Just about every government in the Middle East has been ticked off at the reporting by Al-Jazeera. This fact, more than anything else, indicates that Al-Jazeera is doing a lot right.
I have made no secret of my respect for Al-Jazeera and its ability to dominate the Middle East media market with its reporting. I have appeared on several Al-Jazeera shows and was recently interviewed in a major production underway on the subject of “rendition.”
The forthcoming Al-Jazeera production on rendition is a dicey one for its chief producer, Yosri Fouda — a brilliant Egyptian senior Al-Jazeera investigative reporter based in London — because there are usually three types of nations involved in the “rendering” of detainees: American CIA planes that allow transiting from or through other countries, to a final destination — that is frequently in the Middle East — including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, and Egypt.
Though I don’t know how that show will turn out, the productions will reveal practices America engages in with the complicity of other national governments, particularly Middle Eastern governments. I think that this is high quality reporting and runs counter to those who think that Al-Jazeera is a flack for any particular Arab interests.
I have also invited Yosri Fouda to speak about his knowledge of al Qaeda terrorism at three events: Al Qaeda 2.0 in December 2004, at the “Terrorism, Security and America’s Purpose” Conference in September 2005, and recently at the New America Foundation in October 2005. (video here of NAF event) In October, I also worked with producers at C-Span’s Washington Journal to get Fouda on that show. After each of these sessions, I received calls and correspondence from American national intelligence officials who congratulated me on organizing sessions with Fouda whom they found forthcoming and extremely important to our understanding of the currents of thinking in the Middle East regarding our terrorist foes.
I have also watched Al-Jazeera shows that featured no punches pulled interviews with former CIA bin Laden Unit founder and chief Michael Scheuer, in which Scheuer bluntly stated that while America needs to hear what the goals and objectives of al Qaeda terrorists are so as to better understand them and their motivations, Scheuer believed that his job and that of the CIA is to “kill Osama bin Laden.”
Peter Bergen, my colleague at the New America Foundation and CNN’s terrorism analyst, has also appeared on Al-Jazeera and doesn’t parrot the line that Al-Jazeera is sympathetic with al Qaeda style terrorism.
But Frank Gaffney, presently one of the most media-visible neoconservative spear-carriers, has said on BBC that the controversy about President Bush possibly saying to Tony Blair that we should bomb Al-Jazeera headquarters may not have been so inappropriate.
First of all, TWN takes no position at all on whether Bush said this outrageous statement. It could be a fabrication, and it is tough at this point to validate or confirm — but because Gaffney has speculated about it and given his blessing to the bombing of Arab media, under certain circumstances, TWN feels comfortable reporting on this.
In this news clip, Gaffney is asked whether, if true, isn’t it outrageous that President Bush would suggest bombing a civilian news agency?
Gaffney: If it has some truth to it, I’m not sure it is outrageous.
Gaffney: I believe that Al-Jazeera is an instrument of enemy propaganda in a war we are obliged to fight and win, not just for Americans and not just for Iraqis but for freedom-loving people everywhere, and I think that, to the extent that Al-Jazeera is actively aiding our foes, it is certainly appropriate to talk about what you do to neutralize it to prevent it from doing that sort of harm to the cause and even to the lives of servicemen fighting this war.
Gaffney continues in the interview:
Gaffney: We’re talking about a news organization, so called, that is promoting bin Laden, that is promoting Zawahiri, that is promoting Zarqawi, that is promoting beheadings, that is promoting suicide bombers, that is other ways enabling the propaganda aspects of this war to be fought by our enemies, and I think that puts it squarely in the target category.
Whether the best way to do it is with bombs or through other means is something we could discuss, but I think it’s fair game, under these circumstances, given the way it conducts itself.
So, an alert to ALL who attend the next public session with Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes. Please ask her whether she agrees — at any level — with Frank Gaffney.
Does Stephen Hadley agree with Frank Gaffney? How about Karl Rove? And of course, make sure that we ask Condoleeza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick, and Scott McClellan in the next press gaggle. . .
When neoconservative zealots like Frank Gaffney even implicitly (and under certain conditions) advocate the bombing of the Arab world’s most significant news organization, then the administration should be forced to choose between the Gaffneys of this world on one hand, and a sensible, reasoned foreign policy that must rid itself of this kind of pugnaciousness on the other.
Frank Gaffney is the same person who wrote that Israel withdrawing from Gaza was appeasement of Osama bin Laden. Obviously, I disagree with him and don’t think that ‘enlightened U.S. foreign policy’ should be dictated by terrorists, other countries, or any forces other than the interests and concerns of America as a nation.
I do interviews now and then with Gaffney on the other side of many debates, most recently about John Bolton — and we have been able to agree to disagree and manage a civil discourse — but for political and ethical reasons, the White House should be compelled to disown entirely this brand of commentary.
To add one other interesting dimension to this debate about Al-Jazeera, one of my friends asked novelist Tom Clancy what he thought about the mid-term future of the arab network at the major September terrorism conference where Clancy spoke. Tom Clancy replied that he thought that in five years, Al-Jazeera would be just another mouthpiece of American interests.
Fascinating, counter-intuitive statement — in TWN‘s view — that I hope is wrong, but which many inside the Al-Jazeera network feel strikes close to home and the realm of likelihood.
— Steve Clemons
Ed. Note: Thanks to CR for the link.