Editor's Note: Each year the Journalism Department at Sonoma State University in California combs the media in search of stories that were either under-reported or neglected altogether by the Major Media and publishes their findings in a report called 'Project Censored'. This issue we conclude the second part of a two part series on The Top 10 Censored Stories of 2007.
#6 Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy
Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website Titles: "Whistleblowers Get Help from Bush Administration," "Long-Delayed Investigation of Special Counsel Finally Begins," "Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections. Author: Jeff Ruch
Special Counsel Scott Bloch, appointed by President Bush in 2004, is overseeing the virtual elimination of federal whistleblower rights in the U.S. government.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency that is supposed to protect federal employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse is dismissing hundreds of cases while advancing almost none.
According to the Annual Report for 2004 (which was not released until the end of first quarter fiscal year 2006) less than 1.5 percent of whistleblower claims were referred for investigation while more than 1000 reports were closed before they were even opened.
Only eight claims were found to be substantiated, and one of those included the theft of a desk, while another included attendance violations. Favorable outcomes have declined 24 percent overall, and this is all in the first year that the new special counsel, Scott Bloch, was in office.
Bloch, who has received numerous complaints since he took office, defends his first thirteen months in office by pointing to a decline in backlogged cases.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch says, "Backlogs and delays are bad, but they are not as bad as simply dumping the cases altogether." According to figures released by Bloch in February of 2005 more than 470 claims of retaliation were dismissed, and not once had he affirmatively represented a whistleblower.
In fact, in order to speed dismissals, Bloch instituted a rule forbidding his staff from contacting a whistleblower if their disclosure was deemed incomplete or ambiguous. Instead, the OSC would dismiss the matter. As a result, hundreds of whistleblowers never had a chance to justify their cases.
The Department of Labor has also gotten on board in a behind-the-scenes maneuver to cancel whistleblower protections. If it succeeds, the Labor Department will dismiss claims by federal workers who report violations under the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
General Counsel for PEER, Richard Condit says, "Federal workers in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency function as the public's eyes and ears . . . the Labor Department is moving to shut down one of the few legal avenues left to whistleblowers."
# 7 US Operatives Torture Detainees to Death in Iraq & Afghanistan
Sources: American Civil Liberties Website, Title: "US Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq"
Title: "Tracing the Trail of Torture: Embedding Torture as Policy from Guantanamo to Iraq"
Author: Dahr Jamail
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released documents of forty-four autopsies held in Afghanistan and Iraq in October. Twenty-one of those deaths were listed as homicides. The documents show that detainees died during and after interrogations by Navy SEALs, Military Intelligence, and Other Government Agency (OGA).
"These documents present irrefutable evidence that U.S. operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogation," said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU. "The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up."
The Department of Defense released the autopsy reports in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace.
One of forty-four U.S. military autopsy reports reads as follows: "Final Autopsy Report: DOD 003164, (Detainee) Died as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation as evidenced by the recently fractured hyoid bone in the neck and soft tissue hemorrhage extending downward to the level of the right thyroid cartilage. Autopsy revealed bone fracture, rib fractures, contusions in mid abdomen, back and buttocks extending to the left flank, abrasions, lateral buttocks. Contusions, back of legs and knees; abrasions on knees, left fingers and encircling to left wrist. Lacerations and superficial cuts.
An overwhelming majority of the so-called "natural deaths" covered in the autopsies were attributed to "arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease" (heart attack). Persons under extreme stress and pain may have heart attacks as a result of the circumstances of their detainments.
The Associated Press carried the story of the ACLU charges on their wire service. However, a thorough check of LexisNexis and ProQuest electronic databases, using the keywords ACLU and autopsy showed that at least 95 percent of the daily papers in the U.S. did not bother to pick up the story.
#8 Pentagon Exempt from Freedom of Information Act
Sources: New Standard, Title: "Pentagon Seeks Greater Immunity from Freedom of Information"
Author: Michelle Chen
The Department of Defense has been granted exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In December 2005, Congress passed the 2006 Defense Authorization Act which renders Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) "operational files" fully immune to FOIA requests, the main mechanism by which watchdog groups, journalists and individuals can access federal documents. Of particular concern to critics of the Defense Authorization Act is the DIA's new right to thwart access to files that may reveal human rights violations tied to ongoing "counterterrorism" efforts.
According to amended language in the Defense Authorization Act, an operational file can be any information related to "the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence operations or intelligence or security liaison arrangements or information exchanges with foreign governments or their intelligence or security services."
Critics warn that such vague bureaucratic language is a green light for the DIA to thwart a wide array of legitimate information requests without proper justification. Steven Aftergood, director of the research organization Project on Government Secrecy, warns, "If it falls in the category of 'operational files,' it's over before it begins."
Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, adds, "These exemptions create a black hole into which the bureaucracy can drive just about any kind of information it wants to. And you can bet that Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib-style information is what DIA and others would want to hide."
The Newspaper Association of America reports that due to lobbying efforts of the Sunshine in Government Initiative and other open government advocates, congressional negotiators imposed an unprecedented two-year "sunset" date on the Pentagon's FOIA exemption, which ended in December 2007.
Another development in this issue area over the past year is that secrecy and intelligence gathering have become intense domestic political issues. As a result, heightened public attention to the gradual rollback on open-government laws is beginning to stir some congressional action in the form of hearings and investigative reports, not just related to classified information per se but also the new quasi-classified categories that have cropped up since 9/11.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon initiated a department-wide review of FOIA practices, though it is unclear whether this internal evaluation will lead to actual changes in how information is disclosed or withheld from public purview.
#9 The World Bank Funds Israel-Palestine Wall
Sources: Left Turn Issue #18
Title: "Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of World Bank" Author: Jamal Juma'
Community Evaluator: April Hurley, MD
Student Researchers: Bailey Malone and Lisa Dobias
Despite the 2004 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision that called for tearing down the Wall and compensating affected communities, construction of the Wall has accelerated. The route of the barrier runs deep into Palestinian territory, aiding the annexation of Israeli settlements and the breaking of Palestinian territorial continuity. The World Bank's vision of "economic development," however, evades any discussion of the Wall's illegality.
The World Bank has meanwhile outlined the framework for a Palestinian Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) policy in their most recent report on Palestine published in December of 2004,
Central to World Bank proposals are the construction of massive industrial zones to be financed by the World Bank and other donors and controlled by the Israeli Occupation. Built on Palestinian land around the Wall, these industrial zones are envisaged as forming the basis of export-orientated economic development. Palestinians imprisoned by the Wall and dispossessed of land can be put to work for low wages.
These industrial zones will clearly benefit Israel abroad where goods "Made in Palestine" have more favorable trade conditions in international markets. IPS reporter Emad Mekay, in February 2007, revealed the World Bank's plan to partially fund Palestinian MEFTA infrastructure with loans to Palestine.
#10 Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians
Sources: The New Yorker, Title: "Up in the Air"
Author: Seymour M. Hersh
A. A key element of the drawdown plans in Iraq not mentioned in President Bush's public statements, or in mainstream media for that matter, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower.
"We're not planning to diminish the war," Seymour Hersh quotes Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute, whose views often mirror those of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. "We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting-Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower."
While battle fatigue increases among U.S. troops, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease within the military. Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis will eventually be responsible for target selection.
Hersh quotes a senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon, "Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of their own sect and blame someone else? Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of al-Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?"
Visions of a frightful future in Iraq should not overshadow the devastation already caused by present levels of American air power loosed, in particular, on heavily populated urban areas of that country. The tactic of using massively powerful 500 and 1,000-pound bombs in urban areas to target small pockets of resistance fighters has, in fact, long been employed in Iraq. No intensification of the air war is necessary to make it commonplace.
A serious study of violence to civilians in Iraq by a British medical journal, The Lancet, released in October, estimated that 85 percent of all violent deaths in Iraq are generated by coalition forces. 95 percent of reported killings (all attributed to U.S. forces by interviewees) were caused by helicopter gunships, rockets, or other forms of aerial weaponry.
Shifting the mechanism of the destruction of Iraq from soldiers and Marines to distant and safer air power would be successful in several ways. It would reduce the negative publicity value of maimed American soldiers and Marines would bring a portion of our troops home and give the Army a necessary operational break. It would increase Air Force and Naval budgets, and line defense contractor pockets.
By the time we figure out that it isn't working to make oil more secure or to allow Iraqis to rebuild a stable country, the Army will have recovered and can be redeployed in force.