“Unchallenged Orientalism”: Why Liberals Suddenly Love the Lab Leak Theory

By Alan Macleod

Source

The lab leak theory bears a striking resemblance to the WMD hoax of 2002, not only in the fact that one of its key players is literally the same journalist using potentially the same anonymous sources, but also in the bipartisan political and media support it enjoys.

WUHAN, CHINA — The theory that the COVID-19 pandemic began life in a Chinese laboratory is going viral. Once considering it an anti-science conspiracy theory, the corporate press has done a full 180° turn — and many progressive, alternative media figures are following in its footsteps.

Progressive news show “The Young Turks” recorded what was effectively an apology video to their audience, explaining their new direction. “It does appear that there is some indication that a lab leak in Wuhan, China, is the origin of the coronavirus pandemic,” host Ana Kasparian told viewers. Condemning the scientific journal The Lancet, co-host Cenk Uygur explained that he had falsely placed his faith in scientists with political motives who had led him astray. Writing in The Guardian, left-wing commentator Thomas Frank flagellated himself for his “complacency” in believing the idea was a far-right conspiracy theory. The lab leak is “the most likely explanation for the origin of COVID-19,” Saagar Enjeti told his mostly progressive viewership of “Rising,” announcing that, from now on, we should be “ten times more skeptical of the Chinese government.”

This new change in outlook for so many progressive media outlets is not based on new evidence. Rather, it appears to be a result of two new articles and a change in stance from the Biden administration itself. In early May, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists republished a Medium blog post by controversial science writer Nicholas Wade. In an 11,000-word essay, Wade claims that Wuhan itself is simply far too far away from Yunnan Province — where coronavirus-carrying bats make their home — for it to be the natural source of COVID-19. The most logical explanation, Wade asserts, is that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Wade claims that the virus’s furin cleavage site —  a point on the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 where the protein can more easily divide to better infiltrate and take over human cells — must be man-made, as no such site exists in natural coronaviruses. He also notes the previously undisclosed conflict of interests that zoologist Peter Daszak has. Daszak was an organizer of the 2020 Lancet letter signed by dozens of top scientists calling the lab leak hypothesis a “conspiracy theory.” However, he did not disclose that his company, the EcoHealth Alliance, has links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Wuhan Institute of Virology
A view of the P4 lab and the Wuhan Institute of Virology is seen in China’s Hubei province, Feb. 3, 2021. Ng Han Guan | AP

Later that month, The Wall Street Journal released a report alleging that three employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology came down with flu- or COVID-like symptoms in November 2019 and sought treatment in hospital. Although based solely on anonymous accusations from U.S. officials who refused to go on record, the story went viral and was picked up by a wide range of outlets, including Reuters, The Guardian, Forbes, NBC News, Business Insider, CNN, The New York Post, Yahoo News and The Hill.

Adding some intellectual weight to the theory was a letter published in Science Magazine, in which some 20 academics wrote that further inquiry into the source of the pandemic was necessary (although many, including its chief organizer, were at pains to state elsewhere they were highly skeptical of the lab-leak conspiracy). And after Dr. Anthony Fauci said he was “not convinced” of COVID-19’s natural origin, the Biden administration abruptly changed its position, the President ordering an intelligence-services investigation into the idea, launching the lab leak theory from a discredited fringe idea to an official position with surprising rapidity.

Professor David Robertson — Head of Viral Genomics and Bioinformatics at the University of Glasgow, U.K. — told MintPress:

It’s not very clear, given the lack of new (or any) credible evidence for a lab leak, why it’s been getting so much attention. There was a letter published in Science in May that quite sensibly supports the need for further investigation but this seems to have been hijacked by a vocal minority who are essentially advocates for a lab being involved as opposed to looking at the broader range of possibilities, and what the available evidence points towards.”

In addition to mainstream outlets like The New York TimesThe Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, a host of alternative media figures have lent credibility to Wade, basing their new opinions on his work. On the “Bad Faith” podcast with former Bernie Sanders Press Secretary Briahna Joy Gray, Thomas Frank described Wade’s article as an “incredible piece of journalism,” “quite impressive” and “the likeliest explanation.” Gray appeared to agree, the two having a long conversation about the origins of COVID-19 as if Wade’s thesis has effectively been proven correct. Journalist Michael Tracey wrote that Wade’s words prove the theory is “highly plausible.” Current Affairs Editor-in-Chief Nathan J. Robinson praised Wade’s report, agreeing that it is “at the very least, a spectacular coincidence” that COVID-19 exploded so close to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Meanwhile, Enjeti based a segment called “Media’s Lab Leak Failure Is the Next Iraq WMD” on the Wall Street Journal article, telling viewers that the lab leak theory is now “the most likely explanation for the origin of COVID-19.” Popular writer Matt Taibbi also took The Wall Street Journal’s accusations at face value, claiming that “the toothpaste [is] fully out of the tube: there [is] no longer any way to say the ‘lab origin’ hypothesis [is] too silly to be reported upon.”

A theory resting on shaky ground

What is particularly worrying in all this is that there are huge, gaping flaws in the analysis. First, Wade is not some neutral expert but a discredited, racist pseudoscientist. His 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History,” contends that humanity could be broken down genetically into three distinct groups — Africans, Caucasians and East Asians — and that each are sufficiently genetically distinct from each other as to qualify as subspecies. He argued that Caucasians’ genes could explain “the rise of the West” and that African nations are poorer because they are inherently more violent and lazy, writing: “Variations in their nature, such as their time preference, work ethic and propensity to violence, have some bearing on the economic decisions [Africans] make.” Laughably, he later speculates that Asian women have smaller breasts because that is what is “much admired by Asian men.”

Nicholas Wade
Nicholas Wade, next to the Chinese edition of his seminal work, “A Troublesome Inheritance.”

Perhaps his most controversial claim, however, is that Jewish people have evolved to be genetically predisposed to hoard money, writing:

From a glance at an Eskimo’s physique, it is easy to recognize an evolutionary process at work that has molded the human form for better survival in an arctic environment. Populations that live at high altitudes, like Tibetans, represent another adaptation to extreme environments; in this case, the changes in blood cell regulation are less visible but have been identified genetically. The adaptation of Jews to capitalism is another such evolutionary process.

The book was universally panned by scientists but was acclaimed by a host of neo-Nazi figures. Former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke, for instance, hailed the work as a “fascinating insight into how Jewish Supremacists attempt to guard the gates of scientific debate.” Of all the many alternative media figures praising Wade’s new revelations about Wuhan, only Robinson mentioned his past. Why a respected organization like The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published such a person remains a mystery; MintPress asked the Bulletin for clarification but has not received an answer.

Wade’s pseudoscientific claims about the coronavirus furin might have been enough to convince progressive media stars who have no background in the field (as Frank wrote: “I am no expert in epidemics”). But they cannot fool trained scientists, who have hit back.

Virologists Angela L. Rasmussen and Stephen A. Goldstein counter that the furin site of SARS-CoV-2 has odd features that no human would ever design, making it “overwhelmingly likely” that it is natural in origin. Its sequence is suboptimal, meaning that it is relatively inefficient, bearing the hallmarks of “sloppy natural evolution.” “Any skilled virologist hoping to give a virus new properties this way would insert a furin site known to be more efficient,” they conclude.

Furthermore, the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s proximity to the outbreak is not inherently suspicious. Wuhan is a gigantic metropolis, larger than any city in the United States. It is an enormous transport and business hub situated in an area well-known for outbreaks of similar diseases and is, therefore, a natural choice for a research facility such as this. Yet there is a tendency in the West to think of it as some obscure village dominated by a virology lab. There is a myriad of laboratories in Los Angeles conducting not altogether dissimilar research. Yet if an epidemic were to break out there, it is unlikely that a natural origin would be so easily dismissed.

The SARS outbreak of the early 2000s was sparked in the markets of Guangdong, a similar distance from Yunnan as is Wuhan, with few at the time raising any eyebrows. Epidemics and pandemics usually begin in large cities as “pathogens often require heavily populated areas to become established,” one scientific study reminds us.

That is why it is particularly problematic that liberal icons like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert can ridicule the zoonotic transfer hypothesis believed by the vast majority of scientists to be the most likely explanation. “There’s been an outbreak of chocolatey goodness near Hershey, Pennsylvania. What do you think happened?” Stewart joked to an audience of millions. “Maybe it’s the fucking chocolate factory!”

If anything, The Wall Street Journal article is more suspect, given that it is based on nothing but anonymous state officials who refuse to share the evidence or go on the record. National security state operatives are among the least trustworthy sources it is possible to encounter, journalistically speaking, as it is part of their job to plant false information in order to alter public discourse. The only group less deserving of blind faith than natsec officials would be anonymous natsec officials. Yet many of the biggest and most embarrassing media blunders in recent years have been based on dodgy data from shadowy spooks feeding dubious intelligence to credulous dupes in the press.

Without a name to match a quote, a story’s credibility immediately drops, as there are no repercussions for the individual if they are untruthful. Sources (or journalists themselves, for that matter) could simply make up anything they wanted with no consequences. Therefore, using anonymous sources is strongly discouraged. The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics insists reporters “identify sources whenever feasible” and that journalists must “always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity.”

Even worse, The Wall Street Journal article’s lead author is Michael R. Gordon, the reporter infamous for co-authorship of a notorious 2002 New York Times article claiming Saddam Hussein was seeking to build weapons of mass destruction, a piece widely credited as a keystone of the push to invade Iraq the following year. For that article, Gordon also relied upon anonymous state officials. That figures in alternative media are blindly repeating his evidence-free assertions while invoking the Iraq WMD scandal, as Enjeti did, is profoundly ironic.

Gordon, famous for co-authoring a notorious NYT article peddling the now-debunked Iraqi WMD claims, is a major proponent of the lab leak theory

Gordon’s claim — that three virologists were hospitalized with flu or COVID-like symptoms in late 2019 — has been categorically rejected by Dr. Shi Zhengli, a director at the Institute. Zhengli challenged the U.S. to provide the names of those who got ill, but has received no response. It has also been disputed by the only Western scientist working there at the time. “If people were sick, I assume that I would have been sick — and I wasn’t,” said Dr. Danielle Anderson, who says she is “dumbfounded” by the portrayal of the lab in the West: “What people are saying is just not how it is.”

Josh Cho, a media critic at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, told MintPress that embedded in much of the discussion about the lab leak is a distrust of China and Chinese people, explaining:

There is a largely unchallenged Orientalism or Sinophobia among Western progressives that makes them predisposed to think the Chinese government or Chinese scientists could or would hide evidence for a laboratory origin due to an innate and exceptional penchant for ‘authoritarianism,’ ‘secrecy’ or ‘dishonesty.’ This leads to a presumption of guilt, and an interpretation of every action of the Chinese government as suspicious, when it is most likely what any other government would do in China’s situation.”

Even if the anonymous U.S. intelligence proves to be accurate, it may not be particularly surprising or revealing. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is an enormous institution with hundreds of employees. That three people there might develop flu-like symptoms in November is far from suspicious. Furthermore, the implications of going to hospital in China are completely different from in the U.S. In China, healthcare is nationalized and so a hospital visit is not something an individual avoids at all costs — unlike in the U.S., where it can bankrupt you. Moreover, many general practitioners work from hospitals rather than out of small clinics, meaning that “hospital” could simply translate to “sought basic medical consultation.” Thus, if confirmed, The Wall Street Journal scoop still could be completely mundane.

Cold warriors’ favorite theory

As former MintPress staff writer Alex Rubenstein reported late last month, the lab leak theory has been mainstreamed by hackish, hawkish frauds who, for years, have been pushing for war with China. Among its early adopters was Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who claimed in March 2020 that COVID-19 was a Chinese bioweapon unleashed on the world. While advising Trump, Bannon constantly fear mongered about China and declared he had no doubt that the U.S. would be at war with Beijing within a few years. Then-President Trump, who claims that global warming was a “hoax” invented by China to destroy the U.S., insisted he had evidence the virus began in a Chinese lab but refused to divulge it. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, among the biggest China hawks in Washington, also repeated the conspiracy.

While distinctly unfashionable in 2020, the lab leak idea was kept alive by warmongering neoconservative journalists like Josh Rogin of The Washington Post, who is now a regular guest on progressive media platforms like Krystal Ball and Enjeti’s “Breaking Points.” “You almost have to see it to believe how depraved this is. Indistinguishable from ‘Fox and Friends,’” remarked a dismayed Sam Sacks of Means TV.

These neocon talking points have been laundered into alternative media by those critiquing the establishment, Democratic-aligned press for its complete about-turn on the issue. Appearing on Fox News, Glenn Greenwald praised Rogin and condemned corporate media for their groupthink. “Journalists so often judge things not by what is true or not true but by what is politically beneficial to the partisan audience that they’re serving,” he said, even adding that “maybe Trump was right” about the virus’ origins.

Appearing on “The Jimmy Dore Show,” Taibbi was of a similar mindset, stating:

Originally what happened with this story was that, like everything else in the Trump era, the coverage of COVID was heavily politicized from the very start. The idea of a lab origin for COVID was associated with Trump, Mike Pompeo and Tom Cotton, so it was automatically bad and a conspiracy theory. And that’s really how the press treated it for the better part of a year.”

Dore responded that the media were a bunch of “spineless cowards” who pushed a “false narrative” about the lab leak theory being wrong.

Going unconsidered, apparently, is that the Democrats’ change of heart might not have anything to do with new scientific evidence and more to do with the fact that they now control the reins of power and are cynically using the same tactics Republicans used before them to ramp up hostility towards China.

During the Trump administration, Democrats condemned the treatment of immigrants on the border, raising hell about “concentration camps” and “kids in cages.” Yet, as soon as they found themselves in office, the pretense dropped and they pursued largely the same policies on the border. Speaking in Guatemala, Vice-President Kamala Harris sounded positively Trumpian as she warned those listening “do not come” to the United States. “The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders,” she added. Meanwhile, immigrant children are still being detained in cages, except that media have rechristened them “overflow facilities” and the camps have the word “bienvenidos” (Spanish for “welcome”) painted on their roofs. Despite this, no one in alternative media claims that Trump was right all along about the kids in cages.

Going further back, Obama and the Democrats condemned the Bush administration’s endless wars. Yet once in office, Obama expanded them, and was bombing seven countries simultaneously by the end of his tenure.

Stopping China’s economic rise is a bipartisan priority, and the Biden administration has proven to be every bit as committed to increasing aggressive actions towards Beijing as Trump was. None of this is to say that criticizing establishment media’s abrupt change of direction on the lab leak theory is not important or noteworthy. But it is all being done from the assumption that now the media are on the right track, that the global scientific community is not to be trusted, and that Bannon, Cotton and the rest were ahead of the curve. What many in alternative media appear not to have considered is the possibility that now that the Democrats are in office, they are attempting to weaponize the same smears as a way of increasing the pressure on China, with the media following suit.

Ignoring the science

A large majority of the public now believe COVID-19 started in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Last month, more than three times as many Americans told pollster YouGov that the theory was true than said it was false. Some 83% of Americans also support punishing China if the lab leak is proven correct, including by sanctioning it and forcing it to pay reparations to the dead or affected — something that could bankrupt the country almost overnight. This is music to the neocons’ ears, who likely can barely believe that so many progressive, anti-war voices are going along with their theory.

What is striking about the tone and outlook of the media coverage of the lab leak theory is how strongly it jars with the opinion of scientists. As Cho told MintPress:

A lot of the progressive commentators who are now giving more credibility to the lab leak theory because they are persuaded it’s more plausible now than before don’t seem to be aware of the latest scientific developments and arguments [and] that most scientists are making for the case that SARS-CoV-2 developed naturally.”

Professor Robertson was of a similar opinion:

At some point the lab-leak narrative seems to have become a story in its own right and has been written about as if it’s an equivalent possibility to a natural origin for SARS-CoV-2, which is simply not the case. The available evidence supports zoonotic spillover similar to the first SARS-virus.”

In March, a large team of international experts from the World Health Organization traveled to China and concluded that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely.” The leader of the team, Danish scientist Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, said that after visiting Wuhan he is more confident than ever that the idea is false. Yet media reporting on the study came away with exactly the opposite conclusion, sowing discord and doubt. “Theory that COVID came from a Chinese lab takes on new life in wake of WHO report,” ran NPR’s headline.

covid protest
A woman holds a sign at a protest against stay-at-home orders outside the Missouri Capitol. Jeff Roberson | AP

Writing in Wired, scientist and science communicator Adam Rogers criticized much of the coverage. “The evidence hasn’t changed since spring of 2020. That evidence was always incomplete, and may never be complete. History and science suggest the animal-jump is way more likely than the lab-leak/cover-up,” he wrote, comparing lab leak theorists to evolution deniers and tobacco lobbyists sowing doubt by insisting we “teach the controversy” where there is none.

Dan Samorodnitsky, senior editor of Massive Science and a figure who has a background working in virus research, was even more scathing about the return of the theory. “If the question is ‘are both hypotheses possible?’ the answer is yes…If the question is ‘are they equally likely?’ the answer is absolutely not,” he wrote, explaining:

One hypothesis requires a colossal cover-up and the silent, unswerving, leak-proof compliance of a vast network of scientists, civilians, and government officials for over a year. The other requires only for biology to behave as it always has, for a family of viruses that have done this before to do it again. The zoonotic spillover hypothesis is simple and explains everything. It’s scientific malpractice to pretend that one idea is equally as meritorious as the other.

“I would be embarrassed to stand up in front of a room of scientists, lay out both hypotheses, and then pretend that one isn’t clearly, obviously better than the other,” Samorodnitsky concluded.

Confidence in a natural origin of COVID-19 has actually grown over time, as the virus’s evolutionary trajectory has undermined the idea that it was artificially designed, not that one would guess that from listening to media or to politicians. Meanwhile, as more investigation is done into the earliest patients, it is clear that a majority of them — including two of the first three documented cases — were at the Huanan wet market where a wide range of wild animals that could potentially carry the virus were sold. There are still zero confirmed cases of staff falling ill at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a building over 17 miles away from Huanan market, where data mapping shows that early cases were clustered around.

Earlier this week, The Lancet, which came in for considerable criticism for its previous publication condemning lab leak conspiracy theorists, refused to back down, maintaining that the idea “remain[s] without scientifically validated evidence that directly supports it” (It did however, include a conflict of interests section this time, tacitly accepting that this part of Wade’s criticism was indeed valid). Its authors also directly warned of the danger of scapegoating China. “Recrimination has not, and will not, encourage international cooperation and collaboration,” they wrote. “It is time to turn down the heat of the rhetoric and turn up the light of scientific inquiry if we are to be better prepared to stem the next pandemic, whenever it comes and wherever it begins.”

The coming war on China

The backdrop of the Biden administration’s sudden change of heart to parrot its predecessor is the increased U.S. buildup of hostilities against Beijing. President Joe Biden recently stated that the defining struggle of the 21st century will be that of the U.S. against China. Throughout 2020, the President’s team quietly stated that their entire industrial and foreign policy would revolve around “compet[ing] with China,” with their top priorities being “dealing with authoritarian governments, defending democracy and tackling corruption, as well as understanding how these challenges intersect with new technologies, such as 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology.”

Earlier this year, NATO think tank the Atlantic Council published a 26,000-word report laying out its strategy to suffocate the People’s Republic. It advised Biden to draw a number of red lines around the country, past which the U.S. would directly intervene (presumably militarily). These include Chinese attempts to expand into the South China Sea, an attack on the disputed Senkaku Islands, and moves against Taiwan’s independence. A North Korean strike on any of its neighbors would also necessitate an American response against China, the report insists, because “China must fully own responsibility for the behavior of its North Korean ally.” Any backing down from this stance, the Council states, would result in national “humiliation” for the United States. If this could all be established, it noted, regime change in Beijing could be a distinct possibility. Top military officials like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster have called for the establishment of an “Asian NATO” to achieve this dream. already there are well over 400 military bases encircling the country.

The U.S. is also conducting military operations in the region, readying itself for a potential war. Last summer, American ships sailed to the Chinese coast, the U.S.S. Rafael Peralta coming to within 41 nautical miles of the coastal megacity Shanghai. Meanwhile, American planes, including nuclear bombers, fly overhead, attempting to gain intelligence on Chinese defenses.

In addition to the military buildup, the U.S. has begun an economic and information war against Beijing, the Trump administration placing sanctions on the country and attempting to halt the expansion of the Belt and Road initiative, block Huawei’s global 5G rollout, and force Chinese-owned social media app TikTok to sell to an American company. At the same time, Twitter, under counsel from a U.S.-funded think tank, decided to delete more than 170,000 Chinese accounts in a single day, the think tank having accused them of spreading pro-China narratives.

The result of the increased hostilities has been the meteoric rise of anti-China sentiment in the U.S., along with a similar spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. The number of Americans seeing China as their number one enemy has more than doubled in 12 months. This is not a partisan issue, according to Pew Research, with a similar increase in “get tough on China” attitudes among Democratic and Republican voters.

It is this context in which the return of the lab leak theory should be seen. Lab leaks do happen. But there is precious little hard evidence that such is the case here. That so many of the nation’s top alternative news figures — individuals who stood against U.S. wars and against similar campaigns, such as RussiaGate — are buying into this one is remarkable. This is especially the case in light of the fact that the evidence is so weak and comes from highly discredited sources, while scientists remain highly skeptical of the theory.

The lab leak hypothesis was first pushed by the far-right and signal boosted by President Trump. In recent weeks, the Democrats have appropriated it wholesale, as they have with several other Republican policies. Corporate media’s newfound interest in the theory has nothing to do with its veracity, as many in alternative spaces have alleged.

The lab leak theory bears a striking resemblance to the weapons of mass destruction hoax of 2002-03, not only in the fact that one of its key players is literally the same journalist using potentially the same anonymous sources, but also in the bipartisan political and media support for the project, all while ignoring the opinions of the scientific community. That so many in alternative media who question war and U.S. intervention not only cannot see that, but are invoking the WMD story to bolster their own side, is extraordinary, and shows how badly the need is to build up a healthy media ecosystem.

Between 2001 and 2003, the public was subjected to a constant barrage of pro-war propaganda. But at least nascent alternative media offered a dissenting voice. Anti-war voices pushing the lab leak theory might one day find it is too late to stop the clock on the dangerous drive towards a second Cold War. If there is any conflict with China, it will make Iraq look like a tea party by comparison. But truth, in war, is always the first casualty.

What the Press Hides From You About Venezuela

A Case of News Suppression

Introduction

This news-report is being submitted to all U.S. and allied news-media, and is being published by all honest ones, in order to inform you of crucial facts that the others — the dishonest ones, who hide such crucial facts — are hiding about Venezuela. These are facts that have received coverage only in one single British newspaper: the Independent, which published a summary account of them on January 26th. That newspaper’s account will be excerpted here at the end, but first will be highlights from its topic, the official report to the U.N. General Assembly in August of last year, which has been covered-up ever since. This is why that report’s author has now gone to the Independent, desperate to get the story out, finally, to the public:

The Covered Up Document

On 3 August 2018, the U.N.’s General Assembly received the report from the U.N. Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, concerning his mission to Venezuela and Ecuador. His recent travel through both countries focused on “how best to enhance the enjoyment of all human rights by the populations of both countries.

” He “noted the eradication of illiteracy, free education from primary school to university, and programmes to reduce extreme poverty, provide housing to the homeless and vulnerable, phase out privilege and discrimination, and extend medical care to everyone.”

He noted

“that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and Ecuador, both devote around 70 per cent of their national budgets to social services.”

However, (and here, key paragraphs from the report are now quoted):

22. Observers have identified errors committed by the Chávez and Maduro Governments, noting that there are too many ideologues and too few technocrats in public administration, resulting in government policies that lack coherence and professional management and discourage domestic investment, already crippled by inefficiency and corruption, which extend to government officials, transnational corporations and entrepreneurs. Critics warn about the undue influence of the military on government and on the running of enterprises like Petróleos de Venezuela. The lack of regular, publicly available data on nutrition, epidemiology and inflation are said to complicate efforts to provide humanitarian support.

23. Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Tarek Saab, has launched a vigorous anticorruption campaign, investigating the links between Venezuelan enterprises and tax havens, contracting scams, and deals by public officials with Odebrecht. It is estimated that corruption in the oil industry has cost the Government US$ 4.8 billion. The Attorney General’s Office informed the Independent Expert of pending investigations for embezzlement and extortion against 79 officials of Petróleos de Venezuela, including 22 senior managers. The Office also pointed to the arrest of two high-level oil executives, accused of money-laundering in Andorra. The Ministry of Justice estimates corruption losses at some US$ 15 billion. Other stakeholders, in contrast, assert that anti-corruption programmes are selective and have not sufficiently targeted State institutions, including the military.

29. Over the past sixty years, non-conventional economic wars have been waged against Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in order to make their economies fail, facilitate regime change and impose a neo-liberal socioeconomic model. In order to discredit selected governments, failures in the field of human rights are maximized so as to make violent overthrow more palatable. Human rights are being “weaponized” against rivals. Yet, human rights are the heritage of every human being and should never be instrumentalized as weapons of demonization.

30. The principles of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States belong to customary international law and have been reaffirmed in General Assembly resolutions, notably [a list is supplied].

31. In its judgment of 27 June 1986 concerning Nicaragua v. United States, the International Court of Justice quoted from [U.N.] resolution 2625 (XXV): “no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State”.

36. The effects of sanctions imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump and unilateral measures by Canada and the European Union have directly and indirectly aggravated the shortages in medicines such as insulin and anti-retroviral drugs. To the extent that economic sanctions have caused delays in distribution and thus contributed to many deaths, sanctions contravene the human rights obligations of the countries imposing them. Moreover, sanctions can amount to crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. An investigation by that Court would be appropriate, but the geopolitical submissiveness of the Court may prevent this.

37. Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees. A difference, perhaps, is that twenty-first century sanctions are accompanied by the manipulation of public opinion through “fake news”, aggressive public relations and a pseudo-human rights rhetoric so as to give the impression that a human rights “end” justifies the criminal means.

39. Economic asphyxiation policies are comparable to those already practised in Chile, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua and the Syrian Arab Republic. In January 2018, Middle East correspondent of The Financial Times and The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, wrote on the sanctions affecting Syria:

There is usually a pretence that foodstuffs and medical equipment are being allowed through freely and no mention is made of the financial and other regulatory obstacles making it impossible to deliver them. An example of this is the draconian sanctions imposed on Syria by the US and EU which were meant to target President Bashar al-Assad and help remove him from power. They have wholly failed to do this, but a UN internal report leaked in 2016 shows all too convincingly the effect of the embargo in stopping the delivery of aid by international aid agencies. They cannot import the aid despite waivers because banks and commercial companies dare not risk being penalised for having anything to do with Syria. The report quotes a European doctor working in Syria as saying that “the indirect effect of sanctions … makes the import of the medical instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult, near impossible”.

In short: economic sanctions kill.

41. Bearing in mind that Venezuelan society is polarized, what is most needed is dialogue between the Government and the opposition, and it would be a noble task on the part of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to offer his good offices for such a dialogue. Yet, opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Julio Borges, during a trip through Europe to denounce the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, called for further sanctions as well as a military “humanitarian intervention”.

44. Although the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has not yet reached the humanitarian crisis threshold, there is hunger, malnutrition, anxiety, anguish and emigration. What is crucial is to study the causes of the crisis, including neglected factors of sanctions, sabotage, hoarding, black market activities, induced inflation and contraband in food and medicines. 

45. The “crisis” in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is an economic crisis, which cannot be compared with the humanitarian crises in Gaza, Yemen, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Haiti, Mali, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, or Myanmar, among others. It is significant that when, in 2017, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela requested medical aid from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the plea was rejected, because it ”is still a high-income country … and as such is not eligible”.

46. It is pertinent to recall the situation in the years prior to the election of Hugo Chávez. 118 Corruption was ubiquitous and in 1993, President Carlos Pérez was removed because of embezzlement. The Chávez election in 1998 reflected despair with the corruption and neo-liberal policies of the 1980s and 1990s, and rejection of the gulf between the super-rich and the abject poor.

47. Participatory democracy in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, called “protagónica”, is anchored in the Constitution of 1999 and relies on frequent elections and referendums. During the mission, the Independent Expert exchanged views with the Electoral Commission and learned that in the 19 years since Chávez, 25 elections and referendums had been conducted, 4 of them observed by the Carter Center. The Independent Expert met with the representative of the Carter Center in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, who recalled Carter’s positive assessment of the electoral system. They also discussed the constitutional objections raised by the opposition to the referendum held on 30 July 2017, resulting in the creation of a Constitutional Assembly. Over 8 million Venezuelans voted in the referendum, which was accompanied by international observers, including from the Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America. 

48. An atmosphere of intimidation accompanied the mission, attempting to pressure the Independent Expert into a predetermined matrix. He received letters from NGOs asking him not to proceed because he was not the “relevant” rapporteur, and almost dictating what should be in the report. Weeks before his arrival, some called the mission a “fake investigation”. Social media insults bordered on “hate speech” and “incitement”. Mobbing before, during and after the mission bore a resemblance to the experience of two American journalists who visited the country in July 2017. Utilizing platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, critics questioned the Independent Expert’s integrity and accused him of bias, demonstrating a culture of intransigence and refusal to accept the duty of an independent expert to be neutral, objective, dispassionate and to apply his expertise free of external pressures.

67. The Independent Expert recommends that the General Assembly: (g) Invoke article 96 of the Charter of the United Nations and refer the following questions to the International Court of Justice: Can unilateral coercive measures be compatible with international law? Can unilateral coercive measures amount to crimes against humanity when a large number of persons perish because of scarcity of food and medicines? What reparations are due to the victims of sanctions? Do sanctions and currency manipulations constitute geopolitical crimes? (h) Adopt a resolution along the lines of the resolutions on the United States embargo against Cuba, declaring the sanctions against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela contrary to international law and human rights law.

70. The Independent Expert recommends that the International Criminal Court investigate the problem of unilateral coercive measures that cause death from malnutrition, lack of medicines and medical equipment.

72. The Independent Expert recommends that, until the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court address the lethal outcomes of economic wars and sanctions regimes, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal, the Russell Tribunal and the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission undertake the task so as to facilitate future judicial pronouncements.

On January 26th, Britain’s Independent headlined “Venezuela crisis: Former UN rapporteur says US sanctions are killing citizens“, and Michael Selby-Green reported that:

The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law.

Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans.

The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him.

The US Treasury has not responded to a request for comment on Mr de Zayas’s allegations of the effects of the sanctions programme.

US sanctions prohibit dealing in currencies issued by the Venezuelan government. They also target individuals, and stop US-based companies or people from buying and selling new debt issued by PDVSA or the government.

The US has previously defended its sanctions on Venezuela, with a senior US official saying in 2018: “The fact is that the greatest sanction on Venezuelan oil and oil production is called Nicolas Maduro, and PDVSA’s inefficiencies,” referring to the state-run oil body, Petroleos de Venezuela, SA.

Mr De Zayas’s findings are based on his late-2017 mission to the country and interviews with 12 Venezuelan government minsters, opposition politicians, 35 NGOs working in the country, academics, church officials, activists, chambers of commerce and regional UN agencies.

The US imposed new sanctions against Venezuela on 9 March 2015, when President Barack Obama issued executive order 13692, declaring the country a threat to national security.

The sanctions have since intensified under Donald Trump, who has also threatened military invasion and discussed a coup.

Despite being the first UN official to visit and report from Venezuela in 21 years, Mr de Zayas said his research into the causes of the country’s economic crisis has so far largely been ignored by the UN and the media, and caused little debate within the Human Rights Council.

He believes his report has been ignored because it goes against the popular narrative that Venezuela needs regime change.

The then UN high commissioner, Zeid Raad Al Hussein1, reportedly refused to meet Mr de Zayas after the visit, and the Venezuela desk of the UN Human Rights Council also declined to help with his work after his return despite being obliged to do so, Mr de Zayas claimed.

Ivan Briscoe, Latin America and Caribbean programme director for Crisis Group, an international NGO, told The Independent that Venezuela is a polarising subject. … Briscoe is critical of Mr de Zayas’s report because it highlights US economic warfare but in his view neglects to mention the impact of a difficult business environment in the country. … Briscoe acknowledged rising tensions and the likely presence of US personnel operating covertly in the country.

Eugenia Russian, president of FUNDALATIN, one of the oldest human rights NGOs in Venezuela, founded in 1978 before the Chavez and Maduro governments and with special consultative status at the UN, spoke to The Independent on the significance of the sanctions.

“In contact with the popular communities, we consider that one of the fundamental causes of the economic crisis in the country is the effect that the unilateral coercive sanctions that are applied in the economy, especially by the government of the United States,” Ms Russian said.

She said there may also be causes from internal errors, but said probably few countries in the world have suffered an “economic siege” like the one Venezuelans are living under.

In his report, Mr de Zayas expressed concern that those calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis” are trying to justify regime change and that human rights are being “weaponised” to discredit the government and make violent overthrow more “palatable”….

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and an abundance of other natural resources including gold, bauxite and coltan. But under the Maduro government they’re not easily accessible to US and transnational corporations.

US oil companies had large investments in Venezuela in the early 20th century but were locked out after Venezuelans voted to nationalise the industry in 1973.

Other than readers of that single newspaper, where has the public been able to find these facts? If the public can have these facts hidden from them, then how much trust should the public reasonably have in the government, and in the news-media?

• Here is the garbage that a reader comes to, who is trying to find online Mr. de Zayas’s report on this matter:  As intended, the document remains effectively hidden to the present day. Perhaps the U.N. needs to be replaced and located in Venezuela, Iran, or some other country that’s targeted for take-over by the people who effectively own the United States Government and control the U.N.’s bureaucracy. The hiding of this document was done not only by the press but by the U.N. itself.

• On January 23rd, Germany’s Die Zeit headlined “Christoph Flügge: ‘I am deeply disturbed’: The U.N. International Criminal Court Judge Christoph Flügge Accuses Western Nations of Threatening the Independence of the Judges“. Flügge especially cited U.S. President Trump’s agent, John Bolton. That same day, the Democratic Party and Labour Party organ, Britain’s Guardian, bannered “International criminal court: UN court judge quits The Hague citing political interference“. This news-report said that, “A senior judge has resigned from one of the UN’s international courts in The Hague citing ‘shocking’ political interference from the White House and Turkey.” The judge especially criticised Bolton: “The American security adviser held his speech at a time when The Hague was planning preliminary investigations into American soldiers who had been accused of torturing people in Afghanistan. The American threats against international judges clearly show the new political climate. It is shocking. I had never heard such a threat.” Flügge said that the judges on the court had been “stunned” that “the US would roll out such heavy artillery”. Flügge told the Guardian: “It is consistent with the new American line: ‘We are No 1 and we stand above the law’.”

• On February 6th, a former UK Ambassador to Syria vented at an alt-news site, 21st Century Wire (since he couldn’t get any of the major-media sites to publish it), “A Guide to Decoding the Doublespeak on Syria“, and he brazenly exposed there the Doublespeak-Newspeak that the U.S. Government and press (what he called America’s “frothing neocons and their liberal interventionist fellow travellers”) apply in order to report the ‘news’ about Syria. So: how can the public, in a country such as the U.S., democratically control the Government, if the government and its press are lying to them, like that, all the time, and so routinely?

Israel Is Bad for America

By Philip Giraldi
Source

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American journalism has become in its mainstream exponents a compendium of half-truths and out-and-out lies. The public, though poorly informed on most issues as a result, has generally figured out that it is being hoodwinked and trust in the Fourth Estate has plummeted over the past twenty years. The skepticism about what is being reported has enabled President Donald Trump and other politicians to evade serious questions about policy by claiming that what is being reported is little more than “fake news.”

No news is more fake than the reporting in the U.S. media that relates to the state of Israel. Former Illinois congressman Paul Findley in his seminal book They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby observed that nearly all the foreign press correspondents working out of Israel are Jewish while most of the editors that they report to at news desks are also Jews, guaranteeing that the articles that eventually surface in the newspapers will be carefully constructed to minimize any criticism of the Jewish state. The same goes for television news, particularly on cable news stations like CNN.

A particularly galling aspect of the sanitization of news reports regarding Israel is the underlying assumption that Israelis share American values and interests, to include freedom and democracy. This leads to the perception that Israelis are just like Americans with Israel’s enemies being America’s enemies. Given that, it is natural to believe that the United States and Israel are permanent allies and friends and that it is in the U.S. interest to do whatever is necessary to support Israel, including providing billions of dollars in aid to a country that is already wealthy as well as unlimited political cover in international bodies like the United Nations.

That bogus but nevertheless seemingly eternal bond is essentially the point from which a December 26th op-ed in The New York Times departs. The piece is by one of the Times’ resident opinion writers Bret Stephens and is entitled Donald Trump is Bad for Israel.

Stephens gets to the point rather quickly, claiming that “The president has abruptly undermined Israel’s security following a phone call with an Islamist strongman in Turkey. So much for the idea, common on the right, that this is the most pro-Israel administration ever. I write this as someone who supported Trump moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and who praised his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal as courageous and correct. I also would have opposed the president’s decision to remove U.S. forces from Syria under nearly any circumstances. Contrary to the invidious myth that neoconservatives always put Israel first, the reasons for staying in Syria have everything to do with core U.S. interests. Among them: Keeping ISIS beaten, keeping faith with the Kurds, maintaining leverage in Syria and preventing Russia and Iran from consolidating their grip on the Levant.”

The beauty of Stephens overwrought prose is that the careful reader might realize from the git-go that the argument being promoted makes no sense. Bret has a big heart for the Kurds but the Palestinians are invisible in his piece while his knowledge of other developments in the Middle East is superficial. First of all, the phone call with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had nothing to do with “undermining Israel’s security.” It concerned the northern border of Syria, which Turkey shares, and arrangements for working with the Kurds, which is a vital interest for both Ankara and Washington. And it might be added that from a U.S. national security point of view Turkey is an essential partner for the United States in the region while Israel is not, no matter what it pretends to be.

Stephens then goes on to demonstrate what he claims to be a libel, that for him and other neocons Israel always comes first, an odd assertion given the fact that he spends 80% of his article discussing what is or isn’t good for Israel. He supports the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem, the end of the nuclear agreement with Iran, both of which were applauded in Israel but which are extremely damaging to American interests. He attacks the planned withdrawal from Syria because it is a “core interest” for the U.S., which is complete nonsense.

Contrary to Stephens’ no evidence assertion, Russia and Iran have neither the resources nor the desire to “consolidate[e] their grip on the Levant” while it is the United States has no right and no real interest to “maintain leverage” on Syria by invading and occupying the country. But, of course, invading and occupying are practices that Israel is good at, so Stephens’ brain fart on the issue can perhaps be attributed to confusion over whose bad policies he was defending. Stephens also demonstrate confusion over his insistence that the U.S. must “resist foreign aggressors…the Russians and Iranians in Syria in this decade,” suggesting that he is unaware that both nations are providing assistance at the request of the legitimate government in Damascus. It is the U.S. and Israel that are the aggressors in Syria.

Stephens then looks at the situation from the “Israeli standpoint,” which is presumably is easy for him to do as that is how he looks at everything given the fact that he is far more concerned about Israel’s interests than those of the United States. Indeed, all of his opinions are based on the assumption that U.S. policy should be supportive of a rightwing Israeli government, that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has recently been indicted for corruption and has called for an early election to subvert the process.

Bret finally comes to the point, writing that “What Israel most needs from the U.S. today is what it needed at its birth in 1948: an America committed to defending the liberal-international order against totalitarian enemies, as opposed to one that conducts a purely transactional foreign policy based on the needs of the moment or the whims of a president.”

Stephens then expands on what it means to be liberal-international: “It means we should oppose militant religious fundamentalism, whether it is Wahhabis in Riyadh or Khomeinists in Tehran or Muslim Brothers in Cairo and Ankara. It means we should advocate human rights, civil liberties, and democratic institutions, in that order.”

Bret also throws America’s two most recent presidents under the bus in his jeremiad, saying “During the eight years of the Obama presidency, I thought U.S. policy toward Israel — the hectoringthe incompetent diplomatic interventionsthe moral equivocationsthe Iran dealthe backstabbing at the U.N. — couldn’t get worse. As with so much else, Donald Trump succeeds in making his predecessors look good.” He then asks “Is any of this good for Israel?” and he answers “no.”

Bret Stephens in his complaining reveals himself to be undeniably all about Israel, but consider what he is actually saying. He claims to be against “militant religious fundamentalism,” but isn’t that what Israeli Zionism is all about, with more than a dash of racism and fanaticism thrown in for good measure? One Israeli Chief Rabbi has called black people “monkeys” while another has declared that gentiles cannot live in Israel. Right-wing religious fundamentalist parties currently are in power with Netanyahu and are policy making for the Israeli Government: Shas, Jewish Home, and United Torah Judaism. None of them could be regarded as a moderating influence on their thuggish serial financial lawbreaker Prime Minister.

And isn’t Israel’s record on human rights and civil liberties among the worst in the world? Here is the Human Rights Watch’s assessment of Israel:

“Israel maintains entrenched discriminatory systems that treat Palestinians unequally. Its 50-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza involves systematic rights abuses, including collective punishment, routine use of excessive lethal force, and prolonged administrative detention without charge or trial for hundreds. It builds and supports illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, expropriating Palestinian land and imposing burdens on Palestinians but not on settlers, restricting their access to basic services and making it nearly impossible for them to build in much of the West Bank without risking demolition. Israel’s decade-long closure of Gaza, supported by Egypt, severely restricts the movement of people and goods, with devastating humanitarian impact.”

Israel, if one is considering the entire population under its rule, is among the most undemocratic states that chooses to call itself democratic. Much of the population living in lands that Israel claims cannot vote, they have no freedom of movement in their homeland, and they have no right of return to homes that they were forced to abandon. Israeli army snipers blithely shoot unarmed demonstrators while Netanyahu’s government kills, beats and imprisons children. And the Jewish state does not even operate very democratically even inside Israel itself, with special rights for Jewish citizens and areas and whole towns where Muslims or Christians are not allowed to buy property or reside.

It is time for American Jews like Bret Stephens to come to the realization that not everything that is good for Israel is good for the U.S. The strategic interests of the two countries, if they were openly discussed in either the media or in congress, would be seen to be often in direct conflict. Somehow in Stephens’ twisted mind the 1948 theft of Palestinian lands and the imposition of an apartheid system to control the people is in some way representative of a liberal world order.

If one were to suggest that Stephens should move to Israel since his primary loyalty clearly lies there, there would be accusations of anti-Semitism, but in a sense, it is far better to have him stick around blathering from the pulpit of The New York Times. When he writes so ineptly about how Donald Trump Is Bad for Israel the real message that comes through loud and clear is how bad Israel is for America.

 

Khashoggi: How US Media Is Losing Its Moral Compass by Feeding Off Conspiracy Theories

By Martin Jay
Source

Trump’s relationship with Erdogan raises new questions about the credibility of US mainstream journalism. Was Khashoggi a victim of a Turkish ‘honey trap’?

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The Washington Post continues its banal attack on the regime of Saudi Arabia, following the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate on October 2. In Turkey too there is much which the western media cannot understand or refuses to probe, as Ankara plays a game of blackmail with Riyadh in a bid to extract a deal from Mohammad bin Salman who is at the centre of its character assassination.

But what are we missing? What is at the heart of this story which isn’t getting picked up by journalists or even TV commentators in the region?

Much has been written about the ‘free license’ that Trump and his son in law, Jared Kushner gave the Saudi prince and that this murder is an inevitable consequence of such blinded dogma towards ones allies. There is some truth in this, but if you are to look at the coverage of, in particular, the US media over Khashoggi, you might be curious to understand why it is so extensive and prolonged. After all, Saudi Arabia has been kidnapping its own dissidents for years and there are many western journalists who are killed or go missing around the world which get minimal coverage. Why such an entrenched campaign for Khashoggi?

Guilty

Partly this is a guilt complex of the Wapo editors, who I have accused in earlier articles for more or less sending Khashoggi on a suicide mission when they chose to publish his articles in Arabic. This was recently confirmed when Khashoggi’s editor at the Post – Karen Attiah – admitted to The Independent that the traffic which the Arabic articles generated shocked bosses there. I have always argued that this was a final blow for MbS, humiliated now by his adversaries in Riyadh who can read about his failings on a regular basis.

And it’s also about the fact that the Post considered him part of the DC elite. One of their own, which explains why he has become so canonised and his personality enshrined in virtue.

Their trade is treachery

In truth, Khashoggi was no saint. He took the King’s shilling from the Saudi elite all his life and made a good lifestyle for himself. At the end of a thirty year relationship of working for them and learning all of their secrets, he used that privilege as a weapon to destroy MbS. In most cultures around the world, this is called treachery. We should remember that even in London in 1963, when British spy Kim Philby defected to Moscow, many wanted him to hang for selling out to the Russians and being a double agent for all his career. Khashoggi may well have been an amiable character. But he was also a traitor.

We are led to believe that he left Riyadh in 2017 because he feared being detained. But could it be that he was frustrated at not being promoted within the hierarchy?

A select number of journalists and academics, like Dr Nafeez Ahmed, support this theory, in part at least and go further to say that Khashoggi was murdered because he was about to distribute solid evidence of the Saudis using chemical weapons in Yemen. The British academic also underlines Khashoggi’s role for Saudi intelligence and, moreover, how he helped the Saudi royal family support Bin Laden, right up until 9-11.

Yet my own sources close to the Saudi elite tell me that MbS wanted to call him back to Riyadh because Khashoggi was at the centre of a coup in the making, which would have benefitted the former Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, and still operated very much as though he was a Saudi intelligence asset. Not so much a treacherous journalist who didn’t know which side his bread was buttered, but more a double agent who was the gatekeeper of incendiary information. Something had to be done about Khashoggi.

Frustrated journalists are dangerous people. They lose sight of their loyalties and promises they made. And Khashoggi was an odd character struggling with an identity crisis. Is it the same case with Karen Attieh on the Oped desk of the Post which managed him? Did she connect with him as she too feels not taken seriously by her bosses at the Washington Post?

Conspiracy theory extended? Unfortunately we are led to feral speculation when we are denied the facts, especially deliberately.

Western media has a lot to be ashamed of on both covering up the Khashoggi murder – by going along with the demonization of the kingdom – and in being part of it happening in the first place. How does all of the gory details about Khashoggi’s murder get reported as fact by the Post, when it has no proof from the Turkish police sources who supply them? There is gargantuan hypocrisy at play here as the Post is part of a conspiracy now. It played a role in Khashoggi getting murdered and it is now playing a role in diverting blame away from itself and blithely accusing Saudi Arabia’s leader of the murder with little or no solid evidence. This is sloppy journalism on a whole new scale and shows a dire lack of journalistic credibility and judgment (unless of course the Post is part of a murky campaign of disinformation which has been agreed between Ankara and Washington whose firebrand leaders are now on good terms once again). Is the Post part of a dirty deal which has been struck by Trump and Erdogan to rewrite this story?

Far fetched? Ludicrous? Maybe, but let’s look at the facts. Trump is standing back and letting Erdogan continue with his drip feeding of sensational detailed evidence, in a blackmail game with MbS – but what’s the price Americans pay for that? To place himself at the centre of that charade, Trump has indicated to the Saudis that they need to release women activists from jail (likely to happen soon) and to cancel the Qatar blockade (on the cards, but will take longer). But before that happens, what we are witnessing is Trump looking for a media distraction (sanctions against the Saudi ‘killers’) while he mulls the idea of letting Erdogan have the exiled cleric, Gulen, who the Turkish President accuses of being the architect of the July 2017 attempted coup.

But he has also allowed Erdogan to use the US media as a platform for his own moral tutelage. Yes, astonishingly, the Washington Post – which presents itself as an arbiter of free speech and a protector of journalists and their sanctity, following Khashoggi’s murder – chose to publish Erdogan’s Oped about the affair, giving the Turkish leader the edge in the power game by selling out the lives of all 170 journalists in Turkish prisons, which, presumably, Wapo editors just forgot about on that given day. One can only assume that Karen Attiah managed to hold back the tears for those who are rotting in Turkish prisons for merely writing an Oped which vexed the Turkish leader.

Presumably Erdogan paid the Post to publish the piece – otherwise, if it were gratis, then that would be like wapo supporting him and his political leadership. But was this the same money that Saudi Arabia is reported to pay to regional media outlets to buy their loyalty? How can a Middle Eastern leader who has imprisoned a record number of journalists and who is now blackmailing the Saudis, get the support from the Washington Post? Can this really be happening?

Erdogan must be laughing his head off in Turkey as he sees day after day that western media just report as facts, what his officials say about the details of the murder. And laughing even hysterically when all he needs to do is write an article taking the moral high ground – don’t laugh – on the rights of journalists in the region and give it to the Post to publish.

The dark side of Khashoggi murder

Good investigative journalists are cynical about everything which is presented to them. Is, for example, the relationship between Khashoggi and his fiancé entirely what it seemed, or was she directed by Erdogan to ‘honey trap’ the Saudi journalist as part of an elaborate plot to ensnare the Saudi crown prince? Sources from the intelligence community of one middle eastern country (I prefer not to name which one) are at least beginning to wonder about this. And almost certainly so are the Saudis. Yet western journalists who refuse to at least consider that the Khashoggi abduction was bungled (and ended up being a murder) are likely to call this a conspiracy theory. Even if it is, they should at least report on it and mull it. What about all the tools which the hit team brought, they might ask. Could they have been brought to be used to scare Khashoggi into handing over the information that MbS was seeking?

Khashoggi’s fiancé doesn’t seem distraught and the sheer speed in which the couple headed towards the marriage courts is questionable, as is, indeed her own personal relationship with Erdogan, which she even admitted to the BBC. Other questions should be the ‘evidence’ presented by Erdogan, which is looking ropy to say the least, which some journalists are identifying as such.

For the moment, the only certain thing about the Khashoggi affair is how standards of western media have plummeted to an all time low with the Post leading the pack with partisan judgment, check book journalism and an internal guilt trip fuelling their unremarkable reporting, not to mention their abysmal editorial judgment. American media has lost the moral compass and Khashoggi will be remembered for this above all – with many arguing that this, in itself, plays a role in the impunity of those carrying out the rendition and murder. When the Saudis fell into the Turkish trap, they probably believed that Turkey would be the last place in the world to care about one kidnapped journalist. But they could never have imagined how partisan, sloppy and hypocritical western media would be in covering the story. What Khashoggi has taught us is that the day that Americans read newspapers based on the editors’ judgment are well behind us. So why should we read them at all?

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