Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Militant Funeral

NPR may struggle mightily with what to call torture - "the problem is that the word torture is loaded with political and social implications for several reasons, including the fact that torture is illegal under U.S. law and international treaties the United States has signed" - but when it comes to human beings killed by the US military, be they civilians or irregular forces, there's no hesitation: they are militants plain and simple.

This morning David Greene introduces another drone attack story by claiming that the "US has struck again at militants near the border with Afghanistan. The American airstrikes yesterday killed at least 45 militants...." Greene then turns things over to Julie McCarthy who says, "The details of the assault on the remote tribal area of South Waziristan - known as Pakistan's badlands - are still emerging, but local media report that dozens of militants were killed when three drone missiles were fired on Taliban fighters as they gathered for a funeral of fellow militants."

There are a few problems with Greene and McCarthy's reporting. Despite the heavy civilian toll of past drone attacks, Greene asserts as fact that "at least 45 militants" were killed. So where is the evidence? How does he know any of them were "militants." McCarthy notes that details "are still emerging," but that doesn't stop her from claiming that "local media report that dozens of militants were killed," that they were "Taliban fighters," and that it was a "funeral of fellow militants." So what local media is McCarthy referring to, and just how were the dead identified as "Taliban fighters"?

It's interesting to look at other reports of the same attack. According to the BBC
"At least 43 people have died in missile strikes by a US drone aircraft in a militant stronghold of Pakistan, a Taliban spokesman has told the BBC."
Pretty basic journalistic practice. "People" get killed, and the allegations are sourced. The Guardian goes even further noting that "one local security official, who could not be identified as he was not authorised to speak to media, said that more than 60 had died of whom 'half are civilians'." Civilians? What do you know, another detail that NPR somehow missed.

In addition to the factual vagaries of the report, Greene and McCarthy's casual attitude about unmanned killing machines and attacks on a funeral is really disturbing. So now it's acceptable military practice to bomb funerals? It's telling that when the word is torture NPR is concerned about "the fact that torture is illegal under U.S. law and international treaties," but when they are using language favorable to the US military there is no such concern.


Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

We knew it already in Nam 40 years ago:

If they're dead, they're VC.

Update: If they're dead, they're militants.

JayV said...

Thanks for this. I'd made a comment related to the drone attack to the previous post.

Quite a different take (and headline) to the story from AJE, which states 80 have died.

'Pakistan officially objects to strikes on its territory by the pilotless US aircraft.

'Questioned about the reported attacks, a US defence department official said: "There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan."'

Maybe I am wrong, but frequently NPR just cuts and pastes the DoD press release, without question.

Anonymous said...

Even if it were a "funeral for militants", it is unlikely that all those attending would be "militants".

Some would undoubtedly be family members, including women and children.

Obama has simply not learned the lessons of Vietnam.

If he won't listen to his own counter-terrorism people(Kilcullen and others) when they tell him that the drone attacks are likely to produce more terrorists than they kill, he won't listen to anyone.

He's a lost cause, IMHO.

Maybe I am wrong, but frequently NPR just cuts and pastes the DoD press release, without question.

or perhaps someone at NPR actually WRITES the DOD release.

Porter Melmoth said...

PEOPLE - normal term indicating human beings.

MILITANT - generic, detached, Life Is Cheap term, having much appeal to the Homeland, indicating bearded, turbaned, US-armed fanatics - everywhere, all the time. See related: commies, Soviet threat, Red Peril.

geoff said...

Perhaps we should be celebrating that the Predator/Reaper UAV/drones cost only 1/1000 of their old cousins, the B2 stealth, etc. This should free up beau coup buck-a-roo to help meet the needs of health, education and welfare for people. But wait, damn. We're still spending $70B for the F-22 Raptor. For that much moolah we need to kill some serious "militants." There must be a fair number of such right handy at that five-sided building...maybe start there? I mean, I want some bang for my buck.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

I sent a ("pro forma") complaint to the Ombud:


It seems to me that on the flimsiest of evidance (if ANY), your correspondent called all 45 Pakistanis killed in the drone attack "militants."

Yet, in the face of enormous amounts of evidence, you will still not call waterboarding, etc, "torture"? What am I missing here?


Anonymous said...

It seems that the torture piece has transformed NPR's ombudsman overnight from "NPR spin control" into "NPR spun out of control"

Those of us who call NPR national Propaganda Radio have basically had our allegation validated in a big way by Shepard's torture piece. Propaganda is ALL about euphemisms and other tricks meant to distort or hide the truth.

Thanks to the Shepard piece, NPR can now expect their entire vocabulary to be scrutinized: "militants", "terrorists", "economic recovery", "health care" [sic], .

As most of those who post here well know, NPR's aversion to saying "torture" is just a small part of a much larger picture.

it really paints a picture of who they are and the picture ain't pretty to look at.

Management are stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one.

I'm sure they would like to be able to make the problem just "go away", but they can't (and won't) fire Shepard because Shepard has accurately represented their policy.

So, my guess is that they (and Shepard) will ignore the issue and hope it goes away on its own, kind of like they do on important news issues that they wish to avoid( Downing Street Minutes, Civilian deaths in Afghanistan, home foreclosures, those who have lost their jobs, those who have no health care, etc)

Anonymous said...

"local media report that dozens of militants were killed,"

That would be the local "newspaper" run by the local war lord who had a score to settle with a rival who was cutting into his opium business.

For all its hugh-minded statements (from NPR's ombudsman and others) about the importance of giving its listeners "context", that is woefully absent in most NPR pieces.

Eg: They report that "a drone precisely hit its target" with the implication that there was no "collateral damage" (ie , no innocent people killed).

What they leave out (unwittingly or otherwise), is the possibility that the target may not have held what they implied ("militants") or even have been the intended one.

One guy doing drone "targeting" in Afghanistan (for money, of course) admitted to scattering the GPS chips used to home the missiles in on their targets hither and thither essentially randomly (because it was easier and he made more money that way)

The following is from Wired:

Spy Chips Guiding CIA Drone Strikes, Locals Say

* By Noah Shachtman
19 year-old Habibur Rehman made a videotaped “confession” of planting such devices, just before he was executed by the Taliban as an American spy. “I was given $122 to drop chips wrapped in cigarette paper at Al Qaeda and Taliban houses,” he said. If I was successful, I was told, I would be given thousands of dollars.”

But Rehman says he didn’t just tag jihadists with the devices. “The money was good so I started throwing the chips all over."

Unknown said...

Hey - and if a terrorist is a white Christian guy from the midwest he's an "extremist", not a "terrorist"...

Tim McVeigh did more damage than your average Palistianian with a bomb vest... and didn't have the guts to stay in the truck...

Anonymous said...

..and if he's an Evangelical bombing an abortion clinic for Jesus, he's a hero to a large fraction of our "Christian" populace.

Dick Cheney and George Bush got more Americans killed with their war in Iraq than were killed in the 9/11 attacks and most Americans don't even call them extremists (actually elected them to a second term, in fact)