An op-ed by the New York Times Editorial Board on Tuesday urged: “Iran’s Covid-19 Death Toll Is Rising. Show Mercy, Mr. Trump.” However, while the article noted the extensive and deliberate damage US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policies toward Tehran have had on that country’s economy and the impact this has had on its ability to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the second half of the story is dedicated to demonizing Iran as a state with a “large number of political prisoners who are being held on trumped up charges and who are at risk of contracting the coronavirus.” The Times urges Iran to “be wise” and release them as well.
In doing so, the Times editors appear to be making a compassionate plea, but in fact precisely reproduce the position of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s chief overseas diplomat. On March 10, as the novel coronavirus was rapidly spreading in Iran, the second country to bear the brunt of the pandemic after China, Pompeo tweeted that “any nation considering humanitarian assistance to Iran should seek the release of all dual and foreign nationals” held by the southwest Asian country.
Any nation considering humanitarian assistance to Iran should seek the release of all dual and foreign nationals.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 10, 2020
Two days later, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres explaining that US sanctions are “obstacles to the sale of medicine, medical supplies and humanitarian goods,” and tweeted a list of “urgent needs” faced by Iranian doctors “stymied by vast shortages caused by restrictions on our people's access to medicine/equipment” due to US sanctions.
The New York Times has always been more than happy to amplify voices making the case not just for the Trump administration’s present economic and political war on Iran, but also for expanding it. In June 2019, a piece by Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens titled “Pirates of Tehran” declared, “If Iran won’t change its behavior, we should sink its navy.” The piece was in response to accusations by US intelligence, which the Times uncritically reported as accurate, finding that Iranian frogmen had planted explosive mines on several oil tankers that caught fire off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Then on January 10, 2020, 10 days after the US illegally assassinated Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in a drone strike outside Baghdad, the Times printed an explosive opinion piece by hawkish Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) that made “The Case for Killing Qassim Suleimani.” A few months later, when the Times again published a piece by Cotton advocating martial law in the US to crush protests against police brutality and white supremacy, the staff “revolted,” according to Vox, forcing opinion editor James Bennet to resign. The Soleimani piece, however, caused no such “revolt.”
Dr. Margaret Flowers, co-founder of Popular Resistance and director of the Health Over Profit for Everyone campaign, told Radio Sputnik’s Political Misfits on Friday that the corporate media “always has to try to justify US cruelty or demonize another country that the United States is targeting.”
“We have to realize that the United States has been imposing economic warfare on Iran ever since 1979 when they had their revolution and dared to challenge the United States and stand up to US power. The impact of this economic war on Iran is severe. And the US really doesn’t have any political space to talk about when it comes to prison populations, but that’s another topic,” Flowers told hosts Michelle Witte and Bob Schlehuber.
“But just looking at the economic war being waged on Iran, I was in Iran last year on a peace delegation and talked to people about the fact that food prices are so high that they can’t get medications - even if they could afford them; they still can’t get those medications. That the impact of this economic war - which is supposed to exclude food and medicine - results in the fact that Iran can’t do economic transactions with other countries to purchase the things that they need, or students can’t even go to school abroad because they have no way to pay their tuition to that school because they can’t use their money in those other countries,” she said.
Flowers noted the US’ actions are both illegal and “extremely punitive,” and also expose the US as the odd man out around the world as other countries move to increase their cooperation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but Washington ramps up sanctions that frustrate that process.
“When you look around the world at countries that we try to demonize, like Iran and China, and then you compare their prison populations based on the population of that country to the United States, we find that it’s really the United States that is the prison-state in the world,” Flowers told Sputnik.
Since the pandemic began, Iran has released into home confinement some 85,000 prisoners - one-third of its entire prison population - in an effort to combat the spread of the virus, which flourishes in places like prisons. However, according to US Bureau of Prisons data cited by Forbes, the US has released just 7,700 prisoners into home confinement in response to compassionate release requests - just 0.3% of its 2.3 million-strong prison population, and one-tenth the number of people Iran has released.
Flowers noted that, contrary to US posturing, it does have political prisoners behind bars, including American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier and Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu-Jamal, among many others. She further pointed out that most prisoners in the US are there for nonviolent offenses often relating to possession, sale or sale of drugs, which should be a health care issue.
“A primary job of people who are working for social movements and transformation in the United States is actually to bring people factual information about what is actually going on” in countries targeted by the US for sanction or regime change, Flowers said. “Because the corporate media in large part really serves as a distraction mechanism, so kind of shaping the public dialogue of what people should be talking about, and it’s generally not the things we’re experiencing … This is a huge job of the movement, is to make people aware.”
“And when it comes to foreign policy, that’s another huge area of misinformation. Basically, if there’s a country that’s being targeted by the United States, anything that someone hears or reads in the corporate media needs to be questioned about whether it’s factual or not. And that’s something I’ve found in my trip to Iran, in my trip to Venezuela, Palestine, other places around the world, is that we’re being fed this narrative. What’s been used throughout time is to dehumanize people, make them seem like they’re lesser than us, make them seem like they’re backwards compared to us, and that’s American Exceptionalism, and that’s what’s used to justify our attacks on so many countries around the world. And we have to recognize that the majority of the countries that the United States is targeting are predominantly Black and brown or Asian countries,” Flowers said.
Flowers said that “economic warfare is being waged on people inside the United States” as well as people in other countries.
“It’s a long-term war, and it’s a bipartisan one,” she said. “We are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and yet we don’t have affordable housing, we don’t have affordable education, we don’t have universal health care for everyone. We can afford to do that for people, it’s a conscious choice, and it’s bipartisan not to do that. And when you put on top of that the crises that we’re facing right now, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession, it’s just even more heinous that this is actually happening.”
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.