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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/16/09

Hiding Torture Photos is Just Another Tactic in the 'Information War'

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Message Ron Fullwood

IT"S just another guess, but those torture photos President Obama's going to fight the release of must resemble the propaganda shots al-Qaeda puts out - probably complete with hoods and captors brandishing their weapons over the heads of their hostages. That must be why they're being withheld. They must make America look just like the ones we like to call terrorists.

Richard Holbrooke, our envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the other day, alluded to the reasoning behind the control of these images which sounded very much like the last administration as they defined their view of the state of their 'war on terror'.

Holbrooke said about our efforts in Pakistan: “We are developing a strategic communications plan to counter the terror information campaign, based in part on a strategy that proved successful in Iraq . . . This is an area that has been woefully under-resourced," he said, "The strategic communications plan - including electronic media, telecom, and radio - will include options on how best to counter the propaganda that is key to the insurgency’s terror campaign.”

“Concurrent with the insurgency is an information war. We are losing that war,” he said. "We can't succeed, however you define success, if we cede the airways to people who present themselves as false messengers of a prophet," said Holbrooke. "We need to combat it."

There was another 'information war' waged from the Bush/Cheney White House which also sought to influence opinion toward their own opportunistic military advance across foreign territory. It was in December 2005 that the stories surfaced of Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations firm, which was being paid over $100 million by the Pentagon to plant administration propaganda in the Iraqi news media; and also of an effort to pay Iraqi journalists to write favorable stories about the occupation.

In fact, the NYT pointed out that the Government Accountability Office had found that year that, despite the legality in America of spreading propaganda outside of the U.S. "the Bush administration had violated the law by producing pseudo news reports that were later used on American television stations with no indication that they had been prepared by the government."

Then-defense chief Rumsfeld addressed public criticism in the press and elsewhere of his Iraq propaganda program in a speech, as having a "chilling effect" on the Pentagon departments which work to get their opinion into the public debate.

"In Iraq, for example, Rumsfeld said, "the U.S. military command, working closely with the Iraqi government and the U.S. embassy, has sought nontraditional means to provide accurate information to the Iraqi people in the face of aggressive campaign of disinformation. Yet this has been portrayed as inappropriate; for example, the allegations of someone in the military hiring a contractor, and the contractor allegedly paying someone to print a story—a true story—but paying to print a story. For example, the resulting explosion of critical press stories then causes everything, all activity, all initiative, to stop, just frozen. Even worse, it leads to a chilling effect for those who are asked to serve in the military public affairs field."

The "chilling effect" that Rumsfeld attributed to scrutiny of his unlawful attempts to manipulate the media coming from Iraq, was in fact, exactly what the administration wanted to hold over any independent reporting coming from and about Iraq as they dangerously characterized everything coming from U.S. government and military officials as "truth," and casting the rest of the reporting and analysis unconnected to their administration as some dangerous distortion directed by their "enemies."

The Bush administration and their Pentagon were able to carry on their propaganda enterprise with impunity, despite the "chilling" scrutiny. It was revealed by the AP that an internal memo from Dorrance Smith, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, about her new efforts to organize and manage an office within the Pentagon which would provide U.S. propaganda on Iraq 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week to coincide with the anticipated release of the Petraeus' report on their 'surge' in Iraq.

Will the information "war" which is to be waged this time around by the Obama administration (and likely still, the Pentagon) be another assault on the material and opinion which is independent of their own manipulated reporting? In the shadow of the efforts by the Bush administration to control American's perceptions of their increasingly unpopular occupation there's a queasy feeling hearing talk again of an 'information war' to promote and defend their 'long war' in the region.

Consider Bush's initial justification for his own propaganda. He complained regularly about "images of violence" from our television screens to the degree that they would, themselves, influence Americans away from his occupations. Yet, Bush couldn't change our perceptions of the bloody tragedy of his invasion and (escalated) occupation by merely changing the subject.

What is the message then that the Obama administration is sending to the populations in the way of our grudging advance against 'al-Qaeda' or the 'Taliban'? 'Sit still while we rummage and wreck and kill wherever we choose, whenever we choose?'

'Sit still while we round-up and arbitrarily detain (and interrogate) your countryfolk by the thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq - holding them indefinitely in prison, without charges, counsel, or trial - defining everyone we engage with our military offensive as 'militants' or enemies?'

In announcing the decision to fight the release of the torture photos in court, President Obama spoke of the negative effect he believes the images would have on the perception of our country's troops in the field, while, at the same time, downplaying any speculation they might be graphic and grotesque.

"I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib, but they do represent conduct that did not conform with the Army Manual," Mr. Obama said in a press appearance Wednesday.

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Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book 'Power of Mischief' : Military Industry Executives are Making Bush Policy and the Country is Paying the Price
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