New York Times

WikiLeaks and the Drone Strike Transparency Bill

by Robert Naiman

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently took an important step by passing an intelligence authorization which would require for the first time - if it became law - that the Administration publicly report on civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes.

Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University School of Law and a Special Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, calls this provision "an important step toward improving transparency," and notes that "Various U.N. officials, foreign governments, a broad range of civil society, and many others, including former U.S. Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh ... have called for the publication of such basic information."

This provision could be offered as an amendment in the Senate to the National Defense Authorization Act. It could be offered in the House as an amendment on the intelligence authorization, or as a freestanding bill. But it's not likely to become law unless there's some public agitation for it (you can participate in the public agitation here.)

NYT Public Editor responds to our petition on budget reporting

Earlier this week, we initiated a petition at MoveOn to Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, urging that the Times put budget numbers in context.

.@nytimes, @Sulliview: Put Budget Numbers in Context
http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/nytimes-sulliview-put?source=c.url&r_by...

Margaret Sullivan has responded. You can read her response here:

The Times Is Working on Ways to Make Numbers-Based Stories Clearer for Readers
http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/the-times-is-working-on...

NYT's David Sanger Scaremongering Iran Nukes More Than Netanyahu

I've forgotten most of the Arabic I once knew. All I can remember now are a few colorful phrases, like "aktar maliki min il malik" - more royalist than the King.

Suppose that you decided that you wanted to scaremonger Iran's nuclear program. An obvious question presents itself: exactly how much should you scaremonger it? Suppose that you decided you wanted to run even with the world's top-drawer Iran nuclear program scaremongers. You might reasonably think to yourself, well, surely the world's preeminent Iran nuclear program scaremongers are Israeli government officials. If I scaremonger Iran's nuclear program like Israeli government officials, no-one's going to accuse me of being an Iran nuclear program scaremonger patzer.

So, you check the press reports to catch up on the latest in Israeli government Iran nuclear program scaremongering:

Urge NYT Public Editor to Probe Times Coverage of Syria Chemical Arms Claim

We learned in the run-up to the Iraq war that the New York Times has tremendous power to establish "truth" in the United States—and when the Times wields that power irresponsibly, the results can be catastrophic.

Last week, the media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting documented a lack of skepticism in New York Times reporting of allegations of Syrian government use of chemical weapons. [1] Times reporting suggested that the U.S. government had strong evidence that Syria had used chemical weapons. But, as FAIR documented, the U.S. government was not nearly as certain as claimed by the Times' initial reports. At the same time that the Times was uncritically reporting these claims, other media were appropriately skeptical.

Urge Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times Public Editor, to examine whether the Times showed appropriate skepticism in its reporting of Western government claims about the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons.

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/syria-nyt

On April 18, the Times reported [2] that, according to unnamed diplomats, the UK and France had sent letters to the UN about "credible evidence" Syria had used chemical weapons. On April 23, the Times reported [3] that Israel had "evidence that the Syrian government repeatedly used chemical weapons last month." In its print edition April 25, the Times reported [4] that the White House "shares the suspicions of several of its allies that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons." That same day, with headline "White House Says Syria Has Used Chemical Arms," the Times then reported [5]:

The White House, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the nation's intelligence agencies assessed ''with varying degrees of confidence'' that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had used the chemical agent sarin on a small scale.

New York Times Calls Out AIPAC Warmongering, Slams Graham's S. Res. 65, House's H.R. 850

The New York Times editorial board has come a long way since its days of upholding the false dichotomy of sanctions versus war as the only options for US-Iran relations. It was less than two years ago that the Times published an editorial assessing the potential paths for addressing the US-Iran impasse—and completely neglected to mention diplomacy or negotiations.

But a Saturday editorial shows that the Times's vocabulary and outlook on the subject has since undergone a significant expansion:

If there is any hope for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran, President Obama needs Congress to support negotiations. But negotiations and compromise are largely anathema in Washington, with many lawmakers insisting that any deal with Iran would be unacceptable — a stance that would make military action by Israel and the United States far more likely.

Not only did the editorial board recognize that "the best way to avert military conflict is by negotiating a credible, verifiable agreement," but it also slammed two new AIPAC-sponsored Congressional initiatives aimed at sabotaging negotiations. On Sens. Lindsay Graham and Robert Menendez's "backdoor to war" resolution, S. Res. 65, the Times wrote that

Oh SNAP! NYT Mentions Israeli Nukes in Bibi Iran Piece

When I sat down to take in the headlines yesterday on the New York Times website, I was not altogether pleased with the paper of record. Admittedly, I am in an almost constant state of perturbance when it comes to the Times; however, their particularly heinous reporting on the Bibi "red line" hullabaloo Friday got my blood up, propelling me to dash off a long letter to the new Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, from whom I have yet to receive a response. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting posted an excellent write-up of the affair, so I won't bother doing so here. Suffice it to say that my exasperation level was unusually high.

So imagine my mirth when I came upon the following excerpt in the piece "Israeli leader makes case against Iran on US TV":

Mr. Netanyahu, who also appeared on the CNN program "State of the Union" on Sunday, sought to link the violence [at US embassies in the Middle East] with Iran's nuclear ambitions, arguing that Iran's leaders were driven by the same fanaticism that enraged the protesters. Israel has its own nuclear arsenal, though it has never publicly acknowledged it.

WHAT? Did the New York Times just mention the fact that Israel has nukes!? Oh SNAP! Day-um, hear that, Bibi? Bet that BURNS!

But what could have possibly gotten into the Times to allow such a tawdry fact into their Iran reporting? It's not like a mention was called for by the information preceding it. I think that my reaction to its inclusion was so marked precisely because there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for the Times to mention the Israeli arsenal at this particular point in the piece.

New York Times Blames Iran For Bulgaria Bombing--But Where's The Evidence?

There are two major items of concern in the July 19, 2012 New York Times story "Hezbollah Is Blamed in Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria."

First, the article states

The bombing comes at a time of heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes but Israel and the West say is a cover for developing weapons.

But it is not true that Israel and the West say that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. A number of top US and Israeli military and intelligence officials have publicly stated that they do not believe that Iranian leadership has decided to develop nuclear weapons. Furthermore, neither the most recent intelligence reports out of the US and Israel, nor recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, say that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

Second, the author's use of "confirmed" in the first sentence of the article is, I believe, misleading:

Yes, Virginia, We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes

There's a conventional wisdom in Washington that there's nothing we can do politically to stop the U.S. government from killing innocent civilians with drone strikes.

But it ain't necessarily so.

Speaking only for myself, I'm willing to stipulate that killing "high value terrorists" who are known to be actively preparing to kill Americans is wildly popular, regardless of whether it is constitutional and legal.

Here's what's not wildly popular: killing innocent civilians.

This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. This is an American issue. Go to the reddest of Red America. Stand outside a megachurch or military base in the Deep South. Find me twelve Christian Republicans who are willing to sign their names that they want the U.S. government to kill innocent civilians. I bet you can't do it. Killing innocent civilians is un-American.

Consider: after what widely reported news event did even Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say maybe we ought to get our troops out of Afghanistan? After it was reported that a U.S. soldier massacred Afghan civilians.

The historian Howard Zinn suggested that it's a backhanded compliment to the American people that our government lies to us about what it's doing in other people's countries. Because it suggests that if the American people knew, they would never stand for it.

Thanks to a New York Times report this week, we now know. In an echo of the Colombian military's "false positives" scandal, our government is killing people with drone strikes and then decreeing that "military age men" killed by U.S. drone strikes are automatically "combatants." Born a chicken, raised a chicken, now you're a fish.

The U.S. and Iran are talking. Why is the New York Times peddling Iran Islamophobia?

At long last, the United States and Iran are engaged in serious talks about Iran's nuclear program. But instead of celebrating the fact that President Obama is keeping his promise to the people who voted for him to pursue diplomatic engagement with Iran, the New York Times has suggested to its readers that Iran's Supreme Leader is uniquely and intrinsically untrustworthy when he says that Iran will never pursue a nuclear weapon. Why? Because, according to the Times, Iran's leaders are Shiites, and Shiites have a religious doctrine called "taqiyya," which allows them to lie.

No scholar or analyst was cited by the New York Times in support of this argument, which should have been a red flag for Times editors for an argument claiming that the leadership of a country against which the United States has threatened war is essentially different from us because they belong to a different religion.

Last Saturday - the same day the United States and Iran were having "constructive and useful" discussions on Iran's nuclear program in Istanbul, according to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton - the New York Times published a piece titled, "Seeking Nuclear Insight in Fog of the Ayatollah's Utterances," over the byline of James Risen.

That piece contained the following paragraph:

 

Complicating matters further, some analysts say that Ayatollah Khamenei's denial of Iranian nuclear ambitions has to be seen as part of a Shiite historical concept called taqiyya, or religious dissembling. For centuries an oppressed minority within Islam, Shiites learned to conceal their sectarian identity to survive, and so there is a precedent for lying to protect the Shiite community.

 

With Larry Summers' World Bank Bid in Trouble, Mexico Insists on Open Process

Early last week the New York Times reported that despite all the previous fine rhetoric about the G20 and consultation and open process, the US Treasury Department had decided to rule by decree and impose its own candidate for the next president of the World Bank, the G20 be damned. U.S. officials informed G20 officials that the US intended to "retain control of the bank," as the Times put it. According to the Times, the G20 countries grumbled but showed no sign of being willing to fight Treasury. The U.S. candidate would be a "lock," the Times said, "since Europe will almost certainly support whomever Washington picks."

 

Since the International Monetary and the World Bank were created, the US and Europe - which control around half of the voting shares of these institutions - have colluded behind closed doors to determine the institutions' top leaders, with Europe selecting the head of the IMF with US support and the US selecting the head of the World Bank with European support. In recent years, developing countries have complained loudly about this practice - a practice which would be illegal if the World Bank were subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act - and under pressure the World Bank has adopted governance reforms that are supposed to guarantee an "open, merit-based process" in selecting the President. But Treasury was claiming that there wasn't going to be any open process, it was going to be Treasury diktat.

But over the course of the last few days, the world has changed.