Two recent documentaries shown on US TV have broken new ground in American journalism says the author
On two Sundays in succession, April 21 and 28, CBS ‘60 Minutes’ should have earned a merit badge, in my opinion at least, for journalistic bravery.
On April 21, the station presented a vivid and balanced report on the Israeliadministered plight of the Christians in Bethlehem. It was broadcast despite heavy protests in advance from Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael B. Oren, and many US devotees of Israel.
Somehow they got word ahead of the programme and organised over 29,000 messages of protest, many of them received before the broadcast occurred. It showed Bethlehem as an open-air prison with high walls controlled by checkpoints, manned by Israeli soldiers with only a handful of Christians remaining as residents.
A network of modern highways crisscrosses all of Palestine, including the entrance to Bethlehem, but Israel permits only Jews to use it. For non-Jews, like the Arabs whose families have lived there for centuries, the Israeli-manned barriers slow travel so much that a 12-mile trip to Jerusalem takes half a day.
Such barricades and hostile treatment have caused the Christian population of once Christian-dominated Bethlehem to drop by 98 per cent since the Israeli occupation of Palestine began 50 years ago. Interviewed by CBS reporter Bob Simon, the Israeli ambassador tried to blame the reduction in the number of Christians in Bethlehem on pressure from Muslims, but other witnesses have disputed this charge. One said he could not name a single Christian who had moved away because of Muslim behaviour towards him.
The documentary is one of the first, if not the first, balanced presentation by any major US media channel of life in Israeloccupied Bethlehem.
The illegal, immoral piece-by-piece theft of Palestine by the State of Israel has occurred without serious objection by its main benefactor, the US government. This makes America complicit in Israel’s crimes. Our superpower subservience to Israel is a peculiarity that will baffle future historians.
On April 28, ‘Sixty Minutes’ broadcast an equally shocking revelation, a candid report on extreme torture measures authorised after 9/11 at the presidential level and administered by CIA personnel.
The revelation came from retired CIA officer Jose Rodriguez, interviewed by CBS reporter Leslie Stahl. He said the prisoner being tortured, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is believed to be the mastermind behind 9/11.
With presidential approval, waterboarding which involves water being poured over the face of the captive was forced on Mohammed more than 180 times. Each procedure subjected him to a prolonged sensation of drowning.
According to Rodriguez, Mohammed was also on “food deprivation” causing him a 50-pound weight loss, and frequent periods of sleep denial, one lasting seven days straight.
Mohammed made no confessions during this process beyond giving information the FBI had previously obtained without the use of torture. According to Rodriguez, on one occasion the prisoner said he would say something “in New York,” referring, I believe, to his expectation at the time of being tried for mass murder in a federal court in New York. He has since been moved to Guantanamo Bay Prison, adjacent to Cuba.
The torture was applied, according to Rodriguez, only after explicit periodic approval at the presidential level of the George W. Bush administration. When Stahl – the CBS journalist interjected, “We don’t do that,” Rodriguez responded, tersely, “Well, we did it.”
In the last moments of Stahl’s broadcast, she asked this rhetorical question: “Does this change what we are?” Although President Obama has outlawed the use of water-boarding, he approves other extreme assertions of presidential power.
The worst, in my view, is the proclamation of his right to kill without due process, any persons, even US citizens the president deems to be threats to national security. He already used that power to order the execution of dissident leader Osama bin Laden and later two Yemeni men, both US citizens.
Most Americans may welcome the death of all three men, but mark, if you can the limit of this extraordinary assumption of lethal authority by one person, the president.
Does all this change what we are? The answer must be a shameful yes.