Transparency? The State Department’s Literally Full of It!

In a contentious press briefing last week concerning the last IDF massacre of civilians, the US State Department sought to reassure over-inquisitive reporters about how committed it is to the noble cause of allowing the facts to emerge at a time when the public will no longer be following the current story. The fact that we, the press and the public, want to be sure about the facts justifies waiting until the perpetrators have provided a full account dedicated to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Matthew Miller

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, December 11, 2023.

June 12, 2024 05:24 EDT

Three decades ago, the late OJ Simpson promised the authorities that he would launch his own investigation to find the actual murderer of his wife and a male friend. The Los Angeles police nevertheless insisted on arresting and made him stand trial. OJ was acquitted, proving to the authorities and the outside world that it’s never a good idea to jump to conclusions. However, despite all his subsequent efforts, he never managed to identify the real killer.

Can a similar logic about murderous behavior be playing out at the blob in Washington, DC?

At last week’s press briefing focused on the latest massacre by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller expressed his predictable regret for any damage that may have occurred to the wellbeing of innocent Palestinian civilians. He did so while reminding the press of the administration’s commitment to respecting the Jewish state’s legitimate exercise of “self-defense.” This session took place several days before a more spectacular massacre of at least 274 Palestinians the IDF conducted in its successful operation to release four of the October 7 captives. This toll included “dozens of children.”

In his usual manner, Miller seeks to reassure visibly troubled journalists, whose professional interest in documented facts has made them allergic to relying on bureaucratic hearsay. Alas, in this conflict, facts have consistently taken a back seat to Israeli promises of transparency at some unspecified date in the future. Here are Miller’s exact words:

And so the Government of Israel has said that they are going to release more information about this strike, including the names of those who died in it. We expect them to be fully transparent in making that information public.

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Fully transparent:

Full of carefully adjusted formulations and explanations that incontrovertibly reveal and make visible the capacity to establish lies as the only truths to be retained.

Contextual note

Miller literally needs to append the adverb “fully” to transparent because for the transparency to be full, a lot filler is required. And Israel has proved itself expert in offering filler. For example, it claims to have “the most moral army in the world.” Nobody in the State Department’s briefing room appears to believe that kind of transparency or the Biden administration’s repeated claim that they have not seen any evidence of human rights violations on the part of Israel.

Despite all that obvious doubt, the briefing continues with Miller’s insistence on the his faith in Israel’s future transparency. “So that’s why we are pressing the Government of Israel and the IDF to be completely transparent about what happened here. We want to know the facts as much as anyone.”

A bit later, we hear this: “As I said, we need to see what the facts are, and we expect them to make those facts public and be completely transparent about it.”

One journalist, noticing the obsessive use of the term, ended up calling into question the very idea of transparency in the following exchange:

QUESTION: You’ve said repeatedly “transparent,” that you’re looking for — for the Israelis to be transparent. I mean, the Israelis are basically saying that militants were killed. So I mean, do you expect them to investigate beyond that to see whether children were killed, civilians were killed? And is there a track record of Israel actually investigating that on the ground?

MR MIILLER: So two things. One, with respect to transparency, they have said that they will release the names of those who were killed.

QUESTION: The names of the militants or the names—

MR MIILLER: That is what they have said, and we’re going to watch and see what they do. If we think any further investigation is warranted after we see the results of what they announce first, we won’t hesitate to call on that, as we have in the past. 

But after Miller responds with more meandering, the journalist keeps up the pressure.

QUESTION: And just to put a point on that, I mean, do you think it’s — are you basically calling on Israel also to identify those who were killed who were potentially noncombatants, who were children? Do you expect Israel to do that?

MR MIILLER: So we want to — so I don’t know if they have any ability to do that, right, if they’re not there on the ground. But we want to know exactly what happened, and we’re willing to look at all sorts of information to determine that.

QUESTION: I’m sorry if you covered this before, but I mean, is — how are you going to know if the list of names that they release is accurate?

MR MIILLER: So we will — I don’t want to prejudge — it’s— it is—

QUESTION: I mean, I could make up a bunch of names right now and tell you—

MR MIILLER: It is — it is a good question.

And, of course because it’s a “good question,” there will be no response, transparent or opaque.

Historical note

State Department press briefings tend to resemble the plot of the famous Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, where Murray’s character, a television weatherman, experiences the identical events of a single cold day in February over and over again. The endless series of State Department briefings on the war in Gaza is also a history told with a marked stutter. The only visible difference is that Murray’s character evolves in the course of the movie. The Biden administration’s doesn’t. It robotically repeats itself.

In Miller’s briefing, another journalist points to the fact that, throughout the long months since October 7, the State Department has built a history that consists of kicking the can down the road on the basis of an “expectation” of transparency in the future investigations Israel systematically promises.

Miller even appears to be aware of the Groundhog Day-esque dimension of the issue, but he is clearly far less troubled about it than Murray’s weatherman.

QUESTION: And so, what is their response these past two attacks that have used what they say are precision weapons but have been very destructive?

In his response, Miller acknowledges that Israel’s “claim is that they are using precision weapons and that they are using the smallest weapon possible to achieve the target. That said, we have obviously seen the reports of civilian harm.” He then even cites the horrendous details related to a recent atrocity, but this leads to the following reassuring comment: “They have an ongoing review of that. As far as I’m aware. It’s not been concluded yet. I know we haven’t been briefed on any review yet. And with respect to this one, we — as I said, we need to see what the facts are, and we expect them to make those facts public and be completely transparent about it.”

When he invokes the “ongoing review” and adds “as far as I’m aware,” it becomes clear that the motivation to become aware is not a priority. There is simply some kind of ill-defined expectation that Israel one day will be “completely transparent about it.” Miller then offers a bit of reasoning that can be called an extreme example of may be termed a “hyper-conditional” sentence, introduced with no less than four “ifs” followed by the conditional clause, “then we would fully expect…”

They have said to us that they are going to release information about…what the result of the strike was and who it was that was killed in the strike. I don’t believe they’ve announced an official review yet, but if they — if there — if it is shown — if there are shown to be civilian deaths, as the reports on the — from the ground appear to show, then we would fully expect them to review that, consistent with their code of conduct.

Miller and the State Department literally have “great expectations” on a Dickensian scale, though the historical rather than fictional context is closer to senseless tragedy than to Victorian melodrama. It’s telling however that the Biden administration has so much confidence in the “expected” results of “promised” investigations that can be counted on for their transparency.

The problem of transparency is that it is only real if it exists in the present. Future transparency is, by definition, a form of mendacity.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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