Media Manipulation and the Manufacture of Humanitarian Intervention

“Human rights have purely instrumental value in the political culture,” Noam Chomsky observed almost twenty years ago. “They provide a useful tool for propaganda, nothing more.” [1] Since early 2011 Western media outlets have given considerable attention to civilian casualties in Libya and Syria, thus playing an important role in conditioning public opinion for massive military operations that have, in the case of Libya, proven immensely harmful for civilians and beneficial toward forces that stand to profit handsomely from control of that country’s resources. A repeated claim has been that the Qaddafi, Assad, and other autocratic Middle Eastern regimes the US has seen fit to support over the past several decades have suddenly chosen to “crackdown” on their civilian populations, and thus the West must intervene on humanitarian grounds.

On March 19, 2011, while Libyans pointed to al-Qaeda forces as the principal cause of the chaos, President Obama invoked UN Security Council Resolution 1973, unilaterally calling for military intervention “for the protection of the Libyan people.” Blaming Qaddafi’s attempts to put down the Western-backed insurgency in Benghazi and Misurata “where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government”, Obama committed US and NATO forces to a ruthless bombardment of Libya supported by mercenaries within the country that would continue for seven months, leaving in its aftermath unmitigated turmoil and an almost complete loss of civil society that exists to this day. [2]

The US and its NATO front have reached a new nadir in their war of terror against sovereign nation states and democracy: the deliberate creation of “worthy victims” to justify “humanitarian” intervention on their behalf. In his close analyses of press coverage of US and US-supported regimes’ involvement in Indochina and Central America, veteran media critic Edward S. Herman explains how US mass media distinguish between “worthy” and “unworthy” victims of military violence. Worthy victims—those deemed by government and media as deserving of having their plights publicized have suffered at the hands of a designated US enemy, such as al-Qaeda, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, or the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. On the other hand, unworthy victims are granted no such public exposure as they have been injured or killed by US forces or one of their ostensible partners in crime that vary depending of US client needs and vicissitudes.

The creation and mobilization of worthy victims are not restricted to foreign war theaters, as the events of 9/11 demonstrate. Indeed, in the case of 9/11 worthy victims were placed on display for the launching of a gargantuan war of reprisal—a war that ironically can now only be sustained through the continued creation of worthy victims to persuade the public of the America’s earnest and forceful altruism.

Further, an essential element of rallying public sentiment with the presentation of worthy victims, Herman reminds us, is the absence of historical context in which facts are rendered meaningful. This is often the result when government or corporate press releases and sound bites outweigh journalistic fact checking, analysis, and honesty. [3]

Obama’s Intervention Authorization Board

The new age of humanitarian interventionism is heralded by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama and his establishment by fiat of the Atrocities Prevention Board. With the APB creating “worthy victims” becomes increasingly necessary to justify the United States and NATO’s continued global war of terror and domination. According to Presidential Study Directive 10 of August 4, 2011 laying the groundwork for the APB and completed in the midst of regime destabilizations across the Middle East, Obama identifies the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide as “a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” The document continues,

Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods.  America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.  Unfortunately, history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort. [4]

Headed by Samantha Powers, the purported human rights champion and National Security Council member who was an early advocate of military intervention in Libya [5] the APB will streamline the process by which US resources are committed to overseas intervention under the guise of improving the lives of other people. As an example, the body will, among other things, oversee “regional efforts to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army and apprehend Joseph Kony, including … sending military advisers to Central Africa.” [6]

The APB and the media production of “worthy victims” go hand-in-hand. Worthy victims of purportedly evil regimes must increasingly be created and paraded for public condemnation–typically represented as diplomatic crocodile tears–by whatever means necessary, including state terrorism carried out by US and NATO-backed paramilitary groups. Thus the wanton chaos initiated by al-Qaeda forces in Benghazi, Libya on the February 17, 2011 “day of anger” and the Libyan government’s crackdown is depicted in all mass-mediated reports as a spontaneous event evincing Qaddafi’s brutality and justifying humanitarian intervention to “protect and improve” the lives of Libyans.

US-NATO and al-Qaeda’s Creation of Worthy Victims in Libya

Again, the lack of context is essential for the construction of worthy victims which in this case was difficult to find outside of Obama’s March 19 rhetoric. Yet the context necessary to call into question Libya’s worthy victims might have been accessed in, for example, the research of Thierry Meyssan, who reported in Fall 2011 that al-Qaeda mercenaries were recruited in early 2011 by Saudi national security adviser Prince Bander Bin Sultan and the Central Intelligence Agency. Together they headed up an ambitious program to broaden recruitment of soldiers willing to carry out Jihad in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. As a result of their efforts a 10,000-man army was eventually gathered and unleashed in Libya in February 2011. [7]

Through the omission of such key information the Western press actively participated with the US government and its NATO facade in the willful creation of worthy victims that continues today with the destabilization of Syria.

The production of worthy victims to manipulate the public into believing in the targeted regime’s undesirability is essential for creating the rationale for and acceptance of rampant military aggression that is evident, for example, in NATO and al-Qaeda mercenaries’ decimation of Sirte in October 2011. The assault on the civilian target was made synonymous with the murder of Qaddafi himself, with both simultaneously celebrated in Western outlets as the last nail in the coffin of the “dictatorial” regime. After the complete decimation of Sirte and capture, sodomization, and extrajudicial murder of Qaddafi by al-Qaeda mercenaries, the ostensibly “progressive” Huffington Post lustily recounted Qaddafi’s last moments.

[H]e met his end Thursday alongside his last heavily armed supporters, cornered by revolutionary fighters in Sirte, the fishing village where he was born and which he transformed during his rule into a virtual second capital city. In the last images of him alive, a wounded Gadhafi staggered and shouted at fighters dragging him away after pulling him out of a drainage tunnel where he took refuge trying to flee Sirte with loyalists.[8]

Omitted from this and similar reports was essential contextual information that would have short-circuited the inflammatory coverage, such as Qaddafi’s plans for the inhabitants of Libya and the broader African continent—the creation of a vast irrigation program designed to prevent the desertification of Africa, an independent financial system for Libyans, a potential United States of Africa, and a wealth redistribution process financed through oil revenues. [9]

A key figure linking the destabilizations of Libya and Syria whose identity would further demystify the Western media’s exploitation of worthy victims is Abdel Hakim Belhadj, presently the NATO-installed military governor of Tripoli and commander of Libya’s new army. In most every Western media profile of Belhadj an important portion of his biography is dispatched to the memory hole: specifically, his comraderie in Afghanistan with Saudi billionaire and “9/11 terrorist mastermind” Osama bin Laden fighting against the Soviets, and his leadership of the bin-Laden-founded Libyan Islamist Fighting Group.

Belhadj went into hiding following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, was taken into custody by Western intelligence in 2004 and held in Libya. In 2005 the LIFG entered an agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood to oust Qaddafi, restore the constitutional monarchy, and make Islam the state religion. Belhadj moved to Qatar after his release from custody in 2010, returning triumphantly to Libya under NATO auspices in a Qatar military plane to become military governor of Tripoli and commander of the new Libyan army. [10] Along these lines, at present Belhadj is involved in directing al-Qaeda mercenaries that toppled Qaddafi to similarly subvert the Assad regime in Syria. Again, the creation of Syrian worthy victims–presently 10,000 and counting–to utilize as justification for humanitarian intervention (regime change) is essential.

The Continued Manufacture of Worthy Victims in Syria

Syria’s Assad regime is presently under a carefully-crafted and relentless propaganda attack employing aforementioned paramilitary groups, Western diplomatic channels, and major media that shamelessly employs the “worthy victims” motif to undermine the Syrian government’s credibility and mobilize public sentiment. The latest occasion was a massacre of at least 100 civilians in the Syrian town of Houla on May 25.

By this time the means by which worthy victims are produced should be familiar. A given incident is announced with shocking headlines accompanied by photos and videos, if available, and the outrage of US and NATO representatives that stand poised to intervene and prevent continued atrocities by the very forces they’ve directly or indirectly sponsored.

For example, the claims by anonymous human rights or “Syrian opposition” groups that the atrocities were committed by Syrian Army forces are routinely accepted by Western journalists without question, even though the overtly deceptive nature of such reports and their sources have been revealed. [11] In the case of the May 25 mass execution, a body count provided by the Free Syrian Army–the al-Qaeda-infused mercenary group whose constituents were involved in carrying out the Libyan destabilization–is referenced matter-of-factly in a Business Week story alongside estimates by UN observers. [12]

Further, press reports on the May 25 massacre predictably teem with indignation by the very figures or entities who stand poised to carry out and benefit from any number of humanitarian remedies now provided for under the Obama Administration’s APB. For example,

“The Security Council condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women and children and the wounding of hundreds more in the village of (Houla), near Homs, in attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood.”–Non-binding UN Security Council Resolution statement. [13]

“These acts serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality.”—Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council. [14]

“… heinous act perpetrated by the Syrian regime against its own civilian population”—EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. [15]

“It seems quite clear that the massacre in Houla was caused by heavy bombardment, by government artillery and tanks … The fact is, it is an atrocity and it was perpetrated by the Syrian government.”—British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant. [16]

“Rule by murder and fear must come to an end.”—US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.[17]

“We are now facing a genocide and mass displacement in Syria. Somebody must stop this regime from attempting to do more massacres in Syria.”—Fawaz Zakri, member of the main opposition bloc Syrian National Council.[18]

Again, major media’s coverage of the May 25 slaughter is consistent in its foregrounding of the Western diplomats’ uniform resentment and condemnation of the event that effectively stands in for public opinion. The specific downplaying or complete absence of information regarding the Syrian “rebels” outlined above alongside inflammatory deployment of the Houla worthy victims sets the stage for a subtle yet obvious denigration of Syrian officials’ claims that the attacks were the work of foreign-backed mercenary groups.

For example, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi–wholly outnumbered in the chorus of Western diplomatic fury–requested reporters not to jump to conclusions, arguing, with ample justification in light of the facts, that accusations against the Syrian government were part of a “tsunami of lies” by Western interests. “We categorically deny any involvement” in the slaughter, Makdissi stressed. Russia and China have also stood by Syria’s claims. [19]

Nor are the observations of Chinese or Russian diplomats given sufficient attention in much of the coverage. In a key report by Reuters emblematic of Western reportage laying the groundwork for intervention, the understandable skepticism of Syria’s allies is scarcely considered. Rather, it is a treated as a nuisance standing in the way of the US-NATO humanitarian prophylaxis. “Russia, which along with China has vetoed two Security Council resolutions calling for tougher action against Damascus, said the ‘tragic’ events in Syria deserve condemnation and called for a U.N. assessment of the violence there. Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Alexander Pankin said the circumstances surrounding the massacre were ‘murky’ and rejected the idea that the evidence clearly showed Damascus was guilty.” [20]

Exempting the broader historical context and now readily acknowledged information on the NATO-backed mercenary forces operating within Syria since early 2011 [21] Western reportage as a whole continues to act as a powerful source of disinformation for the creation of worthy victims and the attendant manufacture of public opinion predisposed to supporting “humanitarian” military solutions. Together they constitute a perversion of the democratic process and are a foundational element for the continued reckless, unfounded, and dangerous military interventions in the alleged defense of civilized principles now formally ensconced in Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board.

References

[1] Noam Chomsky, World Orders Old and New, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 133.
[2] Guardian, Libya Attacks Underway, March 19, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/mar/19/libya-no-fly-zone-live-updates?intcmp=239
[3] Edward S. Herman, The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda, Boston: South End Press, 1982, 165.
[4] Fact Sheet: A Comprehensive Strategy and New Tools to Prevent and Respond to Atrocities, White House Press Release, August 4, 2011, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/04/23/fact-sheet-comprehensive-strategy-and-new-tools-prevent-and-respond-atro
[5] Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Still Crusading, But Now on the Inside,” New York Times, March 29, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/world/30power.html?_r=1.
[6] Fact Sheet.
[7] Thierry Meyssan, “How Al Qaeda Men Came to Power in Libya,” Voltairenet.org, 7 September 2011, http://www.voltairenet.org/How-Al-Qaeda-men-came-to-power-in; Ashar Masood, “CIA Recruits 1,500 From Masar-e-Sharif to Fight in Libya, August 31, 2011, The Nation (Pakistan), http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Politics/31-Aug-2011/CIA-recruits-1500-from-MazareSharif-to-fight-in-Libya.
[8] Huffington Post, Muammar Gaddafi Dead: Libya Leader Maddened West, Captured, Killed in Sirte, October 20, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/20/muammar-gaddafi-dead-libya_n_1021843.html
[9] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, “Who Was Muammar Qaddafi? Libya’s Wealth Redistribution Project,” Global Research, October 27, 2011, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=27327
[10] Meyssan, “How Al Qaeda Men Came to Power in Libya.”
[11] Tony Cartalucci, “Syria: Game Over for Western Propaganda,” Land Destroyer, March 6, 2012, http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2012/03/syria-game-over-for-western-propaganda.html
[12] Flavia Krause-Jackson and Donna Abu-Nasr, “Syrian Massacre Draws Condemnation as Russia Backs Assad,” Business Week, May 27, 2012, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-05-27/international-community-opposition-condemns-syrian-massacre
[13] Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Louis Charbonneau, “UN Security Council Condemns Syria Over Massacre,” Reuters, May 28, 2012, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/05/27/uk-syria-idUKBRE84O0VQ20120527
[14] Krause-Jackson and Abu-Nasr, “Syrian Massacre Draws Condemnation as Russia Backs Assad.”
[15] Yacoub Oweis and Charbonneau, “UN Security Council Condemns Syria Over Massacre.”
[16] Yacoub Oweis and Charbonneau, “UN Security Council Condemns Syria Over Massacre.”
[17] May 27, 2012, http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/16236135
[18] Sky News, “UN in Emergency Meeting Over Syrian Massacre.”
[19] Donna Abu-Nasr, “US Joins International Condemnation of Syrian Massacre,” Bloomberg, May 27, 2012, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-27/syria-says-government-wasn-t-involved-in-houla-massacre.html
[20] Yacoub Oweis and Charbonneau, “UN Security Council Condemns Syria Over Massacre.”
[21] John Heilprin and Zeina Karam, “UN: Syrian Forces, Opposition Committing Crimes,” May 24, 2012, http://news.yahoo.com/un-syrian-forces-opposition-committing-crimes-085151542.html

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