Friday, July 30, 2010

God is giving terrorists a tough competition (Update)

  (Image Credit: A.Majeed, Associated Free Press)

Reading Pakistani newspapers is being awash in tragedy on an almost daily basis. Everyday someone dies, in freak road accidents, suicides, plane crashes, robberies gone wrong, political violence, gang warfare, terrorist attacks, stampedes, flooding....and the list goes on. As Ahsan points out, there is scarcely enough time to for the media and the blogosphere to catch a break. We don't have the luxury to digest tragedies and make sense of them.

Over the past four years, news reports have been  inundated with reports of militant violence, first on military and police personnel and then on civilians. Rarely a day went by without  bombs going off in crowded marketplaces, mosques full of worshippers and residential areas. Overtime we figured out a way to cope with this. We cursed the organizations that participated in these mass murders, blamed the government for its inaction, remained glued to our TV sets and prayed like hell. Somehow we got on with our lives.

This week however, we are facing tragedies of a different nature. The first is the crash of Airblue Jet ED202 in the Margalla Hills of Islamabad  which killed all 152 passengers. The second is the flooding in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region and Norther Balochistan which has killed 430 people and affected more than a million. And the worst is yet to be over.

The situation surrounding these two incidents is full of unknowns. We don't know what caused the crash in the first place, was it the weather, pilot error or engine/mechanical failure? We don't know who to blame for the floods; the central government for not investing more in rural infrastructure, the corrupt politicians who use public money to line their own pockets, the majority of Pakistanis who don't pay the taxes needed to provide important services which could have prevented this disaster/saved more lives or God, who decided to make it rain so much in the first place. (I'm gonna go with God, this way I won't have to take any responsibility). We don't have any idea of the damage done or how long it will take. And the biggest of all: We just don't know how to deal with this.

P.S. The title is shamelessly plagiarised from Fahad Desmukh's tweet. All the credit goes to him

Update I: (11:56AM Eastern Standard Time), as of now more than 2.5 million people are affected by the flooding of the Swat and Kabul rivers. The death toll has risen to 1,100 with reports of cholera outbreaks. There have been a few videos released showing the rescue efforts and the extent of the flooding

Islamic Relief UK has posted a series of videos from Nowshera which has become a refuge for flooding victims

Here is a Guardian interview with an aid worker in swat who did not wished to be identified for security reasons:


There have also been reports of hoarders and profiteers charging exorbitant prices  for essential goods. There are also fears of more flooding as the levels of the Indus river at Guddu and Sukkur barrages are rising significantly.  

The Guardian is providing important minute to minute update on the situation here

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Human life is cheap (Update)

It's ironic that just after the leak of Afghan war logs showing the United States and NATO's utter disregard for the lives of Afghan civlians, 152 people were killed today when an Airblue Airbus crashed today in the Margalla Hills of Islamabad. Six members of the Youth Parliament Pakistan and two U.S. Embassy personnel have been reported to be among the dead. Dawn News has posted the full passenger list on its website including the number for Crisis Management Cell (051-9211223-4) which provides more information about the passengers on board.

According to reports, bad weather is listed as the main cause of the crash but the details remain unclear. An official investigation is curently underway to determine the exact nature of the incident. The black box has also been retrieved although as Geo news is currently reporting Pakistan lacks the capability to analyse it.
The most disgusting thing about this incident was the behaviour of the Pakistani media. As both Ahsan and XYZ have pointed out, reporters from all of Pakistan's broadcast news organization showed an extreme lack of tact and sympathy for the victims and their families. The worst in my opinion, however was an asinine blogger claiming that the plane crash was a conspiracy to divert public attention from the fake degrees scandal rocking Pakistan's political elite.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the federal cabinet have declared today  as a "national day of mourning" for the victims of this tragedy. United States President Barack Obama also offered his condolences to the friends and relatives of those killed adding that the “The American people stand with the people of Pakistan in this moment of tragedy.”

I am counting my blessings right now. No one I know has been affected by this tragedy. But there are at least 152 families that have not been so lucky. My thoughts and prayers go out to them.

Update I: Another day, another tragedy. Dawn News has just reported that an additional 150 people have died in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Northern Baluchistan due to flash floods caused by torrential rains.

Monday, July 26, 2010

WikiLeaks: The old, the new and the ugly

Yesterday, released approximately 91,000 government documents related to the War in Afghanistan through three news organisations, the New York Times (American), the Guardian (UK) and the Der Spiegel (German). The documents are mostly a collection of war logs; a series of eyewitness accounts and reports from the soldiers on the ground and contain unconfirmed and unverified information. In the words of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, the documents are "true" but the information in them might not be. Keeping this in mind, I'm going to summarize some of the more crucial information from this massive data dump.

The old

There have been more than 180 unverified firsthand accounts which point towards the involvement of the ISI in supporting the armed Taliban/Al-Qaeda insurgency in Afghanistan by providing training, supplies information, and arms although as Guardian's Declan Walsh points out, there has been no "smoking gun".  The content of these accounts ranges from chilling to downright questionable with accusations involving ISI training legions of suicide bombers, including children to smuggling surface to air missiles from Pakistan, to poisoning western beer supplies. One report noted in the New York Times, from December 18th 2006 details the process through which ISI enables suicide bombers:
First, the suicide attacker is recruited and trained in Pakistan. Then, reconnaissance and operational planning gets under way, including scouting to find a place for “hosting” the suicide bomber near the target before carrying out the attack. 
The report notes that this network receives substantial support from the Afghan Police and Ministry of Interior. A majority of the reports come from interview and interactions with the Afghan intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) which has great hostility towards the ISI and the Pakistani establishment. However, given the history of Pakistani support for the Taiban and the extreme reluctance with which both the South and North Waziristan offensives were undertaken, even after all other options were exhausted (aka direct talks, agreements and the Swat Peace deal) it is very much possible that there is kernel of truth in these accounts. The question remains as to which accounts are true and to what extent. It is important to note that there have been previous instances when ISI has been under fire from both the US government and the military, but nothing substantial has emerged yet. So while these leaked documents highlight the extent to which there exists mistrust of the Pakistani agency within US, coalition and Afghan forces, there are no new details to be had here.

The new

Two new pieces of information have come to public view with the release of the leaked documents. The first is the existence of an undisclosed (not anymore), "black" unit of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization; a military alliance of states in North America and Europe, 28 members) special forces known as Task Force 373 which is responsible for killing or detaining senior members of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan without trial. The task force operates via a "kill or capture" list known as the Jpel; the joint prioritised effects list which provides detail for over 2,000 senior Al-Qaeda and Taliban figures. According to the war logs, this force behaves in a very inconsistent manner, with some mission aimed at interment and others focusing on elimination. Additionally, the logs also reveal a disregard for civilians noting that TF 373 is involved in the death of civilian men, women, children and even Afghan forces. Specifically, a report from the night of Monday June 11th 2007 noted in the Guardian reports that an TF 373 mission to capture or kill the Taliban commander Qarl ur-Rahman near Jalalabad was terminated when TF 373 forces engaged in a firefight with aerial bombardment with Afghan police forces without confirming the target resulting in the deaths of seven police officers. Following this incident, the coalition forces released a statement to the press detailing the fire fight or air support, but failing to mention  either the TF 373 or the casualties adding that
"There was nothing during the firefight to indicate the opposing force was friendly. The individuals who fired on coalition forces were not in uniform."
There was no mention of the Afghan police deaths. In a similar incident on Sunday June 17th 2007, another TF 373 mission went awry killing seven children when TF 373 fired five rockets at a madressah in the village of Nangar Khel believed to be the hideout of Libyan fighter Abu Laith al-Libi before any indication of hostilities. Ironically, neither Libi nor his supporters were found. In this case, the accompanying press release mentioned the deaths attributing this incident to coalition troops attacking the compound because of "nefarious activity". The TF 373 were not mentioned. The lack of transparency surrounding the existence and the activities of the TF 373, understates how little we know about the conduct of the coalition forces in Afghanistan. It also begs the question whether or not these extra-judicial killings may be constituted as war crimes, under the United Nations; although even if they are it is highly unlikely that any action will be taken.

The second new development is the claim that the insurgency in Afghanistan have surface to air missile capability. In 2007, the US covered up a surface to air missile strike by the Taliban that shot down the Chinook Helicopter in the Helmand province killing seven military personnel. The aircraft was shot down on May 30th 2007 after dropping troops at the Kajaki. In the case of the Chinook, both NATO and US officials stated that the aircraft had been brought down by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG)-effectivelysaying that it was a lucky shot. However, following the loss of the Chinook two Apache helicopters came under fire from missiles twice in 30 minutes. An unidentified source in April 2007 told an American officer than seven surface to air missiles purchased by Iran from Algeria had been clandestinely shipped into Afghanistan via the Iranian city Mashhad. There are other reports which point towards the Pakistani ISI supplying weapons or missile trainers to the Taliban. Basically, the war in Afghanistan is infinitely messier than we were told and that the Al-Qaeda-Taliban insurgency is not going to go away anytime soon.

The ugly

The leaked war logs provide an important insight into the extent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. There are  144 war log entries in which detail "blue on white" events providing day by day records of assaults resulting in Afghan casualties. These incidents range from the shooting of innocent civilians to large scale air strikes with massive civilian losses. The magnitude and frequency of such incidents led Afghan president Hamid Karzai to publicly protest with the famous statement that US was treating Afghan lives as "cheap".  The logs also highlight the systematic cover up of civilian deaths. On October 2nd 2008, French troops "opened fire on a bus that came too close to convoy" near the Tangi Kalay village outside of Kabul wounding eight children with no investigations made. A more disturbing incident involves the American 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment when a bus that failed to slow down during their attempts to stop it in order to allow the patrol to cross the road causing one soldier to spray the bus with machine gun fire killing four and wounding eleven. Similarly no investigations were made. Within the 144 relevant war logs, the bulk of the violence against civilians stems from shooting uncooperative drivers and motorcyclists and almost all of these incidences are described as escalation of force against a violent threat. Essentially, the war logs reveal that US and NATO press statements are unreliable sources at best when it comes to reporting civilian casualties, and effectively puncture the dominant narrative within military circles that massive civilian casualties are merely "Taliban propaganda".

I've posted the an Q and A with Julian Assange (director of WikiLeaks) below:

Here is his interview with TED Talks founder Chris Anderson

Saturday, July 24, 2010

People in glass houses shoudn't throw stones

 (Image Credit: Who is Who in Karachi)

Dr. Farooq Sattar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (United National Movement, MQM), a political party based on Muhajir (immigrants from India and their descendents) empowerment denounced Awami National Party (People's National Party, ANP); based on Pashtun empowerment for the killing of a party worker on Friday. Addressing the media, Dr. Sattar stated that:
ANP’s armed men opened indiscriminate fire on MQM’s office. As a result, several MQM workers were injured and one of them succumbed to the injuries. The attackers belong to the Awami National Party. This statement is being made with complete evidence.They are at large in the city and targeting people is their routine practice.
 He added that:

Criminals of this party are rolling around in the city with weapons at will. They are grabbing lands and properties on gun point and blackmailing people for money.
Sound familiar? It is somewhat amusing to see Dr. Sattar refer to the ANP as criminals operating with impunity when members of his own party behave in precisely the same way. I guess he forgot about the tit for tat killings that the MQM is currently engaged in or a month ago or a year ago.What about the bodies of young men which found in sacks strewn about the city throughout the early nineties? Will you be feigning amnesia on this one Mr. Sattar?

 In his address to the media, Mr. Sattar has already indicated that the violence will not abate in the near future warning that:
Despite such a big setback, the Chief of MQM has instructed the party to tolerate such incidents. But if we are forced, our level of tolerance may also reach the threshold.
It looks like the people of Karachi will not be getting a reprieve anytime soon.

Police Brutality

Pind Dada Khan Police barred an eight year old woman from meeting Federal Law Minister Babar Awan to lodge complaints against police non cooperation. The police forcibly dragged this woman into a police vehicle and held her down onto the floor with a foot. She is currently being held in an unknown place.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Much Ado about Nothing

I have been following the debate on the Cordoba House (aka Ground Zero Mosque) for the past month and just when things seem to calm down, tensions flare up again. What started out as a local issue for the City of New York, has turned into a national one. Even Sarah Palin joined the debate five days ago with a series of tweets stating:

Ground Zero Mosque supporters, doesn't it stab you in the heart as does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims pls refudiate

Grammar mistakes aside ("refudiate" is not really a word), the level of opposition to this project is growing day by day. Two New York politicians,  Representative Peter King and Rick Lazio, candidate for governor have already expressed opposition to this project. Another candidate, Carl Paladino has placed this issue at the center of his political platform, highlighting it in a number of attack ads (see below).

In a similar vein, the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee, the fund raising wing of the Republican National Party launched a delightfully bigoted attack advertisement intent on rallying opposition to the proposed project. Fortunately, both CBS and NBC decided against its broadcast, on the grounds that some of the language used was too vague. According to NBC  advertising standards manager Jennifer Riley:

"This ad which ambiguously defines 'they' as referenced in the spot makes it unclear as to whether the reference is to terrorists or to the Islamic religious organization that is sponsoring the building of the mosque,"

And let's not forget about right-wing talk show host Michael Berry's (ATRH AM, Houston Texas) comments hoping that someone blows the NY Mosque up.

I'm not going to feign ignorance about the reason behind there is opposition to this project in the first place. After all, there is no denying that the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001 were Muslims. But the argument that Ground Zero is somehow sacred and building a Mosque/Community Center two block from it would be an insult is sorely lacking. For one, there are other not so sacred establishments in the vicinity of Ground Zero including a strip club which is also happens to be a mere two blocks from the sacred site. Secondly, what distance would be considered sufficient for the Mosque/Community Center? Five blocks, ten, half a mile, two miles...?

It seems to me that the problem with this project isn't the perceived defilement of the hallowed area of Ground Zero, but the fear against a project that is "Muslim" in its roots. The fear and animosity towards all things "Muslim" in this opposition is scary to say the least. The conflation of Islam and Muslim with the "other" or as being diametrically opposed to "American" is disturbing. It is unfair towards the American Muslims numbering in the millions who work and live within the confines of American culture and society. This type of dialogue deters tolerance and progress and encourages violence, hate and racism. Let's calm down and think  rationally, logically and without bias for a minute. Building a mosque two blocks from ground zero is not a celebration of the tragedy of September 11th, nor is it an affront to the victims. It is nothing more than an exercise of the constitutional rights guaranteed to every American. Let's not make it a bigger deal than it already it

Here is sample what the opposition sounds like:

Here is the full testimony of Public Hearing on the Landmark Designation Proposal Regarding 45-47 Park Place (site of proposed Mosque/Community Center)

Part 1

 Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5


Monday, July 19, 2010

Welcome to Pornistan

An edited version of this post appeared in Express Tribune Blogs on July 19th 2010

 (Image Credit: The Tap Blog)

If Fox news is anything to go by, Pakistan may be the leading nation in "sexy" online searches. According to a recent article featured on, Pakistan is ranked the first in the world in terms of pornographic Google searches. Of course, this discovery is juxtaposed with Pakistan's recent behaviour in cyberspace. Pakistan temporarily banned Facebook, Youtube and Blackberry service in reaction to the controversial Facebook group "Everyone Draw Muhammad Day", which itself was a reaction to Comedy Central's decision to censor the image of Prophet Muhammad from South Park. Of course there is the obvious question:  If Pakistan is an Islamic country, what's with all the porn?

I'm not sure if the writers at Fox News have gotten this memo yet, but covering Google Trends statistics is not really reporting. Looking up Google trends on the terms "porn", "sex" and all forms of beastiality  is something testosterone laced teenage boys do for fun, not professional reporters. In defense of Fox News though  I would like to add that this network promises news which is "fair and balanced", not "relevant and intelligent".

The reason that I am incensed about this is not that I feel the need to defend Pakistan, or that this article is an affront to my religious sensibilities. On the contrary,  I have no objection to this article on nationalist or religious grounds. I find this article offensive as a scientist. This is the epitome of bad science. Firstly, there is the obvious sampling error. Considering that at best estimates, only 10% of Pakistanis have access to Internet, the high frequency of porn searches hardly depict the Googling habits of an entire nation. Secondly, Google Trends and Google Insight report search term statistics limited to the searches made on Google. It does not account for all the other search activity on the internet. Thirdly, there is no limit on the number of searches made by the same search engine user. This means that an individual searching for "porn" and "sex" on Google, may use these search terms an infinite amount of time. Therefore, sex crazed maniacs in Pakistan will drive up relevant search statistics.

There is an obvious hilarity in this entire situation.Given the nature of the majority of comments that this piece has received it is surreal that very few seem to question the reliability of the article itself. It seems as though everyone accepts Google as a credible source for making judgments about countries that one has never visited. If it is this easy to fool Fox News readers, I wonder what else they can be talked into. So, I would like to propose a contest. Make up your own headline which you think should be published in the next Fox News article about Pakistan and post it in the comment section below. The only rule is that they just have to be funny. Here is my contribution:

Kind souls create sanctuary for donkeys victimized by sex crazed maniacs in Pakistan

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Data Darbar Part I: Understanding the Narratives on Terrorism

 Data Darbar Shrine in Punjab 
(Image Credit: Pakistan Photos)

The way in which events are understood and perceived greatly affects their outcomes. In the case of the ongoing spate of violence against civilians in Punjab, including the recent triple suicide attack in Data Darbar; the shrine of the sufi saint Data Ganj Bakhsh, the narratives which have dominated the national scene have been extremely important in determining our political, social and cultural response. In my estimation, there are three prevalent national narratives which have developed in response to heightened militant violence across the country. All of these narratives are defined by a sense of disorientation with the transformation that Pakistan has undergone in the last five years; the progressive increase in violence against civilians, and are actively based on understanding and assigning the blame for this "terrorism".

 CIA, RAW, Mossad and other acronyms

Considering the prevalence of conspiracy theories among Pakistan's political, historical and cultural narratives, most involving an evil nexus of CIA, Mossad and RAW (Indian) bent on Pakistan's destruction, it is not surprising that the most dominant narrative continues to follow this form. The frequent militant attacks have been continuously ascribed to foreign "anti-Islam" and "anti-Pakistan" forces by Pakistan's political elite specifically the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Branch) which holds power in Punjab, the most populous province and the hardest hit by violence. Following the July 1st attack on the Data Darbar shrine, senior members of Pakistan's most influential religious party Jamat-e-Ulama-Islam (Congregation of Islamic Clerics), denounced the act stating that "no Muslim could even think of targeting a holy place", assigning responsibility on  foreign agents aimed at destroying the Ummah; the "global Islamic collective". The power of this narrative lies in its effective use of the doctrine of victimhood to define Pakistan's national identity. We have been attacked, abandoned, targeted, discriminated against....and so on. There is no space for honest self circumspection of the less than illustrious chapters of our history, namely the military genocide of three million in East Pakistan in 1971, now Bangladesh or the constitutional discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims, the active and tacit support for religious militancy against India in Kashmir and the open recognition and support for the Taliban government in 1990s (see Ahmad Rashid's book "Taliban"). Crippling and debilitating, this narratives encourages a society devoid of self criticism and a sense of responsibility for its own deeds. Unfortunately, this is the reality of Pakistan today.

Muslim? I don't think so!

The second narrative takes its basis from the first, with few exceptions. Firstly, it accepts the possibility of Pakistanis as perpetrators of violence against other Pakistanis. Secondly, it shifts the tone of the dominant narrative from a nationalist to religious. While Pakistanis can engage in violence against other Pakistanis, especially in the case of suicide bombings and market place bomb blasts, these people cannot be Muslim, or belong within the context of an Islamic belief. The strength of this narrative is based on its fluidity which leads to its self fulfillment. Those who commit these acts are not acting in accordance to Islamic values and thus cannot be considered as Muslims. While this narrative is based on distancing this violence from the religion itself, the problem is that it again perpetuates a denial of of the fact that the Pakistani religious establishment monetarily funded and supported the very groups currently engaged in this violence. Once again, events are perceived from the emotionally deceptive stance of identity affiliation/group camaraderie rather than in the light of historical fact.

Punjab is different...and so are Punjabis

In the fall of 2008, the Pakistani government in coordination with its armed forces launched a targeted offensive in South Waziristan  with the aim of quelling Taliban and Al-Qaeda presence in the region. While the offensive was succesfull in  dispersing militants, it also destroyed  important local  infrastructure and resulted in the creation of at least 100,000 refugees. Another offensive was carried out in North Waziristan earlier this year following Faisal Shahzad's failed bombing attempt at New York's Time Square with similar results. The human costs of both offensives were justified. After all both Taliban and Al-Qaeda were utilizing these regions to carry out attacks on vulnerable civilian populations. For the last nine months, there has been increasing violence directed at Punjabi civilians from sectarian groups collaborating with other militant groups such as Al-Qaeda,  Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Party of Taliban in Pakistan) and the Haqqani network. However, despite the ongoing violence from Punjabi groups, a similar offensive has yet to be launched. This lack of inaction in part is due to the logistics of carrying out a detailed military operation in a high civilian density region. In this context, a different narrative is employed. Similar to the dominant nationalist narrative, this one employs majority-minority dynamics through the lens of ethnic identity.

The narrative is simple. "Terrorism" is considered as a ethnic problem associated with Pashtun culture rather, than a social or political one. Violence by militant groups operating within the province of Punjab is ignored or placed within the context of Pashtun culture, which is perceived as inherently violent. The long standing history of Sunni militancy in Punjab especially in the district of Jhang; home to Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (equivalent to the KKK, but with vastly superior armament and tacit support of Punjab's political leadership) is disregarded, perpetuating a notion of Punjabi exceptionalism. Simply put, Punjabis are different from Pashtuns. They are inherently incapable of violence. Foreign agents must be involved. Versions of this narrative have been heard again and again, specifically from the PML-N. By analysing ongoing violence in Punjab through the singular lens of ethnic identity, this narrative creates a hierarchy positively favouring Punjabis over other groups, inflaming long standing ethnic tensions. Its prevalence within political, social and cultural circles within the province ensure tacit support to militancy in the province, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and will continue to do so in the coming weeks, months and years.

Seeing the forest for the trees

Our perceptions of "terrorism" and militant violence in Pakistan is shaping our social, political and cultural response to it. The dominance of narratives based on nationalist, religious and ethnic allegiances in our national dialogue devoid of an understanding of history and present day reality is dangerous. Dealing a violent insurgency on this scale requires an understanding of past political decisions which have led us here in the first place.  A paradigm shift in narratives from assigning blame to accepting responsibility is essential if the ongoing violence against civilians is to be dealt with effectively.

Coming Soon
Data Darbar Part II: Forget Religion, This is a Cultural War

Monday, July 5, 2010

Michael Hastings in his own words

I'm posting a Democracy NOW! interview with Michael Hastings, the man who broke the story of the friction between McCrystal and the White House below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

It's not called torture if we do it

Aside: I would like to apologize the lack of blogging last week. I was involved in the preparations of the wedding of a close family member, so I had limited time to access the Internet. But, I did do a quick 15 minute scan of my favorite news sources and have a lot of post ideas, so expect a bit of heavy blogging this week.

A recent study (literature review) conducted by students at the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University on the media bias in the United States has revealed some interesting results. The paper, which focuses on the media coverage of waterboarding before and after 2004 (when it was revealed that the United States was utilizing waterboarding as an interrogation method) noted that in news articles from the 1930's onwards, waterboarding was uniformly referenced as torture in the majority of NYT and Los Angeles Times articles. In contrast, major American news publications rarely called or implied waterboarding as torture in their news articles from the period of 2004 to 2008. In these four years, the NYT utilized the word torture in reference to waterboarding in only two of its 143 articles (1.4%). The LA Times used it in three of its 63 articles (4.8%). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just one of its 63 articles (1.6%). As for USA Today, torture was never used or implied when describing this practice.

The results are much more interesting when it comes to other countries. According to the report, news publications were overwhelmingly likely to mention or imply torture in reference to countries other than the United States. For the NYT, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding were called or implied as torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The LA Times characterized waterboarding as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was involved.

This has important implications for the information that we access (or don't access) from these publications. Considering that only leading newspapers in the United States were examined, the subtle bias against criticism of US interrogation practices calls into question their journalistic credentials. It also highlights the extent to which self critical reporting is missing from the American establishment media.

It is unclear whether the decision for removing torture in reference to waterboarding was at the behest of the United States government or not. If this is the case, then the actions of the government clearly contradicts the concept of free press. However, it is more likely that the removal of torture references in the context of the waterboarding controversy in the United States is a case of self censorship, a more alarming scenario. If established media organizations are exercising self censorship and kowtowing to rather than questioning the official line, then it is a sad day indeed for the American press.

The report also highlights that the lack of critical journalism, is not only limited to American broadcast news organizations (see the attacks on Rolling Stone's Hastings who broke the McCrystal story), but also prevalent in prestigious news publications. Part of this has to do with the rise of new media, which forces news publications and broadcast organizations to compete on the same level as viral videos featuring kittens. The other part is the emergence of an atmosphere of fear in the post 9/11 period, where the language of patriotism has eaten away the objectivity and critical rational analysis central to good journalism. 

A fair and free press is essential to the existence of a healthy democracy. It fulfills the role of an overseer,  providing important checks and balances to power and access to information that ultimately decides the fate of democratic governments. As this Harvard study has indicated however, a fair and free press is virtually extinct among the established news media organizations in the United States. This may be the reason why it was a freelance jounalist Michael Hastings associated with Rolling Stone Magazine, not the New York Times or Wall Street Journal who broke the biggest story of the war in Afghanistan.