“They Kill Reporters, Don’t They?”


has long been a problem for the U.S. imperial establishment that
using their ever-improving arsenal of death, in projecting power
from Vietnam to Iraq, kills large numbers of target state civilians,
in violation of widely accepted norms of morality, international
law, and in contradiction of the regular claims of good intentions
toward the civilian victims supposedly being “liberated”
(from communism or rule by a bad person). Even worse, it can upset
people at home, who don’t like to know about, let alone see,
the mangled bodies of bombed civilians or a GI using a lighter to
burn down the home of a Vietnamese peasant family (as in a famous
Vietnam war photo). The home population may be struck by the incompatibility
of these deaths and destructive acts with the alleged benevolent
war aims, with the result that support for the military venture
may fade and even be transformed into political opposition. 

imperial establishment has worked hard to prevent this obstruction
to their war-making power. Its leaders have no concern whatsoever
over target country civilian casualties and may even regard them
as useful, except for the problem of public relations. This leadership
and establishment was able to positively exult over the Indonesian
army and paramilitary slaughter of a million or more civilians in
1965-66. The even greater mass killing of Cambodian, Laotian, and
Vietnamese civilians by U.S. forces and U.S. proxies from the time
of Ngo Dinh Diem, the U.S. puppet leader of South Vietnam from 1954
to 1963, to the U.S. exit in 1975 was of absolutely no concern to
a string of U.S. administrations—Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson,
and Nixon. 

was only the killings in Cambodia by Pol Pot from 1975-78 that elicited
great humanistic indignation from U.S. leaders and mainstream media.
The mass killing of East Timorese by the Indonesian military from
1975, in the same time frame as the Pol Pot killings, was, like
that of the Vietnamese, of no concern to U.S. leaders or the mainstream
media and produced neither publicity nor indignation. These victims
were “unworthy” or “unpeople,” in Mark Curtis’s
usage—the criterion shunting civilians into these classes being
that these were U.S. or a client state’s victims. A main theme
of Curtis’s valuable new book

Unpeople: Britain

Secret Human Rights Abuses

(Vintage, 2004) is that the British
establishment’s concern over civilian victims, except those
of enemy states, has long been non-existent. “In the thousands
of government files I have looked through for this and other books.
I have barely seen reference to human rights at all. Where such
concerns are invoked, they are only for public relations purposes.” 

first principle of controlling information in the interest of “freedom”—to
kill civilians without impediment—is that the war-makers must
dominate the frames and factual evidence used by the media. This
has become easier as the media have become more commercial, concentrated,
and dependent on the government for favors (e.g., rights to merge,
rights to spectrum allocations, tax and labor policies, protection
abroad, information access) and as the growing right-wing echo chamber
has served as an enthusiastic conduit and enforcer of government
propaganda. The government has also become more efficient at feeding
the media suitable information, providing experts for TV commentary,
embedding and co-opting journalists, keeping reporters away from
inconvenient scenes and sources, and bullying them and their bosses
into silence on matters that put state policy in an unfavorable
light (helped by the right-wing enforcers).

policy has become openly recognized as a weapon of war and is included
among the elements of the U.S. official strategy of “full spectrum
dominance,” which U.S. military experts Jim Winters and John
Giffin have indicated means both “building up and protecting
friendly media…and degrading information received by your adversary”
(quoted in David Miller, “Information Dominance: The Philosophy
of Total Propaganda Control,” January 2004, www.coldtype.net).
Friendly media may be subsidized and given privileged access to
information and some friendly media may even be created by the state
(e.g., the Iraq Media Network, paid for by the Pentagon). Media
deemed hostile may be “degraded” by harassment and even
cruise missile attacks. This policy is hardly new, but reached a
new peak in planning, resort to violence, and extensive usage in
the invasion-occupation of Iraq. 

problem for the mind control managers is the brazenness with which
the United States has projected power since the fall of the Soviet
Union, with three major wars of aggression, even more aggressive
support for Israel’s ultra-ethnic cleansing, and an openly
publicized plan for global domination by force and threat of force.
This has contributed to the growth of more alert dissident communities,
helped along by the Internet and the rise of alternative media,
of which Al Jazeera is the most important (on Iraq, it reaches far
more people than CNN). Mind control works best at home, with its
reliable mainstream media cooperation, but the U.S. managers are
working hard to extend its influence globally. 

frame domination a regular feature of government assaults on foreign
targets is demonization of target country leaders, who, like Manuel
Noriega and Saddam Hussein, were often allies treated gently by
the media prior to their fall from grace (i.e., their failure to
take orders, not their human rights abuses). This permits a steady
focus on the abuses of the target country leadership rather than
on the real reasons for the attack and the pains inflicted on target
country civilians. It is also easier to use extreme force because
the civilian population can be declared “willing executioners”
who put the demon into power and/or have failed to remove him. This
argument is used even against civilian populations allegedly ruled
by a “dictator” against whom civilians may have limited
power of removal. It goes almost without saying that the U.S., Indonesian,
and Israeli populations are never declared “willing executioners”
although at least in the U.S. and Israeli cases the populations
do have the power to remove murderous regimes. 

Civilian Casualties Fraud 


part of the official arsenal is to claim a sincere effort to minimize
civilian casualties, helped by “precision bombing” and
“surgical strikes” aimed solely at military targets. There
is absolutely no reason to believe these claims as regards either
intent or result, as in each recent U.S. war of aggression—Yugoslavia,
Afghanistan, and Iraq—there is evidence that non-military sites
have been regularly targeted, that bombing raids often hit strictly
civilian sites with poor or no evidence of military relevance, and
that sites are regularly attacked where civilian casualties are
highly probable even if there is a valid military target (in violation
of international law). It is a huge fraud that hundreds of bombing
attacks on sites where civilians are sure to be killed, even where
they are not specifically targeted, does not constitute a “deliberate”
killing of civilians (for a good legal and substantive discussion,
see Michael Mandel,

America Gets Away With Murder

, Pluto, 2004). 

Yugoslavia, the United States, under NATO cover, openly extended
targets to civilian sites like power stations, factories producing
only consumer goods, farms, and even hospitals, museums, churches,
and monasteries, with the clear and sometimes acknowledged aim of
making civilians suffer to force an early surrender. In Afghanistan,
bombing raids were often carried out against civilian sites based
on unverified rumor, pilots regularly bombed in response to a flash
that might have been the firing of a weapon (the wedding party at
Krakak; the killing of four Canadian soldiers), and pilots shot
at and killed numerous unidentified individuals in flight, and even
a tall man with a beard who might have been Bin Laden, along with
five other peasants. Targets included nine mosques (with at least
120 civilians killed) and three hospitals—the latter a regular
U.S. target in Vietnam as well. Afghanistan was a “free fire
zone,” to use the parlance of the genocidal U.S. operations
in Vietnam. 

has also been a free fire zone, both in the April and November assaults,
with few if any restraints on targeting. As in Afghanistan, targets
have included hospitals, mosques, power facilities, ambulances,
and fleeing civilians—young, old, male, and female. In Fallujah
the phrase for the “liberal rules of engagement” is “weapons
free” and reporter Kevin Sites, who spent some days with the
Marines in Fallujah, says, “Weapons free means the Marines
can shoot whatever they see—it’s all considered hostile.” 

are of course regular official efforts to deny civilian casualties
and lying about them is standard operating procedure, often brazen
lying to the point of laughability. But when denial is impossible
and the lies are exposed too authoritatively, there are regrets,
assurances that the “tragic errors” and “collateral
damage” were all sad mistakes and certainly not deliberate.
If enough publicity attaches to the sad mistake, there are announcements
that an “investigation” is underway. We rarely hear the
results of these investigations and sometimes there is evidence
that they never took place. Thus, after British


Terry Lloyd was killed by U.S. Marines in Iraq, Colin Powell promised
an investigation, but some time later when


spoke with the Marines involved, the investigators were told that
the Marines had never been questioned in any investigation (see
Tim Gopsill, “Target the Media,” in David Miller, ed.,

Tell me lies


Pluto,  2004). 

was acknowledged during the war against Yugoslavia that the bombing
of civilian sites was for the purpose of inflicting pain on civilians
and it has occasionally been admitted as regards both Afghanistan
and Iraq that killing civilians has its merits—because the
civilians were sometimes suspected of supporting the Taliban or
Iraqi resistance and because killing civilians and its threat would
instill fear and help render the population quiescent as well as
less willing to help insurgents. In Iraq, a “senior Bush administration
official” is quoted in the

New York Times

saying that
the bombing of Fallujah was helpful in that it would push the “citizenry”
of Fallujah to deny sanctuary and assistance to the insurgents,
adding “that’s a good thing.” A “Pentagon official”
was also quoted as saying: “If there are civilians dying in
connection with these attacks, and with the destruction, the locals
at some point have to make a decision. Do they want to harbor the
insurgents and suffer the consequences that come with that?” 

civilians directly or with assured collateral damage is a war crime,
as “The Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish
between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian
objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their
operations only against military objectives” (Protocol 1, Article
48 of the Geneva Conventions, 1977 supplement). Attacking hospitals
and deliberately depriving civilians of access to medicines and
doctors are war crimes. Deliberately depriving civilian populations
of food and water is a war crime. Shooting anybody that walks into
the street or tries to cross a river seeking refuge is a war crime.
The “wanton destruction” of a city is a war crime. These
are all features of the U.S. assaults on Fallujah, so that U.S.
authorities and their Iraqi puppet are violating these articles
on a continuing and large scale. 

Avoiding Body Counts of Civilians 


weapon in the public relations arsenal of the death-machine managers
is negative: don’t count bodies. The political and racist double
standard here is staggering. In Kosovo, after the 78-day bombing
war, the Clinton administration allocated $25 million to the Tribunal
for a search for bodies and the body searches in Bosnia have been
going on for years; whereas in the aftermath of the Indonesian massacres
of East Timorese in the run-up to the 1999 East Timorese vote for
independence, the “justice-loving” Western powers weren’t
interested in body-counts and neither was the mass media. 

body counts are known in detail and reported, whereas Vietnamese,
Afghan, and Iraqi civilian tolls are not, at least from official
and mainstream media sources. During the 1991 Persian Gulf war Colin
Powell stated, “Body counts don’t interest me.” During
the current aggression-occupation General Tommy Franks has acknowledged:
“We don’t count bodies.” He meant Iraqi civilian
bodies. The number of U.S. personnel missing in action or prisoners
of war in Vietnam was constantly harped upon in the U.S. mainstream,
but the number of Vietnamese missing in action and a count of the
vast civilian toll in Vietnam were of no interest. As Noam Chomsky
has pointed out, the civilian toll in Indochina is not even known
within the range of millions (estimates run up to four million).
In Iraq today, the media reported at one point that 38 GIs had been
killed in the November U.S. assault on Fallujah, but no figures
are given for the Iraqi civilians killed—unworthy victims,
or unpeople, by rule of political-racist bias, but serving the function
of protecting the U.S. onslaught from adverse information.

important, and a complement of the official policy of not counting
bodies, is preventing others from counting bodies (or reporting
such counts). This involves buying up, intimidating, or destroying
the media, journalists, and even hospitals and doctors in hospitals,
who might testify to civilian casualties. Actions along these lines
have been carried out on a large scale. 

recently, the media reported that among the first actions of the
U.S. forces in Fallujah was to bomb out of existence a clinic and
take over the main hospital. One of the stated purposes of the takeover
was to “shut down what officers said was a propaganda weapon
for the militants: Fallujah General Hospital, with its stream of
reports of civilian casualties” (Eric Schmitt, “A Goal
is Met. What’s Next?”


, Nov. 15, 2004). “Propaganda”
is used here in the sense of information that does not serve U.S.
propaganda needs. There is no suggestion in this article, or elsewhere
in the paper or mainstream media, that this one of “several
accomplishments” by U.S. forces in Fallujah was immoral and
a straightforward violation of international law (see David Peterson,
ZNet Blogs, Nov. 8, 2004; www.blog.zmagazine.org). 

Afghanistan, the Pentagon bought exclusive rights to all photos
made by Denver-based Space Imaging, the only commercial operator
collecting high resolution images by satellite, thereby preventing
possible public access to satellite photos of some of the several
hundred villages bombed by the U.S. Air Force. In another notorious
case, a soldier even threatened to shoot Doug Struck, a


reporter who was trying to visit a just-bombed site in
Afghanistan. The Pentagon didn’t want anybody looking at the
results of those bombings. 

Pentagon’s and other official U.S. attacks on media entities
that might disclose inconvenient information has been extensive.
In Afghanistan, the Pentagon went after all known indigenous radio
stations and some that didn’t exist any more, displaying their
imperfect information sources. On October 8, 2001, naval ships fired
four cruise missiles at an unused radio mast east of downtown Kabul.
The radio station, which hadn’t been in operation for a decade,
was hit by three missiles, but a fourth went astray and completely
destroyed a United Nation’s-funded de-mining agency, Afghan
Technical Consultants (ATC), instantly killing four Afghan night
personnel and injuring two UN staff persons and two other Afghans
(a case described in Marc Herold’s forthcoming

Afghan Bodies

t Lie: Faces of



is well-known that Colin Powell pressed officials of Qatar to crack
down on Al Jazeera. Subsequently, Al Jazeera and the website Arabia.com
were subjected to major hacker attacks that caused brief Al Jazeera
website closures and intermittent interruptions throughout the war.
The level of the most serious attack suggested government involvement
(Faisal Bondi, “Al Jazeera’s War,” in David Miller,

Tell me lies

). The U.S.-chosen Allawi government of
Iraq raided and closed down Al Jazeera’s office in Baghdad.
One condition insisted on by the United States in the April negotiations
for a truce in Fallujah was that Al Jazeera agree to move its cameras
and personnel out of the city, where that broadcaster has been unable
to transmit hostile “propaganda” (i.e., photos of and
interviews with civilian victims, pictures of ambulances under fire,

United States bombed and destroyed the main broadcasting station
in Belgrade during the 1999 bombing war (killing 16 people). It
bombed all of the regional radio stations of Radio Shuriet in Afghanistan
and the Al Jazeera broadcasting facilities in Kabul. Shortly after
the start of the Iraq invasion, on March 25, 2003, U.S. forces bombed
the Iraqi TV station. On April 8, the day after their entry into
Baghdad, U.S. forces attacked Al Jazeera’s broadcasting facilities
there, despite the fact that Al Jazeera officials had told the U.S.
military the precise coordinates of their offices in the hope that
this would make it more difficult for them to make another “tragic

and Killing Reporters 


U.S. bombing of the Al Jazeera station in Kabul in 2001 was explained
by U.S. officials as a result of detection of a satellite uplink
indicating an interview with a Taliban member. U.S. officials have
gone farther, stating publicly that any uplink from enemy territory
if detected by U.S. planes could be the basis for an attack without
differentiation between journalism and enemy communications (see
Gopsill, “Target the Media”). This threat to bomb even
“friendly” journalists and stations would be a strong
deterrent to placing them in enemy territory. The threat helped
induce CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox to pull out of Baghdad before the
March 2003 invasion. Gopsill notes, “This exodus was pleasing
to the Pentagon,” causing the U.S. public to be “ignorant
of what their forces were doing to the city.” 

policy of encouraging the embedding of journalists, complemented
by warnings, threats, and occasional attacks on “unilaterals,”
had a similar affect of diminishing the likelihood of reporting
outside U.S. military control. Unilateral journalist Terry Lloyd,
traveling with several others in a vehicle with huge markings of
TV, was shot and killed by U.S. Marines, but a Marine general in
charge of public relations had warned that, “Having independent
journalists wandering the battlefield is fraught with lots of problems.”
Unilaterals were consequently sparse, leaving the reporting to the
“embeds” and Arab media. Faisal Bodi points out that “From
the outset of the war the news followed two tracks: the ‘Embed’
line laid by Centcom, and the independent line by news providers
like Al Jazeera who had the courage to locate hacks in the war zone”
(“Al Jazeera’s War,” in Miller,

Tell me lies

The “Embed” line was not concerned with civilian casualties. 

April 8, 2003, U.S. forces not only bombed the Al Jazeera facilities
in Baghdad, but they also attacked Abu Dhabi TV facilities located
there. On the same day a tank shelled the media facilities and personnel
at the Palestine Hotel, killing two journalists and seriously injuring
three others. The assault on the hotel is interesting in part because
once again U.S. officials engaged in serial lying in “explaining”
the attacks—the numerous media personnel in the hotel, and
their video shots, uniformly contradict the official claims of shooting
or other action or threat from the hotel. All of them agree with
Robert Fisk’s statement that the U.S. response was “a
straightforward lie.” 

day after this attack on the journalists in the Palestine Hotel,
the U.S. invaders, using an armored personnel carrier, pulled down
the statue of Saddam Hussein right outside the hotel, passing it
off as an Iraqi celebration of the victory. The journalists from
the hotel filmed this charade and, as Tim Gopsill says, reported
it “as the coalition’s greatest moment of triumph. Such
magnanimity on the part of people who had just been shot at is remarkable.” 


“magnanimity” flows from structure and internalized bias
that causes the media to perform miracles of apologetics for state
policy. They can report with great indignation false stories of
Saddam’s alleged removal of babies from incubators in Kuwait,
but the destruction of a clinic and seizure of the main hospital
in Fallujah, cutting off the water supply to this and two other
cities, leveling Fallujah with advanced weaponry, and Madeleine
Albright’s remark that killing 500,000 Iraqi children through
the “sanctions of mass destruction” was “worth it,”
are treated at best with brevity and with no detectable indignation.
What the U.S. military is doing to Iraqi civilians is largely unreported
in the U.S. media and documentary evidence collected by outsiders
is kept out of sight. A tape of U.S. soldiers badly mistreating
Iraqi civilians caught by Swedish journalist Urban Hamid was not
saleable here. Hamid says, “It’s obvious that the mainstream
media exercise some kind of self-censorship in which people know
this is a hot potato and don’t touch it because you are going
to get burned” (quoted in Michael Massing, “Iraq, the
Press, and the Election,” www.alternet.org).  

mainstream media are “willing collaborators” in imperial
policies that involve the mass killing of civilians—their leaders
and many of their journalists are spiritual “Embeds” who
hardly need coercion and threats to see their government’s
view of things, but they and their associates are also under pressure
from the media leaders, the government, and the private enforcers
to stay away from such “controversial” matters as the
killing of unworthy victims or unpeople. The media serve as an arm
of the state, and do a better job of state propaganda than systems
of explicit government control and crude propaganda. This is state
propaganda voluntarily provided, though from parties with symbiotic
connections to the state and deriving substantial benefits from
this relationship.

Edward S. Herman
is a regular contributor to

Z Magazine