Our Terrorist as Militant; Stop the Mad Bomber; David Rohde on Uncovering One Bone

Our Terrorist as Militant, Supporter is Benefactor. The mainstream media usually use the word "militant" to designate some individual in Gaza or Afghanistan who the Israeli Defense Forces or U.S. drones target and kill. Anybody in Hamas or a member of the Taliban—maybe just somebody we choose to assassinate—is automatically a militant, just as anybody we shot in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War was "Vietcong." So "militant" is a word of derogation that shows the victim deserved what he or she got.

But "militant" is less invidious than "terrorist" on the scale of badness. It is therefore interesting to see that the New York Times refers to the Cuban refugee Luis Posada Carriles as a "militant" rather than terrorist in a recent article describing the release of a Posada supporter, who incidentally is referred to as a "benefactor" rather than supporter ("Florida: Militant’s Benefactor Released," AP/NYT, Oct. 23, 2009). Can you imagine the AP or NYT calling Carlos the Jackal a "militant," or somebody who aided Carlos a "benefactor?" This is as likely as these institutions calling Ariel Sharon or Stanley McChrystal state terrorists.

Carlos was estimated to have killed some 80 individuals in his terrorist career. Posada killed 73 in one fell swoop with his blowing up of a Cuban airliner in October 1976, but he is walking around freely in Miami today, along with a number of other known and sometimes convicted—but released—Cuban refugee terrorists, several from Panama. They know that Miami affords a safe haven for "our terrorists," and that five Cuban anti-terrorist operatives who tried to get information on Cuban refugee terrorist plans in Florida are serving long prison sentences in the land of hypocrisy and home of the knave. The meaning of this country’s engagement in a global "war on terrorism" is illuminated by the Posada and "benefactor" story and the incarceration of the Cuban Five.

Posada, along with many other Cuban émigrés, was trained by the CIA at Fort Benning, Georgia and was on their payroll for many years, claiming that "the CIA taught us everything… explosives, how to kill, bomb…sabotage." He was well regarded by the CIA as "not a typical boom and bang kind of militant," but a reliable fellow who the CIA proposed for a "responsible civil position" in an anticipated and planned post-Castro government.

However, in February 1976, he went off the CIA payroll and became a freelance terrorist, apparently under pressure of revelations from the Senate Special Intelligence Committee on CIA dirty work. As Jane Franklin has pointed out, "The CIA wiped its payroll clean and privatized the assassination business," but Posada was kept on as "a freelance assassin." In this capacity, he participated in the bombing of the Cuban airliner seven months later (Franklin, "How Washington Legitimized Terror," in Luis Posada Carriles: Notes from a Tribunal, National Lawyers Guild, 2009).

With this background, it is evident why Posada is hard to imprison or send off to Venezuela for trial. He knows too much and openly threatens to talk about U.S. involvement in his own and his associates’ terrorist activities if put on trial. That may also be why the U.S. can’t allow the repatriation of Benjamin Constant to Haiti and may help explain the reluctance to prosecute individuals who organized, sponsored, helped to justify, or otherwise participated in the (still ongoing) U.S. torture gulag in Guantanamo and multiple prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Diego Garcia. Active collaboration in terrorism or torture is good self-insurance against any threat of "justice." This obviously does not apply to leaders or operatives of lesser powers who can be brought before local or international institutions of ultra-selective "justice."

The CIA’s fondness for Posada should hardly be a surprise as the CIA and U.S. government have backed, trained, and put in power some of the world’s great torturers and killers—recall Vietnam’s famous "tiger cages," Argentina’s 60 detention-torture centers and their practice of ocean dropping live drugged prisoners from planes, U.S. torture training during the rule of the Brazilian and Uruguayan military regimes, Suharto, Guatemala’s "Government by Political Murder," the Shah of Iran’s famous torture chambers, etc. And just as these ugly nuggets of history are suppressed, the media can be counted on not to make a connection with George Bush’s pronouncement that anybody who harbors a terrorist is a terrorist.

STOP THE MAD BOMBER. In the Vietnam War years I put on a bumper sticker "Stop the Mad Bomber," referring to U.S. war president Lyndon Johnson. That sticker has never become obsolete. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush-1, Clinton, Bush-2, and now Obama have all been top managers of a great war machine. That war machine is always in action somewhere and/or supporting the war machine of a client regime—as Carter did in servicing Suharto’s aggression in East Timor, and all of them do in supporting Israel. I must also mention Harry Truman in this great tradition, as the man who ordered the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities in one of the greatest war crimes in history, in the process lying that Hiroshima was a military base. Despite this genocidal performance Truman is treated as a model leader—"the buck stops here," except for mass murder—in many liberal treatises. New York City’s awful and crazy "Son of Sam" killed seven people in 1977; the saintly Truman killed several hundred thousand civilians with just two shots in 1945. This is a structure-based madness that currently derives its momentum from the demands and power of the military-industrial-media complex, the transnational corporations and financial institutions that want the protections and privileges obtainable from military power, and the pro-Israel lobby that wants home-based fear and force as a cover for Israeli ethnic cleansing.

Arguably, even a president with a program of internal reform will not be able to implement it, except in small slivers and with compromises that weaken mass support and set the stage for political failure and a move to the right. A Bush can get things done, with party unity and significant cross-party support; an Obama will have more trouble, with a splintered party and a press and business community hostile to "populism" and peace. In short, Obama will be under pressure, as Democrats have been for many years, to show that he is strong on "national defense" (i.e., offense) and will help make U.S. citizens "safe" (i.e., reduce their safety by aggressive actions that create enemies that didn’t exist, but present the image of protective activity). He will have to be still another mad bomber. And he is doing so in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in advancing most of the Bush-era projects of baiting Russia and building bases from Romania to Colombia to counter nonexistent or manufactured threats.

DAVID ROHDE ON UNCOVERING—WELL, AT LEAST ONE BONE. The trial of the former Bosnian Serb wartime President Radovan Karadzic, starting October 26, has unleashed a new wave of propaganda on the alleged Serbian genocide at Srebrenica. This has provided a model case study of focused propaganda that serves Western imperial interests, and which also captured fully most liberal and left intellectuals and media. This is one of those cases where closure came early, with highly effective demonization of the Serbs, treatment of the Yugoslav Tribunal as a genuine instrument of justice rather than a NATO war tool (which it was), and a liberal-left collapse.

One particularly interesting fact testifying to the closure on this subject is that while I was able to review five good critical books on the Yugoslavia issues in Z Magazine (Diana Johnstone, Fools’ Crusade; Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder; Peter Brock, Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting; John Laughland, Travesty; and John Schindler, Unholy Terror), not one of these five books was ever reviewed in the Nation, In These Times, Mother Jones, or the Progressive. The editors couldn’t find it within themselves to debate (or allow debate of) issues that were highly contestable. This lack of any debate contributed significantly to further aggressions of the imperial state whose interventions were accepted as sometimes benevolent.

One small recent indication of how the closed system works is that David Rohde, a New York Times reporter—who was captured by the Taliban in November 2008, held for seven months, and subsequently featured by the NYT on his experiences with the Taliban—was able to say in this series that he had been arrested by Bosnian Serb authorities after he "discovered mass graves of more than 7,000 Muslim men who had been executed in Srebrenica" ("Held By The Taliban," October 18). That statement is simply untrue, based on Rohde’s own articles from the time. What Rohde actually discovered, according to his August 14, 1995 article for the Christian Science Monitor, was a "decomposing human leg," empty ammunition boxes, and some personal effects ("photos, diplomas") near the village of Nova Kasaba on the road between Srebrenica and Tuzla where Muslim soldiers of the 28th Division who fled Srebrenica fought against Serb units.

The Nova Kasaba site eventually yielded the remains of 33 bodies after excavations were completed the following year. Five years of massive excavations around the Srebrenica area prior to the 2000 trial of Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic at the international war crimes tribunal yielded some 2,028 bodies in various burial sites. As the trial chamber acknowledged, some of these victims had been killed in battle, fighting their way from Srebrenica to Tuzla in Muslim-controlled territory, while others had been captured and some executed. David Rohde found the remains of only one individual, presumably a Bosnian Muslim, who didn’t make it to Tuzla. In short, his actual discoveries were something categorically less than the "mass graves of more than 7,000 Muslim men," let alone evidence that they were all "executed."

Nonetheless, Rohde could repeat the now-institutionalized untruth in the paper of record even though it was silly (how could he know that bodies in as yet unopened graves were people who had been executed?) and incompatible with his own earlier testimony and forensic findings. But a letter to the Times pointing out the contradiction between Rohde’s current claim, his original findings, and the actual record was not publishable. The Times has a solid record of participation in closure, disinformation, and refusal to engage with critics on this set of issues—and it is not about to break that record here (see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "The New York Times on the Yugoslavia Tribunal: A Study in Total Propaganda Service," Cold Type, 2004).


Edward S. Herman is an economist, and social and media critic.