January 9, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Chris Spannos:
In his Sunday front page article, “Lull In Strikes By U.S. Drones Aids Militants,” New York Times terrorism and national security writer Eric Schmitt informs readers that an almost two-month hiatus on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has “helped embolden Al Qaeda and several Pakistani militant factions to regroup, increase attacks against Pakistani security forces and threaten intensified strikes against allied forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials say.”
Schmitt’s information is based on sources that paint an argument for the necessity and effectiveness of the U.S. policy of drone strikes and extrajudicial assassinations in Pakistan. However the overwhelming majority of sources that Schmitt bases his story on are anonymous and most are not “officials.”
There are roughly 26 sources of information that Schmitt references in his article and which are all listed below. Additionally, there is a lot of other information and analysis for which he provides no source for.
Among Pakistani sources only one could possibly be categorized as “official” and he is an Army Officer who spoke on condition of anonymity:
One senior Pakistani Army officer with experience in the tribal areas said that insurgents had devised increasingly diabolical triggers and fuses for bombs.
Unlike Americans, Pakistani soldiers still drive in pickups or carriers with little protection. “The effects are devastating,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Vehicles are basically vaporized.”
Schmitt promises readers that “Pakistani officials say.” His paraphrase and quotation of the anonymous officer, which is the penultimate paragraph appearing on page A10 in print, does not actually correlate to Schmitt’s hook, accurate or not, about Al Qaeda, militants regrouping, increased attacks, and so on.
Early in the article, before offering any “officials,” Schmitt shifts to a more broadly defined set of sources, “Diplomats and intelligence analysts.” Perhaps he makes this shift because further research yielded results that couldn’t carry the seal of approval that the label “official” was supposed to.
It is common for Times journalists to rely on anonymous sources when reporting on national security or criminal justice stories. However, even The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage gives instructions to not rely on rote phrases such as “insisted on anonymity” or “demanded anonymity” because they “offer the reader no help.” I would argue that in the case of the Pakistani officer the phrase “spoke on the condition of anonymity,” without giving any explanation for the reason why to Times readers, is hardly any better.
Although the Times manual instructs writers to use anonymity for sources as a last resort, Schmitt referenced more than 20 out of the 26 sources anonymously.
The remainder of his Pakistani sources are referenced as “Several feuding factions,” “A logistics operative with the Haqqani terrorist group,” “leaflets distributed in North Waziristan,” “some commanders,” “Pakistani analysts,” “the Pak Institute for Peace Studies,” “the Pakistani military,” and “Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.”
However, at least one of Schmitt’s named sources does deserve follow-up when he writes:
Stuck in a stalemate in the lawless borderlands with this array of militants are 150,000 Pakistani troops. A recent report by an Islamabad-based research organization, the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, said that militant-based violence had declined by 24 percent in the last two years. But it also concluded that terrorist attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province increased 8 percent in 2011 from the year before.
The Pak Institute for Peace Studies have produced other relevant reports as well but that Schmitt fails to cite. For example, “Legality of Targeted Killings by Drone Attacks in Pakistan” by Akbar Nasir Khan probes the legal basis of the “US policy of target killings by drone attacks in Pakistan.” The report’s introduction states:
Lawyers have often struggled to find some rationale of drones in International law of Armed Conflict (ILOAC) and International Human Rights law (IHRL). However, use of drones is not covered by any so far. ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] has not come up with clear explanation due to changing nature of the warfare.
The “lawless borderlands” that Schmitt describes are by nature not lawless. They are borders of nations and should be subject to international law. The lawlessness that he writes about is better applied to the U.S. policy of drone attacks and extra-judicial assassinations that the U.S. executes in Pakistan.
Khan concludes his report stating:
Illegality of target killings by drones in Pakistan is Achilles’ heel of U.S. policy and it is counterproductive to achieve political and security gains in the region.
When Schmitt offers American “officials” for sources, he quotes Defense Department spokesman George Little and former Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently retired, Admiral Mike Mullen. Mullen is the most “official” official Schmitt names and, if you don’t count the spokesman, he is the only one.
Among the roughly 26 sources in Schmitt’s article, it bears repeating, 20 of them are anonymous. The remainders are one identified journal, one identified report, and four people with names.
Here is the list of Schmitt’s sources for information as he referenced them in the article:
Chris Spannos is editor of NYT eXaminer.