By Nadeem F. Paracha
From the 1990s onwards, quite a few analysts began to explain the Islamic extremist outfits operating out of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and the tribal areas that border it, as a post-Cold-War expression of Pashtun nationalism. Even though religion has always played an important role in the make-up of Pashtun identity, Pashtun nationalism was always a more secular phenomenon.
station was molded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (aka Bacha Khan) and then expressed through outfits such as the Khudai Khidmatgars, the National Awami Party (NAP), the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) and most recently, by the Awami National Party (ANP).
However, ever since the 1980s, Pashtun identity (at least in popular imagination) has been gradually mutating to mean something that is fanatical. Detractors of this image point out three factors which have transformed the notion of Pashtun nationalism. Sana Haroon in Afghanistan’s Islam wrote that during the Khilafat Movement in India (1919-1924), a group of clerics and ulema engaged Pashtun tribes and preached them armed jihad against the British. They were told by the clerics that the Pashtuns’s ‘legendary bravery’ and passionate love for Islam alone could topple the ‘infidel’ British.
Pashtun tribes were once again in the picture when they made up the bulk of Pakistan’s ‘irregular forces’ which participated in the first Pakistan-India war in 1948. In his October 23, 2014 essay on the subject, K. Barmazid writes that the tribesmen were gathered by one Khan Khushdil Khan, a local leader from the Mardan area. He asked the tribesmen to prepare themselves for ‘jihad.’
When Pakistan became an active participant in the United States’ proxy war against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, General Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship — to whip up support for the Afghan Mujahideen — used state media and anti-Soviet intelligentsia to proliferate the idea that historically the Pashtuns were an unbeatable ‘race’ that had defeated all the ;infidel’ forces who had attempted to conquer them.
In the last decade or so – especially ever since extremist violence gripped Pakistan, and with KP and the tribal areas becoming the epicenters of this violence – various Pashtun parties, groups and individuals have been aggressively using political, social and cultural platforms to challenge the perception that religious extremism found in certain Pashtun-dominated militant outfits has anything to do with Pashtun culture or nationalism.
But how many of us know that most of the rugged areas which, before the military’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb (2014-2017), had become bases of extremist outfits in KP and its surrounding areas, were once bastions of militant Maoist groups?
NAP described itself as a socialist-democratic party working towards achieving democratic reforms and greater autonomy for the country’s non-Punjabi populations and provinces. When the 1956 Constitution promised to hold Pakistan’s first ever direct election based on adult franchise, NAP was poised to bag the most seats in West Pakistan as well as in the Bengali-majority East Pakistan.
However, the promised elections never took place. Field Marshal Ayub Khan imposed Martial Law through a military coup in 1958 and banned all political parties. NAP leaders were released from jail when in 1962 Ayub lifted the ban on political parties and authored a new constitution. But during the 1965 Presidential election, cracks began to appear in NAP.
Due to the growing hostility between the time’s two communist powers, Soviet Union and China, various leftist parties of the world began experiencing splits. When the Ayub regime’s foreign policy began to tilt a bit towards communist China, NAP leader Maulana Bhashani, a pro-China figurehead, insisted that NAP support Ayub.
On the surface NAP remained to be a united front. But beneath the veneer its leaders had begun to disagree among themselves on the question of supporting Ayub. When Ayub set out to compete with Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 Presidential election, the Bhasahni lobby of NAP supported him whereas the Wali Khan faction opposed him.
In 1966, when the 1965 Pakistan-India war ended in a stalemate, Ayub’s young Foreign Minister, Z A. Bhutto (the initial architect of Pak-China relations), resigned, accusing Ayub of ‘losing the war on the negotiating table.’
According to Philip E. Jones in Pakistan People’s Party: Rise to Power, Bhutto tried finding a position for himself in NAP. But since NAP was packed with veteran leftist and ethno-nationalist figureheads, Bhutto decided to form his own socialist party, the PPP. By then the split in NAP had become apparent.
The pro-Soviet faction (led by Bacha Khan’s son, Wali Khan) suggested working to put Pakistan on a democratic path and then achieve the party’s goals of provincial autonomy and socialist economy. The pro-China faction led by Bhashani disagreed and rejected democracy. Bhashani instead advocated that the party work with peasant groups to initiate revolutionary land reforms. The pro-Soviet NAP became NAP-Wali while the pro-China faction became NAP-Bhashani.
It was NAP-Wali that became the bigger faction because whereas the pro-Soviet student and trade unions attached themselves to the Wali faction, most Maoist groups – instead of backing the Bhashani faction – decided to attach themselves to Bhutto’s PPP. But soon a third faction in NAP appeared. A more radical faction from within NAP-Wali broke away in 1968 and decided to adopt the Maoist strategy of achieving a socialist revolution through an armed struggle carried out by peasant militias.
Thus was born the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP) that held its first convention in Peshawar in 1968. MKP refused to take part in the 1970 election. Inspired by the Maoist ‘Naxalite’ guerrilla movement in India and Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ in China, MKP activists, led by former NAP leader and Pashtun Maoist, Afzal Bangash, travelled to Hashtnagar in KP’s Charsadah District and began to arm and organize the peasants against the local landlords.
As the area of influence of MKP’s struggle grew, another communist, Major (Rtd.) Ishaq Mohammad, joined MKP with his men. Unlike Bangash and most MKP cadres, Ishaq and his men were not from the KP. They were from the Punjab. Both men led MKP to spread its influence across various rural and semi-rural areas of KP and gained the support of the area’s peasants as well as some tribal elders.
In a 2009 essay in the Sarhad Journal, Niaz Muhammad and A Askar wrote that MKP’s guerrilla activities continued to grow and gather support. MKP managed to ‘liberate’ some lands by ousting the landlords. The outfit with its force of Pashtun peasants were rapidly gaining ground when, after a Civil War in East Pakistan, the region broke away and became Bangladesh in 1971.
Bhutto and his PPP came to power whereas NAP-Wali came to head coalition provincial governments in KP and Balochistan. Relations between the pro-Soviet Pashtun nationalist and chief of NAP-Wali, Wali Khan, and the pro-China Bhutto, were anything but cordial. Historian Ishtiaq Ahmed suggests that in a secret meeting between the MKP leadership and Bhutto, the latter assured that his government would not take action against MKP guerrillas in KP that was now under the rule of the NAP-Wali coalition government (The Friday Times, October, 2015).
MKP increased its attacks on landlords and the police in rural and semi-rural areas of KP. MKP then dispatched Major Ishaq to generate a similar movement and struggle in the poverty-stricken rural areas of South Punjab. But since the Punjab in those days was the electoral bastion of the PPP, the Bhutto regime came down hard on the MKP.
With Bhutto distracted by the police action against MKP in South Punjab; labour unrest in Karachi; and intelligence reports that the NAP-Wali government in Balochistan was helping arm Baloch nationalists, the NAP-JUI coalition government in KP unleashed a brutal crackdown against the MKP in KP.
Heavy fighting between mercenary militias formed by landlords (and backed by the police) and MKP guerrillas erupted in Charsadah and surrounding areas, as the KP government attempted to retake the land that the MKP fighters and the Pashtun peasants had brought under their control. About 200 sq. miles of land was under MKP’s control when the KPK government began to send waves of armed policemen against the guerrillas.
MKP accused NAP-Wali of using Pashtun nationalism and the JUI of exploiting Islam to protect the economic interests of the landlords. NAP-Wali and JUI accused MKP of becoming a tool in the hands of the Bhutto regime to stir up trouble in KP. The MKP movement was finally crushed in 1974, not by the NAP-JUI government as such, but by the Bhutto regime.
In 1973 Bhutto had dismissed the Balochistan government, accusing it of fostering separatist Baloch tendencies. The KP government resigned in protest, giving Bhutto the opportunity to install his own men in the two provinces. He then moved in against MKP in KP. This triggered an intense debate within the MKP. One section urged that since MKP had gathered the support of Pashtun peasantry, it should join electoral politics. Those opposing the idea suggested that there was no room for ‘bourgeois democracy’ in Maoism.
Major Ishaq, however, had already begun to see MKP as a militant expression of Pashtun nationalism. In 1976 he broke away from the party, returned to Punjab and formed his own faction of the MKP. The Bhutto regime arrested and jailed NAP-Wali’s Pashtun and Baloch leadership. He then influenced the courts to ban NAP.
By the time the Bhutto regime was toppled in a right-wing military coup by General Zia-ul-Haq (July 1977), MKP’s influence in the KP was already receding. As Zia ended the military operation in Balochistan and allowed the Baloch insurgency’s main components to leave the country, he then moved to neutralize Pashtun nationalism.
Taking advantage of NAP’s withering status and the banned party’s anti-Bhutto sentiments, and also of MKP’s factionaisation, Zia used the opportunity of using Saudi and US funds (that began to pour in after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979), to set-up recruitment and indoctrination centres and madrassas in KP to prepare fighters for the ‘anti-Soviet Afghan jihad.’
Afghan jihadists (Mujahideen) were given aid and space in the KP. A lesser known fact is that some of the first Pakistani fighters who were inducted into the ‘jihad’ where those tribal Pashtuns who were radicalised by the MKP through Maoist literature and lectures the early 1970s. In 1979, their radicalism was reoriented by the Pakistani state to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Trained by the MKP and bred on the sayings of Mao and Marx, these fighters were promised American Dollars and Saudi Riyals, and then indoctrinated in the ways of jihad. Over the years, these early Pakistani Pashtun fighters who fought in Afghanistan would take the memories of their Maoist past with them, and would eventually be replaced by Pashtuns with little or no memory of such a past at all.
Ilhan, Rashida and Rahul
By Jawed Naqvi
THE young politician shows up at Mount Kailash in Tibet, and proclaims his youthful Hindu-ness in lighter sportswear than the freezing weather warrants. He then resumes his frenzied temple-hopping, balancing it with an occasional visit to a Muslim shrine. This is yet another election season in India.
Rahul Gandhi is again competing with the Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party on its turf. He claims to be the better Hindu of the two. While the young Indian leader was performing the religious trapeze to woo India’s strangely insecure majority, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women to be elected to the US House of Representatives. One unapologetically proclaims justice for Palestine as a key pursuit, and the other, a hijab-clad Somalian-American, works her heart out to provide more accessible education to less-privileged children across ethnic barriers.
When everybody had declared America to be a right-wing haven, a spitting image of Modi’s India, the country pulled a rabbit out of its hat and gave President Trump a few useful thoughts to ruminate on. Similar examples abound from secular democracies elsewhere, not excluding the fact of a Muslim home secretary in the UK. If Trump stacked his politics with Islamophobia and racial innuendo, the American people, led by the white community, sent the maximum number of coloured women to their parliament in the November mid-term elections, including Omar and Tlaib. This is perhaps how tables are turned on errant adversaries in a democracy, by setting one’s own loftier agenda, and not by yielding to the follies of the opponent.
Gandhi’s display of his religion and caste mocks Indians who were looking for their own Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in the pack. Even a Hindu variant of Kemal Ataturk — and such men and women do exist — could help rescue India from the reigning cult of religious charlatans. By allowing his party to hug symbols of a regressive appeal, Gandhi unwittingly smudged the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru and those who hitched their hopes to his liberal ideals. To be sure, the young leader still would make for a more presentable representative of what remains of a secular India.
Rahul Gandhi’s display of his religion and caste mocks Indians who were looking for their own Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in the pack.
But India is not a baby pool of low-bar contests. Also, is Gandhi going to become an avid drinker of cow urine to garner votes, now that his party has promised to manufacture refined gau mutra as a commercial proposition? Is this what Indira Gandhi had in mind when she underscored secularism and socialism as the guiding principles of the constitution? Or would sipping the hallowed elixir embellish the scientific temper that Nehru had envisioned for the country? One was hoping Gandhi would take the cue from democracies elsewhere and weave a tapestry of pluralism and reason into the grand alliance he is cobbling together for general elections next year.
Having said that, India’s Muslims as none other are perennially counselled by their sympathisers to keep a low profile against the Hindutva onslaught and to let friendly folk do the battle on their behalf. The argument goes that Muslims give easy traction to Hindutva purposes, and any retaliation to a provocation, of which there’s no dearth today, would add grist to the reactionary mill. Had the assertion produced a worthy result, there would be reason to believe in the lore. The fear of Muslims being the red rag to the Hindutva bull should not be the ruse for their self-proclaimed supporters to feel hassled by their association with the community. A Muslim MP from Bihar and two legislators from Uttar Pradesh won important by-polls recently to defy the red-rag theory.
This is not a case for a mandatory quota for Muslims in the coming elections, far from it. The argument put simply is that the minority communities, particularly their women, often suffer in the proclaimed quest for ethnic rectitude. I would argue that Muslims generally form a perfect ballast and they improve the stability of any political party in India. In fact, their inclusion is useful not only to win elections but also to keep the promise of democracy alive with greater zeal. Saving the constitution is the stated objective of most political parties, but for India’s minorities, it is their lifeline, and they must secure it at all costs.
Put bluntly, will the parties they support stand with them when their constitutional guarantees are threatened? Let’s take the Ayodhya dispute currently being studied by the apex court. Would the Congress and its allies have the moral courage to stand by a court verdict should it favour the Muslim case? Would they stand up to the Hindutva challenge then, or should the Muslims start praying for an adverse verdict against their own petition?
Happily, this is not the dilemma for the two women who have made it to the Congress in the United States. Few are as outspoken as they are about Trump’s follies among their other urgent concerns. True, for that and more, they are abused and threatened on the net. They are trolled daily. But they have the unqualified support of the people and the party behind them to see to it that their worldview is not stifled. One thing worse than the stifling of the minorities in a democracy is to make them parrot the majoritarian point of view. Look at what happened in Pakistan. A Hindu man was elected for the first time from a general constituency to the National Assembly. That should be celebrated. But what was his battle cry? He wooed support by prescribing the death penalty for blasphemers. Likewise, in India. The Muslim author of a most adulatory book on Nehru joined the BJP. And now he seems sanguine at the daily abuses heaped on his erstwhile hero by the party’s tallest leaders. That’s not a route for Rahul Gandhi or Indian Muslims to pursue.
Why are the ‘yellow vests’ protesting in France?
By Rokhaya Diallo
For the past three weeks, France has been experiencing one of the most significant social mobilisations in its recent history, which laid bare the country’s social ills, anti-elite sentiment, growing inequalities and thirst for social justice.
It all started on November 17 when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country to protest against rising fuel prices.
The protesters, dubbed “Les gilets jaunes” (the yellow vests) after the high-visibility jackets they adopted as a symbol of their complaint, blocked roundabouts, burned effigies and clashed with the police. They were angry about the almost 20 percent increase in the price of diesel since the start of the year, as well as the planned fuel tax hike President Emmanuel Macron had recently announced.
While Macron said the tax was necessary to “protect the environment” and “combat climate change”, protesters claimed the decision was yet another sign that the “arrogant” and “privileged” president is out of touch with regular folk struggling to make ends meet.
The intensity of the protests quickly forced the government to make a U-turn and first suspend and later permanently shelve its plans for fuel tax increases. However, the protest movement was not only about fuel prices. It encompassed wider anger and frustration against the political establishment in general and President Macron in particular. As a result, the government’s decision to abandon fuel tax hikes failed to calm tensions.
The “yellow vests” want further concessions from the government. Their demands include a redistribution of wealth as well as the increase of salaries, pensions, social security payments and the minimum wage. Some say they will not settle for anything less than the president’s resignation.
So how did day-to-day frustrations about fuel prices and “green taxes” transform into a nation-wide protest movement attracting hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks?
It all comes down to Macron’s apparent failure to connect with the people, understand their concerns and steer France away from destructive neoliberal policies.
40-year-old Macron was elected last year on pledges to change the face of French politics, create more jobs and improve lives.
On the eve of the 2017 presidential election, French voters were tired of career politicians. They wanted a different kind of leader, someone who can understand their long-rooted social and economic concerns and deliver real, practical solutions.
For the past four decades, French people have been worried about the erosion of social protections in their country. Since Francois Mitterrand’s socialist government controversially decided to impose austerity policies in 1983, successive governments have taken slow but consistent steps to dismantle the French welfare state.
All this gradually accentuated the economic concerns of the French middle and working classes and led them to be more and more suspicious of all mainstream politicians on the right and the left. They came to believe that the political elite protects the interests of the wealthy and does not care about the wellbeing of ordinary citizens.
Successfully diagnosing the public’s frustration with the political class, Macron worked hard to differentiate himself from the establishment in Paris and act as the representative of a “new world order” throughout his election campaign.
He had the youth, the energy, the positive message. He was the leader of a brand-new political party, aligned neither with the right nor the left. He appeared to be carrying no political baggage. Many viewed him as a possible saviour and did not hesitate to give him their vote.
Moreover, he was running against National Front leader Marine Le Pen. This also made him look like a “progressive saviour”. A significant portion of the French electorate was ready to vote for any moderate candidate who could stop the far right from taking power. So, they voted for Macron, even though many of them did not support his agenda completely or have faith in his ability to respond to their concerns.
As a result, Macron was elected by a landslide. However, it didn’t take long for his supporters to realise that his “reformist”, “new world” image was nothing more than an illusion.
Macron’s failure to bring about change should not have surprised anyone. Even though he seemed “young and new”, he was part of the establishment.
He had served as the minister of the economy, industry and digital affairs from 2014 to 2016 under Francois Hollande – he was in charge of implementing the former president’s infamous Labour Law reform, which caused widespread protests across the country. Before that he was a Rothschild investment banker.
Once elected, Macron showed his true colours almost immediately. He decided to amend the wealth tax – known in France as “ISF” – by narrowing it to a tax on real estate assets, rather than covering all worldwide assets over the value of 1.3m euros. This led to him being swiftly labelled the “president of the rich”.
On top of making controversial policy decisions that favoured powerful corporations and rich individuals, Macron also repeatedly demonstrated his unfamiliarity with – and at times disdain for – ordinary people struggling to survive in the country’s increasingly harsh economic environment.
In 2016 while he was the minister of economy, for example, Macron was confronted by angry trade unionists and was recorded telling one young man: “You don’t scare me with your T-shirt. The best way of paying for a suit is to work.”
In a July 2017 speech Macron said train stations were wonderful places, for there you can cross paths with both “people who succeed” (people like him) and “people who are nothing” (presumably ordinary French citizens like the rest of us).
In October of the same year he was filmed accusing disgruntled workers of preferring to stir up “chaos” rather than find jobs. “Instead of kicking up bloody chaos, some of them would be better off going to see if they can get a job over there,” he said, alluding to an aluminium factory in Ussel, a region in which employers were struggling to hire new workers.
More recently, in September this year, Macron told an unemployed man he could easily find work if only “he crossed the street”. “Everywhere I go people say to me that they are looking for staff,” the president said.
This lack of empathy coupled with business-friendly policies helped shape the French public’s perception of Macron as an arrogant, privileged politician who is a friend of the rich and the powerful.
The fuel tax that he tried to impose on people that are already feeling their economic concerns are being ignored was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
This is why the yellow vest movement is not only about fuel prices but about social justice. There is a profound discontent among ordinary people in France who see themselves as the losers in a world dominated by international elites who don’t seem to care or understand what they are going through. Macron is pursuing the exact same neoliberal agenda his predecessors pursued in the 1980’s. And just like the policies of his predecessors, his policies are hurting the poorest and helping the rich get even richer.
The protests are not rejecting climate change action
The yellow vest movement should not be seen as the public’s rejection of the green transition. The French state indeed has a responsibility to take action to combat climate change and protect the environment. But powerful companies that are primarily responsible for the pollution, and not regular citizens, should bear the brunt of this necessary revolution.
The yellow vest movement is, of course, not perfect. Some protesters were responsible for outrageous racial and homophobic attacks. Some also damaged national monuments and were violent towards police officers.
While we should not turn a blind eye to any of this, we should remember that the yellow vests movement is a reflection of the ongoing tensions in France. Almost 11 million people voted for the far right only a year ago in this country. There are some extremist elements in the French society and they were inevitably some among the protesters.
But we should not dismiss the entire movement as “extremist” because of this. The yellow vests are the French people who we never see on TV. Their despair can at times appear offensive because anger is neither polite nor sophisticated. It is disorganised, shocking and comes with emotion, which can translate into violence. The point is not to defend any of the violence that has tragically occurred, but to remember that the unrest France is currently facing came in response to other forms of violence, much more insidious and harmful: social exclusion and injustice.
Unemployment, discrimination and poverty are at the root of the daily humiliation French people feel which has now transformed into a general despondency. The French political elites will find it hard to pacify this public anger unless they commit to introducing radical changes to the way this country is governed.
The Khashoggi skeletons in America’s closet
By Azeezah Kanji
Donald Trump’s commitment to “remain[ing] a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia,” despite the regime’s gruesome torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, is clearly symptomatic of the malignantly self-serving nature of US foreign policy, which has long propped up dictatorships and enabled atrocities around the world for the sake of profit and power.
However, many of Trump’s most vocal critics on the Saudi file show signs of an equally dangerous pathological condition: a profound historical amnesia that permits some of the most prominent proponents of the US’ own torturous and murderous policies to now parade as champions of human rights, without any apparent sense of irony.
Obama-era CIA Director John Brennan, for instance, has insisted that “the US should never turn a blind eye to this sort of inhumanity [referring to the murder of Khashoggi] … because this is a nation that remains faithful to its values” – a curiously self-righteous stance for a man who not only repeatedly turned a blind eye to the inhumanity of past and present CIA practices such as extraordinary rendition, torture, and drone assassination, but actively defended and (in the case of drone use) expanded them.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decried the brutal murder of Khashoggi as “completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world”. Yet he praised another perpetrator of abhorrent deeds, CIA “black site” torture prison manager Gina Haspel, as an “excellent choice” for Director of the CIA.
Republican senator and drone war enthusiast Lindsey Graham called Saudi’s extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi a “barbaric act which defied all civilized norms” – even while maintaining that casualties of US’ own international norm-defying extrajudicial killing programme “got what they deserved.”
The idea that the US is in a position to hold anyone to account for “barbaric acts” of extraterritorial violence defies reality. Far from serving as a model to be emulated, the American precedent exemplifies the dangers of lethal state power wielded without adequate restraint.
“If other states were to claim the broad-based authority that the United States does, to kill people anywhere, anytime, the result would be chaos,” UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston presciently warned in 2010.
Among the global targets of the US’s lethal drone programme – which have included first responders at missile strike sites, mourners at funerals, and families celebrating weddings – are, allegedly, at least two media workers.
In 2017, Al Jazeera’s former Islamabad bureau chief Ahmad Zaidan and American media activist Bilal Abdul Kareem filed a lawsuit against the US government, claiming they had been placed on the government’s “disposition matrix” – although the absolute secrecy surrounding who is on the extrajudicial kill list, and why, makes it impossible to know for sure. A US court shot down Zaidan’s case but allowed Abdul Kareem’s to proceed, rendering it the first legal challenge to the drone programme to make it past the preliminary stage.
While Trump may have been the first US president to openly and explicitly declare the media “the enemy of the people,” the treatment of journalists as a hostile force has been a consistent feature of the US’s so-called “war on terror”.
The Pentagon’s 2015 Law of War Manual stated that journalists may in some instances be considered “unprivileged belligerents” (enemy fighters without the protections and privileges accorded to lawful combatants), since “reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying” – an apparent licence to target journalists that was only revised because of a sustained outcry from media organisations.
The illegal US-led war of aggression on Iraq has been one of the deadliest wars for journalists in modern history. In its first year, it “inflict[ed] a proportionally higher number of casualties on journalists than on members of the coalition’s armed forces” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
At least 16 journalists and six media workers were killed directly by US fire, including several “at checkpoints or near US bases, in most cases without [the US military] accepting responsibility,” as the Guardian reported. “Often they promised to hold investigations but never released the findings.”
In addition to dealing out death to journalists with impunity, US powers also made a habit of arresting and jailing them for long periods of time without charge, including journalists working for Reuters, CBS News, and the Associated Press.
“By early January 2006, Camp Bucca, an American detention centre in southern Iraq, had become the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East,” observed Reporters Without Borders. Journalists were also imprisoned in the detention and torture camps at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Alhaj was held in Guantanamo for more than six years; tellingly, 125 of the 130 interrogations he was put through had nothing to do with the activities of any terror organisation but with the operations of Al Jazeera.
While US commentators have rightly called out the farcical nature of Saudi Arabia’s investigation into the death of Khashoggi, the pretence that the US government has provided anything resembling accountability for its own crimes against journalists and other civilians is equally laughable. None of the senior officials implicated in the Iraq torture scandal, for instance, have ever been prosecuted, and authorities ignored reports of abuse from human rights organisations for six months before they were publicly exposed – a fact cited by Saudi’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in an attempt to rationalise his own country’s delayed response to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Perversely, punishment has primarily been reserved for those who have dared to call attention to the assault on journalists, rather than those responsible for the assault itself. Chelsea Manning was incarcerated for seven years in a military prison under conditions the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded violated international law, for leaking evidence of US military atrocities including video footage showing US soldiers slaughtering two Reuters journalists and several other Iraqi civilians. In 2005, CNN’s chief news executive Eason Jordan was forced to resign because he suggested on a panel discussion that coalition troops were targeting journalists in Iraq.
The popular conceit that American “values” are inherently antithetical to the torture and killing of journalists renders invisible the victims of US torture and killing policies. Propagating such myths in the name of advocating for justice for Jamal Khashoggi only serves to bury the Khashoggi-like skeletons in America’s closet further out of sight.