Apr 1 2011

Covering for the Company in Pakistan?

NYT kept mum when a ‘diplomat’ was charged with murder

Raymond Davis--Photo Credit: Dawn

Raymond Davis–Photo Credit: Dawn

When President Barack Obama stood before a room of journalists on February 15 and demanded that Pakistan release “our diplomat” Raymond Davis from a Lahore prison where he faced double murder charges, and when he lectured the Islamabad government on its “obligation” to adhere to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, there were at least three reporters in the room who knew he was dissembling, and who went ahead and published his statements without caveat.

The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press had all received confirmation from U.S. government sources a week earlier, back on February 8, that Davis, a former Special Forces soldier and Blackwater/Xe contractor who had been charged with shooting and killing two motorcyclists in the back through the front windshield of his car in broad daylight on a busy Lahore street, was a contract worker for the CIA in Pakistan. (As Extra! went to press, Davis was released and allowed to leave Pakistan after the U.S. agreed to pay a reported $2.3 million to compensate the shooting victims’ families—New York Times, 3/17/11.)

All three of those news organizations, and probably several others, agreed to a State Department request to withhold Davis’ CIA connection from the American public—a request they continued to comply with until the Guardian newspaper in Britain spilled the beans on February 20. The Times told readers about the 36-year-old Davis’ real job in an article on February 21, but even then fudged about its having run, without comment, the president’s press conference lie; the paper said only of that week-earlier press conference, “Without describing Mr. Davis’ mission or intelligence affiliation, President Obama last week made a public plea for his release.”

Of course, the Times had allowed the president to misdescribe Davis’ “mission,” calling him a “diplomat,” and to not plead for his release, but to demand it, citing the wrong Vienna Convention, which applies only to embassy, not consular employees.

Times executive editor Bill Keller justified his censorship decision, telling public editor Arthur S. Brisbane (2/26/11) that the president’s concern was “that the letters C-I-A in an article in the NYT, even as speculation, would be taken as authoritative and would be a red flag in Pakistan.”

Brisbane, for his part, wrote: “I think the Times did the only thing it could do…. The alternative…was to take the risk that reporting the CIA connection would, as warned (by the White House), lead to Mr. Davis’ death.”

Keller’s and Brisbane’s pro-censorship defense is patently absurd. Amy Davidson, in a New Yorker blog post (2/28/11), shredded the Times position, pointing out that since Pakistanis were reading all about Davis’ CIA connection in their local papers, all the State Department was doing was asking U.S. media organizations “not to tell Americans, among others, what Pakistanis were already reading.”

Pakistani authorities, from the country’s intelligence organization (Inter-Services Intelligence) to the Interior Department, were, after all, well aware of Davis’ role. They were telling local reporters that the men he killed were ISI men assigned to tail him; besides, police had recovered from him at arrest a photo ID describing him as a “DOD contractor.” (See photo.)

The key to whether Davis could be arrested, jailed and held for trial, or whether he had immunity from prosecution even for murder, hinged upon whether he was a diplomat, certified as such by the host-country Foreign Office, and working out of the U.S. embassy, or whether he was a consular worker, whose immunity, under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, is quite limited.

Even to date, the American corporate media have failed to accurately report the lengths to which the U.S. government went to try and manufacture evidence that he was an embassy “employee,” not a consular contractor.

The local Pakistani media, for example, reported (International News, 2/18/11; Pakistan Observer, 2/25/11) that on January 25, the U.S., as it is required to do each year, submitted a note to the Pakistani Foreign Office listing 48 persons based at the embassy in Islamabad whom it wanted to be considered diplomats, with the immunity that goes along with that classification. Davis was not on that list. Only on January 28, a day after his arrest, did the State Department file a “revised” list to which Davis’ name had been appended.

This evidence, and its rejection by a court in Lahore considering Davis’ case, was not reported in U.S. corporate media. Neither was the fact that the country’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, resigned after refusing a demand by the country’s President Asif Ali Zardari that he backdate a document listing Davis as a “diplomat.”

Qureshi was quoted in the Pakistani media (International News, 2/13/11): “The kind of blanket immunity Washington is pressing for Davis is not endorsed by the official record of the Foreign Ministry…. On the basis of the official record and the advice given to me by the technocrats and experts of the Foreign Office, I could not certify him as a diplomat.”

Nor did U.S. corporate media fully report what police reportedly discovered in the rented car Davis was driving at the time of the shooting incident: night-vision equipment, masks and makeup, and hollow-point bullets banned in Pakistan (Dawn, 2/7/11; International News, 2/2/11; Opinion Maker, 2/11/11). And while the Times and other news organizations did report that Davis had a camera, on the memory card of which police found pictures of sensitive Pakistani military installations, they didn’t mention that also found on that card were photos of mosques and schools—the kinds of places that have been getting bombed in the wave of terror bombings that have been plaguing the country (PKKH, 2/8/11).

Brisbane agrees the Times “has refrained from publishing some of the details you cite, but only because they have attempted to verify the information and have so far been unsuccessful.” He told Extra!, “Times editors have emphasized with me that they cannot simply take what the Pakistani press publishes and run with it.” However, the British Guardian (2/20/11), which presumably has similar verification standards, has reported that Davis had an infrared flashlight and that his camera had photos of schools, suggesting it has been able to do what Times correspondents supposedly have not.

To most American media consumers, Davis remained just a U.S. “diplomat” caught up in a bureaucratic mess in Pakistan. In Pakistan, however, the media reported claims that Davis was a terrorist (Express Tribune, 2/22/11), citing government sources who say they have evidence, including cell-phone records (Economic Times, 2/22/11), that show he was in contact with the Pakistani Taliban and with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a terror organization linked to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the kidnap/murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

True or not, Americans deserved to know what Pakistan’s media were reporting about the case, if only to understand why huge demonstrations in Lahore and elsewhere demanded that Davis be tried and punished for the shootings, and why 99 percent of Pakistanis reportedly believed he was a U.S. spy guilty of murder.