Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Documents, Interviews Suggest Pentagon Lying About Iraqi Propaganda

U.S. military officials in Iraq were fully aware that a Pentagon contractor regularly paid Iraqi newspapers to publish positive stories about the war, and made it clear that none of the stories should be traced to the United States, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper also conducted interviews with former employees of Lincoln Group, the Washington-based contractor hired to place the stories.

The documents and interviews (surprise, surprise) conflict with assertions by military officials in Baghdad and Washington.

When the propaganda effort was first revealed, the Pentagon distanced itself from the Lincoln Group's activities, suggesting the company violated its contract when it masked the origin of stories placed in the Iraqi press. On Dec. 2, Pentagon officials told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-VA) that all of the published materials were supposed to be identified as originating with the U.S. military but that identification was occasionally omitted by accident.

Remember, when caught doing something wrong, it's always a good idea to blame someone else. When questions arose, for example, that the Bush White House had conducted "covert propaganda" by distributing undocument video news releases to local television stations in swing states, one of President Bush's three responses was to suggest that it was the television stations' responsiblity -- not the government's -- to identify the material as provided by the government.

Last week, Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, changed the military's official talking point on the Iraqi propaganda, saying that a preliminary assessment found that the Army was "operating within our authorities and the appropriate legal procedures."

We'll soon find out whether military spin trumps what the Times discovered. A Pentagon investigation, led by Navy Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, could be completed by yearend. Van Buskirk is also investigating charges that the U.S. military paid Iraqi reporters to produce positive newspaper and television reports.

***

What did the Times discover? The documents and interviews paint a very clear and consistent picture -- suggesting the military had to know that it was engaging in propaganda efforts, a violation of military ethics.

According to the documents and interviews, Lincoln Group employees worked closely with soldiers from the Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad to turn "storyboards" written by soldiers into Arabic news stories and advertisements. A high-ranking Army officer closely monitored the operation, and Lincoln Group documents show that military officials gave the company clear guidelines about which stories to place in Iraqi newspapers.

Iraqi runners employed by Lincoln were used to transport the stories to newspapers and to pay editors amounts ranging from $50 to $2,000 for publication.

Lincoln Group employees kept detailed records of how much they paid to get the stories published. Current and former employees said they were told by military officers that the stories were not to be identified as U.S. government products.

On one occasion, a storyboard was accidentally published in English in a Baghdad newspaper. Military officials in Baghdad dressed down Lincoln Group employees because the error suggested that the material was American in origin. The employees promised it would not happen again.

Lincoln Group records also show that its Iraqi employees often warned their American bosses that the manner in which the news stories were distributed to the Iraqi press was leading some Iraqi editors to suspect U.S. government involvement.

***

The propaganda effort -- one of several the Pentagon is trying in the Middle East, and one of several involving Lincoln Group -- has sparked a backlash among some senior military officers in Iraq and at the Pentagon.

They rightly argue that violating one of the basic tenets of our democracy -- a free press -- could destroy the U.S. military's credibilty in Iraq.

2 Comments:

Anonymous ash said...

And don't forget my favorite example of "blame someone else" - namely, the Mission Accomplished banner. It wasn't Rove's idea, see, it was...it was...it was the military's.

That's the ticket.

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just another day in the Bush Kingdumb.
The Bush Administration has been using the excuse of 9-11 and national security to discredit our military, our constitution and the very institution of Democracy, positioning itself as the only real threat to national security.
The drumbeat for impeachment will intensify in 2006.

12:42 PM  

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