“Radicalization” and Media Narratives

By now there is a familiar, ritualistic quality to media coverage of homegrown terrorist attacks. Journalists, pundits, and terrorism “experts” pontificate on the religiosity of the perpetrators, explore their background, and wonder in total bewilderment as to how all-American boys could have been responsible for such ghastly acts. The more intrepid journalists try to identify the points at which their subjects transformed into callous terrorists willing to turn against their own country. Sometimes, the terrorists are put on a therapist’s couch while pundits reach into their stockpile of outdated Freudisms and explain their mindsets, taking care to mention one or another personal crisis. The pathological ideology of global Islamism is invoked, the government is blamed for not doing enough, and demands are raised for a strong response. The enemy, in these narratives, is shrewd and he is among us. We must be more vigilant.

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Seymour Hersh’s Bombshell

There are a number of startling revelations in Seymour Hersh’s latest report in the London Review of Books. Hersh’s claims not only challenge the established narrative of how the US located and killed Osama bin Laden (OBL) but also reveal Pakistani intelligence and Saudi complicity in keeping the al-Qaeda leader under house arrest in Abbottabad. According to Hersh’s account:

  • Osama bin Laden was being kept in Abbottabad by the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) and his “upkeep” was being paid for by Saudi Arabia. The head of Pakistan’s ISI General Pasha told the US that OBL was being held as “leverage against Taliban and al-Qaeda activities.”
  • US learned OBL’s location from “a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer” who, in August 2010, approached Jonathan Banks, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. He “offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001.” The administration claim that the CIA learned OBL’s location by tracking his courier was false.
  • The raid that killed bin Laden was staged by the US military and ISI: “an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters.” Pakistan agreed to the raid after “a little blackmail” and “because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid.” Pakistan was also promised “a freer hand” in Afghanistan.
  • After the crash of a Navy SEAL helicopter the Obama administration abandoned its plan to claim that bin Laden had been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Immediately going public with the story was seen as a betrayal by Pakistan.

The report is attributed to a single “retired senior intelligence official” with some knowledge of “initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” This source was also “privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid” and to various “after-action reports.” Two other American sources had “access to corroborating information.”

There were always reasons to doubt the official narrative of the search for bin Laden. Hersh’s story not only rejects the official narrative but offers an alternative one, and it is by no means clear that his account is any more accurate.

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Corporate Media, State Interests

The media’s complicity in suppressing information governments deem unworthy of our attention is not exactly newsworthy any more. In the age of Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks, and Edward Snowden it is no longer surprising to discover that state interests are considered sacred by most journalists and pundits in the corporate media. This was expressed most clearly by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, in a review of Times‘ dealings with Julian Assange. Pontificating on the role of the media, Keller declared that the newspaper of record was “invested in the struggle against murderous extremism” and had ” no doubts about where our sympathies lie in this clash of values.” This was a wholesale adoption of the government’s position in the War on Terror and a complete abdication of the supposed responsibilities of the press.

A new report in The Miami Herald is simply another example in this long history of collusion between the state and corporate media–the consequences of which, as this report details, can be deadly. The failed military invasion of Cuba by a CIA-sponsored paramilitary organization in 1961 was “a decisive point-of-no-return for the Castro regime” which “substantiated the Government’s warnings against imperialist aggression from the United States,” according to a dispatch from the Canadian embassy in Havana.  There were casualties on both sides and the invasion itself strengthened the Castro regime. According to a memorandum from Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin, months later Che Guevara would thank Goodwin for the Bay of Pigs–as the invasion came to be known–calling it “a great political victory.” For the United States, it was a strategic disaster by all accounts.

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