The Joys of Airstrikes and Anonymity

time the U.S. bombs a new location in the Muslim world, the same
pattern emerges. First, officials from the U.S.

time the U.S. bombs a new location in the Muslim world, the same
pattern emerges. First, officials from the U.S. or allied governments
run to their favorite media outlet to claim -- anonymously -- that some
big, bad, notorious, "top" Al Qaeda leader "may have been" or "likely
was" killed in the strike, and this constitutes a "stinging"
or "devastating" blow against the Terrorist group. These compliant
media outlets then sensationalistically trumpet that claim as the
dominant theme of their "reporting" on the attack, drowning out every
other issue.

As a result, and by design, there is
never any debate or discussion over the propriety or wisdom of these
strikes. After all, what sane, rational, Serious person would possibly
question a bombing raid or missile strike that "likely" killed a
murderous, top Al Qaeda fighter and struck a "devastating blow" to that
group's operationg abilities? Having the story shaped this way also
ensures that there is virtually no attention paid to the resulting
civilian casualties (i.e., the slaughter of innocent people);
most Americans, especially journalists, have been trained to ignore
such deaths as nothing more than justifiable "collateral damage,"
especially when a murderous, top Al Qaeda fighter was killed by the
bombs (besides, as Alan Dershowitz once explained,
"civilians" in close enough proximity to a Top Terrorist themselves may
very well bear some degree of culpability). The adolescent We-Got-the-Bad-Guy!
headline also ensures there is no attention paid to the radicalizing
effect of these civilian deaths and our attacks for that country and in
the region.

Yet over and over and over, it turns out
that these anonymous government assertions -- trumpeted by our mindless
media -- are completely false. The Big Bad Guy allegedly killed in the
strike ends up nowhere near the bombs and missiles. Sometimes, the
very same Big Bad Guy can be used to justify different strikes over the
course of many years (we know we said we killed him four times before, but this time we're pretty sure we got him), or he can turn up alive when it's time to re-trumpet the Al Qaeda threat (we said before we killed him in that devastating airstrike, but actually he's alive and more dangerous than ever!!). Just like the "we killed 30 extremists" claim or the "we got Al Qaeda's Number 3" boast,
this is propaganda in its purest form, disseminated jointly by the U.S.
Government and American media, and it happens over and over, compelling
a rational person to conclude that it's clearly intentional by both

In the last week alone, this pattern just
asserted itself -- twice -- with regard to the air strikes in Yemen.
The first set of strikes, it was immediately leaked, was allegedly aimed at "the presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Qaaim al-Raymi," yet
it turned out he was not among the dozens of people killed, though
"U.S. officials believe one of his top deputies [unnamed] may have been
killed." Then, after a second set of strikes on Thursday, it was
claimed that "a Yemeni air raid may have killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda's regional branch,"
and an American Muslim preacher linked to Nidal Hasan, "the man who
shot dead 13 people at a U.S. army base [Anwar al-Awlaki] may also have

But while ABC News had identified "the presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen" as "Qaaim al-Raymi" when he was the target of last week's strikes, Reuters
decided that the "top two leaders of al Qaeda's regional branch" were
completely different people -- "Nasser al-Wahayshi, the Yemeni leader
of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his Saudi deputy,
Saeed al-Shehri" -- and then excitedly announced that they "may have
been killed" by this week's air strikes. Whoever we claim we kill is
the "key leader of Al Qaeda's operations"-- and it can change from day
to day. And now, it turns out,
the "radical cleric" who reportedly spoke at length with the accused
Fort Hood shooter and thus packs the most emotional punch for Americans
is not dead at all, but "is alive and well following reports he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike against suspected al-Qaida hideouts."

Just watch how this obvious propaganda tactic works again and again:

Last week's Yemen strike - ABC News, December 18, 2009:

The presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Qaaim al-Raymi,
has frequently appeared on internet videos, . . . Qaaim al-Raymi was
considered a prime target of the attack Thursday but was reported to
have escaped the attack. However, U.S. officials believe one of his top
deputies may have been killed.

This week's air strikes in Yemen, Reuters, December 24, 2009:

A Yemeni air raid may have killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda's regional branch
on Thursday, and an American Muslim preacher linked to the man who shot
dead 13 people at a U.S. army base may also have died, a Yemeni
security official said. Nasser al-Wahayshi, the Yemeni leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his Saudi deputy, Saeed al-Shehri, were believed to be among more than 30 militants killed in the dawn operation in the eastern province of Shabwa, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may also have died in the air strike which
targeted a meeting of militants planning attacks on Yemeni and foreign
oil and economic targets, he said. If all the deaths are confirmed, the
air strike would appear to have struck a severe blow against AQAP, seen as the most dangerous regional offshoot of Osama bin Laden's network.

False - Associated Press, December 25, 2009:

A U.S.-born radical cleric is alive and well following reports he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike against suspected al-Qaida hideouts . . .

addition to al-Awlaki, the top leader of al-Qaida's branch in Saudi
Arabia and Yemen, Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, and his deputy Saeed
al-Shihri were also believed to be at the meeting, Yemen's Supreme
Security Committee said. But Yemeni officials still have no access to the area, which is controlled by armed gunmen and supporters of al-Qaida, and could not confirm for certain who was killed in the attack.


CNN - January, 2006 U.S. airstrike in Pakistan:

al-Zawahiri -- Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in the al Qaeda
terrorist network -- was the target of a CIA airstrike Friday in a
remote Pakistani village and may have been among those killed, knowledgeable U.S. sources told CNN. . . . the sources said there was intelligence suggesting he was in one of the buildings hit during the strike.

False - Fox News, January 31, 2006 - "Zawahiri, in New Videotape, Says He Survived Airstrike":

Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a videotape aired Monday that
President Bush was a "butcher" and a "failure" because of a deadly U.S.
airstrike in Pakistan targeting the bin Laden deputy, and he threatened
a new attack on the United States. A U.S. counterterrorism official,
speaking on condition of anonymity in compliance with office policy,
said there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the tape.


CBS News, July, 2008 U.S. airstrike in Pakistan:

Ayman al-Zawahiri - the second most powerful leader in al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden's No. 2 - may be critically wounded and possibly dead, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports exclusively.
. . . CBS News has obtained a copy of an intercepted letter from
sources in Pakistan, which urgently requests a doctor to treat
al-Zawahiri. . . . The letter is dated July 29 - one day after a U.S.
air strike that killed al Qaeda weapons expert Abu Khabab al-Masri, and
five other Arabs in South Waziristan. . . . a counter-intelligence
expert and other U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News that the U.S. is
looking into reports that al-Zawahiri is dead.

False - NY Daily News, April 30, 2009 - "Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri calls the shots, says State Department":

Al Qaeda's No. 2 thug has "emerged" as its operational leader
after seven years on the run with the same $25 million bounty on his
head as Osama Bin Laden. Despite years of Bush administration claims
that Ayman al-Zawahiri - an Egyptian doctor turned Bin Laden deputy -
was on the lam with his boss and unable to exert control, the opposite
is now true, a State Department report said Thursday. . . ."Although
Bin Laden remains the group's ideological figurehead, Zawahiri has emerged as Al Qaeda's strategic and operational planner," the report added.


January, 2006 missile strike in Pakistan, New York Times:

senior members of Al Qaeda and the son-in-law of its No. 2 leader,
Ayman al-Zawahiri, were among those killed in the American airstrikes
in remote northeastern Pakistan last week, two Pakistani officials said
here on Wednesday. . . .If any or all were indeed killed, it would be a stinging blow to Al Qaeda's operations, said the American officials, who were granted anonymity
because they were not authorized by their agencies to speak for
attribution. . . . The airstrikes, which killed 18 civilians, among
them women and children, have caused anger across the country . . . At
least one of the men believed by the Pakistani officials to have been killed, an Egyptian known here as Abu Khabab al-Masri,
is on the United States' most-wanted list with a $5 million reward for
help in his capture. His real name is Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, 52,
who according to the United States government Web site, was an expert in explosives and poisons.
. . . The target of the raid, American officials have said, was Al
Qaeda's No. 2, Mr. Zawahiri, but they have acknowledged that he was not
killed in the attack and Pakistani officials say that Mr. Zawahiri
failed to show up for the dinner that night.

January, 2006 missile strike in Pakistan, ABC News:

ABC News has learned that Pakistani officials now believe that al Qaeda's master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert was one of the men killed in last week's U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan. Midhat Mursi, 52, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri,
was identified by Pakistani authorities as one of four known major al
Qaeda leaders present at an apparent terror summit in the village of
Damadola early last Friday morning.

False -- LA Times, February 3, 2008:

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials now believe that the Egyptian, Abu Khabab Masri, is alive and well -- and in charge of resurrecting Al Qaeda's program to develop or obtain weapons of mass destruction.


January, 2006 airstrike in Pakistan, New York Times:

Another Egyptian, known by the alias Abu Ubayda al-Misri,
was also believed killed, the Pakistani officials said. He was the
chief of insurgent operations in the southern Afghan province of Kunar,
which borders Bajaur in Pakistan, the area where the airstrikes
occurred, according to one of the Pakistani officials.

False - Fox News, April 9, 2008:

Abu Ubaida al-Masri,
one of Al Qaeda's top operatives and the mastermind behind a plot to
use liquid explosives to blow British passenger jets out of the sky, is
dead, a U.S. official confirmed to FOX News Wednesday. The
unidentified official said it is believed that al-Masri died of natural causes, possibly hepatitis, in Pakistan, and are staying away from a report that he was killed in a January CIA predator strike.


Summer, 2008 Predator strikes in Pakistan, Telegraph - "Al-Qa'eda's American-born propaganda chief may have died in predator attack":

of attacks by unmanned US predator aircraft have caused carnage among
the middle ranks of terrorist leaders in the lawless lands along the
border with Afghanistan . . . Their victims have included experienced
Arab leaders and, it is now thought, Adam Gadahn, a
former heavy-metal fan and so-called "killer computer nerd" originally
from California. Nothing has been heard from him for months, leading
intelligence experts to conclude that he may be dead.

False -- LA Times, June 14, 2009:

Adam Gadahn, a Southern California-raised man self-described as American Al Qaeda has released a new video in which he talks about his Jewish ancestry.


July, 2009 airstrike in Pakistan, Fox News:

U.S. officials believe Usama bin Laden's son, Saad bin Laden, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan.
Sources confirmed to FOX News late Wednesday that officials believe the
younger bin Laden was killed by hellfire missiles from a U.S. Predator
drone strike earlier this year.

Highly questionable - Middle East News:

A close friend of Osama bin Laden told Al Arabiya that he thought the al-Qaeda mastermind's son was probably still alive
casting doubt on reports by American media that he was killed in
Pakistan. Yemeni national Rashad Saied, who stayed with bin Laden in
Afghanistan before the September 11, 2001 attacks, said there is no
proof to U.S. media reports last week that Saad bin Laden was killed in
an American airstrike on Pakistan earlier this year. "If Saad had been
killed, al-Qaeda would have announced that," Saied told Al Arabiya.
"They announced the death of many key figures in the organization
before. It is considered a source of pride for them."

New York Times, December 23, 2009:

teenage daughter of Osama bin Laden, who has lived with at least five
of her siblings in a guarded compound in Iran since 2001, took refuge
last month in the Saudi Embassy in Tehran . . . The status of another
son, Saad, remained uncertain. American officials said last summer that
they believed that Saad bin Laden had traveled from Iran to Pakistan
and had been killed by an American missile fired from a drone. Omar and
Zaina bin Laden said Saad was still in the Tehran compound when the missile attack was said to have occurred, but they said that they did not know where he was now or whether he was still alive.


I could
literally spend the rest of the day chronicling events very similar to
these. A few caveats are in order. It's not surprising that facts are
sometimes difficult to obtain in the immediate aftermath of a strike,
particularly in remote areas such as Western Pakistan and Yemen.
Sometimes, these air strikes do actually result in the death of the specific targets alleged to lead various Islamic radical groups.

far more often, these boasting claims regarding a controversial U.S.
air attack or missile strike turn out to be completely false. It's
painfully obvious that these assertions are made to overwhelm, distort
and suppress any discussions of the actual effects of the attack -- who
the strike really killed, whether it was justified, legal or wise,
whether we should continue to drop bombs in more and more Muslim
countries. Yet no matter how many times these claims prove to be
false, American media outlets not only dutifully and mindlessly print
them without challenge or skepticism, but also allow these claims to
dictate their headlines and the overwhelming focus of their "reporting"
on the attacks (U.S. Air Strike Said to Kill Top Al Qaeda Leaders).
As a result, Americans are innundated with false claims about things
that never actually happened -- pure myths and falsehoods -- while the actual consequences
of our actions (the corpses of innocent Muslim men, women and children
being pulled from the rubble) are widely disseminated in the Muslim
world, yet are barely mentioned by our media. And then we walk around,
confounded and confused, about how there could be such a grave
disparity in perception among our rational, free and well-informed
selves versus those irrational, mislead, paranoid, and primitive

Because it's all done under the corrupt cover
of anonymity, there's never any accountability (reporters will simply
say that they printed this because their government sources whispered
it in their ears -- so what choice did they have? -- and they'll keep
the government officials' identity concealed to ensure they can never
be questioned). The whole process is blatantly designed not to convey
what happened, but to obscure what happened and to prevent any
discussion of its consequences.

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