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April 24, 2004

Screamers: Robert Fisk Brings Back Fond Memories

It was "undoubtedly the funniest television moment of the year so far" according to Ian O'Doherty (Robert Fisk freaks out on television, Irish Independent, April 20, 2004).

If you missed the item, don't hold your breath, this should appear on the internet fairly soon.
And so it has, via Tim Blair.

Warning: this video clip took almost three minutes to download, but its worth it. And, while you're waiting, you can read these snips from O'Doherty's review, and our meandering memories, which, we promise, are relevant to current discussions on the Irish blogs, :

But anyone who saw Fisk's performance on TV3's consistently compelling Agenda with David McWilliams on Sunday will have been surprised to see a formerly interesting journalist descend to the level of paranoid Diva when he was challenged on some of his more patently false points.

Sitting beside his biggest cheerleader, Eamon Dunphy, and attacking International Law expert Tom Cooney, Fisk vainly tried to explain his disgraceful reporting of the Jenin stand-off (you may remember his blatantly fatuous stories about mass graves, IDF liquidation squads and numerous other myths perpetuated by Palestinian apologists, all of which proved to be wrong) before going completely - and it is rare that a hack will say this - Mad.

Looking like he had to be virtually restrained by his fellow guests, Fisk implied that there had been a 'blood libel' committed against him and started screaming about suing someone. Of course, the truth was that he had simply been called on some of his gross inaccuracies and he provided the best showbiz answer possible - when called on your mistakes, throw a dummy and threaten to take legal action.

Undoubtedly the funniest television moment of the year so far, doctors have reliably informed ISpy that they are hoping to surgically remove Eamon Dunphy from Fisk's posterior sometime this week.

Ah! Eamo! Screaming! The memories!

We found ourselves subjected to a screaming fit more dramatic than Fisk's two years ago whilst watching one of Ireland's world cup games in our favourite Dublin pub.

We struck up a conversation with a nice young woman. The conversation drifted to the North, and she developed the unshakable belief that we were an official part of the peace process. Our denials merely increased our saintly standing in her eyes.

As we fell into the ritual of buying rounds, we tried to steer the conversation away from politics by floating our then new (first we'd heard of it) theory that Eamo might have had something to do with Roy Keane's departure from the Irish team at Saipan.

She was adamant that Eamon Dunphy could do no wrong because, unlike other Irishmen, he was not afraid to speak up. She was utterly surprised when we mentioned that worthies such as Mary Robinson, Pat Kenny and Seamus Heaney had been the objects of Eamo's attacks.

Having exhausted her ignorance on the subject of Eamo, she suggested that we discuss the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We suggested that after five pints that was probably not a good idea.

With no further ado, she started screeching at the top of her lungs at us. We walked to the other end of the pub, and she followed, still screeching. The pub patrons and staff took no notice whatsoever. She left, and returned five minutes later with five angry women who were apparently going to show us the error of our ways. They searched through the pub, and though we were sitting near the entrance, affected not to see us, and left.

It was only much later that we learned that that nice young woman was Caoimhe Butterly and that the leader of the pack of searchers was Mary Kelly.

We have nothing against angry women. Mozart does them particularly well - Dona Anna, Dona Elvira, the Queen of the Night.

But even if Bob Fisk's coloratura flights did not quite match theirs, we enjoyed his performance for another reason.

Nik Gowing's insistent repetition of the same exploded myth of the Jenin Massacre at the World Association of Newspapers Congress in Dublin last June provided us with our first Andrew Sullivan link, which blew away our old free server: BBC veteran massacres truth with lies, innuendo and videotape.

As it relates to some of the dialogue current in the Irish blogosphere, and you are still waiting for that video clip of Bob's aria to download, we repeat some of it here.

Today the Irish Times was delighted to report more verbal fisticuffs at the World Association of Newspapers Congress in Dublin over alleged anti-American bias in the European press.
       
BBC World anchorman Nik Gowing said the BBC was not anti-war in its coverage of Iraq, but was questioning and was determined that dissent would get a "regular airing" - and that he was likely to annoy media magnate Lord Black, who, the day before, had accused the BBC of bias in its coverage of Iraq and other conflicts involving the US.

BBC's Gowing went on to demonstrate his lack of bias by claiming that "governments are trying to shut us up, if necessary using lethal force."  Which governments?  He didn't say (but he immediately showed a video of a confrontation between an American soldier and a journalist in Afghanistan).

"The trouble is, those in power, those in government, are seeing this lightweight, go anywhere, much cheaper technology as a real challenge to their capacity to be governments. This has now become a massively dangerous business. In simple terms they are trying to shut us up during conflicts or emergencies.

"He said journalists had been killed in Iraq, the West Bank and in Afghanistan by governments. He said these were not isolated accidents. 'This new capacity to do our business is both empowering and deadly, literally.

"He said the so-called 'robohack' technology was able to prove 'when those in power are either lying or being dishonest'. He said that was why 'lethal force' was being used against people who were trying to 'bear witness on behalf of their viewers'".

Relying on that old journalistic standby "post hoc, propter hoc", Gowing claimed a "man was shot by the Israeli army after he took out a small video cameras in the West Bank recently".

"He said Palestinians used this technology to show the world that a massacre had occurred in Jenin."

He neglected to mention that even though the Irish Times had editorialized about the Tragedy of Jenin in May 2002, by August, after an investigation, even Michael Jansen, the Times' biggest fan of Yasser Arafat and Mary Kelly (See THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP), had been forced to acknowledge the UN report stating that there had been no "massacre" in Jenin. Even the Indo had to admit in a headline, "UN probe over Jenin attack puts blame on Palestinians". 

Let's see if we have this now. Governmental agencies and people "in power are either lying or being dishonest".  Now would that be the BBC?

Dick O'Brien at Backseat Drivers has been engaged in a "back and forth" with blogging partner Jon Ihle and Irish Eagle's John Fay on the merits of relying on "peace activists" like Jo Wilding to evaluate casualties in Falluja. (April 21, 2004).

Dick started the latest Falluja thread with his Smart bombs, stupid people. (April 8, 2004) about "the LA Times reports on the bombing of a mosque in Fallujah".

We responded with Dueling Editors, Part II: The LA Times Leads Irish Blogger to Think that Yanks are Really Dumb (April 9, 2004), deconstructing the LA Times's editing overlay imposed on its reporter at Falluja.

On April 13, 2004, Jon Ihle cast doubt on the impression created by the Irish Times front page Lara Marlowe article "that at least 600 dead have been confirmed in Fallujah and that most of these were civilian non-combatants".

Reprising Dick's theme in "Stupid People" (April 14, 2004) we noted that Lara's article showed us how the fact that the Yanks had not bombed the mosque proved that they were dumb.

Dick seems to think that, just as Caoimhe Butterly and Mary Kelly and their clever mobiles helped Michael Jansen, Nik Gowing and Robert Fisk learn of the Jenin Massacre, Voices in the Wilderness's Jo Wilding and the Guardian can help create the Falluja massacre.

But we thought it would be interesting to see if Tony Perry, the LA Times reporter on the scene who started this discussion, had any new information for us on the Falluja casualties.

He does (April 23, 2004):

On Thursday, the Iraqi Health Ministry said at least 219 Iraqis had died in fighting in the area of Fallouja and nearby Ramadi between April 5 and April 22. The dead included 24 women and 28 children, it said. Nearly 700 people were injured, it said.

Throughout the battle zones of western, central and south-central Iraq, the ministry said, at least 502 Iraqis died in fighting during that period, including 179 in Baghdad. Almost 2,000 were injured. The ministry figures do not differentiate between insurgents and civilians.

U.S. officials said they were unfamiliar with the methodology of the report and declined to comment further.

Even if an eventual UN investigation should reveal that, as in the case of Jenin, the civilian casualties resulted from the irregulars' use of civilian cover, these are horrific figures.

But they are a far cry from Marlowe's "600 Iraqis ...mostly included women, children and elderly."

But now that Ms Marlowe is back in Paris covering prostitution and politics in France, we look forward to her early appearance on David McWilliams's Agenda.

She might want to elaborate on her report (April 10, 2004) that, pace Nik Gowing, it is the "insurgents", not the coalition forces, who are targeting journalists.

As even Dick O'Brien notes in Rules of engagement (April 8,, 2004), Ms Marlowe presented herself as a target to the coalition forces, and they declined.

BRAN

(Posted on April 24, 2004)

________________

April 17, 2004

Conor O'Clery's Slipshod Reporting Confuses Deaglán de Bréadún

The Irish Times's ace Foreign Affairs Correspondent Deaglán de Bréadún keeps a close eye on Foreign Minister Brian Cowen. Although he ridiculed Irish foreign policy during the Afghan war as "holding America's coat" while "the most powerful nation on earth pummelled into submission the rulers of a wretched and godforsaken place called Afghanistan", (Irish Times December 29, 2001), he gave Mr Cowen passing marks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

While there has been substantial criticism of the Irish performance on the UN Security Council, especially in relation to the Afghan war, the record on the Middle East is, on balance, a fairly honourable one. (Irish Times January 5, 2002)
So it must have been shocking for him this morning to have to report (April 17, 2004):
Minister says opposition misread stance on Middle East

The Minister for Foreign Affairs claimed yesterday that his position on the Middle East had been misrepresented by opposition parties who had accused him of being "weak-willed" and abandoning the road map agreed by the quartet of the United Nations, US, EU and Russian Federation.

Mr Cowen said his statement on behalf of Ireland's European Presidency about this week's meeting between President George Bush and the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ariel Sharon, had been properly understood internationally but not in opposition circles at home.

This a truly shocking state of affairs: all the world but Ireland understands what is going on. How could this be?

Mr Cowen seems to think that some in Ireland think that whatever Mr Bush does should not be welcomed, even if this means that the facts of what Mr Bush has done must be misrepresented.

"In some sense it has been misrepresented, certainly here by some current opposition spokespersons. In particular, there appears to be criticism that I should welcome any aspect of what President Bush had to say and obviously I don't agree with such an attitude," Mr Cowen said.

"My approach to President Bush's statement was quite straightforward. When President Bush said something that the EU could endorse, I welcomed it. Where there was a difference of perspective, I made that clear. This appears to have been widely understood elsewhere."

He continued: "Basically, the EU believes that final-status issues are matters to be agreed by the parties. I believe that the US is of the same view.

But wait! Didn't Conor O'Clery tell us (Irish Times April 15, 2004) that
In a major US policy shift, President Bush yesterday recognised Israel's claim to a significant portion of the West Bank in a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

With Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon standing beside him after their meeting in the White House, Mr Bush also ruled out the right of return to Israel of Palestinian refugees, one of the most sensitive issues for Palestinians....

Furious Palestinian leaders said Mr Bush's new positions represented a brutal intervention over issues that ought to be left for negotiation, and risked pitching the region into deeper conflict.

The plan was condemned by Palestinian leader Mr Yasser Arafat as "the complete end of the peace process"....

Well, if Bush "recognised" Israel's claim to a significant portion of the West Bank and "ruled out the right of return to Israel of Palestinian refugees", (as European Union foreign ministers meeting in Tullamore, and indeed, "all sides agree privately") how can this reflect "the core policies on which all EU governments agree? These include a commitment to the road map, with a two-state solution negotiated by both parties". (Irish Times, Denis Staunton, April 16, 2004),

Mr O'Clery did quote Mr Bush as saying

"In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949," Mr Bush said after talks with Mr Sharon in the White House....
His next paragraph, however, reveals that the meaning of this statement seems to have escaped him:
Mr Bush reiterated his support for the US-EU-Russia-UN "roadmap" to an independent Palestinian state, which does not, however, endorse Mr Sharon's proposal that some Jewish settlements on the West Bank must be permanent and others allowed to remain temporarily....
The US-EU-Russia-UN roadmap, of course, does not endorse anything other than the process of a negotiated peace.

All that that bold (cow)boy in the White House has done is to tell the Emperor of Ramallah what the European Union foreign ministers meeting in Tullamore and "all sides agree privately": that on certain issues, he is naked.

As Dennis Ross, Clinton's Middle East envoy, explained (Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2004), the Sharon-Bush Plan Isn't the Last Word.

In diplomacy, there are times when process and substance take on equal importance. Ideas that might be acceptable, or at least tolerable, if presented one way become wholly unacceptable when presented another way.

That may help explain some of the backlash against President Bush's announcement Wednesday that the U.S. would endorse Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral plans for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By failing to include the Palestinians in the discussions, Bush clearly ruffled feathers.

But did he dramatically transform Washington's positions on peace, as the Palestinians are now saying? Did he surrender the United States' traditional role as an honest broker by tilting overwhelmingly to the Israeli side? Did he close off the possibility of future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations by determining the outcome in advance?

I think not. A closer look at what Bush actually committed to suggests that the U.S. is neither precluding future negotiations nor determining their outcome.

In his letter to Sharon, while explaining that Israel should not have to fully withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines but should be allowed instead to maintain sovereignty over several Jewish "population centers" in the West Bank, the president stated clearly that "any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities." That means that although the U.S. may have an opinion on the subject, there can be no final borders drawn without Palestinian approval. Palestinians will be free to insist on arrangements, including territorial compensation, to make a final agreement acceptable to them.

Similarly, Bush expressed his belief that a "just, fair and realistic" solution would require refugees to be settled in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel _ but he never suggested that there should not be negotiations on the subject. His statement, which frankly reflects a reality that many people on both sides already acknowledge privately, is simply an American judgment on the direction those talks should take. In that sense, it is similar to Bush's earlier call for an independent Palestinian state _ not American policy prior to this administration _ which reflected his belief that there would be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the creation of such a state.

So if there's still plenty of room for negotiation, why are the Palestinians so angry? Simply put, the Palestinians feel they've been excluded from the process.

Mr Ross, and many of us, Brian Cowen included, have reservations as to whether Mr Bush's recent statements are wise and useful. De Breadun quotes Mr Cowen, who seems to agree with Mr Ross in both respects:
Where some of us have reservations is on whether we feel it assists our shared goal of an agreed settlement to seek, in advance of negotiations, an understanding with one party to the negotiations on the outcome of those negotiations.

"On this point, I think it is worth putting the Washington statements into perspective. The fact remains that, in order to achieve lasting peace and security, Israel still has to reach agreement with the Palestinian people and its other Arab neighbours....

"In his statement, the President confirms that the road map, which enjoys almost universal support, is the mechanism by which a permanent peace can be achieved in the Middle East."

"In some sense [Bush's statement] has been misrepresented", Mr Cowen tells us, apparently referring to Labour Party foreign affairs spokesman Michael D. Higgins's attacks on him. But Michael D. seems to have taken his miscues from the Irish Times's North America Editor, Conor O'Clery.

How is the North America Editor to recover from this?

Simple.

In today's Irish Times (April 17, 2004) Mr O'Clery, reporting on the Bush-Blair meeting, states:

Mr Bush called on Palestinian leaders to "rise to the challenge" of accepting the plan, which includes permanent Israeli possession of parts of the West Bank and bars Palestinian refugees from returning to Israel.

Mr Bush retreated slightly from his endorsement of these elements saying, "All final status issues must still be negotiated between the parties."

Ah! That'll do it. Mr Bush "retreated" to a position that everyone but Conor O'Clery and Michael D. Higgins realised that he held all along.

Fine work Conor.

Being a Bill Clinton fan, we enjoyed O'Clery's "Greening of the White House" when we read it several years ago. But lately we have noticed that the quality of his reporting has been approaching that of RTE's Carol Coleman.

BRAN

(Posted on April 17, 2004)

____________________

April 14, 2004

Indeed: The Irish Oil for Food Scandal.

Instapundit links to a Financial Times report (April 12 2004) that the

Detroit-based businessman of Iraqi origin who financed a film by Scott Ritter, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector, has admitted for the first time being awarded oil allocations during the UN oil-for-food programme.
Glenn Reynolds wonders (April 13, 2004) "just how many apologists for Saddam will turn out to have been getting Saddam's money, and whose hands it passed through along the way".

Well, how about this?

The former special adviser to former UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson introduces the Iraqi chairman of a pressure group dedicated to the lifting of UN sanctions to the head of a reputable Irish PR firm. The Iraqi anti-sanctions campaigner hires the PR firm to seek to influence several high-profile Irish politicians to support the campaign to lift sanctions for an estimated €80,000.

The Iraqi anti-sanctions campaigner's website features quotes from former UN Assistant Secretary General in charge of the Oil for Food program Denis Halliday., After quitting his job in 1998, this proud Irishman has been able to travel the world to campaign against sanctions and the US military use of Shannon airport.

As part of the anti-sanctions PR campaign, several Irish politicians, including former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, visited Iraq in 1998.

After Mr Reynolds' visit, he made pleas for ending sanctions. Then he became chairman of Bula Resources, an Irish oil exploration firm.

The PR firm's fees for the anti-sanctions campaign were paid by Bula Resources.

The Iraqi anti-sanctions campaigner was listed by the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada as receiving 11,000,000 barrels in oil "allocations" (worth up to $3,300,000 according to the Financial Times estimates).

The Iraqi anti-sanctions campaigner "insisted that the Irish exploration company Bula Resources and its former chairman Albert Reynolds were always aware that he was selling oil on behalf of Saddam Hussein's government."

"His account conflicts with the version of events offered by the former taoiseach, who said he was never aware that el Taher was working on behalf of the former Iraqi dictator's government."

Bula Resources is now in liquidation by the High Court and its 43,000 shareholders are most worried about recouping a €1.5 million deposit paid by the company as part of a deal involving an entity in Bahrain.

The company is also being investigated by officials from the [Irish] Office of the Director of Company Enforcement (ODCE).

Meanwhile, the second "Irish" company on the al-Mada list is "Afro-Eastern", a defunct company located in the village that was the headquarters of another company involved in a long running scandal about the Irish-Iraqi beef trade. Afro-Eastern was once headed by a Coptic couple who seem to have disappeared.

The devil is in the detail, which follows:

On 29 January 2003 Blog-Irish reported in Did Irish Oil Concerns and Peace Campaigners Receive Saddam's Bribes? that one of Saddam's apologists, Mr Riad al-Taher [variously spelled in English language media: al-Taher, el-Taher, al-Tahir, el-Tahir, al-Tajir], was listed by the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada as receiving 11,000,000 barrels in oil "allocations" (worth up to $3,300,000 according to the Financial Times estimates).

We reported that Mr al-Taher, chairman of the London-based Friendship Across Frontiers organisation, which campaigned for lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq and denial of American military use of Shannon airport had unusually good access to Irish Times Foreign Affairs Correspondent Deaglan de Breadun.

We also noted that he was a shareholder and consultant to Bula Resources, an Irish oil exploration firm. After making a trip to Iraq and subsequent appeals to end UN sanctions, former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds became chairman of Bula Resources.

We noted that while Bula Resources was awaiting Saddam's signature on potentially lucrative Iraqi oil exploration contracts, Mr al-Taher was able to convince Bula to make changes to its board of directors to include people who were "more committed" to the company's future.

On February 17, 2004, we noted that Riad al-Taher's website featured quotes from Former UN Assistant Secretary General in charge of the Oil for Food program and proud Irishman Denis Halliday. After quitting his job in 1998, Mr Halliday has travelled the world to campaign against sanctions and the US military use of Shannon airport.

We were please to see (Speak Froth to Power: Albert Reynolds and the Mainstream Media), that the mainstream media finally took note of these allegations on February 17, 2003, when the Guardian published two articles on the matter.

Al-Tahir admitted to the Guardian that he arranged a visit to Baghdad by the British Labour MP Tam Dalyell and an Irish delegation led by the former prime minister Albert Reynolds, as he had done years earlier for Labour MP George Galloway.

On the 1998 occasion, the politicians urged the lifting of sanctions and asserted - correctly as it turns out - that most of Saddam Hussein's weapons had been destroyed as a result of UN inspections.

Mr Tahir got a sizeable reward for his efforts, according to the Baghdad oil list. It records a series of oil allocations to him commencing in November 1998, in the immediate wake of that publicity coup....

Mr Tahir told the Guardian that he got the rights to 3m barrels of oil, for which the western oil majors, "Texaco, BP, Shell and Chevron", paid him commission of up to 10 cents a barrel: a sum approaching £200,000.

The next day, the Irish Independent reported that
Mr Reynolds laughed off claims that Iraqi businessmen were used to finance anti-sanctions campaigns, according to documents alleged to have surfaced in Baghdad.

He said he had never received any cash from Saddam supporters and had paid himself for his sole trip to Iraq "as far as I can remember"....

As we noted on February 23, 2004, (To Sup with the Devil: Did Albert Get Burned by Saddam?) the (Irish) Sunday Independent (February 22, 2004) reported that Mr El Taher got Bula Resources to fund his lobbying on Saddam's behalf.
Mr El Taher used the services of Mr [Bill] O'Herlihy's reputable PR firm to seek to influence several high-profile Irish politicians to support the campaign to lift sanctions.

An estimated €80,000 was paid to the O'Herlihy PR during that period, or around €3,000 a week.

Yesterday Mr O'Herlihy told the Sunday Independent that his company's fees were paid by Bula Resources, although he thought the final bill was closer to €50,000.

As part of the campaign, several Irish politicians visited Iraq in 1998 and in 2000. Mr El Taher has said that the politicians paid their own way.

It is noteworthy that as "as part of the campaign" for which Bula Resources apparently paid Mr O'Herlihy, "several Irish politicians visited Iraq in 1998".

Glenn Reynolds titles his post "FROM SADDAM TO SCOTT RITTER, via the United Nations", but in our case, as the Sunday Indo reports, the UN connection is more uncomfortably close:

Mr O'Herlihy was hired by controversial Iraqi businessman Riad El Taher between 1998 and 2000, after introductions were made by Brid Rosney, the former special adviser to President Mary Robinson.
The same day, the Sunday Business Post (February 24, 2004) reported Bula agent `sold oil for Saddam':
Iraqi businessman Riad el Taher has insisted that the Irish exploration company Bula Resources and its former chairman Albert Reynolds were always aware that he was selling oil on behalf of Saddam Hussein's government.

His account conflicts with the version of events offered by the former taoiseach, who said he was never aware that el Taher was working on behalf of the former Iraqi dictator's government.

"Of course Bula knew about it," el Taher told The Sunday Business Post this weekend. "Of course they knew, of course I told them. I am an oilman. I am in the oil business."...

In 1998, el Taher, as head of Friends Across Borders, a British-based pressure group dedicated to the lifting of the sanctions on Iraq, organised a trip to Iraq by Reynolds, British Labour MP Tam Dalyell and Fianna Fail senator Mick Lanigan.

The politicians paid for the trip out of their own pockets, which they undertook for humanitarian reasons, but it was a publicity coup for the Iraqi government.

El Taher's allocations of Iraqi oil began shortly after that visit.The following year, he began his association with Bula, as did Reynolds.

Almost immediately, the company secured the rights to sell some Iraqi oil. It was the company's first and, it transpired, only Iraqi success. But el Taher continued to sell Iraqi oil and make commissions from it.

The Sunday Business Post article also looked into the other Irish connection that we had noted on the Baghdad list.
A company called "Afro Eastern" appears alongside el Taher's name, under the "Ireland" heading, with an allocation of two million barrels. A company called Afro-Eastern Ireland Ltd, with a registered office in Ardee Enterprise Centre, Co Louth, was dissolved in 1996.

Companies Office documents reveal that its directors were Grace George and Zuhair George, with addresses in the BritishWest Midlands.The company's principal activities are described as "research and experimental development on natural sciences and engineering".

An entity called Afro Eastern also appeared in a US Congressional report last year on the illegal selling of Iraqi oil under the cover of the Oil for Food programme.

"Afro Eastern (Ireland)" appears on a list of small traders which were said to supply US companies with Iraqi oil. The report identify "kickbacks" of up to 5 per cent - or $700 million in one year - which were going to the Iraqi government.

The sale of oil wasn't Ardee's only business link with Iraq. The Co Louth village is also the headquarters of meat baron Larry Goodman, whose massive beef trade with Iraq in the 1980s led to the Beef Tribunal.

The next day the Irish Times confirmed that Bula funded El Taher effort to lift sanctions on Iraq:

Bula Resources funded a campaign by a consultant it employed to press Irish political leaders to lift sanctions against Iraq in the late 1990s....

Mr El Taher also organised a visit by a group including former Taoiseach Mr Albert Reynolds to Iraq in 1998. Mr Reynolds, who subsequently became chairman of Bula, described the visit as humanitarian, rather than a business one. Mr Reynolds paid his own costs on the visit....

Bula also sold oil for Iraq under the UN-sponsored "oil for food" programme.

Bula Resources is now in liquidation by the High Court (Irish Times March 16, 2004) and its 43,000 shareholders are most worried about recouping a €1.5 million deposit paid by the company as part of a deal involving an entity in Bahrain.

The company is also being investigated by officials from the [Irish] Office of the Director of Company Enforcement (ODCE). (Sunday Business Post March 21, 2004)

We think that this is an important story.

We wish that someone with greater resources than ours would investigate it.

BRAN

(Posted on April 14, 2004)

________________

April 14, 2004

"Stupid People".

[Warning: We have been advised that some people will think that we are seriously suggesting that you should eat babies.] Jon Ihle of Backseat Drivers (April 13, 2004) just doesn't get it.

Despite Lara Marlowe's front-page article from the Irish Times of April 12, 2004, Siege of Falluja lifts with Iraqi death toll at over 600, he finds it "hard to believe" the Falluja hospital director who stated that the dead "mostly included women, children and the elderly".

Indeed Mr Ihle goes further in his display of typical American stupidity by making three uncritical assumptions:

It is very hard to believe that ground forces using only limited and targeted air cover would wind up killing more "women, children and the elderly" than - oh, I don't know - men with guns..... Even if the Marines were firing completely at random, one would expect the resultant death toll to reflect the relative proportions of these demographics in the population. In such a case, about half the dead would be women.

Of course, the Marines aren't firing at random. They're firing at armed fighters, so I'm going to assume that lots of the dead people are fighters....

What I'm not prepared to believe is that Marines are just marching through Fallujah killing any men, women and children (and elderly - such easy pickings) in sight.

Now why would Mr Ihle assume that the Marines are not firing at random? Or intentionally targeting women and children? And what about the third assumption - the one that proves the error of his other two assumptions?

We were recently humbled when Backseat Drivers's Dick O'Brien called our attention to the fact that we made a terrible mistake thinking that he had been misled by a misleading Los Angeles Times headline U.S. Bombs Mosque in Fallouja.

Dick was not fooled after all when he wrote Smart bombs, stupid people.

We failed to see that he'd burrowed down to paragraph fifteen of the LA Times story in order to learn that what was bombed was not a mosque but a perimeter wall.

Of course his other readers are so smart they must have been able to see exactly this when Dick wrote

These people aren't going to be too concerned about who was in the mosque or to what extent it was damaged. They only thing they'll be saying is that they bombed a mosque.

To spell it out then, nobody who'll want to make hay from this is going to start getting into the details about what part of the mosque was hit.

Smart people can tell that "who was in the mosque or to what extent it was damaged" means that the mosque was not damaged at all and nobody was in it anyway.

Saddam's Trusted ™ Lara Marlowe agrees with Dick that the Americans are not very smart.

Her April 13, 2004 report headlined Coalition's media offensive was never really on target gives a good example of this in paragraph fourteen:

In postwar Iraq, satellite television is the primary source of information, with 60 per cent of Iraqis relying on it for news. The US had nothing even approaching the professionalism of al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic channel. In Falluja, for example, AFP quoted a US colonel as saying that he ordered an air strike which killed 40 people in a mosque. Yet Al-Jazeera's correspondent reported that there were few casualties, if any, and that the mosque was hardly damaged. It took US officials two days to correct the story.
It is indeed sad that it took US officials two days to "correct" the Agence France Presse story. Even if Agence France Presse is not smart enough to read between the lines like Mr O'Brien's readers, it should not have to rely on Al-Jazeera or Blog-Irish to learn that "there were few casualties, if any, and that the mosque was hardly damaged." They should be able to rely on US officials to tell them these things. Otherwise people might think that they are the people "who'll want to make hay from this" that Mr O'Brien was talking about.

Ms Marlowe didn't need to remind us that the US officials were too stupid to "correct" the Reuters report that the Irish Times headlined "US killed 25 in mosque attack, say witnesses". (April 08, 2004)

And the Irish Times knows that its readers are so smart that when it needs to correct a report like "US killed 25 in mosque attack, say witnesses", putting the correction in the third sentence of the fourteenth paragraph of an article about how stupid the Yanks are is good enough.

Oh! That reminds us: Jon Ihle's third erroneous assumption.

He forgot how stupid the Yanks are. It explains everything!

As ABC News reported April 9, 2004, those Yanks are not only stupid but they're mean.

"A stream of hundreds of cars carrying women, children and elderly headed out of the city after Marines announced they would be allowed to leave. Families pleaded to be allowed to take out men, and when Marines refused, some entire families turned back."
The Yanks are so stupid that they let the "women, children and elderly" that they had intended to shoot leave Falluja. That's how you know that they were intentionally trying to shoot them.

We don't know why Jon didn't understand that.

But his blogging partner Dick O'Brien is not only pretty smart (having studied maths at the Indo), he's balanced.

I think Jon may be too quick in dismissing Lara Marlowe's reporting on the fighting. First of all, pretty much everybody is reporting a death toll in excess of 600. Secondly, she gives equal billing to the statements of the hospital director and the Marines. If the reporter cannot be the eyewitness, they have to talk to those who were. In Marlowe's case, she spoke to both sides.

If you want my guess on what happened, I'd say that a total death toll of 600 sounds credible, given that one reporter had seen around 300 fresh graves at one site alone. As for how many of the dead were non-combatants, it's hard to say, but I'd reckon that the figure is somewhere in between the estimate of the hospital director and the Marines.

"In Marlowe's case, she spoke to both sides." She's, like, balanced dude! So just take the two stories and split the difference! That way you don't have to, well, you know, like, think about it.

Writing in response to a letter to the Irish Times from our infamous EDITOR, David Quinn noted this tendency: ((London) Sunday Times, October 28 2001):

RTE probably thinks it is good journalism to balance Taliban claims against American and British ones. It is not. It's a travesty of journalism. For a start, RTE often gives more prominence to Taliban reports than to allied ones. Second, and more important, good journalism is about finding facts much more than finding balance. You don't balance true claims against false ones. You assess each claim on its own merits, decide in so far as possible whether it is true, then report it. If there is little chance it is true, then it should not be reported at all or should be mentioned in passing only.

This kind of journalism would have left the Taliban's claim that America is using biological weapons unreported. If not that, then it should have been mentioned only to be summarily dismissed.

If RTE really is interested in "balance", why is it not giving prominence to reports which say the Taliban are taking cover in residential areas of Afghan towns and cities?

Dude, that is like soooo stupid!

BRAN

(Posted on April 14, 2004)

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April 9, 2004

Dueling Editors, Part II: The LA Times Leads Irish Blogger to Think that Yanks are Really Dumb

Some time ago, we were able to contrast how the Irish Times and the Irish Independent treated Jack Fairweather's identical report from Baghdad. The Irish Times reported that Operation Iron Hammer little more than show of firepower, while the Indo added a bit more detail: 1,000 Iraqi missiles nailed as Operation Hammer hits home. (Dueling Editors: The Irish Times Skips the Good Stuff) (November 16, 2003)

A recent post by Backseat Drivers' Dick O'Brien demonstrates that the Irish media are not alone in creative editing. In Smart bombs, stupid people (April 8, 2004), Mr O'Brien quotes a portion of a Los Angeles Times story:

U.S. forces battling for control of this city bombed a mosque complex Wednesday after hours of fierce fighting as Pentagon officials said they might extend some soldiers' tours of duty to quell the violence flaring across the country. Witnesses said 40 Iraqis died in the airstrike on the mosque, which U.S. forces said Sunni Muslim insurgents had been using as a launch pad for attacks. Marines said they could confirm only that one Iraqi was killed. The fighting also left one Marine dead and four injured.
Not surprisingly, Dick notes:

I'm sorry, but this is pretty dumb. Bombing a mosque is a sure fire way to attract more recruits to the cause. The propaganda value may be enormous, both to Iraqi elements who want the Americans to leave and, more worryingly, to foreign terrorist networks. These people aren't going to be too concerned about who was in the mosque or to what extent it was damaged. They only thing they'll be saying is that they bombed a mosque.
It is not hard to see how Mr O'Brien thought that the April 8, 2004 LA Times story said that US forces bombed a mosque.

The story, by Times Staff Writers Tony Perry and Edmund Sanders, was, after all, headlined U.S. Bombs Mosque in Fallouja What the lead paragraph said, however, was that "U.S. forces battling for control of this city bombed a mosque complex"...

After eleven paragraphs dealing with the Shiites and US troop strength, the LA Times story gives three paragraphs of reactions from Iraqis, then continues:

But Marines dismissed such claims, saying that a fierce battle had been raging around the mosque for hours when they called in an F-16 fighter jet and a Cobra helicopter to attack the complex. Marines said they had been hit by sniper fire coming from the roof of the mosque.

The helicopter shot a Hellfire missile at the complex, hitting a perimeter wall. The F-16 then dropped a laser-guided bomb at the base of the building, leaving a large crater.

So fifteen paragraphs into the story we learn that what was bombed was a PERIMETER WALL, not a mosque.

The LA Times story continues:

Marines said the decision to call in airpower was made after they found that insurgents had hidden weapons and fighters in the back of an ambulance. The U.S. had permitted the ambulance to carry away at least half a dozen fighters killed in the gun battle around the mosque site.

"It was no longer a house of worship," said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne of the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment. "It was a military target. We had to protect our Marines."

Marines estimated that 30 to 40 insurgents were in the mosque before the bombing, but they recovered no bodies when they entered after the attack.

What is most interesting about the Los Angeles Times story is not the misleading headline, or burying the fact that the headline is misleading in paragraph fifteen.

The LA Times attributed the critical information that the Marines "had been hit by sniper fire coming from the roof of the mosque", and that the Marines had "found that insurgents had hidden weapons and fighters in the back of an ambulance" to the Marines. In fact, as sources other than the LA Times reveal, the LA Times reporter Tony Perry was on the scene and apparently observed these events - and more - in harrowing detail.

As it happens, Tony Perry was interviewed on America's Public Broadcasting Service "Newshour" by Gwen Ifill on April 7, 2004, the evening before the LA Times story appeared. (Links to the audio and video of this interview are available through the above link, and they are more compelling than the following transcript:)

GWEN IFILL: Guerilla warfare spread to least ten cities across Iraq today. Gwen Ifill discusses the latest flashpoints with Los Angeles Times reporter Tony Perry, who is embedded with U.S. Marines in Fallujah....

More now from the scene in and around Fallujah. Joining us is Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times. He is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah. Tony, welcome....

GWEN IFILL: Can I ask you to elaborate on that? We did hear today about an attack on a mosque that killed anywhere from 40 to 60 people. Were you with that unit and can you describe what happened?

TONY PERRY: Yeah, I'm with the unit right now. The first reports are a little misleading. What happened here ... there are several mosques that have been used by the insurgents as places to either gather or strategize or even to fire at Marines.

One particular mosque had 30 to 40 insurgents in it. They had snipers. They wounded five Marines. There were ambulances that drove up and the marines let them come in to take the insurgent wounded away. But instead, people with RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades, jumped out of the ambulances and started fighting with the Marines. Ultimately, what the Marines did is call in air power. A helicopter dropped a hellfire missile and then an F-16 dropped a laser-guided bomb on the outside of the mosque, put a huge crater outside the mosque. There's sort of a plaza outside the mosque. And suddenly, the firing inside stopped. But when the Marines examined the mosque and went in and went door-to-door in the mosque and floor-to-floor, they found no bodies, nor did they find the kind of blood and guts one would presume if people had died.

Now, one of two things must have happened: Either the people died inside and were carted off somehow -- and there is a tradition of the insurgents carting off their dead very quickly; or two, frankly, they escaped before the bomb was dropped. We cannot confirm that anybody actually died in that mosque. The Marines were quite willing to kill everybody in the mosque because they were insurgents. They had been firing at people, at Marines. And as the lieutenant colonel who ordered the strikes said, this was no longer a house of worship, this was a military target.

GWEN IFILL: Well, you raise an interesting point, which is our understanding has always been that mosques were kind of an off-off-off-target. We weren't supposed to be targeting them, but, for some reason, General Kimmitt, I think, was quoted as saying this was a military necessity to act. What was the necessity? Did they think that the people who, for instance, conducted the mutilations and the attacks on the four contractors last week were inside this mosque?

TONY PERRY: No, I don't know that those suspects were inside but the insurgents were inside and they were using the high vantage point that a mosque provide with sniper fire and they wounded five Marines and killed one.

You're right, though, mosques are off-limits. The rules are that a move against a mosque has to be approved by the commanding general, Maj. Gen. James Mattis. It cannot be done on the ground by a platoon leader, even a commander. They hold it very close at the commanding general's level. In fact, you can't even use an abandoned mosque as a headquarters or anything. They're roped off and Marines are told to stay away from them. But when they become military targets, when they're threats to Marines, then all bets are off. And when they were sure, as they were in this case, that there were no worshipers inside, these were strictly fighters who were engaged in very bitter urban-style combat with the Marines.

The LA Times blandly states that the Marines "found that insurgents had hidden weapons and fighters in the back of an ambulance". In fact its own reporter states that "There were ambulances that drove up and the marines let them come in to take the insurgent wounded away. But instead, people with RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades, jumped out of the ambulances and started fighting with the Marines."

It should not be difficult to understand why using mosques as battle stations and ambulances as attack vehicles violate the "laws of war" enshrined in the Geneva Convention. As Kevin Myers explained (January 3, 2002) with regard to "false surrenders",

It is a universal usage in war that there can be only one surrender. You cannot then change your mind, start fighting, and expect to be allowed to surrender again. Such a surrender will never be accepted; and only in the warless, witless idyll of Galway West could one think otherwise.

A ruthless response to a false surrender is not merely a usage of war. False surrender is against - wait for it - the Geneva Conventions. Section 37 of the Protocol of December 1979.

You cannot use an ambulances as attack vehicles and expect that your adversary will continue to honour their protected status. Such use defeats the humanitarianism underlying the Geneva Convention.

More important, ignoring or belittling these little technicalities effectively jettisons all efforts to impose humanitarian constraints on war.

The source of the information that the Falluja insurgents ambushed the Marines from an ambulance, and that the Marines were being fired on from the mosque was not merely the self-serving statement of the Marines. The LA Times reporter was on the spot and speaks (without benefit of editor) as though he had witnessed these events.

In supressing this information, and selling newspapers by using misleading headlines, the Los Angeles Times is, in effect, aiding and abetting the violation of the Geneva Convention. We expect to hear Amnesty International to condemn this shortly.

How, you may ask, do we dig this stuff up?

Simple. We think, and if something doesn't seem right, then we dig.

We agree with Mr O'Brien that it would be pretty damn dumb for the Yanks to go shooting up mosques. It's just not something that they are likely to do without a very good reason.

So we look at the story.

The first thing we noted was that Tony Perry's report from Falluja was embellished by Alissa J. Rubin and Tracy Wilkinson.

("Perry reported from Fallouja and Sanders from Baghdad. Special correspondent Hamid Sulaibi in Fallouja and Times staff writers Alissa J. Rubin and Nicholas Riccardi in Baghdad, John Hendren in Washington and Tracy Wilkinson in Rome contributed to this report.")

Where have we seen those names before?

In researching one of our first posts, THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: "PEACE ACTIVISTS" AND THE IRISH MEDIA. (June 7, 2003) on how the Irish media in general and the Irish Times's Michael Jansen in particular seemed to rely on "peace activist" Caoimhe Butterly for their reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict, we ran across two more reporters who tended to give great credence to Ms Butterly:

The World; U.N. Contests Israeli Version of Aid Worker's Fatal Shooting - Compound in West Bank is nearly empty as investigators look into death of Iain Hook. Alissa J. Rubin; Los Angeles Times; (Dec 1, 2002)

The World; The Middle East; Arafat Lives With Enemy Breathing Down His Neck; Scene: As Israeli forces hunker down, life inside Ramallah compound has become a waiting game. TRACY WILKINSON; Los Angeles Times; (Apr 4, 2002)

So we decided to really dig.

Interestingly enough, Ms Rubin was interviewed on the PBS Newshour the day before Tony Perry, (April 6, 2004).

(Presenter) TERENCE SMITH: And you, Alissa, you were in Najaf today. What was the situation there?

Al-Sadr in control of Najaf

ALISSA RUBIN: Al-Sadr has taken over, in large measure, the city of Najaf....

TERENCE SMITH: When you say al-Sadr has taken it over, you mean military control of the entire city?

ALISSA RUBIN: Well, quite close to that. He moved personally from the shrine where he had been staying in Kufa, which is right near by, about seven to ten miles away, to Najaf last night. And his Mahdi Army, which is a militia of sort of black- uniformed, armed men are surrounding-- posted all around the shrine in Najaf, to the very holy place....

TERENCE SMITH: And was there any opposition to all of that from coalition forces today?

ALISSA RUBIN: No, there was none in Najaf. Any operation in Najaf would have to be very, very carefully planned, and it would not be easy. There's been a promise by the coalition not to storm into the holy sites. It's an agreement with the clerics and with the city elders there, and also in Karbala, that the coalition troops would keep their distance and allow the policing to be done by Iraqis. Now, what happens when the Iraqis are not able to police because they've been essentially defanged by the militia of al-Sadr's remains to be seen. I think that's something that will unfold in the next few days. ...

TERENCE SMITH: Well, obviously it remains a very tense and unresolved situation. Alissa Rubin of the L. A. Times, thanks very much for filling us in.

ALISSA RUBIN: Thank you.

And thank you Alissa for telling us that the Iraqi police have been defanged by al-Sadr's veterinarians.

The Iraqi police may be unreliable. They may be insufficiently trained or equipped. But last we heard, they were trying to help build a pluralist, democratic Iraq. And we had the impression that they were human. Ms Rubin's implicitly and inadvertantly comparing them to monsters or animals is very revealing of her attitudes. Reader beware.

"The first reports are a little misleading" as Mr Perry told Ms Ifel. But not so misleading as the finished product after people at the LA Times who did not witness the events are finished adding their spin.

As Dick O'Brien properly notes, reports that the Marines are bombing mosques - even misleading reports - are likely to inflame the region. We wonder why the Los Angeles Times would want to do this. Maybe John Waters has some ideas on this.

Meanwhile, its Irish readers might want to think whether what it says makes sense before relying on it.

And if it doesn't make sense, they might want to try digging.

BRAN

(Posted on April 9,, 2004)

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