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Shock and Awe: The Politics of Redaction

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Message Jayne Stahl
Given that the 2003 occupation of Iraq started with a military operation known as "shock and awe," a maneuver characterized by "overwhelming decisive force," "rapid dominance," "spectacular displays of power" which, taken separately or combined, are intended to "paralyze" the enemy, and its will to resist, (Wikipedia) it seems appropriate, in light of the CIA intervention in yesterday's New York Times Op-Ed piece, "What We Wanted to Tell You About Iran," to point out that a campaign previously intended for use on the battlefield has now morphed into an assault on an independently owned newspaper, as well as the concept of a free press. Ostensibly, the executive branch is no longer satisfied being merely the Commander-in-Chief, but has now crowned itself the Redactor-in-Chief of the news in America.

Lest you happened to miss the article by Flynt Leverett, a former member of the National Security Council, and Hillary Mann, a former Foreign Service officer, while you were out Christmas shopping, please allow me to point out several salient details. For openers, the information they intended to impart dealt with relations between the U.S. and Iran which had already been highly publicized, "extensively reported in the news media" in spite of which a draft of the article had to find its way first into the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency's Publication Review Board, and from there to the White House where it endured numerous massages by the president,or what may simply be called redactio ad nauseum.

The original Op-Ed commented on some findings of the Iraq Study Group with respect to Iran, according to the authors who state that, while CIA officials could find that nothing which would compromise national security had been divulged, "they had to bow to the White House" in its demands for deleting substantial portions of the piece.

Notably, at least one of the authors of the Op-Ed had already put close to two dozen articles through the C.I.A.'s "prepublication review process," thereby allowing the Agency, and/or their Review Board, to edit what they had written. This is the first time I, personally, can recall hearing writers who are no longer associated with governmental agencies having to get clearance in order to publish opinion pieces. What compelling irony, too, to think that a president who flaunts the fact that he doesn't read newspapers has taken it upon himself to choose which parts of a printed piece must be excised.

And, on a day when the United Nations Security Council unanimously chose to play Iraq Redux, and impose sanctions on Iran in an effort to pressure Tehran to halt its nuclear enrichment program, and in light, too, of the Pentagon's announced plan to redeploy more warships in the Persian Gulf, closer to Iran, what better time to remember these, and other, spectacular displays of power intended to stifle dissent.

For anyone who has yet to see what an article looks like when it has been redacted, or censored, I invite you to look at the above-referenced NYT opinion piece, or feast your eyes on a reasonable facsimile:

"Last December, XXXX XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXXXX X, while I was out and about XXXXXXXXX, he said that XXXXXXXX, but frankly, I had never seen XXXXXXXX and, from what I heard XXXXXXXX, intermittently they......."
so on, and so forth...

So, ladies and gentlemen, if a former ambassador to the United Nations, Joseph Wilson, had found his article in the hands of the Redactor-in-Chief, we might never have heard of Valerie Plame nor, for that matter, of the actionable role played by I. Scooter Libby, and the unsavory efforts of Karl Rove, and the vice president to put a silencer on a malicious and deliberate leak. Clearly, the word "classified" is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder, and more a matter of political opportunism than national security.

On this Christmas Eve, to my mind, a shock and awe campaign against a free press, in America, is no more acceptable in the battlefield of ideas than in the theatre of war. What's more, in an age when the news can no longer keep up with the news, there are just too many holes in that ceiling, and no amount of trying to exploit authority in order to manage public opinion will work to keep the truth from seeping out.

Why it is that the C.I.A. would confess that they felt obliged "to bow" to the White House when virtually every generation of American that has landed on these shores has fought to protect and defend our freedom is beyond me. Didn't we do enough bowing in the old country which is among the many reasons why, at much inconvenience and peril, our ancestors boarded the Mayflower. They didn't come here to witness more religious intolerance, only this time directed at Muslims instead of Puritans; they didn't come to here to sit back, and watch a simulated monarchy transform a major vehicle for information into a propagandist puppet show.

Oh, and in case Santa happens to be out there listening, I've finally decided what I want for Christmas; I want a free press back, as well as leaders that recognize and respect our right to know.

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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