Bloggers gain protection from libel

Bloggers not liable for libel.

Hm. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Tuesday that bloggers can’t be sued for libel over information they republish.
“One-way news publications have editors and fact-checkers, and they’re not just selling information — they’re selling reliability,” Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told “But on blogs or e-mail lists, people aren’t necessarily selling anything, they’re just engaging in speech. That freedom of speech wouldn’t exist if you were held liable for every piece of information you cut, paste and forward.”
One of the main reasons for libel law is that one-way media, like newspapers or television, often don’t give the allegedly injured party a chance to respond as prominently or as fully as the initial charges were made. The libel lawsuit allows the plaintiff to show that not only is he not a wife beater, for example, but that the _Daily Times_, which reported that he was, didn’t do squat to determine the truth. The full rebuttal can really only happen in the courtroom, and the threat of monetary judgments against media companies keeps them honest. Well, relatively so. (I’ve _greatly_ simplified libel law here, by the way.)
But blogs allow full-blown conversations, assuming a blogger has integrity and allows the wronged party to respond almost as prominently and immediately to the initial charge, either via comments or published emails. Failing that, the low barrier to entry allows the alleged wife beater to start his own blog and rebut the accusations.
Still… While I suppose it’s good news that bloggers and other e-media are protected from expensive lawsuits — and I don’t have to shell out the bucks for expensive libel insurance — I don’t know how this will play in establishing credibility for the medium. I’m of mixed feelings on this, but maybe that’s just my old media background wagging its vestigial tail.
Why? Because I think independent journalists like myself and others _are_ selling reliability. When I was overseas, I made damn sure to get it as right as I could. If I didn’t witness the events with my own eyes and if I couldn’t get it confirmed by some other media or other sources, I didn’t run it. (I still have stories that I’ve not been able to confirm.)
No, I don’t want to be sued for libel. But I don’t know that it’s a bad thing that I have to stop and think about what I write. And if people know that bloggers have to stop and think, perhaps they’ll take them a little more seriously.
Anyway, just some late-night musings. Maybe I’m completely wrong. Flame on!

Bush to Iraq: “Who’s in charge here?”

Who’s in charge here? Bush goes looking for his WMD inspector.

Lord. Daily Kos has a jaw-dropping anecdote from _Time_ about President Bush’s attempt at not only finding WMD, but also finding Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. “Who?” Bush asked.

The comments on Kos’ site range from the anguished to the conspiratorial. I personally don’t think this little exchange was deliberately engineered to insulate Bush, as Reagan was in the 1980s during the Iran-Contra scandal, but instead I see this as another example of the guy at the top not “sweatin’ the small stuff,” as he might twang when he’s feelin’ particularly Texan and all that.
When will this man realize that he is the _president of the United States_ and he has responsibility — legal, moral and otherwise? Whether he was lying about WMD when he claimed they were an imminent threat or whether he was misinformed _doesn’t matter._ What matters is that people died because of the decisions he made. And since it looks like he was either a liar or ignorant (or both, since why should one have to choose?) _he is responsible._
As Harry Truman once famously said, “The buck stops here.” I think Americans need to stand up and say, “We need to stop Bush here.”
_Time_ goes on to report that after the Q&A in Doha, Bush charged CIA chief George Tenet to lead the hunt. Tenet, in turn, appointed David Kay, former U.N. weapons inspector and big-time Iraq hawk as his go-to guy in Iraq. As Reagan once famously joked, “My right hand doesn’t know what my far-right hand is doing.”

Iraqi Intifada Gearing Up

The Iraqi intifada hits second gear, and weapons of mass destruction fade ever further from the news pages.

The story now in Iraq is the growing resistance to the American occupation, not weapons of mass destruction. As casualty reports continue their grim drumbeat, the death toll rose to 201 American troops killed since the war started March 20, with the two G.I.s found dead yesterday part of five troops killed since Thursday. In all, 24 American troops have died in attacks since May 1, when President Bush declared the major hostilities over. (Sixty-three have died in non-combat related accidents with 39 of those deaths coming since May 1.) George over on Warblogging has a good summary of the recent deaths.
8390999.jpgSaddamists and criminals who cling to the spectre of Saddam’s return are likely fueling this resistance. Oh, and Islamic fundamentalists, foreign Arab fighters and Iraqi nationalists, as well.
“It was predictable,” said Iraqi political scientist Saad al-Jawwad [in the Guardian.] “To any man or any woman or anybody who’s living in despair what could he do? He has nothing left but to carry arms and defy the people who are here occupying his country and doing nothing for him or his family. Where is democracy? Nonexistent. Where is stability? Nonexistent. Where’s electricity? Where’s water?”
Meanwhile, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld denied the U.S. was facing a guerilla insurgency. “I don’t know that I would use the word,” he said, when asked if the occupation was becoming a guerrilla conflict. He noted that the attacks consisted of 10-20 men, with no large formations involved.
Uh, aren’t small, disorganized cadres of insurgents, making hit-and-run harassment attacks kind of the definition of guerrilla warfare? As Stratfor points out:

The more concentrated the force and the more centrally commanded, the easier it is to defeat. Successful guerrilla movements are inherently “disorganized” — if by organization, one means a command structure that is vulnerable to attack. They certainly don’t aggregate into large units and rarely need to coordinate attacks. It is the very lack of coordination that makes them unpredictable and difficult to defend against. They adopt a basic doctrine, such as attacking convoys, pipelines and electrical infrastructure. Then small units carry out these operations on their own initiative.

Blaming the attacks on criminals completely glosses over the fact that the attacks, regardless of who is making them, are inherently political acts; they are attacks on an occupying power.
Stratfor points out that if this is indeed the beginning stages of a guerrilla war, regardless of whether Rumsfeld says it is or isn’t, it looks like the United States has been ill-prepared to deal with it despite last night’s launching of a counter-insurgency operation, dubbed “Sidewinder,” aimed at capturing whoever is behind the growing attack on U.S. troops. Already, 60 people have been captured as a show of force.
in Washington, officials continue to insist there’s no central command to the burgeoning Iraqi intifada, but troops on the ground are convinced it’s organized. “Somewhere in Diala province, something happens every night,” said Capt. John Wrann [in the Guardian], referring to the province northeast of Baghdad where much of the operation was taking place. “It’s got to be a coordinated thing.”
But, like so many post-war events, Operation Sidewinder has an ad hoc feel to it. Not the operational details, which by nature have to be developed to respond to rapidly changing threats, but the very need for it. One gets the distinct impression that the U.S. never planned at all for the possibility of an insurgency.
Rumsfeld seems to be arguing that the lack of a comprehensive military strategy to deal with this isn’t a problem if it’s criminals and other no-goodniks making trouble, not guerrillas in the midst of American troops. Criminals are a problem for the police and society, not the military — or so the thinking at the Pentagon goes. (Which is ironic, considering the current blurring of the lines between the criminal and the military justice systems in the United States.)
But the bottom line is that Rumsfeld & Co. never planned for a guerrilla war because they listened too much to the Iraqi National Congress, which gave them ridiculously rosy scenarios. I seem to remember a war sold as a “cakewalk” — at least according to Sharif Ali, a spokesman for the INC, said on Aug. 8, 2002.
“All of Iraq has suffered for many years from the oppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and there is not a single person out there in Iraq that will fight for or defend him, and therefore, we have full expectations that they will turn against Saddam Hussein. And that is one message we are giving the administration,” Ali told the National Press Club that day.
And not to pull an “I told you so,” but, as I wrote back on Jan. 12, 2003,

Instead of a nice, clean occupation that results in the first Arab democracy … I predict the United States will have years of guerilla insurgency from nationalistic Iraqis (some of the fiercest nationalism in the Arab world), the dirty job of suppressing Kurdish and Shi’ite independence movements and Sunni power grabs, the problem of al Qai’da slipping across the borders (with the help of Iran and sympathetic Saudis) into the country to strike at American troops and meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. And don’t forget the resentment in the region that will occur when the United States begins exploiting the Iraqi oil fields for its own purposes.

The reality on the ground doesn’t gibe with Rumsfeld’s beliefs, and Stratfor sums it up thusly: “Rumsfeld and U.S. intelligence did not expect to be facing a guerrilla war following the fall of Baghdad, and there are no coherent plans in place for fighting one. Therefore, there is no guerrilla war.”
And if Rumsfeld truly believes this — and there is a precedent for Rumsfeld ignoring facts that don’t fit with what he believes — Stratfor worries that the guerillas have a massive advantage and that Rumsfeld is in fact buying time while he works on Plan B, whatever that is.
Concerning WMD — Remember Those?
All this focus on the Iraqi intifada has caused the Weapons of Mass Destruction, the raison de guerre, to fade. No one, it seems, in the United States particularly cares that they’ve not been found, and any scrap of evidence is increasingly lept upon with breathless hype that starts to sound more than a little desperate. The materials mentioned in the story found date from the before the 1991 Gulf War, when the Americans knew Saddam was working on nuclear weapons. The scientist who buried the barrel, Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, sat on this stuff for 12 years and never got the call to start up the ol’ uranium enrichment program. Why not, if Saddam were intent on bringing the civilized world to its knees and dominating the Gulf?
Before this war, I was convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction — not nukes, but likely biological and chemical arms. After all, he had them before, and used them against the Iranians and the Kurds in 1984-1988 (along with the compliance if not the blessings of the West.) And he had plenty of opportunity to develop them, with the United Nations weapons inspectors out of the country since 1998.
So I thought there was something there. But I didn’t think he had them in any quantity that rendered him an existential threat to the United States, nor did I think he would cooperate with Al Qa’ida. I didn’t think the threat from iraq rose to a level that required a war, and I didn’t trust the Bush administration to follow through with an enlightened “liberation.”
Well, as it turns out, people who thought this way have been proven catastrophically correct, with one exception: It looks like there were no weapons of mass destruction at all. Some evidence may still be found, of course, but it is increasingly obvious that any program to be uncovered was nowhere near the level of development the White House said it was. Can anyone of reasonably sound mind argue to me that weapons so well hidden or programs in a state of such abeyance could be an imminent threat to the United States?
So if there were no weapons, why didn’t the Iraqis say so and avoid an extremely unpleasant war, as former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix once mused? Well, actually, they did. All throughout the fall and winter’s diplomatic cage death match the Iraqis claimed they had nothing. And look what it got them: invaded.
War supporters usually say now that happy, liberated Iraqis were the reason for the war and that the WMD don’t matter. To which I reply: Stop changing the damn subject. There are obviously a fair number of Iraqis neither happy nor particularly liberated, so those post-war rationalization don’t hold much water.
So if there are no weapons of mass destruction and Iraqis increasingly nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” of security, surveillance and secularism are killing Americans troops, why are we in Iraq?

Some thoughts on vigilance

Why we shouldn’t “get over” the threat of terrorism.

Yesterday, I wrote about an alleged threat from Al Qa’ida to deal a “fatal blow” to America’s “media serpent.”
Some intelligent people wrote in and hoped that America would “get over the specter of terrorist threats.” I know they don’t mean that literally, but I think it’s important to remind people that regardless of how one feels about the Bush administration, there are are lot of determined people around the world trying to kill large numbers of Americans. There’s no way around that fact. Now, you can say the Bush Administration is dealing with terrorism all wrong (and I would agree with that statement, 150%.) You can also make a good argument that he’s making the situation worse. But that shouldn’t take away the need to be at least a little paranoid. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.
Yes, Al Qa’ida might blow up a hundred buildings, but never, ever forget that people — a large number of them, probably — would die. That doesn’t give the Bush Administration a blank check, of course, but don’t lose sight of some basic realities. Also, from a political standpoint, by “getting over” the threat of terrorism and saying Bush is the greater danger, when something horrible does happen (and I’m convinced something will, possibly soon,) we Bush opponents open ourselves to being soft on terrorism and play right into the White House’s hands.
Please don’t let opposition to Bush blind you to the fact that hundreds, thousands or more Americans might die horribly in a terrorist attack. Only by acknowledging the threat of Osama bin Laden and his goons, maintaining a heightened state of vigilance and continuing to oppose Bush’s policies will American be made a better and safer place.

“Fatal blow” to the “media serpent”?

Is a “fatal blow” coming to a major media outlet?

The Middle East Media Research Institute is reporting that Al Qa’ida chief of training Abu Muhammad Al-Ablaj issued a communiqué to the Kuwaiti paper Al-Watan saying that Al Qa’ida is about to deal a “fatal blow” to the “head of the international media serpent that serves the American whims and interests.” (Fox News? New York Times? CNN?) He also claims that Al Qa’ida has an independent brigade operating in Iraq.
This scares me to death, since a “fatal blow” could mean a major (radiological?) strike on Times Square in New York, around which most major media in the country have clustered—including the magazine I do work for.
[Ed. Sorry, I thought there would be more, but I’ve not had a chance to track down more info just yet.]