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Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy notes that there are at least a dozen retired military officers giving supposedly independent opinion and commentary on the Iraq war to the various news networks. McCarthy writes: “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been unhappy with the criticism of their war effort by former military men appearing on television. So am I, but for a different reason. The top people at the Pentagon are wondering why these ex-military talkers can’t follow the company line on how well the war has been fought. I’m wondering why these spokesmen for militarism are on TV in the first place.” McCarthy lists twelve: Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, Major General Robert Scales, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General Donald Shepperd, General Barry McCaffrey, Major General Paul Vallely, Lieutenant General Don Edwards, Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, Colonel Tony Koren, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, Major Jack Stradley, and Captain Chris Lohman. He asks rhetorically, “Did I miss anyone?” (McCarthy 4/19/2003) In 2008, after the story of the massive and systematic Pentagon propaganda operation using at least 75 retired military officers to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) becomes public knowledge, Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell answers the question, “[H]e sure did.” (Mitchell 4/20/2008)
Deploring the Military's Domination of the Airwaves - McCarthy continues: “That the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox sanctioned this domination by military types was a further assault on what the public deserves: independent, balanced and impartial journalism. The tube turned into a parade ground for military men… saluting the ethic that war is rational, that bombing and shooting are the way to win peace, and that their uniformed pals in Iraq were there to free people, not slaughter them. Perspective vanished, as if caught in a sandstorm of hype and war-whooping. If the US military embedded journalists to report the war from Iraq, journalists back in network studios embedded militarists to explain it. Either way, it was one-version news.” McCarthy asks why no dissenters are allowed on the airwaves to counter the military point of view, a question answered by a CNN news executive (see April 20, 2003). McCarthy answers his own question: “In wartime, presumably, the message to peace activists is shut up or shut down.”
Viewers Unaware of Analysts' Business Connections - Presciently, considering the wide range of business connections exploited by the analysts and documented in the 2008 expose, McCarthy notes: “Viewers are not told of possible conflicts of interest—that this general or that one is on the payroll of this or that military contractor. Nor are they given information on whether the retired generals are paid for their appearances.”
Militaristic Newsmen - It is not just the retired officers who provide a militarist perspective, McCarthy observes, but the reporters and anchormen themselves. With examples of ABC’s Ted Koppel and NBC’s Brian Williams donning helmets before the cameras, or Fox’s Geraldo Rivera proclaiming in Afghanistan that “[W]e have liberated this country” (and his cameraman shouting, “Hallelujah!”), “the media are tethered to the military,” McCarthy writes. “They become beholden, which leads not to Pentagon censorship, as in 1991 (see October 10, 1990), but a worse kind: self-censorship” (see September 10, 2003).
For Us or Against Us - McCarthy concludes: “George W. Bush lectured the world that you’re either with us or against us. America’s networks got the message: They’re with. They could have said that they’re neither with nor against, because no side has all the truth or all the lies and no side all the good or evil. But a declaration such as that would have required boldness and independence of mind, two traits not much linked to America’s television news.” (McCarthy 4/19/2003)
Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence, tracking military analyst Donald Shepperd’s performance on CNN (see June 24-27, 2005) as part of the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), gives his one-word assessment of Shepperd’s performance: “Yes!!!!!” (Greenwald 5/9/2008)
With criticism of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility reaching new heights, new allegations of abuse from UN human rights experts, Amnesty International receiving plenty of media exposure for calling the facility “the gulag of our times” (see May 25, 2005), and many calling for the facility’s immediate closure, the Pentagon counters by launching the latest in its propaganda counteroffensive designed to offset and blunt such criticism (see April 20, 2008). The Pentagon and White House’s communications experts place a select group of around ten retired military officers, all who regularly appear on network and cable news broadcasts as “independent military analysts,” on a jet usually used by Vice President Dick Cheney, and fly them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of the facility. (Barstow 4/20/2008)
A Four-Hour Tour - During the three-hour flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Cuba, the analysts are given several briefings by various Pentagon officials. After landing, but before being taken to the detention facility, they are given another 90-minute briefing. The analysts spend 50 minutes lunching with some of the soldiers on base, then begin their tour. They spend less than 90 minutes viewing the main part of the Guantanamo facility, Camp Delta; in that time, they watch an interrogation, look at an unoccupied cellblock, and visit the camp hospital. They spend ten minutes at Camp V and 35 minutes at Camp X-Ray. After less than four hours in Guantanamo’s detention facilities, they depart for Washington, DC. (Greenwald 5/9/2008) This is the first of six such excursions, all designed to prepare the analysts for defending the administration’s point of view and counter the perception that Guantanamo is a haven for abusive treatment of prisoners. During the flight to the facility, during the tour, and during the return flight, Pentagon officials hammer home the message they want the analysts to spread: how much money has been spent on improving the facility, how much abuse the guards have endured, and the extensive rights and privileges granted to the detainees.
Producing Results - The analysts provide the desired results. All ten immediately appear on television and radio broadcasts, denouncing Amnesty International, challenging calls to close the facility, and assuring listeners that the detainees are being treated humanely. Donald Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, tells CNN just hours after returning from Guantanamo, “The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false.” The next morning, retired Army General Montgomery Meigs appears on NBC’s flagship morning show, Today, and says: “There’s been over $100 million of new construction [at Guantanamo]. The place is very professionally run.” Transcripts of the analysts’ appearances are quickly circulated among senior White House and Pentagon officials, and cited as evidence that the Bush administration is winning the battle for public opinion. (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Within hours of returning from a Pentagon-sponsored “fact-finding” trip to the Guantanamo detention facility (see June 24-25, 2005), CNN military analyst Don Shepperd, as planned (see June 25, 2005), extolls the virtues of the Pentagon’s handling of detainees on a lineup of CNN news broadcasts. As per his most recent briefing, he does not mention the case of Mohammed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who has suffered extensive brutality at the hands of his captors. Instead, his “analyses” are so uniformly laudatory that, as commentator Glenn Greenwald will observe, they are “exactly what it would have been had [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld himself written the script.” After returning from his half-day visit, he participates in a live telephone interview with CNN anchor Betty Nguyen. He opens with the observation: “I tell you, every American should have a chance to see what our group saw today. The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here, in my opinion, are totally false. What we’re seeing is a modern prison system of dedicated people, interrogators and analysts that know what they are doing. And people being very, very well-treated. We’ve had a chance to tour the facility, to talk to the guards, to talk to the interrogators and analysts. We’ve had a chance to eat what the prisoners eat. We’ve seen people being interrogated. And it’s nothing like the impression that we’re getting from the media. People need to see this, Betty.… I have been in prisons and I have been in jails in the United States, and this is by far the most professionally-run and dedicated force I’ve ever seen in any correctional institution anywhere.” Shepperd watched an interrogation, and he describes it thusly: “[T]hey’re basically asking questions. They just ask the same questions over a long period of time. They get information about the person’s family, where they’re from, other people they knew. All the type of things that you would want in any kind of criminal investigation. And these were all very cordial, very professional. There was laughing in two of them that we…” Nguyen interrupts to ask, “Laughing in an interrogation?” and Shepperd replies: “In the two of them that we watched. Yes, indeed. It’s not—it’s not like the impression that you and I have of what goes on in an interrogation, where you bend people’s arms and mistreat people. They’re trying to establish a firm professional relationship where they have respect for each other and can talk to each other. And yes, there were laughing and humor going on in a couple of these things. And I’m talking about a remark made where someone will smirk or laugh or chuckle.” In another CNN interview three days later, Shepperd reiterates and expands upon his initial remarks, and says of the detainees: “[W]e have really gotten a lot of information to prevent attacks in this country and in other countries with the information they’re getting from these people. And it’s still valuable.” CNN does not tell its viewers that Shepperd is president of The Shepperd Group, a defense lobbying and consulting firm. (CNN 6/24/2005; Greenwald 5/9/2008)
Retired Air Force General Donald Shepperd, a CNN news analyst, returns from a “fact-finding” trip to Guantanamo Bay (see June 24-25, 2005) prepared to provide Pentagon talking points to CNN audiences. Shepperd is remarkably candid about his willingness to serve as a Pentagon propagandist, writing in a “trip report” he files with his handlers, “Did we drink the ‘Government Kool-Aid?’—of course, and that was the purpose of the trip.” He acknowledges that “a one day visit does not an expert make” (Shepperd and his fellow analysts spent less than four hours touring the entire facility, all in the company of Pentagon officials), and notes that “the government was obviously going to put its best foot forward to get out its message.” He adds that “former military visitors are more likely to agree with government views than a more appropriately skeptical press.” Shepperd also sends an e-mail to Pentagon officials praising the trip and asking them to “let me know if I can help you.” He signs the e-mail, “Don Shepperd (CNN military analyst).” Shepperd’s e-mail is forwarded to Larry Di Rita, a top public relations aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Di Rita’s reply shows just how much control the Pentagon wields over the analysts. Di Rita replies, “OK, but let’s get him briefed on al-Khatani so he doesn’t go too far on that one.” Di Rita is referring to detainee Mohammed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had been subjected to particularly brutal treatment. Shepperd will, as planned, praise the Guantanamo detainee program on CNN in the days and hours following his visit to the facility (see June 24-25, 2005). (Greenwald 5/9/2008) He will say in May 2008: “Our message to them as analysts was, ‘Look, you got to get the importance of this war out to the American people.’ The important message is, this is a forward strategy, it is better to fight the war in Iraq than it is a war on American soil.” (Folkenflik 5/1/2008)
The Pentagon, tracking every bit of media coverage provided by the “independent military analysts” who are part of its Iraq propaganda program (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), is particularly pleased with the results of its half-day tour of Guantanamo for selected analysts (see June 24-25, 2005). Its tracking (see 2005 and Beyond) finds that Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Cucullu (see June 27, 2005) receives the most coverage during the almost two weeks after the tour, followed by Major General Donald Shepperd (see June 24-27, 2005). In all, the analysts made 37 media appearances. They emphasized the following talking points:
Prisoner/Guard Abuse -
“Most abuse is either toward US military personnel and/or between prisoners.”
“US military guards are regularly threatened by prisoners.”
“Some analysts stated there may have been past abuses at Gitmo but not now.”
'Prisoner Interrogations' -
“Interrogators are building relationships with prisoners, not torturing them.”
“We are still gaining valuable information from prisoners.”
Interrogations are very professionally run.”
'Quality of Prisoner Care' -
“Prisoners are given excellent treatment, including provision of any and all religious paraphernalia.”
“Special dietary requests are routinely granted.”
'Closing Gitmo' -
“Gitmo exceeds Geneva Convention requirements.”
“We should not close this facility and let dangerous terrorists out.” (Greenwald 5/9/2008)
CNN airs commentary from three of its “independent military analysts,” some of whom will later be cited as participants in the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The analysts are retired Army Brigadier General James “Spider” Marks (whom CNN will later fire for conflicts of interest—see July 2007), retired Air Force Major General Donald Shepperd, and retired US Army Brigadier General David Grange. The topic is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and whether he should resign. After Marks confirms that Rumsfeld repeatedly refused requests from field commanders to send more troops into Iraq during critical battlefield moments (see April 16, 2006), CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer raises the issue of other retired generals calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation.
Grange - Grange dismisses the resignation demands as coming from “a small number of general officers…” Grange says he does not have a close relationship with Rumsfeld, but admits that he participates in “occasional” briefings with Rumsfeld and Pentagon officials. Grange says “it would be inappropriate [for Rumsfeld] to step down right now,” and adds that it really isn’t the generals’ business to make any such recommendations.
Shepperd - Blitzer plays the commentary of retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, who blames Rumsfeld for not putting “enough boots on the ground to prosecute” the Iraq war and has also called for Rumsfeld’s resignation, then asks Shepperd for his commentary. Shepperd, one of the most reliable of the Pentagon’s “independent analysts” (see June 24-25, 2005), says while Rumsfeld made some “misjudgments,” he should not resign. Like Grange, he questions the “propriety” of the retired generals’ speaking out on the subject. “It steps over, in my opinion, the line of the role of military general officers, active or retired, calling for the resignation of a duly appointed representative of the government by a duly elected government. That’s the problem I have with all of this. And it’s hard to have a rational discussion because you quickly get into, is the war going well or not, do we or do we not have enough troops, when the question is one of propriety about these statements.”
Marks - Marks adds his voice to the chorus, saying that “it’s not the place of retired general officers or anyone to make that statement.…[T]he country’s at war. You need to rally around those doing their best to prosecute it.” Though Marks stands with both Grange and Shepperd in defending Rumsfeld from calls for his resignation, he does note that he retired from the Army in part because of Rumsfeld’s cavalier treatment of two of his close friends, retired General Eric Shinseki (see February 25, 2003 and February 27, 2003) and General David McKiernan. (CNN 4/16/2006)
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