Instead of â€œsifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found,â€ much of the media repeats distortions that flow from the mouths of Administration officials. Bush, the worst President in US history â€“ I apologize to Ulysses Grant, James Buchanan and Warren Harding detractors –must gloat when his proclamations make headlines. Editors donâ€™t subject his continuing claims that Saddam Hussein threatened US security for example, to the same criteria of accuracy, consistency or clear definition that they do for â€œnon-authorities.â€ Indeed, the media routinely repeats lies generated by the White House.
For example, The New York Times, â€œthe paper of recordâ€ printed an op-ed (September 26) by Mahdi Obeidi in which the former Iraqi nuclear scientist repeats a Bush Administration myth. â€œBy 1998, when Saddam Hussein evicted the [UN] weapons inspectors from Iraqâ€¦â€
Was the Times fact checker on vacation? Had amnesia set in at the op-ed section? A ten second Google search would have shown that the Times ran a story on December 18, 1998, which stated that â€œthe most recent irritant was [UN Weapons Inspection Chief] Mr. Butler’s quick withdrawal from Iraq on Wednesday of all his inspectors and those of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iraqi nuclear programs, without Security Council permission. Mr. Butler acted after a telephone call from Peter Burleigh, the American representative to the United Nations, and a discussion with Secretary General Kofi Annan, who had also spoken to Mr. Burleigh.â€
On February 2, 2000 the Times corrected its own previous front-page story on Iraq â€œthat misstated the circumstances under which international weapons inspectors left that country before American and British air strikes in December 1998. While Iraq had ceased cooperating with the inspectors, it did not expel them. The United Nations withdrew them before the air strikes began.”
In other words, the Times like all other major news sources reported the true story and then ignored it and began to echo Bushâ€™s lie. Yes, that the United States asked the UN to withdraw the weapons team, which it did. Saddam did not kick them out. Yet, on August 3, 2002, less than four years later, as Bush beat the war drums, the Times editorialized that â€œAmerica’s goal should be to ensure that Iraq is disarmed of all unconventional weapons…. To thwart this goal, Baghdad expelled United Nations arms inspectors four years ago.â€
Did repeating the lie that Saddam kicked out the inspectors have the super Goebbels effect: not only does the public believe it, but it convince the Timesâ€™ editors as well? Bush and Dick Cheney continue to repeat this myth and other Bushies like Bill â€œThe Gamblerâ€ Bennett highlights it while defending the invasion of Iraq.
The august press screamed over Dan Ratherâ€™s use of â€œforgedâ€ documents (60 Minutes, September 8) concerning Bushâ€™s National Guard record. But it has not insisted that Cheney find the forger of the paper alleging that Saddam Hussein tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger â€“ one of Bushâ€™s now discredited claims that led him to invade Iraq. Nor does the media demand that Cheney reveal who faked the document he refers to in his claim that Saddam had tight links to Al-Qaeda, which 9/11 Commission investigators found to be concocted. Indeed, Cheney travels the country repeating these prevarications. Perhaps Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will claim that someone faked the 1983 photo of him shaking hands with Saddam Hussein?
Without mass media to inform the public that the President and Vice President routinely lie, the â€œrally round the flagâ€ gang that the Bushies promote has grown to sickening proportions. â€œSupport Our Troopsâ€ bumper stickers proliferate. But do the carriers of these red, white and blue decals define soldiers of fortune as troops?
Under Bush, the privatized military sector has grown and salaries for these mercenaries â€“ the old fashioned word for them — have risen. So, I conclude that Bush includes mercenaries as troops. And, according to the June 14, 2004 Washington Post, the US government has engaged between 20,000 and 30,000 â€œcontractorsâ€ in Iraq, more than four army divisions.
These hired guns and administrators govern Iraqi daily life and sometimes torture and kill Iraqis. This behavior pays up to $200,000 a year â€“ in the case of retired generals, who now head these semi-covert profit operations. Financing for this â€œhow to become a millionaire in Iraqâ€ scheme comes from secret CIA and DOD budgets, paid for by ignorant taxpayers.
A Pentagon report accused two of these â€œtroopsâ€ of illegally abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Steven Stephanowicz of Arlington Virginiaâ€™s â€œCACI International,â€ and John B. Israel of San Diegoâ€™s â€œTitan Corp.â€ have not faced criminal charges as some of the regular â€œtroopsâ€ have for torturing prisoners.
Jonathan Turley (LA Times September 16, 2004) describes MPRI as yet another contracting company with â€œdozens of former generals and 10,000 former soldiers in the field, including many former members of the Special Forces.â€ Such contractors have fielded armies in Croatia and Bosnia, where they were â€œlinked to abuses ranging from ethnic cleansing â€¦ to the trafficking of sex slaves.â€
Privatizing war circumvents congressional limits. Congress authorized only 20,000 troops for Bosnia. So, the Pentagon contracted with private mercenary companies to get an additional 2,000.
These higher-paid troops face similar dangers to those confronted by reservists or volunteers. Indeed, more than 120 have died in Iraq since May 2003, when Bush â€œaccomplished his mission.â€
Mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan have â€“ like some other troops — also tortured and murdered. On September 15 Afghan judges sentenced three members of one private army to 8 to 10 years in prison for running a private jail and torturing prisoners. They claimed they worked for a Pentagon counterterrorist group led by Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, who last October called Bushâ€™s wars a clash between Christianity and Islam. Muslims, according to Boykin worship an idol, not a ‘real God.’
Jonathan K. Idema, 48, a former Special Forces operative, provided journalists with taped conversations to show that the convicted men had at least General Boykinâ€™s acknowledgement of â€“ if not blessing for — their actions. Videos taken in Kabul by one of the team showed Idema with Boykin’s staff on two occasions, discussing rounding up terrorists. Should we give full support to Idema, who remained in fax and phone contact with high Defense officials and went on missions with NATO forces in Kabul?
The government didnâ€™t deny that another former Special Forces operative, now working as a mercenary, used a flashlight to beat an Afghan prisoner to death. On June 19, 2003 David Passaro, a contractor working for the CIA” got orders to extract information from Abdul Wali, and in the process murdered him. (Los Angeles Times September 16, 2004.)
As Passaro awaits trial, should we make bumper stickers offering support to him as one of our troops? Should we offer full support to the Abu Ghraib officers, soldiers and mercenaries who tortured?
Or take MPRI, yet another beneficiary of the privatization of Bushâ€™s war. A score of ex generals earn healthy six figure salaries and thousands of Special Forces veterans make more than they could as security guards at a local Safeway. Deregulation has accompanied privatization of military operations in recent years. The Pentagon finds them convenient, however, to circumvent federal restrictions on the size of military operations. Should we offer full support for these troops?
Bush has certainly fulfilled his promise to privatize public affairs. His invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq have rescued the declining mercenary sector from oblivion. Idema, who occupies the gray area between official and semi-official â€œcontractor,â€ actually showed how effective mercenaries can be at showing what democracy means to the idol-worshipping heathens. Did he try to prove General Boykinâ€™s assertion and use torture and murder to show that our God was at least as tough as Saddamâ€™s idol?
Jonathan Turley correctly observed that the US public has never held â€œa national debate on the use of mercenaries or on the rules governing their conduct. And, if some powerful forces in Washington have their way, there never will be.â€ The mercenaries-for-hire corporations receive billions of the taxpayersâ€™ dollars, and employ tens of thousands. â€œLike many nations in history, we may find that it is far easier to hire mercenaries than to be rid of them.
Perhaps â€œSUPPORT OUR MERCENARIESâ€ or â€œI SUPPORT OUR TROOPS MORE THAN YOU DOâ€ bumper stickers might provoke the public into at least discussing what the mainstream media hasnâ€™t told them about Bushâ€™s vanity wars.
Landauâ€™s new book is THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA: HOW CONSUMERS HAVE REPLACED CITIZENS AND HOW WE CAN REVERSE THE TREND. He directs the Digital Media program at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.