Below is an article, i.e. one hell of an article, posted on gess' blog, which is being deleted, so I'll keep at least this post for posterity. It's worth looking at again - if only for inspiration.
They say this town is full of cozenage, As, nimble jugglers that deceive the
eye, Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind*, Soul-killing witches that
deform the body, Disguised cheaters*, prating mountebanks, And many such-like
liberties of sin.
—William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors
*(My note:) Sounds like the collusion of politicians and corporate interests, and their secret orgies with the media.
Over four hundred years ago, William Shakespeare evoked the specter of public spellbinders: “nimble jugglers,” “dark-working sorcerers,” and “soul-killing witches” who “deceived the eye,” “changed minds,” and “deformed the body.” In this, the first of his comedies, Shakespeare summoned the ghost of a corrupted city, a deformed body politic owed to “disguised cheaters” and “prating mountebanks.” He was, of course, obliquely referring to Elizabethan London, a town immersed in disputatious politics, which swept over and implicated Shakespeare and others constituting England’s cultural intelligentsia. And London’s theater, a principal site of public opinion forming, contentious elite patronage, and artifice, translated the state’s interests into beguiling entertainment. In all these matters, it is tempting to transfer Shakespeare’s insights to the circumstances of present-day American politics and the dominant media and journalistic cultures that function to conceal that disturbing reality from the American public. Historically in America, national crises have tended to spawn the worst excesses in journalism and mass culture. And presently, with the formation of media conglomerates, the so-called war against terrorism has inspired a conformist and sometimes duplicitous mainstream press. As is the casewith Shakespeare’s outsider, Antipholus of Syracuse, it devolves on strangers to the city—in this instance the American state—to discern its eye-deceiving practices.
For months, the peoples of this America have existed under a reign of speakable terror. And it is a transparently speakable occurrence, given the tens of thousands of words and pictures that have deluged this country each day that has followed last summer. The onset was the horrifying televised spectacle on September 11, 2001: commercial flights transformed into weapons of destruction. The visual scenes were profoundly shocking, but over the next several hours, another source of unease became manifest. Scanning the sea of networks, it became evident that they disposed of only marginally competent newsgathering contrivances. They could not report on who or what occupied the World Trade Center (WTC); who was likely to be in the buildings that morning; or what had transpired on those planes with so many cell phone–bearing passengers. Instead, following the train of horrors of the first few hours, little real information was attached to the recycling images of the already obvious destruction and death.
This would prove to be the first and last of those instances of verifiable abominations, which streamed across television screens, newspaper front pages, and magazine covers over the succeeding months. Unedited and unadulterated on that first day, from that moment until now the notion of terror was reappropriated and reapportioned by the state and its diverse cast of “disguised cheaters.” A raw, collectively experienced event was deliberately and cynically reconfigured into an absurd abomination of propaganda, public manipulation, and the counterfeiture of human rights. Licensed by these machinations, everything that preceded September 11 was obliterated. And in lieu of an explanatory back story, a history, the public was lured into a sycophantic chorus on “evil.” The history, as usual, was well worth forgetting.
State terror—that is, a government’s employment of violence against noncombatants— had been a part of American history even before the founding of the American republic. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, state terror was almost inextricably linked to what were termed the “Indian wars,” and both a distant parliament as well as the colonial officials at hand orchestrated it. And once African slavery replaced impressed Europeans and enslaved Native Americans, black women, children and men, too, became the victims of colonial, then state and, eventually, federal programs of terror. By the end of the nineteenth century, when the republic was being altered into an empire, “bandits,” that is, their patriots, in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba were subjected to similar disciplines. Fitful (and occasionally more insistent) qualms aside, in the next century the American state extended its merciless violence onto innocent civilians in the Caribbean, Central America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. As the century began, so would it conclude. Just two years short of the century’s end, the nastiness was visited on Europe’s Yugoslavia with the destruction of power plants, bridges, hospitals, and other civilian resources.
In an earlier time, before the formulation of notions like war crimes, crimes against humanity, the genocide convention, and global human rights, later observers might have constructed the anarchy of international law as an absent brake. However, when the International Court of Justice, the world court, was established in the mid-1940s, this was no longer the case. Under the signature of President Truman, the United States consented to the jurisdiction of the court. For forty years, the United States remained within the adjudication of the International Court.
But in 1986, the Reagan administration unilaterally rescinded the court’s authority, preferring international anarchy to the public humiliation of a formal judgment on its conduct of foreign policy in Central America. The occasion was Nicaragua v. United States of America, a suit brought by the Nicaraguan government to the International Court. On June 27, 1986, the court published its findings, among them rejecting the United States’ assertion that it had no jurisdiction. Some of the world court’s decisions doubtlessly concern state terror:
By twelve votes to three: Decides that the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs o another State.
By fourteen votes to one, Finds that the United States of America, by producing
in 1983 a manual entitled “Operaciones sicológicas en guerra de guerrillas,” and
disseminating it to contra forces, has encouraged the commission by them of acts
contrary to general principles of humanitarian law.1
Mark Weisbrot recently recalled just what “principles of humanitarian law” were violated in Nicaragua: “They [the U.S. agencies and the contras] waged war not so much against the Nicaraguan army as against ‘soft targets’: teachers, health care workers, elected officials (a CIA-prepared manual actually advocated their assassination). . . . They blew up bridges and health clinics, and with help from a U.S. trade embargo beginning in 1985, destroyed the economy of Nicaragua.”2 The corporate American press said and wrote little about these actions. And when they were infrequently noted, there was nothing like the apocalyptic language of today (“threats to civilization,” etc.) to suggest that an American government and its surrogates had violated the basic principles of democracy.
The court awarded Nicaragua $17 billion. And beyond U.S. shores, the decision was applauded widely. Unreported in the American press, Pope John Paul II, for one, congratulated the court on its vindication of international law. The debt was, however, “forgiven” by a new government in Nicaragua, installed as a beneficiary of the undeclared American war on that country.
What the Reagan government fomented in Nicaragua was merely a complement to the actions of preceding American governments in Central America. For thirty years, in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, U.S. officials, covert operatives, and military personnel had supported state terrorism that left hundreds of thousands dead, among them peasants, priests, nuns, unionists, political leftists, and the like. Much of this, too, was unreported, or at best misreported at the time. So a few years back, when President Clinton issued a public apology to Central Americans for (some) of the actions of his predecessors, it came somewhat as a surprise for a majority of the American public. That same public was equally bemused in 1997 when Gary Webb, then of the San Jose Mercury News, published the results of his investigation into the collaboration of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with Central American cocaine smugglers. The CIA’s inspector general eventually confirmed most of Webb’s most damaging allegations, but the American press chose to misrepresent or ignore that report too.3
Now you may aver that all that was in the past. That was how Barbara Walters, the venerable television journalist/personality, responded to a critic of the present war on terrorism when he sought to detail the long relationship between the Taliban and various American governments. But as the ancient Greeks recognized, and I paraphrase, an unexamined past has a tendency of repeating itself.
In the second week of April of 2002, the Venezuelan military (according to the American press) sought to overthrow the elected president, Hugo Chavez. Venezuela is the third-largest exporter of oil to the United States and the fourthlargest economy in Latin America. Chavez, a former paratrooper, is a left-leaning populist, who himself had sought to overthrow a previous Venezuelan government in 1992. He was imprisoned, and on release began to construct a broad-based alliance against the established powers in that country. In 1998, he won the presidency by popular vote. With a new constitution in hand, Chavez began his dismantling of the economic and political structures, which had long secured the privileges of wealth in Venezuela.
But according to the reports published of the coup in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, Chavez was “reckless,” and provoked his own dismissal by the Venezuelan military. Now, according to the non- U.S. press, it appears that beginning in June of last year the Bush administration funded and assisted in the planning of the coup. These revelations in the London Guardian in large part result from the fact that the coup failed after two days.4 But the corporate American press remained unrelievedly hostile to Chavez and loathe to acknowledge U.S. involvement in his aborted ouster. Paradoxically, while trivializing or openly denying such a possibility, some papers forwarded conceivable justifications. The Washington Post played the race card, describing Chavez as “darkskinnedand kinky-haired,” contrasting him to one of his opponents (Rear Admiral Carlos Molina) who is opportunely “light-skinned.”5 In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady assured her readers that the coup had been “a spontaneous action” but, on the other hand, “Fidel Castro’s handprint was all over Mr. Chavez’s comeback.”6 The New York Times gently profiled Otto J. Reich, assistant secretary for state on Latin America, the current adminstration’s point man in relations to the southern hemisphere. Reich, the Times recalled, is a former Cuban, a hard-line anti-Castroist, a former lobbyist for Mobil Oil, and the aide in the Reagan State Department who (according to the general accounting office) had violated the law by covertly preparing pro-contra propaganda for publication in American newspapers. Yet despite his deserved reputation for lying and “nimble juggling,” the Times published without contest Reich’s declarations denying the United States’ involvement in the coup in Venezuela.7
The failure of the American press to interrogate the employment of state terrorism by American governments, past and present, is merely a smidgen of the dominant practices that misinform the American people. Take, for instance, the voting debacle in Florida in 2000. Most Americans are under the impression that the presidential election was principally marred by voting machine chads and butterfly ballots. These, indeed, were at the center of the protracted drama concocted in the mainstream media in the postelection months. However, the Commission on Civil Rights and the lawsuit filed by the NAACP, NAACP v. Katherine Harris et al., provide a radically different narrative. The commission’s report, “Voting Irregularities in Florida during the 2000 Presidential Election,” of June 2001, based on the testimony of one hundred witnesses and the review of more than 100,000 pages of documents, concluded that “perhaps the most dramatic undercount in Florida’s election was the uncast ballots of countless eligible voters who were turned away at the polls or wrongfully purged from voter registration rolls.”8
It was not the counting of ballots but the counting of voters that was really at issue. The lawsuit brought by the NAACP and twenty-one black Floridians provides further details of the diverse and heinous practices that disenfranchised thousands of blacks and Latinos in Florida. The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) set up numerous unauthorized (according to its commander, Colonel Hall) roadblocks, which interfered with black motorists on the way to the polls—some of the targets were black college students; at several polling stations in predominantly black neighborhoods, the FHP parked unmanned patrol cars for several hours; perhaps thousands of registered Latino and black voters were erroneously (?) purged as “felons” from the voters register;9 in their affidavits, experienced poll workers, who had attempted to verify voter registrations, contrasted the three hours delay in 2000 to the customary ten minutes characteristic of previous elections; in the targeted counties, polling stations were closed early or closed while frustrated voters waited in line to vote; black voter applications went unprocessed for months; and longtime voters found themselves unexpectedly declared ineligible.10 On February 15, 2002, Florida’s challenge to the lawsuit was dismissed by a district court judge; the case is currently scheduled for trial in August 2002.
Since dissembling on the part of the corporate media is now epidemic, it is nigh impossible to track the volume of nonsense served up to the American public. In collusion with a secretive government, which now possesses legal authority for unconstitutional powers—the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) informs us that the U.S.A. PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act violates five of the Bill of Rights amendments—public deception and misdirection constitutes the most direct threat to public knowledge.11 How are Americans expected to assess the meaning and significance of the war in Afghanistan when they are denied knowledge of the pre–9/11 activities of the Clinton and Bush administrations?
One of the most striking phenomena of the September attacks was the appearance of media “experts” with detailed knowledge of Osama bin Laden. Within days of the attacks, Pat Robertson recalled his meetings with bin Laden and Taliban leaders while hosting his 700 Club on the ABC Family Channel network. And scores of retired military officers and intelligence agents were paid undisclosed but presumably handsome fees by television networks anxious to take advantage of years of (unexplained) experience in Afghan territory. Some of the experts were frauds, of course (for example, Fox News’s “Colonel” Joseph Cafasso),12 but notwithstanding the bogeymen, an intriguing but still mostly submerged portrait emerges: once again—like Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, and so on—a cold war enterprise has produced an American invasion. And like these other instances, the official justification has more than likely served as a pretense. For what other reason, except to conceal an unacceptable truth, has the administration opposed a public investigation of the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.? But as congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has asserted: “If the Secretary of Defense tell us that his new military objectives must be to occupy foreign capital cities and overthrow regimes, then the American people must know why.”13
The vast majority of peoples beyond our borders recognize the American government’s hypocrisy on terrorism. They were appalled at the spectacle of state terror recently unleashed by Israel on the Palestinian people and dismayed by the cynical collaboration between Israel and the United States. While in U.S. newspapers and on U.S. screens media sorcerers wove spells of propaganda about the war against terrorism, the world media reported a very different reality: Palestinians used as human shields, peace activists in the Occupied Territories being beaten and shot by the Israeli army, humanitarian workers harassed, and emergency vehicles destroyed before they could lend aid to Palestinian victims.
In Colombia, as it was in Central America, the U.S. state is providing billions in military aid, training, and equipment to a military and a paramilitary league guilty of terror. But despite the “prating mountebanks,” which dominate American media with their recitations of official information, there are grounds for optimism. Surveys indicate that few Americans have real confidence in the news media (14 percent) and in major business corpora- tions (12 percent). For the moment, however, as congresswoman McKinney stated in late March, an unelected government has seized illegal powers. That must be opposed with every democratic weapon in our arsenal.
1. The particulars of the decision included: “Decides that the United States of America, by certain attacks on Nicaraguan territory in 1983–1984, namely attacks on Puerto Sandino on 13 September and 14 October 1983, an attack on Corinto on 10 October 1983; an attack on Potosi Naval Base on 4/5 January 1984, an attack on San Juan del Sur on 7 March 1984; attacks on patrol boats at Puerto Sandino on 28 and 30 March 1984; and an attack on San Juan del Norte on 9 April 1984; and further by those acts of intervention referred to in subparagraph (3) hereof which involve the use of force, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use forceagainst another State.” Nicaragua v. United States of America, International Court of Justice, June 27, 1986, available at www.icj-cij.org/icjwww/idecisions/isummaries/inussummary860627.htm.
2. Mark Weisbrot, “What Everyone Should Know about Nicaragua,” Z Magazine, November 9, 2001.
3. For an example, see James Adams’s review of Webb’s book, “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion,” New York Times Book Review, September 27, 1998, 28.
4. See Duncan Campbell, “American Navy ‘Helped Venezuelan Coup,’ ” Guardian, April 29, 2002.
5. Scott Wilson, “Clash of Visions Pushed Venezuela toward Coup,” Washington Post, April 21, 2002.
6. Mary Anastasia O’Grady, “Venezuela Rejected a Coup, but Its Future Is No Brighter,” Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2002.
7. Christopher Marquis, “Combative Point Man on Latin Policy: Otto J. Reich,” New York Times, April 18, 2002.
8. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “Voting Irregularities in Florida during the 2000 Presidential Election,” June 2001, available at www.usccr.gov/.
9. Based on a late-nineteenth-century Jim Crow law, Florida has purged some 900,000 “felons” from its voter register. In 2000, Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state, hired DataBase Technologies, a Georgia company, to purge felons from the Florida rolls. See Lisa Getter, “Florida Net Too Wide in Purge of Voter Rolls”; and Getter, “Thousands Were Wrongfully Called Felons: Errors May Have Affected Presidential Election,” Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2001.
10. See NAACP v. Katherine Harris et al., available at www.aclufl.org/naacp_v__harris.html.
11. See Nancy Chang, “The USA PATRIOT Act: What’s So Patriotic about Trampling on the Bill of Rights?” Center for Constitutional Rights, November 2001, available at www.ccr-ny.org/whatsnew/usa_patriot_act.asp.
12. Cafasso served as a military consultant for Fox News for four months. His entire military career consisted of forty-four days of boot camp in 1976. See Jim Ruttenberg, “At Fox News: The Colonel Who Wasn’t,” New York Times, April 29, 2002.
13. Cynthia McKinney, “A Statement on the Events of September 11,” Black Commentator, May 8, 2002, available at www.blackcommentator.com/rep_mckinney.html.
Source: Radical History Review, Issue 85, p164, 7p; By Cedric J. Robinson