For 31 years, Project Censored has been compiling a list of the major stories that the nation's news media have ignored, misreported or poorly covered. The Oxford American Dictionary defines censorship as "the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts," which Project Censored Director Peter Phillips says is also a fine description of what happens under a dictatorship. When it comes to democracy, the black marker is a bit more nuanced. "We need to broaden our understanding of censorship," he says. After 11 years at the helm of Project Censored, Phillips thinks the most bowdlerizing force is the fourth estate itself: "The corporate media is complicit. There's no excuse for the major media giants to be missing major news stories like this."
As the stories cited in this year's Project Censored selections point out, the federal government continues to provide major news networks with stock footage, which is dutifully broadcast as news. The George W. Bush administration has spent more federal money than any other presidency on public relations. Without a doubt, says writer and longtime Project Censored judge Michael Parenti, the government invests in shaping our beliefs. "Every day they're checking out what we think," he says. "The erosion of civil liberties is not happening in one fell swoop but in increments. Very consciously, this administration has been heading toward a general autocracy."
Carl Jensen, who founded Project Censored in 1976 after witnessing the landslide re-election of Richard Nixon in 1972 in spite of mounting evidence of the Watergate scandal, agrees that this year's censored stories amount to an accumulated threat to democracy: "I'm waiting for one of our great liberal writers to put together the big picture of what's going on here."
1: GOOD-BYE, HABEAS CORPUS
The Military Commissions Act, passed in September 2006 as a last gasp of the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by Bush that Oct. 17, made significant changes to the nation's judicial system.
The law allows the president to designate any person an "alien unlawful enemy combatant," shunting that individual into an alternative court system in which the writ of habeas corpus no longer applies, the right to a speedy trial is gone, and justice is meted out by a military tribunal that can admit evidence obtained through coercion and presented without the accused in the courtroom, all under the guise of preserving national security.
Habeas corpus, a constitutional right cribbed from the Magna Carta, protects against arbitrary imprisonment. Alexander Hamilton called it the greatest defense against "the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny."
The Military Commissions Act has been seen mostly as a method for dealing with Guantanamo Bay detainees, and most journalists, including editors at The New York Times, have reported that it doesn't have any impact on Americans.
Investigative journalist Robert Parry disagrees. The right of habeas corpus no longer exists for any of us, he wrote in the online journal Consortium. Deep down in the lower sections of the act, the language shifts from the very specific "alien unlawful enemy combatant" to the vague "any person subject to this chapter."
"Why does it contain language referring to 'any person' and then adding in an adjacent context a reference to people acting 'in breach of allegiance or duty to the United States'?" Parry writes. "Who has 'an allegiance or duty to the United States' if not an American citizen?"
Though Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) moved quickly to remedy the situation with the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, that legislation has yet to pass Congress, which some suspect is because too many Democrats don't want to seem soft on terrorism. Exactly how the language of the Military Commissions Act may be manipulated remains to be seen.
Sources: "Repeal the Military Commissions Act and Restore the Most American Human Right," Thom Hartmann, Common Dreams Web site, commondreams.org; "Still No Habeas Rights for You," Robert Parry, consortiumnews.com, Feb. 3, 2007; "Who Is 'Any Person' in Tribunal Law?" Robert Parry, consortiumnews.com
2: MARTIAL LAW: COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU
The Military Commissions Act was part of a one-two punch to civil liberties. While the first blow to habeas corpus received some attention, there was almost no media coverage of a private Oval Office ceremony held the same day the military act was signed at which Bush signed the John Warner Defense Authorization Act, a $532-billion catchall bill for defense spending.
Tucked away in the deeper recesses of that act, Section 1076 allows the president to declare a public emergency and dispatch federal troops to take over National Guard units and local police if he determines them unfit for maintaining order. This is essentially a revival of the Insurrection Act, which was repealed by Congress in 1878, when it passed the Posse Comitatus Act to bar Northern troops from supervising Southern elections after Reconstruction. That act reinforced the idea that the federal government should patrol the nation's borders and let the states take care of their own territories.
The Warner act defines a public emergency as a "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any state or possession of the United States" and extends its provisions to any place where "the president determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the state or possession are incapable of maintaining public order." On top of that, federal troops can be dispatched to "suppress, in a state, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy." Everything from a West Nile virus outbreak to a political protest could fall into the president's personal definition of mayhem. That's right put your picket signs away.
The Warner act passed with 90 percent of the votes in the House and cleared the Senate unanimously. Months after its passage, Leahy was the only elected official to have publicly expressed concern about Section 1076. In February, he introduced Senate Bill 513 to repeal Section 1076. It's currently in the Armed Services Committee.
Jimmy Carter was the first president to articulate a clear connection between America's foreign policy and its concurrent "vital interest" in oil. During his 1980 State of the Union address, he said, "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."
Under what became the Carter Doctrine, an outpost of the Pentagon called the United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, was established to ensure the uninterrupted flow of that slick "vital interest."
The United States now plans a similar permanent base in Africa, an area traditionally patrolled by more remote commands in Europe and the Pacific. No details have been released about exactly what AFRICOM's operations and responsibilities will be or where troops will be located, though government spokespeople have vaguely stated that the mission is to establish order and keep peace for volatile governments that just happen to be in oil-rich areas.
Increasing U.S. oil imports come from African countries in particular Nigeria. According to the 2007 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, "disruption of supply from Nigeria would represent a major blow to U.S. oil-security strategy."
Source: "Understanding AFRICOM," moonofalabama.org, Feb. 21, 2007
4: SECRET TRADE AGREEMENTS
As disappointing as the World Trade Organization has been, it has provided something of an open forum in which smaller countries can work together to demand concessions from larger, developed nations when brokering multilateral agreements.
At least in theory. The 2006 negotiations crumbled when the United States, the European Union and Australia refused to heed India's and Brazil's demands for fair farm tariffs. In the wake of that disaster, bilateral agreements have become the tactic of choice. These one-on-one negotiations, designed by the United States and the EU, are cut like backroom deals, with the larger country bullying the smaller into agreements that couldn't be reached through the WTO.
Bush administration officials, always quick with a charming moniker, are calling these agreements "competitive liberalization," and the EU considers them essential to negotiating future multilateral agreements. But critics see them as fast tracks to increased foreign control of local resources in poor communities.
Sources: "Free Trade Enslaving Poor Countries," Sanjay Suri, Inter Press Service, psnews.org/news.asp?idnews=37008, March 20, 2007; "Signing Away the Future," Emily Jones, Oxfam Web site, oxfam.org, March 2007
5: SHANGHAIED WORKERS CONSTRUCT U.S. EMBASSY IN IRAQ
Part of the permanent infrastructure the United States is erecting in Iraq includes the world's largest embassy, built on Green Zone acreage equal to that of Vatican City. The $592-million job was awarded in 2005 to First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting. Though much of the project's management is American, most of the workers are from small or developing countries, such as the Philippines, India and Pakistan. According to David Phinney of CorpWatch a California-based organization that investigates and exposes corporate environmental crimes, fraud, corruption and violations of human rights these workers are recruited under false pretenses. At the airport, their boarding passes read Dubai. Their passports are stamped Dubai. But when they get off the plane, they're in Baghdad.
Once on site, they're often beaten and paid as little as $10 to $30 a day, CorpWatch concludes. Injured workers are dosed with heavy-duty painkillers and sent back on the job. Lodging is crowded and food is substandard. Kuwaiti managers take their passports, which is a violation of U.S. labor laws.
The Pentagon has investigated and confirmed a number of abuses, but has not released the names of any violating contractors or announced penalties. In the meantime, billions of dollars in contracts continue to be awarded to First Kuwaiti and other companies at which little accountability exists.
Source: "A U.S. Fortress Rises in Baghdad: Asian Workers Trafficked to Build World's Largest Embassy," David Phinney, corpwatch.org, Oct. 17, 2006
6: FALCON'S TALONS
Operation FALCON, or Federal And Local Cops Organized Nationally, is, in many ways, the manifestation of martial law forewarned by Frank Morales (see Story 2). In an unprecedented partnership, more than 960 federal, state and local police agencies teamed up in 2005 and 2006 to conduct the largest dragnet raids in U.S. history. Armed with fistfuls of arrest warrants, they ran three separate raids around the country that netted 30,150 criminal arrests. According to the Detroit Free Press, in Michigan the multi-agency sweeps netted 480 arrests.
The Justice Department claimed the agents were targeting the "worst of the worst" criminals, and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, "Operation FALCON is an excellent example of President Bush's direction and the Justice Department's dedication to deal both with the terrorist threat and traditional violent crime."
However, as writer Mike Whitney points out on Uruknet.info, none of the suspects has been charged with anything related to terrorism. Additionally, though more than 30,000 individuals were arrested, only 586 firearms were found.
Though the U.S. Marshals Service has been quick to tally the offenses, Whitney says the numbers just don't add up. For example, Falcon II(the second set of raids) in 2006 captured 462 violent sex-crime suspects and 1,094 registered sex offenders among a total of 9,037 fugitives.
What about the other 7,481 people? "Who are they, and have they been charged with a crime?" Whitney asked. The Marshals Service remains silent about these arrests.
The war outsourcing has served two purposes for the Bush administration:Giving powerful corporations and private companies lucrative contracts supplying goods and services to American military operations overseas while quietly achieving an escalation of troops beyond what the public has been told or understands. Without actually deploying more military forces, the federal government instead contracts with private security firms like Blackwater to provide heavily armed details for U.S. diplomats in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.
Blackwater is one of the more successful and well connected of the private companies profiting from the business of war. Started in 1996 by an ex-Navy Seal named Erik Prince, the North Carolina company employs 20,000 hired guns, training them on the world's largest private military base. The firm is the subject of Blackwater, an eye-opening book by Jeremy Scahill, who recently testified before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. The company founded by Michigan-born Prince, who has ties to the DeVos family in Holland was also the subject of a recent Metro Times cover story ("Soldiers of fortune," May 9). Blackwater finally made front pages nationwide last week in the controversy following a shooting incident that left at least eight Iraqis dead.
Source: "Our Mercenaries in Iraq," Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, Jan. 26, 2007
8: KIA: THE NEOLIBERAL INVASION OF INDIA
A March 2006 pact under which the United States agreed to supply nuclear fuel to India for the production of electric power also included a less-publicized corollary the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture. While it's purportedly a deal to assist Indian farmers and liberalize trade (see No. 4), critics say the initiative is destroying India's local agrarian economy by encouraging the use of genetically modified seeds, which in turn is creating a new market for pesticides and driving up the overall cost of producing crops.
The deal provides a captive customer base for genetically modified seed maker Monsanto and a market for cheap goods to supply Wal-Mart, whose plans for 500 stores in the country could wipe out the livelihoods of 14 million small vendors.
Monsanto's hybrid Bt cotton has already edged out local strains, and India is currently suffering an infestation of mealy bugs, which have proven immune to the pesticides the chemical companies have made available. Additionally, the sowing of crops has shifted from the traditional to the trade-friendly. Farmers accustomed to cultivating mustard, a sacred local crop, are now producing soy, a plant foreign to India.
Though many farmers see the folly of these deals, it's often too late, and suicide has become a popular final act of opposition. Hope comes in the form of a growing cadre of farmers hip to the flawed agreements. They've organized into local sanghams, 72 of which now exist as small community networks that save and share seeds, skills and assistance during the good times of harvest and the hard times of crop failure.
Sources: "Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India," Democracy Now! democracynow.org, Dec. 13, 2006; "Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India take on Monsanto," Arun Shrivastava, globalresearch.ca, Oct. 9, 2006
9: THE PRIVATIZATION OF AMERICA'S INFRASTRUCTURE
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation for the greatest public-works project in human history: the interstate highway system, 41,000 miles of roads funded almost entirely by the federal government.
Today, many of those roads are in need of repair or replacement, but the federal government has not exactly risen to the challenge. Instead, more than 20 states have set up financial deals leasing the roads to private companies in exchange for repairs. These public-private partnerships are being lauded by politicians as the only credible financial solution. But opponents of all political stripes point out that most of the benefits are actually going to the private side of the equation these companies are entering into long-term leases of infrastructure like roads and bridges for a low amount. They work out tax breaks to finance the repairs, raise tolls to cover the costs, and start realizing profits for their shareholders in as little as 10 years.
Cheerleaders for privatization are deeply embedded in the Bush administration (see No. 7), where they've been secretly fostering plans for a North American Free Trade Agreement superhighway, a 10-lane route set to run through the heart of the country and connect the Mexican and Canadian borders. It's specifically designed to plug into the Mexican port of Lázaro Cárdenas, taking advantage of cheap labor by avoiding the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose members are traditionally tasked with unloading cargo, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, whose members transport that cargo that around the country.
Sources: "The Highwaymen," Daniel Schulman with James Ridgeway, Mother Jones, motherjones.com, Feb. 2007; "Bush Administration Quietly Plans NAFTA Super Highway," Jerome R. Corsi, Human Events, humanevents.com, June 12, 2006
10: VULTURE FUNDS: DEVOURING THE DESPARATE
Named for a bird that picks meat from a carcass, this financial scheme couldn't be more aptly described. Well-endowed companies swoop in and purchase the debt owed by a third-world country, then turn around and sue the country for the full amount plus interest. In most courts, they win. Recently, Donegal International spent $3 million for $40 million worth of debt Zambia owed Romania, then sued for $55 million. In February an English court ruled that Zambia had to pay $15 million.
Often these countries are on the brink of having their debt relieved by the lenders in exchange for putting the money owed toward necessary goods and services for their citizens. But the vultures effectively initiate another round of deprivation for the impoverished countries by demanding full payment, and a loophole makes it legal.
U.S. Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Donald Payne (D-N.J.) have lobbied Bush to take action, but political will may be elsewhere. Debt Advisory International, an investment consulting firm that's been involved in several vulture funds that have generated millions in profits, is run by Paul Singer the largest fundraiser for the Republican Party in the state of New York. He's donated $1.7 million to Bush's campaigns.
Source: "Vulture Fund Threat to Third World," Newsnight, gregpalast.com, Feb. 14, 2007
15 MORE STORIES THE MAINSTREAM NEGLECTED
12: Another UN Massacre in Haiti (Source: haitiaction.net)
14: Impunity for U.S. War Criminals (Source: public.cq.com)
15: Chemicals Damaging DNA (Source: precaution.org)
16: No Hard Evidence Connecting Osama Bin Laden to Sept. 11 (Source: "FBI Says, 'No Hard Evidence Connecting Bin Laden to 9/11," Paul V. Sheridan and Ed Haas, Ithaca Journal, June 29, 2006)
17: Factories Exceed Water Pollution Limit (Source: corpwatch.org)
19: Bolivia Rejects IMF and FTA (Source: afsc.org)
20: Animal Rights Activists are now Terrorists (Source: vjel.org)
21: U.S. Seeks WTO Impunity for Illegal Agribusiness Subsidies (Source: oxfam.org)
22: North Invades Mexico (Source: tomdispatch.com)
23: Dianne Feinstein's Conflict of Interest in Iraq (Source: bohemian.com)
24: Media Exaggerates Threat From Iran's President (Source: globalresearch.ca)
25: Native Energy Futures (Source: lipmagazine.org)
Amanda Witherell writes for the San Francisco Bay Gaurdian, where a version of this story originally appeared. Send comments to [email protected]
Note: To read more about these stories go to projectcensored.org.