Project Censored at Sonoma State University has announced the annual release of the most un-reported stories of 2004-05.
(1) Bush Administration Moves To Eliminate Open Government
The Bush administration has been working to make sure the public- and even Congress-can't find out what the government itself is doing.
In the Fall of 2004, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) released an 81-page report that found that the feds have consistently "narrowed the scope and application" of the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act, and other key public information laws. At the same time the government expanded laws blocking access to certain records - even creating new categories of "protected" information and exempting entire departments from public scrutiny.
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.
Bush administration has even refused to release records to Congressional subcommittees or the Government Accountability Office. A few of the potentially incriminating documents being held secret from Congress include records of contacts between large energy companies and Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force; White House memos pertaining to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction; and reports describing torture at Abu Ghraib.
The Critical Infrastructure Information Act of 2002 (CIIA) as part of Homeland Security exempts from FOIA any information that is voluntarily provided to the federal government by a private party, if the information relates to the security of vital infrastructure. But under the act, even "routine communications by private sector lobbyists can be withheld from disclosure S( if the lobbyist asserts that the changes are related to the effort to protect the nation's infrastructure. Such a broad interpretation of CIIA could hide errors or misconduct by private-sector companies working with the Department of Homeland Security.
In March 2002, the Bush Administration reduced public access to information through FOIA by mandating that agencies safeguard any records having to do with "weapons of mass destruction." This included "information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people," according to a memo by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. However, the memo did nothing to define these terms and agencies were left free to withhold virtually any information under the vague charge of "national security."
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.
Congressman Waxman describe the government secrecy moves as "an unprecedented assault on the laws that make our government open and accountable,"
(2) Media Coverage Fails On Iraq: Fallujah And The Civilian
Les Roberts, an investigator with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, conducted a rigorous inquiry into pre- and post-invasion mortality in Iraq, sneaking into Iraq by lying flat on the bed of an SUV and training observers on the scene. The results were published in the Lancet, a prestigious peer-reviewed British medical journal, on Oct. 29, 2004. Roberts and his team (including researchers from Columbia University and from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad concluded that the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is about 100,000 civilians, and may be much higher. 95% of those deaths were caused by helicopter gunships, rockets, or other forms of aerial weaponry and more than half of the fatalities were women or children.
The study was done before the second invasion of Fallujah in the Fall of 2004. More than 83 percent of Fallujah's 300,000 residents 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 Men between the ages of 15 and 45 were refused safe passage, and all who remained were treated as enemy combatants. Coalition forces cut off water and electricity, seized the main hospital, shot at anyone who ventured out into the open, executed families waving white flags while trying to swim across the Euphrates or otherwise flee the city. US forces shot at ambulances, raided homes and killed people who didn't understand English, rolled over injured people with tanks, and allowed corpses to rot in the streets and be eaten by dogs. Medical staff and others reported seeing people, dead and alive, with melted faces and limbs, injuries consistent with the use of phosphorous bombs. As of December of 2004 at least 6,000 Iraqi citizens in Fallujah had been killed, and one-third of the city has been destroyed.
The International Committee for the Red Cross reported on December 23, 2004 that three of the city's water purification plants had been destroyed and the fourth badly damaged. Not long after the "coalition" had embarked on its second offensive, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for an investigation into whether the Americans and their allies had engaged in "the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons, and the use of human shields," among other possible "grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions ... considered war crimes" under federal law.
Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists, has noted that the US invasion of Fallujah is a violation of international law that the US had specifically ratified: "They [US 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."
(3) Election Fraud Likely In 2004
On Nov. 2, 2004. Bush prevailed by 3 million votes despite exit polls that clearly projected Kerry winning by a margin of 5 million.
The 8-million-vote discrepancy was well beyond the poll's recognized, less-than-1-percent margin of error. And when Freeman and Mitteldorf analyzed the data collected by the two companies that conducted the polls, they found concrete evidence of potential fraud in the official count. 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 of over a 100,000 to one. "Exit polls are highly accurate," Steve Freeman, professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Organizational Dynamics, and Temple University statistician Josh Mitteldorf. "They remove most of the sources of potential polling error by identifying actual voters and asking them immediately afterward who they had voted for."
"Only in precincts that used old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots did the official count and the exit polls fall within the normal sampling margin of error. And "the discrepancy between the exit polls and the official count was considerably greater in the critical swing states.
Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, the two companies hired to do the polling for the Nation Election Pool in a final report stated that the discrepancy was "most likely due to Kerry voters participating in the exit polls at a higher rate than Bush voters." The corporate media widely reported that this 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.
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.
Greg Palast reported how in June 2004, well before the election, his co-author of "Jim Crow" Rev. Jesse Jackson brought him to Chicago to have breakfast with Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards. The Reverend asked the Senator to read Palast's 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.
(4) Surveillance Society Quietly Moves In
On the day American troops captured Saddam Hussein Bush signed into law the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA)-a controversial expansion of the PATRIOT Act that included items culled from the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003," a draft proposal that had been shelved due to public outcry after being leaked.
Specifically, the IAA allows the government to obtain an individual's financial records without a court order. The law also makes it illegal for institutions to inform anyone that the government has requested those records, or that information has been shared with the authorities.
"The law also broadens the definition of 'financial institution' to include insurance companies, travel and real-estate agencies, stockbrokers, the US Postal Service, jewelry stores, casinos, airlines, car dealerships, and any other business 'whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters. The definition is now so broad that it could plausibly be used to access even school transcripts or medical records.
"In one fell swoop, this act has decimated our rights to privacy, due process, and freedom of speech," wrote Anna Samson Miranda in an article for LiP magazine titled "Grave New World" that documented the ways in which the government already employs high tech, private industry, and everyday citizens as part of a vast web of surveillance. 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.
Congress passed a Defense Appropriations bill passed unanimously on July 18, 2003, expressly denying any funding to Total Information Awareness research. In response, the Pentagon proposed The Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange. 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. The MATRIX program was officially shut down on April 15, 2005 but the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security are now utilizing a system called FACTS (Factual Analysis Criminal Threat Solution). 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. Florida law enforcement officials are pursuing continuing the program and rebuilding it.
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. 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.
(5) US Uses Tsunami To Military Advantage In Southeast Asia
The American people reacted to the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean in December 2004 with an outpouring of compassion and private donations. Across the nation, neighbors got together to collect food, clothing, medicines, and financial contributions. Schoolchildren completed class projects to help the cause.
Unfortunately, the US government didn't reflect the same level of altruism. President Bush initially offered an embarrassingly low $15 million in aid. More importantly US government used the catastrophe to exploit its own strategic military advantage. 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.
Establishing a stronger military presence in the region has long been a US desire to keep closer tabs on China. China, thanks to its burgeoning economic and military muscle, has emerged as one of this country's greatest potential rivals.
During subsequent tsunami relief operations, the US reactivated its military co-operation agreements with Thailand and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. US Navy vessels utilized facilities in Singapore, keeping with previous treaties. US marines and the navy arrived in Sri Lanka despite the tsunami-hit island's initial reluctance to permit their entry. The US also stepped up their survey of the Malacca Straits, through which 90 percent of Japan's oil supplies pass.
The United States currently operates a base out of Diego Garcia-a former British mandate in the Chagos Archipelago (about halfway between Africa and Indonesia), but the lease runs out in 2016. The isle is also "remote and Washington is desperate for an alternative," wrote veteran Indian journalist Rahul Bedi.
In February 2005, the State Department mended broken ties with the Indonesian military-although human rights observers charged the military with withholding "food and other relief from civilians suspected of supporting the secessionist insurgency, the Free Aceh Movement," Jim Lobe reported for the Inter Press Service.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that US 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. 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, 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 US State Department made a decision to renew the International Education and Military Training (IMET) program for Indonesia. "Clearly these new bases will strengthen Washington's military logistical support in the region," says Professor Anuradha Chenoy at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.
(6) The Real Oil For Food Scam
Last year, right-wingers in Congress began kicking up a fuss about how the United Nations had allegedly allowed Saddam Hussein to rake in $10 billion in illegal cash through the Oil for Food program. Headlines screamed scandal. New York Times' columnist William Safire referred to the alleged U.N. con game as "the richest rip-off in world history."
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 US "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 how the funds could be used.
The initial anti-UN accusations were based on a General Accounting Office report released in April 2004 and were later bolstered by a more detailed report commissioned by the CIA.
According to the GAO, Hussein smuggled $6 billion worth of oil out of Iraq-most of it through the Persian Gulf. Yet the U.N. fleet charged with intercepting any such smugglers was under direct command of American officers, and consisted overwhelmingly of US Navy ships. In 2001, for example, 90 of its vessels belonged to the United States, while Britain contributed only four.
Most of the oil that left Iraq by land did so through Jordan and Turkey-with the approval of the United States. The first Bush administration informally exempted Jordan from the ban on purchasing Iraqi oil-an arrangement that provided Hussein with $4.4 billion over 10 years, according to the CIA's own findings. The United States later allowed Iraq to leak another $710 million worth of oil through Turkey-all while US planes enforcing no-fly zones flew overhead. Scott Ritter, a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq during the first six years of economic sanctions against the country, unearthed yet another scam: The United States allegedly allowed an oil company run by Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov's sister to purchase cheap oil from Iraq and resell it to US companies at market value. "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," Ritter wrote in the UK Independent.
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.
(7) Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers To Life And Livelihood
The Iraq war has been the deadliest combat zone for reporters since the International Federation of Journalists began keeping tabs in 1984. A total of 49 media workers have lost their lives in Iraq. In short, nonembedded journalists have now become familiar victims of US military actions abroad. "As far as anyone has yet proved, no commanding officer ever ordered a subordinate to fire on journalists as such," write Steve Weissman. But what can be shown is a pattern of tacit complicity, side by side with a heavy-handed campaign to curb journalists' right to roam freely.
According to independent journalist Dahr Jamail, journalists are increasingly being detained and threatened by the US-installed interim government in Iraq. When the only safety for a reporter is being embedded with the US 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 Pentagon has refused to implement basic safeguards to protect journalists who aren't embedded with coalition forces, despite repeated requests by Reuters and media advocacy organizations.
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 US would not target the building. The US military exonerated the army of any wrongdoing in its attack on the Palestine Hotel. To date, US authorities have not disciplined a single officer or soldier involved in the killing of a journalist.
Unsatisfied with the US 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. Their report stated that the US officials first lied about what had happened during the Palestine Hotel attack and then, in an official statement four months later, exonerated the US Army from any mistake of error in judgment. 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 reporters had even communicated with the soldiers.
April 8, 2004: The same day of the attack on the Palestine Hotel, the US bombed the Baghdad offices of Abu Dhabi TV and Al-Jazeera killing Al-Jazeera correspondent Tariq Ayyoub. August 17, 2004: Mazen Dana was killed while filming a prison, guarded by the US military in a Baghdad suburb.
As a matter of military doctrine, the US 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.
(8) Iraqi Farmers Threatened By Bremmer's Mandates
Historians believe it was in the "fertile crescent" of Mesopotamia, where Iraq now lies, that humans first learned to farm. "It is here, in around 8500 or 8000 B.C., that mankind first domesticated wheat, here that agriculture was born," wrote Jeremy Smith in the Ecologist. This entire time, "Iraqi farmers have been naturally selecting wheat varieties that work best with their climate ... and cross-pollinated them with others with different strengths.
"The US, however, has decided that, despite 10,000 years practice, Iraqis don't know what wheat works best in their own conditions," write Jeremy Smith. Smith was referring to Order 81, one of 100 directives penned by L. Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, and left as a legacy by the American government when it transferred operations to interim Iraqi authorities. The regulation sets criteria for the patenting of seeds that can only be met by multinational companies like Monsanto or Syngenta, and it grants the patent holder exclusive rights over every aspect of all plant products yielded by those seeds. Because of naturally occurring cross-pollination, the new scheme effectively launches a process whereby Iraqi farmers will soon have to purchase their seeds rather than using seeds saved from their own crops or bought at the local market.
Native varieties will be replaced by foreign-and genetically engineered-seeds, and Iraqi agriculture will become more vulnerable to disease as biological diversity is lost.
Texas A&M; University, which brags that its agriculture program is a "world leader" in the use of biotechnology, has already embarked on a $107 million project to "re-educate" Iraqi farmers to grow industrial-sized harvests, for export, using American seeds. As part of the project Iraqi farmers are given equipment and genetically modified seeds. And anyone who's ever paid attention to how this has worked elsewhere in the global South knows what comes next: Farmers will lose their lands, and the country will lose its ability to feed itself, engendering poverty and dependency.
Order 81 was one of several imposed by Bremer that fit nicely into the outlines of a US "Economy Plan," a 101-page blueprint for the economic makeover of Iraq, formulated with ample help from corporate lobbyists.
Greg Palast reported that someone inside the State Department leaked the plan to him a month prior to the invasion. One of the goals of the plan is to impose intellectual property laws in Iraq favorable to multinational corporations.
Smith put it simply: "The people whose forefathers first mastered the domestication of wheat will now have to pay for the privilege of growing it for someone else. And with that the world's oldest farming heritage will become just another subsidiary link in the vast American supply chain."
(9) Iran's New Oil Trade System Challenges US Currency
The Bush administration has been paying a lot more attention to Iran recently. Part of that interest is clearly Iran's nuclear program-but there may be more to the story. One bit of news that hasn't received the public vetting it merits is Iran's declared intent to open an international oil exchange market, or "bourse." 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 US corporations. Both of these oil exchanges transact oil trades in US currency. Iran's plan to open an international oil exchange for trading oil in the euro is a huge threat to US dollar supremacy in oil. A shift away from US dollars to euros in the oil market would cause the value of the dollar to plummet.
In mid-2003 Iran broke from tradition 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 US. Iraq. One of the first ordered issued by Bremmer after the US occupation of Iraq was to sell oil in dollars only. (Censored 2004 #19).
Russia, Venezuela, and some members of OPEC have expressed interest in moving towards a petroeuro system. And it isn't entirely implausible that China, which is "the world's second largest holder of US currency reserves," might eventually follow suit. China, as a major exporter of goods to the United States, has a vested interest in helping shore up the American economy and has even linked its own currency, the yuan, to the dollar, but it has also become increasingly dependent on Iranian oil and gas. Worrisome to the US is the potentiality of China to abandon its ongoing large purchases of US Treasuries/debt-should they become displeased with US policies towards Iran.
Barring a US attack, it appears likely that Iran's euro-dominated oil bourse will open in 2006. The irony is that US threats to invade Iran put pressure on the Chinese to abandon their support of the dollar. Clark warns that "a unilateral US military strike on Iran would further isolate the US government, and it is conceivable that such an overt action could provoke other industrialized nations to abandon the dollar en masse."
Readers interesting in learning more about the dollar/euro oil currency conflict can read William Clark's new book, Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar. Available from New Society Publishers
(10) Mountaintop Removal Threatens Ecosystem And Economy
On Aug. 15 2004, environmental activists created a human blockade by locking themselves to drilling equipment, obstructing the National Coal Corp.'s access to a strip mine in the Appalachian mountains 40 miles north of Knoxville. It was just the latest in a protracted campaign that environmentalists say has national implications, but that's been ignored by the media outside the immediate area.
Mountaintop removal (MTR) 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."
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 jobs have been lost to MTR in West Virginia alone. 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 70's, the state renounced control, and all mining is now regulated under the federal Office of Surface Mining.
Ninety-three new coal plants are being planned for construction throughout the US 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 by using Mountain top removal as a cheap way to pull coal from the ground.
For Stories 11-25 see: http://www.projectcensored.org/
Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Sociology Department/Project Censored
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928