“It used to be a big deal for America to be at war. When eight thousand American troops spent three days shooting Cubans hiding behind palm trees on the island of Grenada, apparently to rescue six hundred medical school students, the country was transfixed. War! Shooting! Helicopters! Awesome! The press swarmed over the island and Tom Brokaw got to do a special report complete with rat-a-tatting “Breaking News!” typewriter sounds that included a graphic with two hastily composed computer warships (they looked like trace jobs from Battleship pieces) sitting outside the harbor at St. George.
Today we bomb people basically nonstop and it never makes the news. The average American had no idea we were at war in seven countries last year, and that was just the official disclosure. In addition to actions in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, and Niger, we’d been aiding the Saudi bombing of Yemen for nearly 1,100 consecutive days on December 11, 2017, when the Pentagon submitted its latest “where the hell we’re currently at war” summary—also known as a section 1264 report, which has to be delivered to Congress every six months under the National Defense Authorization Act.
That’s about as much as the military is required to tell us these days about what it’s doing.
We were already occupying a third of Syria before the military really bothered to tell anyone. The Washington Post informed us somewhat after the fact that we intended to stay in country on an “indefinite” basis. Congress neither debated nor authorized this action. So in a world where not just wars but occupations can safely be left out of the news, imagine how the reporting works on individual bombings.
Even American Citizens
The government as recently as last spring asserted in an American courtroom that it had the right to authorize “lethal action” against even an American citizen without indictment, probable cause, even notice, due to a series of legal loopholes so preposterous they would impress Kafka.
So our drones are in the air constantly, searching out the enemies of democracy. How does someone get on the Kill List? Ususally through a combination of human intelligence and algorithmic analysis. In the Obama years there were meetings cheerfully known as “Terror Tuesdays,” in which lists of soon-to-be-dead were approved. You can get on the list by being a “military-aged male” in one of our “small war” zones, by carrying a weapon, by calling the wrong cell phone number, and for dozens of other reasons. So we have a list (known as the “Disposition Matrix”) and our flying robots zoom around the globe, crossing borders without permission, dropping payloads whenever we think we’ve spotted one of our targets. We hit with surgical precision. In fact, we’re so good, we’ve killed the same terrorist twice on dozens of occasions.
This is how totally without ethics our intelligence sources are, and how lazy newspapers are—we don’t even notice when we report the same terrorist killed by drone on different dates in different countries! One estimate places the total number of people killed in efforts to kill [a target] at forty-eight. A non-profit in England took over a year to count just the publicly double-killed terrorists. The London-based Reprieve organization found that 1,147 people were killed by drones in efforts to kill just forty-one men.
Twenty-four men were reported killed or targeted multiple times in Pakistan. Those attacks resulted in 874 people dead, including 142 children. Just in pursuit of Ayman al Zawahiri, we killed seventy-six children (he’s still alive). Jennifer Gibson, the lawyer who did this research for Reprieve, was amazed that all of this was out in the open. “It’s not like this happened once,” she says. “It happened over and over and over.” There are several issues here. If we’re reporting someone killed more than once, someone who is not Fahd al-Quso or Baitullah Maisud or Qari Hussain is actually dying in each case. Yet read the accounts of all of these bombings and see if you notice a pattern, as in the case of the Times report referred to above about how drones killed “Qaeda-linked fighters”:
WASHINGTON — American drones and Yemeni counterterrorism forces killed more than three dozen militants linked to Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen over the weekend in one of the largest such attacks there in months, officials from both countries said Monday. At least three airstrikes were carried out against Qaeda fighters in a convoy and in remote training camps in southern Yemen. They were militants who were planning to attack civilian and military facilities, government officials said in a statement. Unnamed “officials” tell us the “militants” killed were planning to “attack civilian and military facilities.”
True? Possibly. How would a reporter really know? One thing we do know, however, is we kill a significant number of civilians, and children, and these people never appear in the information handed to reporters. Pick out any one of these stories at random. Suspected IS spokesman Aziz Azam was supposedly killed in an “IS hideout” in Afghanistan in late December of 2018. Was he the only one killed? Who else died? Nobody is ever mentioned.
Remember that MOAB bomb we dropped on ISIS caves in Afghanistan early in the Trump presidency that sent an entire couch full of Fox analysts into painful tumescence? Remember them gushing about how that’s “what freedom looks like”? Remember Geraldo Rivera saying “one of his favorite things to watch” is “dropping bombs on bad guys”? In that orgiastic case we dropped a twenty-one thousand-pound bomb, which initial reports said killed thirty-six “militants,” and “no civilians were affected by the explosion.” By the next day, April 15, 2017, the death toll was “at least 90 militants,” and none of them were civilians! How about that for precision! America, yeah! …
We know our open-ended bombing campaign kills children, in quite large numbers. So how can anyone with even half a brain think that we can drop the largest non-nuclear bomb on earth, have it hit a group of people, and seriously believe no innocent people were killed?
In a lot of these “four-source clover” [i.e., 4 anonymous sources] stories, reporters technically don’t do anything wrong, at least according to the tenets of the profession. We’re taught: it’s okay to run stories, so long as multiple reputable sources are saying the same thing. In rare cases it’s even considered acceptable to try to push a story forward with one unnamed source. Some of the most famous stories in history were broken this way. Watergate was a great example. The issue is with the assessment of “reputability.”
To me, reporters have been burned so often by government officials from nearly every national security agency that there should be a big disclaimer on any article sourced entirely to these no-named: Four current and former officials from an agency with a record of lying to the media that dates back to the U.S.S. Maine said today…
There are lots of good journalists who would disagree about this. There are gut calls we make in this job. A rule I go by: when the info your unnamed source puts out is actually derogatory to the government, you might be more inclined to act on a hunch. But so many things are beyond confirmation, and we run them anyway. The errors are piling up fast enough that we might want to reconsider the practice.”
— from “Hate Inc.” Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another” by Matt Taibbi
— America dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone. What a bloody end to Obama’s reign: