Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bombs over Al-Jazeera, again

Salon.com finally comes around to addressing the allegations that George Bush discussed plans to bomb Al-Jazeera's office in Qatar--which has been taken up in the European and Arab press a whole lot more than it has here in the U.S. The author, Juan Cole, tries to give Al-Jazeera a good shake and favorably compares the station to standard Arab news shows, "where news producers' idea of an exciting segment is a stationary camera on two Arab leaders sitting ceremonially on a Louis XIV sofa while martial music plays for several minutes." He sure got that right.

Cole looks pretty closely at a number of Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's statements leading up to and throughout the war, with many of them making a plan to bomb Al-Jazeera quite within the realm of possibility.

Skeptics have argued that it is inconceivable that even Bush would consider bombing an office containing 400 journalists, located in the friendly Gulf nation of Qatar. But again, it is more than conceivable that Bush decided that it was essential to neutralize an enemy outpost, and left the tactical question of execution to spooks and generals. Certainly there is strong evidence that Bush and his advisors, in particular Rumsfeld, were thinking along these lines.

Ironically, Rumsfeld himself had telegraphed the strategy during an interview in 2001 on ... Al-Jazeera! On Oct. 16, 2001, Rumsfeld talked to the channel's Washington anchor Hafez Mirazi (who once worked for the Voice of America but left in disgust at the level of censorship he faced there). Although most such interviews are archived at the Department of Defense, this one appears to be absent. Mirazi showed it again on Monday, and it contained a segment in which Rumsfeld defended the targeting of radio stations that supported the Taliban. He made it clear right then that he believed in total war, and made no distinction between civilian and military targets. The radio stations, he said, were part of the Taliban war effort.

And then there's the fact that Al-Jazeera's offices in Kabul and Baghdad were also bombed--but without much comment from DC.

Here's another excerpt:


At the height of the first U.S. attack on Fallujah, which was ordered by Bush in a fit of pique over the killing and desecration of four private security guards (three of them Americans, one South African), Rumsfeld exploded at a Pentagon briefing on April 15:

If I could follow up, Monday General Abizaid chastised Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyah for their coverage of Fallujah and saying that hundreds of civilians were being killed. Is there an estimate on how many civilians have been killed in that fighting? And can you definitively say that hundreds of women and children and innocent civilians have not been killed?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I can definitively say that what al-Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.

Do you have a civilian casualty count?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Of course not, we're not in the city. But you know what our forces do; they don't go around killing hundreds of civilians. That's just outrageous nonsense! It's disgraceful what that station is doing.

In fact, local medical authorities put the number of dead at Fallujah, most of them women, children and noncombatants, at around 600.

As the London Times pointed out on Sunday, Bush's conference with Blair, at which he announced his plan to bomb the channel's Doha offices, occurred the very next day.

The article is great--particularly since it gives a more balanced take on Al-Jazeera's method and content. Even though Salon will have you watch a short advert to read it, it's well worth it.

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