NYT Gives a False Pass to US on Cluster Bomb Sales
September 13, 2015
Jim Naureckas / Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
In a report on the use of cluster bombs (outlawed by 117 countries) the New York Times recently reported that, while the US has yet joined the treaty it has abided by its provisions. Not true, FAIR critics pointed out. Human Rights Watch has reported US cluster-bombs made in Massachusetts have been used to kill civilians in Yemen. The Times has apologized for the error and entered a correction. The US government, however, has not changed its policies.
(Septmeber 3, 2015) -- The New York Times' Rick Gladstone (9/3/15) has an article on the use of cluster bombs -- aptly described as the "widely outlawed munitions that kill and maim indiscriminately" -- in conflicts in Libya, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, five countries that have not signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which banned the production, sale and use of these weapons in 2010.
The use of these weapons was criticized by all 117 countries that have joined the treaty, which took effect five years ago. Their use was also criticized by a number of others, including the United States, that have not yet joined the treaty but have abided by its provisions.
This is just wrong: The Convention not only bans the use of cluster bombs -- which the US military used against Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq before the treaty went into effect, but did not use subsequently in its air attacks on Libya -- it also mandates that signatories are "never under any circumstances to . . . develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions."
As Human Rights Watch (5/3/15) recently reported, "Credible evidence indicates that the Saudi-led coalition used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen" this year. The weapon in question is the CBU-105, manufactured in Wilmington, Massachusetts -- and "banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions," HRW notes.
The report specifies:
In August 2013, the US Department of Defense concluded a contract for the manufacture of 1,300 CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons for Saudi Arabia by Textron. The contract stipulated that delivery of the weapons should be completed by December 2015. Human Rights Watch does not know when deliveries began, or if they have finished.
Additionally, the UAE received an unknown number of CBU-105 from Textron Defense Systems in June 2010, fulfilling a contract announced in November 2007.
Even were the Saudis (or the United Arab Emirates) not using the cluster bombs, the US simply making and transferring them (and stockpiling them in its own arsenal) clearly violates the Convention. Their use by the US's allies presumably puts Washington in conflict with another provision forbidding parties to "assist" others in activities contrary to the treaty.
Aside from the inaccuracy of claiming that the US has abided by the provisions of the Convention, the Times article fails to follow the principles of newsworthiness.
For a US-based paper like the Times with a largely American audience, the fact that the United States is making and selling some of the deadly weapons whose use is the subject of the article ought to be a central point. Instead, the Times' willingness to play down Washington's role in conflicts it reports on has led it to publish certifiable falsehoods.
ACTION: Please write to the New York Times and ask them to correct the false claim that the US is abiding by the provisions of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
CONTACT: The New York Times accepts requests for corrections at email@example.com. Remember that respectful communication is the most effective.
UPDATE: A few hours after FAIR issued this Action Alert, the New York Times appended a correction to its piece:
An earlier version of this article misstated the position of the United States regarding the treaty banning cluster munitions.
According to the Cluster Munition Coalition, while the United States has reduced its supply of cluster munitions, it reserves the right to use, transfer and stockpile them. The United States is not among the countries that abide by the treaty's provisions even though they have not joined the treaty.
Perhaps more importantly, the story has been rewritten to include the fact that US-made cluster bombs continue to be used:
The United States, which is among the countries that have not signed the treaty, still produces and exports cluster munitions. In a telephone interview, Ms. Wareham said that although the United States had sharply reduced its supply of cluster munitions, at least three different types of American-made cluster munitions had been used by Saudi-led forces this year in the Yemen conflict.
"The United States reserves the right to use, transfer and stockpile the munitions, unfortunately, so we cannot say they abide by its provisions," she said.
FAIR appreciates the correction and the expanded story. Thanks to all those who participated by writing to the Times or helping to spread the word.
Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org.
Online Comment by LT
There's further problems than the cluster bombs. According to Fox News, who have every reason to protect their Saudi investors, the US and its Gulf satellites "destroyed the runway at Sanaa airport, a key gateway for aid deliveries." (5/03/2015).
This practice actually has a spiffy name in the strategic military literature: it's now called "center of gravity." You can read in the Summer 2003 issue of Air & Space Power Journal how one of the US strategists in the First Gulf War, Chuck Horner, wanted to hit target sets "ranging from national leadership and command and control to railroads, airfields, and ports- each of which corresponded to a COG."
This was practiced in the notorious bombing of the Iraqi highway 80, as well as a variation in the war in Afghanistan where blocking aid was called "benign neglect" (http://www.nps.edu/programs/ccs/docs/pubs/understanding%20the%20taliban%20and%20insurgency%20in%20afghanistan.pdf >> accessed 2/15/2015).
Another word for this is a violation of the laws of war, or at least when the law is being targeted towards enemies. Thus when we handed out the death penalty to Nazis attempting to bomb New York, according to the July 1942 decision by the US Supreme Court, the category of "offenders of the of the laws of war" included "persons of the enemy territory who steal within the hostile army for the purpose of robbing, killing, or destroying bridges, roads, or canals, of robbing or destroying the mail, or of cutting the telegraph wires." (United States ex rel. Quirin et al .v. Cox,Provost Marshal >> LOC.gov "Nazi Saboteurs trial").
The policy is clearly still being toyed with despite being flagrantly illegal. You will read Newsweek boast, with an appropriately tame photo of bomb dust, that the US coalition hit "the Kobani area, a former ISIS stronghold," that "still lacks running water and electricity in some areas" (Newsweek 2/19/15).
This is even more alarming if you interpret the remark by the popular Washington pundit Joshua Landis as permission for this policy. "Do you stop providing all aid because it goes through the hands of Assad and legitimizes him or not?" (Foreign Policy 4/17/2014). The rebels, Assad, as well as the UN, are criminally responsible for withholding aid.
Another use of this policy was in Libya where FAIR had reported NBC anchor Rachel Maddow encouraging the destruction of the capacities, and ultimate murder of people in state television. There is no need to wonder what outrage is taken when US journalists are targeted, as the US makes its stand in Egypt.
It's well known that this policy is being used against Palestinians, to those who care to look. The sewage in the water is certainly attributable to Israeli bombs, as George Bisharat was allowed to point out in the New York Times last year and human rights groups have amply documented.
But when carried out by Israel, the US journalist Jodi Rudoren, embedded in the ever-growing Jerusalem colony, will suppress it. You will not find reported by Jodi Rudoren the call from Amnesty International to "suspend the transfer to Israel of arms . . . until substantive steps have been taken by Israel to achieve accountability . . . "
Like with the glib "benign neglect," when confronted with documentary evidence, US elites usually prefer to react with sarcasm, seemingly by instinct. Palestinians complained in 2005 of flooding.
Israeli Water Commissioner, Shimon Tal "agreed to review PWA concerns about Israeli wastewater running into the Wadi Gaza in either the JWC or JTC, and to address the impact on water supplies of the Israeli Kedumim garbage dump on the West Bank in the JTC." (Wikileaks: ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN COOPERATION ON WATER ISSUES AND GAZA DISENGAGEMENT AGREED TO AT TRILATERAL WATER TALKS).
The year before Israel widened the Nahal Secher near Beersheva (http://www.haaretz.co.il/misc/1.951313, Hebrew, accessed 9/4/2015), increasing its later output into the Wadi Gaza, despite heavy protests from Israeli environmentalists.
Israel had indeed been withholding funds to manage Gaza wastewater as well, to "maintain maximum pressure on the PA." (Wikileaks: TIME TO RESTART GAZA WATER PROJECTS?). But the international press was muzzled by a tremendous flak campaign.
Thus when the AFP accused Israel of flooding Gaza, a retraction from both AFP and Al Jazeera was in order, who found a Belgian dam expert to blame both sides -- the occupiers and the occupied. This story was enough to smugly laugh off critics, although the picture of Israel actually carrying out this policy is still available on Haaretz [in] Hebrew for all to see.
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