One of the great conservative canards is that the government can’t do anything right. Not only is this wrong, but the government is very often better at offering its complicated services than the private sector is at offering its simple services. But the one area where the government does the worst job is when the operations are secret. The things we’ve learned years later about covert operations are often scandalous in their stupidity. Of course, these are exactly the things that conservatives most approve of with regard to the government. And not surprisingly, they are also the parts of the government that are most controlled by conservatives.
Thus, I was intrigued to read Cora Currier, Glenn Greenwald, and Andrew Fishman, US Government Designated Prominent Al Jazeera Journalist as “Member of Al Qaeda.” It is based upon the Edward Snowden files — the gift that keeps on giving. Apparently, the US government has labeled veteran Islamabad bureau chief for Al Jazeera Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan as a member of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. And it is all based upon metadata. Given that Zaidan has traveled to and from terrorist locations, they’ve determined that he must be a courier. Like I said: stupid. Of course, it is also just heartless. What does it matter to them if an innocent man is targeted? Especially an actual journalist!
Note that it is based upon this kind of metadata that the CIA and the military call in drone attacks. So this kind of bulk collection of data doesn’t just put the very practice of journalism in jeopardy, it potentially puts journalists’ lives in danger. I have to wonder what our government would say after calling a strike on Zaidan in downtown Islamabad while having lunch with a group of journalists. “They were all men of military age, so they must have been combatants”? It wouldn’t be anymore absurd than much else that the government has claimed in the “war on terror.”
Of course, none of this is new. The article also goes through various times in the past when the US government has targeted Al Jazeera and its employees. This included, “Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman, was imprisoned by the US government at Guantanamo for six years before being released in 2008 without ever being charged.” It’s been clear for a long time that the US government just doesn’t like the network because it has a “scary” sounding name and it reports from the other side of our bombing campaigns and so makes us look bad.
That hasn’t stopped the US from being hypocritical, however. “The Obama administration has criticized Egypt for holding three of Al Jazeera’s journalists on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.” And so on. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US government doesn’t do more harm than good. In the name of making the world “safe for democracy” it is destroying democracy.
This doesn’t just apply to “those people” over there. This revelation comes right after the domestic news, NSA’s Bulk Collection Of Americans’ Phone Data Is Illegal, Appeals Court Rules. But the story of Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan shows what a farce are the government claims that metadata don’t mean anything. The only way that we get control of this is if we drag this stuff out into the light. And the government will do everything it can to avoid doing that. I’m not hopeful.