Off The Front Page: Human Rights, White House Lawbreaking, and Killings in Iraq

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(March 27, 2006)This inaugural edition of OFP includes not one, not two, but three separate news items, all from the same day. Remarkable.

OFP #1: The newspapers of Thursday, March 16, reported on the formation by the United Nations of a new Human Rights Council. The vote was overwhelming, with 170 nations in favor, four opposed, and three abstaining. The opposition was led by the United States, which has opposed it from the beginning, and the other three countries in opposition were Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. The headline on page 17 of the Star Tribune (Newspaper of the Twin Cities!) read “U.S. Dissents as U.N. Approves Rights Council.” In the foreign media, one could read headlines like “Human Rights Defeat for U.S.” and “UN Human Rights Vote Leaves U.S. Isolated.” This important story didn’t appear on a single front page that I could find. Given the recent allegations of human rights abuses on the part of the United States, I think the news that the U.S. stands essentially alone in opposing the most significant international initiative on human rights deserves front-page treatment.

OFP #2: On the same day as the above underplayed story, a major story on the so-called National Security Strategy, a “long-overdue document” from the White House, is “an articulation of U.S. strategic priorities that is required by law.” In it, the White House once again reserves the right to attack a country whenever it wants, “even if uncertainty remains” as to whether that country is a threat or not. (See: Iraq) This is “the principle and logic of preemption,” says the report, which is required by law to be released every year, but which this White House hasn’t bothered to do since 2002. So, I think it’s worth putting on the front page both the massive illegality of attacking a country without proof that it is a threat, as well as the relatively minor illegality of ignoring the statutory reporting requirement. The Washington Post did put it on the front page, while both the New York Times and the local paper put it on page 6. With no hint of irony, the Post reported that the release of the document would start with a speech “to the U.S. Institute of Peace.” A speech by George Orwell, perhaps?

OFP #3: This item didn’t appear on any front page. On March 15, near the town of Ishaqi, Iraq, yet another “American raid on a suspected militant hide-out” killed an innocent family, “utilizing both air and ground assets,” as the U.S. military put it. As usual, the U.S. military had one version of events, while every eyewitness in the vicinity had a different one. The U.S. says three people were killed. Everyone else says it was 11 or more, including a 7-month-old and three other kids. Witnesses who entered the house after the U.S. forces left “saw the family members were hand-tied and shot in the head.” An Iraqi police official said: “According to our information those people have nothing to do with fighters or terrorists…” The Los Angeles Times reports that “U.S. military spokesman Army Lt. Col. Barry Johnson acknowledged that there was a ‘discrepancy’ between the military account and that of the witnesses. ‘I don’t have an answer yet’ to explain it, he said. But, as usual, “the military is investigating the incident.” (Don’t hold your breath waiting for the results of that “investigation” to be reported.) While Iraqi-on-Iraqi “sectarian mayhem” is increasingly found on the front pages, stories detailing the actions of the occupying forces that have created and continue to drive that “mayhem” are relegated to the inside pages.

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