October 28, 2012 · 0 Comments
Above: Site of a US drone attack in the capital city of Mogadishu (Source: Press TV)
By Stephen Roblin:
Fiction can function as a mirror by helping us see things in ourselves that natural perspective obscures. The mirror effect can take place on a social level too. A good example is the classic HBO drama, The Wire. As anyone familiar with the drama should expect, whatever it may reflect about U.S. society and institutions is bound to be grim.
Fans may remember Maury Levy, the corrupt lawyer who willingly aids his drug-kingpin clients in their criminal activity. His role in “the game” is characterized nicely by a West Baltimore hoodlum, who sees the choice of weapon as the primary distinction: Levy wields “the briefcase,” whereas the thug wields “the shotgun.”
The distinction is not merely symbolic. Wielding the briefcase differs in that it falls within the rule of law. Moreover, the briefcase typically is used in the service of the shotgun (less so the other way around). This is what the hoodlum gets at in his response to Levy’s questioning. He understands that criminals have to get away with their crimes if they are to repeat them.
Through the course of the series, Levy pulls the wool over the eyes of juries through the use of common defense tactics. Two key ones are the careful omission of incriminating facts and the clever portrayal of his clients as upstanding citizens. The same tactics are used by those committed to the defense of crimes of nations.
The New York Times applies them skillfully in covering up for crimes that emanate from Washington. Its coverage of the UN Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea’s most recent findings – the topic of this article – offers a good illustration.
Two Monitoring Group reports were released, the leaked and official. As one might expect, the points of emphasis in the reports differ radically. So far, the New York Times has discussed the findings in two articles, but has omitted the major finding of the leaked document.
According to the leaked document, violation of the long-standing Somali arms embargo “has become a growing problem.” The “pattern of arms embargo violations,” however, “has changed little over previous years,” with Washington and its regional allies, mainly Kenya and Ethiopia, being the most egregious violators.
On July 18, the New York Times printed a Reuters brief that ignored entirely the major finding, focusing instead on “the ‘climate of impunity’ enjoyed by pirate kingpins in Somalia and abroad.” In my review of the brief for the NYT eXaminer, I show how any reasonable reading of the leaked report (as well as previous reports) indicates that primary responsibility for what the Monitoring Group has called the “international norm of non-compliance” should be assigned to the U.S. and its allies.
On October 5, the Monitoring Group’s findings entered the New York Times’ pages again in a report by Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt. This time, attention was drawn to the “brazen, large-scale and protracted violation[s]” of the private militias hired to “defeat the pirates terrorizing the shipping lanes off the Somali coast.” Again, there’s no mention of the major finding. Instead, attention is given to the more marginal violators, like the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Dubai-based Sterling Corporate Services performed “large-scale military training” for the Puntland Maritime Police Force, the “private army” of the president of the semi-autonomous state of Puntland. The UAE bankrolled Sterling without receiving UN Security Council authorization. For this reason, the nation “drew the ire of United Nations arms monitors, who repeatedly pressed the emirates to shut down the mission,” writes Mazzetti and Schmitt.
The journalists present the company’s defense, which they paraphrase as: “Somalia already is a playground for clandestine operations, with the C.I.A. now in the midst of an extensive effort to arm and equip Somali spies. Why, they ask, is Sterling Corporate Services singled out for criticism?” Of course, neither Sterling nor the UAE have been singled out by the arms monitors. Mazzetti and Schmitt chose to ignore this obvious fact. A good defense attorney knows how to evade incriminating evidence.
They then turn their attention to portraying Washington as an upstanding global citizen. In presenting the Obama administration as concerned with the integrity of the arms embargo, State Department official Hilary Renner is quoted saying, “We share the monitoring group’s concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the Saracen and Sterling Corporate Services’ train-and-equip program for the Puntland Maritime Police Force, as well as the abuses alleged to have occurred during the training.”
This was followed with no challenge.
Honest journalism, on the other hand, would have noted moments when U.S. concern for the integrity of the arms embargo was on full display. One moment was on the sidelines of the London Conference on Somalia in February 2012 during a press briefing by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. When asked whether she supports the U.S. conducting airstrikes in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas, she answered with, “airstrikes would not be a good idea,” adding that “we have absolutely no reason to believe anyone – certainly not the United States . . . is considering that.”
In reality, the question had been considered and decided.
Five months before Clinton’s remarks, in September 2011, the Washington Post reported a new development within the CIA. “Within the past year, the agency has created an equivalent” to the Pakistan-Afghanistan Department (PAD) “for Yemen and Somalia in the hope that it can replicate the impact of PAD.” The “impact” of the CIA drone program in the region, with the help of Obama’s “private assassination squad,” the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), has been impressive. More than two thousand people in Pakistan have been murdered, with complete impunity.
Unsurprisingly, Pakistanis don’t share U.S. officials’ enthusiasm over the performance. In fact, a recent Pew poll found that ninety-seven percent of Pakistanis aware of the program disapprove of it. They would, however, agree with officials on at least one point: thanks to the addition of the drone the CIA has been transformed into “one hell of a killing machine,” as put by a former senior U.S. intelligence official.
Eight months before Clinton informed journalists that there was “no reason” to expect U.S. airstrikes in Somalia, the “killing machine” had already been turned loose on the country. Starting in June 2011, the same time when famine conditions spreading rapidly through the country, U.S. airstrikes and covert operations became a regular occurrence. This record is beginning to be pieced together by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. But even by only reading the New York Times, one could easily detect Clinton’s lie. One month prior to her press briefing, the paper ran an article entitled, “U.S. Drone Strike Kills Foreign Commander Fighting for Militants in Somalia.” A day after the briefing (February 24), a U.S. official confirmed a drone attack that killed four “militants,” according to an Associated Press wire posted on the New York Time’s website.
The paper committed zero words to Clinton’s deceit at the time. Nor was it mentioned in Mazzetti and Schmitt’s piece, despite its relevance in gauging the administration’s expressed concern over “lack of transparency” as it relates to the arms embargo. Indeed, no skilled defense attorney draws the court’s attention to inconsistencies in her clients’ testimonies.
To be fair, Clinton’s deceit was considered unworthy of coverage by the U.S. press overall (to my knowledge). So perhaps it flew past the New York Times’ radar. In any case, the journalists could have followed Renner’s statement with the Obama administration’s apparent refusal to admit to the Monitoring Group that it had been carrying out airstrikes in Somali territory. Interestingly, the words “airstrikes” and “drone” don’t even appear in their report. Honest consideration of available facts can’t get in the way of cultivating an image of the good citizen.
The journalists do mention that the U.S. has “relied on proxy forces and armed private contractors to battle pirates and, increasingly, Islamic militants.” But this fact is not discussed in the context of the arms embargo. Instead, they point to how the “strategy has had some success,” despite its “inherent dangers.” The example given is the “recent offensive by Kenyan and African Union troops to push the militant group Al Shabab from its stronghold in the port city of Kismayu.”
It’s true that the illegal intervention has enjoyed military successes, but they’ve come with dire humanitarian consequences. Mazzetti and Schmitt restrict their reporting to the former, which is consistent with the New York Times’ broader coverage of Somalia. This journalistic decision is not due to scarcity of evidence. To the contrary, a steady flow of reports by UN agencies and aid organizations documenting the devastating humanitarian consequences of the U.S.-backed intervention can be found on the Somalia page on ReliefWeb.
There’s agreement among many of the reports that during Somalia’s epic famine and its ongoing post-famine humanitarian catastrophe, the intervention has been a primary cause of restricted humanitarian access, mass displacement, disruption of planting and crop production, hampered economic activity (including the vital livestock trade), and more.
Many of these conditions are predicted to persist due to the “[e]xpected intensified conflict,” according to USAID. If past coverage is any indication, one should not expect New York Times journalists to temper their enthusiasm over the military success with concern for the plight of Somalis. A skilled attorney knows better than to show sympathy and indignation when doing so threatens the defense effort.
It’s difficult to take seriously the New York Time’s “duty” to present “complete, unvarnished truth” when its coverage can easily be compared to a corrupt defense attorney representing thugs. And when we consider where the comparison departs, this expressed duty appears even more fraudulent.
For one, attorneys have legal obligations to those whom they defend, even the plainly guilty. Journalists in the U.S. are bound by no legal obligation to serve the interests of government. Also, prosecutors in the U.S. legal system have tools at their disposal to effectively counter the narrative puts forth by defense attorneys. The playing field is nowhere near this even for those working to expose the bias and deceit so common to U.S. corporate media performance.
In this case, reality is much worse than what fiction reflects.
Stephen Roblin writes for NYT eXaminer.
 UNSC, Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea pursuant to Security Council resolution 2002 (2011), Advanced Copy – Confidential, 7 and 24. From here, the documented is cited as “Leaked Report.” For a copy of the report, see www.somaliareport.com/downloads/UN_REPORT_2012.pdf.
 Leaked Report, 22.
 For a discussion on the U.S. role in creating the conditions for Somalia’s “epic famine,” see my “War and famine, the only option?,” Parts I and II, ZNet, http://www.zcommunications.org/war-and-famine-the-only-option-part-i-by-stephen-roblin, and http://www.zcommunications.org/war-and-famine-the-only-option-part-ii-by-stephen-roblin.
 Leaked Report, 225. For more on the Monitoring Group’s findings regarding “unmanned aerial vehicles” (drones), see pages 20, 232-233, and 295.
 For a discussion on the legal status of the multi-national intervention, see my “Kenya’s Criminal Assault on Famine-Stricken Somalia,” Truthout, December 18, 2011,http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=5492:kenyas-criminal-assault-on-faminestricken-somalia. See also my previous article for the NYTExaminer, “Somalia’s ‘Climate of Impunity’ Enjoyed by More Than Just Pirates,” August 1, 2012, http://www.nytexaminer.com/2012/08/somalias-climate-of-impunity-enjoyed-by-more-than-just-pirates/.
 I have observed this pattern from reading the coverage of Somalia. I will provide a detailed, evidence-based analysis of this blindspot in a future article.