By Stephen Gowans
The New York Times’ and The Washington Post’s promotion of a chauvinist understanding of foreign policy is evidenced in their recent treatment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and their non-treatment of criminal proceedings in Spain against six senior Bush administration officials for torture.
Al-Bashir is sought by the ICC in connection with war crimes charges related to the civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan. Like the United States and Israel, Sudan is not a signatory to the treaty establishing the court. Neither country is willing to submit to the ICC for fear, they say, that their officials will face politically-motivated prosecutions, a fear they unjustifiably suppose is unique to their own nationals. State officials of other countries are as likely to become targets of politically-motivated indictments, all the more so if they preside over land, labor and resources coveted by powerful countries able to exercise influence over the court through their permanent positions on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). But the refusal of the United States and Israel to sign the ICC treaty is more likely motivated by fear that their frequent resort to military campaigns will open their officials to the risk of prosecution for war crimes by an international tribunal. While Sudan has not agreed to be bound by the court, the UNSC — three of whose members refuse to recognize the court — ordered the ICC to investigate al-Bashir.
Meanwhile, the Spanish counter-terrorism judge who prosecuted former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has initiated an investigation of six Bush administration officials for their role in writing the US policy that justified the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay. The officials are: former White House counsel and attorney general Alberto Gonzales; former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; former Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; former US Justice Department senior advisers John Yoo and Jay Bybee; and Douglas Freith, who was undersecretary of defense.
The six are said to have,
“participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention center at Guantánamo”. (1)
If the Spanish judge decides to issue arrest warrants, the six US officials could be detained and extradited if they travel outside the United States. In 1998, Pinochet was arrested in Britain after the same Spanish judge issued a warrant for his arrest. The Observer, a British newspaper which covered the Spanish court’s investigation of the six former US officials, approached the story as a “political problem” for the Obama administration, rather than in the high moral tones reserved for the leaders of countries the United States opposes, like al-Bashir. Western newspapers can work themselves up into high moral dudgeon over Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s “thugs” allegedly torturing political opponents, while calmly deliberating on the political difficulties attempts to hold US officials accountable for torture present to the Obama administration. There is an implicit assumption in Western media coverage of US crimes that US officials won’t be prosecuted, and that anyone who thinks they ought to be has stepped outside the bounds of acceptable thought. Obama, as unctuous as any other ambitious, exhibitionist, lawyer whose charm, intelligence and acceptable politics recommends him to the role of ruling class political representative, covered all his bases. He denounced the former administration’s torture policies, while disguising his craven refusal to prosecute the perpetrators as an admirable focus on the future. “Obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices, and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” Obama said in January. “But my orientation’s going to be forward-looking.” (2)
Al-Bashir finds himself in the same situation Freith et al. could soon be in, running the risk when travelling abroad of detention and extradition. Despite this, the Sudanese president recently travelled to an Arab League summit in Qatar, in what The Washington Post denounced as a “brazen act of defiance.” (3) (If Gonzales and his band of torture advocates face arrest warrants from the Spanish court but travel abroad anyway, will The Washington Post comment in disapproving tones on their brazenly defiant act?) Rather than being arrested, al-Bashir was welcomed by the heads of Arab states, many of whom denounced the court for its double standards. The leaders pointed out that the warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest was issued soon after Israel brazenly defied the rules of war to carry out a massacre in the Gaza Strip. Despite the Zionist army’s amply documented use of disproportional force against Gazan resistance fighters, its indiscriminate use of white phosphorus in civilian areas, its bombing of civilian infrastructure and targets, and its use of human shields, no indictments of Israeli leaders or soldiers have been forthcoming, or ever will be under the current global order dominated by Israel’s patron, the United States. Israel isn’t a party to the ICC and, with the United States wielding a Security Council veto, the UNSC won’t order the court to investigate Israeli war crimes.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad denounced the court and its indictment against al-Bashir, saying that the ICC’s “weak pretexts about fabricated crimes committed by Sudan” should only be discussed after “those who committed the atrocities and massacres in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq,” face the judgment of the court. (4)
While it’s hard to argue with al-Assad’s point, The New York Times did, trying to discredit it by citing the critical comments of a representative of what the newspaper deceptively dubbed as an independent NGO, the Doha Center for Media Freedom. The group’s spokesperson branded al-Assad as a hypocrite for wanting Israel to be investigated while complaining about al-Bashir’s indictment. That’s not exactly what al-Assad said. He criticized the ICC for its double standards, suggesting that its operation has far more to do with politics, than the pursuit of justice.
While presented as independent by The New York Times, The Doha Center is no more independent than The New York Times itself is. In fact, they are both beholden to the same class interests. Mia Farrow sits on the center’s advisory council and Reporters sans Frontiers’ (RSF’s) Robert Menard runs it. Farrow is an outspoken proponent of Western intervention in Sudan, while Menard is well known for his pro-Western chauvinism and hostility to the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions.
The Doha Center is a regional satellite of RSF. RSF receives much of its funding from the French government, the US Congress (through the CIA offshoot, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)), the Soros Foundation (notorious for putting up the financial backing for color revolutions), and the Center for a Free Cuba. The Center for a Free Cuba, whose mission is to help overthrow Cuba’s socialist system, is run by Frank Calzon, who spent 11 years with the CIA-interlocked Freedom House. The Center relies on funding from the US State Department (through USAID) and the US Congress (through the NED.)
The New York Times use of the Doha Center to provide ostensibly independent commentary is emblematic of the Western media practice of drawing on experts offered up by ruling class think-tanks and foundation-funded-NGOs to propagate ruling class positions under the guise of providing independent analysis. This practice has been especially evident in Western media coverage of events in Zimbabwe, where news stories have relied heavily on interviews with opposition figures and so-called independent experts, all of whom are generously funded by Western governments and foundations interested in regime change. Having a stable of NGO representatives and opposition politicians the media can turn to for a ready quote, who sing from the same songbook, creates the impression of unanimity born of common experience, rather than a common source of funding.
Another practice of the US media is to ignore or minimize events that challenge the doctrinal view that the United States and its allies do not commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, or carry out gross violations of human rights. Abuses may be duly noted, but the basic tenet that the West’s intentions are well-meaning remains sacrosanct. There could hardly be a better example of this than an April 4, 2009 New York Times paean to Nato, an organization established well before the Warsaw Pact, and which arose as the successor to the anti-Comintern Pact of Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan against the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union collapsed, (in which Nato pressure played no small role), and presumably now without a raison d’etre, the alliance launched an illegal and aggressive terror bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, deliberately disdaining to secure UN approval for its actions, knowing it would be turned down. This gave rise to a whole industry aimed at supplying Nato with a legal figleaf to justify its aggressions. The alliance has since been pressed into service in the attempted conquest of Afghanistan. Its incessant expansion up to the borders of Russia is viewed as a hostile act by the Russian government, spurring Moscow to initiate a defensive military build-up. And yet, despite its aggressive and hostile nature, The New York Times celebrates Nato as “an alliance that deterred the Soviet Union, opened the door to emerging democracies (and) battled ethnic cleansing.” (5) In this, threatening the Soviet Union becomes deterrence, building a ring of military bases around Russia becomes opening the door to emerging democracies, and state terrorism against Yugoslav civilians carried out in contempt of international law becomes battling ethnic cleansing. If Nato truly battled ethnic cleansing, it would be locked in battle with the Israeli military, whose 61-year long effort to cleanse historic Palestine of Arabs, marks it as an ethnic cleansing organization par excellence. Instead, Nato countries are putting up the money that allows Israel to bomb, bulldoze and terrorize Palestinians.
Another example of The New York Times’ implicit commitment to the view that US foreign policy is at root guided by admirable values, is the newspaper’s reaction to the Obama administration announcing it will seek a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council because “it believed working from within was the most effective means of altering the council’s habit of ignoring poor human rights records of member states.” (6) Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention, and whose function isn’t to act as a public relations hack for the US government, will greet this with stunned amazement. After Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and the humanitarian catastrophes of immense scale sparked by the wars of conquest against Iraq and Afghanistan – and this on top of a blood-soaked history of military intervention, destabilization, and mass murder around the world – the United States has the gall to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council in order to rescue it from failing to admonish others more energetically over their human rights records. Rather than being gobsmacked by this stunning chutzpah, The New York Times blithely carries on as if Quasimodo hadn’t announced it’s time for everyone to sit up straight. We’re assured that “human rights organizations generally applauded the move,” including the “nonprofit organization Human Rights First,” inviting the question: What legitimate human rights organization could possibly welcome the equivalent of Nazi Germany seeking to join the anti-imperialist league to exercise a self-proclaimed anti-colonialist leadership?
In light of the above, we might expect Human Rights First to be a ruling class vehicle, lurking behind the disarming label “nonprofit.” And, indeed, it is. Previously known as The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Human Rights First is a corporate law firm-dominated organization funded by the Ford Foundation, Soros (again), arms manufacturer Lockheed-Martin, and Mitsubishi. The organization’s job is to attack US foreign policy betes noire over human rights abuses. According to its website, it acts to “strengthen systems of accountability in countries where human rights violations occur,” though a look at where the organization’s attentions are focussed would lead one to believe that Human Rights First regards human rights violations to occur only “in places like Guatemala, Russia, Northern Ireland, Egypt, Zimbabwe, and Indonesia” but not in places under United States or Israeli control. The landing page of its website on April 4, 2009 featured reports on Russia, Colombia, Guatemala, hate crime laws, Cuba, and Thailand and a paper arguing that “terrorism” suspects should be prosecuted in federal courts, but nothing on Israel’s unending human rights violations or US abuses in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Small wonder then that an organization that believes all the big human rights problems occur under the purview of countries the United States opposes should applaud Washington’s intention to join the UN Human Rights Council.
Mainstream newspapers and the human rights organizations, NGOs and think-tanks they rely on for expert commentary, propagate ruling class positions under the guise of providing independent and neutral analyses. Their analyses implicitly accept certain values and assumptions: that the military strategy and foreign policies of the United States and its allies are guided by defensive and humanitarian considerations; that the countries and movements the United States opposes are hostile, threatening, despotic, contemptuous of human rights, and are best subordinated to US leadership and moral guidance; that tribunals, international courts and international law must be pressed into service to prosecute and punish others, but the United States must not be prevented by international law from exercising its moral authority and leadership. This doctrine has a political purpose: to engineer the consent of 9/10ths of humanity for their exploitation and oppression by a US state acting on behalf of the corporations and hereditary capitalist families that recruit and sponsor its personnel, formulate its policy through a network of think-tanks, and structure its decision-making.
1. Julian Borger and Dale Fuchs, “Spanish judge accuses six top Bush officials of torture,” The Observer (UK), March 29, 2009.
3. Brian Murphy, “Sudan’s leader arrives in Qatar,” The Washington Post, March 30, 2009.
4. Michael Slackman and Robert F. Worth, “Often Split, Arab Leaders Unite for Sudan’s Chief, The New York Times, March 31, 2009.
5. Steven Erlanger and Thom Shanker, “Nato leaders debate Afghan strains at summit,” The New York Times, April 4, 2009.
6. Neil MacFarquhar, “In reversal, US seeks election to UN human rights council,” The New York Times, April 1, 2009.