Friday, April 26, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 7

More on the Boston bombings

More about Boston. First, I'll note that the number of people reported injured has risen to 260, some of them quite seriously - but all are expected to survive, so the death toll will remain at a tragic but happily low three.

So how did what I said last week stand up to a week's additional knowledge? I got some stuff right and some stuff wrong. For one thing, the lack of a clear political motive in the target and the absence of any claim of responsibility suggested to me that this was not an act of foreign terrorism and so I suspected it would turn out to be a case of right-wing terrorism.

Okay, I was wrong: While it wasn't foreign terrorism, neither was it right-wing terrorism. Latest reports say that the accused brothers - Tamarlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - quoting the as usual "unnamed US officials," were "motivated by religion" or, more exactly, the motive was a desire "to defend Islam from attack," particularly in the cases of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those wars have been the motive for other attacks or attempted attacks by Muslim fundamentalists. Let's not forget that those wars have been responsible for the deaths of at least tens of thousands of noncombatants - civilians - including large numbers of children and that a Pentagon report a few years ago concluded, quoting, "Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies." Such terrorism, that is, is what's classically called "blowback" or, more colloquially, what goes around comes around.

I have to interject something here: Assuming that's correct, that that is the motive, then we should not say the motive is their religion or that they were motivated by their religion. When right-wing Christians firebomb abortion clinics or even murder staff, we don't routinely identify them as right-wing Christians or Christian terrorists, in fact often we don't refer to their religion at all, and we describe their motive as "anti-abortion" or, particularly stupidly in this light, "pro-life." We certainly don't normally refer to their religion as the "motivation" for their crimes. If we do that there, we should do the same here.

Getting back to what I said last week, I think I was right about something else: I recall saying, I know I intended to say, that this would turn out to be the actions of one or two or three people, that it was not part of some larger international or even domestic plot. Which, again if current reports prove to be true, was right: Officials say they acted alone and do not seem connected to any larger groups.

And I was right, unfortunately, about a third thing: I said I hoped it was a right-wing attack because such attacks have less impact on our civil liberties than those from other causes and sources. Already the attack is being used by the right-wing in just that way.

The Obama Justice Department decided to delay giving Dzhokar Tsarnaev a Miranda warning under the "public-safety exception" carved out of the Fifth Amendment by the Supreme Court in 1984. That exception allows police to "briefly" question someone arrested about threats to public safety before being told of their right to remain silent. A classic example would be "Are you carrying any weapons" or "Where did you through the gun." Here, it might be something like "Are there any other bombs planted." The term "briefly" has never been defined but is generally understood to be up to 48 hours.

But that, of course, was not enough for the reactionaries. So we had a collection of right-wing bozos - Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Peter "Bagman for the IRA" King demanding that Tsarnaev be treated as an "enemy combatant" because "We do not want this suspect to remain silent." Another GOPper, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, echoed the idea. They didn't say exactly how they were going to make sure he did not remain silent; perhaps they figured that New York state Sen. Greg Ball did it for them when he tweeted last Friday night "Who wouldn't use torture on this punk?"

So, that is, they want Tsarnaev, who is a naturalized American citizen who was arrested on American soil for acts committed inside the US and has no known connection to outside groups, to be stripped of his rights, labeled an "enemy combatant," and perhaps tortured. Constitution? What Constitution?

However, to its credit - credit where it's due - the administration resisted the right wing demands on this point. Tsarnaev has been read his rights and will be tried in a civilian court.

Still, that has not prevented the right wing from using the bombing on another front, using it to ramp up xenophobia - that is, fear of foreigners - and taking the occasion to target immigration reform.

There were multiple examples, but the real action was in the Senate, where the Judiciary Committee was holding hearings on a proposed immigration reform bill that the right wingers are trying to slow down or shut down. There, Sen. Chucklehead Grassley declared that yes, the Boston bombings are relevant to immigration legislation because "If these two individuals used our immigration system to assist their attacks, it's important to our ongoing discussion." Recall that Dzohkar Tsarnaev came to the US with his family 10 years ago at the age of 9 seeking asylum from the violence in Dagestan and Chechnya.

Grassley also objected to Committee chair Pat Leahy's statement that the bombings shouldn't be used to "derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people." Grassley fumed that he didn't accuse anyone of using the "Norsetown" [sic] killings as an excuse for gun control and no one is being criticized for pointing to the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas to push for more safety inspections.

Maybe that's because there actually is a connection between gun control and Newtown and between safety inspections and the Texas explosion, you twit.

He later blew up when Sen. Chuck Schumer said that some were using the Boston bombings as an excuse for delaying or blocking an immigration bill.

"I never said that!" he literally shouted. Schumer said he didn't mean Grassley, he meant unnamed others, but a more accurate response would have been "yes, you did. You didn't use those words, but that is precisely what you said."

So, a mixed bag on my predictions. But there is something else I want to raise here: the media coverage of the bombing. I said last week that for the right-wing, the only possible culprits were Muslim terrorists. But frankly, it wasn't only the right wing. Much of the media, while putting up a false front of impartiality, displayed a clear bias well before any facts were established.

For one example, on MSNBC we had Martin Bashir, talking to Roger Cressy, former White House counter-terrorism official and now a "terrorism analyst" for the network. Bashir began by talking about Chechen terrorism, based entirely on the fact that the brothers are from the region. Cressy pushed back, saying "I'm reluctant to call this Chechen terrorism" because - well, because we don't know. Bashir kept pushing - what was Tamarlan Tsarnaev doing when went to Russia in 2012? Haven't people gone abroad, gotten training, and then come here to commit terrorism? Who did Tamarlan Tsarnaev talk to in Russia who may have led to the bombing? Cressy kept saying we don't know enough to draw conclusions. Finally, Bashir gave up.

He then immediately turned to foreign correspondent Richard Engel, and despite all that his own expert had just told him, Bashir went on about Chechnya and how Chechen terrorists are extra, extra bad. Engel happily went along with the hints that the Boston bombing was a Chechen and/or al-Qaeda operation and they went on for eight and a-half minutes of innuendo and fear-mongering.

Then there was NPR, which had a story on its website about "homegrown terrorists." It was not, of course, about the Timothy McVeighs or the bombers of abortion clinics or the KKK or William Krar any other right-wing fanatics, no, of course not. It was about, quoting, "extremists who grow up in America and can fly below the radar of law enforcement." It was about the foreign enemy within!

The article then referred to the Tsarnaev brothers and said, quoting, "they are exactly the kind of recruits that international terrorist groups such as al-Qaida are looking for," and did it without even bothering with the pro forma acknowledgement that no motive had been established and no ties to any foreign group shown.

The New York Times did its part. These are the first three paragraphs of a story on Sunday, April 21 - the first three paragraphs, in full:
With one suspect dead and the other captured and lying grievously wounded in a hospital, the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings turned on Saturday to questions about the men’s motives, and to the significance of an overseas trip one of them took last year.

Federal investigators are hurrying to review a visit that one of the suspected bombers made to Chechnya and Dagestan, predominantly Muslim republics in the north Caucasus region of Russia. Both have active militant separatist movements. Members of Congress expressed concern about the F.B.I.’s handling of a request from Russia before the trip to examine the man’s possible links to extremist groups in the region.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died early Friday after a shootout with the police in Watertown, Mass., spent six months in Dagestan in 2012, and analysts said that sojourn might have marked a crucial step in his alleged path toward the bombings.
That's how it starts. Five paragraphs later, the article says this:
The brothers’ motives are still unclear. Of Chechen heritage, they had lived in the United States for years, according to friends and relatives, and no direct ties have been publicly established with known Chechen terrorist or separatist groups.
So after spending the first three graphs going on about "the overseas trip" to Chechnya and Dagestan and how those are "Muslim republics" with "active militant separatist movements" and about Tamerlan Tsarnaev's "possible links to extremist groups" and how his "sojourn" there "might have marked a crucial step" toward the bombings, in the eighth graph it gets around to saying for the first time that we don't know the motive for the bombings and the brothers had no demonstrated ties to terrorist or separatist groups. That is how our "paper of record" did it.

And we wonder why people are misinformed.


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