Media Beat, June 30, 1993
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

Missiles Hit Iraq: History and Issues Ignored

Imagine waking up to this news report: "The CIA headquarters near Washington was struck by Cuban missiles last night, after Cuba cited 'compelling evidence' that the United States had plotted to assassinate its president.

"A statement released in Havana said the missile strike was aimed at 'sending a message' to the White House that plots against heads of state are unacceptable. Cuba called its action a 'firm and commensurate response' - and a 'success that minimized civilian casualties."

If Washington had been attacked, such bloodless coverage would have been inconceivable. But when Washington does the attacking - in response to Iraq's alleged plot to murder George Bush - such reporting is not only conceivable, but routine.

Here's some of what was missing from the coverage:

HISTORY: Our country's mainstream media buried the history of U.S. murder plots against foreign leaders - including close to 10 different CIA plots to kill Cuba's Fidel Castro. According to intelligence memoirs and U.S. government documents (including the Senate's 1975-76 Church Committee reports), the CIA plotted the assassination or "removal" of Mossadegh of Iran, Nasser of Egypt, Lumumba of the Congo, Sukarno of Indonesia and many other heads of state.

In 1963, Bill Clinton's hero, JFK, gave the green light to South Vietnamese generals to eliminate President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was then murdered. The CIA also helped overthrow several democratic governments by supporting military coups; in 1973, Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende, died in one of them.

Is there anyone sane who would justify missile assaults against Washington by any of these countries?

DISSENT: News outlets unanimously reported "bipartisan support in Congress" for President Clinton's action. What they didn't tell us is that Rep. Ronald Dellums, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a news release within hours of the missile attack asking how "an unrivaled superpower" can "presume to use unilateral military force to seek to vindicate the rule of international law." Dellums asked why the United States had not taken diplomatic action at the United Nations or legal action at the International Court of Justice.

Dellums asked good questions. Journalists provided no answers. Perhaps there's an obvious reason Clinton didn't take Iraq to the Court of Justice: In the 1980s, when that court convicted the United States of violating international law with its attacks on Nicaragua, the United States refused to recognize the court's jurisdiction. Washington might seem hypocritical to go to that court now.

"INTERNATIONAL LAW": To portray the missile attack as being in accordance with international law, the Clinton administration invoked Article 51 of the U.N. charter, which speaks of a country's "right to self-defense." Ironically, Washington last invoked this U.N. provision in 1986 when it tried to kill Libya's head of state in a bombing attack that missed Gadhafi but killed his young daughter.

National media offered almost no critical analysis of the self-defense claim, but any first-year law student knows the difference between self-defense (force used to prevent an imminent attack or stop an ongoing attack) and retaliation (force used to avenge a past assault). In national or international law, there is no legal "right to retaliate" and no self-defense right to "send messages" to deter future attacks.

CIVILIAN CASUALTIES: While U.S. news coverage didn't ignore the civilians victims, they weren't focused on ... or humanized. We didn't meet the victims' families or see their portraits. Instead, reporters continually recycled the administration's line that it tried to avoid civilian casualties - even though military planners know civilian deaths are unavoidable in such a massive missile attack.

And journalists did not seem to notice that the terrorism at the World Trade Center killed fewer civilians than U.S. "counter-terrorism" in Baghdad. Terrorism can be defined as committing violence against civilians to "send messages." Does the addition of the prefix "counter-" to "terrorism" exculpate those who send the bombs?

"ACT OF WAR": The words "act of war" were not uttered by national media, which preferred phrases like "sending Saddam a message," "retaliating against Hussein" or "punishing Saddam." The myth persists in U.S. media that terrifying missile attacks against a country may amount to little more than personal slaps against a hated head of state. The myth helps us lose sight of the humanity of ordinary Iraqis.

If foreign missiles were falling on us, in retaliation for some bloody deed of the CIA, we might better understand the horror of living in Baghdad when a foreign power decides to "send a message."

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