May 19, 2010

AWRF 2010 - Forgotten Victims in a Post 9/11 World

Simon from Readers Services must have been scribbling notes on his takeaway coffee cup, presumably after he'd drained it, to have gotten so much into his write-up. Here it is (you may want to make a coffee first):

Now this was a heavy topic for 10am in the morning - particularly if you'd had a late night, overslept, missed your bus, and found yourself hoofing it from Grey Lynn to the Aotea Centre sans breakfast, walking so fast that coffee was spilling out through the sipper hole in your takeaway cup. But I digress. Thankfully the talk turned out to be so compelling that I soon forgot the less than ideal circumstances under which the morning began. 

The speakers were Michael Otterman, an American journalist and human rights consultant, and Antony Loewenstein, a Jewish-Australian freelance journalist, author and blogger.

Chair Kris Gledhill began by talking of the history of human rights awareness since World War 2. The horrors of the Holocaust were a catalyst for the formation of the U.N and an increasing public awareness of the need for human rights law. The problem, it was contended, was that it was western world human rights that were most protected, and western world human rights abuse that was most reported on by the media. Otterman and Loewenstein, in their capacity as journalists, contended that since 1945 up to the present day many human rights abuses sanctioned by the U.S govenrment were slipping under the mainstream media radar. Victims were being forgotten, and this problem had surged in a post 9/11 world, with many forgotten victims in the Middle East.

The pros and cons of torture as a method of seeking information from suspected terrorists was discussed. Neither Otterman or Lowenstein saw any pros. Lowenstein said there was much evidence that both the victim and the torturer suffered longterm post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. It also led to a lot of false intelligence, as many victims will say whatever they think is being sought from them in order for the torture to end. A further argument against torture was the spreading resentment against the U.S in the Middle East. Al Qaeda numbers had reportedly risen since the release of the Abu Ghraib torture photos in 2004. 

Both men pointed out the failure of the mainstream press to expose the full (and continuing) extent to which torture is being used by the U.S military, and the misleading nature of "Orwellian euphemisms" used such as "enhanced interrogation techniques", and the ultimately sourceless context of any content that begins with "Administration officials say...". These misleading tones were entrenched in compromised media outlets such as Fox News which operated as commercial businesses. 

The lack of coverage was also down to the covert nature of the U.S Government's military legislation, authorising torture techniques like sense deprivation and sleep deprivation in places outside of the U.S such as Guantanamo Bay, some methods of which were still authorised under the Obama regime; not to mention the increasingly common phenomenon of "embedded jourrnalists" whose reporting would inevitably be heavily partisan.  Egypt's torture chambers were discussed, and the disenchanting irony of Obama's speech in Cairo about a new Muslim beginning when there were U.S tax dollar funded torture chambers nearby. 

Aside from the inspiring legacy of independant journalists such as Robert Fisk and Patrick Coburn, both men agreed the internet was a vital tool for the voices of forgotten victims to be heard. Groundbreaking footage and coverage from the "blogsphere," (eg.CNN running twitter feeds during the Iranian uprising, Saudi Arabian youtube clips of women driving in a country where it is illegal for women to drive) was seen as far more vital than so-called "fair balanced journalism," and the most important revelations came from human rights groups rather than journalists. Lowenstein was reluctant to be optimistic about the chances of resolution in the Palestine/Israel situation. Both men hoped that the freedom of the internet could enable a new investigative journalism from inside and outside the Middle East, making true democracy possible.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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