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CNN’s ‘WikiWars’ Documentary Exploits Character of Julian Assange to Cast Doubt on WikiLeaks

9:58 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Closely following the character of Julian Assange, founder of the pro-transparency media organization WikiLeaks, the recently aired CNN documentary, “WikiWars,” provides a presentation of the story of the organization with a prime focus on Assange’s character. It is another opportunity, like PBS’ Frontline documentary “WikiSecrets,” for a wide audience in the United States to get a better grasp of the nature of the organization.

That, perhaps, is what makes discussing this documentary important. There is no new information in this documentary, but, packaged together, the documentary uses Assange as a vector for communicating the idiosyncrasies of WikiLeaks to an audience. Whether legitimately done or not, viewers are able to hear Assange in footage obtained by the producers and also hear a handful of people, who have worked with Assange, discuss what he is like.

The documentary can be broken into the following parts: an introduction into the behavior and motivations of Assange, the founding of WikiLeaks (which highlights the work that impacted Kenya and Iceland), the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, the release of the Afghan War Logs that involved collaborating with the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, the accusations of sexual assault that now find him under house arrest in the UK and the rise of a secret global force of cyber hacktivists known as Anonymous that have launched DDoS attacks in defense of WikiLeaks.

Larsen frames the story in the opening scene like this:

Over twenty years ago the Berlin Wall came down and it marked the end of a cold war between two superpowers. Now, there’s a battle that’s being waged for control of information. Its frontlines aren’t brick and mortar walls, they’re firewalls. Its weapons are computers, not missiles. And its warriors—hackers, activists, even anarchists. It’s an epic struggle over state secrets between institutions and individuals. And at the center of this war is Julian Assange.

Centering the documentary on Assange has a way of reinforcing the notion that WikiLeaks is an autocratic organization that is all a project of Assange, who has little regard for his actions. The enigma of Assange is built up throughout the film. He is made to seem more like a fictional character in a spy movie instead of a human being whom has the ability to discern right from wrong and is committed to transparency because of his conscience belief in what the opening up of governments can do to correct injustices and corruption.

As Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former member of WikiLeaks who defected from the organization, says, Assange is smart and intelligent and doesn’t really care what anybody else thinks about him. He says Assange sees himself as a “hero of a spy novel” and believes he and everyone around him is being constantly tapped and followed (which journalist Mark Davis says later in the documentary is probably true).

The story sets viewers up to doubt the judgment of Assange’s handling of WikiLeaks releases. It asks those watching to consider whether he might be a maniac by showing interviews with journalists like David Leigh of The Guardian, who not only claims Assange has to have it explained to him there are “flesh and blood consequences” to leaking but also says at one point Assange “didn’t behave like earthlings.”

Fmr. Brig. Gen. Used to Discredit the “Collateral Murder” Video

The most disparaging criticism comes from former Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. Kimmitt, who served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs under George W. Bush from August 2008 to January 2009, is used as a tool to discredit the work of Assange and WikiLeaks. The producers employ his viewpoint to help viewers decide whether Assange and WikiLeaks are correct in their belief that the “Collateral Murder” video, which WikiLeaks released in April 2010, is in fact a war crime.

Here’s the full exchange between Kimmitt and Larsen, who go through some of the video together in the CNN Studios in Washington, DC (note: not once is it noted that Kimmitt served in the Bush Administration and might have a clear bias):

LARSEN: This clip is where they believe they identify an RPG. It turns out as we know now that was a long lens telephoto camera held by a Reuters journalist. You can see him as he peak’s around the corner there.

(voice over) The Reuters photographer, his assistant and the men around him were all gunned down.

KIMMITT: This photographer shouldn’t have been walking around with an instrument that looks very much like a weapon.

LARSEN: Is the blame on the photographer or is it a causal series of mistakes made by the crew there that led to the ultimate negative consequences?

KIMMITT: Warfare is not perfect. There are mistakes that are sometimes made. He shares much of the blame for what happened here.

LARSEN: I want to move to the van video. And what you see is the van that’s coming to help grab some of the wounded people on the ground. The Apache helicopter asks for permission to engage.

KIMMITT: Again, this is an active battlefield. That van could have other fighters inside of it with weapons. Those fighters could put soldiers at risk and kill other soldiers that they’re fighting.

ASSANGE: We can see in this video that the young pilots in the Apache helicopters have become debased in their charcacter. They are playing video games with real human lives and looking for excuses to kill people.

(voice over) LARSEN: It turned out there were children inside the van.

LARSEN: I have a decade in naval special warfare. You’re obviously thirty years in the army. Soldier to sailor, ground pounder to ground pounder, should these men have exercised more restraint?

KIMMITT: I don’t think so. What we have here from everything I’ve seen is that they followed the proper procedures.

LARSEN: If they did everything by the book, is there something wrong with the book?

KIMMITT: I don’t think so. The book doesn’t have every scenario. It doesn’t have every possible outcome.

Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber might agree with Kimmitt. Both are soldiers who were part of Bravo Company 2-16, the company of soldiers in the video. McCord and Stieber, however, did not accept that nothing morally reprehensible happened that day. They wrote an open letter of reconciliation and responsibility to all who were injured or lost during the shootings in the released video.

The Iraq War veterans wrote the “Wikileaks video only begins to depict the suffering we have created. From our own experiences, and the experiences of other veterans we have talked to, we know that the acts depicted in this video are everyday occurrences of this war: this is the nature of how U.S.-led wars are carried out in this region.”

Larsen could have easily contacted McCord and Stieber and had them talk about their opinion on the “Collateral Murder” video release. Since Larsen and others involved in the making of the film specifically wanted people who were active in the WikiLeaks story, McCord and Stieber would have made good characters to feature especially since “Collateral Murder” and the Afghan and Iraq War Logs were a major part of the film. Both could have spoke to “rules of engagement” and what they were asked to do as soldiers during the Iraq War.

But, they are not included. The documentary instead presents us with Kimmitt, a character who defies the criteria Larsen and others set for including people.

Kimmitt is not an active player in the WikiLeaks story; he has only read the military’s report on the “Collateral Murder” video. Essentially, Kimmitt does for the documentary what “military analysts” planted on news shows by the Pentagon did throughout the Iraq War: he appears to be objective because he read the report and is calling it like he sees it and this supposedly gives him the authority to minimize the significance of a video that depicts the horror of war.

Is it even worth it to explain why blaming the Reuters photojournalist for being killed is reactionary? The remark is like blaming a hot blond woman for a sexual deviant’s decision to rape her.

Assange Thought Afghani Civilians Deserved to Die

After discrediting the “Collateral Murder” video release and presenting Assange as an adversary of the United States, journalists whom Assange worked with on the release of the Afghan War Logs appear to discuss the relationship between them and how the release of classified information occurred. Nick Davies, a journalist with The Guardian, describes tracking Assange down and speaking to him in Brussels, Belgium. It is here that Davies convinced Assange partnering up with media organizations could maximize the impact of his war logs releases.

The key tension in this part of the documentary stems from discussions over what names to redact and not redact. Davies explains, “All of us came across material which was clearly likely to lead to the death of innocent civilians if we published it. All of us had the experience of bringing this to his attention and being told in effect, ‘If an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces, then they deserve to die.’”

It is a “high crime” for a pro-transparency organization to release material it knows will endanger the people it most wants to help. Therefore, there should be some kind of skepticism raised as to whether this is true or not. But, Leigh and Davies are not pressed on their description of the dispute that was had.

From PBS Frontline’s full interview with Assange for the documentary “WikiSecrets,” there is a reasonable motivation for the release of names, as Assange explains:

We, as all good investigative journalists do, name names. We name names of those people that are involved in corrupt or abusive activities, and that includes in Afghanistan. And then there are people that are incidental characters, that are not themselves threatened in any way. They should also be named as part of just the context of the situation.

We have a harm-minimization procedure. A harm-minimization procedure is that we don’t want innocent people who have a decent chance of being hurt to be hurt. Now, no one has been hurt. There is no allegation by the Pentagon or any other official source that anyone has been physically harmed as a result of our publication of the Afghan war logs, the Iraq war diaries or the State Department records, or the “Collateral Murder” video, or in fact anything we have done over the past four years in over 120 countries.

Here, “WikiWars” fails. It had the potential to really get into specifics of allegations that WikiLeaks “has blood on its hands.” It could have gone to official sources in the Pentagon and State Department. It could have talked with people in Europe and in the Middle East. There could have been a segment that got to the bottom of this consistent claim that WikiLeaks has led to the deaths of innocent people. For example, former State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley alleged during an Index on Censorship panel discussion that hundreds of people are known to have suffered because of the release of material by WikiLeaks. CNN’s “WikiWars” crew could have involved Crowley and worked to find out what evidence Crowley has for such allegations.

The Government is Not Going to Stop WikiLeaks

In the final part of the documentary, viewers are introduced to Anonymous, which is described as a “secretive global force of cyber hacktivists.” Two members of Anonymous – sometimes referred to as “Anons” – speak with Larsen.

An Anon explains that Anonymous is part of an Internet subculture that believes in anonymity, freedom of thought freedom of speech and freedom of expression all taken to a logical extreme. The Anon explains the government is after Anonymous and that is why members must have anonymity. And, WikiLeaks is worth supporting because they believe in many of Anonymous’ ideals especially the idea of exposing secrets.

“They’re not going to stop WikiLeaks. Even if the government were to take down WikiLeaks, they’d essentially be martyring WikiLeaks and a hundred other sites would spring up. The only thing they can do is turn the Internet off and even that didn’t stop the people in Egypt,” explains an Anon.

Larsen understands this reality. As the documentary concludes, he laments, “In some sense, the WikiLeaks phenomenon is unstoppable—part of a new reality where whistleblowers go global and make governments quake, where a leak can add fuel to a revolution. But, governments will fight back.”

The section on Anonymous along with the scenes on the release of war logs and the “Collateral Murder” video all serve to present a rising challenge to US government, one that consists of players creating much uncertainty for the future of American superpower. It’s the same uncertainty driving the US government to ramp up its efforts to establish a coherent strategy and policy for cybersecurity that can protect commerce and agencies withing US government. It’s an uncertainty that leads to questions like, for example, should a pro-transparency organization that is accountable to no one (as government officials and those in US media contend) be allowed to release material and make it harder for the US to conduct wars and international diplomacy?

Julian Assange understands it doesn’t matter if the war on WikiLeaks by the US succeeds or not. As he said in a press conference call:

…. Either the mainstream press in the United States collapses as an effective investigative organ holding the government to account and all sources then are forced to only deal with WikiLeaks, or the administration finds that it has to conform to the U.S. First Amendment and other parts of the Constitution and then the United States is a free society that upholds our values…

Don’t underestimate the impact that a presentation like this can have on the public in the United States if what is said is not clarified or reviewed properly.

Many Americans know very little about WikiLeaks. They may know the name Julian Assange and the name Bradley Manning. They might have heard media reports that said Assange was suspected of raping two women or they might know that a soldier was held at Quantico for leaking classified information. Certainly, PBS Frontline’s “WikiSecrets” documentary went a long way to “educate” Americans on the key details in the story of Bradley Manning. And, now with “WikiWars,” Americans get an “education” on the character of Julian Assange.

Larsen and crew properly include Iceland and Kenya in the backstory of WikiLeaks and Assange. How WikiLeaks revealed there were “hundreds of killing at the hands of Kenyan police” during violent disputed elections in 2007 show that WikiLeaks can potentially make the world a better place. The spotlight on WikiLeaks’ posting of a secret loan book in July 2009 that revealed one of the largest bailed out banks, Kaupthing Bank, made risky loans that likely contributed to Iceland’s banking crisis which brought the country to its knees further establishes that WikiLeaks can improve society. In Iceland, viewers learn they were regarded as “local heroes” because of the leak and influenced a push in Iceland to strengthen press protections and make Iceland a “haven for whistleblowers.”

Post Iceland and Kenya, audiences are not treated to this kind of tolerant analysis of WikiLeaks operations. The case might be made that it is far better to be critical and get to the truth. Supposing that is true, it is worth considering the fact that a CNN poll conducted in December 2010 found seventy-seven percent of American disapprove of “the online organization’s release of thousands of confidential US government documents concerning US diplomatic and military policies. Only twenty percent approved of the action.”

Assuming the level of support found here was an accurate representation of the level of support in the United States and assuming that it remains at this level, Larsen and crew would have known going in that most Americans are skeptical and, in fact, irked by the operations of WikiLeaks. So, in that sense, what Larsen presents is “safe” journalism that helps to affirm Americans’ views toward WikiLeaks.

That WikiLeaks has published information the US public should have a right to know (i.e. the overclassification of information by government) is overlooked. That WikiLeaks is a publisher and should be protected by press freedoms that all media organizations enjoy is not discussed. The sheer number of revelations on US corruption and abuse of power by the United States is omitted (an excuse might be that production had to wrap and could not get to this aspect). And, that Assange was awarded a Sydney Peace Prize and WikiLeaks has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize is not fully examined.

Here’s two key questions for the producers of “WikiWars”: Why, all over the globe, is WikiLeaks being given credit for being a force for good?  Why is it being nominated for peace prizes and medals when here in the United States most contend it has put lives at risk and exercises reckless authority when deciding what information to publish and not publish?

The answer might help the producers understand where they failed and why Americans will, even after “WikiWars,” still not get what WikiLeaks is all about.

Hamas Supports the “Ground Zero Mosque” & Other Messages Damning Religious Freedom to Hell

10:28 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Flickr Photo by

The hysteria surrounding the "Ground Zero Mosque" that really cannot be seen from Ground Zero has nothing to do with some impending Islamic fundamentalist quest to impose Sharia Law in America. It has everything to do with a toxic patriotism fueled by evangelical political activism in this country.

Few know how this "controversy" was manufactured, how the Islamic cultural center became a political football or tool for exploiting fear of Muslims among Americans. And, at this point, one might think it doesn’t really matter: the right wing assault on Muslims’ private property rights continues unabashedly even though there should be no discussion at all and those behind the project should just take their project somewhere else.

The latest developments in sheer paranoia and outright xenophobia include anti-Obama author and Jerusalem bureau chief of the right-wing website WorldNetDaily.com Aaron Klein’s interview with Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar on his WABC radio show on Sunday. Klein was able to get Al-Zahar to say Muslims "have to build the mosque, as you are allowed to build the church and Israelis are building their holy places"we have to build everywhere." And, this touched off an eruption of echoes among conservative media as the leader’s position was immediately connected to Obama through headlines suggesting Hamas backs Obama–the impetus being if Hamas supports Obama we should all fear his support for the mosque in the same way we feared Obama’s association to Bill Ayers during the election.

Newt Gingrich appeared on "Fox & Friends" to say, "The folks who want to build this mosque — who are really radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists — those folks don’t have any interest in reaching out to the community. They’re trying to make a case about supremacy. That’s why they won’t go anywhere else, that’s why they won’t accept any other offer."

Gingrich went a step further comparing Muslims to Nazis:

"And I think we ought to be honest about the fact that we have a right — and this happens all the time in America. You know, Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid publicly stated "build the mosque somewhere else" seemingly adopting his Republican opponent Sharron Angle’s position that one must "say no to the mosque at Ground Zero" or "side with President Obama" and be "against the families of 9/11 victims."

Finally, there was Don Lemon on CNN expressing, as Glenn Greenwald writes, "the crux of the "mosque’ opposition":

Lemon: Don’t you think it’s a bit different considering what happened on 9/11? And the people have said there’s a need for it in Lower Manhattan, so that’s why it’s being built there. What about 10, 20 blocks . . . Midtown Manhattan, considering the circumstances behind this? That’s not understandable?

Patel: In America, we don’t tell people based on their race or religion or ethnicity that they are free in this place, but not in that place –

Lemon: [interrupting] I understand that, but there’s always context, Mr. Patel . . . this is an extraordinary circumstance. You understand that this is very heated. Many people lost their loved ones on 9/11 –

Patel: Including Muslim Americans who lost their loved ones. . . .

Lemon: Consider the context here. That’s what I’m talking about.

Patel:I have to tell you that this seems a little like telling black people 50 years ago:you can sit anywhere on the bus you like – just not in the front.

Lemon:I think that’s apples and oranges -I don’t think that black people were behind a Terrorist plot to kill people and drive planes into a building.That’s a completely different circumstance.

Patel: And American Muslims were not behind the terrorist plot either. [emphasis not added]

More patently absurd was Tim Brown, a retired NYC firefighter who survived 9/11 who recounted a story at the tail end of the segment featuring Lemon and Patel involving a woman who "spoke at the Landmark Preservation Commission here and very passionately against the mosque and when she walked out and went to her car she had a heart attack." Brown added, "This is what is being done to the families of 9/11."

The bizarre notion that not only all of the Muslim world should pay for the few extremists that targeted the World Trade Center but they should also pay for people who are suffering physical hardships because they have to defend against the so-called insensitivity of Islam toward 9/11 victims provides one of the best examples of how this controversy is born out of Islamophobia. Brown’s comment suggests there is no thing those against the "mosque" that opponents will not blame Muslims for.

So, how did we get to here? How did Americans get dragged into some argument against Islam that solely consists of sentences comprised of a noun, a verb and 9/11? Didn’t Rudolph Giuliani lose big in the 2008 Election?

Justin Elliott over at Salon.com constructed a timeline that demonstrates the story first was discussed when Laura Ingraham interviewed Abdul Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, while guest-hosting "The O’Reilly Factor." Ingraham surprisingly said, "I can’t find many people who really have a problem" with the "mosque." She said she liked what the people behind the project were trying to do. Then, five and a half months later, on May 6, 2010, a New York community board approved the "WTC Mosque." The AP quoted 9/11 families. The New York Post, which a lot of right wing opinion makers read.

From this point on groups like Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) began to hold protests and campaign against the "mosque." It is then that "professionals of the anti-Islam industry" began to propagandize the project eventually earning a victory when New York Post columnist first used the phrase "ground zero mosque" (and also falsely reported the Cordoba House [Park51] would open on September 11, 2011.

The manufacturing of this controversy proves this is about much more than religious freedom and 9/11 families. What those against the "mosque" really want is for Americans to constantly relive the horror of 9/11 on a daily basis, live in a state of post-trauma for eternity, and never forget how extremists with a religion that has often been at odds with prominent Western religions attacked America.

The most outspoken opponents of this mosque seek to maintain a shared purpose, a national identity that became the context for domestic and foreign politics after 9/11. They seek to further entrench America in a war against Islam.

Opponents tremble in fear because their triumphalism–largely derived from their evangelical Christianity and other Christian denominations–is threatened by the interfaith goals of dialogue that this Islamic cultural center has adopted. They do not want dialogue. They want only to maintain their religion and further institute Biblical law in American society.

Zealous businessmen and snake politicians have charted a course for power, opted to exploit not only the families who lost loved ones in 9/11 but also exploit the energy produced by evangelical religion’s activism in politics and channel it into this manufactured controversy they hope will help them win elections in November.

These religious archaists market beliefs and aim to attract customers they can convert into consumers that will follow their precepts. They hope their consumers will join them in the further construction of American mythology to serve their agenda for reorienting this nation and realigning this country with their beliefs.

The vanguard of opposition to the mosque follows the ideology of Samuel Huntington, a foreign policy thinker who had great influence over the past twenty years of American foreign policy. They like Huntington believe "America is different and that difference is defined in large part by its religious commitment and Anglo-Protestant culture." They like Huntington think "at the heart of that culture has been Protestantism and the political and social restitutions and practices inherited from England, including most notably the English language." And, they believe "Americans are also overwhelmingly Christian, which distinguishes them from many non-Western peoples" and "their religiosity leads Americans to see the world in terms of good and evil to a much greater extent than most other peoples."

The propagandistic idea that the mosque should not be built because all Muslims should continue to pay for 9/11 stems from the toxic patriotism or right-wing nationalism of a section of society who has put its political energy behind American military might, preemptive war, promotion of ignorance toward the way America radicalizes societies who adopt Islamic fundamentalism as a tool of resistance, and xenophobia.

Demagoguery and ideology neurotically controls a sect of American society and culture. Our opposition to the construction of the mosque, whether we adopt the position to win elections in November or because we have been grieving for 9/11 families and constantly terrified by our leaders exploitation of the attacks so they can achieve power, gives the upperhand to religious demagogues and ideologues. It violates core principles of our nation’s Constitution, principles President Obama and Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg have called upon citizens to support and uphold.

Religious freedom did not become part of our nation’s core principles because people thought Americans would be comfortable with all religions. It became part of our principles because people understood all Americans should have the right to practice religion openly and freely.

Since 9/11, Muslims have been attacked and demonized in many sections of the country. This should not be allowed, we as a nation should not be complicit and silent, and we who care deeply about this nation should speak out in support of the mosque not because we are religious or support Islamic beliefs but because attacks and demonization should cease in this country now.

 

Now from last night’s Countdown w/ Keith Olbermann, a "Special Comment" — "There is No Ground Zero Mosque."

President Obama on Ground Zero Mosque: A Wasted Attempt to Stand Up to Islamophobia?

9:44 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Jingoistic demonstration in Zucotti Park against proposed Islamic Cultural Center a few blocks from Ground Zero. Later, someone garlanded the proposed site with dirty shoes, raw porkchops, and cartoons of the Prophet. by Johnnie Utah

President Barack Obama stepped into the middle of a swirl of prejudicial vitriol and unashamed hatred surrounding the building of an Islamic cultural center several blocks away from Ground Zero.

Appearing at Friday night’s iftar dinner at the White House, held to mark the breaking of the daily Ramadan feast, in a safe space away from Islamophobic politicians and pundits who have been disinforming Americans on the building of a "Ground Zero mosque" for weeks now, Obama declared in a speech:

…Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities — particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure…

 

Obama’s remarks were insightful and courageous and along the lines of comments from New York City’s Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg just over a week ago. Bloomberg, too, argued "the government has no right whatsoever to deny" the right to those who wish to build a mosque and stated, "if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution."

 

"Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion?" asked Mayor Bloomberg. "That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another."

 

And, from a place of great reason, to strike a blow to unthinking people who are running around making outlandish claims about Muslims and terror babies and how Islamic people wish to impose Sharia law on America, Bloomberg stated:

"Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values – and play into our enemies’ hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists – and we should not stand for that"

 

 Having people like Mayor Bloomberg to back President Obama up, Obama would be able to hold on to his defense and continue to give this well-reasoned argument to thwart the hatred of Islamophobes across the country as reporters asked him for more remarks on what he said, right?

"I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about. And I think it’s very important, as difficult as some of these issues are, that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about."

 

President Obama’s position at that moment morphed into, in principle, this country should allow the Islamic center to be built, but, I do not know specifically if in this case building a mosque is a wise idea or not. The idea that "commitments to religious freedom must be unshakeable" now appeared to be shakeable if it could be proven one is making unwise decisions related to the exercising of that religious freedom.

 

How would this "backtracking" play in the conservative media echo chamber that has made the Obama Administration yield to any and every message born out of pig-headed phobia?

 

Guests and show hosts promoted this idea on Sunday that, if the cultural center would not be promoting interfaith dialogue (a standard that most Christian or Jewish institutions never have to adhere to), then there’s no way the construction of a mosque should be supported.

 

 Republican Congressman Peter King said on "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" on August 15th, "I think the president, by the way, is trying to have it both ways, because I don’t know of anyone who was saying that Muslims do not have the right to practice their religion, but with rights go responsibilities, and that’s the part of it the president did not comment on.

 

Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island said "Fox News Sunday" with Bret Baier, "the president, I think, is right to point out that our traditions do embrace tolerance for religions, all religions" but went on to say the "issue is whether the operation — this facility is really one that is designed to provide interfaith communication, dialogue, to not in some way try to repeal the reality of 9/11, which was an attack by fanatical Muslims against the United States, but to try to find those common ground between all the religious communities."

 

On the same show, Senator John Cornyn, chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee declared this issue an "election issue" and said what was said is indicative of "the lack of connection between the administration and Washington and folks inside the Beltway and mainstream America. And I think this is what aggravates people so much."

 

ABC’s This Week host Christiane Amanpour and NPR senior news analyst Cokie Roberts accused Obama of "walking back" from statements he made in his speech. And, Liz Cheney was quoted by Mike Allen of Politico, "I guess President Obama was for the mosque before he was against it."

 

Tunku Varadarajan wrote on The Daily Beast, "At first sight, this may seem but a minor alteration in tone, or nuance. But in political terms, it is tectonic, reducing Obama in stature from a brave man, standing tall against the forces of intolerance, to a picayune, insecure trimmer who wishes to be all things to all people, a man who is so unsure of his own principles that he will seek to reinterpret words, just a day after he uttered them."

 

Varadarajan and the aforementioned congressmen are right to talk about how this was never a question of the mosque’s right to be built–at least rhetorically speaking. Amanpour’s comments on Obama "walking back" his comments directly cited a poll of Americans indicating more than sixty percent recognize the right to build the center but, in another poll, more than sixty percent think it’s wrong to build the mosque. So, the tension does not seem to be coming from people who dispute whether Muslims have a right to religious freedom or not–unless you consider this gubernatorial candidate.

 

Unless you consider the people protesting the building of one on Staten Island. Unless you consider the people protesting the building of one in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Unless you consider the people protesting the construction of one in Sheboygan County in Wisconsin. Unless you consider the people protesting the building of one in Temecula, California. Unless you consider the people detailed in Stephen Salisbury’s article "Extremism at Ground Zero (Again)".

 

Contrary to politicians and pundits, this is about the right to religious freedom. From coast to coast Americans do not want Muslims to have private property rights because they have Islamophobia that there is no way of knowing how the mosque will be funded, who will be praying and worshipping at the mosque and what activities/agenda the mosque might support. The only way to alleviate that fear is through leadership and speeches to the American public similar to the one Obama delivered Friday night and the one Mayor Bloomberg delievered over a week ago.

 

This was a teaching moment, an opportunity to stay firm and not back down, a chance to comment on the specific project itself and in doing so defend other projects around the country that have been targeted by Islamophobia in recent years. It would not have been difficult to comment on the "wisdom" in a politically savvy way; all President Obama had to do is watch Jon Stewart take on Ground Zero mosque critics last week in a segment that properly ridiculed opposition to the building of the mosque.

 

But, it appears, as with countless issues, Obama has little moral fortitude to stand up for what’s right. He offers empty platitudes until reverberations or echoes drown out his platitudes and then he stops commenting. He then proceeds to engage in obvious wordsmithing to obfuscate his stance and refuses to give further comments on the problem or issue.

 

President Obama should have just remained silent on the mosque; if he wasn’t going to stand up for the mosque project itself, he should have known he would only be empowering FOX News blowhards and frenzied Americans who fear "in 20 years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the president by themselves" so they can carry out their planned jihad on America.

 

But, given the mostly forgotten fact that he removed two Muslim women at a campaign rally who were going to be sitting behind the podium because his campaign didn’t want women with headscarves to appear with Obama in photographs or on television, we should all not be surprised at Obama’s spinelessness.

Israel’s Campaign to Discredit Attacked Humanitarian Convoy

8:20 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Israeli censorship of activists and journalists coupled with what Israeli authorities consider the official story has successfully pushed media organizations in the U.S. and other countries to frame the story in a way exclusively beneficial to Israel. The official story usually includes the story of the Free Gaza Movement at the bottom and frames the attack as a public relations nightmare for Israel instead of a disproportionate attack on a righteous humanitarian aid initiative.

 

Numerous articles have given Israel the benefit of the doubt and published Israel’s description of the Free Gaza Movement especially the IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief organization Israel claims has ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups at odds with the country of Israel.

 

FOX News (and other news organizations) published reports on the raid leading with the perspective of the Israeli prime minister who said he gave "full backing to military in deadly raid against aid flotilla sailing to Gaza" and Israel’s Deputy UN Ambassador Daniel Carmon who said, "What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and fire from weapons stolen from soldiers to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?"

 

Carmon’s suggestion that Israel’s attack followed international law is very disputable, and the idea that peace activists caught ambushing Israeli commandos severely off guard seems patently absurd. Yet, Fox News provides little additional context to this notion expecting people to believe Israeli forces that landed on board the ship were somewhat impotent and incapable of taking on peace activists despite the fact that they may have received military combat training none of the activists have had.

 

Fox News specifically repeated Carmon’s claim that the activists were with a group with a "radical anti-Western’ orientation that supports terrorist organizations like Hamas and al Qaeda" (in fact, al Qaeda was in the Fox News headline).

 

CNN reported this as well and named the IHH Humanitarian Relief Association claiming the IHH has ties to terrorism and is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But, there was zero context to this assertion; no explanation of how this piece of information is known except for the fact that Israel is claiming this link exists.

 

The Washington Postpublished a story on June 1st, a day after news of the incident, titled, "Israel says Free Gaza Movement poses threat to Jewish state; Aid flotilla was run by member charity with alleged ties to Islamists." Of IHH, the article reported, "Israel has been concerned about the participation of IHH, or Humanitarian Relief Fund, a large Turkish charity that raises some of its money from Islamic religious groups." But, despite the fact that the focus is the threat the Free Gaza Movement poses to Israel, there is little hard evidence published in this article to prove that the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or al Qaeda has been using this charity that had members on board the flotilla to effectively carry out terrorism against Israel.

 

Another story published by the Telegraph in the UK titled, "Gaza Flotilla: The Free Gaza Movement and the IHH," repeats the Israeli official story and also cites an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment, who claims the organization has had ties to Hamas for a long time. Unfortunately, Hamas was democratically elected in 2005 and has controlled Palestine since. They have made several attempts to sustain truces with Israel. They are guilty of acts of state-sponsored terrorism but so is Israel.

 

The Jerusalem Post published a story, "What is the IHH?" explaining that the charity "may be linked to jihadist groups." It The story listed the Israeli NGO, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, as a source for its claim that the IHH is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Union for the Good. The Jerusalem Post, however, does not explain that the center is "dedicated to the memory of members of Israel’s intelligence community who fell in the line of duty" and puts out weekly disinformation reports on Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Hizbullah, and Iran and has close ties to Israel’s military leadership and maintains an office at the Defense Ministry.

 

A published article by Reuters on IHH, "Factbox: Turkish charity group behind Gaza-bound convoy," lists no details suggesting the humanitarian relief organization has terror ties.

  

Finally, BBC News‘ article,"Q&A: Israeli raid on aid flotilla," describes the Free Gaza Movement as:

A group called Free Gaza, an umbrella organisation of activist groups from numerous countries, and a Turkish group called the IHH (Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief). The Israeli government says the IHH is closely linked to Hamas, and is a member of another organisation, the Union of the Good, which supports suicide bombings. However, the Turkish government regards the IHH as a legitimate charity, and urged Israel to let the flotilla through.

 

The link to Hamas and the suicide bombing-supporting organization Union of the Good are only listed because the Israeli government has said so. This has to be just another tidbit from Israel’s propagandistic storyline being spread to make people around the world believe the humanitarian convoy aimed to attack or delegitimize Israel.

 

If one conducts a LexisNexis searches for articles published before May 31, 2010 that contain the words "Free Gaza," zero results appear in connection to the Freedom Flotilla. Even though the Free Gaza Movement publicized its intentions and what countries/organizations were participating, there were no alerts put out by any news organizations that this humanitarian aid initiative had terror ties to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood or al Qaeda, which one can reasonably presume means no one following this movement considered them to be a threat.

 

Prior to the raid, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Navy was preparing to block the fleet of 9 ships and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were awaiting orders from the prime minister. Also, according to YNet, Israel also was preparing a media blitz similar to what the world is witnessing now:

Israel is also preparing for the media blitz certain to follow the flotilla, which many believe will harm the state’s already floundering reputation. Foreign Ministry, IDF, and PR spokespersons are preparing interviews for global news agencies in order to explain Israel’s position, mainly that the flotilla serves the terror organization ruling Gaza and not its residents.

 

Public relations officials said Israel is also attempting to expose the true face of the organization behind the flotilla, and the fact that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

 

"This is a media-related provocation, and we have made it clear to the organizers that Israel is prepared to convey the supplies to Gaza itself following a security check," a Jerusalem official said.

James Marc Leas dissects Israel’s disinformation campaign against the Freedom Flotilla.

The Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, with close ties to the Israeli military and an office in the Defense Ministry, is the source of much of the talking points on the Free Gaza Movement’s so-called ties to terrorism. Here is the Center’s complete list.

These talking points are what is being repeated. Their aim is to make the people of the world forget that Israel took this action against the Freedom Flotilla with the intention of deterring future attempts to deliver humanitarian aid to the starving civilians suffering under an Israeli blockade in Gaza.