Saturday, November 26, 2005

But honestly, I mean, conspiracy theories...

Last month, you’ll remember, US troops in Afghanistan burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters and taunted locals as “lady boys” for not coming out to recapture the corpses, and did it all on Australian television. A military investigation has just cleared them, upholding their laughable explanation that it was done for reasons of hygiene with “no intent to desecrate the remains”. They may yet be charged with “failing to show local understanding,” although the whole point of the exercise was to implement local understanding in the form of crude psychological warfare – “You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned,” they sneered through loudspeakers. As in Abu Ghraib, Americans’ sociological interest in foreign cultures is in finding points of cultural sensitivity to exploit: fear of dogs, dislike of nakedness, taboos against physical contact with strange women, etc.

I haven’t written about Bush’s supposed plan to bomb Al Jazeera before now because I’m still not sure how seriously to take it, although the British government’s ferocious efforts to suppress, by threatening British editors with imprisonment, reports of this plot to suppress Al Jazeera’s reports through rather more robust measures does give it more credibility, as does Tony Blair scoffing comment, “But honestly, I mean, conspiracy theories...” However, the Sunday Times and the Sindy believe there are other things in the memo that the government wants kept hushed up, like details of the siege of Fallujah, Bush’s endorsement without consulting Blair of Sharon’s plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, and secret negotiations with Iran, which Britain hoped to persuade to rein in al-Sadr.

US military attacks on Al Jazeera are nothing new, and were, Robert Fisk points out, presaged by the 1998 bombing of Serbian tv, but my agnosticism comes from the fact that such a move inside Qatar would have been spectacularly self-defeating even for the Bushies: being expelled from the US base there would have seriously complicated the Iraq war. I’m sure the truth will come out in 3 or 7 or 15 or 53 years. The Sunday Times notes that the day before the Bush-Blair meeting in April ‘04, Rumsfeld accused Al Jazeera of “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable” reports that the siege of Fallujah was targeting civilians. My favorite bit was the phone interview they did a few days before that with Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Military Moron, claiming that the US had declared a unilateral cease-fire in Fallujah, which they ran with live pictures of the town being bombed by F-16s. One of the US conditions for ending the siege: the expulsion of Al Jazeera from the town. Later, they got their puppet government to expel it from the whole country. In April ‘04, the US also tried to get Qatar to censor the channel.

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