This week it was revealed for the first time that the CIA has a secret airbase in Saudi Arabia from which it has been launching drone strikes for targeted killings in Yemen for at least the past two years. The news media is reporting, and reiterating for emphasis, that they knew about this secret drone base in Saudi Arabia, but did not disclose it because of an “informal arrangement among several news organizations” not to publish it at the request of senior US officials.
In other words, the Obama administration didn’t want them to report it, so the news media meekly obeyed their masters, and didn’t report it.
To hear the news media explain their reasoning almost makes it sound justifiable. Here’s the Associated Press:
The Associated Press in 2011 agreed to withhold the location of a secret U.S.-run drone base located inside Saudi Arabia after U.S. officials contended that revealing the location would make the base a target of extremists, endangering people directly, and would badly endanger counterterror efforts.
And the Washington Post:
The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
But the importance of having a drone base in Saudi Arabia really necessitated some public discussion about it – scrutiny which can only be generated if the press does its job and publishes dangerous government actions. Indeed, the existence of US military bases on Saudi Arabian territory has threatened the security of American lives in the past. As Conor Friedersdorf writes:
Osama bin Laden began his jihad against the United States largely because he was incensed that American troops were stationed in his homeland, Saudi Arabia, proximate to Islamic holy sites. The U.S. troop presence began during the Gulf War, when Americans led a coalition to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. “Bin Laden — like many Muslims — considers the continued presence of these armed infidels in Saudi Arabia the greatest possible desecration of the holy land,” David Plotz explained in a Slate article published on September 14, 2001. “That is why he sponsored bombings of the American military facilities in Saudi Arabia, why he has tried to destabilize the Saudi government, and why the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on August 7, 1998 — eight years to the day after the first American troops were dispatched to Saudi Arabia.”
In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, the United States announced that it would pull its troops out of Saudi Arabia, though some remain there. In a January 2009 Gallup poll, 60 percent of Egyptians said their opinion of the United States would significantly improve if it moved all military bases out of Saudi Arabia. Forty percent of Syrians, 39 percent of Jordanians, 52 percent of Saudis, 40 percent of Palestinians, 55 percent of Tunisians, 40 percent of Lebanese people, and 30 percent of Algerians agreed. How many millions of people is that?
…It would’ve been nice to publicly debate whether the strategic value of a drone base in Saudi Arabia outweighs the potential for blowback.
It sure would have. But the media’s reluctance to report anything the government doesn’t want prevented such a public debate. By asking the media to keep it secret, the US government wasn’t looking out for American citizens. If it were doing that, the lessons of the past would have led them to decide against putting military bases in such a sensitive territory. Instead, the US government was looking out for itself, and for the Saudi dictatorship.
As Peter Hart at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting writes, this incident is “reminiscent of another decision by the Post to withhold news. In 2005, the paper delivered an explosive story about ‘black sites’ where CIA was interrogating suspects–places where, in many cases, the agency could reasonably expect the prisoners to be tortured. The Post‘s valuable expose was undercut by its decision not to name the countries involved.”
Now that the drone base has been made public, there will be some scrutiny for the Obama administration’s decision. But now it may be too late. Hundreds of “terrorist” “suspects” and scores of civilians have been killed in America’s secret, unaccountable, extra-legal drone war. The ground has been laid for blowback from that alone for years. Now what will the reaction be?