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The War on Terror, Now Starring Yemen and Somalia

There is a concerted campaign underway to ensure that the War on Terror bonanza continues unimpeded in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, and even despite Leon Panetta's acknowledgment that Al Qaeda has a grand total of "fewer than two dozen key operatives" on the entire planet.  That effort relies primarily on touting a growing villainous alliance -- the scariest since Marvel Comic's Masters of Evil -- between Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (mostly in Yemen) and the al Shabab group in Somalia.  To accomplish this, all the standard fear-mongering propaganda is being trotted out, and the War on Terror apparatus is simply being re-directed to those nations.  Most notably, the establishment media is being used to disseminate these messages, using its familiar journalistically bankrupt practices to serve this agenda.

In recent months, government officials have been insisting that the greatest Terrorist threat now resides in Yemen.  Almost before the Al Qaeda leader's body hit the ocean floor, U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki, in Yemen, assumed his (fabricated) role in American government and media depictions as The Next Osama bin Laden.  The Obama administration has escalated the existing drone program and begun a new CIA drone campaign in Yemen (one that just killed numerous people over the weekend); it also, contrary to public denials, provided the arms to Saudi Arabia to attack a rebel group in Northern Yemen.  Yemen is also the justification for Obama's attempt to institutionalize a due-process-free assassination program aimed at U.S. citizens.  The administration just commenced a separate drone campaign in Somalia.  And, as Jeremy Scahill revealed last week, the U.S. is relying upon interrogations conducted in a secret prison in Mogadishu, filled with people from that country and those rendered at the behest of the U.S. from other African nations.  Just like The Communist was seamlessly replaced by the Terrorist when a new enemy was needed, the death of Osama bin Laden and the virtual non-existence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan means that Yemen and Somalia are the New War on Terror Battlegrounds.

Typifying the subservient role played by the establishment media in propagating this narrative is this new article in The Los Angeles Times by Brian Bennett.  Headlined "Al Qaeda's Yemen branch has aided Somalia militants, U.S. says," the article grants anonymity to "U.S. counter-terrorism officials" to do nothing more than echo the official administration line:  that we now face "a widening alliance of terrorist groups."  These anonymous officials claim that "leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen [] have urged members of the hard-line Shabab militia to attack targets outside Africa for the first time" and that bin Laden "had sought to strengthen operational ties between Al Qaeda and the Shabab."  In other words, anonymous, unaccountable intelligence officials went to the L.A. Times to depict desires and aspirations of a scary Terrorist alliance as fact, and that paper uncritically headlined these scary developments.

While there's nothing notable about this corrupt journalistic practice -- granting anonymity to government officials to spout the official line and uncritically printing it is the heart and soul of Real National Security Journalism -- there are a couple of particularly egregious passages in this article worth noting.  To underscore how mindlessly devoted Bennett is to promoting the government line, consider this passage:


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In a sign of the expanding front, U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at suspected militants in Yemen in May, and in Somalia in June. They were the first known U.S. military attacks in Yemen since 2002 and in Somalia since 2009. 

That claim is factually false, in a very significant way.  In December, 2009, U.S. cruise missile carrying cluster bombs were dropped in Yemen, killing 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children.  Cables released by WikiLeaks subsequently revealed that the Obama administration perpetrated that attack, as well as a second air strike that same month (which targeted Awlaki).  In May, 2010, the Obama administration launched another attack in that country, one that "killed the province's deputy governor, a respected local leader who Yemeni officials said had been trying to talk Qaeda members into giving up their fight," which was "at least the fourth such assault" in Yemen since December, 2009.  Not only was there no public discussion by American officials of this escalated bombing campaign, but the U.S. allowed its close ally, Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, to falsely and publicly claim sole responsibility.

Yet here we have the LA Times' Bennett, serving his government directors, telling his readers that the drone attacks in May of this year "were the first known U.S. military attacks in Yemen since 2002."  What makes that so inexcusable -- aside from how factually false it is, and how bizarre it is that a reporter writing about Yemen wouldn't know that -- is that those 2009 and 2010 attacks, which Bennett concealed from his readers, are playing a very significant role in why there is a Terrorism problem in Yemen in the first place.

Read the full article at

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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