Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's Not Just Harper & Company, It's the Media Too

Have you ever thought how the collapse of the Canadian mainstream media played an instrumental role in today's Afghan detainee torture scandal? The parliamentary press corps appears to have Harper and Hillier under a microscope at this moment but who are they to interpret what happened and what went wrong and who is to blame?

Colvin's 16-page brief on the mistreatment, including torture and unexplained disappearance, of Afghan detainees unleashed a Tsunami of controversy. We're all going tsk, tsk, this and tsk, tsk, that. We should be asking why is this so controversial now, as 2009 draws to an end? The answer to that question explains a great deal about how these events came to pass at all.

As many of you have read by now, The Globe's Lawrence Martin has just this day written a nice piece encapsulating how Stephen Harper has subverted Canadian democracy. It's a good column but there's precious little detail that's new to be found in it, few insights beyond the obvious. About the most remarkable thing about Martin's article is that he's the first one to draw these painful links in the four years Harper has been abusing power. Let's hope Martin's is not the last.

But this item is about Afghanistan and about the torture of detainees and the role Canada's media played in enabling that to happen. One of the fantasies that Harper's minions have been spinning is that they had no idea about this until they read about it in The Globe & Mail in 2007. What, really? What kind of preposterous bullshit is that?

Most of what we've read about the Afghan mission from Canadian papers has come in the form of jingoistic journo-snot from third-raters like Christie Blatchford and the Star's Rosie DiManno, two complete duds in a field littered with unexploded reportage. They went out and got embedded with the troops and they talked to Captain this and Sergeant that and they came back and preached their Gospel to the Gullible, angrily reproaching informed, intelligent perspective as a rank betrayal of the troops. They did it, again and again and again, which proves that their editors were all for it.

These people weren't journalists, they certainly weren't war correspondents. They were like concert reviewers treating Canada's Afghan mission as though it was some sort of "gig." It's hard to fault them for that, at least initially, because Canada's involvement in America's Af/Pak war began in a way that sort of resembled a rock concert. We showed up over there as the roadies, providing rear echelon security in Kabul. Then their guitar section split to play in Iraq and we got invited to put in a cameo appearance with the band. We signed on to play one set, in Kandahar, that was clocked to end in 2007. Then we agreed to stay for another set, to end in 2009. Finally we got ourselves into a quasi-open ended committment notionally supposed to end in 2011- wink, wink. With wilfully blind journos like Blatchford and DiManno, the media lost the significance of the transition in Canada's role in Afghanistan and that suited Harper's and Hillier's purposes perfectly.

Colvin's 16-page blockbuster is replete with corroborative sources to verify his claims. Most of those sources - the UN, the US, the NGO stuff - were readily accessible to any Canadian reporter who could be bothered to enquire. And there were almost none of those, Graeme Smith perhaps being one exception.

The Canadian media couldn't see the war for the battle, they couldn't see the forest for the trees. They never really grasped the nature of an insurgency. They never understood the distinction between a political and a military war. They never delved deep enough to realize that the war we were fighting in Afghanistan was a myriad of political, military and criminal battles all being played out simultaneously. Instead they presented us a GI Joe war that never really existed.

Remember Operation Medusa a few years back, Canada's glorious battle to destroy the Taliban in Panjwai? Our generals boasted that they had thousands of Taliban trapped, surrounded. Our cordon was so airtight there was no rush to close with the insurgents. Our top general bragged that the Taliban were trapped and were left to chose whether to surrender or die.

While that battle was underway, I corresponded with Jonathon Landay of McClatchey Newspapers, a guy who has been in Afghanistan since he ran those hills with the Mujads fighting the Soviets. I asked Landay what he thought of this ridiculous claim that we had these guys trapped. He responded noting that this region was laced with vineyards and orchards all of which featured deep irrigation ditches. Landay predicted that the Taliban would just wait until dark, grab their weapons and anything else of value, and simply walk through our lines, undetected, through those ditches. He said it was what they've always done. He was right.

When Canadian units did finally move in there was no fighting. The bad guys were gone. So, since they weren't there to be killed or captured, the narrative changed. We'd already killed them all. Oh, who knows? Maybe Allah Raptures his people up too.

The point I'm trying to make is that the Canadian media were out of their league in covering the Afghan war from the start and they still are. Worse, instead of playing catchup and taking the time to learn what was really going on and what that really meant, they sent hack reporters over to cover battles and not the war, reporters who understood as much about war as Roxanne Pulitzer knew about playing the trumpet. And so they missed the war and, through them, we missed it too. And so Colvin's revelations caught us by surprise. And so Harper and his minions, civilian and military, thought we were so damned ignorant all they had to do was deny and viciously attack this man's credibility.

Had the media done their job, little if anything in Colvin's report ought to have taken us by surprise. Then again, had the media done their job and covered the Af/Pak war properly, Harper and his gang would have known that this issue was potentially explosive. They ignored it because our media led them to believe they could get away with it and that was not an unreasonable assumption.

And what does this say of the opposition? Nothing flattering. They could easily have made good the media's failure. They could have brought this issue out in public, if not in 2006, in 2007 in any case. They didn't have to wait until Mr. Colvin appeared in 2009.

This isn't criticizing from hindsight. This information was out there in 2006. People were chronicling it, people were talking about it, people were analyzing it and what it all meant when put together. People were taking the time to inform themselves about the Dostums and Fahims, the Hekmatyars and Haqqanis, the Karzais and the Gul Agha Shirzais, all that scum - on our side and on theirs.

The whole business is just a goddamned travesty. There are no clean hands from this filth.


LK said...

A few in the media have been on to Harper-- Jim Travers, at least since the- attempted bribing of a sitting, dying MP- affair. Why isn't there more investigative journalism, MoS? When even his own biographer says Harper has subverted democracy, isn't it time the media let us all know? I realize most 'news' we get is owned, but there'll always be some honest renegades!:) LK

The Mound of Sound said...

Part of the problem is that the media have allowed themselves to be shelved. They whimpered and whined when Harper began shutting down their access to DND and EnviroCan, forcing them to go through his Political Commissars in the PMO. Imagine, your questions go to the prime ministers office then, if approved, are forwarded to the appropriate public servant whose responses are returned to the prime minister's office where they're filtered and massaged to conform to the government's particular narrative and then, and only then, released to the media. And they sat back and tolerated it. The only direct access they could get was to people who were 'reliable' and would stay on message. And they fell into line like sheep.

In my time, government feared the media. It was palpable when you dealt with them. Now the tables are turned.

LeDaro said...

Rumours have been swirling around about serious torture problem since 2006. I remember read somethign about it in April 2007 and did this depiction in picture.

Nothing new. They can deny all they want but it clear like day light.

John Prince said...

The media (msm) are nothing more than a tool controlled by the elite to push their products, message, agenda, etc. The Afghan war media coverage has just been more of the same, that's all.

"Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to a dictatorship."

LeDaro said...

"Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to a dictatorship." We qualify as a dictatorship too as what is being done in Afghanistan is all about violence.

Liberal Justice said...

Obviously part of the reason the torture issue has become so highlighted in the media is because Ignatieff has done a brilliant job in exposing the evils of this government.

The Mound of Sound said...

One reason so many Canadians view these disclosures with suspicion is because our media was so negligent in covering the Afghan war. And Liberal Justice, I'm sorry but your boy Iggy isn't in line for much praise on this one. Remember, he's the guy who said he wasn't going to lose sleep over a bit of 'enhanced interrogation'? Hard as you try, LJ, you can't suck and blow at the same time. And, after his recent ringing endorsement of the Tar Sands, your guy Iggy sucks the big one.

LeDaro said...

Liberal Justice, by the way I see on your blog that you have been denied membership to Liblog. That is Iggy/Cherniak blog. That should give you some idea of Iggyness. Liblog is Ignotorious for that.

John Prince said...

Since the name Cherniak and Liblogs has come up, maybe some of you may be interested in a comment I did on Scott's Dia Tribes blog yesterday...

My vote for most 'unCanadian' would go to you Scott, at Progressive Bloggers, and Liblogs' Jason Cherniak for being the jackboot lapdogs of international Zionism, at the bequest of Warren Kinsella. The fact that people like you are in a position to effectively 'censor' those who put forward positions of peace, rather than war, while running so-called 'democratic' political blogs, sickens me to no end. We don't need to look outside our walls for terrorists they are here within our own borders, as exemplified by your and Jason's recent actions against me for daring to publish the following post:

You gutless wonders who push a Zionist agenda while using your positions as moderators on political blogging sites to suppress dissenting opinion is not only a diabolical action, but the hypocritical actions of traitors, as well. 'Enjoy' your award. You guys earned it.

p.s. I can't seem to access his blog anymore? I keep getting a HTTP 403 Forbidden msg?? I guess Scott and Jason cannot handle the glare of the media spotlight, when their dirty deeds are exposed for all to see. :-(

The Mound of Sound said...

John, I know Liblogs had that bent. It's one of the reasons I left along with others. Liblogs had/has a very narrow, toe the party line, stifle your criticism attitude. I don't know that the same can be said for ProgBlog. Scott Tribe is an unabashed big L, Liberal supporter, through and through, but I am free to criticize Iggy on his site, to blast their "Leader's" outrageously flawed and feckless position on Gaza and Israel and just about anything and everything else Ignatieff has done.

Bear in mind that many, if not most, of the posters at ProgBlog are NDP supporters and I think few of them would stay if it was overtly Zionist.

Just what happened between you and Scott?

LeDaro said...

John, I agree with MoS on this. Scott Tribes has rarely objected to my posts. Once in a while he comes to my blog to express his displeasure but never threatening to remove me from ProgBlog. One has to give him credit for that. On the other hand for Liblogs you have to take an oath:

You shall:

-Not criticize Israel and butchering of its neighbours whether they be Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians or any other Arab neighbours.
-Support Iraq and Afghanistan war unconditionally.
-Support invasion of Iran if Israel or US so decides.
-Never dare say anything against THE LEADER Iggy.

Initially I protested MoS’s removal from Liblogs and next my posts started disappearing from the Liblogs and when I protested that, I was gone too.

John Prince said...

MoS and LeDaro,
Warren Kinsella had me censored which resulted in my being removed from Liblogs, because of the post I did on the Iranian leader’s speech to the UN. They 'kitchen sinked' and thereby read more into my post than was there.

From email exchanges I had with Scott, he told me Cherniak sits on his board at Progressive Bloggers. Since Scott never allowed me to be a member of PB and therefore none of posts have ever appeared there, I have to assume he followed Cherniak and Warren's lead and banned me.

I do not believe I did anything deserving, in the slightest, to be censored and banned, and as a result, I certainly did not deserve to be treated so heavy-handedly and with no respect. Therefore, it is now my mission in life to wake up people as much as I can to the threat these people pose to our way of life and freedoms... what we call democracy.

I want to thank you both for your interest and concern but as things have played out it is quite apparent to me that Scott is as guilty as the rest.

LeDaro said...

John, I understand your frustrations. What was done to you was wrong, dead wrong. Warren Kinsella is not much help to LPC. Oh yes, he is helping to sink the LPC ship. Iggy has no opinion of his own it looks. He is lead by others. His stand on Tar Sands is dead wrong and not to speak of his disgraceful position on Gaza. Even Obama did not go along with that and U.S. government is under greater pressure from Israeli lobby.

As far as being silenced, it is another blow to Liberal grassroots’ philosophy of freedom of speech. May be they should be reminded of:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I believe Voltaire said that. But what is the use under the current leadership. LPC needs a major shake-up.

John Prince said...

Pretty hard for someone to understand the issues and concerns of those from the other side of the tracks (most Canadians), when all you have ever known is life with a silver spoon.

I hate to say it, but Iggy's silence (and positions) on so many issues, including the ones you mention above, suggests he would not be much different, if he were in charge, than what we are getting from Harper and the conservatives. This I find extremely distressing.

... LPC needs a major shake-up.

In my neck of the woods, I have spoken to the head honcho of the Alberta Liberal Party on more than one occasion, stating that I firmly believe the Macleod Liberal constituency is in the backpocket of the conservatives. I do not say this with tongue in cheek, but with the firm conviction and prove that this is the case.

How many more ridings in this country are in the same position??

The above is part of the reason, I think MoS most recent post above (Canada needs a Pro-Democracy Movement) is right on the money. Real change will only come about by real Canadians. Not from corporate lackeys and political flunkies, who sell us out at the drop of a hat, as they have consistently been doing for so many years now.

The Mound of Sound said...

John I agree that 19th century corporatism has gone from being an essential force for Canada's development into an economic and political liability for the future. It certainly has to be restrained and the role of the individual citizen over the corporate citizen restored.

Look at what has happened south of the border with their "bought and paid for" Congress. The Republican House leader Boehner freely walking around the floor of the house handing out cheques from the coal lobby just before a crucial vote impacting the coal industry. He apologized for it later, saying it was "bad optics", but said he'd done nothing illegal.

That is a legislature not fit to govern a citizenry. We may not have degenerated to the state of American politics but there is far too much corporate influence in Canada's two major parties. Harper is in the Oil lobby's pocket and I would be astonished that Iggy is that far behind. Harper has always openly worshiped all things far-right Republican and, I fear, Iggy sees the future Liberals as mirror-images of the Democratic Party. What else explains his abandonment of the progressive element of the LPC?

p.s. - I don't think I'll be getting a Christmas card from Iggy again this year.