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Thread: In War Coverage: Have "Insurgents" Morphed Into "Al-Qaeda?"

  1. #1
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    Jan 2005

    In War Coverage: Have "Insurgents" Morphed Into "Al-Qaeda?"

    In War Coverage: Have 'Insurgents' Morphed into 'Qaeda'?

    By E&P Staff
    Published: June 23, 2007 8:20 PM ET

    NEW YORK As E&P has noted in the past week, the U.S. military has increasingly referred to insurgents in Iraq as "al-Qaeda fighters" or "Qaeda militants." When and why this is happening is not certain, although linking the insurgents to those who attacked us on 9/11 would appear to have certain benefits in the court of public opinion.

    In the past, however, both military and outside observers have long stated that so-called "foreign fighters" or members of the group Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia have made up only a tiny fraction of those who are actively battling the U.S. occupation.

    Blogging at today, Glenn Greenwald has a lengthy take on this issue. "What makes this practice all the more disturbing is how quickly and obediently the media has adopted the change in terms consciously issued by the Bush administration and their military officials responsible for presenting the Bush view of the war to the press," he concludes.

    It's at:
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Everyone we fight in Iraq is now "al-Qaida"

    Josh Marshall publishes an e-mail from a reader who identifies what is one of the most astonishing instances of mindless, pro-government "reporting" yet:
    It's a curious thing that, over the past 10 - 12 days, the news from Iraq refers to the combatants there as "al-Qaida" fighters. When did that happen? Until a few days ago, the combatants in Iraq were "insurgents" or they were referred to as "Sunni" or "Shia'a" fighters in the Iraq Civil War. Suddenly, without evidence, without proof, without any semblance of fact, the US military command is referring to these combatants as "al-Qaida".

    Welcome to the latest in Iraq propaganda.
    That the Bush administration, and specifically its military commanders, decided to begin using the term "Al Qaeda" to designate "anyone and everyeone we fight against or kill in Iraq" is obvious. All of a sudden, every time one of the top military commanders describes our latest operations or quantifies how many we killed, the enemy is referred to, almost exclusively now, as "Al Qaeda." But what is even more notable is that the establishment press has followed right along, just as enthusiastically. I don't think the New York Times has published a story about Iraq in the last two weeks without stating that we are killing "Al Qaeda fighters," capturing "Al Qaeda leaders," and every new operation is against "Al Qaeda."

    The Times -- typically in the form of the gullible and always-government-trusting "reporting" of Michael Gordon, though not only -- makes this claim over and over, as prominently as possible, often without the slightest questioning, qualification, or doubt. If your only news about Iraq came from The New York Times, you would think that the war in Iraq is now indistinguishable from the initial stage of the war in Afghanistan -- that we are there fighting against the people who hijacked those planes and flew them into our buildings: "Al Qaeda."

    What is so amazing about this new rhetorical development -- not only from our military, but also from our "journalists" -- is that, for years, it was too shameless and false even for the Bush administration to use. Even at the height of their propaganda offensives about the war, the furthest Bush officials were willing to go was to use the generic term "terrorists" for everyone we are fighting in Iraq, as in: "we cannot surrender to the terrorists by withdrawing" and "we must stay on the offensive against terrorists."

    But after his 2004 re-election was secure, even the President acknowledged that "Al Qaeda" was the smallest component of the "enemies" we are fighting in Iraq:
    A clear strategy begins with a clear understanding of the enemy we face. The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein -- and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group. . . . The second group that makes up the enemy in Iraq is smaller, but more determined. It contains former regime loyalists who held positions of power under Saddam Hussein -- people who still harbor dreams of returning to power. These hard-core Saddamists are trying to foment anti-democratic sentiment amongst the larger Sunni community. . . .

    The third group is the smallest, but the most lethal: the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda.
    And note that even for the "smallest" group among those we are fighting in Iraq, the president described them not as "Al Qaeda," but as those "affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda." Claiming that our enemy in Iraq was comprised primarily or largely of "Al Qaeda" was too patently false even for the President to invoke in defense of his war. But now, support for the war is at an all-time low and war supporters are truly desperate to find a way to stay in Iraq. So the administration has thrown any remnants of rhetorical caution to the wind, overtly calling everyone we are fighting "Al Qaeda." This strategy was first unveiled by Joe Lieberman when he went on Meet the Press in January and claimed that the U.S. was "attacked on 9/11 by the same enemy that we're fighting in Iraq today". Though Lieberman was widely mocked at the time for his incomparable willingness to spew even the most patent falsehoods to justify the occupation, our intrepid political press corps now dutifully follows right along.

    Here is the first paragraph from today's New York Times article on our latest offensive, based exclusively on the claims of our military commanders:
    The operational commander of troops battling to drive fighters with Al Qaeda from Baquba said Friday that 80 percent of the top Qaeda leaders in the city fled before the American-led offensive began earlier this week. He compared their flight with the escape of Qaeda leaders from Falluja ahead of an American offensive that recaptured that city in 2004.
    The article then uses the term "Qaeda" an additional 19 times to describe the enemy we are fighting -- "Qaeda leaders," "Qaeda strongholds," "Qaeda fighters," "Qaeda groups," the "Qaeda threat," etc. What is our objective in Iraq? To "move into neighborhoods cleared of Qaeda fighters and hold them." In virtually every article from the Times now, anyone we fight is automatically designated "Al Qaeda":
    * June 21 (by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin):
    American troops discovered a medical aid station for insurgents -- another sign that the Qaeda fighters had prepared for an intense fight . . . In a statement, the American military said it had killed 41 Qaeda operatives.
    * June 20 (by Michael Gordon):
    The problem of collaring the Qaeda fighters is challenging in several respects. . . The presence of so many civilians on an urban battlefield affords the operatives from Al Qaeda another possible means to elude their American pursuers. . . . Since the battle for western Baquba began, Qaeda insurgents have carried out a delaying action, employing snipers and engaging American troops in several firefights.
    * June 19 (by Michael Gordon and Damien Cave):
    The Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in Baquba are strongly defended, according to American intelligence reports [though even that article described the enemy in Baquba as "a mix of former members of Saddam Hussein's army and paramilitary forces, embittered Sunni Arab men, criminal gangs and Qaeda Islamists"]
    *June 17 (by Thom Shanker and Michael Gordon):
    With the influx of tens of thousands of additional combat troops into Iraq now complete, American forces have begun a wide offensive against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia on the outskirts of Baghdad, the top American commander in Iraq said Saturday. The commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, in a news conference in Baghdad along with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, said the operation was intended to take the fight to Al Qaeda's hide-outs in order to cut down the group's devastating campaign of car bombings. . . .

    The additional American forces, General Petraeus said Saturday, would allow the United States to conduct operations in "a number of areas around Baghdad, in particular to go into areas that were sanctuaries in the past of Al Qaeda."
    From The Washington Post today:
    The battle came Friday to the town of Khalis, about 10 miles northwest of Baqubah. U.S. forces saw a group of al-Qaeda in Iraq gunmen attempting to avoid Iraqi police patrols and infiltrate Khalis from the southwest, according to a U.S. military statement. . . . . With those deaths, at least 68 suspected al-Qaeda operatives have been killed in the offensive, according to the U.S. military's tally.
    End Part I
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  3. #3
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    Jan 2005
    And here is the headline from CNN's article yesterday:

    Note that, in the sub-headline, CNN totals the number of "militants" killed as 68, which, in the headline, magically becomes "68 al Qaeda militants killed." That is because, in our media, everyone we kill in Iraq, and everyone who fights against our occupation, are all now "al Qaeda." Each of these articles typically (though not always) initially refers to "Al Qaeda in Iraq" or "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia," as though they are nothing more than the Iraqi branch office of the group that launched the 9/11 attacks. The articles then proceed to refer to the group only as "Qaeda," and repeatedly quote U.S. military officials quantifying the amount of "Qaeda fighters" we killed. Hence, what we are doing in Iraq is going after and killing members of the group which flew the planes into our buildings. Who could possibly be against that?

    Are there some foreign fighters in Iraq who have taken up arms against the U.S. occupation who are fairly called "Al Qaeda"? Probably. But by all accounts -- including the President's -- they are a tiny part of the groups with guns who are waging war in Iraq. The vast, vast majority of them are Iraqis motivated by a desire to acquire more political power in their own country at the expense of other Iraqi factions and/or to fight against a foreign occupation of their country. To refer to them as "Al Qaeda" so casually and with so little basis (other than the fact that U.S. military officials now do so) is misleading and propagandistic in the extreme.

    Making matters much worse, this tactic was exposed long, long ago. From the Christian Science Monitor in September, 2005:
    The US and Iraqi governments have vastly overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, and most of them don't come from Saudi Arabia, according to a new report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). According to a piece in The Guardian, this means the US and Iraq "feed the myth" that foreign fighters are the backbone of the insurgency. While the foreign fighters may stoke the insurgency flames, they make up only about 4 to 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 insurgents.
    And in January of this year, the Cato Institute published a detailed analysis -- entitled "The Myth of an al Qaeda Takeover of Iraq" -- by Ted Galen Carpenter, its vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, documenting that claims of "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is "a canard that the perpetrators of the current catastrophe use to frighten people into supporting a fatally flawed, and seemingly endless, nation-building debacle." What is always most striking about this is how uncritically our press passes on government claims. War reporting in Iraq is obviously extremely difficult and dangerous, and it takes a great deal of courage to be in Iraq in order to file these stories. There is no denying that.

    But precisely because of those dangers, these reporters rely almost exclusively on the narratives offered by U.S. military officials selected by the Bush administration to convey events to the press. Almost every one of the articles referenced above is shaped from start to finish by accounts about what happened from American military commanders (with, in isolated instances, accounts from Iraqis in the area). That is inevitable, though such accounts ought to be treated with much greater skepticism.

    But what is not inevitable is to adopt the patently misleading nomenclature and political rhetoric of the administration, so plainly designed to generate support for the "surge" (support for which Gordon himself admitted he has embraced) by creating the false appearance that the violence in Iraq is due to attacks by the terrorist group responsible for 9/11. What makes this practice all the more disturbing is how quickly and obediently the media has adopted the change in terms consciously issued by the Bush administration and their military officials responsible for presenting the Bush view of the war to the press.

    UPDATE: Posts from other bloggers who previously noticed this same trend demonstrate how calculated it is and pinpoint its obvious genesis. At Kos, BarbInMD noted back in May that Bush's rhetoric on Iraq had palpably shifted, as he began declaring that "Al-Qaida is public enemy No. 1 in Iraq." The same day, she noted that Bush "mentioned Al-Qaida no less than 27 times" in his Iraq speech. As always, a theme travels unmolested from Bush's mouth into the unexamined premises of our newspapers' front pages.

    Separately, Ghillie notes in comments that the very politically cognizant Gen. Petraeus has been quite noticeably emphasizing "the battle against Al Qaeda" in interviews for months. And yesterday, ProfMarcus analyzed the top Reuters article concerning American action in Iraq -- headline: "Al Qaeda fight to death in Iraq bastion: U.S" -- and noted that "al qaeda is mentioned 13 times in a 614 word story" and that "reading the article, you would think that al qaeda is not only everywhere in iraq but is also behind all the insurgent activity that's going on."

    Interestingly, in addition to the one quoted above, there is another long article in the Post today, this one by the reliable Thomas Ricks, which extensively analyzes the objectives and shortcomings in our current military strategy. Ricks himself strategy never once mentions Al Qaeda.

    Finally, the lead story of the NYT today -- in its first two paragraphs -- quotes Gen. Odierno as claiming that the 2004 battle of Falluja was aimed at capturing "top Qaeda leaders in the city." But Michael Gordon himself, back in 2004, published a lengthy and detailed article about the Falluja situation and never once mentioned or even alluded to "Al Qaeda," writing only about the Iraqi Sunni insurgents in that city who were hostile to our occupation (h/t John Manning). The propagandistic transformation of "insurgents" into "Al Qaeda," then, applies not only to our current predicament but also to past battles as well, as a tool of rank revisionism (hence, it is now officially "The Glorious 2004 Battle against Al-Qaeda in Falluja").

    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  4. #4
    simuvac Guest

    Great find, Jon

    I would add to this phenomenon all permutations of "al Qaeda":

    "al Qaeda-related attack"
    "al Qaeda sympathizers"
    "al Qaeda sponsored terror"

    or my favorite

    "al Qaeda inspired"

    I'll bet if you checked all reports of al Qaeda activity in the last 6 years, at least half would have nothing to do with any organization called al Qaeda, but instead would be some tangential relation.

  5. #5
    simuvac Guest

    begins with 9/11 commission report

    The exaggeration of al Qaeda begins with the commission report. Notice the language in chapter 2, The Foundation of the New Terrorism.

    The first exaggeration (lie) is that al Qaeda is “a substantial, worldwide organization” (55) that received“little or no assistance from the United States” (56).

    Then, check out the litany of terror attacks attributed to al Qaeda, and the flimsy connections. A 1995 car bomb in Riyadh was "inspired by Bin Ladin" (60). Though nothing proves that Bin Ladin ordered this attack” (60), the report talks about "associates" of Bin Ladin later taking credit.

    A 1996 truck bomb in Saudi Arabia is carried out by Hezbollah, but “al Qaeda played some role, as yet unknown” (60).

    Three more attacks are listed, including the 1993 WTC bombing, even though “Bin Ladin’s involvement is at best cloudy” (60).

    And still:
    “The terrorist plots that were broken up at the end of 1999 display the variety of operations that might be attributed, however indirectly, to al Qaeda” (180). Then the report goes on at length about possible links with Iraq, only to conclude that there are none. Doesn't matter, because in the reader's mind the only reason they would include this lengthy digression is because there must be a connection.

  6. #6
    PhilosophyGenius Guest
    Fo realz. Shit needs to stop.

  7. #7
    simuvac Guest

    Another example

    "Militants will continue to target Westerners on the streets of Indonesia as they fight to impose full Islamic law, an accused terror leader told CNN.

    Bomb attacks and other strategies are possible, according to Abu Dujana, who police call the most dangerous terror suspect they have ever dealt with. He is the military head of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian group linked to al Qaeda which has been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Westerners and civilians."

    This passage has two common tricks: first, the "linked to al Qaeda" refrain; second, the line "has been blamed," which is not the same as actual proof of committing these crimes.

    It's easy to establish "links," if you play Six Degrees of Osama Bin Laden.

  8. #8
    PhilosophyGenius Guest
    bin Laden inspired is the dumbest line used by the media.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Seeing Al Qaeda Around Every Corner

    Published: July 8, 2007

    Bush mentioned the terrorist group 27 times in a recent speech on Iraq at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. In West Virginia on the Fourth of July, he declared, “We must defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq.” The Associated Press reported last month that although some 30 groups have claimed credit for attacks on United States and Iraqi government targets, press releases from the American military focus overwhelmingly on Al Qaeda.

    Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

    But these are stories you haven’t been reading in The Times in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq — and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.

    And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between Al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.

    There is plenty of evidence that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is but one of the challenges facing the United States military and that overemphasizing it distorts the true picture of what is happening there. While a president running out of time and policy options may want to talk about a single enemy that Americans hate and fear in the hope of uniting the country behind him, journalists have the obligation to ask tough questions about the accuracy of his statements.

    Middle East experts with whom I talked in recent days said that the heavy focus on Al Qaeda obscures a much more complicated situation on the ground — and perhaps a much more dangerous one around the world.

    “Nobody knows how many different Islamist extremist groups make up the insurgency” in Iraq, said Anthony H. Cordesman of the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Even when you talk about Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the idea of somehow it is the center of the insurgency is almost absurd.”

    Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, said, “I have been noticing — not just your paper — all papers have fallen into this reporting.” The administration, he added, “made a strategic decision” to play up Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq, “and the press went along with it.” (Actually, that’s not entirely accurate, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)

    Recent Times stories from Iraq have referred, with little or no attribution — and no supporting evidence — to “militants linked with Al Qaeda,” “Sunni extremists with links to Al Qaeda” and “insurgents from Al Qaeda.” The Times has stated flatly, again without attribution or supporting evidence, that Al Qaeda was responsible for the bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra last year, an event that the president has said started the sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.

    For the president, an emphasis on Al Qaeda has political advantages at a time when powerful former allies, like Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are starting to back away from his war policy. Al Qaeda is an enemy Americans understand, in contrast to the messy reality of an Iraq where U.S. troops must also deal with Sunni nationalists, Shiite militias and even criminal gangs.

    “Remember, when I mention Al Qaeda, they’re the ones who attacked the United States of America and killed nearly 3,000 people on September the 11th, 2001,” Bush said in the Naval War College speech.

    Actually, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which came into being in 2003, pledged its loyalty to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda the next year but is not believed to be under his operational control.

    Jonathan Landay, a friend and former colleague, wrote a sharply skeptical story for the McClatchy newspaper group after the president’s June 28 speech. Bush called Al Qaeda “the main enemy” in Iraq, but Landay reported that “U.S. military and intelligence officials” reject that characterization.

    Indeed the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, representing the intelligence community’s consensus assessment, summed up the situation this way:

    “Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of security forces and the state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism.” Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, were mentioned as “very effective accelerators for what has become a self-sustaining intersectarian struggle between Shia and Sunnis.”

    In other words, the story of Iraq isn’t the story of all Al Qaeda all the time.

    The Times report on the Naval War College speech didn’t deal with the president’s emphasis on Al Qaeda and instead focused on his growing troubles with Republicans in Congress. Dean Baquet, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, said the article reflected the “overall sense he’s losing ground even within his own party.” It took that angle, he said, because Times reporters and editors believe Republican defections “might be the beginning of something big in Congress.”

    Baquet said, “I think the paper’s coverage over all has been pretty skeptical of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.”

    I went back and read war coverage for much of the month of June and found many stories that conveyed the complexity and chaos of today’s Iraq. Times reporters wrote that Iraq’s political leaders were failing to meet benchmarks that would show satisfactory progress to the American government, that a formerly peaceful Shiite city in southern Iraq was convulsed by violence as rival groups fought for control, and that Sunnis feared their own country’s army because it is dominated by Shiites.

    But those references to Al Qaeda began creeping in with greater frequency. Susan Chira, the foreign editor, said she takes “great pride in the whole of our coverage” but acknowledged that the paper had used “excessive shorthand” when referring to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. “We’ve been sloppy,” she said. She and other editors started worrying about it, Chira said, when the American military began an operation in mid-June against what it said were strongholds of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

    On Thursday, she and her deputy, Ethan Bronner, circulated a memo with guidelines on how to distinguish Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia from bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.

    It’s a good move. I’d have been happier still if The Times had helped its readers by doing a deeper job of reporting on the administration’s drive to make Al Qaeda the singular enemy in Iraq.

    Military experts will tell you that failing to understand your enemy is a prescription for broader failure.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

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    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

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