Archive for May, 2008

May 31, 2008

Cartoon for May 31

Who else will Barack Obama talk to without preconditions?

May 29, 2008

Cartoon for May 29

It happens after every natural disaster: images of Jesus survive. It’s a miracle–if you believe in a narcissistic God.

May 27, 2008


Why Does the Media Cover Up War Crimes?

In last week’s column I cited New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau as a prime example of what ails us: reporters who don’t report, a.k.a. journalists who love the government too much.

When Lichtblau found out that the Bush Administration was listening to Americans’ phone calls and reading their e-mail, he decided to hold the story. Instead of fulfilling his duty to the Times’ readers and running with it, he asked the White House for permission. By the time the NSA domestic surveillance story finally ran, 14 months had passed–and Bush had won the 2004 election.

Again, in a May 17th piece bearing the headline “FBI Gets Mixed Review in Interrogation Report,” Lichtblau is running interference for the government. “A new Justice Department report praises the refusal of FBI agents to take part in the military’s abusive questioning of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan,” begins the article, “but it also finds fault with the bureau’s slow response to complaints about the tactics from its own agents.”

“Abusive questioning.” “Harsh interrogation tactics.”

According to the Justice Department report, “routine” treatment of Guantánamo prisoners–witnessed by the FBI–includes “bending the detainee’s thumbs back and grabbing his genitals.” Military and CIA torturers chained detainees’ hands and feet together for as long as a full day, “left to defecate on themselves.” They terrorized them with dogs, stripped them and made them wear women’s underwear and subjected them to blaring music, freezing cold and searing heat.

Torture. Such a simple word. Why not use it?

Lichtblau’s “mixed review” appellation notwithstanding, the report by the Justice Department paints a shocking, uniformly negative portrait of a federal law enforcement agency whose officers react to appalling conduct with the Nuremberg defense–“I was just following orders.”

“Indeed,” reported U.S. News & World Report, “time after time, the report concludes that FBI agents saw or heard about numerous interrogation methods–from sleep deprivation to duct-taping detainees’ mouths to scaring them with dogs–that plainly violated their own agency’s code of conduct.” (Not to mention the Geneva Conventions.) Rather than report their scruples to someone who might raise hell and put a stop to the systemic torture at Gitmo and other U.S. concentration camps–i.e., the public–FBI agents turned to the criminals. Just like Lichtblau did with domestic spying.

“When [one] agent mentioned [a torture] incident to the general [at Guantánamo], the general’s response…was ‘Thank you, gentlemen, but my boys know what they’re doing.'” Ultimately the FBI, worried that agents could be charged with war crimes if they continued to witness the torture by CIA operatives and mercenaries, pulled its employees out of Gitmo and other camps. No one called a Congressman. None called a press conference.

FBI agents kept quiet–even when the CIA frat-boy-style torture tactics screwed up their interrogations.

In 2003 one FBI agent had “begin building a rapport” with Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al-Shihri, a Saudi citizen. Al-Shihri told the agent that female CIA agents had “forced to listen to the ‘meow mix’ jingle for cat food for hours and had a women’s dress ‘draped’ on him.” As usual, the agent turned to the torturer. “The agent said he confronted a female military intelligence interrogator who admitted to ‘poaching’ his detainee, but there was little more the agent could do. Following the incident, al-Shihri became uncooperative, and the agent said he never bothered to tell his superiors about the military interrogator’s actions.”

Turning a blind eye to torture. Watching passively as CIA goons destroy the trust of a possible material witness to terrorism. What “mixed review”?

As usual, the Newspaper of Record’s worst sins in Gitmogate are those of omission–the really weird stuff that could deprive the Administration of its few remaining supporters. “Buried in a Department of Justice report,” reported ABC News, “are new allegations about a 2002 arrangement between the United States and China, which allowed Chinese intelligence to visit Guantánamo and interrogate Chinese Uyghurs held there.”

Like their Tibetan neighbors, the Uyghurs of western China are victims of government oppression, including mass executions. Throughout the 1990s, U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia urged Uyghurs to revolt against Chinese occupation. After 9/11, however, the U.S. agreed to help China capture and torture Uyghur independence activists–as a quid pro quo for not using its U.N. veto to stop the American invasion of Afghanistan. (There’s more about the U.S. betrayal of the Uyghurs in my book “Silk Road to Ruin.”)

“Uyghur detainees were kept awake for long periods, deprived of food and forced to endure cold for hours on end, just prior to questioning by Chinese interrogators,” said ABC. “When Uyghur detainees refused to talk to Chinese interrogators in 2002, U.S. military personnel put them in solitary confinement as punishment.”

It’s a tale bizarre enough to make Rush Limbaugh blush: intelligence agents from communist China invited to an American military base, where they’re allowed to torture political dissidents in American custody, with American soldiers as their sidekicks. In light of China’s crackdown on Tibet during the run-up to the Olympics, it’s a tasty news tidbit. But it didn’t run in The Times–as far as I can tell, it only ran in one newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor.

At the same time journo-wimp Lichtblau was penning his “balanced” take on the Justice Department’s bombshell report, the U.S. government admitted that it has more than 500 children in its torture and concentration camps. More than 2,500 children have gone through U.S. secret prisons since 2002, including at least eight at Guantánamo.

I know a lot of right-wing conservatives. We don’t share much political common ground, but it’s hard to imagine any of them thinking the indefinite detention and torture of children, against whom there is no evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing, is anything other than the behavior of a monster.

That’s the U.S. government, especially after 2001–criminal, corrupt and psychotic. But few Americans know the full extent of “their” government’s misdeeds, because state-controlled media chooses not to report them.

If a man screams in a government torture chamber, does he make a sound? Not if the only one who hears him is an American reporter.


May 26, 2008

Ted Rall Radio Interview

KBOO radio in Portland, Oregon will air an interview with me about everything from Art Spiegelman to Azerbaijan tomorrow, Tuesday, May 27, from 9:30 to 10:00 am Pacific (that’s West Coast!) time.KBOO’s live audio stream can be tuned in on the web (through iTunes or Abacast) at

And there’ll be an extended webcast version of the show available on the KBOO website after the broadcast version airs. Just go to

May 26, 2008

Cartoon for May 26

George Bush killed more than a million people and got away with it. One of his soldiers shot a Koran for target practice, however, and he was prompted to formally apologize.

May 24, 2008

Cartoon for May 24

Drawn largely in response to Hillary Clinton’s victories in West Virginia and Kentucky.

May 22, 2008

Cartoon for May 22

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s quest for the Democratic nomination appears doomed, and I can’t say she didn’t deserve it after voting for the Iran war resolution (an act that proves she didn’t learn anything from her vote to invade Iraq). Still, one can’t help but feel sad about the message this sends to women.

May 22, 2008


May 20, 2008


How the New York Times Won 2004 for Bush

Should the news media be patriotic? When a journalist uncovers a government secret, which comes first–national security or the public’s right to know?

In the United States, reporters consider themselves Americans first, journalists second. That means consulting the government before going public with a state secret. “When I was at ABC,” James Bamford told Time in 2006, “we always checked with the Administration in power when we thought we had something of concern, and there was usually some way to work it out.”

In a new book about the Bush Administration’s efforts to expand the president’s powers at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches, the assumption that the press shouldn’t publish security-sensitive stories is so hard-wired that New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau accepts it as a given. But it’s a very American concept, and one that relies on the presumption that the U.S. government may make mistakes, but is largely a force for good. In other countries, the relationship between rulers and the press is strictly adversarial.

In “Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice” Lichtblau unwittingly relates a depressing parable–his seeming obliviousness to conflict of interest is a bummer–describing the nation’s most prominent newspaper’s willingness to keep secrets for government officials, who turn out to be (shocker alert–>) lying. It’s a cautionary tale about journalistic nationalism, one of many (Judith Miller, anyone?) in which the Times transformed itself into Bush’s political slut.

A whore, at least, would have demanded money.

In 2004 Lichtblau and fellow Times reporter Jim Risen learned that the National Security Agency was spying domestically, on American citizens. The NSA, which uses sophisticated voice-recognition software and computer programs to intercept phone calls, fax transmissions, e-mail and even bank wire transfers, was supposed to limit its activities to foreign countries. Illegally expanding beyond its Congressionally-authorized mandate, Lichtblau writes, “the NSA had essentially gained access to the biggest telecom ‘switches’ in the country, using the agency’s data-mining technology to comb the huge trunks carrying massive volumes of traffic, in order to zero in on suspected dirty numbers and eavesdrop on them without warrants.”

It was a big story. Or it would have been, had the newspaper chosen to run it when it learned of it.

Naturally, it triggered alarms in official Washington when another Times reporter called the NSA for comment. Soon the agency’s director, General Michael Hayden, was calling the Times, asking it to censor itself. “Don’t run this story,” Administration honchos begged.

“The Times,” Lichtblau says, “had been through many contretemps in its long history over whether or not to publish newsworthy stories involving sensitive national security information and, despite the vitriolic charges from its critics, it was never a decision the paper made with reckless abandon. In more than a few cases, it has decided not to publish anything at all.”


For over a year, Lichtblau explains in an apparent attempt to justify himself and his employer to conservative critics, Times editors and reporters met repeatedly with White House officials to ask them why they shouldn’t spill the beans on the NSA’s domestic spying operation. That the program was illegal was pretty obvious. (Congress acknowledged as much by later voting to retroactively legalize it.) So was the lameness of the government’s argument against making the NSA’s activities public.

Declaring the Bush Administration “unpersuasive,” Lichtblau said: “To me, it was never clear what Osama bin Laden and his henchmen would learn–confirming, really–that the United States spy services were listening to them.” But the White House kept calling meetings, playing for time. Meanwhile, every morning, the Times came out without important news that its readers would care about–that their phone calls and e-mails were being monitored.

“Bush and ten senior advisors in the White House and the intelligence community would make personal pleas not to run the story in a series of meetings spanning 14 months, beginning in October of 2004 weeks before the presidential election,” Lichtblau says.
Weeks before the presidential election. You’d think the timing of the Administration’s pleas for self-censorship might have tipped off the Times’ editors that they were being used in order to ensure that Bush and the Republican Party won the election. Moreover, Lichtblau wrote, “We had reason to suspect that the White House was actively misleading us and that its impassioned pleas might have less to do with concern over national security harm than with the legal and political fallout that the story might trigger.” Gee, you think? And yet the paper’s editors refused to print it.

The Bush Administration, he argues, “had not yet suffered the kind of crippling body blows to its credibility that it would [by late 2005].” Yeah, well, not really.
Remember, this was late 2004. The U.S. had invaded Iraq in March 2003, a year and a half earlier, but the WMDs had never turned up. The paper’s own editorial page had been ranting on and on about the Administration’s perfidy. Credibility? What credibility? Besides, it wasn’t as if Bush was the first First Fibber. All presidents are serial liars. So are their subordinates. Why would the Times, or anyone else, believe them about anything?

As I read on, I kept thinking about an exchange I’d had with a fellow American reporter in Afghanistan in 2001. “Are you going to the press conference?” he asked me. A local warlord, part of the incoming Karzai regime, was about to give an update on the battle for Kunduz. “What for?” I asked him. “To get news,” he replied. “A press conference,” I shot back, “is the one place where you’re guaranteed not to learn anything. It is a vacuum-packed, perfectly news-free zone.” I spent the morning at the bazaar interviewing refugees, figuring they had less reason to lie than the Afghan official.

Anyway, the internal debate over whether to run the NSA domestic surveillance story came to an end in December 2005. Lichtblau, Washington bureau chief Phil Taubman and executive editor Bill Keller went to the White House, where they met with Condi Rice, General Hayden and a few other characters whom, if there’s any justice, will soon be in prison. This was followed by another rendezvous between the Big Dog himself, George W. Bush, and Taubman, Keller, and publisher Arthur Sulzberger. (Despite the obvious conflict of interest–readers who pay newspapers for the truth vs. government officials paid to lie–there’s no evidence that they considered refusing these meetings.) Deciding that they had been played long enough, Sulzberger and his lieutenants green-lit the piece.

By then, of course, Bush had won a second term. To some extent, he owed his victory to the “liberal” New York Times more than to Karl Rove. The Times, Extra! Magazine reported later, had also sat on another late-breaking “October Surprise” story that might have caused enough voters to change their minds to vote for Democrat John Kerry in 2004. That suspicious rectangular bulge in Bush’s jacket during his debate with Kerry, a NASA scientist who is an expert on such things had told the Times, was indeed an electronic transmitter that allowed Bush to receive remote coaching from Rove or someone else.

“A Times journalist, who said that Times staffers were ‘pretty upset’ about the killing of the story, claims the senior editors felt [it] was ‘too close’ to the election to run such a piece,” reported Extra!.

The government doesn’t tell the truth to reporters, even on “background.” Why shouldn’t the media tell the truth to the American people?


May 19, 2008

Cartoon for May 19

Based on a strange, but true, story. Bush killed their kid. They sued the T-shirt guy.