Dahr Jamail: Propaganda and Haditha


Richard Moore

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Subject: Iraq Dispatches: Propaganda and Haditha

** Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches **
** Visit the Dahr Jamail Iraq website http://dahrjamailiraq.com **
** Website by http://jeffpflueger.com **

       Propaganda and Haditha

By Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 09 June 2006

*In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended 
by a bodyguard of lies.*
- Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II

Propaganda is when the Western corporate media tries to influence 
public opinion in favor of the Iraq War by consistently tampering 
with truth and distorting reality. It is to be expected. And it is to 
be recognized for what it is. On occasions when the media does its 
job responsibly and reports events like the November 19, 2005, 
Haditha Massacre, it must also be willing and able to anticipate and 
counter propaganda campaigns that will inevitably follow. It is to be 
expected that the responsible members of the media fraternity will 
stick to their guns and not join the propagandists.

This piece is a summary of five most commonly deployed crisis 
management propaganda tactics which the State and Media combine that 
we can expect to see in relation to the Haditha Massacre. Listed in a 
loose chronological order of their deployment, the tactics are: 
Delay, Distract, Discredit, Spotlight and Scapegoat. Each of the five 
public relations campaigns will here be discussed in the context of 
the Haditha Massacre.


Al-Jazeera channel, with over 40 million viewers in the Arab world, 
is the largest broadcaster of news in the Middle East. It has been 
bearing the brunt of an ongoing violent US propaganda campaign. Their 
station headquarters in both Afghanistan and Baghdad were destroyed 
by US forces during the US invasions of both countries. In Baghdad, 
the attack on their office by a US warplane killed their 
correspondent Tareq Ayoub. Additionally, al-Jazeera reporters 
throughout Iraq have been systematically detained and intimidated 
before the broadcaster was banned outright from the country. These 
are somewhat contradictory actions for an occupying force ostensibly 
attempting to promote democracy and freedom in Iraq.

On November 19, 2005, the day of the Haditha Massacre, al-Jazeera had 
long since been banned from operating in Iraq. The station forced to 
conduct its war reporting from a desk in Doha, Qatar, was doing so 
via telephone. Two Iraqis worked diligently to cover the US 
occupation of Iraq through a loose network of contacts within Iraq. 
Defying the US-imposed extreme challenges, al-Jazeera, by dint of its 
responsible reporting, had the entire Haditha scoop as soon as it 
occurred, which they shared with Western and other media outlets, 
while the latter were content to participate in delaying the story 
nearly four months by regurgitating unverified military releases.

Two days after the massacre, DahrJamailiraq.com was the only free 
place on the Internet that carried al-Jazeera's report 
<http://dahrjamailiraq.com/mideastwire/index.php?id=26> translated 
into English (it could be viewed at MidEastWire.com for a fee).

The anchorperson for al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, interviewed 
journalist Walid Khalid in Bahgdad. Khalid's report, translated by 
MidEastWire.com, was as follows:

Yesterday evening, an explosive charge went off under a US Marines 
vehicle in the al-Subhani area, destroying it completely. Half an 
hour later, the US reaction was violent. US aircraft bombarded four 
houses near the scene of the incident, causing the immediate death of 
five Iraqis. Afterward, the US troops stormed three adjacent houses 
where three families were living near the scene of the explosion. 
Medical sources and eyewitnesses close to these families affirmed 
that the US troops, along with the Iraqi Army, executed 21 persons; 
that is, three families, including nine children and boys, seven 
women, and three elderly people.

Contrast this to the reportage of the slaughter by the New York 
Times, the "newspaper of note" in the United States. Unquestioningly 
parroting the military press release, their story of November 21, 
2005, read: "The Marine Corps said Sunday that 15 Iraqi civilians and 
a Marine were killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded in 
Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The bombing on Saturday in 
Haditha, on the Euphrates in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, 
was aimed at a convoy of American Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers, 
said Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, a Marine spokesman. After the explosion, 
gunmen opened fire on the convoy. At least eight insurgents were 
killed in the firefight, the captain said."

The organization Iraq Body Count (IBC) immediately endorsed this, 
clearly demonstrating how its tally of Iraqi civilian deaths due to 
the war is way below the actual numbers. Exclusively referencing 
samples from the Western media that willingly embrace the official 
propaganda, IBC can hardly constitute an unbiased or truthful source 
of information.

In April 2006, their database of media sources cited an AP story and 
a Reuters story from November 20, 2005, along with a March 21, 2006, 
London Times article. This is how IBC distilled the stories; "Haditha 
- fighting between US Marines and insurgents-gunfire" and the number 
of civilians killed was recorded as 15. It is difficult to understand 
why IBC has once again opted to cite US fabrications mindlessly 
repeated by the Western media rather than take into account the 
readily available English translation of al-Jazeera's Haditha report.

On June 6, 2006, the Haditha Massacre is recorded by IBC as "family 
members in their houses and students in a passing car" and the 
declared number of victims is 24. One cannot help wonder how many 
uncorrected, unverified and unchallenged pieces of US military 
propaganda lurk in IBC's database. Haditha could be just the tip of 
the iceberg.

It wasn't until four months after the event that the Western 
corporate media started to straighten out the story. On March 19, 
2006, it was Time Magazine that "broke" the Haditha story in a piece 
titled "Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha." The 
primary sources for this piece were a video shot by an Iraqi 
journalism student produced the day after the massacre and interviews 
conducted with witnesses. Another glaring evidence of how a few 
simple interviews with Iraqis and some readily available photographs 
and video can drastically correct the glaring errors in the Western 
media's representations of the occupation.

It is significant that this "exclusive" story came from the same 
publication that graced its cover with George W. Bush as the 2004 
Person of the Year for "reframing reality to match his design." That 
brazen advertisement for the most unpopular re-elected US president 
in history more than establishes the fact that the magazine has an 
agenda that has less to do with responsible journalism than it does 
with influencing public opinion. That Time set its clocks back four 
months in regard to Haditha, when evidence was readily available the 
day after the event, only supports the charge that it willingly 
participates in US state propaganda. Journalists should aggressively 
expose the truth that Time, like its acclaimed 2004 person of the 
year, also reframes reality to match its design. If journalists do 
not look at Time's story with a skeptical eye as an exercise in PR 
before jumping on the Haditha bandwagon, they too risk shortchanging 
the public's trust with a meaningless opportunity to participate in a 
PR crisis anagement campaign.

But the Haditha Massacre is far from being the only story that the 
Western corporate media has delayed covering. On May 4, 2004, 
journalist Dahr Jamail, one of the authors of this piece, wrote 
"Telltale Signs of Torture Lead Family to Demand Answers." The story, 
published by the NewStandard 
<http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/275>, was about a 
57-year-old Iraqi named Sadiq Zoman, who was detained at his 
residence in Kirkuk on July 21, 2003, when US troops raided the Zoman 
family home in search of weapons and, apparently, to arrest Zoman. 
Over a month later, on August 23, soldiers dropped Zoman off, 
comatose, at the main hospital in Tikrit. His body bore telltale 
signs of torture 
point burns on his skin, bludgeon marks on the back of his head, a 
badly broken thumb, electrical burns on the soles of his feet and 
genitals and whip marks across his back.

Jamail originally wrote the story in January 2004 and shared the 
information with over 100 newspapers in the US for them to report on. 
The story was conveniently ignored by the US corporate media until it 
was forced to run other torture photos from Abu Ghraib after 
journalist Seymour Hersh threatened to scoop 60 Minutes II by running 
his piece about torture in the New Yorker, in late April 2004.

Another example of this delayed "reporting" involved the report on 
the use of white phosphorous by the US military against civilians in 
Fallujah during the November 2004 assault on the city. Jamail 
originally reported 
a story titled "Unusual Weapons Used in Fallujah" with Inter Press 
Service. US corporate media ignored the story 
until the Independent in the UK ran his reporting about the atrocity. 
Even after this, aside from a few token editorials that mentioned 
this war crime, most major news outlets continued in their silence. 
This despite the fact that the Pentagon admitted to the use of these 
weapons, and residents of Fallujah like Abu Sabah had long since told 
a reporter, "They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a 
mushroom cloud, then small pieces fall from the air with long tails 
of soke behind them." He also described pieces of these bombs that 
exploded into large fires that burnt the skin when water was thrown 
on the burns.

There are countless other stories which the US corporate media has 
deliberately delayed from their reportage and which may never reach 
the wide US audience that they deserve. It is necessary to ask, when 
will the corporate media report on stories such as the following:

*November 19, 2004:* "As US Forces Raided 
a Mosque," Inter Press Service (At least four worshippers are killed 
and 20 wounded during Friday prayers when US and Iraqi forces raided 
Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad.

*April 19, 2004:* "US Troops Raid Abu Hanifa Mosque, Destroy Fallujah 
Relief Goods," The NewStandard News (Tanks and Humvees are used to 
crash through the gates 
<http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/174> of a mosque 
in the middle of the night. Foodstuffs stockpiled for Fallujah relief 
are destroyed, worshippers are terrorized, shots fired, copies of the 
Holy Qu'ran are desecrated.)

*December 13, 2004:* "US Military Obstructing Medical Care," Inter 
Press Service (US military prevented delivery of medical care 
in several instances and regularly raided hospitals in Iraq.)

*April 23, 2004:* "Fallujah Residents Report US Forces Engaged in 
Collective Punishment," The NewStandard News (Despite what Marines 
called a "ceasefire" in Fallujah, refugees trapped outside and 
Fallujans still under siege continued to face measures of collective 
punishment <http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/198>.)

*January 3, 2004:* "US Military Terrorism 
<http://dahrjamailiraq.com/weblog/archives/dispatches/000069.php> and 
Collective Punishment in Iraq" (Mortars fired 
at a farmer's home and land in al-Dora, near Baghdad. As Jamail wrote 
in the aforementioned web log at that time, residents reported, "We 
don't know why they bomb our house and our fields. We have never 
resisted the Americans. There are foreign fighters who have passed 
through here, and I think this is who they want. But why are they 
bombing us?" When the farmer was asked what happened when he 
requested that US military remove the unexploded mortar rounds, he 
said, "We asked them the first time and they said 'OK, we'll come 
take care of it.' But they never came. We asked them the second time 
and they told us they would not remove them until we gave them a 
resistance fighter. They told us, 'If yo won't give us a resistance 
fighter, we are not coming to remove the bombs.'" He held his hands 
in the air and said, "But we don't know any resistance fighters!")

*November 18, 2004:* "Media Repression in 'Liberated' Land," Inter 
Press Service (Journalists increasingly detained and threatened 
by the US-installed interim government in Iraq. Media were stopped 
particularly from covering recent horrific events in Fallujah. The 
"100 Orders" penned by former US administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer 
included Order 65, passed March 20, 2004, to establish an Iraqi 
communications and media commission. This commission has powers to 
control the media because it has complete control over licensing and 
regulating telecommunications, broadcasting, information services and 
all other media establishments. Within days of the "handover" of 
power to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004, the Baghdad office 
of al-Jazeera was raided and closed by security forces from the 
interim government. The network was banned initially for one month 
from reorting out of Iraq, subsequently extended to "indefinitely." 
The media commission ordered all news organizations to "stick to the 
government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal 

*February 14, 2005:* "Media Held Guilty of Deception," Inter Press 
Service (A people's tribunal held much of Western media guilty 
of inciting violence and deceiving people in its reporting of Iraq. 
The panel of judges in the Rome meeting of the World Tribunal on Iraq 
(WTI), an international people's initiative seeking to unearth the 
truth about the war and occupation in Iraq, accused the United States 
and the British governments of impeding journalists in performing 
their task, and intentionally producing lies and misinformation.)


Once a damaging, and most likely delayed, story hits the Western 
corporate media consciousness, concurrent stories may be released 
that distract the audience or dilute the potency of the main story. 
The handling of the Haditha story by corporate Western media is being 
managed similarly.

For example, on June 1, 2006, the BBC released a story detailing an 
alleged "massacre" at Ishaqi on March 15, 2006. Dahr Jamail had 
reported on the incident 
and had photographs posted 
nearly two months before. The BBC's story was suspicious 
<http://dahrjamailiraq.com/multi_media/ishaqi_bbc_6_1_2006.php>: not 
only was it delayed by two and a half months, but its timing was 
concurrent with a peak in media interest in the Haditha Massacre 
scandal. Meanwhile, the BBC's version of the Ishaqi story itself, 
while tragic, didn't seem to be much of a scandal at all. It was not 
surprising that the day after the BBC story "broke," ABC published a 
story entitled, "US Military Denies New Abuse Allegation at Ishaqi" 
reporting that the US Military had conductd an investigation and 
found that there was no basis for claims of a massacre at Ishaqi. The 
idea that the BBC could "break" a story and the military could 
respond, investigate and have a press release about it in time for 
ABC to report findings of innocence the next day is unbelievable if 
not outright ridiculous. This series of media events served primarily 
to distract people from the Haditha story and sow seeds of doubt in 
their minds about the Haditha Massacre. One would expect savvy 
journalists to recognize the set-up from a mile away.

On June 5, 2006, the New York Times provides us with two additional 
distractions - one involving paid Internet advertising and the other 
the front page of the paper.

If one did a Google search on "Haditha" on June 5th, one was 
presented with a story entitled "Disbelief Over Haditha": via 
Google's AdSense. The story is essentially a patriotic piece 
comprised of interviews with military individuals at Camp Pendelton 
on Memorial Day where the interviewees were granted a national 
audience in the Times and an opportunity to shower sympathy on the 
soldiers involved in the massacre and cast doubt on the event itself. 
The fact that the NYT is paying for this story to appear every time 
one types in "Haditha" in Google, and that this story unarguably 
serves to create doubts about the events that occurred in Haditha, is 
clearly a distraction from the horrendous fact of the massacre 
itself. A question to ask: why isn't the New York Times paying to 
promote a neutral piece about the Haditha Massacre rather than for a 
piece promoting blatant and exclusive American patriotism and denial?

But on this same day, the New York Times goes further in obfuscating 
the Haditha Massacre with distraction and doubt by swallowing whole a 
media event sponsored by the US military. Two reporters were flown by 
the US government to an excavated mass grave site in a military 
helicopter. The mass grave site was ostensibly created when Saddam 
Hussein's secret police murdered people connected with the Shiite 
uprising in 1991. Coincidentally, the number of people found in this 
site is 28, nearly the same number allegedly killed in the Haditha 
Massacre. The reason that the US flew the reporters to the site is 
clear; this story of a similar massacre at Saddam Hussein's hands 
distracts the public from the Haditha Massacre with the faulty logic 
of, "Well, if he did it ..." The New York Times did not feel the need 
to delay the story and published "Uncovering Iraq's Horrors in Desert 
Graves" on the front page merely two days after the journalists 
received a government tour of the site. After the kind of directed 
criticim of the role that the New York Times, via US state and 
military propagandists like Judith Miller and Thomas Friedman, has 
played in orchestrating Iraq War propaganda, one would imagine that 
reputable journalists would know better than to accept a US-sponsored 
media outing in Iraq. Reputable journalists should additionally 
wonder why the New York Times continues to accept this type of 
propaganda as news, while ignoring events such as the ones where the 
people of Fallujah dug mass graves to bury the thousands killed 
during the US assault of the city in November 2004.

But the mother of all distractions came on June 8, 2006, in the media 
spasm over the alleged killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We can be 
certain of this week's front page news. The ridiculous thing is that 
Zarqawi himself is perhaps more a US propaganda and media fabrication 
more than a real threat to the Iraqi people, let alone the security 
of the US. The story of Zarqawi served to simplify and put an 
al-Qaeda face on what is really a much more complicated situation 
regarding the resistance and rising sectarian tensions in Iraq. Now 
with Zarqawi's alleged death reported by the US Government, the media 
is swallowing the state's version of this story whole, despite all 
the fraud that we've seen in past US propaganda stunts, such as the 
Jessica Lynch "rescue," the Pat Tillman fabrication, the pulling down 
of Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square in Baghdad, and even the 
capture of Hussein himself. Will the death of Zarqawi slow the 
violent resistance in Iraq? No. Will the death of Zarqawi bring 
improvement n the electricity, water and medical infrastructure in 
Iraq? No. Will the death of Zarqawi bring stability and security to 
the Iraqi people? No. But is the death of Zarqawi a perfect 
distraction from the Haditha Massacre, total failure of the US 
occupation of Iraq, and the ongoing US military assault on the city 
of Ramadi? Absolutely. And his death conveniently distracts the 
corporate media from reporting that while the Prime Minister of Iraq 
appointed most of his cabinet last weekend, the position of Vice 
President Abel Abdul Mahdi, which had been set over a month ago, was 
the re-appointment of one of the most aggressive supporters of the 
economic agenda of the Bush administration in Iraq. An agenda which 
includes the implementation of corporate globalization of Iraq's laws 
and far, far greater US corporate control of Iraq's oil supply.


Perhaps the most interesting propaganda campaign we have seen in 
connection with the Haditha Massacre was a massive and 
well-coordinated effort on the part of FOX news and the right wing 
bloggers to discredit any allegations of war crimes simultaneously 
running down the entire "left wing" Internet. This campaign came in 
the form of fraudulent video testimony from Jesse MacBeth. In this 
video "testimony" Jesse MacBeth claims to have been a soldier in Iraq 
and to have committed a variety of horrendous war crimes. The video 
barely made a stir on the web since people questioned its validity 
within hours of its release. Yet, on May 24, 2006, mere days after 
the video's first appearance on the web, FOX news spun fabrications 
about the video 
calling it an "anti-war video" and claiming "that thing posted on the 
Internet [was] the #2 most cicked-on blog on the Internet in the last 
few weeks." #2 most clicked-on blog? One should question where FOX 
news had been able to obtain data on the most popular blogs - unless 
Dick Cheney's news favorite is even closer with the NSA than some 
might suspect. The data comparing traffic to various web sites 
certainly is not available to FOX to make such a claim. But the claim 
was false anyway. Jesse MacBeth never had a blog. The video was 
posted on a small, low bandwidth web site that could never have 
handled anywhere near the kind of traffic required for the #2 blog. 
In fact, three days before FOX's show, the web site publicly 
registered just over 1,500 hits - total - and the video wasn't 
available because the site couldn't meet even that meager demand. At 
5 pm pst, two days before FOX's wild promotion of the MacBeth video, 
a Google search on Jessie MacBeth revealed only two obscure 
references to the video at all. The video was in fact downright 
difficult to find anywhere on the web that day, let alone! the "last 
few weeks" before FOX's broadcast. FOX's deceptive promotion of this 
video and concurrent discrediting was deliberate propaganda to 
pre-empt any future or existing claims of war crimes, such as the 
Haditha Massacre, as well as an attempt to dismiss the entire left 
wing blogosphere and the "anti-war" movement. By far the greatest 
promoters of the MacBeth video were FOX news and the right-wing 


When an issue becomes too large and too damaging to control 
effectively, savvy PR professionals work to focus the public's 
attention on a single topic within the larger issue. The public 
thereby loses its view of the forest - the more damaging and larger 
issue - for the single tree of a selective topic or event related to 
the issue. This single topic needs to be controversial enough to 
capture a large audience, but sufficiently containable so that the 
particulars remain debatable and do not spiral out of control. We 
have seen this pattern of PR repeated over and over in the war. 
Examples include endless debates about the 500 prisoners illegally 
held in Guantanamo Bay, when the reality of the larger issue involves 
over 14,000 Iraqis detained without trail in both disclosed and 
undisclosed Iraqi prisons, as well as countless people held in secret 
US detention chambers in Eastern Europe. Another instance is the 
torture "scandal" at Abu Ghraib, where public attention was focused 
on sexual humiliation and inane ebates over the uses of dogs or 
water-boarding, when in fact there exists documentation of torture 
much more violent, systematic and widespread at US hands.

The Haditha Massacre is becoming the Spotlight event in the much 
broader and more volatile issue of US War crimes in Iraq. Haditha is 
by no stretch of the imagination an isolated incident. Journalists 
should work to broaden the reporting of Haditha to include a 
discussion of the much broader issue of International Law and War 
Crimes. This is, after all, a war where US Attorney General Alberto 
Gonzales described the Geneva conventions as "quaint," chemical 
weapons were used on a civilian population in Fallujah, violent 
torture continues at the hands of the US or its proxies, arbitrary 
detentions of Iraqis continue in violation of international law, 
hospitals have been intentionally destroyed and occupied, cluster 
bombs and flechettes have been deployed on dense civilian 
habitations, civilians are being killed daily, and journalists have 
been intentionally targeted by US troops. If we lose the forest for 
the trees on the issue of the Haditha Massacre, we risk participation 
in US propaganda.


Parallels are being drawn between what happened in Haditha on 
November 19, 2005, and the 1968 massacre in My Lai during the Vietnam 
War, in which US forces ruthlessly slaughtered 500 unarmed women, men 
and children in a small village. The most direct parallels will 
probably involve what happens legally to those chosen by the internal 
military investigation to take the blame for the event in Haditha. In 
the case of My Lai, a lengthy internal investigation was launched, 
and followed by a court-martial. Despite the massively brutal nature 
of the massacre, the cover-up, and the many people involved, in the 
end, one man, Lt. William Calley, spent roughly 3 years under house 

As we see the media spotlight on the Haditha Massacre, we can expect 
to see damage control measures through inventing scapegoats as was 
done in My Lai and Abu Ghraib. As in the Abu Ghraib torture media 
blitz, the military will not concern itself with loyalty for the 
troops that put their lives on the line daily. The military will 
readily sacrifice its Charles Graners and Sabrina Harmans while its 
superiors dodge and evade responsibility and the incident is made to 
look isolated. Haditha will be erroneously presented as the crime of 
a few "bad apples." With the massive cover-up by military superiors, 
countless other war crimes occurring in Iraq, and a US media 
landscape that has assisted in the cover-up, journalists need to do 
more than produce propaganda of the various trials and legal minutiae 
of the scapegoats identified to pay for the Haditha massacre. There 
are much bigger stories that await telling if the offered PR bait can 
be rejected.

*Conclusion: Is the US Corporate Media Complicit in War Crimes?*

According to principles set during the Nuremburg Trials and the 
UNESCO Charter, the primary responsibility of journalists during a 
time of war is not to incite the public to violence. In the case of 
the Haditha Massacre cover-up, we need to ask: Is the US Corporate 
Media complicit in the cover-up of this War Crime? By helping to 
cover up countless events like the Haditha Massacre, is the US 
Corporate Media inciting the public to violence by distorting the 
truth about the war in Iraq?

Already, stories from the US Media and "journalists" like Judith 
Miller who promoted the war with fabrications have failed the test of 
journalistic responsibility set by the Nuremburg Trials and the 
UNESCO Charter. But the US corporate media seems extremely resistant 
to responsible reform. How can the New York Times be satisfied 
publishing an unverified official account of what happened in Haditha 
presented by a military that has been caught in countless lies, such 
as the Pat Tillman fabrication and the invented Jessica Lynch 
"rescue?" Is the US corporate media prepared to challenge these 
government propaganda deceptions? Or are they going to remain engaged 
in aiding and abetting the war crimes of the US military and its 
commander in chief?

(c)2004, 2005 Dahr Jamail.
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