is striking about Jon Sopel’s report is that he offers not a glimpse of journalistic evidence to support his assertion that the US attack on the hospital was “mistaken” – thus calling into question facts presented by MSF: facts that have not been refuted and he makes no attempt to refute. Neither is the dissembling by the US military challenged by Sopel. Instead, he is “certain” the attack was mistaken. What is the basis of his “certainty”? He doesn’t say; and he clearly feels under no compulsion to say. Instead, in full defensive cry, he tells us what an experienced frontline reporter he is, implying that his word is enough. Well, I have reported more wars than Sopel has had White House briefings, and I know – as he knows – that journalism of this kind is no more than a feeble echo of the official line. He does reveal his agency by telling us – quite unabashed — that President Obama has “very little option” but to continue his campaign of destruction in Afghanistan. Some might call this apologetics; actually, it’s anti-journalism.’

Perhaps it is not surprising that the header photo at the top of Sopel’s Twitter page should show him listening respectfully to US President Obama. The tragic irony is that Obama, the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has just committed a war crime in bombing Médecins Sans Frontières, the 1999 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

DC

Suggested Action

If you decide to contact a journalist in response to our alert, please keep the tone civil. We do not condone abusive language.

Jon Sopel, BBC North America correspondent
Email: jon.sopel@bbc.co.uk
Twitter: @BBCJonSopel

Paul Royall, editor of both BBC News at Six and News at Ten
Email: paul.royall@bbc.co.uk
Twitter: @paulroyall

Please forward any replies to us:
editor@medialens.org

An investigation by the Bureau’s CIA Torture project.

REVEALED: The boom and bust of the CIA’s secret torture sites

In spring 2003 an unnamed official at CIA headquarters in Langley sat down to compose a memo. It was 18 months after George W Bush had declared war on terror. “We cannot have enough blacksite hosts,” the official wrote. The reference was to one of the most closely guarded secrets of that war – the countries that had agreed to host the CIA’s covert prison sites.

Between 2002 and 2008, at least 119 people disappeared into a worldwide detention network run by the CIA and facilitated by its foreign partners.

A mammoth investigation by the US Senate’s intelligence committee finally identified these 119 prisoners in December 2014. But its report was heavily censored, and the names of countries collaborating with the CIA in its detention and interrogation operations were removed, along with key dates, numbers, names and much other material.

In nine months of research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Rendition Project have unpicked these redactions to piece together the hidden history of the CIA’s secret sites.

Although many published accounts of individual journeys through the black site network exist, this is the first comprehensive portrayal of the system’s inner dynamics from beginning to end.

Read the full report here.

After 1,000 Palestinians Wounded, 24 Killed, Hillary Clinton Laments Only Israeli Deaths

She weighed in on this violence by essentially forgetting that the Palestinian casualties of this violence even exist.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to a speaker during the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York September 24, 2014

The past two weeks have seen enormous clashes in the Holy Land, with a wave of violence between Palestinians primarily in the occupied West Bank but also in Gaza clashing with Israeli soldiers, settlers, and civilians.

The violence has many believing that a third Palestinian intifada, uprising against the occupation, is brewing. This uprising is taking a different form, with Hamas in Gaza and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank both sitting out the fighting. Rather, young Palestinians are self-organizing as part of raucous protests, while others have, in frustration, engaged in knife attacks against Israeli civilians which have spread fear and terror.

Last night, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton weighed in on this violence by essentially forgetting that the Palestinian casualties of this violence even exist:

Here are some of the facts of what has happened to Palestinians during the past two weeks:

  • The Wounded: Over 1,000 Palestinians have been reported woundedsince October 1st.
  • The Dead: 28 Palestinians have perished as of this writing. They include a pregnant mother killed in an airstrike, and a group of protesters who were shot with live ammunition.
  • Attacked By Settlers: Although the Israeli settlement movement is not employed by the Israeli government, it is shielded by it, with settlers often attacking Palestinians with Israeli soldiers at their flank. October saw a spike in attacks by settlers, with 130 logged in the month so far. The PLO has charted this:

It is not incredibly surprising that Clinton would posture as pro-Israel – she isseeking the support of one of her long-time funders, Haim Saban, an Israeli-American who is a strong supporter of the Israeli government. However, writing the Palestinians out of her statement altogether is a step the U.S. government itself rarely takes, and may be a sign that she is trying to distance herself from President Obama, who has been criticized for his few moments of disagreement with Israel’s government.

Nobody expects the Republicans to speak up for the Palestinians, but it is disappointing that Clinton’s rival Bernie Sanders has not put out any statements on this issue over the past two weeks, despite his words many years ago condemning Israel for the exact same sort of behavior it is conducting right now.

‘Classified Speech’: Purdue Destroys Video Of Presentation On Snowden Documents

By

 What you see when you try to load Barton Gellman's wiped presentation

Published in partnership with Shadowproof.

There are numerous examples of American colleges or universities invoking “civility” to stifle free speech, especially speech around the issue of Palestinian human rights. Multiple instances exist where students have demanded particular speech or acts of expression, which make them uncomfortable, be controlled or suppressed. On a lesser scale, there also appears to be a trend toward constraining “classified speech.”

“Classified speech” is speech containing or relying upon information, which is public but the United States government has not declassified yet. Colleges or universities that are part of the American security industrial-complex have “facility security clearances” or other obligations they have agreed to follow so administrators can maintain the stature of being a place that conducts classified U.S. government research.

Yet, the result of such arrangements is what happened to Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman, who produced Pulitzer Prize-winning work on documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Gellman was invited to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, to give a keynote presentation on Snowden and “national security journalism in the age of surveillance.” The presentation was part of a colloquium called “Dawn or Doom” on the “risks and rewards of emerging technologies.” It was live streamed, and Gellman was promised a link for sharing his presentation after the event.

Purdue University emphasized in its description of the event that Gellman would offer a “fresh account of the disclosures and their aftershocks, drawing upon hundreds of hours of work with the classified NSA archive and scores of hours of interviews with Snowden.”

As Gellman has recounted, Purdue “wiped all copies” of his video and slides from university servers on the grounds that Gellman “displayed classified documents briefly on screen.”

“A breach report was filed with the university’s Research Information Assurance Officer, also known as the Site Security Officer, under the terms of Defense Department Operating Manual 5220.22-M. I am told that Purdue briefly considered, among other things, whether to destroy the projector I borrowed, lest contaminants remain,” Gellman added.

Gellman recognizes under a Pentagon agreement Purdue had to appear shocked when “spillage” was discovered at his presentation. The university ultimately determined three slides, which covered about five minutes in his presentation, tainted the talk so much that the entire keynote had to be erased so no student at Purdue would ever see the “breach.”

In a statement provided to Inside Higher Education, the legal counsel for Purdue, Steve Schultz, defended the decision to wipe all copies of Gellman’s presentation:

We don’t view this episode as any sort of compromise of Purdue’s commitment to free and open inquiry. It was the university’s desire to raise awareness of Mr. Gellman’s area of expertise that brought him to campus in the first place. When the classified nature of some material was confirmed, Purdue’s security officer made a judgment call, based on a reading of regulations, that we shouldn’t disseminate it. Purdue’s DSS industrial security representative confirmed the propriety of this assessment. In the course of communicating the decision to the technical team, the entire speech was removed from the website. We have acknowledged that perhaps a better way to comply with the law would have been to block only the classified information in question. But we don’t make the laws; we only do our best to follow them.

This overzealous attitude was exhibited by attendees at Gellman’s presentation. Gellman was specifically asked if he had shown documents classified “TS/SCI” or “top secret/sensitive compartmented information.” No one asks a journalist that question unless they have a background in classified intelligence work and are concerned about protecting the sanctity of U.S. secrets.

The same questioner wanted to know if the NSA had declassified the documents in question. Gellman explained they were still classified and, for the most part, government employees have been informed they should not look at them. He added the government will not declassify information because it does not want someone else to decide what is classified and what is not. However, that ties them up in some “pretty bad knots.”

This was not a good enough answer. One post-doctoral research engineer asked a follow-up about whether documents were “unclassified.” Gellman answered, “No, they’re classified still.”

As became evident, a number of people in the audience (possibly “junior security rangers” on faculty and staff) had no interest in exploring the issue of over-classification or how the government absurdly claims to still have control over information after it has leaked. They were uninterested in debating the extent to which agencies fight to maintain an alternative reality among government employees.

This kind of zeal is not entirely new. It has been seen in response to the Snowden’s disclosures and the documents from Chelsea Manning, which were published by WikiLeaks.

A military defense university established by Congress and known as the Defense Acquisition Universityblocked access to the Post in order to prevent trainees and workers from exposure to “classified material being released.”

A State Department official reportedly warned students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) that students applying for jobs in the federal government could see their prospects jeopardized if they were found to be reading and sharing documents from WikiLeaks or talking about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter. (The university later reversed its position.)

But, most often, the zeal has been reserved for personnel working inside government agencies, like the Defense Department, which blocked The Guardian to shield employees from NSA documents, or the Library of Congress, which blocked access to WikiLeaks.

In fact, one of the oldest research libraries in the country reacted in a manner very similar to Purdue. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) made a recommendation, and the Library of Congress claimed to be following “applicable law” that required them to “protect classified information.” They went along with the notion that “unauthorized disclosures of classified documents do not alter the documents’ classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.”

Such a posture toward information is less about security and more about loyalty. Students and faculty engaged in classified government research, who make up a very small part of the university, act as missionaries guarding against anyone who violates the blessedness of information marked classified by anyone from the vast security apparatus with such power.

Not only does a policy like this empower students and faculty to challenge a journalist for engaging in investigative journalism, but it makes it possible to take concrete action to effectively police speech.

As Gellman reflected, “Now the security apparatus claims jurisdiction over the campus (“facility”) at large. The university finds itself “sanitizing” a conference that has nothing to do with any government contract. Where does it stop? Suppose a professor wants to teach a network security course, or a student wants to write a foreign policy paper, that draws on the rich public record made available by Snowden and Chelsea Manning? Those cases will be hard to distinguish from mine.”

Or, take it a step farther. The documents are not classified to the government. The information contained in the document is classified.

If the policy is fully embraced by Purdue University is applied, when any of that information is discussed with a reporter and is published, it has now technically a “breach” that the university should protect itself from because the government did not classify the information. That means any major newspapers covering national security stories should probably be censored and/or removed entirely from campus.

Such a policy is incomprehensible and, contrary to the view of Purdue’s legal counsel, toxic to any institution claiming to value academic freedom and open inquiry. Nonetheless, it is what institutions think they must adopt in order to protect access and prestige, as a part of the American security industrial-complex.

The CIA in Guatemala: A chilling account of death and misery by a brave woman…

This is a video by Jennifer Harbury, an American whose late Guatemalan husband, a Mayan indigenous activist, was “disappeared” by the military. After hunger strikes and investigations, she learned that Efraín Bámaca Velásquez had been tortured and then killed — and that the CIA knew all about it. Her story is a powerful one..

Snowden Says He Knows How To Find Out Why The US Bombed Afghan Hospital

“AC-130 warplanes record the gunner’s video and audio. It’s time to release the tapes…”

Edward Snowden aparece en un video en vivo desde Moscú en un foro patrocinado por la Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles (ACLU) en Hawaii, el 14 de febrero de 2015. El exempleado de la Agencia de Seguridad Nacional (NSA) que dio a conocer documentos secretos sobre espionaje abrió su cuenta en Twitter el 29 de septiembre de 2015. (Foto AP/Marco Garcia, File)

Overnight, Medecins Sans Frontiers, or the “Doctors without Borders” medical group which suffered a tremendous loss of life at the hands of US bombardment this past Saturday, stepped up its criticism of what it has previously called a US “war crime.”

As Reuters reports, earlier today it called for an independent international fact-finding commission to be established to investigate the U.S. bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, which it deems a war crime, and which it would use to decide whether or not to file criminal charges, although it was unclear against whom precisely: perhaps 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama?

Why independent: because as MSF said “we cannot rely on internal investigations by U.S, NATO and Afghan forces.”

Instead, the medical charity said that the commission, which can be set up at the request of a single state under the Geneva Convention, would gather facts and evidence from the United States, NATO and Afghanistan. MSF said it sent a letter on Tuesday to the 76 countries who signed up to the additional protocol of the Geneva Convention that set up the standing commission in 1991.

There is one problem: neither the United States nor Afghanistan are signatories and Francoise Saulnier, MSF lead counsel, said that the consent of the states involved is necessary.

Good luck getting it.

Assuming the US does “agree” to comply with this fact-finding mission, we expect the full data dump – after all the necessary scrubbing of the evidence of course – to take place, some time in 2019.

For now, however, the MSF is not backing down: “If we let this go, we are basically giving a blank check to any countries at war,” MSF International President Joanne Liu told a news briefing in Geneva. “There is no commitment to an independent investigation yet.”

MSF is in talks with Switzerland about convoking the international commission of independent experts.

“Today we say enough, even war has rules,” Liu said.

Again, good luck with all of that.

Then again, none other than US persona non grata #1 (Edward Snowden) has provided a quick and easy solution:

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Afghanistan’s Killing Fields: Behind the Empire’s Lies

Everything you need to know about the Afghanistan war in just seven minutes