Disinformation: A Crime against Humanity and a Crime against Peace

In 2004, the prestigious peer-review medical journal the Lancet published a paper that propounded 100,000 Iraqi civilians having been murdered in the US-UK aggression against Iraq. The aggressors’ casus belli was blatantly and knowingly false; hence, by definition, it was disinformation.

Disinformation distinguishes itself from misinformation in that the information is deliberately false; hence, it is an intentional attempt to deceive. In the case of the invasion of Iraq, the disinformation campaign helped generate support from many sectors of the public. The corporate media kept regurgitating its disinformation, and much of the public kept swallowing it, unable to discern the verisimilitude.

Eventually, the corporate media flagship New York Times felt compelled to admit to some flawed reporting. Misleading the way was writer Judith Miller, a notorious purveyor of the US government’s disinformation on Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction. However, little has changed at the Times.

And the occupation and the killing continue, as if the US and its gangster-like military have a universal license to kill.

US Marine, Lieutenant General James Mattis, had the stupidity to brag how much he enjoyed killing:

Actually, it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people, I’ll be right up front with you. I like brawling—You go into Afghanistan, you’ve got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.

Some would consider Mattis’ outlook warped. However, his boss, Defense [sic] Minister Donald Rumsfeld, whose invading army stood by while hired hoodlums ransacked and pillaged Iraq, described Iraqis as “celebrating their new-found freedom.” The evidence indicates that the brutalities and crimes are not isolated episodes, but rather a generalized mentality emanating from the top down.

Declaration on Disinformation

University of Lethbridge professor Anthony J. Hall, who educates on disinformation, put it within a framework:

Disinformation originates in the deliberate and systemic effort to break down social cohesion and to deprive humanity of perceptive consciousness of our conditions. Disinformation seeks to isolate and divide human beings; to alienate us from our ability to use our senses, our intellect, and our communicative powers in order to identity truth and act on this knowledge. Disinformation is deeply implicated in the history of imperialism, Eurocentric racism, American Manifest Destiny, Nazi propaganda, the psychological warfare of the Cold War, and capitalist globalization. Disinformation seeks to erode and destroy the basis of individual and collective memory, the basis of those inheritances from history which give humanity our richness of diverse languages, cultures, nationalities, peoplehoods, and means of self-determination. The reach and intensity of disinformation tends to increase with the concentration of ownership and control of the media of mass communications.

The subject was tackled in early July 2004 at the Halifax International Symposium on Media and Disinformation put together by the collective at shunpiking magazine. It was a conference in which all comers were invited to participate in the proceedings. Following four days of detailed information on the method and operation of disinformation, as well as relevant international law and conventions on propaganda, the symposium participants held that disinformation is:

1. A deliberate instrument to attack the consciousness, conscience, rights and well-being of the world’s peoples;

2. Is a major block to the aspirations of humanity to establish a world of peace and justice and the ecology of sustainable and healthy life of the planet; and

3. Is a flagrant violent of fundamental international law and norms.

This led the symposium participants to unanimously declare:

1. Disinformation—its creation and propagation—is a crime against humanity and a crime against peace;

2. Those responsible for the creation, propagation, and orchestration of disinformation campaigns should be indicted for crimes against humanity and peace.

Incumbent with this declaration, was the voicing of “resolute support for the struggles of all those [people] fighting for their rights and self-determination.”

This includes the struggle of Iraqis, the Indigenous peoples, Palestinians, Cubans, Venezuelans, Haitians, and many others.

Support for Journalists and Independent Media Outlets

Since the corporate media is entwined (structurally through economic functions and ideology of ownership) with corporations and the corporate political establishment, support must be extended to the establishment and nurturance of independent media.

Furthermore, to ensure independent reporting, it is necessary to protect the media personnel who transmit and communicate news and information. The journalistic integrity of media personnel must be protected from institutional pressures and from pressures in the field. For example, the pressure on reporters to embed themselves in war zones is an obvious infringement on journalistic objectivity.

The symposium participants considered there to be an “unprecedented assault on the conscience, livelihood and lives of journalists and communicators,” and that this is part of the historical legacy of occupation forces targeting journalists and media outlets in occupied territories—a war crime under international law.

Recently at the elite gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, CNN news division head Eason Jordan admitted to a panel that the US military had targeted journalists working in Iraq. Jordan said “he knew of about 12 journalists who had not only been killed by American troops, but had been targeted as a matter of policy.” In an effort to quickly sweep the matter under the rug, some US politicians reflexively denounced Jordan’s remarks.

The targeting of journalists is aimed at brutalizing, intimidating, and silencing all journalists and media personnel.

Some so-called Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were criticized for being mute about, complicit in, or openly defensive of crimes against media personnel. The independence of some NGOs is dubious. It was claimed, for example, that Reporters sans Frontières is at least partially funded by dubious right-wing interests, such as the NED.

The symposium rejected with “utter contempt” the perfidy of disinformation to undermine journalists and their work as “propaganda” in a divide-and-conquer attempt to marginalize humanity.

Given the right-wing attacks on the free-speech rights of progressive academics such M. Shahid Alam and Ward Churchill some might mistakenly argue that a motion against disinformation tampers with the right to free speech. The difference is that disinformation is not about free speech; it is, in fact, a systemic attack upon humanity and free speech suffers as a result.

One suggestion in the battle against disinformation that arose out of the Halifax International Symposium on the Media and Disinformation was the call for the establishment of a research center. Hall envisioned a center:

to inform the public of disinformation’s crucial role in the deterioration of democracy and in the further empowerment of repressive regimes of public and private power everywhere. The aim would be to engage people and peoples in the struggle to expose the lies of disinformation and to join in the articulation of a new era of Enlightenment based on the vigorous exploration, embrace, and deployment of truth. The aim would be to hold the perpetrators of disinformation and war propaganda legally and morally accountable for their violation of the public trust. It would to hold the perpetrators and disseminators of disinformation accountable their central role in crimes against individuals, groups, and humanity and against the ecology of sustainable and healthy life on the planet. The aim is to encourage and facilitate the study of disinformation and propaganda through conferences, publications, web activism, networking, and constructive engagement with legislatures, parliaments, peoples? assemblies, coalitions, unions, media, courts, media, and corporate officials.

Disinformation is a key component of the scourge of imperialism and the battle against it is a vital necessity. This is easier said than done; regardless, should disinformation persist only mildly opposed, the entire concept of human progress is in serious jeopardy.

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.