"After the shooting, the U.S. military said that the vehicle carrying
the Italians was speeding and refused to stop, and that a U.S. patrol tried
to warn the driver with hand and arm signals, by flashing white lights and firing
shots in front of the car and into the car's engine block. … Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi said the car was traveling slowly at night and stopped immediately
when a light was flashed at a checkpoint, before U.S. troops fired on the car.
Sgrena has said that no light was flashed at the vehicle and that no warning
shots were fired."
Kept in the Dark about Italian Rescue Plan," March 13, 2005
No speeding? No flashing light? No warning shots? What Ms. Sgrena and Mr. Berlusconi
don't seem to realize is this: You'd have to be crazy to disagree with the U.S.
Readers have correctly noted the omission of an additional step within Stage
2 of the Unfortunate
Incident Protocol (UIP): silencing eyewitnesses to unfortunate incidents
in the War of Terror. This silencing can be accomplished in five ways:
Have a respected military or political official (playing on public trust
in and fear of authority) publicly accuse the witness of lying or exaggerating,
while vociferously denying everything he or she says and offering an official-sounding
version of the events in question;
and/or apply pressure through subtle and not-so-subtle means until the
witness feels overwhelmed with fear and stress to such a degree that he
or she disappears from the public scene and/or recants
Make sure mainstream TV news programs show no visual evidence of
foul play as recalled by the witness. (Internet and newspaper reports pose
far fewer problems than do stories on television; TV rules when
half of all Americans read at or below 5th- to 7th-grade
Discredit critical eyewitness reports by highlighting the "foreignness"
(which today is assumed to represent nothing but anti-American bias) of
the witness and his or her associates/organizations; and
Suggest that his or her account is the result of mental imbalance, i.e.,
As the title of this piece suggests, #5 alone may do the trick, as will be
explained presently. As for #2, readers need only use their imaginations regarding
the frequency with which this silencing method is used by "anonymous"
parties. If direct threats are used to silence eyewitnesses to torture or murder,
however, this can readily backfire, as when
a particularly gutsy whistleblower goes public with those threats.
In most cases, only steps 1, 3, and 4 are necessary, particularly if the public
is primed to disbelieve anything negative about "our troops." Brian
Cloughley notes how this worked regarding the CBS tape of a U.S. soldier
killing an unarmed, wounded Iraqi prisoner:
"The clips of the murder were played worldwide on television – except
for the actual killing, because that was thought too vile….
"Think about another 'incident,' when a squad of U.S. soldiers opened
fire on a car traveling along the Baghdad-Airport road on March 4, killing an
Italian official. The lies began at once, and there is no point in describing
what happened because the truth as told by eyewitnesses has already been denied
by the military, and the official version will be accepted by much of the U.S.
"It is not surprising that the media will toe the official line, as
most of their readers and viewers automatically doubt what they are told
by foreign or independent U.S. sources (not that there are many of the latter,
these days), and are uncomfortable with anything that smacks of criticism of
U.S. soldiers. This is because such criticism is considered unpatriotic and
unforgivable, even if it is justified by firsthand evidence of brutality or
murder." (emphasis added)
I. Discrediting "Crazy" Eyewitnesses: Government/Military
Step #5 is not to be lightly taken, because forced
psychiatric evaluations and 'treatment" conjure up images of Soviet
and Chinese silencing methods. But when all else fails, the insanity offensive
can work wonders by planting that seed of doubt into the public mind, just enough
to persuade them to believe – and identify with – "sane" officials
rather than an "insane" eyewitness. The vicarious stigma of mental
illness ("if you believe a crazy person, you must be crazy too") easily
frightens would-be believers into compliant skepticism. Here's
an example of a rather blunt use of this strategy:
"Sgt. Greg Ford of the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion
has said he was stripped of his duties and ordered to see combat-stress counselors
after reporting that three fellow soldiers … brazenly abused Iraqi detainees
during interrogations in Samarra last year. He said the soldiers choked detainees,
threatened them with guns and stuck lit cigarettes in their ears. …
"[Sgt. 1st Class Michael Marciello] said he was ordered to watch Ford's
behavior at all times.
"He said unit commanders believed something must have been wrong
with Ford for making such 'wild' claims against his fellow soldiers.
"Marciello said that after a mental health evaluation came back saying
Ford was OK, he witnessed a company commander in the 223rd, Capt. Vic Artiga,
ask a counselor to change her evaluation.
"'The company commander requested that this woman reconsider the end
result of her analysis,' Marciello said. …
"[Artiga] defended his soldiers against Ford's abuse accusations.
"'I know they conducted all their obligations legally, morally and
ethically,' he said." (Emphasis added)
it's being done in the latest checkpoint shooting incident:
"[A]nother official urged Sgrena to show more caution in her remarks.
"'Those who have been under stress in the past few weeks should pull themselves
together and avoid saying nonsense,' the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Communications
Minister Maurizio Gasparri as saying."
Notice the orchestrated theme, whereby all official mouths speak the same message,
increasingly portraying the ex-hostage's eyewitness accounts as the result of
having "been under stress," and of Ms. Sgrena herself as "careless,"
speaking "nonsense" or even "a load of nonsense," and as
needing to "pull herself together":
"Italy's Justice Minister [Roberto Castelli] has urged former hostage
Giuliana Sgrena to stop making 'careless' accusations after being shot by U.S.
forces in Baghdad, saying she had already caused enough grief. 'She has created
enormous problems for the government and also caused grief that perhaps was
better avoided. … Sgrena … has said a load of nonsense, speaks somewhat carelessly,
and makes careless comments,' Mr. Castelli said."
Yes, Ms. Sgrena has created enormous problems for the government, and that
is why she must be silenced. Violence is out – were she to disappear physically
or show up with bruises on her face, the public would rebel. Threats against
the loved ones of those who speak out against the Bush administration or its
satellite states (Britain, Italy, Israel, etc.) are rare, for this is the dirtiest
silencing method… though we
do see it in action from time to time. Fortunately for Mr. Castelli, who's
one to cause enormous problems for the government, there are safer ways
of disappearing disagreeable eyewitnesses.
II. Discrediting "Crazy" Eyewitnesses: Media Strategies
Order uniform mainstream media descriptors
of the eyewitness that denote unreliability/bias and connote mental unbalance:
The idea here is to portray the eyewitness as so politically "extreme"
that he or she seems not merely biased but unbalanced as well. TV news/commentary
programs and large newspapers can get the ball rolling by using simple descriptors
that raise red flags for most people who, rightly or wrongly, consider themselves
"middle-of-the-road" individuals. In today's right-wing authoritarian
culture, the best term for this purpose is "left-wing."
Interestingly, reports on the Italian tragedy didn't use the term "left-wing"
when referring to Ms. Sgrena until she disagreed with official U.S. military
explanations, at which point mainstream TV, print, and Internet news outlets
all over the country jumped on the bandwagon. For
"Left-wing journalist Giuliana Sgrena claimed American soldiers gave
no warning before they opened fire and said Sunday she could not rule out that
U.S. forces intentionally shot at the car…."
Since her disagreement with U.S. military accounts, it's nearly impossible
to find stories that don't portray Ms. Sgrena as a wild-eyed "left-wing"
one writer notes,
"I just read this account of the death of Nicola Calipari at the hands
of American troops, after having negotiated the release of Italian journalist
Giuliana Sgrena. The first three words of the article, 'Left-wing journalist,'
and the opening of the second paragraph, 'Without backing up the assertion'
[that she was a targeted journalist] are clear attempts to diminish her credibility."
Start a blog campaign portraying the eyewitness
as insane. If done correctly, this assumption of insanity will spread
rapidly. The advantage of blogs for smear campaigns is their ability to deceive
readers with a news-like presence. Google "News" searches on "Sgrena,"
for instance, will yield a wild assortment of non-news rants, including blogs
especially?) that receive equal or higher billing (thus credibility) than
reputable news outlets (e.g., BBC, Reuters). Insinuations or claims that eyewitnesses
or whistleblowers are evil and/or insane are assumed by many viewers to be real
news, but because they're made on blogs, they need not be fact-checked or otherwise
"When the word of a propagandist is pitted against the word of a U.S.
soldier, I am inclined to believe that of the soldier…"
"Sgrena is a modern Goebbels … Ms. Sgrena, you are the enemy."
From various other blogs:
"She seems like a delusional paranoid...."
"Typical paranoid commie."
"Giuliana Sgrena is only a poor ungrateful ideologically disturbed
woman, like only an Italian communist may be … she sounds like a psychopath...."
Americans used to insist on seeing, hearing, and thinking for ourselves. Remember,
for example, old-fashioned Missouri pride in being "the show-me state"?
But things are changing. We're learning to stay with the herd, believing only
those sources and statements approved by the reigning party. If we listen to
crazy eyewitnesses, others might think we're crazy, too… a condition for which
Mr. Bush is proposing the ultimate
psychiatric solution. Increasingly, seeing isn't believing – it's the other
"O'Brien held up his left hand, its back toward Winston, with the
thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.
"'How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?'
"'And if the Party says that it is not four but five – then how many?'
"The word ended in a gasp of pain."
by George Orwell