Double standards have always been with us, but I wonder if they haven’t reached new heights, along with hypocrisy, in the age of the “war on terrorism,” “humanitarian intervention,” and the proclaimed “responsibility to protect” (R2P), to be implemented by global interventionists who have institutionalized torture (or made it one de facto legitimate policy option), “extraordinary renditions” to torture regimes, the intensive use of drone bombings, including “double-tap” actions, and who have declared the entire earth a U.S. “free fire zone”?
These same drone organizers and apologists also speak almost daily about “our values” as they terrorize and kill, but see themselves as defending human rights and democracy and engaging in “self defense.” George W. Bush attacked Iraq in alleged (but completely contrived) fear of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” but as soon as it became inescapably evident that this was a fraud, and that many thousands had already been killed based on this lie, Bush was allowed to be striving for freedom and democracy in Iraq, but for unknown reasons neglecting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and shrinking it in the homeland!
But his opening war-gambit-lie was salable to the New York Times and its colleagues, and to the intellectuals and pundits with influence. For example, on October 9, 2002, the saintly Elie Wiesel said on the Oprah Winfrey Show that “Anything is better than war. I am not for war. But we have to disarm that assassin”—namely Saddam Hussein, who, according to Bush, Cheney and Judith Miller, and hence Wiesel and Winfrey, possessed these WMD. Thus “War is the Only Option,” in the title of Wiesel’s subsequent commentary in The Observer (December. 22, 2002). It helps being a saint to be able to get away with such a blatant contradiction based on a lie.
After the WMD gambit was exhausted we had the gang quickly accepting the new “democracy promotion” objective in Iraq, because Bush said that was so, and was “risking all” in pressing on with it, as asserted by Michael Ignatieff in his New York Times classic, “Who Are the American People to Think That Freedom is Theirs to Spread” (October. 7, 2005). George Packer, writing in the New Yorker back in 2004, agreed with Ignatieff that “it’s clear that, however clumsy and selective the execution, Bush wants democratization to be his legacy. So when his critics, here and abroad, claim that his rhetoric merely provides cynical cover for an American power grab, they misjudge his sincerity and tend to sound like defenders of the status quo.” (“Invasion versus Persuasion, “ New Yorker, December 20, 2004.). So Packer, like Ignatieff, knows that Bush was sincere, but he is not a defender of the status quo and does suggest that we should “hold him to his own talk.”
The “terrorism” double standard has long been institutionalized, with establishment spokespersons internalizing the propaganda rule that we and the Israelis only “retaliate” to the terrorism of enemies and targets. The establishment pundits have been able to swallow a lot, and play dumb on a large scale, to stay with this usage. Thus Luis Posada Carriles, a member in high-standing of the Cuban refugee terror network, guilty of numerous terrorist acts, including the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 with 73 resultant deaths, walks the streets of Miami today and is beyond extradition, whereas the United States is working hard to get Julian Assange extradited to this country for prosecution for whistleblowing on U.S. diplomacy and terrorist-war criminal acts. (His most notorious disclosure was of a U.S. helicopter team in Iraq remorselessly killing civilians and journalists on the ground, a revelation that clearly threatened U.S. national security.)
It should also be noted that while killer Posada is free, the Cuban Five infiltrators of Cuban terrorist groups in Florida who were seized in the United States in 1998 while trying to gain information on terrorist plots against Cuba, and shared some of this information with the FBI, have been imprisoned since 1998, their counter-terrorism efforts transformed into espionage.
These manifestations of a gross double standard, hypocrisy, and serious injustice, are ignored by the mainstream media and don’t interfere with the rule that the United States is fighting a “war on terror.”
The most recent display of the terrorism double standard is the State Department’s September 2012 removal of the Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), from its list of designated terrorist organizations. The MEK worked earlier on behalf of Saddam Hussein and sometimes killed Americans, and reportedly has collaborated with the Israelis in assassinating Iranian scientists, but with the escalated U.S.-Israel low-level warfare against Iran, MEK can be moved into a new, more positive “freedom fighter” category. This has other amusing features. For one thing, MEK has very large amounts of money that it has spent in organizing protests and lobbying in Europe and the United States, the funding suspected to come from the freedom-loving Saudis and other governments hostile to Iran. Even while on the terrorist list, MEK was able to organize, propagandize and lobby in the United States and elsewhere in the West. It has also paid large sums to U.S. notables like Howard Dean, Tom Ridge, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Ed Rendell to write and speak on their behalf. No prosecutions are in prospect for “material aid” to terrorists in this case.
One of the wonders of the war on terror is its massive use of airpower, increasingly drone warfare, and the U.S.’s ability to get this accepted in the West as a response to terror and not a case of terrorism itself. This has, of course, been accompanied by complementary apologetics: notably, that military targets are carefully chosen so that any “innocent” civilian deaths are not deliberate but unintended “collateral damage.” But if civilian deaths are predictable even if the specific victims are not known, the killings are deliberate and war crimes. Furthermore, the claims of care in targeting, and concern, and denials that civilian killings are sometimes quite acceptable, are false, but are taken as true by patriotic pundits and intellectuals (see my “Tragic Errors In U.S. Military Policy: Targeting the civilian population,” Z Magazine, September, 2002).
The long U.S. use of depleted uranium and cluster bombs is testimony to an anti-civilian bias in military operations, as is the long tradition of “we don’t make body counts.” The Iraq war of 2003 was begun with a “shock and awe” bombing program that was openly designed to terrorize the leaders and population and encourage surrender. The same was true of the 1999 escalation of the bombing of Serbia and increased orientation to attacking civilian facilities. But no matter: The United States does not terrorize, by patriotic and power definition.
It is also notable that studies which focus intensively on terrorism from the air are ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media. The fine book by Beau Grosscup on Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethnics of Aerial Bombardment (Zed Books, 2006) was not reviewed in any mainstream source in the United States. The mainstream may be preoccupied with “terrorism,” but writings on the subject have to stay within the party-line orbit to get a hearing,
A real problem has been presented to the media by the September 2012 report produced jointly by a Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law team entitled Living Under Drones, and based on over 130 interviews carried out in Pakistan. The authors claim that the vast majority of victims of the drone war attacks are civilians, not “militants”—only 2 percent of those killed were identified as known “militants.” The Stanford-NYU authors explicitly deny the official claims of precise surgical strikes by the drones: “This narrative is false.” They also report that an important feature of the drone war is the regular use of a second missile strike shortly after the first strike—the combination euphemistically labelled a ”double tap”—killing many local onlookers and rescue workers coming to the aid of the first-strike’s victims. These secondary strikes “have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.” The Director of the charitable organization Reprieve is quoted in the report as saying:
An entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies…. Their way of life is collapsing… kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meeting or anything that involves gathering in groups.
This sounds like a really dirty war OF terrorism, but while this is suggested in the London Independent (Jerome Taylor, “Outrage at CIA’s deadly ‘double tap’ drone strikes,” September 25, 2012), the New York Times had not yet mentioned the existence of the Living Under Drones document at the time of writing (September 30, 2012). This is not news fit-to-print rapidly and with prominence, as happens when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserts that the government of Bashir Al-Assad would have ”blood on its hands” if it “refuses to allow this life-saving aid [that Clinton promises] to reach civilians” (Steven Lee Myers, “Nations Rebuke Leader of Syria as Assault Rages,” NYT, February 25, 2012. p 1; see also the long NYT article of March 3, 2012 on “Syria Blocks Red Cross From Taking Aid to Devastated Rebel Enclave in Homs”).
This brings us to some other double standard marvels. Iran is under steady attack and threat because of its alleged non-cooperation with the West and its UN instrument, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in their efforts to get Iran to terminate its nuclear program. Meanwhile, the United States can refuse to carry out its NPT promise to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, and Israel can build up a sizeable nuclear weapons arsenal with Western collusion outside of any IAEA jurisdiction, and both can threaten Iran on a daily basis, in a double standard that would be hard to surpass.
Similarly, Israel can ethnically cleanse Palestinians on a systematic basis for decades without any penalty from the “international community” which, in fact, gives consistent support to this immoral and illegal process. Only when a U.S. and Western target is accused of ethnic cleansing, as with Serbia in the 1990s, do the Western moralists, officials and their UN agents get aroused and move into action.
The hegemony of the double standard, and its partner, hypocrisy, flows from concentrated power, and their joint success in this modern age that, according to Steven Pinker, is one of the “Long Peace,” “recivilization” and the rise of our “better angels” after an unfortunate period like the 1960s. It is a marvelous illustration of the human capacity for self-deception.
• First published in Z Magazine, November 2012
Edward S. Herman is an economist and media analyst with a specialty in corporate and regulatory issues as well as political economy and the media.
by Edward S. Herman