Monday, July 28, 2008

HOLY LAND TRIAL "we come to bury 'terrorists,' not to praise them"

The United States government in its rush to make “war on terror” has created a system of fabricating information about terrorism and terrorists that is an incestuous game of “gotcha” for anyone who might want even the slightest hint of a reality check.

The incestuousness is played out in a process whereby one researcher finds a shred of evidence (not necessarily a shred that can be verified independently—such verification is seen as a hindrance to the process) to support a preconceived notion and passes it on to a policy wonk. The wonk then uses the shred of evidence as a factoid to convince government personages (or the public) that the preconceived notion is “truth.” The original researcher becomes the authority on the subject and her work becomes the basis for US policy decisions. That the government functionaries (whether low-level bureaucrats or the President) might have misinterpreted the factoid or that it is simply not true is never investigated after it becomes the basis for “policy.”

One of the researchers who amasses factoids about “terrorism” is Matthew Levitt (see for his non-credible biography) who was the government’s “expert witness” at the Holy Land Foundation trial in 2007.

Here are two paragraphs from a review of his “authoritative” book on the “terrorist” group Hamas.

Hroub Khaled. *
“The Terrorist Touch”
Journal of Palestine Studies 36.4 (2006): 73-75.
[Reviews the book, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, by Matthew Levitt]:

In the foreword to this book Dennis Ross, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East from 1988-2000, sets forth this praise: "Policy makers would be well advised to shape their strategy with [the author’s] prescription in mind." Unintentionally Ross has confirmed one of the reasons why American policymakers, himself included, produce the catastrophic decisions that the do. They rely on sub-journalistic, war-mongering types of books, such as former FBI officer Matthew Levitt’s work on Hamas in "shaping their strategy." If misperception is sought as a prerequisite for American or Western policy making with regard to Hamas, then Levitt’s book should be their bible.

The sole "creativity" of this book lies in its apparently deliberate effort at decontextualizing a sociopolitical and military phenomenon such as Hamas from its Israeli and Palestinian environment and initial impetuses. Hamas, in Levitt’s book, is delinked from the decades of brutal Israeli military occupation that have naturally been conducive to all forms of national resistance. The Israeli occupation is simply not in Levitt’s book. Even on the rare occasions when mentioning the suffering of the Palestinians is unavoidable, the author uses [a passive construction]. For example, he writes, "It is a painful reality that Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have endured a deplorably low standard of living for years" (p. 5). Readers do not know what caused that reality and who was behind it! Shying away from mentioning the Israeli occupation, he maintains, "Ultimately, it has been the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, the failures within Palestinian society, and the loss of hope that have fuelled Hamas and its purposes" (p.x). Thus, the Palestinian problem is a result of all the sins of the Palestinians who "lost hope." (Why the lost hope remains a mystery.) The Israeli occupation, its brutality, and its outcome is completely absent from this work—a work that should “shape the strategy” of American policymakers, as Dennis Ross recommends.

Quoting one researcher who amasses factoids, of course, is playing the same game of fabricating information. But many more examples exist for the researcher who wants to dig for them.

One of the most interesting is from Dr. Jerrold Post, who has been the government’s “expert” witness on the psychology of terrorists (in other prosecutions and before Congress), and is one of the government’s most celebrated inventors of factoids. Am I stepping on toes, opening myself to libel suits? prosecution? academic ostracization? Or am I crying, “The emperor has no clothes?”

The following is a quotation from an article by Dr. Jerrold Post ** with Ehud Sprinzak and Laurita Denny. This article is masterful in “its apparently deliberate effort at decontextualizing a sociopolitical and military phenomenon such as Hamas from its Israeli and Palestinian environment and initial impetuses” (Hroub). The authors carried out the following research:

Using semi-structured interviews, 35 incarcerated Middle Eastern terrorists have been interviewed—21 Islamic terrorists representing HAMAS and its armed wing Izz a-Din al Qassan, Islamic Jihad, and Hizballah, and 14 secular terrorists from FATAH and its military wing, the Black Panthers, PFLP and DFLP. The purpose of the research was to understand their psychology and decision-making in general, and with special reference to their propensity towards weapons of mass destruction terrorism.

Dr. Post was not present for the interviews, and all but one of them were anonymous. We do not know who these “terrorists” were, and the transcripts (either in Arabic, Hebrew, or English) of the interviews are not available. What, exactly, does “semi-structured” mean? And out of the approximately 11,000 political prisoners in Israeli custody, how were the mere 35 chosen?

Post, Jerrold, Ehud Sprinzak, Laurita Denny
“The Terrorists in Their Own Words: Interviews with 35 Incarcerated Middle Eastern Terrorists”
Terrorism and Political Violence 15.1 (March 2003): 171-184.

Dr Post’s introductory remark to the quoted statement by one of the “terrorists” is: “The hatred socialized towards the Israeli was remarkable, especially given that few reported any contact with Israelis.”

You Israelis are Nazis in your souls and in your conduct. In your occupation you never distinguish between men and women, or between old people and children. You adopted methods of collective punishment, you uprooted people from their homeland and from their homes and chased them into exile. You fired live ammunition at women and children. You smashed the skulls of defenseless civilians. You set up detention camps for thousands of people in sub-human conditions. You destroyed homes and turned children into orphans. You prevented people from making a living, you stole their property, you trampled on their honor. Given that kind of conduct, there is no choice but to strike at you without mercy in every possible way.

This is an obvious “deliberate effort at decontextualizing” the very life of the interviewed “terrorist.” Are any of his statements true? Have the Israelis “…adopted methods of collective punishment…uprooted people from their homeland and from their homes and chased them into exile…fired live ammunition at women and children…smashed the skulls of defenseless civilians…set up detention camps for thousands of people in sub-human conditions…destroyed homes and turned children into orphans…[?] Or is this simply a made-up tirade by a political prisoner who hates Jews?


* Khaled Hroub – Biography:
Coordinator, Cambridge Arab Media Project, University of Cambridge at the Cambridge Centre of. Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies
Hamas: Political Thought and Practice. Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000.
Hamas: A Beginner's Guide. London: Pluto Press, 2006.
New Media and Politics in the Arab World (forthcoming)
For those who keep track of virulent anti-Palestinian rhetoric:
Dr. Hroub is authoritative enough to have made it onto "Campus Watch":

About Dr. Hroub’s Hamas: Political Thought and Practice:
“The answers, which Hroub gives, will not be appreciated by the West, because they do not fit into the “terror image”. The book presents such a differentiated picture of the organisation that it does not go along with the Western image of Hamas. For policy makers the book would be an asset if it was taken into consideration. Hroub’s book can be an eye-opener for all those with an open mind. It gives a sober analysis of Hamas and can only be adequately judged in the light of the Israeli occupation. The book is a must read for all policy makers who want to understand Hamas as a Middle Eastern player."
Ludwig Watzal [reviewing the book]. Orient 4. S(2006) 575-577.

**Dr. Jerrold Post
Professor of Psychiatry, Political Psychology and International Affairs and Director of the Political Psychology Program at The George Washington University.
Dr. Post has devoted his entire career to the field of political psychology. Dr. Post came to George Washington after a 21 year career with the Central Intelligence Agency where he founded and directed the Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, an interdisciplinary behavioral science unit which provided assessments of foreign leadership and decision making for the President and other senior officials to prepare for Summit meetings and other high level negotiations and for use in crisis situations.