A lesson in the abuse of information technology
December 31, 2016 Leave a comment
2016 ended with “fake news”, a quite detestable oxymoron describing the onslaught of manipulative agit-prop pieces popping up on emerging – and at times, established news outlets. While this degree of lazy reporting is usually confined to darker corners of the internet or local papers, and concern local policing, this year, it blew to considerable proportions targeting the most significant news items: the US presidential election, the chaos in Syria and Yemen, as well as the role of the EU in the result of the Brexit referendum.
As a result, journalists, routinely targeted and attacked in recent years for doing their job, while reporting from extremely hostile environments across the globe, find themselves discredited at home, mostly in the US and the EU. Despite a vast array of evidence to the contrary, there have been several massacres in Syria, including the large-scale destruction of Aleppo; there have been hospitals hit by bombs in Yemen, civilian casualties in anti-ISIS coalition strikes, an attempted coup d’état in Turkey, Russian involvement in the continuous war in Ukraine, dubious political campaign funding of far-right parties; I could go on.
On this most anticipated New Year’s Eve, as the world prepares to celebrate the end of the annus horribilis, bracing themselves for the difficult years to come, I decided to share 10 of the most interesting, thorough, necessarily complex and salient pieces of journalism I have read this year; that I have relied on in my work as an international lawyer; that I have enjoyed and learned from as an active citizen; that have represented the world as it is to readers, the world as they should know it, work for, but more often than not work against. There has been many, many more that deserve to be highlighted. Those journalists deserve to be supported, followed, relied upon, and their expertise trusted.
The White Flight of Derek Black, by Eli Saslow (the Washington Post, October 15)
2016 marked the ascent of the far-right in the West, a cyclical event in Europe, and a first in the United States when a bubbling but fringe movement rose to prominence with the election of Donald Trump and his cohorts of white supremacists nominated to key positions in the upcoming administration. This form of extremism, often overshadowed by the omnipresent threat of islamic terrorism, relies on severe indoctrination and threats of retaliation. This long read on the ideological turn-around of a trusted figure highlights mechanisms of belief and violence, as well as strength and courage to refuse.
How Do You Stop a Future Terrorist When the Only Evidence Is a Thought? by Rukmini Callimachi (The New York Times, June 21)
Rukmini Callimachi has reported on ISIS like few have before or since; her 2015 on the horror suffered by Yazidi women as they were enslaved by the fighters in Iraq has been seminal story-telling in an era of detachment from the inhumanity of war. Following the events in Paris, the New York Times reporter has travelled across Europe and the Middle East in order to regularly provide, through articles and Twitter updates, an unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the self-styled state, as well as underlining the strategy of the response and its shortcomings. This one studies the difficulty of placing the cursor on a spectrum of radicalization.
‘Why did they wait to kill us?’: How the attack on the aid convoy near Aleppo unfolded by Louisa Loveluck and Thomas Gibbons-Neff (The Washington Post, September 24)
The bombing of a UN aid convoy on its way to (partially) relieve the siege of East Aleppo on the outset of the summer has riled up NGOs and organizations across the globe, trying to assess the damage done to the humanitarian cause in failing to help Syria, to the rule of law for targeting UN workers, and most importantly attempting to decipher those responsible. In a blame game that has characterized much of the Security Council debates on the country in 2016, Loveluck and Gibbons-Neff conducted a clinical study of the munitions used, the timing of the attack, collecting witness testimonies and analyzing video footage to provide the only independent report into a defining moment in the battle of Aleppo.
The Hot Land: How a Lime Grower Led an Uprising Against one of Mexico’s Bloodiest Drug Cartels by Ryan Devereaux (The Intercept, September 6)
Often self-effaced, Devereaux has managed to compile a solid body of work since the humble and stumbling beginnings of The Intercept in June 2013. Usually focusing on national security, he traveled to and reported from Mexico for months, working on student disappearances, state repression, and here, on the ad hoc formation of resistance to the dictature of violent drug cartels in a country rife with impunity. At the heart of the destructive war on drugs, Mexico struggles to survive, to shelter its own, and to rise above shadow armies and control through corruption. This specific story, as well as others long reads and photoreportage he issued in the previous months, deserve your attention.
As The Saudis Covered Up Abuses in Yemen, America Stood By by Samuel Oakford (Politico, July 30)
The carnage in Yemen has been denounced as aided and abated by western states, specifically the US, UK and France, arming Saudi Arabia with high range and high precision weapons despite the warnings from humanitarian organizations that those munitions were used in attacks that could amount to war crimes. The silence of most governments in the face of those serious allegations only matched the incredibly, nauseatingly profitable business of arms trade with the Kingdom, the highest recipient of weapons in 2015. As governments now start to wake up to the responsibility, this piece provided a starting point for activism and promotion of arms regulation in the face of atrocities.
The Appearance of Disappearance: the CIA’s Secret Black Sites by Crofton Black and Edmund Clark (Financial Times, March 17)
I first saw Crofton Black as he testified before the European Parliament’s inquiry on CIA rendition in European states. He shared his work on the hidden prison in Antavilliai, Lithuania, a windowless white building in the middle of the forest the Vilnius government said was a “jewelry storage facility”. With photographer Edmund Clark, he released a unique, unprecedented book called Negative Publicity, a remarkable look at the mundane aspect of atrocities, the everyday conversations between perpetrators and their facilitators, a strange, eerie window into the base logistics of the CIA rendition program. Black’s evocative writing conveys the unshakeable discomfort of the silence surrounding those places.
Warning From the Syrian Border: Trump Reminds Us a Bit Too Much of Assad by John Knefel (Rolling Stone, May 12)
Knefel spent a lot of time in Turkey over the last 6 months studying the flow of refugees from Syria and the lack of safety they experience due to a porous border; the foreign fighter phenomenon and the role of the peshmerga in the fight against ISIS; and the human dimension of never be able to leave behind a war that will define a generation in the suffering it has inflicted. In here, a painful but necessary reminder that the 2011 insurrection was a legitimate uprising against an oppressive leader, a thoughtful reflection on the role of dissent, while we still can.
Inside RICU, the Shadowy Propaganda Unit Inspired by the Cold War by Alice Ross, Ian Cobain, Rob Evans and Mona Mahmood (The Guardian, May 2)
Countering extremism, this pseudo science denounced by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights while countering terrorism in a March 2016 report, has led to unpalatable policies in the United Kingdom, where the main scheme, Prevent, has been criticized for targeting individuals, groups and families with no tangible link to terrorism. A concerted effort was made at European level following the January 2015 attack in Paris to offer a “counter-narrative”, a government-led initiative to lead potential terror recruits away from the path of radicalization. That, too, was doomed to fail.
Les Journalistes, Nouvelles Cibles Préférées des Populistes by Jean-Bernard Schmidt (self-published on Medium, November 20)
Toward the end of the year, as the introduction specified, the lack of trust for any piece of reporting that did not hold to confirmation bias reached a level of surrealism and ignorance that baffled even the most experienced of internet users. French journalist Jean-Bernard Schmidt, who co-founded the investigative outlet Spicee in 2015, worked on a year-long project to debunk conspiracy theories and the role of the new media in propagating them. His opinion, sadly not translated for the non-francophones, explained that truth is the most dangerous weapon to be used against populists; and that as such, they tend to work towards discrediting their critics. A wonderful and powerful defense of investigative and critical journalism.
Calais Minors Lured From Camp Then Abandoned by Authorities by Lisa O’Carroll, Amelia Gentleman and Alan Travis (The Guardian, October 27)
Many have written about the lack of empathy shown to refugees in Europe as the crisis has formed a front of isolationist retreat in Fortress Europa. The evacuation of “The Jungle”, the makeshift camp in Calais where, in October, approximatively 8,000 refugees and asylum-seekers awaited their fate – among which over 3,000 unaccompanied minors – was touted as a success by the French authorities. For weeks, Paris had sought an agreement with London over the fate of children, and to end the constant expansion of tents, shipping containers on dunes, a squalor that even MSF denounced as untenable. Said clearance was rushed, poorly scrutinized, half-botched. It led to some severe violation of basic refugee rights.