November 8-15, 2006

home | north bay bohemian index | news | north bay | news article

Project Censored

Fit to Print

The top censored news stories of 2005-2006

By Peter Phillips, Trish Boreta and Project Censored

For 30 years, Sonoma State University's Project Censored has released an annual list of the most important news stories not covered by the corporate media in the United States. Here again are the Top 10 news stories that didn't make much news.

1. Net Neutrality

Throughout 2005 and this year, a largely underground debate has raged regarding the future of the Internet. More recently referred to as net neutrality, the issue has become a tug of war with cable companies on the one hand and consumers and Internet service providers (ISPs) on the other. Yet despite important legislative proposals and Supreme Court decisions throughout 2005, the issue was almost completely ignored in the headlines until 2006. And except for occasional coverage on CNBC's Kudlow & Kramer, mainstream television remains hands-off to this day.

Most coverage of the issue framed it as an argument over regulation, but the term "regulation" in this case is somewhat misleading. Groups advocating for net neutrality are not promoting regulation of Internet content. What they want is a legal mandate forcing cable companies to allow ISPs free access to their cable lines (called a "common carriage" agreement). This was the model used for dial-up Internet, and it is the way content providers want to keep it. They also want to make sure that cable companies cannot screen or interrupt Internet content without a court order.

Those in favor of net neutrality say that lack of government regulation simply means that cable lines will be regulated by the cable companies themselves. Internet service providers will have to pay a hefty service fee for the right to use cable lines (making Internet services more expensive). Those who could pay more would get better access; those who could not pay would be left behind. Cable companies could also decide to filter Internet content at will.

Source: 'Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, And Why Corporate News Censored the Story,' by Elliot D. Cohen., July 18, 2005.

2. Halliburton and Iran

According to journalist Jason Leopold, sources at Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton, allege that as recently as January 2005, Halliburton sold key components for a nuclear reactor to an Iranian oil development company. Leopold says his Halliburton sources have intimate knowledge of the business dealings of both Halliburton and Oriental Oil Kish, one of Iran's largest private oil companies.

Halliburton has a long history of doing business in Iran, starting as early as 1995, when Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company. In an attempt to curtail Halliburton and other U.S. companies from engaging in business dealings with rogue nations such as Libya, Iran and Syria, an amendment was approved in the Senate on July 26, 2005. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would penalize companies that continue to skirt U.S. law by setting up offshore subsidiaries as a way to legally conduct business and avoid U.S. sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

A letter, drafted by trade groups representing corporate executives, vehemently objected to the amendment, saying it would lead to further hatred and perhaps incite terrorist attacks on the United States and "greatly strain relations with the United States' primary trading partners." The letter warned that "foreign governments view U.S. efforts to dictate their foreign and commercial policy as violations of sovereignty often leading them to adopt retaliatory measures more at odds with U.S goals."

According to Leopold, during a trip to the Middle East in March 1996, Dick Cheney told a group of mostly U.S. businessmen that Congress should ease sanctions in Iran and Libya to foster better relationships, a statement that, in hindsight, is completely hypocritical considering the Bush administration's foreign policy.

"Let me make a generalized statement about a trend I see in the U.S. Congress that I find disturbing, that applies not only with respect to the Iranian situation but a number of others as well," Cheney said. "I think we Americans sometimes make mistakes. ... There seems to be an assumption that somehow we know what's best for everybody else and that we are going to use our economic clout to get everybody else to live the way we would like."

Cheney was the chief executive of Halliburton Corporation at the time he uttered those words. It was Cheney who directed Halliburton toward aggressive business dealings with Iran--in violation of U.S. law--in the mid-1990s, which continued through 2005 and is the reason Iran has the capability to enrich weapons-grade uranium.

It was Halliburton's secret sale of centrifuges to Iran that helped get the uranium enrichment program off the ground, according to a three-year investigation that includes interviews conducted with more than a dozen current and former Halliburton employees.

If the United States ends up engaged in a war with Iran in the future, Cheney and Halliburton will bear the brunt of the blame.

Source: 'Halliburton Secretly Doing Business With Key Member of Iran's Nuclear Team,' by Jason Leopold., Aug. 5, 2005.

3. World Oceans in Extreme Danger

Oceanic problems once found on a local scale are now pandemic. Data from oceanography, marine biology, meteorology, fishery science and glaciology reveal that the seas are changing in ominous ways. A vortex of cause and effect wrought by global environmental dilemmas is changing the ocean from a watery horizon with assorted regional troubles to a global system in alarming distress.

The oceans are one, say oceanographers, with currents linking the seas and regulating climate. Sea temperature and chemistry changes, along with contamination and reckless fishing practices, intertwine to imperil the world's largest communal life source.

In 2005, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found clear evidence that the ocean is quickly warming. They discovered that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past 40 years as a result of human-induced greenhouse gases.

One manifestation of this warming is the melting of the Arctic. A shrinking ratio of ice to water has set off a feedback loop, accelerating the increase in water surfaces that promote further warming and melting. With polar waters growing fresher and tropical seas saltier, the cycle of evaporation and precipitation has quickened, further invigorating the greenhouse effect. The ocean's currents are reacting to this freshening, causing a critical conveyor that carries warm upper waters into Europe's northern latitudes to slow by one-third since 1957, bolstering fears of a shut down and cataclysmic climate change. This accelerating cycle of cause and effect will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

Atmospheric litter is also altering sea chemistry, as thousands of toxic compounds poison marine creatures and devastate propagation. The ocean has absorbed 118 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, with 20 to 25 tons being added to the atmosphere daily. Increasing acidity from rising levels of CO2 is changing the ocean's pH balance. Studies indicate that the shells and skeletons possessed by everything from reef-building corals to mollusks and plankton begin to dissolve within 48 hours of exposure to the acidity expected in the ocean by 2050. Coral reefs will almost certainly disappear and, even more worrisome, so will plankton. Phytoplankton absorb greenhouse gases, manufacture oxygen and are the primary producers of the marine food web.

Mercury pollution enters the food web via coal and chemical industry waste, oxidizes in the atmosphere and settles to the sea bottom. There it is consumed, delivering mercury to each subsequent link in the food chain, until predators such as tuna or whales carry levels of mercury as much as 1 million times that of the waters around them. The Gulf of Mexico has the highest mercury levels ever recorded, with an average of 10 tons of mercury coming down the Mississippi River every year, and another ton added by offshore drilling.

Along with mercury, the Mississippi delivers nitrogen, often from fertilizers. Nitrogen stimulates plant and bacterial growth in the water that consumes oxygen, creating a condition known as hypoxia, or dead zones. Dead zones occur wherever oceanic oxygen is depleted below the level necessary to sustain marine life. A sizable portion of the Gulf of Mexico has become a dead zone--the largest such area in the United States and the second largest on the planet, measuring nearly 8,000 square miles in 2001.

It is no coincidence that almost all of the nearly 150 (and counting) dead zones on earth lie at the mouths of rivers. Nearly 50 fester off U.S. coasts. While most are caused by river-borne nitrogen, fossil-fuel-burning plants help create this condition, as does phosphorous from human sewage and nitrogen emissions from auto exhaust.

Meanwhile, since its peak in 2000, the global wild fish harvest has begun a sharp decline. Progress in seagoing technologies and intensified fishing have stimulated unprecedented decimation of sea life. Long-lining, in which a single boat sets line across 60 or more miles of ocean, each baited with up to 10,000 hooks, captures at least 25 percent unwanted catch. With an estimated 2 billion hooks set each year, as much as 88 billion pounds of life a year is thrown back to the ocean either dead or dying.

Additionally, trawlers drag nets across every square inch of the continental shelves every two years. Fishing the sea floor like a bulldozer, they level an area 150 times larger than all forest clear-cuts each year and destroy seafloor ecosystems.

Aquaculture is no better, since 3 pounds of wild fish are caught to feed every pound of farmed salmon. A 2003 study out of the University of Nova Scotia concluded, based on data dating from the 1950s, that in the wake of decades of such onslaught, only 10 percent of all large fish (tuna, swordfish) and ground fish (cod, hake, flounder) are left anywhere in the ocean.

Other sea nurseries are also threatened. Fifteen percent of sea grass beds have disappeared in the last 10 years, depriving juvenile fish, manatees and sea turtles of critical habitats. Kelp beds are also dying at alarming rates. While at no other time in history has science taught more about how the earth's life-support systems work, the maelstrom of human assault on the seas still continues. If human failure in governance of the world's largest public domain is not reversed quickly, the ocean will soon and surely reach a point of no return.

Source: 'The Fate of the Ocean,' by Julia Whitty. Mother Jones magazine, March/April 2006.

4. Poverty Increasing in the United States

The number of hungry and homeless people in U.S. cities continued to grow in 2005 despite claims of an improved economy. Increased demand for vital services rose as needs of the most destitute went unmet, according to the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors Report, which has documented increasing need since its 1982 inception.

The study measures instances of emergency food and housing assistance in 24 U.S. cities and utilizes supplemental information from the U.S. Census and Department of Labor. More than three-quarters of cities surveyed reported increases in demand for food and housing, especially among families. Food-aid requests expanded by 12 percent in 2005, while aid center and food bank resources grew by only 7 percent. Service providers estimated 18 percent of requests went untended. Housing followed a similar trend, as a majority of cities reported an increase in demand for emergency shelter, often going unmet due to lack of resources.

President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal 2007, which begins October 2006, includes a Commerce Department plan to eliminate the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation. The proposal marks at least the third White House attempt in as many years to do away with federal data collection on politically prickly economic issues.

Founded in 1984, the Census Bureau survey follows American families for a number of years and monitors their use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care and other health, social-service and education programs.

Some 415 economists and social scientists signed a letter and sent it to Congress shortly after the February release of Bush's federal budget proposal, urging that the survey be fully funded as it ''is the only large-scale survey explicitly designed to analyze the impact of a wide variety of government programs on the well-being of American families.''

Supporters of the survey elimination say the program costs too much at $40 million per year. They would kill it in September and eventually replace it with a scaled-down version that would run to $9.2 million in development costs during the coming fiscal year. Actual data collection would begin in 2009.

Sources: 'New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness,' by Brendan Coyne., December 2005. 'U.S. Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire,' by Abid Aslam., March 2006.

5. High-Tech Genocide in Congo

The world's most neglected emergency, according to Jan Egeland, the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, is the ongoing tragedy in the Congo, where 6 million to 7 million have died since 1996 as a consequence of invasions and wars sponsored by Western powers trying to gain control of the region's mineral wealth. At stake is control of natural resources that are sought by U.S. corporations: diamonds; tin; copper; gold; cobalt, an element essential to nuclear, chemical, aerospace and defense industries; and, more significantly, coltan and niobum, two minerals necessary for production of cell phones and other high-tech electronics. Eighty percent of the world's coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Niobium is another high-tech mineral with a similar story.

The high-tech boom of the 1990s caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to nearly $300 per pound. In 1996, U.S.-sponsored Rwandan and Ugandan forces entered eastern DRC. By 1998, they had seized control and moved into strategic mining areas. The Rwandan army was soon making $20 million or more a month from coltan mining. Though the price of coltan has since fallen, Rwanda maintains its monopoly on coltan and the coltan trade in DRC. Reports of rampant human-rights abuses pour out of this mining region.

Coltan makes its way out of the mines to trading posts where foreign traders buy the mineral and ship it abroad, mostly through Rwanda. Firms with the capability turn coltan into the coveted tantalum powder, and then sell the magic powder to Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony and other manufacturers for use in cell phones and other products.

Yet as mining in the Congo by Western companies proceeds at an unprecedented rate--some $6 million in raw cobalt alone exiting DRC daily--multinational mining companies rarely get mentioned in human-rights reports.

Sources: 'The World's Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor Talks to Keith Harmon Snow,' The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005. 'High-Tech Genocide,' by Sprocket. Earth First! Journal, August 2005. 'Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo,' by Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski. Z Magazine, March 1, 2006.

6. Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy

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 of the 2006 fiscal year), less than 1.5 percent of whistleblower claims were referred for investigation while more than 1,000 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 Bloch has been in office.

Bloch, who has received numerous complaints since he took office, defends his first 13 months in office by pointing to a decline in backlogged cases. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility 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 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 to contact whistleblowers 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. Ruch notes that these numbers are limited to only the backlogged cases and do not include new ones.

On March 3, 2005, OSC staff members, joined by a coalition of whistleblower protection and civil rights organizations, filed a complaint against Bloch. The complaint specifies instances of illegal gag orders, cronyism, invidious discrimination and retaliation by forcing the resignation of one-fifth of the OSC headquarters legal and investigative staff. The complaint was filed with the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which took no action on the case for seven months.

This is the third probe into Bloch's operation in less than two years in office. The Government Accountability Office and a U.S. Senate subcommittee both have ongoing investigations into mass dismissals of whistleblower cases, crony hires and Bloch's targeting of gay employees for removal while refusing to investigate cases involving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The case has since been supplemented with allegations of Bloch supplying Congress with misleading information and misusing his office to support a person espousing creationist views even though his office had no jurisdiction to do so.

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. Government Accountability Project general counsel Joanne Royce sums up major concerns: "We do not want public servants wondering whether they will lose their jobs for acting against pollution violations of politically well-connected interests."

Source: All stories by Jeff Ruch, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website. 'Whistleblowers Get Help from Bush Administration,' Dec. 5, 2005; 'Long-Delayed Investigation of Special Counsel Finally Begins,' Oct. 18, 2005; 'Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections,' Sept. 22, 2005.

7. U.S. Operatives Do Torture

The American Civil Liberties Union released documents of 44 autopsies held in Afghanistan and Iraq on Oct. 25, 2005. Twenty-one of those deaths were listed as homicides. The documents show that detainees died during and after interrogations by the Navy Seals, military intelligence and other government agencies.

"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 44 U.S. military autopsy reports reads as follows: "[A] 27-year-old Iraqi male died while being interrogated by Navy Seals on April 5, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. During his confinement, he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep-deprived and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood. The exact cause of death was 'undetermined,' although the autopsy stated that hypothermia may have contributed to his death."

An overwhelming majority of the so-called natural deaths covered in the autopsies were attributed to "arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease" (heart attack).

The Associated Press carried the story of the ACLU charges on their wire service. However, a thorough check of Nexus-Lexus and Proquest electronic data bases, using the keywords ACLU and autopsy, showed that at least 95 percent of the daily papers in the United States didn't pick up the story.

Sources: 'U.S. Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq,' American Civil Liberties website, Oct. 24, 2005. 'Tracing the Trail of Torture: Embedding Torture as Policy from Guant·namo to Iraq,' by Dahr Jamail., March 5, 2006.

8. Pentagon Exempt From FOIA

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.

The rule could, for instance, frustrate the work of the ACLU and other organizations that have relied on FOIA to uncover more than 30,000 documents on the U.S. military's involvement in the torture and mistreatment of foreign detainees in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and Iraq--including the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Several key documents that have surfaced in the advocacy organization's expansive research originate from DIA files, including a 2004 memorandum containing evidence that U.S. military interrogators brutalized detainees in Baghdad, as well as a report describing the abuse of Iraqi detainees as violations of international human rights law.

According to Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney involved in the ongoing torture investigations, "If the Defense Intelligence Agency can rely on exception or exemption from the FOIA, then documents such as those that we obtained this last time around will not become public at all." The end result of such an exemption, he told, is that "abuse is much more likely to take place, because there's not public oversight of Defense Intelligence Agency activity."

Jaffer added that because the DIA conducts investigations relating to other national-security-related agencies, documents covered by the exemption could contain critical evidence of how other parts of the military operate as well.

The Newspaper Association of America informs 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, ending December 2007.

Source: 'Pentagon Seeks Greater Immunity from Freedom of Information,' by Michelle Chen., May 6, 2005.

9. World Bank Funds Israel-Palestine Wall

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 its most recent report on Palestine published in December 2004: "Stagnation or Revival: Israeli Disengagement and Palestinian Economic Prospects."

Central to World Bank proposals is 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.

The post-Wall MEFTA vision includes complete control over Palestinian movement. The report proposes high-tech military gates and checkpoints along the Wall, through which Palestinians and exports can be conveniently transported and controlled. A supplemental "transfer system" of walled roads and tunnels will allow Palestinian workers to be funneled to their jobs, while being simultaneously denied access to their land. Sweatshops will be one of very few possibilities of earning a living for Palestinians confined to disparate ghettos throughout the West Bank.

In breach of the ICJ ruling, the United States has already contributed $50 million to construct gates along the Wall to "help serve the needs of Palestinians."

Sources: 'Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of World Bank,' by Jamal Juma. Left Turn issue No. 18. 'U.S. Free Trade Agreements Split Arab Opinion,' by Linda Heard. Al-Jazeera, March 9, 2005.

10. Expanded Air War in Iraq

There is widespread speculation that President Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, as well as within the military itself, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq this year. A key element of the drawdown plans not mentioned in the president's public statements, or in mainstream media for that matter, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American air power.

Writing in The New Yorker magazine, Seymour Hersh quotes Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute, whose views often mirror those of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, as saying, "We're not planning to diminish the war. We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting--Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of air power."

While battle fatigue increases among U.S. troops, the prospect of using air power 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 as saying, "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 Qaida 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 a commonplace.

Sources: 'Up in the Air,' by Seymour M. Hersh. The New Yorker, Dec. 5, 2005. 'An Increasingly Aerial Occupation,' by Dahr Jamail., December 2005.

Send a letter to the editor about this story.