Terrorism and the propaganda machine

Glenn Greenwald uses the recent murder of an Iranian scientist to meticulously document how the word terrorism has been drained of any objective meaning and has become a propaganda term to be used only to describe acts that are taken against the interests of the US and Israel. If the US and Israel commit such acts, or are even suspected of doing so, then the loaded word is scrupulously avoided and euphemisms substituted, such as the more clinical ‘targeted assassination’.

Does anyone have any doubt whatsoever that if Iran were sending hit squads to kill Israeli scientists in Tel Aviv, or was murdering a series of American scientists at Los Alamos (while wounding several of their wives, including, in one instance, shooting them in front of their child’s kindergarten), that those acts would be universally denounced as Terrorism, and the only debate would be whether the retaliation should be nuclear, carpet-bombing, or invasion? As always, Terrorism is the most meaningless — and thus most manipulated — term of propaganda; it’s always what They do and never what We do.

Regarding the question of who is responsible for the spate of scientist murders and explosions in Iran, it is true that there is no dispositive evidence on that question; that’s one of the benefits of conducting most consequential governmental action behind a wall of secrecy: no public accountability. But as the links above demonstrate, there is strong circumstantial and even direct evidence that (a) Israel is involved and (b) the U.S. has engaged in substantial covert acts of war aimed not only at the Iranian nuclear program generally but at Iran’s nuclear scientists specifically.

That all of this is done with total secrecy and no oversight by design enables deniability, if one is eager to embrace that. Newsweek’s neocon national security reporter, Eli Lake, even went so far yesterday as to suggest the “possibility” that Iran is behind these acts of violence: because, as is well known, countries love to murder their own nuclear scientists and blow up their own nuclear facilities (Lake, of course, is right that it’s a “possibility” that Iran is behind this; as I replied: “Another possibility: maybe Senegal, or Singapore, is killing Iran’s scientists – or maybe Martians don’t like their nuclear program”). But by far the most likely explanation is that Israel is responsible, and one would have to be deliberately gullible — to the point of extreme self-delusion — to believe that the U.S. not only has no knowledge of or complicity in a spate of assassinations by its closest client state in a nation in which it has exhibited an intense interest, but also has no ability to stop it if it chose to (at the very least, the U.S. frequently sanctions state sponsors of Terrorism; if it objected to Israel’s acts, wouldn’t it do that here?).

Whatever else might be true, Israel and the U.S. are certainly the leading suspects behind these killings. And that is what explains the vehement resistance against calling this Terrorism.

Greenwald’s article is accompanied by a photo of the dead 32-year old scientist with his infant son, looking like any proud father. But this photo was provided by the Iranian Fars News Agency and so is probably fake because we know that these dastardly Iranians will stoop to anything to try and evoke our sympathy. In a subsequent post, Greenwald points out how the Associated Press wrote a caption to the photo that treated it with skepticism, in complete contrast to the way they presumptively assume that anything told to them by American government officials is true.


  1. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    It’s only terrorism if the Bad Guys do it. Since obviously we* are not the Bad Guys, we don’t do terrorism. QED.

    *”We” being “us folks”.

  2. coragyps says

    The distinction has a long history: a “massacre” in the late 1800’s was often when Indians killed a couple of US soldiers in a fight. A “battle” included when US soldiers killed a villagefull of Indian women and children.

  3. Dave Huntsman says

    Mano, I have problems all around -- including with this writeup.

    To equate the Iranian weapons scientists assassinations with the equivalent against the US or Israel is silly. Neither the US nor Israel has threatened to destroy Iran simply because it exists. In addition, most of the world feels that Iran getting a nuclear weapon is A Really Bad Thing.

    In short: If you were Israel (or the US, for that matter), what’s the alternative, assuming sanctions won’t work? This Administration has narrowed its demands on Iran to a much greater degree than the previous, drawing the line at a nuclear weapon (rather than previously with enrichment et al). Which is one of the reasons most of the rest is going along with the sanctions to one degree or another.

    I assume that you would not have been opposed to assassinations against WWII Germany or Japan (and we conducted them, to be sure; the most noteworthy being Yamamoto). Yet when we’re talking nukes, you can’t wait until the war has started. So, again…..what’s your alternative?

    Things are not as simple as painted here.

  4. Matthew says

    It seems like “terrorist” is this era’s “Communist.” The word gets thrown about whenever someone needs to evoke an emotional response to persuade people to support a plan or law that would otherwise be rather unpopular. It is also the government’s excuse to do anything it wants however much it violates the Constitution, international law, etc. By throwing the word “terrorist” into the discussion the government can get away with anything. All for your protection, of course.

  5. julian says

    Of course. We’r just protecting our interests and trying to save lives.

    We’re saving lives, people! It’s what we do!

  6. Hunter says

    “To equate the Iranian weapons scientists assassinations with the equivalent against the US or Israel is silly. Neither the US nor Israel has threatened to destroy Iran simply because it exists. In addition, most of the world feels that Iran getting a nuclear weapon is A Really Bad Thing.”

    So your justification for state-sponsored acts of terrorism amounts to: ‘They totally said they’d blow us up, given the chance!’ and ‘You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette!’ That about right?

    Personally, I don’t think there is an alternative. At some point, you have to recognize that Iran is a sovereign nation. Just because you don’t like what they’re doing doesn’t mean you get to stroll in and knock everything over. You know who engages in that kind of behavior? Empires and despots. Last I checked, America wasn’t quite to that point yet. But if we keep listening to this kind of advice, we’ll get there alright.

    Really, if Iran gets the bomb, they get the bomb. I’m sure they’ve looked at what happens to countries who don’t have it, and concluded that they’d much safer from invasion if they did. It’s a bargaining chip and a world-player membership card, all in one. Don’t assume that if/when they get it they’re going to use it. They’re smart enough to realize the stakes.

    The question that we should be asking is this: how far are we willing to go for this? Assuming the goal is preventing them from obtaining nuclear arms, where will we draw the line? Because this terrorism crap (and that is what this is) just delays the inevitable. They’ll get more scientists. They’ll rebuild whatever we demolish. Progress can never truly be stopped, and these sanctions likely won’t make much difference in the end. So what’s your answer to that? Just straight up invade like we did with Iraq and Afghanistan? And if so, where will that cycle end? Because Iran isn’t the first, nor will it be the last country to pursue nuclear weapons.

    And comparing the present situation in Iran to WWII Germany and Japan is completely off the mark. This situation doesn’t even begin to compare (particularly with regard to scale), and besides, you’re not even accounting for the effect of hindsight-judgment.

  7. Art says

    It seem that you are very sure about who did what. A major issue is that many nations, including the US and Iran, have at various time resorted to some form or flavor of assassination, dirty tricks, open terrorism, to support their national interests. And that just covers the established nations. There are major independent, and often more violent, factions within nations.

    Little known history is that anti-Castro forces based in the US blew up cars in the US to advance their political cause and, for all practical purposes, they got away with it and their groups remained quite friendly with the US powers that be.

    Assassination, prison, torture, disappearances of political rivals within Iran is not seen as rare or unusual. Iranian support of clear and obvious terrorism outside their nation, albeit usually acting through third parties, isn’t even a subject for debate. If Iran had clean hands, or cleaner hands, there might be more outrage but in this case it isn’t entirely clear if this assassination was a result of US, Israeli, Iranian central government, Revolutionary Guards or Saudi Arabia.

    The unfortunate fact is that disappearances and assassinations are seen as normal for the area. Hard to find a nation or faction that hasn’t gone down that road.

    Things get even stranger when groups and nations can kill people on their own side to have a ‘bloody shirt’ and martyr. There is some logic to Iran using assassination of its own people, and the fact that most people will assume the Israelis did it, as a foil to hold off attacks by Israel. The assassins may not know who they are working for and because such things are always undertaken on the QT figuring out who did what can be quite difficult.

    Real life can be much more nuanced and complicated than any spy novel.

  8. Upright Ape says

    I come from there and I think this assassination, if that is ehat it was, was justified.
    Don’t get me wrong. I most certainly feel awful about the loss of life. But those who serve the regime of Iran in its nuclear ambitions (whether they are doing so in a technical capacity or, as was apparently the case for this guy, purely administratively) are indeed accomplices in its crimes against humanity.
    Consider this: this is a regime that uses rapes against both men and women as as tool to subdue political dissent. This is a regime with some of the tightest gun control laws in the world yet pro-regime vigilantes fire with impunity into crowds of unarmed protesters. This is the regime that openly denies the holocaust and has repeatedly threatened Israel that it would be “wiped off the map”.
    The actions of the regime of Iran are making the world a less safe place for all of us. I would be more concerned about the casualties of an armed conflict in tge region than this one guy.

  9. Steve LaBonne says

    Don’t play dumb- it’s tiresome. There are basically three realistic possibilities here- Israel or Saudi Arabia (US allies both) or, less likely but possible, the US itself.

  10. says

    Adding another dimension to this study in American hypocrisy, Rick Santorum recently declaimed that the U.S. should not condemn these assassinations. So here we have the Christian conservatives’ “morals candidate” completely ignoring his Bible’s command that Thou Shalt Not Kill. And no-one seems to notice.

    Glenn is right -- as usual -- but we have a few other issues of cognitive dissonance to deal with, don’t we?

  11. Art says

    You can be insulting, and call my view “dumb”, but in fact I do not know who did it. My suggestion that the Iranians themselves have a shot at being the guilty party comes from Iranians. Given the Iranian tendency to kill their own people, wave tactics by children and removal of those who are politically inconvenient, it isn’t too much of a stretch. Yes, we do tend to vilify Iran, and this does interfere with their posing themselves as the victim, but the negative view is not entirely unjustified. Most nations kill their citizens. Some far more often and openly than others. The differences are in degree, not kind. Iran has accepted that it isn’t going to pull off the role as international ‘paragon of virtue’. Fact being they have cultivated the ‘bad boy’ posture in diplomatic circles.

    Based on the huge volumes of well documented and verified evidence presented I would say nobody, or at least nobody here, knows for sure who did it. A lot of people are making gut-level, perhaps even educated, guesses. The guesses may be correct. But they are speculation.

    I also don’t understand how SA and Israel being allies with the US has much to do with it. Both nations demonstrate inconvenient stripes of independence at inconvenient times. SA funding of Wahhabi clerics and madrases and Israeli offensive actions puts the lie to any case that claims they can’t act on their own. Or that anything they do is, by default, a result of US desires. Both nations are highly motivated to keep Iran out of the nuclear club. A nuclear armed Iran is a serious threat to Israel and SA, and many other nations. While the US would find it disconcerting and inconvenient it is not an existential threat.

  12. Steve LaBonne says

    It isn’t too much of a stretch only if you’re an intellectually dishonest person given to politically convenient conspiracy theorizing. Back in the real world there’s very little doubt it was the Israelis, whose security officials have been engaging in the wink-wink-nudge-nudge routine that is usual in such cases.

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