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US Media "Body Count" Games Begin in Plan Colombia

By Al Giordano
September 2, 2000, NarcoNews

As the US media argues about whether "Plan Colombia" is another Vietnam, another El Salvador, or none of the above, the behavior revealed by US press coverage of the first major battle in the Plan Colombia war is distinctly reminiscent of the 1960s.

During the Vietnam War, US media outlets -- now documented by hundreds of books and scholarly studies -- consistently lied about the "body count." That is to say, more "enemy deaths" would be reported than occured and always the goal was to keep the "allied" body count at a number less than "enemy" casualties.

The first major Post-Clinton visit battle in Colombia occured in the pre-dawn hours this morning. Six hundred guerrilla troops attacked a key Colombian military communications installation near Pueblo Rico (site of a recent paramilitary atrocity against civilians).

The first English-language report came from Associated Press. It noted that a US-made C-47 phantom airplane "crashed" into a mountain at dawn, with loud official denials that it had been shot down by the Colombian rebels. (If true that it simply "crashed," what does that say about the quality of US training of Colombian pilots and troops?):

"The C-47 airplane outfitted with .50-caliber machine guns crashed at about 5 a.m. as it was heading back to base from the scene of the fighting, a government military officer said on condition of anonymity. The fighting has been centered at a main communications complex on Mount Montezuma, 155 miles west of the capital, Bogotá.

"There was no word on how many people were aboard the plane, and the military officer said it was not clear if there were survivors. He denied that the plane had been shot down, saying it apparently crashed because of a "technical failure."

Meanwhile, in the ground war battle, the AP reported the death of "8 Colombian soldiers" and "12 rebels" -- the implication being that the score is 12 to 8 in favor of Plan Colombia:

"At least eight government soldiers and 12 rebels died in the ground combat at a communications complex on Mount Montezuma, 155 miles west of the capital, Bogotá. The clash was the bloodiest since President Clinton visited Colombia on Wednesday to support President Andres Pastrana's fight against drug traffickers and leftist rebels who protect drug crops."

Thus, the shrill insistence that the US war plane was not downed by rebels, because seven more military soldiers and pilots died in that crash, reversing the "body count" score from 12 to 8 in favor of the military, to 15 to 12 (plus a C-47 war plane!) in favor of the rebels. Associated Press continues:

"Air Force Gen. Jairo Garcia insisted the plane was not shot down. He said poor visibility may have been a factor, because the crash happened just before dawn in cloudy weather.

"The plane, which was used extensively by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War and was known as "Puff the Magic Dragon," had been providing fire support for the ground troops.

"The Pentagon had equipped the plane with Forward-Looking Infrared Sensors, or FLIRS, and night-vision goggles, said Gen. Alfredo Velasco, Colombia's air force chief. The pilots had been trained in night-flying either by U.S. military pilots or by other Colombian pilots who had received training from the Americans, Velasco told reporters.

"The fighting began Friday afternoon at the communications complex, which controls cellular and other telephone links to much of western Colombia."

The rebel forces have not yet been quoted in the English-language press on their "body count" statistics nor their version of how the war plane was downed. Most probably they are still in battle and not issuing press releases. Nor does the press, even exclusively with "official" sources, say that the communications systems that were target of the attack remained unscathed. Sometimes what they don't say is as revealing as what they do say.

Meanwhile, the Mexican news wire service NOTIMEX, with correspondents in Colombia, says that among the 15 Colombian casualties was a high-ranking colonel, leader of a key division, and other military brass:

(President Pastrana) "visited the family of the commander of the San Mateo Battalion, Colonel Jorge Eduardo Sánches, who died in the rebel attack on the Army communication post.... In the action, attributed to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a major official, a submajor official and six soldiers lost their lives guarding the military base that was attacked with rockets and grenades."

And the daily El Tiempo, of Bogotá, cleared up the matter of whether rebels had succeeded in their objective of downing the vital communications post:

"After the battle, communication with the military base in the mountains was lost."

Meanwhile, Reuters reports (in Spanish) of another simultaneous battle in which the guerrilla won the day:

"In addition to the battles and the military plane accident, the FARC attacked a prison in the Southwestern state of Cauca and liberated 60 prisoners."

Nothing, yet, in English, on this battle, won by the guerrilla.

So as the North American media debates whether Plan Colombia is "another Vietnam," watch the media's deeds instead of its words. Because already the English-language press is behaving like it did decades ago with its "body count" games and selective coverage of the Vietnam conflict.

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