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Weapons of Mass Destruction Syndrome and the Press
[Analysis] How does one prove a negative?
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2007-06-24 13:00 (KST)   
April 5, 2006. Congressman Ron Paul (Texas) makes a speech "Iran: The Next Neo-con Target." (1) He reviews the scenario of how the invasion of Iraq was prepared in the U.S. "We demand that Iran prove it is not in violation of nuclear agreements, which is asking them impossibly to prove a negative," Paul observes.

Mohamed El Bareidei, the IAEA Director, Paul explains, has supported Iran's contention that it has been in compliance with its rights under the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) IAEA safeguard agreement.

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What have we learned from the experience in Iraq, Paul asks?

Four years have passed since the U.S. government mobilized much of the U.S. press to create the 쐓pin which provided a pretext for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The U.S. government accused Iraq of having 쏻eapons of Mass Destruction." How could Iraq prove they didn셳 have any of a whole catalogue of things that they were accused of having? There was no way for Iraq to disprove the accusations. Thus much of the U.S. press, in cooperation with various U.S. government officials, used the impossibility of proving a negative to create a media environment in which the U.S. government could falsely claim they had a justification a war against of Iraq.

Fast forward to April 18, 2007. The same U.S. Congressman셲 comments seem like a lone voice of reason during a hearing in a U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee about how to craft financial sanctions against North Korea and Iran.(2) In this hearing, the witnesses and some of the Congressmen discuss what they claim is the great success that the sanctions against North Korea have been. They review how the U.S. Treasury Department froze $25 million of North Korea's funds in a bank account at the Banco Delta Asia (BDA), a bank in Macau China. The action by the U.S. Treasury Department against this bank resulted in North Korea losing access to the international banking system. David Asher, one of the witnesses, tells how he was part of a team carefully planning such consequences of an action taken by the U.S. Treasury Department under Section 311 of the U.S. Patriot Act. (3)

Asher acknowledges that he was involved in instigating investigations against North Korea in a whole variety of law enforcement entities.

"Sanctions are an act of war," Congressman Paul inserts into the hearing. (4) They mostly harm innocent citizens, he points out and they are used by governments preparing the population of their country to accept a war. The Chair of the hearing wonders aloud whether such sanctions hurt the people of a country versus whether they bring regime change.

This hearing and other U.S. government activities demonstrate that the U.S. Treasury Department셲 action against Banco Delta Asia was a carefully prepared political act calculated to accomplish a political end. (5) It was not an unintended consequence of some legitimate legal process. It was not the result of a judicial process which gathered evidence, made allegations, presented its evidence and rendered a decision by an impartial judge based on the evidence. Instead the Treasury Department was the accuser and the judge and never presented any evidence. The accused was automatically declared guilty. Even after the guilty verdict there were few avenues available to challenge the whole procedure. The blacklisting of the Banco Delta Asia and of North Korea from the international banking system was done with no due process procedure.

It is therefore all the more revealing to see the many press accounts which accepted that North Korea was guilty of crimes and was unreasonable in turning to its sovereign right to self defense. Similarly it is revealing to see how most of the U.S. media treat Iran's right to develop and operate nuclear enrichment technology for peaceful purposes. Zbigniew Brzezinski, appearing on the Charlie Rose show on Friday, June 15, acknowledged that under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran has the right to the peaceful development of nuclear technology and hence to do nuclear enrichment for nuclear energy production.

Yet much of the U.S. media, to the contrary, pronounces Iran guilty of producing nuclear weapons though there is no proof that this is true. It is left to Iran to prove it isn't true, something which would not be possible for any country to do.

Just as the New York Times and other U.S. media unswervingly presented the accusations against Iraq in the run up to the Iraq war, so similar press reports abound accusing North Korea of illicit activity and Iran of preparing to produce nuclear weapons. It is up to the accused to disprove the accusations, despite the fact that no evidence has been presented to support the accusations.

There is no way to prove a negative. That is why the legal system is premised on the obligation of the accuser to present the evidence of a crime and the accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. In the reversal of these norms, however, the accuser makes unsubstantiated allegations and much of the mainstream media repeats the allegations, without any investigation to determine if there is any factual basis for the allegations.

Thus much of the U.S. media has become complicit in carefully preparing the court of public opinion against the countries the U.S. government has labeled as part of the so called "axis of evil."

Judith Miller was a New York Times reporter who reported unsubstantiated allegations accusing Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction. When she was confronted with the proof that her stories were false but were used to create a pretext for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, she responded that she wasn't an intelligence agent who was able to determine what was true or false. A journalist, however, has an obligation to present the public with accurate information, contrary to Miller's protestations to the contrary.

What is the significance of such drumbeats for war being orchestrated so freely? With regard to the Banco Delta Asia accusations, there are a few exceptions to the general acceptance by much of the media of unsubstantiated allegations. Publications like the McClatchy publications, OhmyNews International, and some blogs like China Matters have provided articles challenging the dominant media barrage. (6) Similarly, there are a few publications presenting the right of Iran to peaceful development of nuclear energy under the NPT and the fact that there is no proof for the allegation that it is developing nuclear weapons. These publications include Seymour Hersh's articles in the New Yorker Magazine and Herb Blix's recent book "Target Iran: The Truth about the White House셲 Plans for Regime Change" (Nation Books, 2006) .

Why haven't more of the U.S. media devoted resources to investigate the actual circumstances of the allegations being so freely and doggedly circulated by U.S. government officials to back up their political objectives against North Korea and Iran?

The group known as the White House Iraq Group, a group created inside the White House itself, conducted a campaign to spread the case for an attack on Iraq and to discredit critics of its pro war propaganda. (7)

The growing online community of citizens in the U.S. challenged the White House and mainstream media셲 drumbeats for war. The online community was a force, though not strong enough to prevent the war against Iraq.

The strategy of the White House to involve the mainstream media in the process of creating a false set of allegations in order to prepare the population for a war has been exposed in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Historically and currently in the U.S. there is a need for a press that challenges such government propaganda campaigns and provides the needed questioning and debate on vital issues of public policy. Part of the vision inspiring the birth of the Internet was that the Internet would make possible more political participation of the citizens in the critical issues of the day. (8) Whether the online community of netizens can succeed in building the kind of investigatory press so critically needed in the U.S. is a challenge still to be met.
(1) See Paul's speech

(2) House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, April 18, 2007, Isolating Proliferators and Sponsors of Terror: The Use of Sanctions and the International Financial System to Change Regime Behavior

(3) "North Korea's $25 Million and Banco Delta Asia" [Opinion] Another abuse under the U.S. Patriot Act (2001)

(4) Webcast of April 18, 2007 hearing (17:30)

(5) "Behind the Blacklisting of Banco Delta Asia": Is the policy aimed at targeting China as well as North Korea?"

(6) McClatchy publications: See for example: China Matters

OhmyNews International: See for example here and here.

(7) "Heat Is On for CIA Leak Probe Prosecutor": With his Grand Jury term about to expire, Washington is wondering if Patrick Fitzgerald will indict

(8) "Citizen Model for the Study of the Internet"
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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