Sniper! On Embedded Journalism and the Killing of an Al Jazeera Reporter
Journalism is a tough job. It’s a tough job, that is, if you aren’t one of the people who are content to sit in plush air-conditioned offices regurgitating material handed to you by various interested parties or randomly pulled off the internet and passed off as “news”.
No wonder most thinking people hold the “mainstream” media in complete contempt.
On the ground, though, when the going gets tough, it’s only the toughest journos, the ones who truly deserve respect, who get going. These are the men – and some women – who go into conflict zones, see and report on what is actually happening on the ground, and maintain a neutral perspective. It’s much, much easier, however, to “embed” oneself with one side, and become part of that side’s personnel, dependent on it for guidance, conveyance and protection in a combat zone.
Obviously, for such “embedded” journalists, neutrality isn’t an option, even if they were remotely neutral in the first place. Simply being dependent on the troops of one side means that you are going to be supporting the narrative of that side as a matter of course – you don’t have a choice. This fact was understood clearly by the Bush regime back in the attack on Iraq in 2003, where the only media people allowed were those “embedded” with the invading divisions, and the only reports that came out were those the invaders wanted. And independent reporters were ruthlessly attacked “by accident”, especially if they happened to belong to Al Jazeera.
But more on Al Jazeera in a moment.
As I said elsewhere, the media is, in the modern Imperial way, an integral part of the war machine. It has two functions:
First, to “manufacture consent” by directly or by implication peddling propaganda designed to suit a particular line of narrative, calling for armed intervention. Example: the run up to the Iraq invasion of 2003, where the Western media kept repeating that Saddam Hussein had been responsible for 11/9, that he was concealing weapons of mass destruction, that London was “45 minutes from devastation”, and that Iraqis would welcome the “liberators” with flowers. Or, for instance, what happened in Kosovo or Libya.
Secondly, by keeping the propaganda momentum going after things begin to go sour, by pretending that things are, in fact, not going sour, and then by channelling public interest elsewhere. Example: the alleged success of the so-called Iraq Surge, which these same media sources trumpeted; and now that Iraq has been evacuated by the invaders, the public attention is firmly directed elsewhere – such as Syria or Mali. We’ve seen the exact same thing in the destruction of Libya and how completely news of what is going on there was effaced afterwards – until the attack on the CIA station in Benghazi momentarily drew the cameras back again.
It can be in the shape of “neutral” propaganda purveyors like the British Bullshit Craporation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) or the CNN, whose newsreaders peddle official propaganda as “’fact”, and systematically provide false information to back up this “fact”. In every single instance in recent times where there has been a dichotomy between the Western official media and targeted countries, when the truth finally leaked out, the Western media has been found to have been lying. But, because of cultural conditioning, people still try their best to believe in these lies as far as possible until the reality is so stark that it can no longer be denied.
But as much as the BBC and the CNN, and allied purveyors of Western propaganda, depend on “sources” – like “human rights organisations” based in London or Paris and “reporting” events allegedly occurring in Damascus or Aleppo – these don’t have the impact on public opinion, and the credibility, of reports from journalists actually on the ground. Therefore, to lend verisimilitude if nothing else, the placement of reporters on the ground is essential. That these reporters aren’t independent has nothing to do with it; in fact they shouldn’t be independent, because independent reporters have a nasty way of leaking out the truth, and the truth generally goes directly against the line taken by Western imperial propaganda.
Therefore the embedded reporter becomes an essential part of the media propaganda campaign, which is itself an integral part of the Western imperial war machine. The embedded reporter is as much a combatant as the soldiers around him, on whom he depends and whose carefully sanitised tale he tells. His camera and microphone are weapons, whose targets aren’t the combatants on the other side, but the minds of the population back home. Since the Western neo-imperial war is never a war in defence of itself, but always in pursuit of global hegemony, public approval is difficult to maintain without a barrage of constant propaganda. The West does not want another Vietnam War fiasco, where the media told some part of the truth about what was happening on the ground, and the illusion of an inevitable victory evaporated like the morning mist in the light of the sun.
However, these media outlets, even with their own embedded reporters, end up acquiring a credibility problem. You can only get caught lying so often before a substantial part of your target audience moves away from swallowing whatever line you’re peddling and begins to look for fresh perspectives. That is when the War Industry uses a source which still has credibility instead of another. A lot of Americans who won’t trust CNN to give them the time of day will swallow whatever drivel the BBC pours out, for instance, which is why European media sources are preferred to American ones now as the Empire’s favourite manufacturers of martial consent.
Then there is Al Jazeera.
Most of us first heard of this news service back in 2003, when its reporters were in Baghdad during the invasion and with great courage kept on telling the truth about what was happening, even when under fire. As a consequence, Al Jazeera reporters kept on being “accidentally” killed by American and vassal helicopter strikes and shell fire; it was almost as though being a reporter for Al Jazeera made one a magnet for Western ordnance. But that was then.
Today, Al Jazeera is no longer an independent news channel. It is owned by the Emir of Qatar, the same nation which – along with Saudi Arabia – was instrumental in the destruction of Libya and is now, with the aid of Turkey, determinedly attempting to take over Syria. Al Jazeera still has a lot of cred among those who remember it from its Iraq War days and are ignorant of, or choose to overlook, the fact that it’s just a Qatari propaganda mouthpiece these days.
In Syria, Al Jazeera isn’t even attempting to pose as neutral; it’s openly taken sides with the “rebels”, if the collection of disparate foreign jihadists, defected soldiers, bought over politicians and disaffected youth deserves such a name. And its embedded journalists are on the ground on the “rebel” side, telling the story those “rebels” want you to hear – even though it’s getting mighty difficult to pretend that those “rebels” are any more than assorted gangs of bloodthirsty sadists who spend their spare time looting and torturing, and who hate each other as much as they hate the “regime”.
So it wasn’t too surprising that an Al Jazeera man embedded with the so-called Free Syrian Army was killed “by a regime sniper” during fighting near Daraa, Syria on 18thJanuary. This Al Jazeera person wasn’t even your typical journalist – he was, as Al Jazeera itself said in a statement, a former “anti-regime activist” (read, insurgent). In other words, he was an embedded reporter who happened to have fought on the same side as the men among whom he was embedded, and was in the employ of a news service openly committed to the cause for which these men were fighting.
Fair and neutral? I think not. Nor, as one can imagine, do I think that as an “embedded” journalist he had any immunity, since as I said such a journo is as much a combatant as a soldier with a gun.
The unusual thing about this particular killing – this happened shortly after another “embedded” journalist, a Belgian national was shot by a “regime sniper” in Northern Syria – was that it was on camera, the scene being videoed by (presumably) another Al Jazeera flunky. That video is extremely interesting due to what it says about the so-called Free Syrian Army and its operations to “liberate” Syria.
It opens with a scene of a group of armed men near a street crossing, loudly talking among themselves. In the left foreground one can see that one of the men – who is dressed identically with the others – holds a microphone with an Al Jazeera logo. One of the other men passes an AK series rifle with a folding stock to another, and this man takes off running across the street at high speed. After he gets to the other side, there’s a tiny pause and the man with the microphone begins running across the crossing too. There’s an immediate burst of firing, apparently from the right since the man who had handed the first to cross a gun leans around the corner and squeezes off a few shots. Meanwhile, the man with the Al Jazeera microphone lies on the ground, writhing in agony. The video ends at that point, though the man died, presumably soon afterwards, and his intestinal bacteria began dissolving him from the inside out.
First, let’s get the Big One out of the way – the idea that this Al Jazeera man was somehow deliberately killed as a war crime by the “regime forces”. That idea might have held some water if he had been in a situation where he’d been taken prisoner and murdered out of hand – as, in fact, the so-called Free Syrian Army terrorists have actually captured and killed journalists without their Western overlords taking much notice. But not only was he not in such a situation – he did not even have any helmet or body armour marked with PRESS stamps, as journalists routinely wear in combat situations these days. He was, as can be seen clearly in the video, dressed identically with his FSA comrades. If these people had not warned him to wear identifying clothing, they were guilty of criminal negligence at the very least, if not worse.
But that they were negligent is not in doubt. Lounging around and talking at the top of your voice isn’t the smartest thing to do in a battle where your enemies are literally round the corner. And even I (without any tactical combat experience whatever) know that if you have a situation where one or more snipers is covering a street, you do not run across that street one by one, with several seconds of gap between runners. If you do, the first person is highly likely to get across safely since the sniper won’t be expecting him, but he’ll draw attention, and the second or third man is almost guaranteed to get shot. And if you have a non-combatant among you, you do not send him across in that second position unless you wish to get rid of him for some reason.
So, the so-called Free Syrian Army is either staggeringly incompetent, or else it deliberately set up this Al Jazeera reporter to be killed. I can only speculate on the reason that might happen, but it’s not impossible that he became disillusioned with the whole so-called “revolution”, like many others, and was in danger of becoming a liability rather than a propaganda asset. Or else the FSA might have calculated that at a time when its support among the Syrian people is collapsing so dramatically that even the West now admits that it’s dropping, and foreign aid shows signs of drying up, sacrificing a “neutral media person” might help to draw some attention and sympathy. It could be a combination of both – or a third reason entirely.
I am hardly the only person to come to this conclusion – some of the online commentary on this video says that he might have been shot by FSA men to create an “incident” to blame the Syrian army. Some even say that the fact that several bullets were fired proves that it wasn’t a sniper.
Personally, I don’t think it was necessarily a deliberate action to have the man killed; it could just be the result of the FSA’s already undeniable stupidity and incompetence. But even if they had decided to get him killed, making him run across a sniper alley was a good way of taking him out without directly bloodying their hands in the process. I wonder though just why they were running the video – was Al Jazeera interested in every single street crossing? Were the FSA men expecting something to happen? If so, and if it wasn’t the sniping of their pet journo, just what was it?
Nor does the fact that multiple shots were fired rule out a sniper. There could have been several snipers, all of whom fired more or less at the same time. Also, both sides in the Syrian conflict use the SVD Dragunov as their main sniper rifle. The Dragunov is a semi-automatic weapon, unlike most Western sniper rifles which tend to be bolt action. This tends to make it slightly less accurate at distances over 800 metres, but does substantially speed up reloading time and rate of fire. So one sniper could have fired several times in very rapid succession.
Or it could simply have been that the sniper was using an area fire weapon like an AK series rifle. In city fighting, the distances are frequently less than 300 metres, and at those ranges an AK is as good as a dedicated sniper rifle, and besides has the advantage of firing bursts and so improving the chances of a hit and kill. Either way, there is no evidence that a “regime” sniper wasn’t responsible for firing the shots which killed this insurgent turned Al Jazeera reporter…or that he was killed by soldiers who weren’t snipers, but were simply in position at the time.
Of course, there’s a propaganda advantage to talk of “snipers”. To the militarily illiterate audience at whom media propaganda is pitched, the word “’sniper” conjures up visions of a super-marksman lying in wait and surveying the battlefield through scopes capable of showing grains of sand at ten thousand metres. How, goes the narrative, could a sniper have killed this Al Qaeda reporter without knowing he was a harmless reporter? He couldn’t. Chalk up another war crime at Assad’s door!
Oh, I meant Al Jazeera, of course, not Al Qaeda.
But, on second thoughts, there isn’t really a difference at all.
Note: For those of you who doubt my prophetic powers, here are some predictions I made a fair long time ago, at the end of July 2012:
First, I’d said that Assad’s strategy would be to abandon indefensible countryside and concentrate his forces around towns, to draw the “rebels” into killing zones where they could be annihilated by aerial bombardment and artillery fire. Status: fulfilled.
Then, I’d said that the various “rebel” gangs would start fighting among themselves long before they managed to defeat the government. Status: fulfilled.
Third, I’d said that the Erdogan regime in Turkey can’t keep hosting the Al Qaeda gangs endlessly without suffering a backlash, and would be in trouble if the Syrian government did not speedily collapse. Status: fulfilled.
I’d also made a prediction that the Empire and its European vassals have their own compulsions and can’t keep waiting endlessly for their proxies on the ground to win. Now they’re getting into a new quagmire in Mali, and creating yet another mess in Algeria; both of which can be accurately called backlash for their unprincipled and murderous meddling in Libya. Now the jihadists have another front in their global war, and might begin to lose enthusiasm for Syria, which is proving a much harder nut to crack than they ever imagined. So, despite all the talk of his imminent fall, I’ll stick out my neck and hazard that Assad is getting his break.
The oracle has spoken.
For more from Bill The Butcher, visit his blog @http://bill-purkayastha.blogspot.com
Journalism is a tough job. It’s a tough job,when the going gets tough, it’s only the toughest journos, the ones who truly deserve respect, who get going.