MR Original – The Times’ Operations

Israel flag flap MEDIA ROOTS – Dissection of a 20 February 2013 New York Times article demonstrates the extent to which the “newspaper of record” muddles the truth on issues pertaining to Israel. Even the article’s title, Trial Offers Rare Look at Work of Hezbollah in Europe, is deceptive since the article is filled with superficial, Zionist axioms and mere conjecture.

The opening paragraph asserts the testimony of an alleged Hezbollah operative provides “a rare look inside a covert global war between Israel and Iran.” This is highly misleading. There is no global war of parity between the two countries. In reality, the Iranian people have been victimized by cyber-attacks, unjustifiable sanctions, and a wide array of insidious propaganda. Instead of responding in kind, Iran has taken caution not to provoke Zionism’s itchy trigger finger.

According to the Times, this so-called operative “described being handled by a masked man he knew only as Ayman.” Conveniently, the operative “never saw the face of Ayman” because Ayman “was always wearing a mask.”

At the mysterious Ayman’s behest, this operative transported bags, a package, a cellphone, and two SIM cards around Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. When the operative was arrested, he was in possession of a “small red notebook with the license plate numbers of two buses ferrying Israelis.” Two weeks after he was arrested, a bomb blew up alongside a bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing a Bulgarian chauffeur and five Israeli tourists.

According to the Times, “experts say” the Burgas attack was “similar to the one he [the operative] seemed to be planning.” Conveniently, unbiased “experts” are nowhere to be found in the Times’ article, which quotes only two pundits of sharp proclivity.

The first pundit is Daniel Benjamin, a Zionist, who comments on how the operative’s trial might tip European hesitancy in favor of designating Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization.” He also commented on Cyprus’ dedication to see this trial proceed, remarking how Cypriot authorities have “done the right thing and they’ve been resolute about it.” Benjamin has worked tirelessly against Hezbollah. As a careerist whose professional brand thrives implicitly on the pursuit of the United States’ foes, whether real or imagined, Benjamin is hardly an unbiased “expert.”

The second “expert” is Matthew Leavitt, a director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which was founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful, right-wing, Israeli lobby located in Washington, DC. (AIPAC used to be known as the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs). Instead of disclosing Levitt’s ties to this particular Zionist establishment, the New York Times provided him a platform through which he states “the evidence seems quite compelling that what he [the operative] was doing was conducting surveillance for a bombing that would parallel almost exactly what happened in Bulgaria.”

Belén Fernández, a scrupulous author and acclaimed analyst, reports on how much of the so-called evidence in the Burgas bombing was non-existent or manufactured. Investigative journalist Gareth Porter reveals how Bulgaria eventually conceded extremely tenuous evidence, which pertained to Hezbollah’s potential involvement, but only after Bulgarian officials received immense pressure from U.S. and Israeli officials.

For their part, Bulgarian authorities could only note Hezbollah’s potential involvement after relying “heavily on resources from foreign security services,” according to Tihomir Bezlov of the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy. Even with all these externally-supplied “resources,” Bulgarian officials could only allude to “traces in this attack,” which might lead to “Hezbollah’s military wing.” The Times admits “officials in Cyprus have tried to keep the case as low-key as possible, declining in most instances to comment or to release documents.” Perhaps they too are being fed “resources” from foreign nations.

This lack of context – or perhaps selective detailing – plaguing the New York Times’ article is noteworthy.

The Times was generous enough to concede the so-called operative “described himself as ‘threatened, scared and confused,’ during his initial interrogation.” He was also “adamant that he was not participating in a plot to kill Israeli tourists.”

Perhaps the individual in question, who works as an administrator of a Lebanese trading company and aspires to become a fruit juice importer, will turn out to be a verified Hezbollah “operative,” but he could easily have been working for Mossad, whose patronage boasts a lurid history of conducting false flag operations against a variety of targets.

Unfortunately, the Times paints the suspect, who is still undergoing trial, as genuinely nefarious without disclosing their aforementioned prejudices.

Analysis of this article reveals the New York Times’ bias, which is consistent with their record of erasing Israel’s crimes and altering articles to favor Zionist narratives.

Christian Sorensen for Media Roots 

Photo by Flickr User Ron Almog

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Obama’s Normalization of Neo-Conservativism

MEDIA ROOTS – While it may be popular to blame George W. Bush for the terror war, it is actually President Obama who has escalated drone warfare from 45 strikes when he assumed office to an additional 292 strikes as of last month. This is in large part due to the relaxed standards this president has set with strikes occurring not just for specific (alleged) combatants but now include targets that merely appear to fit certain criteria.

To date, the office of the president has now approved of more slaughter from drones than the total number of victims on 9/11. The fear that once settled in America’s hearts following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – attacks that were supposedly executed by manned aerial vehicles – hardly compare to the terror that Pakistanis now suffer from the unmanned drones. And while America is not officially at war with Pakistan, 74% of Pakistanis now consider the United States an enemy, according to a report released last week titled Living Under Drones. But why is this genocide continuing with virtually no outcry from the American citizenry?

No compassion, no coverage

The latest drone strike occurred just yesterday in Yemen. Military officials claim that four al-Qaeda militants were killed in the strike but there is simply no way to verify if this information is accurate. Virtually no American news agency covered the event and even fewer media outlets questioned authorities on its legitimacy.

The separation of general society from the terror war is comparable to the president and his weekly kill list or drone operators and their targets. As the war on terror enters its twelfth year on Sunday, almost no corporate media outlet deems this historical mark worthy of reflection thus continuing to alienate Americans from the horrors that are taking place daily in their name.

The president advises drone operators that potential combatants are men of military age – between 18 and 65 – and supports targeting them for assassination from the comfort of armchairs thousands of miles away. Additionally, anyone rushing to the aid of these victims is immediately considered a suspected terrorist and is frequently targeted just seconds later. The result has been the creation of dysfunctional societies that not only fear the skies but also helping one’s neighbor.

 “What is absolutely true is that my first job, my most sacred duty as president and commander-in-chief, is to keep America safe,” President Obama explained in an interview last month. But a much more dangerous precedent is now taking place. David Kilcullen, a former adviser to General Patraeus, explained that for “every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement.”

Several American antiwar activists, including some from the women’s group Code Pink, are now on the ground in Islamabad in preparation for a march to northwest Pakistan that starts tomorrow. They are marching in protest of the seemingly unending barrage of drone-strikes in the region and are led by Imran Khan, a Pakistani official known for his days as one of the nation’s top cricket players.

No end in sight

These crimes against humanity are staggering. But the general tolerance for these crimes by the American electorate is what is of particular concern. How many times must this president murder children before other parents stand up? And will voters actually re-elect such an evil administration that is only perpetuating this terror war? With President Obama and Governor Romney leading in the polls, the outcome appears inevitable.

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Oskar Mosco for Media Roots.

Photo provided by Flickr user Jayel Aheram.

Living Under Drones is a video published by Brave New Foundation that highlights

a recent report that explains how drone warfare is terrorizing civilian populations.

AFRICOM: America’s Continued Dominion

MEDIA ROOTS – The Pentagon’s budget has grown from $267 billion in 2000 to $708.2 billion in 2011. In addition to budgetary increases, the Pentagon is expanding its arrogation of global jurisdiction. The Unified Combatant Command of USAFRICOM (est. 2007) is of particular concern.

The Pentagon spins AFRICOM’s presence as a boon for all parties. According to former AFRICOM commanding General William “Kip” Ward, AFRICOM allows African nations to first choose “African solutions to African problems.” Other U.S. military leaders emphasize the benefits African countries receive from the United States’ implicit dedication to helping local communities.

U.S. military officials also claim AFRICOM allows for the relentless pursuit of shadowy, devious terrorists. “Violent extremist organizations [residing in Africa] have very clearly articulated an intent to attack the United States, its allies, its citizens and its interests both within Africa and also more broadly, in Europe,” according to AFRICOM commanding General Carter Ham. To help shape public discourse, various militant groups are presented as terrifying, inexplicable threats to the United States. Among these “threats” are Ash-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), anti-Western rulers in Libya, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa.

AFRICOM officials cite Ash-Shabaab’s proximity to the Middle East and links with al-Qa’ida as reason to pursue them relentlessly. In pursuing Ash-Shabaab, Washington uses CIA assets, drone strikes, U.S. special mission units, and African proxy forces.

General Ham referred to Boko Haram in Nigeria as a “growing threat to Western interests,” while Admiral William McRaven, Commander of USSOCOMcalled them a “terrorist group.” Such allegations from top U.S. military officials serve to expand U.S. military activity across Africa, while keeping an eye on oil in Nigeria, from which USA receives 8% of its petroleum imports.

The Pentagon’s press service hinted at the importance of oil in the Defense Department’s strategic calculus when stating Boko Haram’s challenge to the Nigerian government is troubling, considering how “Africa’s vast natural resources compound the region’s strategic importance… particularly oil that’s exported to the United States.” Since Boko Haram has yet to display a sufficiently threatening posture, General Ham ties it to AQIM in terms of training, funding, and activities in order to take Boko Haram’s profile to the next level and implicate it as a threat to the USA. By wrapping up Boko Haram in the same ball as AQIM, which according to General Ham has “very clearly” shown an intent and desire to attack U.S. citizens, AFRICOM is able to spread its forces across the rest of the Sahel without raising questions from the U.S. citizenry.

General Carter Ham asserts “each of those three [Ash-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and AQIM] pose a significant threat not only in the nations where they primarily operate, but regionally, and I think they pose a threat to the United States.” In addition to gross hyperbole, Ham points to these groups’ potential to collaborate and coalesce as further rationale for the Pentagon to assist African nations with “anti-terrorist capabilities” [read: spread U.S. forces throughout Africa]. Ham reiterated these same points earlier this summer.

In order to counter the inflated “terror” threat, General Ham follows a “theater engagement strategy,” which includes a wide variety of exercises, operations, “security cooperation programs,” training programs, and equipment sequences. Admiral Eric T. Olson (ret.), former Commander of USSOCOM, framed it as shifting the Pentagon’s “strategic focus” “largely to the south… certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren’t,” referencing what is often referred to prejudicially as the “dark continent.” Hence, Pentagon strategists aim to “turn the lights on” across Africa.

Seizing upon any excuse and justification to expand AFRICOM’s jurisdiction, General Ham cites successful military operations in Libya, specifically Operation Odyssey Dawn. Even though Colonel Qaddafi is deceased, General Ham uses AFRICOM to try and fill the vacuum, which Qaddafi left behind:

“It’s very clear that extremist organizations, notably al-Qaida, with some direction from al-Qaida’s senior leaders, would seek to undermine that good governance that the Tunisians and the Libyans seek… And so I think that’s the real threat that is posed… I think we need to partner very closely with the security forces [and] armed forces of Tunisia and Libya to prevent the reestablishment of those networks [and] to prevent those violent extremist organizations from undermining the progress that both countries are seeking.”

Ham recently succeeded in normalizing military relations with the new Libyan leaders. Ham recalled how he visited Tripoli “a number of times, and has had “Libyan officials visit us in our headquarters in Germany, and we have started to map out what the U.S. assistance might be for Libya well into the future.” Ham’s words portend inauspicious obstacles in the form of U.S. interference with Libyan self-determination.

Several hundred miles south of Libya lays the Central African Republic, to where President Obama deployed over 100 “combat-equipped” U.S. troops in order to assist in fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army. These troops, augmented by U.S. civilians, headquarters personnel, communications equipment, and logistics experts, also roam Uganda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By depicting the LRA as a nothing more than a “terror group,” the Pentagon is again able to expand AFRICOM’s territory with minimal objection from the domestic U.S. audience, while acting as if its entire existence is altruistic and humanitarian in nature.

In order to justify this particular operation, General Ham invoked a classic public-relation ploy, referring to today’s enemy as “evil.” Ham remarked, “if you ever had any question if there’s evil in the world, it is resident in the person of [LRA leader] Joseph Kony and that organization.” Many other enemies-of-the-day have been deemed “evil” during recent years, including Russia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Colonel Qaddafi, various “terrorists,” drug traffickers, those who resist U.S. imperialism, Afghanistan, Syria, et cetera. Meanwhile, the State Department couches the deployment to central Africa as consistent with Washington’s concern for “increasing civilian protection” and “providing humanitarian assistance.”

Harmful Presence

Contrary to the Pentagon’s illusion, AFRICOM’s existence is extremely detrimental to all involved. It perpetuates Africa’s dependency on external support. With AFRICOM looming large, African politicians and states-people can easily defer to the U.S. military instead of focusing on their respective internal and AU security apparatuses. This ease of deference is shown well in how the Pentagon is involved in “training, equipping and funding the African Union Mission and Somali forces from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Sierra Leone and Kenya.” Furthermore, since the U.S. military’s FM 3-24 assumes responsibility for economic and diplomatic territory, AFRICOM’s presence now allows African politicians and states-people to defer to U.S. economic powerhouses and diplomatic initiatives. In allowing AFRICOM to assume manifold responsibilities across diplomatic, economic, and military fields, U.S. policymakers ignore Africa’s own proven capacity to stabilize violent internal strife, as evident in the Economic Community of West African States’ 1990 response to the Liberian civil war, as Danny Glover elucidated. After all, if Washington, D.C. were to admit Africa can take care of itself, then new pretexts must be invented in order to expand U.S. military operations across the continent.

Additionally, AFRICOM’s establishment and expansion provide another aperture through which Pentagon generals and politically-appointed policymakers exploit the uniformed troops. With little economic opportunity outside of corporate America’s increasingly dismal career prospects, more and more U.S. citizens are turning to the Armed Forces to make ends meet. With increasing frequency, the U.S. government and its corporate overlords send these troops to all corners of the globe to fight for mineral wealthoil, and natural resources.

What may be most patent is AFRICOM allows the U.S. military to expand throughout the African continent. Many corollaries ensue, specifically an unbridled military-industrial complex; pretexts of chasing “terror” continue unabated, U.S. access to Africa’s natural resources is ensured militarily, and live targets abound against which the Pentagon and CIA may practice. 

Far from altruistic, the Pentagon’s presence across Africa is entirely self-serving. As the Pentagon’s own propaganda machine readily concedes, AFRICOM’s “aim is to promote a stable and secure environment in support of U.S. foreign policy” [my emphasis]. General Ham states, “We’ve prioritized our efforts, focusing on the greatest threats to America, Americans and American interests.” AFRICOM’s selfish drive is remarkably similar to USA’s traditional military policies towards Latin America, described candidly as always working to improve “internal security capabilities” in support of U.S. foreign policy (Chomsky: 49). Sound familiar? 

AFRICOM’s presence simply allows Washington to shape domestic African laws, to alter internal policy decisions regarding resource extraction and counterterrorism, to coerce African governments into adjusting their foreign policies to fit U.S. military and economic objectives, and to interfere with internal litigation (Lutz et al.: 118).

The Washington Post Editorial Board recently wrote of the Chinese arms trade in Africa:

“…an investigation might shed light on China’s undisciplined arms trade, which is driven by relentless mercenary interests and a desire to cozy up to oil-soaked and mineral-rich African leaders.”

Replace “China” with “USA,” and we’re treated to the candid truth, which Washington and the Washington Post may have a tough time swallowing: An investigation might shed light on USA’s undisciplined arms trade [and militarization of the African continent], which is driven by relentless mercenary interests, [corporate interests], and a desire to cozy up to oil-soaked and mineral-rich African leaders. The truth hurts.

Former AFRICOM commanding General William Ward still claims the United States’ presence doesn’t amount to further militarization of the African continent, but merely supports “the efforts of other U.S. government agencies,” like “State Department or U.S. Agency for International Development programs.” If this is truly the case, then the United States would have established an AFRIAID command or a massive diplomatic hub instead of numerous military facilities. Economic development and educational initiatives do not necessitate military intervention.

On a continent already rife with conflict and excess weapon imports, General Ward nonetheless focused AFRICOM on “promoting regional cooperation through military-to-military engagements that strengthen regional capabilities,” and “further strengthening the unity of efforts with other U.S. agencies and, as appropriate, the international community.” Regrettably, neither one of these primary AFRICOM objectives helps Africa meet its true wishes: less foreign military interference and more African unity.

Full Coverage

U.S. policymakers who approved AFRICOM’s formation, specifically the 2007 Senate Armed Services Committee, neglected to consider USA’s history of military and espionage intervention across the African continent. Cold War games, postcolonial proxy wars, and chess matches with the USSR destabilized the continent almost beyond repair. These events were detailed lucidly in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ 1996 memoir From the Shadows. Given Africa’s recent history as a colonial punching bag and such a lurid history of military and espionage exploitation, U.S. policymakers ought to have deliberated AFRICOM’s formation with greater care. Instead, U.S. Congress ignored mass opposition to AFRICOM from an array of African nations, including South Africa and Nigeria.

AFRICOM is off to a fine start from a hegemonic perspective, having increased its footprint on the African continent by 1,500 personnel in less than a year, from the summer of 2009 to the spring of 2010. By the fall of 2011, the U.S. military had a presence in the Djibouti, Seychelles, Ethiopia, and Sao Tome & Principe. The Washington Post later revealed that U.S. ISR platforms and Special Operations Forces were also operating out of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Uganda, and Kenya. According to Reuters, the U.S. military has a presence in over 34 sub-Saharan African countries. Adding to this troop saturation, the Pentagon will deploy U.S. infantry troops to Africa next year, a move which permanently aligns a stateside combat brigade with continuous, rotational deployments to the African continent.

Concerned citizens should rest well, because the former commanding officer of Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, assures us the U.S. “must always be transparent in our operations.” One surmises that such statements are not applicable to the counter-terrorism operations stemming from the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), with an Area of Responsibility covering “the countries of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Seychelles, and an Area of Interest including Yemen, Tanzania, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Comoros, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda.”

The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), whose motivation and strategic outlook were approved by a National Security Council committee in 2005, is AFRICOM’s instrument of choice when implementing counterterrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel and Maghreb regions.

One must also consider the orientation of the American Army’s Third and Fifth Special Forces groups, which are by design geared towards operations in sub-Saharan Africa and Northeast Africa respectively.

Whether Washington utilizes CJTF-HOA, TSCTP, a random drone, conventional troop deployments, a Special Forces A-team, or a covert military flight, U.S. foreign policy remains committed to interference on the ground in sovereign African nations. Based on the preceding evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that the Pentagon effectively operates at will throughout the entire African continent. The implications are profound: no African is safe and accountability is nil. Barring a few competent U.S. journalists, like Jeremy Scahill and Nick Turse, the U.S. military’s expansion throughout the African continent receives little attention from the United States’ press.

Tricks of the Trade

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Pentagon still insists it has no intent or plans for establishing permanent bases in Africa. Concerned citizens wonder how AFRICOM is able to claim such a small “footprint” in Africa, even though U.S. military forces clearly infest the continent. It does so in two ways. Firstly, AFRICOM defines the term “base” as a facility of a specific, size, scale, and composition. Since only one of the Pentagon’s numerous military facilities in Africa meets “base” criteria, Washington can continue to claim AFRICOM has only one base on the continent and no interest in constructing long term bases in Africa. Secondly, the Pentagon claims a small “footprint” in Africa by not assigning troops directly to AFRICOM. Instead, the Pentagon has AFRICOM draw its forces from tangential commands and European-based forces. When used together, the aforementioned bureaucratic loopholes allow the Pentagon to claim innocence and idealism vis-à-vis operations on the African continent, while evidence clearly shows the U.S. military operating there relentlessly.

The United States’ gluttonous military-industrial-corporate behemoth finds Djibouti quite attractive as a main base of operations on the African continent. From a strategic perspective, Djibouti rests across the vitally important Bab-el-Mandeb, a narrow chokepoint connecting the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea, overseeing traffic to and from the Suez Canal. In this capacity, Djibouti is a regional transit port, an international trans-shipment node, and a refueling center for many. Local, unelected elites welcome USA’s presence, since these rulers benefit greatly from USA’s foreign assistance. Last fall, Camp Lemonnier was upgraded, receiving runway additions and a new dining facility, indicating AFRICOM’s intent to remain indefinitely. (Curiously, the leader of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, who plays host to USA’s Camp Lemonnier, doesn’t even conform to USA’s professed standards of “spreading democracy.” This is never mentioned in the U.S. corporate media).

In military parlance, Djibouti is “a great strategic location. It facilitates not only our operations for U.S. Africa Command, but also U.S. Central Command and U.S. Transportation Command. It is a very key hub and important node for us, a good location that allows us to extend our reach in East Africa and partner with the countries of East Africa,” according to General Ham.

Rubbing salt in the imperial wound, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thanked the U.S. servicemen and women who are deployed to Camp Lemonnier for “their role in maintaining stability and preventing conflict in the region.” Panetta oozed, “I can’t tell you how proud I am as Secretary of Defense to visit you… thanks on behalf of a grateful nation… You’ve done everything the nation has asked you to do.” Concerned U.S. citizens do not recall asking fellow countrymen and countrywomen to travel across the world in order to protect U.S. corporate greed or imperial configurations. Panetta later thanked the Camp Leomonnier crowd for “continuing the American dream of ensuring a better life for the next generation.” Details are not forthcoming regarding how a military presence in Djibouti helps perpetuate the so-called “American dream.”

The Pentagon press service describes the U.S.-Djibouti relationship as “‘a very important partnership’ in dealing with counterterrorism, counter-piracy and outreach into Africa.” Educational initiatives, stipulation-free economic assistance, and non-militarized humanitarian aid fall by the wayside. Any humanitarian aid, like the East and West African Malaria Task Forces, is wielded selfishly in order to co-opt African nations, improve the health of their militaries, and protect U.S. troops operating in the region.

According to AFRICOM’s chief medical doctor, Colonel John Andrus, combating malaria supports AFRICOM’s chief goal of promoting regional stability. In other words, combating malaria in Africa is not altruistic or sincerely benevolent, but rather employed as a selfish strategy in order to achieve imperial military objectives. Chief of AFRICOM’s health protection branch advises us how “each person [deployed to AFRICOM] is critical. If you have one person go down, that person can’t do his or her job.” If only we cared equally about the anonymous millions of non-military personnel who die annually from starvation, disease, and bullets across the African continent.

Yet the Pentagon still insists USA’s presence on the African continent is purely selfless. The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy claims creating peaceful political processes, which provide conditions essential to development, “is the name of the game in Africa.” USA’s strategy “puts a premium on supporting democratization and the emergence of democracies in Africa,” the Undersecretary affirms. Her verbal piffle completely disregards U.S. support for Hosni Mubarak, U.S. support for Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, U.S. involvement in the coup against Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, CIA collaboration with the South African apartheid state, and the Cold War games USA played in AngolaLibyaChad, et cetera.

As if it hasn’t suffered enough through slavery, colonialism, and decades of resource pillaging, the African continent is going to be plundered even more in the future. In the words of Professor Chalmers Johnson, “While the globalization of the 1990s was premised on cheating the poor and defenseless and on destroying the only physical environment we will ever have, its replacement by American militarism and imperialism is likely to usher in something much worse for developed, developing, and underdeveloped nations alike” (Johnson: 281). Reality contrasts starkly with the Pentagon’s artifice.

A Beacon of U.S. Journalism

This background on AFRICOM and its activities serves as a primer for Nick Turse’s stellar journalism. Nick Turse is the premier U.S. journalist covering Pentagon expansion across the African continent. Turse excels at highlighting Pentagon excess and imperialism. After publishing a candid portrayal of AFRICOM, Turse received an email from Colonel Tom Davis, an AFRICOM public affairs official. For their ensuing, riveting correspondence, click here.

For further reading on the excess of AFRICOM and militarized U.S. foreign policy, consult The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual by the Network of Concerned Anthropologists. (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2009).

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Christian Sorensen for Media Roots.

Photo provided by Flickr user The U.S. Army.

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MR Exclusive – Crisis of Civilization Interviews

MEDIA ROOTS – Recently we caught up with director Dean Puckett and Dr. Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, the creators of the film Crisis of Civilization. Puckett discusses his background as an activist and why he believes corporate media is becoming more irrelevant by the day. Dr. Ahmed sheds light on the true scope of Al Qaeda as well as the Pentagon’s new “lily pad” base system.

Be sure to check out our previous film review for Crisis of Civilization.

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CrisisofCivilizationArt.jpgInterview with filmmaker and director Dean Puckett

You have had some experience as an activist I understand. You chained yourself to a tree to save a community from being bulldozed, or something along those lines? Please talk about that.
 
Sure, well firstly, it wasn’t a tree. My hand was chained inside a concrete barrel which was attached to the gates of Dale Farm. Dale Farm was the largest Traveller community of its kind in Britain. It consisted of nearly a hundred plots of land and at its peak, over a thousand residents of Irish Traveller and English Gypsy heritage. I spent 6 weeks living in the community there as part of a resistance to an eviction threat by the local council. Unfortunately we failed and Basildon Borough Council evicted 90 families (about 500 people, many of them children) from the 52 plots of land at Dale Farm because they didn’t have planning permission even though they owned the land that they were living on.

There has been much written about Dale Farm but I think the crux of it is that there is a lot of prejudice against Gypsy and Traveller communities in the UK which gave the Conservative Government the remit to carry out what I believe to be a racist eviction. People like to hide behind the bureaucracies of planning law and conservative ideologies which justify violent evictions of children and families. But in reality we have a hypocritical Legal System which is stacked in favour of the wealthy so it is almost impossible for Travellers to find a piece of land to live on in peace in a way which suits their culture. No one has the right to dominate the natural resources of this planet yet Travellers are hounded to the point where a culture is virtually wiped out because they refuse to conform to what is considered ‘normal society.’ As my good friend Simon said, “no court in the land could make the eviction of Dale Farm just,” and that is how I feel about it.

So I was chained to the gates on the day when there was the first real threat of eviction of the community. You can watch the video of me ‘locked on.’ And truth be told I have some regrets about the experience. I don’t regret locking on or being a part of the resistance at Dale Farm but I really regret talking to the media as I feel it trivialized what I was doing. Putting your body in the way of injustice is something which I feel is important but talking to right wing press will always undermine your actions no matter how well you put your points across.

I wasn’t there on the day of the actual eviction of Dale Farm which was the harshest piece of State Violence that we have seen in this country in my lifetime. If you go back there now the whole area has been dug up and destroyed and there are Travellers living on the side of the road. It was utterly pointless but the establishment has shown once again the lengths it will go to protect its most valuable asset: land. 

How did Nafeez influence you the most to make this film?

I am attracted to Nafeez’s work because of the way he communicates his ideas which is to analyze global issues such as peak oil, climate change, the war on terror, the destructive nature of neoliberal capitalism from a systems point of view. So he will analyze the root structural causes of these issues without getting caught up in conspiracy theories, or “them and us” type rhetoric. He keeps a level head and is very pragmatic. His work also feels passionate yet not preachy, with a level of humility about history and the possibility that he could be wrong, which I personally find much easier to engage with than many progressive academics whom are sometimes quite dogmatic about their approach.

But also, as a filmmaker, you have to ask yourself, “how can you add to this?” So reading his book I felt like I could bring these ideas to an audience who would not previously have engaged in the text, which is why I felt it was worth spending a year of my life adapting it into a feature length film alongside artist and animator Lucca Benney.

Also I feel like Nafeez is a unique voice being a Muslim and talking about these issues and it’s not something he gets enough credit for in my opinion. Many of these policies affect Muslim communities globally and domestically and so he deserves to have a place. I’m glad this film seems to be making more people aware of his work.

Other than that I have learnt a hell of a lot from him. It was almost like I did a course in international relations and global politics just making the film. We did seven or eight interview sessions, constantly talking back and forth on the phone and working together to make the film and create the final script. Not to mention the community screenings and film festivals we have attended together since last October.

We’ve learnt from each other, as I think I have taught him to communicate his ideas in a more simple way. Due to having to condense it into a 77 minute film I have had to really strip it down and get to the heart of the issue and also in terms of communication I would say stuff like “how can we say this in a less academic way?” or “how can it be clearer?” I have seen this has translated into the real world in talks and articles which Nafeez has produced since. Ultimately through the experience of making the film, and to this day as we see the film find its audience on television and the internet, we have become friends and he has helped me understand the world better. And that in turn has influenced the way I have approached things like activism and the way I communicate ideas.
 
There’s an irony of using campy, government funded, public educational film clips in the movie and Crisis of Civilization being the new, 21st century version of a public, educational film, if you will. How much is Crisis of Civilization an antidote to mainstream media propaganda and disinformation?

Key to making this film possible was the discovery of internet archives of open source stock footage. I used footage mainly from the Prelinger Archives and AV Geeks collection, carefully selected from watching hundreds of films. It is a world where you find subtle (and not so subtle) metaphors and parallels to shine fresh light on contemporary issues facing our societies. Some of the films are made by institutions like General Motors and Monsanto and so there is some irony in using them to interpret global crises such as food shortages and energy depletion but also from a creative point of view they look wonderful.

I would sit watching them for hours and hours. I became obsessed with these films and immersed myself in this strange corporate parallel universe. The reason they are so fascinating is because they tell us so much about the world we live in. They represent the ideologies that have gotten us into this mess and the films often bring humor and a surreal edge to Nafeez’s factual and academic work. We also made a conscious decision to make the animations beautiful in their simplicity using iconography such as a business monster eating a forest to guide the audience through the thesis.

I think the mainstream media is becoming more and more irrelevant as the images we see on our TV screens become less in parity with the experiences we are having in the real world. As neoliberal capitalism is failing but the talking heads keep saying the same old crap, people will be looking for different voices and hopefully we can be one of them. There is a faux balance that is created with the news here in Britain. They would never report a more radical perspective on an issue that would really be challenging to the status quo, for example “Lets completely change the way we create money.” Their ‘balance’ is always within a very narrow framework.

Independent media and journalism, along with the internet, is revolutionizing the way we perceive the world and I think that the resurgence in documentary film making along with digital technology is really exciting and is something I am proud to be a part of. I think this is why people are turning to documentary because you can actually take the time to explore and explain something in depth. People are looking to delve beneath the headlines and get into the issues, whether it’s an adaptation of a book or a human story that is not even political, we’re seeing more thirst for real journalism and real filmmakers with a voice to be an antidote to the news and media as people try and make sense of the world around them. The real challenge is how to keep our momentum, break down mainstream distribution channels, and communicate to larger audiences without bowing down to mainstream conventions or sensationalism.

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Interview with Dr. Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed
 
Another great documentary is the BBC production, The Power of Nightmares. It purports that Al-Qaeda literally means “the list” and was a C.I.A. created list of mujahideen fighters, under Bin Laden’s leadership, who fought the Soviets. How real is Al-Qaeda and how much is it a C.I.A. created nightmarish, figment of our imagination?
 
Al-Qaeda is real, but it did very much originate as an intelligence database of Mujahideen recruits. The later British foreign secretary Robin Cook confirmed in the Guardian that Al-Qaeda referred to a CIA database. These recruits were mobilized primarily in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. However, it would be a mistake to assume that Al-Qaeda is simply, therefore, an extension of the CIA and a figment of our imagination. The recruits that joined Al-Qaeda were drawn from militant strands of Muslim movements in parts of the Muslim world which already existed. Since then, those strands have often solidified. Al-Qaeda does exist and it does have real agency but it is a loose network rather than a hierarchical centralized structure and it’s precisely this looseness that makes it vulnerable to infiltration, penetration, and manipulation from outside.

Al-Qaeda  has also remained fundamentally dependent on a variety of state agencies for support, namely, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Qatar, the UAE, to name a few. As these are to a large extent client regimes of the US and UK, there is scope for manipulation through strategic provision and withdrawal of aid. So, in summary, yes there are real militant Islamist extremists out there, some of them affiliated with a network of Mujahideen fighters associated with a core group originally trained with the logistical and financial support of the CIA. In this context, it would be too simplistic to simply assert that Al-Qaeda is a “figment of our imagination.” On the other hand, there is evidence that the Al-Qaeda label has been misapplied, sometimes deliberately, by Western military intelligence agencies to broadly demonize social groups whose links with Al-Qaeda are in reality tenuous (e.g. Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb: despite some real elements of Al-Qaeda being involved in some cases, many others do not withstand scrutiny – e.g. see the work of Jeremy Keenan). Equally, cases where Al-Qaeda do appear to be involved are underplayed and the al-Qaeda element is overlooked when it suits certain geostrategic interests (e.g. links of the 7/7 bombers with al-Qaeda networks in the Balkans; the role of the west in financing Al-Qaeda Mujahideen networks in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia).
 
Since 9-11, the United States military has been implementing the “lilly pad” base system; around 50 smaller bases, scattered around the world with small troop numbers, spartan amenities and complete with pre-equipped weaponry. What does this new strategy say about the American empire in the 21st century?

Successive US military planning and national security strategy documents confirm that the US continues to adopt a military posture in which it self-identifies as a unilateral hegemonic power with ultimate responsibility for the integrity of the existing global political and economic order. To this end, the US has attempted to spawn a network of bases in key strategic regions around the world with a view to enable a unique capacity to mobilize military forces at will, with speed, anywhere in the world, and further, to potentially fight wars in multiple theatres. They are a way of continuing to encroach on and contain the power of US rivals like Russia and China.

However, the distinctive quality of the lilly pad system is to focus on less public forms of military penetration into diverse geographical locations, to empower intelligence functions and covert operations capability in a way unlikely to solicit significant public awareness and opposition. It is also linked to a need for greater efficiency in military budgets, facing the strain in the context of continuing global recession.

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Adam Miezio for Media Roots.

Cover art created by Abby Martin.

MR Film Review: Crisis of Civilization

MEDIA ROOTS – When confronting the global crisis waiting on Earth’s doorstep, most people deconstruct the bulk catastrophe and break it down into more palatable, bite size pieces. These smaller pieces are easier and less frightening to consume. No one dares to face the painful truth of reality as a whole. But there is one movie that has defied the status quo, rejects the fear and valiantly plunges forward, realizing that it would be fatal not to analyze global challenges as a systemic whole: Crisis of Civilization. The provocative 2011 documentary examines an array of global crises as its own ecosystem of sorts, rather than as isolated, discrete events. When taken as a composite, these crises pose an imminent threat to humanity and civilization as we know it. Director Dean Puckett leads the viewer on a tour through a plausible and, frightening scenario, using the expert commentary of Dr. Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed.

The documentary relies on the help of animator Lucca Benney and uses several clips from campy educational films to provide an amusing visual flow that offsets the gravity of the issues discussed. The seamless insertion of these scenes offers a brief recess from the incisive and grim sociological, political, and economic insights served by Dr. Ahmed. He is the sole expert interviewed throughout the documentary which potentially compromises the film’s objectivity but given the topics discussed there may not be a reason to tap anyone else’s knowledge. Dr. Ahmed boasts a very impressive array of credentials and while calm and collected, he warns of a world that faces a tidal wave of massive and radical change.

The film acknowledges that the four main crises presented are not new. Many people before him have identified climate change, energy depletion, food production and economic crisis as major areas of concern. However, standard academic procedure examines each one of these issues in isolation, rather than in a holistic manner. The movie suggests that by framing these crises in a macro-perspective, the resulting synergy becomes the impetus of a failing global system. The system’s fatal flaw is due to a zealous belief of infallibility for neoliberal capitalism. This doctrine assumes unlimited growth and globalization but no longer suits the needs of the vast majority of people around the world. In order for these overwhelming challenges to be rectified, the film emphasizes that society must recognize the fundamental interconnection between all four crises.

Is there anything that can be done?

Unfortunately, the documentary falls a bit short on complete remedies. However it does provide some basic ideas of how the world could tackle the arduous process of systemic change. Part of the solution is to decentralize and regain land ownership. A new emphasis must be placed on localization and “participatory forms of organization and agriculture.” The overwhelming majority of people are currently dispossessed. Who owns the land? How can we reclaim it for the productive use of our local communities?

It may be unrealistic to think all the solutions have been introduced in this film given the depth and breadth of the crises presented. Due to the United States’ neoliberal agenda and mass consumer culture, many have created their own crises. Quality solutions to many of today’s issues will not be resolved until civil society is honest enough to first recognize the totality of such problems. Crisis of Civilization does a fine job starting that search.

Reviewed by Adam Miezio for Media Roots.

Artwork provided by Abby Martin.

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On Monday, Media Roots will offer interviews with the film’s director, Dean Puckett, and narrator, Dr. Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed.

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Crisis of Civilization is a feature-length documentary film that examines

the symptoms that will cause the end of the industrial age.

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