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The news is full of stories these days about dying newspapers-the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, etc. Circulation is down, readers are fleeing to the web, reporters getting laid off in droves. But that’s the mainstream corporate print media.
Now, sadly, comes news of a death on the left.
I refer to In These Times, a bi-weekly newspaper that has limped along valiantly since its founding back in 1978, often providing a source of real people’s news when other journals like the Nation and Mother Jones were slipping their moorings and becoming pale liberal versions of their former selves.
No, ITT, for which I have written since its founding, is not shut down (though financial difficulties have forced it, for the first time, to decide to give up on fortnightly publication in favor of coming out monthly-always a bad sign in this industry), but since the death of its founder, Jim Weinstein, it seems to have died in other ways.
I confess right at the start that this is a personal opinion, shaped by personal experience, but I think my story tells a bigger tale.
It begins with an article I wrote (“Radioactive Wounds of War”) on Sept. 19 of this year, on the military’s expanded use of depleted uranium as a weapon of choice in Iraq. Depleted uranium, the byproduct of nuclear weapon and nuclear fuel production, turns out to be a super penetrator, able to pierce the thickest steel armor and concrete wall. During 1991, the first time it was deployed by the U.S. military, over 300 tons of the extraordinarily toxic and radioactive material, which vaporizes on contact when fired, was used in the Kuwaiti and southern Iraq desert, mostly in the form of 30 mm rounds fired by A-10 attack aircraft and of tank shells.
My article in ITT explained how in the current war, as much as 10 times that much DU has been fired off. The article, based in part on an interview with Dr. Doug Rokke, a Pentagon whistleblower who in the mid-1990s was placed in charge of a Pentagon “Live Fire” test program of DU ordnance to determine how to use DU munitions safely, told how in this war, instead of the DU being expended in remote desert battles, it was being used in urban warfare in highly populated areas of Iraq and Afghanistan, and in much vaster quantities. I also wrote of how some American troops who returned and who had been subsequently tested for DU contamination because of symptoms they were showing, were testing “hot,” and how one man’s wife had already had a daughter born with a suspected radiation-caused deformity.
The article struck a nerve and was widely read on the ITT website.
It also attracted, as do most such DU exposes, attacks from a well-oiled Pentagon-based disinformation campaign. Military officials, hiding their identities, wrote in slandering Dr. Rokke, for example claiming that he had never headed a Pentagon DU testing program (he did, and I have the documents to prove it), and claiming that he was only a lieutenant, not a captain (he not only was a captain, but I have his letters of rank advancement recommendations and letters of commendation). Another letter came to ITT from a Jack Cohen-Joppe, a self-described anti-nuke activist with has an Ahab-like obsession with attacking articles critical of DU weapons use.
Cohen-Joppe, who has also attacked Project Censored on this issue, made the absurd claim that since Pentagon statements only concede the use of some 200 tons of DU in the current Iraq war-that’s just 2/.3 of the amount used in the several days of the 1991 Iraq battle over the course of almost three years of hard fighting!-no one should publish any higher figures. Cohen also tries to rebut claims that the Pentagon is using massive amounts of DU in bunker-busting bombs-another claim I made in my article based upon clips from respected journals like the Guardian (UK) and my Pentagon source, Dr. Rokke. In his letter, Cohen-Joppe argued DU-based bombs could not be claimed because “no documentary peer-reviewed forensic evidence” exists. (Actually there are patents for such weapons, radioactive evidence at bomb sites, and the assertions of people like Dr. Rokke, though perhaps nothing “peer-reviewed.”)
ITT never informed me they were running Cohen-Joppa’s letter. I first discovered they’d run it when I got my copy of the Oct. 24 issue of ITT in the mail. Worse than the letter, which is simply ludicrous on its face and hardly worthy of comment, the editors of ITT ran a comment-without warning me in advance or giving me a chance to reply-under the heading “The Editors Respond,” which said: “More extensive research has led us to agree with Cohen-Joppa that expanded use of DU by the Pentagon cannot be confirmed. We regret the error.” [author’s emphasis]
When I initially demanded that ITT publish my letter or response, editor Joel Bleifus said he would not. I threatened to take the case to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, after which he said he would run a letter.
As the author of the Sept. 19 article on depleted uranium weapons, I object to the editors of ITT having run an apology for my claim that the Pentagon had expanded use of DU in the Iraq War beyond the more than 300 tons that had been used in tank and aircraft shells during the first Gulf War. I was not informed of this apology, and I disagree with it.
The editors were responding to a letter from anti-nuclear activist Jack Cohen-Joppa that claimed that there was no “documentary or peer-reviewed forensic evidence” to confirm that DU is being used in bunker busting bombs. He argues that the charge cannot be verified and says the Pentagon denied DU is used in such bombs. He claims that based upon “known DU weapons systems and Pentagon and other government statements” the “most comprehensive estimate to date” for DU use in Iraq would be 200 tons.
I’m disappointed that ITT would agree with this logic–if it can be called that.
The Pentagon has lied repeatedly about many things, including DU and its risks, and has refused to allow testing of sites where DU is suspected of having been used. After the first Gulf War, the Pentagon called DU a “magic bullet.” Vast stockpiles of DU weapons have been produced since then precisely because the military loves it, and it is being used prolifically in the current war.
In a May 15, 2003 article, the Christian Science Monitor reported that it was informed by a “US Central Command spokesman” that in the first month of the war the U.S. Military fired 75 tons of DU solely in the form of relatively small 30 mm rounds used by A-10 aircraft.
On April 17, scarcely a month into the Iraq War, the Guardian of Britain reported that “up to 2000 tons of DU has been Used in the Gulf.” Other sources, such as the BBC and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have offered similar figures. Meanwhile it is clear that in later U.S. battles, tanks and A-10 aircraft, both of which are known to use DU, were employed, particularly in the leveling of the 300,000-population city of Fallujah.
Perhaps I should have said that “as much as 3000 tons of DU has reportedly been exploded in Iraq,” and should have also added that “the Pentagon denies that it is using DU in bunker-busting bombs.” But I do not feel that Cohen-Joppa’s letter warranted an apology. I was only reporting what other respected publications like the Guardian and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have stated repeatedly.
As well, my source, Doug Rokke, a Pentagon whistleblower who headed up the Pentagon’s live testing of DU weapons in the mid-’90s, also confirmed both the tonnage figures and the information that DU is being used in other munitions beyond tank shells and 30 mm A-10 shells, including bunker-buster bombs.
Besides, what other story in In These Times, or any other journalistic publication for that matter, subjects its facts to “peer reviewed forensic evidence?”
The answer is: none.
ITT did decide eventually to run a version of my letter in its forthcoming December 19 issue, but first they stripped out the paragraph about Rokke as a source, leaving me with just clips to justify my case. Then they insisted, against all principles of fairness, on running yet another note from the editors (the tradition, at ITT and at most respectable journals on the left and even in the mainstream, is to give authors the last word). Again headed “The Editors Respond,” making this a collective effort, they wrote: “We stand by our previous response. Interested readers can continue following the debate by reading Cohen-Joppa’s essay “DU Disinfo Dupes Project Censored,” available online at http://serve.com/nukeresister/du-disinfo.pdf
When I pointed out that it wasn’t much of a debate unless they also listed my website, they belatedly agreed to add my website to the “debate” (http://www.thiscantbehappening.net but they would not restore the Rokke paragraph, saying there was “no room” (of course, it was their second editorial note that was causing the supposedly vexing space problem).
At this point, I should add that I have removed my name as a contributing editor to ITT. Besides not wanting to contribute any more to a publication that has developed such low regard for its own writers’ work and for the integrity of their reporting, not to mention that would treat a writer so shabbily as to even violate basic rules of fairness in a debate.
That said, I must say that sadly, I believe my experience on this story reflects something more serious: the decline into comfortable political respectability and irrelevance of a once feisty journal of the left.
Jim Weinstein’s tragic death from brain cancer has apparently ripped the heart out of his publication, if its editors can so easily fall prey to critics who intimidate them with official Pentagon lies, so that they are more comfortable with these than with the reporting judgements of their own writers. (I have no idea whether Cohen-Joppa is a Pentagon shill with a deep cover as a self-described anti-nuker, or whether he is just on a wacky crusade, but one certainly would think if he were legitimately concerned about the hazards of DU, his time would be better spent investigating and condemning the vicious official campaign of disinformation and character assassination being directed by the Pentagon against DU critics like Dr. Rokke, than going after journalists who are trying to expose the ongoing war-crime of DU weapons use by US and British forces.)
I hope I am wrong, and that a downsized ITT can find new life as a hard-hitting progressive monthly, but it may be too late.
Ironically, as this little battle of mine was underway, the Pentagon was caught by some enterprising Italian filmmakers having used hideous and illegal white phosphorus bombs against the people and the fighters of the city of Fallujah. The Pentagon’s immediate response to the film, which aired on Italian TV last month, was to lie and say it never used Phosphorus in Iraq except to light up battles. When caught by after-action documents detailing the lethal bombing by the weapons, which melt flesh and burn straight through a body to the bone, the Pentagon lied again, falling back from the first lie and admitting that it had used the weapon, but lying that it didn’t use it against civilians (The U.S. military had surrounded the city of 300,000 before attacking, and had refused to allow any men or boys of “combat age” to flee, insuring that there were plenty of civilians in the target zone of this decidedly non-precision weapon.)
One would think these blatant Pentagon lies would have given ITT’s editors pause as they continued to support Cohen-Joppa and his Moby Dick-like quest against DU exposes, but unfortunately, it did not.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org