Tag Archives: Osama bin Laden

The Stupidity of Fighting a War to Prove a Dead Man Wrong, by Daniel Lanson

Osama bin Laden said the US didn’t have staying power. Boy, we sure proved him wrong! From Daniel Lanson at daniellanson.substack.com:

Bret Stephens thinks that U.S. forces should stay in Afghanistan indefinitely to spite Bin Laden’s ghost:

But what was the American interest in staying in Afghanistan beyond the fall of the Taliban? It wasn’t, centrally, to kill Osama bin Laden, who was just one in a succession of terrorist masterminds. It was to prove Bin Laden wrong about America’s long-term commitments, especially overseas.

Like any other justification for waging war to achieve intangible goals, Stephens’ argument is deeply flawed. Because a fanatic on the other side of the world made a claim about our “staying power,” we have to stay to “prove him wrong” even though he has been dead for years and has already been proven wrong. This is the opposite of sound and rational foreign policy. It is a foreign policy motivated by spite. While there might be some visceral satisfaction in trying to “prove him wrong,” this is not a legitimate reason to keep troops in harm’s way in a foreign country for years on end. No one should be asked to risk his life to demonstrate American resolve for the sake of vexing a dead man.

The truth is that the U.S. has shown tremendous staying power in Afghanistan despite having no vital interests at stake there. The U.S. has wasted twenty years and trillions of dollars and lost thousands of lives in an unwinnable war. A less determined, more easily discouraged, much more rational government would have given up 18 years ago. The U.S. has already demonstrated a thousand times over that it does not give up easily, but so what? That determination long ago calcified into deranged stubbornness. The refusal to give up has become denial. Haunted by jihadist talking points, hawks would have us continue to bleed resources and risk lives in useless imperial policing without end.

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Dirty little wars and the law: Did Osama bin Laden win? By David M. Crane

If Osama bin Laden was trying to cast the US as an illegal, imperialist power, he did a pretty good job. From David M. Crane at thehill.com:

“Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Conventions] … says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It’s very vague. What does that mean, ‘outrages upon human dignity’?” — George W. Bush

The past week marked the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. This laudable treaty, signed by every country, codified centuries of custom, treaties and protocols to protect individuals found on the battlefield. There are four articles to the Geneva Conventions protecting the wounded and sick, prisoners of war and civilians. This is an attempt to bring law and order onto the battlefield. These conventions are part of a larger set of treaties, protocols and rules called international humanitarian law, or the “laws of armed conflict.”

The Geneva Conventions were part of a promising four years after World War II that attempted to prevent the horrors of future conflict. The Nuremberg Principles were adopted, the United Nations Charter was signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention were created. These became the cornerstones to settle disputes peacefully and use force only as a last resort. The focus was on international peace and security.

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US Troops Are Back in Saudia Arabia – This Will End Badly, by Danny Sjursen

The history of US troops in Saudi Arabia offers no encouragement for the current US deployment there. From Danny Sjursen at antiwar.com:

It was big news. U.S. military forces streamed into Saudi Arabia in response to a supposedly serious threat to the kingdom’s eastern region. The American troops were invited by nervous Saudi royals; it wasn’t an American invasion per se. Everything unfolded smoothly at first; still, the consequences would be severe for the United States. Pick up the latest Military Times, or any other news source, and the story will seem recent, if not worthy of any special attention or alarm. Indeed, US troops are headed into Saudi Arabia right now, but that’s not the situation described above.

No, that happened in August 1990, in response to the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq—a nation, few remembered, that the US had previously backed in its aggressive war with Iran (1980-88). The kingdom then served as a launch point for the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War (1991) which drove the Iraqis from tiny Kuwait. American soldiers pulled out of Saudi Arabia just over a decade later, in 2003. Now they’re rolling back in. History, as it’s said to do, seems to be repeating itself.

This time, however, the ostensible threat to Saudi Arabia comes from naughty Iran, the American national security state’s current favorite exaggerated villain. And, of course, Iran—unlike our onetime “partners” in Iraq—hasn’t invaded anybody. Thus, the US troop infusion is more preemptive than reactive. It’s no matter; few Americans (or even most media/political elites) seem to notice.

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What if Osama bin Laden Had Legitimate Grievances? by Maj. Danny Sjursen

Many Americans can’t accept the idea of blowback: that the US gets attacked because of nefarious things it did. From Danny Sjursen at antiwar.com:

You’re not supposed to utter these words, but what the heck: Osama bin Laden had a point. No, his grievances, as well as those of his followers and sympathizers, didn’t excuse the mass murder of 9/11 – not by a long shot. After all, I am a native New Yorker whose family and neighborhood were directly touched by the horror of those inexcusable attacks. Still, more than 17 years after the attacks on the Pentagon and twin towers, it’s worth reflecting on bin Laden’s motives and discussing the stark fact that the United States government has made no moves to address his gripes.

Now is as good a time as any. The U.S. military remains mired in wars across the Greater Middle East that have now entered their 18th year. The cost: $5.9 trillion, 7,000 dead American soldiers, at least 480,000 locals killed and 21 million refugees created. The outcome: more instability, more violence, more global terror attacks and a US reputation ruined for at least a generation in the Islamic world.

Need proof? Consider the regular polling that indicates that the US is considered the greatest threat to world peace. Not China, Russia, Iran or even North Korea. The United States of America.

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Seeing Our Wars for the First Time, by Tom Engelhardt

In just 17 short years the war on terror has gone from one country to 76! From Tom Englehardt at tomdispatch.com:

[Note to TomDispatch Readers: Welcome to 2018!  Given TomDispatch’s history, all 15 years of it, how appropriate that this year begins with a look at America’s never-ending wars.  My latest piece focuses on a unique map produced by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs that’s being published for the first time at this site.  It’s an honor to feature it. Tom]

Mapping a World From Hell
76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror

He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.

More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)

Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside down geopolitical fairy tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin: Once upon a time — in October 2001, to be exact — Washington launched its war on terror.  There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the U.S. had ended a long proxy war against the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden.

By 2001, in the wake of that war, which helped send the Soviet Union down the path to implosion, Afghanistan was largely (but not completely) ruled by the Taliban.  Osama bin Laden was there, too, with a relatively modest crew of cohorts.  By early 2002, he had fled to Pakistan, leaving many of his companions dead and his organization, al-Qaeda, in a state of disarray.  The Taliban, defeated, were pleading to be allowed to put down their arms and go back to their villages, an abortive process that Anand Gopal vividly described in his book, No Good Men Among the Living.

To continue reading: Seeing Our Wars for the First Time

Doing Bin Laden’s Bidding, by Tom Engelhardt

Some day Osama bin Laden will be recognized as a genius. Look at how al Qaeda, despite the occasional setback, has blossomed since 9/11, and it’s sworn enemy, the United States, has deteriorated. From Tom Engelhardt at tomdispatch.com:

Honestly, if there’s an afterlife, then the soul of Osama bin Laden, whose body was consigned to the waves by the U.S. Navy back in 2011, must be swimming happily with the dolphins and sharks. At the cost of the sort of spare change that Donald Trump recently offered aides and former campaign officials for their legal troubles in the Russia investigation (on which he’s unlikely to deliver) — a mere $400,000 to $500,000 — bin Laden managed to launch the American war on terror. He did so with little but a clever game plan, a few fanatical followers, and a remarkably intuitive sense of how this country works.

He had those 19 mostly Saudi hijackers, a scattering of supporters elsewhere in the world, and the “training camps” in Afghanistan, but his was a ragged and understaffed movement.  And keep in mind that his sworn enemy was the country that then prided itself on being the last superpower, the final winner of the imperial sweepstakes that had gone on for five centuries until, in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded.

The question was: With such limited resources, what kind of self-destructive behavior could he goad a triumphalist Washington into? The key would be what might be called apocalyptic humiliation.

Looking back, 16 years later, it’s extraordinary how September 11, 2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando, Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions — above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security state — came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden’s version of our world.

To continue reading: Doing Bin Laden’s Bidding

How to Defeat Your Enemies, by Robert Gore

Deception can be an effective tactic: the Trojan horse; Roosevelt promising in the 1932 campaign to cut government spending and balance the budget; the Allies fooling the Germans about where the D-Day invasion would land. What is neither generally recognized nor recorded in the annals of history is a tactic that has achieved far greater victories, the most powerful tactic of them all: getting one’s enemies to fool themselves.

Governments and their people are natural enemies. The former are parasites; the latter are hosts. For governments to survive, they must trick their people into believing they are necessary and beneficial, not coercive and parasitic. The easiest way to do so is to convince them that their security is threatened and that only the government can protect them.

Göring: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Interview with Gustave Gilbert in Hermann Göring’s jail cell during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial (18 April 1946)

So it’s a simple matter for rulers to make war and get their people in line. Gilbert’s rejoinder is either disingenuous or quaintly naive. Göring’s formulation is correct as far as it goes, but his failure to realize its inherent contradictions is emblematic of the failure of the Nazis. Ultimately the lies rulers tell the ruled to justify and expand their power end up their own undoing as reality catches up with them. The Nazis solidified their grip on the German people, but because they waged war to establish and maintain their empire, which eventually exhausted their resources, and because their grip was based on lies, they failed. No regime has ever stood the tests of reality, truth, and time.

Which suggests a little understood strategy: use your enemies’ own lies to defeat them. Osama bin Laden has brilliantly demonstrated the awesome power of this strategy.

In the late 1990s, he led a small band of well-armed and fanatic Sunni Muslims in the caves of Afghanistan, with a few cells scattered around the globe. He despised the infidel West and particularly the US, which had established military bases in his native Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s two holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina. He may have been envious of the West. Islam, with its harsh Sharia law, institutionalized subjugation of women, antipathy towards other faiths, sectarian conflict, and prohibition of interest on loans had sunken far below the West’s standard of living. For bin Laden and al Qaeda to consider attacking his economically and militarily powerful enemies, never mind defeating them, was seemingly insane.

As the leader of an ant colony trying to take down an elephant, bin Laden had to use his imagination. Like the ants, al Qaeda couldn’t attack frontally in force. To invade and subjugate the US would be virtually impossible; it could not be defeated on its own territory. He had to get his enemy to turn its power on itself. Ants would send small units to infiltrate the elephant and sting its most sensitive parts. For bin Laden, this meant a brazen attack on symbolically sensitive targets in New York and Washington. The goal of ants and al Qaeda was the same: inflame and enrage the enemy.

To employ the martial arts’ tactic of using an opponent’s weight against him requires proximity. Vietnam had demonstrated that the US could be defeated, or—to accept the characterization favored by that war’s few remaining proponents—outlasted, if it could be drawn into guerrilla warfare on unfamiliar territory. In their rage after 9/11, Americans were ready to believe their government’s lie that al Qaeda constituted an “existential threat.” That lie served the purposes of the US Military-Intelligence-Industrial complex—denied its raison d’être and potentially its lifeblood funding after the collapse of the last “existential threat,” the Soviet Union—and bin Laden’s. Within months he had a guerrilla war on his, not the enemy’s, territory.

Bin Laden’s was also well-served by the US decision to expand the war to Iraq in 2003. The American public, fed more lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons and ties to al Qaeda, endorsed more of the same tactics that were coming up short in Afghanistan. Hussein was deposed and executed, but the US-backed, Shiite-dominated “democracy” that replaced him inflamed the always flammable Sunni-Shiite schism. Displaced, in many cases imprisoned, Sunnis who had enjoyed positions of power in Hussein’s government and military became the base for al Qaeda in Iraq. The rest, as they say, is history. Al Qaeda in Iraq would join with al Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria, and ISIS would be their progeny.

Look what bin Laden and his successors have wrought in 15 years! The US government is embroiled in wars across the Middle East from which it has no idea how to extricate itself. Its bombings, drone strikes, military advice and assistance, financial aid, boots on the ground, intelligence support, and overt and sub rosa political machinations have done nothing but waste blood and treasure, deepen its involvement, and create more recruits for al Qaeda and its offshoots. One offshoot, ISIS, controls significant portions of Syria and Iraq. The war there has drawn in not just the US but Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Hezbollah. It has also sent millions of refugees to Europe. Some are the vanguard of terrorist attacks, and potentially for future Islamic insurrection and domination. Al Qaeda has also capitalized on the US and NATO’s feckless removal of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, contesting for control of that virtually anarchic state and spreading its tentacles across Northern Africa.

Al Qaeda and its subsidiaries’ ever-expanding influence, in some cases domination, now extends from the island nations of Southeast Asia across the Middle East to northern Africa and Europe, a domain larger than either Alexander’s or Caesar’s empires. The ants have indeed found and repeatedly stung the elephant’s trunk, eyes, ears, and gonads, sending it crashing in a mad, self-destructive frenzy through the jungle (and desert). It has to rank as the greatest victory in the shortest time with the fewest resources in history. Anyone interested in knocking off governments should carefully study this campaign. Osama couldn’t have done it without the US government and its allies’ lies, delusions, and descent into evil. The “clash of civilizations” that once was, on the one hand, no more than self-serving propaganda dished up by the US powers that be, and on the other hand, nothing more than a fantastical bin Laden pipe dream, has now become the outcome towards which the world careens.


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Exceptional Pain Dispensed by the Indispensable Nation, by Tom Engelhardt

Fourteen years after 9/11, hasn’t Osama bid Laden got exactly what he wanted: the US inextricably mired in the Middle East? From Tom Engelhardt, at antiwar.com:

Fourteen years later and do you even believe it? Did we actually live it? Are we still living it? And how improbable is that?

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach – from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet – would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.

Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as wizardry from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.

Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.

To continue reading: Exceptional Pain Dispensed by the Indespensable Nation

A CIA Press Release, by Robert Gore

Trevor Timm does a fine job of taking the mainstream media to task (see “The media’s Reaction to Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Scoop has been disgraceful,” SLL, 5/18/15) for its coverage of Seymour Hersh’s story on the death of Osama bin Laden ( see “The Killing of Osama bin Laden,” SLL, 5/13/15). In Mr. Timm’s words: “Barrels of ink have been spilled ripping apart Hersh’s character, while barely any follow-up reporting has been done to corroborate or refute his claims—even though there’s no doubt that the Obama administration has repeatedly misinformed and misled the public about the incident.” This piece will confine itself to one article, “Separating Fact From Seymour Hersh’s Fiction About bin Laden,” by Michael Morell, published on The Wall Street Journal opinion page this weekend in its May 16-17 edition.

Morell is a former deputy director of the CIA and author of a book, “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism—From al Qa’ida to ISIS.” He is obviously top-drawer CIA. Hersh’s story maintains that the account given the public about bid Laden’s death is mostly a fabrication, and that the CIA was at the heart of constructing and maintaining that fabrication. By his own account, Morell had a central role in the part the CIA played in bin Laden’s death. So the Journal is allowing someone who, if Hersh’s story is correct, would have been involved in the fabrication.

There is nothing wrong with that. Everyone is entitled to tell their story, although most of us don’t have access to the WSJ. Morrell gets right to it, claiming, “that Mr. Hersh’s 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books was filled with falsehoods,” and offering refutations of some of them. On these points, he claims personal knowledge of contrary facts and actual presence at certain disputed events. However, he offers no corroboration for his assertions, and the people he says were present with him during some of the events—former CIA director Leon Panetta and President Obama—would have an obvious interest in supporting Morell’s version.

If this were a trial, a jury would give Morell’s article about the same weight as a jury would in a trial where the defendant’s mother testified, with no other evidentiary support, that her boy was watching TV in her living room, enjoying his milk and cookies, at the time of the murder. Morell admits he got something wrong: “I was certain that Mr. Hersh’s allegations would be quickly dismissed.” Hersh broke the Mai Lai massacre story, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, and has faced off with the CIA before. In 1974, his New York Times article exposed its massive domestic intelligence operation and files on at least 10,000 American citizens (see “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents In Nixon Years,” cryptome.org). The reactions from most of the press and the government at the time of that story were identical to reactions to the bin Laden story—blanket denials and challenges to the quality of reporting—but a year later William Colby, director of the CIA, admitted the allegations were true. Hersh hasn’t always been right, but his veracity is less open to question than the C.I.A.’s, which makes Morell’s statement laughable.

If the Journal thinks that all it need do is trot out an authority figure and case closed, it is either caught in a 1950‘s time warp, when authorities’ statements were generally accepted without question, or believes its readers are dolts. There has been far too much documented and verified lying the last six decades from the government, including the military and the intelligence agencies, to take Morell’s piece as anything more than a press release. The Journal resorts to such puffery because it has no case against Mr. Hersh. If it did, it would hold its tongue, practice actual journalism, and dig up sources, documentation, and other evidence that confirmed its version of the events in question, rather than print an airy denial of the alternative version from someone allegedly complicit in that version’s account of skullduggery. With prevarication rampant across journalism, business, and government, one can rarely be 100 percent certain of anything. However, the Morell piece should move fair-minded readers to the 99 percent certainty level on two points: the Journal is an intelligence agency press organ, and Hersh got it right, again.



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The media’s Reaction To Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Scoop has been disgraceful, by Trevor Timm

The following article should disabuse anyone still holding the notion that “presstitutes” is too harsh a term for the mainstream media. From Trevor Timm, at the Columbia Journalism Review via davidstockmanscontracorner.com:

Seymour Hersh has done the public a great service by breathing life into questions surrounding the official narrative of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Yet instead of trying to build off the details of his story, or to disprove his assertions with additional reporting, journalists have largely attempted to tear down the messenger.

Barrels of ink have been spilled ripping apart Hersh’s character, while barely any follow-up reporting has been done to corroborate or refute his claims—even though there’s no doubt that the Obama administration has repeatedly misinformed and misled the public about the incident. Even less attention has been paid to the little follow-up reporting that we did get, which revealed that the CIA likely lied about its role in finding bin Laden, which it used to justify torture to the public.

Hersh has attempted to force the media to ask questions about its role in covering a world-shaping event—but it’s clear the media has trouble asking such questions if the answers are not the ones they want to hear.

Hersh’s many critics, almost word-for-word, gave the same perfunctory two-sentence nod to his best-known achievements—breaking the My Lai massacre in 1969 (for which he won the Pulitzer) and exposing the Abu Ghraib torture scandal 35 years later—before going on to call him every name in the book: “conspiracy theorist,” “off the rails,” “crank.” Yet most of this criticism, over the thousands of words written about Hersh’s piece in the last week, has amounted to “That doesn’t make sense to me,” or “That’s not what government officials told me before,” or “How are we to believe his anonymous sources?”

While there’s no way to prove or disprove every assertion Hersh makes without re-reporting the whole story, let’s look at the overarching criticisms one by one:

Conspiracy theory

No phrase has been bandied about more than “conspiracy theory” in describing Hersh’s reporting. Critics argue that he’s accusing “hundreds of people across three governments of staging a massive international hoax that has gone on for years.” How could that be possible?

First of all, denigrating a legendary reporter who has broken more major stories than almost anyone alive as a “conspiracy theorist” because his story contained a few details a little too implausible for some people’s taste is beyond insulting. A conspiracy theory in the traditional sense would be something like The US government is covering up the fact that bin Laden is still alive, not accusing the the administration of telling a story about a highly classified matter that differs from the truth—something it does all the time.


To continue reading: The media’s Reaction to Scoop has been disgraceful