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Pentagon’s Stages Illegal Media Tours of Afghanistan

American law bars military propaganda
Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)
Sunday 19 September 2010

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Section 720 of U.S. Public Law 111-117 bar the Pentagon from using taxpayer funds to generate propaganda for use within the United States. In blatant disregard for the rule of law, U.S. military officials conduct media tours in Afghanistan almost every week to American press representatives. The goal is to spin the news, showcasing only positive accomplishments and happy events, which propaganda is then fed to the American people.

During this media circus, there is no little or no mention of the growing desertion rates among Afghan police and Army units; NATO’s decision to ignore opium production in some areas; the dismal lack of electricity, pure drinking water and sewage treatment facilities in Afghanistan; Taliban successes and expansion; the growing number of Afghan districts with security problems; and the fact that one third of Afghans still do not get enough good food to eat (according to the latest data from the U.N.’s Food Programme).

Section 720 reads as follows:

“No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used directly or indirectly, including by private contractors, for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States, not heretofore authorized by the Congress.”

The Congressional intent behind Section 720 is clear: The American people insist that they be told not just the truth by their government, but the whole truth - the good and the bad.

The Pentagon has circumvented Section 720 with the assistance of a dishonest ruling by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO). This ruling is set out in its September 9, 2010, legal decision B-319834, dated September 9, 2010. That decision found that U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made false and misleading statements in her May 2010, brochure about the Obama New Health Care Law, including that the law “will ensure accountability throughout the Health Care System” which is a guaranty that cannot be supported; but the GAO concluded that the brochure was not prohibited “propaganda” under Section 720, because it is was not “purely” 100% propaganda.

The GAO has taken the Congressional law which prohibits all propaganda and interpreted it to mean that Congress only prohibited expenditures that are “purely propaganda” and only those that are “completely devoid of any connection with official functions and completely political in nature.” That means that the Pentagon can generate publications and spend money on efforts that are 99.99% false and/or propaganda, as long as they are not 100% false and/or propaganda.

This absurd position was clearly not the intent of Congress. In an effort to gut Section 720, the Obama Administration manufactured a ridiculous legal argument for ignoring the Congressional restrictions.

The failure of the U.S. Government to adhere to the rule of law sets a bad example overseas. If the Pentagon can simply ignore laws it does not like by inventing preposterous legal arguments, then foreign governments, such as the Afghan government, should be free to do the same. International media and press representatives should boycott the illegal Pentagon propaganda tours in Afghanistan, not simply because they are improper, but because they are propaganda.

Note: In September 2009, Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith, in response to negative news reports, canceled the Pentagon’s contract with Rendon Group. One of Rendon’s tasks was to profile media and press reporters and grade them as to how supportive they were of the American efforts in Afghanistan. Kevin Baron of Stars & Stripes reported on August 31, 2009, that those who received unfavorable ratings were denied access to front line units as embedded reporters.

Admiral Smith said he was canceling the Rendon contract not because it was improper and illegal, but because it “had become a distraction.” All indications are that this illegal rating system continues. This is but another facet of the Pentagon’s efforts to distort the news. Kabul Press? remains banned by the Afghan government and is apparently blacklisted by the Pentagon’s media machine.

Kabul Press has yet to be invited to any Pentagon briefing or tour. A military organization that is afraid of the truth and honest reporting is one that is destined for failure.

Further reading: “Media Feeds Americans Fake News About Afghanistan”, April 5, 2010, by Anne Landman of the Center for Media and Democracy. “Media Fails to Ask Tough Questions on Afghanistan War . . . Again,” August 15, 2010, by Derrick Crowe of commondreams.org.

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