October 28, 2005
Top Censored Stories of 2004 to 2005 from Project Censored
Project Censored is a media research group out of Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, CA, which tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters. From these, Project Censored compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country's major national news media.
Project Censored Top-Ten Stories for 2004-2005 are:
#1 Bush Administration Moves to Eliminate
Throughout the 1980s, Project Censored highlighted a number of alarming reductions to government access and accountability. It tracked the small but systematic changes made to existing laws and the executive orders introduced. It now appears that these actions may have been little more than a prelude to the virtual lock box against access that is being constructed around the current administration.
“The Bush Administration has an obsession with secrecy,” says Representative Henry Waxman, the Democrat from California who, in September 2004, commissioned a congressional report on secrecy in the Bush Administration. “It has repeatedly rewritten laws and changed practices to reduce public and congressional scrutiny of its activities. The cumulative effect is an unprecedented assault on the laws that make our government open and accountable.”
Changes to Laws that Provide Public Access to Federal Records
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives citizens the ability to file a request for specific information from a government agency and provides recourse in federal court if that agency fails to comply with FOIA requirements. Over the last two decades, beginning with Reagan, this law has become increasingly diluted and circumvented by each succeeding administration.
Under the Bush Administration, agencies make extensive and arbitrary use of FOIA exemptions (such as those for classified information, privileged attorney-client documents and certain information compiled for law enforcement purposes) often inappropriately or with inadequate justification. Recent evidence shows agencies making frivolous (and sometimes ludicrous) exemption claims, abusing the deliberative process privilege, abusing the law enforcement exemption and withholding data on telephone service outages.
Quite commonly, the Bush Administration simply fails to respond to FOIA requests at all. Whether this is simply an inordinate delay or an unstated final refusal to respond to the request, the requesting party is never told. But the effect is the same: The public is denied access to the information.
The Bush Administration also engages in an aggressive policy of questioning, challenging and denying FOIA requesters’ eligibility for fee waivers, using a variety of tactics. Measures include narrowing the definition of “representative of news media,” claiming information would not contribute to public understanding.
Ten years ago, federal agencies were required to release documents through FOIA — even if technical grounds for refusal existed — unless “foreseeable harm” would result from doing so. But, according to the Waxman report, an October 2001 memo by Attorney General John Ashcroft instructs and encourages agencies to withhold information if there are any technical grounds for withholding it under FOIA.
In 2003, the Bush Administration won a new legislative exemption from FOIA for all National Security Agency “operational files.” The Administration’s main rationale for this new exemption is that conducting FOIA searches diverts resources from the agency’s mission. Of course, this rationale could apply to every agency. As NSA has operated subject to FOIA for decades, it is not clear why the agency now needs this exemption.
The Presidential Records Act ensures that after a president leaves office, the public will have full access to White House documents used to develop public policy. Under the law and an executive order by Ronald Reagan, the presumption has been that most documents would be released. However, President Bush issued an executive order that establishes a process that generally blocks the release of presidential papers.
Changes to Laws that Restrict Public Access to Federal Records
The Bush Administration has dramatically increased the volume of government information concealed from public view. In a March 2003 executive order, President Bush expanded the use of the national security classification. The order eliminated the presumption of disclosure, postponed or avoided automatic declassification, protected foreign government information, reclassified some information, weakened the panel that decides to exempt documents from declassification and adjudicates classification challenges and exempted vice presidential records from mandatory declassification review.
The Bush Administration has also obtained unprecedented authority to conduct government operations in secret, with little or no judicial oversight. Under expanded law enforcement authority in the Patriot Act, the Justice Department can more easily use secret orders to obtain library and other private records, obtain “sneak-and-peek” warrants to conduct secret searches and conduct secret wiretaps. In addition, the Bush Administration has used novel legal interpretations to expand its authority to detain, try, and deport individuals in secret. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush Administration has asserted unprecedented authority to detain anyone whom the executive branch labels an “enemy combatant” indefinitely and secretly. It has authorized military trials that can be closed not only to the public but also to the defendants and their own attorneys. And the Administration has authorized procedures for the secret detention and deportation of aliens residing in the United States.
Congressional Access to Information
Compared to previous administrations, the Bush Administration has operated with remarkably little congressional oversight. This is partially attributable to the alignment of the parties. The Republican majorities in the House and the Senate have refrained from investigating allegations of misconduct by the White House. Another major factor has been the Administration’s resistance to oversight. The Bush Administration has consistently refused to provide to members of Congress, the Government Accountability Office and congressional commissions the information necessary for meaningful investigation and review of the Administration’s activities.
For example, the Administration has contested in court the power of the Government Accountability Office to conduct independent investigations and has refused to comply with the rule that allows members of the House Government Reform Committee to obtain information from the executive branch, forcing the members to go to court to enforce their rights under the law. It has also ignored and rebuffed numerous requests for information made by members of Congress attempting to exercise their oversight responsibilities with respect to executive branch activities, and repeatedly withheld information from the investigative commission established by Congress to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks.
Update: Rep. Waxman’s companion bill, HR 5073 IH, the Restore Open Government Act of 2004, was not heard by Congress before the Winter Recess in December, and the bill was not reintroduced in the Opening Session in January 2005. However, on Feb. 16, after the commencement of the 109th Congress, John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT.) introduced a bill titled the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2005, S. 394 (the Cornyn-Leahy bill), which according to their joint statement,“ is designed to strengthen laws governing access to government information, particularly the Freedom of Information Act.” On the same day, an identical bill, H.R. 867, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) 1.
For more information on Rep. Waxman’s legislation and work on open government, visit www.democrats.reform.house.gov
Part 1: Fallujah War Crimes Go Unreported
Over the past two years, the United States has conducted two major sieges against Fallujah, a city in Iraq. The first attempted siege of Fallujah (a city of 300,000 people) resulted in a defeat for Coalition forces. As a result, the United States gave the citizens of Fallujah two choices prior to the second siege: leave the city or risk dying as enemy insurgents. Faced with this ultimatum, approximately 250,000 citizens, or 83 percent of the population of Fallujah, fled the city. The people had nowhere to flee and ended up as refugees. Many families were forced to survive in fields, vacant lots and abandoned buildings without access to shelter, water, electricity, food or medical care. The 50,000 citizens who either chose to remain in the city or who were unable to leave were trapped by Coalition forces and were cut off from food, water and medical supplies. The United States military claimed that there were a few thousand enemy insurgents remaining among those who stayed in the city and conducted the invasion as if all the people remaining were enemy combatants.
Burhan Fasa’a, an Iraqi journalist, said Americans grew easily frustrated with Iraqis who could not speak English. “Americans did not have interpreters with them, so they entered houses and killed people because they didn’t speak English. They entered the house where I was with 26 people, and shot people because [the people] didn’t obey [the soldiers’] orders, even just because the people couldn’t understand a word of English.” Abu Hammad, a resident of Fallujah, told the Inter Press Service that he saw people attempt to swim across the Euphrates to escape the siege. “The Americans shot them with rifles from the shore. Even if some of them were holding a white flag or white clothes over their head to show they are not fighters, they were all shot.” Furthermore, “even the wound[ed] people were killed. The Americans made announcements for people to come to one mosque if they wanted to leave Fallujah, and even the people who went there carrying white flags were killed.” Former residents of Fallujah recall other tragic methods of killing the wounded. “I watched them [U.S. Forces] roll over wounded people in the street with tanks…this happened so many times.”
Preliminary estimates as of December 2004 revealed that at least 6,000 Iraqi citizens in Fallujah had been killed, and one-third of the city had been destroyed.
Journalists Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell assert that the continuous slaughter in Fallujah is greatly contributing to escalating violence in other regions of the country such as Mosul, Baquba, Hilla and Baghdad. The violence prompted by the U.S. invasion has resulted in the assassinations of at least 338 Iraqi’s that were associated with Iraq’s “new” government.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq, and more specifically Fallujah, is causing an incredible humanitarian disaster among those who have no specific involvement with the war. The International Committee for the Red Cross reported on Dec. 23, 2004 that three of the city’s water purification plants had been destroyed and the fourth badly damaged. Civilians are running short on food and are unable to receive help from those who are willing to make a positive difference. Aid organizations have been repeatedly denied access to the city, hospitals and refugee populations in the surrounding areas.
Abdel Hamid Salim, spokesman for the Iraqi Red Crescent in Baghdad, told Inter Press Service that none of their relief teams had been allowed into Fallujah three weeks after the invasion. Salim declared, “There is still heavy fighting in Fallujah. And the Americans won’t let us in so we can help people.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour voiced a deep concern for the civilians caught up in the fighting. Louise Arbour emphasized that all those guilty of violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws must be brought to justice. Arbour claimed that all violations of these laws should be investigated, including “the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons and the use of human shields.”
Marjorie Cohn, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists, has noted that the U.S. invasion of Fallujah is a violation of international law that the U.S. had specifically ratified: “They [U.S. Forces] stormed and occupied the Fallujah General Hospital, and have not agreed to allow doctors and ambulances to go inside the main part of the city to help the wounded, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.”
According to David Walsh, the American media also seems to contribute to the subversion of truth in Fallujah. Although, in many cases, journalists are prevented from entering the city and are denied access to the wounded, corporate media showed little concern regarding their denied access. There has been little or no mention of the immorality or legality of the attacks the United States has waged against Iraq. With few independent journalists reporting on the carnage, the international humanitarian community in exile, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent prevented from entering the besieged city, the world is forced to rely on reporting from journalists embedded with U.S. forces. In the U.S. press, we see casualties reported for Fallujah as follows: number of U.S. soldiers dead, number of Iraqi soldiers dead, number of “guerillas” or “insurgents” dead. Nowhere were the civilian casualties reported in the first weeks of the invasion. An accurate count of civilian casualties to date has yet to be published in the mainstream media.
World Socialist Web Site, Nov. 17, 2004
The New Standard, Dec. 3, 2004
Part 2: Civilian Death Toll Is Ignored
In late October, 2004, a peer reviewed study was published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, concluding that at least 100,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq since it was invaded by a United States-led coalition in March 2003. Previously, the number of Iraqis that had died, due to conflict or sanctions since the 1991 Gulf War, had been uncertain. Claims ranging from denial of increased mortality to millions of excess deaths have been made. In the absence of any surveys, however, they relied on Ministry of Health records. Morgue-based surveillance data indicate the post-invasion homicide rate is many times higher than the pre-invasion rate.
In the present setting of insecurity and limited availability of health information, researchers, headed by Dr. Les Roberts of Johns Hopkins University, undertook a national survey to estimate mortality during the 14.6 months before the invasion (Jan 1, 2002, to March 18, 2003) and to compare it with the period from March 19, 2003, to the date of the interview, between Sept 8 and 20, 2004. Iraqi households were informed about the purpose of the survey, assured that their name would not be recorded and told that there would be no benefits or penalties for refusing or agreeing to participate.
The survey indicates that the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is in reality about 100,000 people, and may be much higher. The major public health problem in Iraq has been identified as violence. However, despite widespread Iraqi casualties, household interview data do not show evidence of widespread wrongdoing on the part of individual soldiers on the ground. Ninety-five percent of reported killings (all attributed to U.S. forces by interviewees) were caused by helicopter gun ships, rockets or other forms of aerial weaponry.
The study was released on the eve of a contentious presidential election — fought in part over U.S. policy on Iraq. Many American newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buried reports about it far from the top headlines. “What went wrong this time? Perhaps the rush by researchers and The Lancet to put the study in front of American voters before the election accomplished precisely the opposite result, drowning out a valuable study in the clamor of the presidential campaign.” (Lila Guterman, Chronicle of Higher Education)
The study’s results promptly flooded though the worldwide media — everywhere except the United States, where there was barely a whisper about the study, followed by stark silence. “The Lancet released the paper on October 29, the Friday before the election, when many reporters were busy with political stories. That day the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune each dedicated only about 400 words to the study and placed the stories inside their front section, on pages A4 and A11, respectively. (The news media in Europe gave the study much more play; many newspapers put articles about it on their front pages.)
In a short article about the study on page A8, the New York Times noted that the Iraqi Body Count, a project to tally civilian deaths reported in the news media, had put the maximum death count at around 17,000. The new study, the article said, “is certain to generate intense controversy.” But the Times has not published any further news articles about the paper. The Washington Post, perhaps most damagingly to the study’s reputation, quoted Marc E. Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, as saying, “These numbers seem to be inflated.” Mr. Garlasco says now that he hadn’t read the paper at the time and calls his quote in the Post “really unfortunate.” (Lila Guterman, Chronicle of Higher Education).
Even so, nobody else in American corporate media bothered to pick up the story and inform our citizens how many Iraqi citizens are being killed at the hands of a coalition led by our government. The study was never mentioned on television news, and the truth remains unheard by those who may need to hear it most. The U.S. government had no comment at the time and remains silent about Iraqi civilian deaths. “The only thing we keep track of is casualties for U.S. troops and civilians,” a Defense Department spokesman told The Chronicle.
When CNN anchor Daryn Kagan did have the opportunity to interview the Al Jazeera network editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Sheik — a rare opportunity to get independent information about events in Fallujah — she used the occasion to badger Al-Sheik about whether the civilian deaths were really “the story” in Fallujah. CNN’s argument was that a bigger story than civilian deaths is “what the Iraqi insurgents are doing” to provoke a U.S. “response” is startling. “When reports from the ground are describing hundreds of civilians being killed by U.S. forces, CNN should be looking to Al Jazeera’s footage to see if it corroborates those accounts — not badgering Al Jazeera’s editor about why he doesn’t suppress that footage.” (MediaWatch, Asheville Global Report)
Study researchers concluded that several limitations exist with this study, predominantly because the quality of data received is dependent on the accuracy of the interviews. However, interviewers believed that certain essential characteristics of Iraqi culture make it unlikely that respondents would have fabricated their reports of the deaths. The Geneva Conventions have clear guidance about the responsibilities of occupying armies to the civilian population they control. “With the admitted benefit of hindsight and from a purely public health perspective, it is clear that whatever planning did take place was grievously in error. The invasion of Iraq, the displacement of a cruel dictator, and an attempt to impose a liberal democracy by force have, by themselves, been insufficient to bring peace and security to the civilian population.
Update: Since these stories were published, countless other incidents of illegal weapons and tactics being used by the U.S. military in Iraq have occurred.
During “Operation Spear” on June 17, 2005, U.S.-led forces attacked the small cities of Al-Qa’im and Karabla near the Syrian border. U.S. warplanes dropped 2,000-pound bombs in residential areas and claimed to have killed scores of “militants” while locals and doctors claimed that only civilians were killed.
As in Fallujah, residents were denied access to the city in order to obtain medical aid, while those left inside the city claimed Iraqi civilians were being regularly targeted by U.S. snipers.
According to an IRIN news report, Firdos al-Abadi from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society stated that 7,000 people from Karabla were camped in the desert outside the city, suffering from lack of food and medical aid while 150 homes were totally destroyed by the U.S. military.
An Iraqi doctor reported on the same day that he witnessed, “crimes in the west area of the country…the American troops destroyed one of our hospitals, they burned the whole store of medication, they killed the patient in the ward…they prevented us from helping the people in Qa’im.”
Also like Fallujah, a doctor at the General Hospital of al-Qa’im stated that entire families remained buried under the rubble of their homes, yet medical personnel were unable to reach them due to American snipers.
Iraqi civilians in Haditha had similar experiences during “Operation Open Market” when they claimed U.S. snipers shot anyone in the streets for days on end, and U.S. and Iraqi forces raided homes detaining any man inside.
Corporate media reported on the “liberation” of Fallujah, as well as quoting military sources on the number of “militants” killed. Any mention of civilian casualties, heavy-handed tactics or illegal munitions was either brief or non-existent, and continues to be as of June 2005.
The Lancet, Oct. 29, 2004
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 4, 2005
FAIR, April 15, 2004
For those interested in following these stories, it is possible to obtain information by visiting the English Al-Jazeera website at http://english.aljazeera.net, at www.dahrjamailiraq.com, The World Tribunal on Iraq at www.worldtribunal.org and Peacework Magazine at www.afsc.org/pwork/0412/041204.htm.
Political analysts have long counted on exit polls to be a reliable predictor of actual vote counts. The unusual discrepancy between exit poll data and the actual vote count in the 2004 election challenges that reliability. However, despite evidence of technological vulnerabilities in the voting system and a higher incidence of irregularities in swing states, this discrepancy was not scrutinized in the mainstream media. They simply parroted the partisan declarations of “sour grapes” and “let’s move on” instead of providing any meaningful analysis of a highly controversial election.
The official vote count for the 2004 election showed that George W. Bush won by three million votes. But exit polls projected a victory margin of five million votes for John Kerry. This eight-million-vote discrepancy is much greater than the error margin. The overall margin of error should statistically have been under one percent. But the official result deviated from the poll projections by more than five percent — a statistical impossibility.
Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, the two companies hired to do the polling for the Nation Election Pool (a consortium of the nation’s five major broadcasters and the Associated Press), did not immediately provide an explanation for how this could have occurred. They waited until Jan. 19, the eve of the inauguration.
Edison and Mitofsky’s “inaugural” report, “Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004,” stated that the discrepancy was “most likely due to Kerry voters participating in the exit polls at a higher rate than Bush voters.” The media widely reported that this report proved the accuracy of the official count and a Bush victory. The body of the report, however, offers no data to substantiate this position. In fact, the report shows that Bush voters were more likely to complete the survey than Kerry voters. The report also states that the difference between exit polls and official tallies was far too great to be explained by sampling error, and that a systematic bias is implicated.
The Edison and Mitofsky report dismisses the possibility that the official vote count was wrong, stating that precincts with electronic voting systems had the same error rates as precincts with punch-card systems. This is true. However, it merely points to the unreliability of punch card and electronic systems, both of which are slated for termination under the Helping America Vote Act of 2002. According to the report, only in precincts that used old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots did the official count and the exit poll data fall within the normal margin of error.
Also, the report shows, the discrepancy between the exit polls and the official count was considerably greater in the critical swing states. And while this fact is consistent with allegations of fraud, Mitofsky and Edison suggest, without providing any data or theory to back up their claim, that this discrepancy is somehow related to media coverage.
In precincts that were at least 80 percent for Bush, the average within-precinct error (WPE) was a whopping 10.0 percent — the numerical difference between the exit poll predictions and the official count. Also, in Bush strongholds, Kerry received only about two-thirds of the votes predicted by exit polls. In Kerry strongholds, exit polls matched the official count almost exactly (an average WPE of 0.3).
This exit poll data is a strong indicator of a corrupted election. But the case grows stronger if these exit poll discrepancies are interpreted in the context of more than 100,000 officially logged reports of irregularities and possible fraud during Election Day 2004.
Bush campaign officials compiled a 1,886-name “caging list,” which included the names and addresses of predominantly black voters in the traditionally Democratic Jacksonville, FL. While Bush campaign spokespersons stated that the list was a returned mail log, they did not deny that such a list could be used to challenge voters on Election Day. In fact, the county elections supervisor says that he could see no other purpose for compiling such a list.
In Franklin County OH, Columbus voters faced one of the longest ballot lines in history. In many inner city precincts, voters sometimes had three-hour waits to get to the poll before being required to cast ballots within five minutes, as demanded by the Republican-run Board of Elections. Seventy-seven out of the county’s 2,866 voting machines malfunctioned on Election Day. One machine registered 4,258 votes for Bush in a precinct where only 638 people voted. At least 125 machines were held back at the opening of the polls, and another 68 were never deployed. While voters were rushed through the process, 29 percent of the precincts had fewer voting machines than in the 2000 election despite a 25 percent increase in turnout.
Taken together, these problems point to an election that requires scrutiny. Even if the discrepancy between exit polls and actual vote counts is simply a fluke, other flaws and questionable practices in the voting process make one wonder whether or not the people’s voice was actually heard and if we are truly a working democracy.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 26, 2005
Nov. 23, 2004
Update by Josh Mitteldorf: Some news is too important to report. People might get upset, and the smooth functioning of our democracy would be jeopardized. Thus the media has collectively done the responsible thing, and refrained — at great cost to themselves, be assured — from publicizing doubts about the legitimacy of the 2004 election, in order to help assure the “orderly succession of power.”
Unfortunately, some Internet sites such as Commondreams.org and Freepress.org do not realize their obligations to the commonwealth, and have thus been less responsible in maintaining silence. And there’s an upbeat radio voice from Vermont, Thom Hartmann, who would be fun to listen to if only he didn’t insist on relating so many discomfiting truths.
But so long as you stay away from these isolated derelicts, you will be gratified to receive a reassuringly consistent story line: George Bush won the 2004 election fair and square. It’s time to stop asking pointless questions. Get with the program!
Update by Greg Palast and Rev. Jessie Jackson: There are conspiracy nuts out there on the Internet who think that John Kerry defeated George Bush in Ohio and other states. I know, because I wrote “Kerry Won” for TomPaine.com two days after the election.
“Kerry Won” was the latest in a series coming out of a five-year investigation, begun in November 2000, for BBC Television Newsnight and Britain’s Guardian papers, dissecting that greasy sausage called American electoral democracy.
On Nov. 11, a week after TomPaine.com put the report out on the ‘Net, I received an email from the New York Times Washington Bureau. Hot on the investigation of the veracity of the vote, the Times reporter asked me pointed questions:
Question #1: Are you a “sore loser”?
Question #2: Are you a “conspiracy nut”?
There was no third question. Investigation of the vote was, apparently, complete. The next day, their thorough analysis of the evidence yielded a front-page story, “VOTE FRAUD THEORIES, SPREAD BY BLOGS, ARE QUICKLY BURIED.”
Here’s a bit of what the Paper of Record failed to record.
In June 2004, well before the election, my co-author of “Jim Crow” Rev. Jesse Jackson brought me to Chicago. We had breakfast with Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards. The Reverend asked the Senator to read my report of the “spoilage” of Black votes — one million African Americans who cast ballots in 2000 but did not have their votes register on the machines.
Edwards said he’d read it over after he’d had his bagel. Jackson snatched away his bagel. No read, no bagel. A hungry Senator was genuinely concerned — these were, after all, Democrats whose votes did not tally, and he shot the information to John Kerry. A couple of weeks later, Kerry told the NAACP convention that one million African-American votes were not counted in 2000, but in 2004 he would not let it happen again.
But he did let it happen again. More than a million votes in 2004 were cast and not counted.
As a reporter, it’s not my job to help the Democratic Party learn to tie its shoes. And, as a nonpartisan journalist, I’m not out to expose the Republican Party’s new elaborate campaign to prevent voters from voting — but I must report it. However, editors and news producers in my home country, the USA, seem less than interested. Indeed, they are downright hostile to reporting this story of the shoplifting of our democracy.
America has an apartheid voting system, denying African-Americans, Hispanics and American Natives the assurance their ballots will count. Worse, America has an apartheid media, which denies racial disenfranchisement a seat at the front of the news bus.
Just before the November 2004 election, BBC television Newsnight discovered new, confidential “caging lists,” which we got our hands on from inside the Republican National Committee headquarters. These were rosters of thousands of minority voters targeted to prevent them from voting on election day, a violation of federal law. It was big news in Europe and South America. In the USA, there was nothing except an attack on BBC’s report by ABC’s web site. ABC’s only listed source for their attack on the BBC was the Republican Party.
The story of the purge of black voters, the million missing black ballots cast but not counted, the caging lists, and other games used to deny the vote to the dark-skinned and the poor, would have been buried long ago if not for BBC Television, Harper’s magazine (may it last a thousand years), Britain’s Guardian and Observer, The Nation, the op-ed editors at the San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Post-Intelligencer and, provocatively, Hustler magazine. Even if ignored or actively ‘dissed by U.S. “mainstream” media, the story will be continue to be reported, due to the passionate insistence of Reverend Jackson, from a thousand pulpits.
On Dec. 13, 2003, President George W. Bush, with little fanfare and no mainstream media coverage, signed into law the controversial Intelligence Authorization Act while most of America toasted the victory of U.S. forces in Iraq and Saddam’s capture. None of the corporate press covered the signing of this legislation, which increases the funding for intelligence agencies, dramatically expands the definition of surveillable financial institutions, and authorizes the FBI to acquire private records of those individuals suspected of criminal activity without a judicial review. American civil liberties are once again under attack.
History has provided precedent for such actions. Throughout the 1990s, erosions of these protections were taking place. As part of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism bill adopted in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Justice Department was required to publish statistics going back to 1990 on threats or actual crimes against federal, state and local employees and their immediate families when the wrongdoing related to the workers’ official duties. The numbers were then to be kept up to date with an annual report. Members of congress, concerned with the threat this type of legislation posed to American civil liberties, were able to strike down much of what the bill proposed, including modified requirements regarding wiretap regulations.
The “atmosphere of fear” generated by recent terrorist attacks, both foreign and domestic, provides administrations the support necessary to adopt stringent new legislation. In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, new agencies, programs and bureaucracies have been created. The Total Information Office is a branch of the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It has a mission to “imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components and prototype, closed-loop, information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness.” Another intelligence gathering governmental agency, The Information Awareness Office, has a mission to gather as much information as possible about everyone in a centralized location for easy perusal by the United States government. Information mining has become the business of government.
In November 2002, the New York Times reported that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was developing a tracking system called “Total Information Awareness” (TIA), which was intended to detect terrorists through analyzing troves of information. The system, developed under the direction of John Poindexter, then-director of DARPA’s Information Awareness Office, was envisioned to give law enforcement access to private data without suspicion of wrongdoing or a warrant. The “Total Information Awareness” program’s name was changed to “Terrorist Information Awareness” on May 20, 2003 ostensibly to clarify the program’s intent to gather information on presumed terrorists rather than compile dossiers on U.S. citizens.
Despite this name change, a Senate Defense Appropriations bill passed unanimously on July 18, 2003, expressly denying any funding to Terrorist Information Awareness research. In response, the Pentagon proposed The Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, or MATRIX, a program devised by longtime Bush family friend Hank Asher as a pilot effort to increase and enhance the exchange of sensitive terrorism and other criminal activity information between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The MATRIX, as devised by the Pentagon, is a state run information generating tool, thereby circumventing congress’ concern regarding the appropriation of federal funds for the development of this controversial database. Although most states have refused to adopt these Orwellian strategies, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Florida have all jumped on the TIA bandwagon.
Yet, somehow, after the apparent successful dismantling of TIA, expressed concern by Representatives Mark Udall of Colorado, Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Ron Paul of Texas and Dennis Moore of Kansas, and heightened public awareness of the MATRIX, the Intelligence Authorization Act was signed into law Dec. 13, 2003.
On Nov. 20, 2003 Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum stated that, “The Republican Leadership inserted a controversial provision in the FY04 Intelligence Authorization Report that will expand the already far-reaching USA Patriot Act, threatening to further erode our cherished civil liberties. This provision gives the FBI power to demand financial and other records, without a judge’s approval, from post offices, real estate agents, car dealers, travel agents, pawnbrokers and many other businesses. This provision was included with little or no public debate, including no consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, which is the committee of jurisdiction. It came as a surprise to most Members of this body.”
According to LiP magazine, “Governmental and law-enforcement agencies and MATRIX contractors across the nation will gain extensive and unprecedented access to financial records, medical records, court records, voter registration, travel history, group and religious affiliations, names and addresses of family members, purchases made and books read.”
Peter Jennings, in an ABC original report, explored the commercial applications of this accumulated information. Journalist and author Peter O’Harrow, who collaborated with ABC News on the broadcast “Peter Jennings Reporting: No Place to Hide,” states “…marketers — and now, perhaps government investigators — can study what people are likely to do, what kind of attitudes they have, what they buy at the grocery store.”
Although this program aired on prime-time mainstream television, there was no mention of the potential for misuse of this personal information network or of the controversy surrounding the issues of privacy and civil liberties violations concerning citizens and civil servants alike. Again, the sharing of this kind of personal information is not without precedent.
On Nov. 12, 1999, Clinton signed into law the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which permits financial institutions to share personal customer information with affiliates within the holding company. The Intelligence Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2004 expands the definition of a surveillable financial institution to include real estate agencies, insurance companies, travel agencies, Internet service providers, post offices, casinos and other businesses as well. Due to massive corporate mergers and the acquisition of reams of newly acquired information, personal consumer data has been made readily available to any agency interested in obtaining it, both commercial and governmental.
With the application of emerging new technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification chips or RFIDs, small individualized computer chips capable of communicating with a receiving computer, consumer behavior can literally be tracked from the point of purchase to the kitchen cupboard, and can be monitored by all interested parties.
LiP, Winter 2004
Capitol Hill Blue, June 7, 2004
Update by Anna Miranda: The United States is at risk of turning into a full-fledged surveillance society. The tremendous explosion in surveillance-enabling technologies, combined with the ongoing weakening in legal restraints that protect our privacy mean that we are drifting toward a surveillance society. The good news is that it can be stopped. Unfortunately, right now the big picture is grim.
The PATRIOT Act
Fifteen “sunset” provisions in the PATRIOT Act are set to expire at the end of 2005. One amendment, the “library provision” went before Congress in June. Despite President Bush’s threat to veto, lawmakers, including 38 Republicans, voted 238 to 187 to overturn the provision, which previously allowed law enforcement officials to request and obtain information from libraries without obtaining a search warrant. Although inspectors still have the “right” to search library records, they must get a judge’s approval first.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales informed Congress in April that this provision has never been used to acquire information, although the American Library Association recently reported that over 200 requests for information were submitted since the PATRIOT Act was signed into law in October 2001.
The overturning of the library provision has been seen as a small victory in the fight to reclaim privacy rights. Rep. Saunders, who was responsible for almost successfully having the provision repealed last year commented that “Conservative groups have been joining progressive organizations to call for changes.”
The fight to the right for privacy continues to wage on with more successes, as the MATRIX program was officially shut down on April 15, 2005. The program, which consisted of 13 states — and only had four states remaining prior to its closure, received $12 million in funding from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. By utilizing a system called FACTS (Factual Analysis Criminal Threat Solution), law enforcement officials from participating states were able to share information with one another and utilized this program as an investigative tool to help solve and prevent crimes. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, “Between July 2003 and April 2005, there have been 1,866,202 queries to the FACTS application.” However, of these queries, only 2.6 percent involved terrorism or national security.
Although the MATRIX has been shut down, Florida law enforcement officials are pursuing continuing the program and rebuilding it. Officials have sent out a call for information from vendors beginning a competitive bidding process.
RFID Technology and the REAL ID Act
On May 10, 2005, President Bush secretly signed into law the REAL ID Act, requiring states within the next three years to issue federally approved electronic identification cards. Attached as an amendment to an emergency spending bill funding troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the REAL ID Act passed without the scrutiny and debate of Congress.
One of the main concerns of the electronic identification card is identity theft. The Act mandates the cards to have anti-counterfeiting measures, such as an electronically readable magnetic strip or RFID chip. Privacy advocates argue that RFID chips can be read from “unauthorized” scanners allowing third parties or the general public to gather and/or steal private information about an individual. Amidst growing concerns about identity theft, the REAL ID Act has given no consideration to this drawback.
Other privacy concerns regarding the electronic identification card is the use of information by third parties once they’ve scanned the cards and accessed the information. At this time, the Act does not specify what can be done with the information. A company or organization scanning your identification card could potentially sell your personal information if strict guidelines on what to do with the information are not mandated.
Inability to conform over the next three years will leave citizens and residents of the United States paralyzed. Identification cards that do not meet the federally mandated standards will not be accepted as identification for travel, opening a bank account, receiving social security checks or participating in government benefits, among other things.
The tragic and devastating power of 2004’s post holiday tsunami was plastered across the cover of practically every newspaper around the world for the better part of a month. As the death toll rose by the thousands every day, countries struggled to keep pace with the rapidly increasing need for aid across the Indian Ocean Basin.
At the same time that U.S. aid was widely publicized domestically, our coinciding military motives were virtually ignored by the press. While supplying our aid (which when compared proportionately to that of other, less wealthy countries, was an insulting pittance), we simultaneously bolstered military alliances with regional powers in, and began expanding our bases throughout, the Indian Ocean region.
Long viewed as a highly strategic location for U.S. interests, our desire to curtail China’s burgeoning economic and military might is contingent upon our control of this area. In the months following the tsunami, writes Rahul Bedi in The Irish Times, the U.S. revived the Utapao military base in Thailand it had used during the Vietnam War. Task force 536 is to be moved there to establish a forward positioning site for the U.S. Air Force.
During subsequent tsunami relief operations, the U.S. reactivated its military co-operation agreements with Thailand and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. U.S. Navy also vessels utilized facilities in Singapore, keeping with previous treaties. Further, the U.S. Marines and the Navy arrived in Sri Lanka to bolster relief measures despite the tsunami-hit island’s initial reluctance to permit their entry.
The U.S. also stepped up their survey of the Malacca Straits, over which China exercises considerable influence, and through which 90 percent of Japan’s oil supplies pass. The United States has had trouble expanding its military influence in the region largely due to suspicions by Indonesia and Malaysia that the U.S. is disguising imperial aims under the goal of waging war against terror. The two countries have opposed an American plan to tighten security in the vital Malacca Straits shipping lanes, which might have involved U.S. troops stationed nearby.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that U.S. relief to the tsunami-affected region would assist the war against terror and introduce “American values to the region.” The Bush Administration is also reviving its hopes of normalizing military ties with Indonesia, writes Jim Lobe for InterPress Service. The world’s most populous Muslim nation, its strategically located archipelago, critical sea lanes and historic distrust of China have made it an ideal partner for containing Beijing.
During a January 2005 visit to Jakarta, then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told reporters, “I think if we’re interested in military reform here, and certainly this Indonesian government is and our government is, I think we need to possibly reconsider a bit where we are at this point in history moving forward.”
According to an article in the Asheville Global Report, the following month the U.S. State Department made a decision to renew the International Education and Military Training (IMET) program for Indonesia despite considerable human rights issues.
According to Bedi, Washington has long wanted a navel presence in Trincomalee, eastern Sri Lanka or alternatively in Galle further south, to shorten the supply chain from its major regional military base in distant Diego Garcia, which the British Ocean Territory leased to the U.S. in 1966 for the length of fifty years. The use of these bases would ring China, giving the U.S. added control over that country’s activities.
Diego Garcia’s geostrategic location in the Indian Ocean and its full range of naval, military and communications facilities gives it a critical role supporting the U.S. Navy’s forward presence in the North Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean Region. However, because of the bases’ remoteness and the fact that its lease from Britain expires in 2016, the U.S. seeks an alternative location in the region. “Clearly these new bases will strengthen Washington’s military logistical support in the region,” says Professor Anuradha Chenoy at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. She went on to emphasize that an alternative to the Diego Garcia base must be found soon, as the lease from Britain will soon expire.
Long before the tsunami struck, an article dated April 21, 2003, by Josy Joseph on Rediff.com explained that a classified report commissioned by the United States Department of Defense expresses a desire for access to Indian bases and military infrastructures. The United States Air Force specifically wants to establish bases in India. The report, titled “Indo-U.S. Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions,” was distributed amongst high-ranking U.S. officials and a handful of senior members within the Indian government. It continues on about the Defense Department’s desire to have “access closer to areas of instability.”
The report says, “American military officers are candid in their plans to eventually seek access to Indian bases and military infrastructure. India’s strategic location in the centre of Asia, astride the frequently traveled Sea Lanes Of Communication (SLOC) linking the Middle East and East Asia, makes India particularly attractive to the U.S. military.”
The report also quotes U.S. lieutenant generals as saying that the access to Indian bases would enable the U.S. military “to be able to touch the rest of the world” and to “respond rapidly to regional crisis.” A South Asia area officer of the U.S. State Department has been quoted as saying, “India’s strategic importance increases if existing U.S. relationships with Asia fail.”
Post-tsunami U.S. actions in the Indian Ocean illustrate its intention to move this agenda forward sooner rather than later.
The Irish Times, February 8, 2005
Inter Press Service, January, 18 2005
The U.S. has accused UN officials of corruption in Iraq’s oil for food program. According to Joy Gordon and Scott Ritter the charge was actually an attempt to disguise and cover up long term U.S. government complicity in this corruption. Ritter says, “This posturing is nothing more than a hypocritical charade designed to shift attention away from the debacle of George Bush’s self-made quagmire in Iraq, and legitimize the invasion of Iraq by using Iraqi corruption and not the now-missing weapons of mass destruction as the excuse.” Gordon arrives at the conclusion that “Perhaps it is unsurprising that today the only role its seems the United States expects the UN to play in the continuing drama of Iraq is that of scapegoat.”
According to Gordon, the charges laid by the U.S. accounting office are bogus. There is plenty of evidence of corruption in the “oil-for-food” program, but the trail of evidence leads not to the UN but to the U.S. “The fifteen members of the Security Council — of which the United States was by far the most influential — determined how income from oil proceeds would be handled, and what the funds could be used for.” Contrary to popular understanding, the Security Council is not the same thing as the UN. It is part of it, but operates largely independently of the larger body. The UN’s personnel “simply executed the program that was designed by the members of the Security Council.”
The claim in the corporate media was that the UN allowed Saddam Hussein to steal billions of dollars from oil sales. If we look, as Gordon does, at who actually had control over the oil and whose hands held the money, a very different picture emerges. “If Hussain did indeed smuggle $6 billion worth of oil in the ‘the richest rip off in world history,’ he didn’t do it with the complicity of the UN. He did it on the watch of the U.S. Navy.” explains Gordon.
Every monetary transaction was approved by the U.S. through its dominant role on the Security Council. Ritter explains, “The Americans were able to authorize a $1 billion exemption concerning the export of Iraqi oil for Jordan, as well as legitimize the billion-dollar illegal oil smuggling trade over the Turkish border.” In another instance, a Russian oil company “bought oil from Iraq under ‘oil for food’ at a heavy discount, and then sold it at full market value to primarily U.S. companies, splitting the difference evenly between [the Russian company] and the Iraqis. This U.S. sponsored deal resulted in profits of hundreds of millions of dollars for both the Russians and the Iraqis, outside the control of ‘oil for food.’ It has been estimated that 80 percent of the oil illegally smuggled out of Iraq under ‘oil for food’ ended up in the United States.”
Not only were criminals enriched in this nefarious scheme, it also ended up sabotaging the original purpose of “oil for food.” Gordon explains, “How Iraq sold its oil was also under scrutiny, and the United States did act on what it perceived to be skimming by Hussain in these deals. The solution that it enacted, however, succeeded in almost bankrupting the entire Oil for Food Program within months.”
Harebrained Security Council policy not only succeeded in enriching the dishonest, it also virtually destroyed the program. According to Gordon, the U.S. and UK attempted to prevent kickbacks resulting from artificially low prices: “Instead of approving prices at the beginning of each sales period (usually a month), in accordance with normal commercial practices, the two allies would simply withhold their approval [of the price] until after the oil was sold—creating a bizarre scenario in which buyers had to sign contracts without knowing what the price would be.” The result was “oil sales collapsed by forty percent, and along with them the funds for critical humanitarian imports.”
What we have here, according to Gordon and Ritter, is a bare-faced attempt by criminals to shift blame to the innocent. Gordon concludes, “Little of the blame can credibly be laid at the feet of ‘the UN bureaucracy.’ Far more of the fault lies with policies and decisions of the Security Council in which the United States played a central role.”
Independent/UK, December 12, 2004
Update by Joy Gordon: The accusations against the Oil for Food Program have served as a springboard for general attacks on the credibility of the United Nations as a whole, as well as personal attacks on Kofi Annan. For the most part, the mainstream media has seized on the accusations and repeated them, without doing any of the research that would give the discussion more integrity. For example, “the United Nations” is criticized for “its” failures, and the secretary general is then blamed because these events “happened on his watch.”
What was not mentioned at all for the first year of media coverage is that “the UN” is made up of several different parts, and that the part that designed and oversaw the Oil for Food Program was the Security Council, whose decisions cannot be overridden or modified in any way by the secretary general. Not only that, while the most vitriolic accusations against the UN have come from the United States, the U.S. is in fact the most dominant member of the Security Council. The U.S. agreed to all the decisions and procedures of the Oil for Food Program that are now being so harshly criticized as “failures of the United Nations.”
The mainstream press, for the most part, has repeated that the Oil for Food Program lacked accountability, oversight or transparency. What is most striking about this is that the elaborate structure of oversight that was in fact in place — and is never mentioned at all — is so easily available. It is on the program’s web site in complete detail along with huge amounts of information, making the program in fact highly transparent. Yet the mainstream press coverage reflects none of this.
Last fall we saw the beginnings of some acknowledgement of the U.S. responsibility for Iraq’s ongoing smuggling, as some Democrats introduced evidence in hearings that all three U.S. administrations knew of and supported Iraq’s illicit trade with Jordan and Turkey, two key U.S. allies. The press picked that up, but little else.
Since my article came out, there has been a good deal of press coverage from public radio stations and from foreign press. In addition, I have testified twice before congressional committees, where the members of Congress were incredulous to hear that in fact the program operated very differently than they had been told — even though the information I provided them was obvious, basic, publicly available, and easily accessible.
For additional information:
According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), 2004 was the deadliest year for reporters since 1980, when records began to be kept. Over a 12-month span, 129 media workers were killed and 49 of those deaths occurred in the Iraqi conflict. According to independent journalist Dahr Jamail, journalists are increasingly being detained and threatened by the U.S.-installed interim government in Iraq. When the only safety for a reporter is being embedded with the U.S. military, the reported stories tend to have a positive spin. Non-embedded reporters suffer the great risk of being identified as enemy targets by the military.
The most blatant attack on journalists occurred the morning of April 8, 2004, when the Third Infantry fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killing cameramen Jose Couso and Taras Protsyuk and injuring three others. The hotel served as headquarters for some 100 reporters and other media workers. The Pentagon officials knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of journalists and had assured the Associated Press that the U.S. would not target the building. According to Truthout, the Army had refused to release the records of its investigation. The Committee to Protect Journalists, created in 1981 in order to protect colleagues abroad from governments and others who have no use for free and independent media, filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to force the Army to release its results. The sanitized copy of the releasable results showed nothing more than a commander inquiry.
Unsatisfied with the U.S. military’s investigation, Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that works to improve the legal and physical safety of journalists worldwide, conducted their own investigation. They gathered evidence from journalists in the Palestine Hotel at the time of the attacks. These were eyewitness accounts that the military neglected to include in their report. The Reporters Without Borders report also provided information disclosed by others embedded within the U.S. Army, including the U.S. military soldiers and officers directly involved in the attack. The report stated that the U.S. officials first lied about what had happened during the Palestine Hotel attack and then, in an official statement four months later, exonerated the U.S. Army from any mistake of error in judgment. The investigation found that the soldiers in the field did not know that the hotel was full of journalists. Olga Rodriguez, a journalist present at the Palestine Hotel during the attack, stated on KPFA’s Democracy Now! that the soldiers and tanks were present at the hotel 36 hours before the firing and that they had even communicated with the journalists.
There have been several other unusual journalist attacks,
In all cases, little investigation has been conducted, no findings have been released and all soldiers involved have been exonerated.
At the World Economic Forum, on a panel titled: “Will Democracy Survive the Media?”, Eason Jordan, a CNN news chief, commented that the U.S. commanders encourage hostility toward the media and fail to protect journalists, especially those who choose not to embed themselves under military control. According to Truthout, during a discussion about the number of journalists killed during the Iraq war, Jordan stated that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by U.S. troops, but had been targeted. Jordan also insisted that U.S. soldiers had deliberately shot at journalists. After the forum, Jordan recanted the statements and was forced to resign his job of 23 years at CNN.
As a matter of military doctrine, the U.S. military dominates, at all costs, every element of battle, including our perception of what they do. The need for control leads the Pentagon to urge journalists to embed themselves within the military, where they can go where they are told and film and tell stories only from a pro-American point of view. The Pentagon offers embedded journalists a great deal of protection. As the Pentagon sees it, non-embedded eyes and ears do not have any military significance, and unless Congress and the American people stop them, the military will continue to target independent journalists. Admirals and generals see the world one way, reporters another; the clash leads to the deaths of too many journalists.
InterPress Service, Nov. 18, 2004
Update by Steve Weissman: When Truthout boss Marc Ash asked me earlier this year to look into the Pentagon’s killing of journalists, many reporters believed that the military was purposely targeting them. But, as I quickly found, the crime was more systemic and in many ways worse. As far as anyone has yet proved, no commanding officer ever ordered a subordinate to fire on journalists as such. Not at Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel in April 2003. Not at the Baghdad checkpoint where soldiers wounded Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and killed her Secret Service protector in March 2005. Andnot anywhere else in Iraq or Afghanistan.
How, then, did the U.S. military end up killing journalists?
It started with a simple decision — the Pentagon’s absolute refusal to take any responsibility for the lives of journalists who chose to work independently rather than embed themselves in a British or American military unit. Despite repeated requests from Reuters and other major news organizations, Pentagon officials still refuse to take the steps needed to reduce the threat to independent journalists.
One other problem needs urgent attention. Military intelligence regularly monitors the uplink equipment that reporters use to transmit their stories and communicate by satellite phone. But, as the BBC’s Nik Gowing discovered, the electronic intelligence mavens make no effort to distinguish between journalistic communications and those of enemy forces. All the sensing devices do is look for electronic traffic between the monitored uplinks and known enemies.
In Gowing’s view, this led the Americans to order a rocket attack on the Kabul office of the Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera, whose journalists kept regular contact with the Taliban as part of their journalistic coverage.
To date, neither Congress nor the military have done what they need to do to protect unembedded journalists and the information they provide. More shamefully, the mass media continues to underplay the story.
But, for those who want it, reliable information is easily available, either from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders or the International Federation of Journalists.
In his article “Adventure Capitalism,” Greg Palast exposes the contents of a secret plan for “imposing a new regime of low taxes on big business, and quick sales of Iraq’s banks and bridges — in fact, ‘ALL state enterprises’ — to foreign operators.” This economy makeover plan, he claims, “goes boldly where no invasion plan has gone before.”
This highly detailed program, which began years before the tanks rolled, outlines the small print of doing business under occupation. One of the goals is to impose intellectual property laws favorable to multinationals. Palast calls this “history’s first military assault plan appended to a program for toughening the target nation’s copyright laws.”
It also turns out that those of us who may have thought it was all about the oil were mostly right. “The plan makes it clear that — even if we didn’t go in for the oil — we certainly won’t leave without it.”
In an interview with Palast, Grover Norquist, the “ capo di capi of the lobbyist army of the right,” makes the plans even more clear when he responds, “The right to trade, property rights, these things are not to be determined by some democratic election.” No, these things were to be determined by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the interim government lead by the U.S.
Before he left his position, CPA administrator Paul Bremer, “the leader of the Coalition Provisional Authority issued exactly 100 orders that remade Iraq in the image of the Economy Plan.” These orders effectively changed Iraqi law.
A good example of this business invasion involves agriculture. The details of this part of the “market make-over” are laid out in the Grain website article called “Iraq’s new Patent Law: a declaration of war against farmers.”
“Order 81” of the 100 is titled “Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety.” According to Grain staff writers, this order “made it illegal for Iraqi farmers to re-use seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law.” Plant Variety Protection (PVP) is the tool used for defining which seeds are re-useable and which are not. PVP “is an intellectual property right or a kind of patent for plant varieties which gives an exclusive monopoly right on planting material to a plant breeder who claims to have discovered or developed a new variety. So the “protection” in PVP has nothing to do with conservation, but refers to safeguarding of the commercial interests of private breeders (usually large corporations) claiming to have created the new plants.”
Dovetailing with this order is a plan to “re-educate farmers” in order to increase their production. As part of a $107 million “project” facilitated by Texas A&M, farmers will be given equipment and new high-yielding PVP protected seeds. Jeremy Smith from the Ecologist points out that, “After one year, farmers will see soaring production levels. Many will be only too willing to abandon their old ways in favor of the new technologies. Out will go traditional methods. In will come imported American seeds.” Then based on the new patent laws “any ‘client’ (or ‘farmer’ as they were once known) wishing to grow one of their seeds, ‘pays a licensing fee for each variety’.”
Smith explains that “Under the guise of helping Iraq back on its feet, the U.S. setting out to re-engineer the country’s traditional farming system into a U.S.-style corporate agribusiness.” In that traditional system, “97 percent of Iraqi farmers used their own saved seed or bought seed from local markets.” He continues, “Unfortunately, this vital heritage and knowledge base is now believed lost, the victim of the current campaign and the many years of conflict that preceded it.”
Of course, this project will also introduce “new chemicals—pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, all sold to the Iraqis by corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill and Dow.”
As Grain staff writers point out, “Over the past decade, many countries of the South have been compelled to adopt seed patent laws through bilateral treaties” with the U.S. The Iraqi situation, however, is different in that “the adoption of the patent law was not part of negotiations between sovereign countries. Nor did a sovereign law-making body enact it as reflecting the will of the Iraqi people.” Essentially, the U.S. has reneged on its promise of freedom for the Iraqi people. The actions of the U.S. clearly show that the will of the Iraqi people is not relevant. Paul Bremer’s 100 orders make sure it will stay that way. Grain argues “Iraq’s freedom and sovereignty will remain questionable for as long as Iraqis do not have control over what they sow, grow, reap and eat.” Palast says poignantly, “The free market paradise in Iraq is not free.”
TomPaine.com, October 26,
The Ecologist, February 4, 2005
Update by Greg Palast: In February 2003, White House spokesman Ari Fleisher announced the preparations for “Operation Iraqi Liberation”— O.I.L.
I can’t make these things up.
I’m not one of the those people who believes George Bush led us into Iraq for the oil but, from the documents I’ve obtained, it’s clear that we sure as hell aren’t leaving without it.
At BBC Television Newsnight, which has granted me journalistic asylum from the commercially crazed madhouse of the American news market, we ran Fleisher’s announcement of operation O.I.L. (later corrected to Operation Iraqi Freedom — OIF!). More importantly, we ran a series of stories — which I also developed for Harper’s magazine in the USA — on the pre-invasion plans to slice up and sell off Iraq’s assets, “especially the oil,” in the terms of one State Department secret document.
After we got our hands on the confidential document to “Move Iraq’s Economy Forward” — i.e. sell off its oil — we at BBC put General Jay Garner on the air. Garner, whom the president appointed as viceroy over the newly conquered Iraq, confirmed the plan to sell off Iraq’s oil — and his refusal to carry out the deed. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fired him and smeared him for his dissent. This was big, big news in Europe where I reported it — but in the U.S. the story was buried.
We later discovered that the plan to sell off Iraq’s oil was replaced by another confidential plan. This one, 323 pages long and literally written by oil industry consultants, was obtained by BBC and Harper’s after a protracted legal war with the State Department. We discovered, interestingly, that this industry plan to create a state oil company favorable to OPEC was first conceived in February 2001. In other words, invasion was in the works, including stratagems for controlling Iraq’s oil, within week’s of George Bush’s first inauguration and well before the September 11 attack.
The discovery of this plan for Iraq’s oil, received exactly zero coverage by the U.S. “mainstream” press. Only Harper’s magazine gave it full play along with those wonderful internet sites (Buzzflash, Guerrilla News, WorkingForChange, CommonDreams, Alternet and more ) that cussedly insist on printing news from abroad not approved by the Powers That Be.
The U.S. media tells us that Iran may be the next target of U.S. aggression. The anticipated excuse is Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. William Clark tells us that economic reasons may have more to do with U.S. concerns over Iran than any weapons of mass destruction.
In mid-2003, Iran broke from traditional and began accepting eurodollars as payment for it oil exports from its E.U. and Asian customers. Saddam Hussein attempted a similar bold step back in 2000 and was met with a devastating reaction from the U.S. Iraq now has no choice about using U.S. dollars for oil sales. However, Iran’s plan to open an international oil exchange marker for trading oil in the euro currency is a much larger threat to U.S. dollar supremacy than Iraq’s switch to euros.
While the dollar is still the standard currency for trading international oil sales, in 2006 Iran intends to set up an oil exchange (or bourse) that would facilitate global trading of oil between industrialized and developing countries by pricing sales in the euro, or “petroeuro.” To this end, they are creating a euro-denominated Internet-based oil exchange system for global oil sales. This is a direct challenge to U.S. dollar supremacy in the global oil market. It is widely speculated that the U.S. dollar has been inflated for some time now because the monopoly position of “petrodollars” in oil trades. With the level of national debt, the value of dollar has been held artificially high compared to other currencies.
The vast majority of the world’s oil is traded on the New York NYMEX (Mercantile Exchange) and the London IPE (International Petroleum Exchange), and, as mentioned by Clark, both exchanges are owned by U.S. corporations. Both of these oil exchanges transact oil trades in U.S. currency. Iran’s plan to create a new oil exchange would facilitate trading oil on the world market in euros. The euro has become a somewhat stronger and more stable trading medium than the U.S. dollar in recent years. Perhaps this is why Russia, Venezuela and some members of OPEC have expressed interest in moving towards a petroeuro system for oil transactions. Without a doubt, a successful Iranian oil bourse may create momentum for other industrialized countries to stop exchanging their own currencies for petrodollars in order to buy oil. A shift away from U.S. dollars to euros in the oil market would cause the demand for petrodollars to drop, perhaps causing the value of the dollar to plummet. A precipitous drop in the value of the U.S. dollar would undermine the U.S. position as a world economic leader.
China is a major exporter to the United States and its trade surplus with the U.S. means that China has become the world’s second largest holder of U.S. currency reserves (Japan is the largest holder with $800 billion, and China holds over $600 billion in T-bills). China would lose enormously if they were still holding vast amounts of U.S. currency when the dollar collapsed and assumed a more realistic value. Maintaining the U.S. as a market for their goods is a pre-eminent goal of Chinese financial policy, but they are increasingly dependent on Iran for their vital oil and gas imports. The Chinese government is careful to maintain the value of the yuan linked with the U.S. dollar (8.28 yuan to 1 dollar). This artificial linking makes them, effectively, one currency. But the Chinese government has indicated interest in de-linking the dollar-yuan arrangement, which could result in an immediate fall in the dollar. More worrisome is the potentiality of China to abandon its ongoing prolific purchase of U.S. Treasuries/debt — should they become displeased with U.S. policies towards Iran.
Unstable situations cannot be expected to remain static. It is reasonable to expect that the Chinese are hedging their bets. It is unreasonable to expect that they plan to be left holding devalued dollars after a sudden decline in their value. It is possible that the artificial situation could continue for some time, but this will be due largely because the Chinese want it that way. Regardless, China seems to be in the process of unloading some of its U.S. dollar reserves in the world market to purchase oil reserves, and most recently attempted to buy Unocal, a California-based oil company.
The irony is that apparent U.S. plans to invade Iran put pressure on the Chinese to abandon their support of the dollar. Clark warns that “a unilateral U.S. military strike on Iran would further isolate the U.S. government, and it is conceivable that such an overt action could provoke other industrialized nations to abandon the dollar en masse.” Perhaps the U.S. planners think that they can corner the market in oil militarily. But from Clarks point of view, “a U.S. intervention in Iran is likely to prove disastrous for the United States, making matters much worse regarding international terrorism, not to mention potential adverse effects on the U.S. economy.”
The more likely outcome of an Iran invasion would be that, just as in Iraq, Iranian oil exports would dry up, regardless of what currency they are denominated in, and China would be compelled to abandon the dollar and buy oil from Russia — likely in euros. The conclusion is that U.S. leaders seem to have no idea what they are doing. Clark points out that, “World oil production is now flat out, and a major interruption would escalate oil prices to a level that would set off a global depression.”
Update by William Clark: Following the completion of my essay in October 2004, three important stories appeared that dramatically raised the geopolitical stakes for the Bush Administration. First, on Oct. 28, 2004, Iran and China signed a huge oil and gas trade agreement (valued between $70 and $100 billion dollars.) It should also be noted that China currently receives 13 percent of its oil imports from Iran. The Chinese government effectively drew a “line in the sand” around Iran when it signed this huge oil and gas deal. Despite desires by U.S. elites to enforce petrodollar hegemony by force, the geopolitical risks of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would surely create a serious crisis between Washington and Beijing.
An article that addressed some of the strategic risks appeared in the December 2004 edition of the Atlantic Monthly. This story by James Fallows outlined the military war games against Iran that were conducted during the summer and autumn of 2004. These war-gaming sessions were led by Colonel Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel who for more than two decades ran war games at the National War College and other military institutions. Each scenario led to a dangerous escalation in both Iran and Iraq. Indeed, Col. Gardiner summarized the war games with the following conclusion, “After all this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers: You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work.”
The third and final news item that revealed the Bush Administration’s intent to attack Iran was provided by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. The January 2005 issue of The New Yorker (“The Coming Wars”) included interviews with high-level U.S. intelligence sources who repeatedly told Hersh that Iran was indeed the next strategic target. However, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China will likely veto any U.S. resolution calling for military action against Iran. A unilateral military strike on Iran would isolate the U.S. government in the eyes of the world community, and it is conceivable that such an overt action could provoke other industrialized nations to abandon the dollar in droves. I refer to this in my book as the “rogue nation hypothesis.”
While central bankers throughout the world community would be extremely reluctant to “dump the dollar,” the reasons for any such drastic reaction are likely straightforward from their perspective — the global community is dependent on the oil and gas energy supplies found in the Persian Gulf. Numerous oil geologists are warning that global oil production is now running “flat out.” Hence, any such efforts by the international community that resulted in a dollar currency crisis would be undertaken — not to cripple the U.S. dollar and economy as punishment towards the American people per se — but rather to thwart further unilateral warfare and its potentially destructive effects on the critical oil production and shipping infrastructure in the Persian Gulf. Barring a U.S. attack, it appears imminent that Iran’s euro-denominated oil bourse will open in March 2006. Logically, the most appropriate U.S. strategy is compromise with the E.U. and OPEC towards a dual-currency system for international oil trades.
For additional information: Readers interested in learning more about the dollar/euro oil currency conflict and the upcoming geological phenomenon referred to as Peak Oil can read William Clark’s new book, Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar, available from New Society Publishers.
Mountaintop removal is a new form of coal mining in which companies dynamite the tops of mountains to collect the coal underneath. Multiple peaks are blown off and dumped onto highland watersheds, destroying entire mountain ranges. More than 1,000 miles of streams have been destroyed by this practice in West Virginia alone. Mountain top removal endangers and destroys entire communities with massive sediment dams and non-stop explosions.
According to Fred Mooney, an active member of the Mountain Faction of Katuah Earth First!, “MTR is an ecocidal mining practice in which greedy coal companies use millions of pounds of dynamite a day (three million pounds a day in the southwest Virginia alone) to blow up entire mountain ranges in order to extract a small amount of coal.” He goes on to say that “Then as if that wasn’t bad enough, they dump the waste into valleys and riverbeds. The combination of these elements effectively kills everything in the ecosystems.”
Most states are responsible for permitting and regulating mining operations under the Surface Mining Control Act. Now MTR is trying to break into Tennessee, specifically Zeb Mountain in the northeast. Because Tennessee did such a poor job in the ’70s, the state renounced control and all mining is now regulated under the federal Office of Surface Mining. This makes Tennessee unique because activists have recourse in the federal courts to stop mountaintop removal.
The coal industry has coined many less menacing names for mountaintop removal, such as cross range mining, surface mining and others. But regardless of the euphemism, MTR remains among the most pernicious forms of mining ever conceived. Blasting mountain tops with dynamite is cheaper than hiring miners who belong to a union. More than 40,000 have been lost to MTR in West Virginia alone.
Ninety-three new coal plants are being planned for construction throughout the U.S. Demand for coal will increase as these new facilities are completed. Oil is starting to run out and there are no concrete plans for a transition to renewable resources such as wind and solar energy. Coal companies therefore will be well positioned to capitalize on their growing market. Katuah Earth First! (KEF!) is one of several groups resisting MTR.
The coal taken from Zeb Mountain is being burned by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and continues to cause environmental damage. KEF! wants to raise awareness and direct attention to the perpetrators — TVA and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM). KEF! emphasized that “the issue of mountain top removal is not just a local one. It is intertwined with many global issues such as corporate domination of communities, the homogenization of local cultures and the over consumption of our wasteful society.”
Four federal agencies that review applications for coal mines have entered an agreement that would give state governments an option that could speed up the process. The Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service and Office of Surface Mining said that the agreement was intended to streamline the procedures companies go through when applying for permits to start surface coal mines, including those that remove entire mountaintops to unearth coal.
Environmental groups are beginning to challenge these policies in federal district court. The current program allows the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a general permit for a category of activities under the Clean Water Act if they “will cause only minimal adverse environmental effects” according to federal regulation. Coal companies then also must seek individual “authorizations” from the Corps for the projects for which they have received a general permit.
According to the Bush Administration, the federal judge who blocked the streamline permitting of new mountaintop removal coal mines has overstepped his authority. Lawyers for the Army Corps of Engineers asked a federal appeals court to overturn the July 2004 ruling by U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin. Industry lawyers criticized Goodwin’s decision as the “latest unwarranted and impermissible dismantling” of mountaintop removal regulations by federal judges in Southern West Virginia.
Update by John Conner: The destructions of highland watersheds are a crime against the very future. The Appalachian Mountains are some of the most diverse in the world. Areas incredibly rich in biodiversity are being turned into the biological equivalent of parking lots. It is the final solution for 200 million-year-old mountains. Since dynamite is cheaper than people, MTR has broken the back of the mining unions in West Virginia, massive sediment dams threaten to bury entire communities, water tables are destroyed and wells dry up. It is a form of cultural genocide driving a mountain people from their hills — then destroying the hills themselves.
There has been a direct impact on Marsh Fork Elementary, where a massive sediment dam looms above the elementary school. Over 18 people have been arrested for non-violent civil disobedience trying to protect the children of that school. Additionally, Mountain Justice Summer has begun a campaign modeled on Redwood and Mississippi Summers, where folks from all over North America have come to our region to help us defend our mountains.
When the Martin County coal impoundment burst, it released more than 20 times the waste volume into a community than the Exxon Valdez spill, yet the coal industry successfully suppressed the story. The coal industry is incredibly powerful, and there exists a glass ceiling on how far our stories go. The story of the folks committing civil disobedience for the first time in history in West Virginia to resist Mountain Top Removal was placed on the AP — but virtually no outlets outside of West Virginia picked it up.
People can get more information on this issue at www.mountainjusticesummer.org.
Other Censored Stories, available at www.projectcensored.org:
#11 Universal Mental Screening Program Usurps Parental Rights
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