Heavy Medals

Three congressmen, two Democrats and a Republican, have introduced legislation that will recognize the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Good for them.

Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., Rob Simmons, R-Conn., and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, today introduced legislation to award veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan specific campaign medals for those wars.
“As a Vietnam veteran and former Marine, I know the incredible pride and sense of accomplishment our military personnel feel about how well they have done in our most recent wars,” said Snyder in a statement. “Whatever one thinks about the Iraq war, our people in uniform did what their country asked of them and they did it very well. Congress should recognize their accomplishments, and I am very pleased that Mr. Simmons and Mr. Reyes have joined me in introducing this legislation recognizing the accomplishments of our men and women in uniform.”
“The embattled soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company fought in Iraq to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and search out his weapons of mass destruction,” said Reyes. “Their ambush and imprisonment — and the experiences of all those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — should be adequately recognized. In past wars, millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have received combat medals that have held intense meaning for them. Soldiers who fought and are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve a medal of equal significance.”
Good for these congressmen. There legislation is in response to the Pentagon’s decision to award a single Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) medal to military veterans. Now let’s do something about military pay…

Update to Flag Flap

Update on the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

A knowledgeable friend who was in Kirkuk a few weeks ago wrote in to tell me that the Kurds — and other political parties such as the Turkoman Front — had been flying their flags since at least the beginning of August. Three days ago, when the Coalition Provisional Authority instructed the flags be taken down, Kurds pelted U.S. soldiers with stones. The CPA soon reversed itself, the reason for the previous entry.
As my friend wrote: “When I was there [in early August], the city was FILLED with Kurdish flags. It is truly unbelievable, and quite beautiful. Every single building had a Kurdistan flag flying. Many walls had Kurdish flags painted on them. Even the lightposts had Kurdish flags painted on them.”
The flagrant flag flying was news to me. I had heard from friends in the area that the Iraqi flag (minus Saddam’s post-1991 Arabic additions) had been flying since the early summer or so. In fact, when I was there in April on the day of Kirkuk’s liberation, there were many old-style Iraqi flags being waved about — in addition to the political parties’ flags. When did the Kurds and others begin putting up their own flags? I don’t know.
Anyway, the decision to let the Kurds wave their banner high in Kirkuk seems to be a reverting to the status quo, although one that I still think is decidedly shaky. Regardless of the validity of the Kurds’ claims on Kirkuk (and I think they’re pretty damn valid), flaunting the Kurdish nature of the city in the face of Turkey and its Turkoman brethren is asking for trouble.
Anyway, this flag lag reveals a source of major frustration for me. My sources communicate too slowly to allow for timeliness. Trying to parse Kurdish and Arabic English-language media over the net is a bit of a fool’s game. In short, there’s no good way to cover Iraq from New York, and I have no way to get to Iraq any time soon.

Kurds, CPA asking for trouble in Kirkuk

The CPA allows the Kurds to fly their flag over Kirkuk. Are they nuts?

Hoo boy. The Kurds in Kirkuk, a flash-point for Turks, Turkoman, Arabs and Kurds alike, have received permission from the CPA to fly the Kurdish flag in the city.

The coalition forces announced that Kurds are free to fly the Kurdistan flag in Kirkuk, wherever they want and no one has the right to remove the Kurdistan flag or object this Kurdish right.
The Kurds have told the coalition forces that the Iraqi flag does not represent Kurds and Kurdistan and it has caused many atrocities to Kurds.

Is the CPA nuts? When the Kurds liberated Kirkuk, the Kurdish police who immediately set up shop in the city wore the old Iraqi police uniforms so they wouldn’t give Turkey the wrong idea that the Kurds were about to bolt from Iraq and form an independent country. This was a wise move.
But this flag flying could be trouble. It’s an expression of Kurdish nationalism and seems to indicate a frustration with the slow pace of the federalization plan the Kurds came up with last year.
A friend of mine thinks the Kurds should have their own country, the Arabs should get the rest of Iraq and, for good measure, Turkey should be dismantled (!) and the southeast ceded to the newly independent Kurdistan. While I think the Kurds certainly _deserve_ their own state — God knows they’ve suffered through the decades — it’s unclear whether they can they have it? I’d guess probably not. A Kurdish state would be too destabilizing to the region. Turkey is absolutely opposed to an independent Kurdistan, and worries that if Kurds controlled the oil revenue of the Kirkuk fields, they would have the means to make an independent state viable. Thus, a declaration of independence — possibly brought on by nationalism stoked by such symbolism as the flying the Kurdish flag over Kirkuk — could result in a massive and immediate invasion from both Turkey and Iran in order to keep order, and to secure the Kirkuk and Mosul oil fields.
How many Kurds would die for such a future? How many Turks? No doubt, many on both sides are willing to die for either Kurdistan or Turkey, but the Kurds should ask themselves whether an independent state would be worth death and destruction.
THe flag over Kirkuk could enrage the Turkoman, who claim Kirkuk as their city in the same way that Kurds say it is theirs. The will likely say they need protection, prompting Turkey to growl about the need for intervention. (The Turks are using the presence of the Turkoman in Kirkuk as an excuse to maintain their leverage with the Americans on the Kurdish issue.) Support the Kurds too much in their independence dream, the Turks are saying, and we’ll use the plight of the Turkoman as a pretext to invade. Does the United States want to be caught in between the Turks and the Kurds? A NATO ally and a coalition member? When America is trying to convince Turkey to supply up to 10,000 troops to help pacify Baghdad? Is this some kind of brinkmanship the U.S. is playing with Turkey? Could the U.S. be using the Kurds to provoke the Turks, only to promise to reign them in if the Turks finally offer troops, betting Ankara won’t _really_ invade? If so, it’s a dangerous bluff.
The status of Kirkuk is, to put it mildly, delicate. Letting the Kurds fly their flag, while seemingly a small gesture, could have large consequences.

Army admits to using Journos in Iraq

Following on the curious story of Paul Moran, the U.S. Army is admitting it used the media for its own ends. In one incident, a tank commander rounded up journalists for what the article calls a “thunder run” through Baghdad to show Iraqi troops, whose resistance had stiffened thanks to Iraqi media manipulation, that the U.S. was in charge.

“I just wanted them to report what happened. If having the media report accurately is using them, then they were used,” said Col. David Perkins, who as commander of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade had organized the tank foray into Baghdad specifically to garner publicity for the U.S. advance.

Also interesting is the grousing by Marine Col. Glenn Starnes, who derides the current bad news out of Iraq as sensational and says its “because we’ve lost the embeds.” The problem, according to Col. Starnes, is that the military lost control of the story, not the situation.
Now, I can’t say for sure what is going on. I’m not there. _And that’s the problem._ If the military is admitting to ginning up propaganda stunts that get transmitted both back home and to the enemy, then how can the civilians on the home front trust what’s being reported? Is the situation in Iraq really as bad as it’s being reported? Or is it sensationalized as Col. Starnes charges? Granted, reporters do flock, vulture-like, to bad news, but I don’t think any thinking person would deny the military — and its commander in chief — has a vested interest in shaping the story, calming the home front down, bolstering a flagging support. And now they’ve admitted they’ve staged events to give certain impressions. (But we already knew that, thanks to the whole Jessica Lynch embarrassment.)
Maybe things in Baghdad really are OK, as SecDef Donald Rumsfeld said the other day, but how can we know for sure? It’s pretty obvious the military can’t be relied on to tell the straight truth — not that I totally blame them; for all my criticisms, I understand the need for media manipulation in today’s globalized and networked world. However, I don’t have to like it, approve of it, or participate. Hence, my solo trek to the war.
Backing up the independent spirit, Orville Schell wrote in an essay in Sunday’s _New York Times Magazine_ that foreign correspondents must becomes a “stateless people” in order to remain independent. By far the most telling example of this are the sentiments expressed by Mazen Dana, the Palestinian cameraman who was killed by U.S. soldiers last month when they fired on him with tank shells. (The official reason was that the tank commander thought his camera was an RPG.)

Dana represented those reporters whose allegiances are not primarily to nation, patriotism or ideology but to this new independent tribe of cryptic witness-bearing, the antithesis of embedded, producer reliant, flag-waving Geraldos. ”Freedom means to me to work free, no one bother you,” he told his C.P.J. interviewer in his game English. ”We film, and we show the world what’s going on. … My motive is to continue my work, even if it costed for me a lot of problems and a lot of injury … even if it cost me my life.”

It did, tragically, just as it cost 16 other journalists their lives. But that may be the nature of what’s required in future wars, in which the landscape has changed and national allegiances are liabilities — both for life and limb, and for the sake of truth.

What is evolving is a form of conflict not characterized by armies of ”good guys” and ”bad guys” or ”liberators” and ”oppressors,” one covered by journalists who come from or identify with one side or another. We have instead a new, almost gravityless, world of conflict in which the American military can kill journalists without causing great alarm and ”the enemy” can blow up U.N. aid missions and other ”soft” civilian targets without remorse. All that journalists have to steady them in this bad dream is grit and a stubborn refusal to serve any of the contending masters. What gives their work meaning is a defiant commitment to independence, accurate reporting and an almost existential belief that no matter how debased the world and politics become, the ”real story” somehow still matters.

Yet more on Paul Moran

If you thought the Paul Moran story on B2I was over, guess again. Sheldon Rampton, who’s work I based the original story on, weighs in with a pretty interesting rebuttal to ABC TV reporter Eric Campbell.

I may very well regret this, but in the interest of fairness and/or throwing gasoline on a dying fire, I’m reprinting Sheldon Rampton’s email to me — with his full permission — in which he responds to Eric Campbell, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporter who defended Paul Moran’s work in Iraqi Kurdistan. (And whose criticism led me to apologize.) Rampton is the co-author of “Weapons of Mass Deception,” which was the original prod to this whole Paul Moran imbroglio.

1585422762.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpgAs the co-author with John Stauber of “Weapons of Mass Deception,” I read with interest your recent apology about Paul Moran, the Australian TV cameraman who was killed in Iraq and who also worked for the Rendon Group. However, I think you have apologized excessively and prematurely.
In “Weapons of Mass Deception,” John and I describe Moran’s work for Rendon very briefly, but there is more to the story than we tell there. We decided not go go into further detail, partly because a more extensive telling didn’t seem to fit within the flow of that chapter. However, the facts in total are actually MORE disturbing than you would imagine from the brief mention that appears in our book. Moreover, I would challenge some of the statements that Eric Campbell made in his comments to you.
To begin with, Campbell refers to an “unending repetition of false claims” about Moran. However, Colin James, the reporter who first wrote about Moran’s relationship with the Rendon Group, continues to stand by his story. James works for the “Adelaide Advertiser,” and he learned about Moran’s work for Rendon when he attended his funeral. According to “The Bulletin,” an Australian news magazine, James sat down with “two close friends and two of Moran’s brothers” the day after the funeral:

They drank coffee and reminisced about their friend the altar boy, the sea scout, the livewire. The journalist was inquiring of the cameraman’s work in northern Iraq when one of the friends mentioned that Moran worked for a “shadowy” company. Shadowy company, wondered the journalist. Whatever could you mean?
The friend mentioned a name: the Rendon Group. He talked of Moran’s involvement in helping an Iraqi defector escape and Moran’s work with the INC. Moran, he said, had helped mobilise a popular uprising against Saddam Hussein’s regime and trained dissidents in the use of hidden cameras. There were the renowned “Paul Moran channels” � he seemed able to contact important people with little bother � and the “James Bond lifestyle”. In short, Moran had spent a decade, on and off, trying to destabilise Saddam Hussein’s regime for a company hired by both the CIA and Pentagon.
Perhaps Moran’s death wasn’t so random, after all. Perhaps this nice guy had a secret. Well, that’s how the journalist reported it, anyway. Colin James, an Adelaide Advertiser reporter with a 1994 Walkley Award, stands by his story. No one demurred while one friend spun tales about Moran, he says. James’ main fear during the interview was that his eyes might turn into saucers. He rushed back to the office and punched “Rendon Group” into an internet search engine. And his eyes grew wider.

The URL for the above story is as follows: http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/EdDesk.nsf/0/

It should be noted that Colin James did not intend his story to be any sort of attack or criticism of Moran’s work. To the contrary, it was headlined “Moran’s secret crusade against the tyranny of Saddam,” and it is full of laudatory comments about Moran by his grieving friends. You can read James’ story at the following URL:
http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/printpage/ 0,5942,6239116,00.html
Clearly, James’ account differs from Eric Campbell’s claim that Moran merely “did occasional audio visual production work [for] Rendon and other PR companies.” Moreover, James’ account is corroborated and amplified in a TV segment for the Australian news program Dateline. You can read a transcript of the program and view the video at the following URL:
trans.php3?dte=2003-07-23&title= Paul+Moran+Story

The Dateline program interviewed Zaab Sethna, a longtime spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress. According to Sethna, he and Moran began working together more than a decade ago, prior to Operation Desert Storm:

When I first met Paul we were working for the government of Kuwait. That ended after Kuwait was liberated by the Americans and then the Rendon group came back us to.
We weren’t employees we were on contract. The Rendon group came back to us and said, “We now have a contract to bureaucracy, to kind of do anti-Saddam propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi opposition.”
So, there was some radio, some television, there was like a travelling human rights exhibition around the world to show Saddam’s human rights violations. There was sending out press releases, kind of standard public relations. What we did�nt know, what the Rendon group didn’t tell us, was in fact it was the CIA that had hired them to do this work so we hired on…

Moreover, Moran’s relationship with the INC and the Rendon Group led to one of the high-profile international news stories that purported to document a covert Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction. As Sethna explains in the Dateline piece, Moran was chosen by the INC as one of only two reporters (the other was Judith Miller of the New York Times) invited to interview Adnan Ihsan Saeed al Haideri, an Iraqi defector who claimed that he had been used by Saddam to build specialised bunkers and other facilities for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons research. After Miller and Moran did their separate stories on al Haideri, he disappeared into a U.S. witness protection program. You can see some of the stories about Iraq that were based on al Haideri’s allegations at the following URLs:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/01/18/eveningnews/ main324937.shtml
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/worldview/story/ 0,11581,669024,00.html
As this example illustrates, it is inaccurate for Campbell to characterize Paul Moran as merely a cameraman. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also treated him as a reporter and allowed him to break a story that was of major importance in making the case for war with Iraq. To have this story reported by someone who has worked closely with both the Rendon Group and the Iraqi National Congress is a clear case of conflict of interest. Eric Campbell is merely blowing smoke when he tries to use the distinction between a “contract worker” and an “employee” as his basis for claiming that no such conflict existed. It is also striking that no one has been able to substantiate al Haideri’s detailed descriptions (including locations) of an extensive weapons program that included underground storage facilities. As Scott Ritter has pointed out, it would have been impossible for Saddam Hussein to destroy such facilities quickly without leaving a trace in the days preceding the war. There is a good chance that al Haideri’s claims about weapons facilities were the basis for Donald Rumsfeld’s claim on March 30 that “We know where they are.” But if we knew where they are, why haven’t we found them by now?
I think that it is also rather disingenous for Campbell to complain that it is now “too late to repair the damage” of allegedly “false claims” about Moran that have circulated on the Internet. Following the publication of Colin James’s story in the Adelaide Advertiser, Moran’s family and friends were asked repeatedly to clarify the facts about his life and work, and they repeatedly declined to do so, usually citing their grief as the reason for remaining silent. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also been very “economical with the truth” in its comments on the matter. For example, here is the URL to a transcript from ABC’s “Media Watch,” which comments on the Adelaide Advertiser:
The ABC response consists of calling Colin James’s story “a superficial piece” and then declining to comment further on grounds that it wasn’t “a story most of the Australian media followed” — a classic “non-denial denial” that fails to identify a single error of fact in James’s story while insinuating that something was wrong with it. And how can Moran’s people have it both ways? If the Colin James story wasn’t followed by most of the media, how can it have caused the intense grief and suffering of which they complain? And if they can’t be bothered to publicly correct any errors in the story, why should we take them at face value now when they complain that errors have gone uncorrected? And what errors specifically are they talking about? The only error that Campbell mentions in his complaint to you is that Moran worked on contract for Rendon rather than being an “employee.” That’s arguably an error on your part (not ours), but it’s a pretty nit-picky complaint, given the extent of Moran’s relationship with the Rendon Group.
As for the complaint that Moran is being villainized, John and I never characterized him as a villain, and neither did you. I think Campbell brought up that claim for the purpose of emotional intimidation. I have no doubt that Campbell liked Paul Moran and resents reading criticism of his work. I also have no reason to doubt that Moran believed in the cause of the Kurds, and he probably also believed in the work he did for the INC. People who work on public relations campaigns often internalize the beliefs of their clients. “Sincerity of belief,” however, is not a valid defense against the specific charge of conflict of interest, and by any reasonable interpretation, Moran crossed that line. To say that this is the case does not mean that Moran was a villain, and it is not intended to convey any disrespect for the dead. Out of respect for the LIVING, however, I think the public is entitled to know the full story of how we were sold the war on Iraq.

Sheldon Rampton
Editor, PR Watch (www.prwatch.org)
Author of books including:
Friends In Deed: The Story of US-Nicaragua Sister Cities
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You
Mad Cow USA
Trust Us, We’re Experts
Weapons of Mass Deception

There is obviously more to this story than a first — or second or third — glance shows. I’ll be working on this one over the next few days.

Story in CJR on weblogs, credibility and Jayson Blair

New article examines the terms of engagement between journalists and their readers.

Just a quick pointer. The _Columbia Journalism Review_ devoted its latest issue to alternative media. The chairman of NYU’s journalism department and, full disclosure, now my boss, offered Emerging Alternatives: Terms of Authority to try to make some sense of what’s happening in the world of journalism today. Back-to-Iraq.com is a central part of his article, but it’s more interesting because of his exploration of the interaction between the public and the reporter. It’s a good — if lengthy — read.