Project Censored

The top 25 underreported stories of 2006–2007

Photograph by Edward Troxell

Axis of Evil ‘R’ Us : Oppression of the weak, from women to children to religious separatists, is a hallmark of this year’s crop of unerreported stories. Wherever there’s evil, seemingly there’s G.W. Bush.

By Tricia Boreta, Peter Phillips, Kate Sims, Andrew Roth and Project Censored

The systemic erosion of human rights and civil liberties, in both the United States and the world, is the common theme of the most censored stories for the 2008 volume. The continuing consolidation of private for-profit bureaucracies with public governmental entities is nothing less than the diminishment of personal freedoms for all persons. By supporting independent media, a free Internet, transparent government, participatory decision making, and by upholding our core values of due process and human rights, we can stand with our neighbors, friends and communities to build a better tomorrow. Please share these stories with others, and keep yourselves informed and active.–Peter Phillips, Project Censored

The oldest human right defined in the history of English-speaking civilization is the right to challenge governmental power of arrest and detention through the use of habeas corpus laws, considered to be the most critical parts of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215.

With the approval of Congress and no outcry from corporate media, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) signed by President Bush on Oct. 17, 2006, ushered in military commission law for U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike. The MCA effectively does away with habeas corpus rights for “any person” arbitrarily deemed to be an “enemy of the state.” The judgment on who is deemed an “enemy combatant” is solely at the discretion of President Bush.

Besides allowing “any person” to be swallowed up by the prison system, the law prohibits detainees once inside from appealing to the traditional American courts until after prosecution and sentencing, which could translate into an indefinite imprisonment since there are no timetables for the current tribunal process to play out.

On June 8, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act on an 11 to 8 vote. The bipartisan bill, authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, will restore habeas rights that were taken away last year by the Military Commissions Act. The bill moved to the full Senate June 26, and its vote is still pending.

Sources: Robert Parry: “Who Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law?” Consortium, Oct. 19, 2006; “Still No Habeas Rights for You,” Consortium, Feb. 3, 2007. Also, “Repeal the Military Commissions Act and Restore the Most American Human Right,” by Thom Hartmann, Common Dreams, Feb. 2, 2007.

2. Bush Moves Toward Martial Law

The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2007, which was quietly signed by Bush on Oct. 17, 2006—the very same day that he signed the Military Commissions Act, above—allows the president to station military troops anywhere in the United States and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to “suppress public disorder.”

By revising the two-centuries-old Insurrection Act, the law in effect repeals the Posse Comitatus Act, which placed strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. As the only U.S. criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people, it has been our best protection against tyranny enforced by martial law, the harsh system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice.

The massive NDAA grants the Pentagon $532.8 billion to include implementation of the new law, which furthermore facilitates militarized police roundups of protesters, so called illegal aliens, potential terrorists and other “undesirables” for detention in facilities already contracted and under construction, and the transferring from the Pentagon to local police units the latest technology and weaponry designed to suppress dissent.

Source: “Bush Moves Toward Martial Law” by Frank Morales., Oct. 26, 2006.

3. U.S. Control of Africa’s Resources

U.S. Department of Energy data shows that the United States now imports more oil from the continent of Africa than from the country of Saudi Arabia. In February 2007, the White House announced the formation of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), a new unified Pentagon command center in Africa to be established by September 2008. This military penetration of Africa is being presented as a humanitarian guard in the global war on terror. The real objective, however, is the procurement and control of Africa’s oil and its global delivery systems.

People native to the Niger Delta region have not benefited, but rather suffered, as a result of sitting on top of vast natural oil and gas deposits. Environmental and human rights activists have, for years, documented atrocities on the part of oil companies and the military in this region. As the tactics of resistance groups have shifted from petition and protest to more proactive measures, attacks on pipelines and oil facilities have curtailed the flow of oil leaving the region. As a Center for International Policy report puts it, “Within the first six months of 2006, there were 19 attacks on foreign oil operations and over $2.187 billion lost in oil revenues; the Department of Petroleum Resources claims this figure represents 32 percent of ‘the revenue the country [Nigeria] generated this year.'”

Oil companies and the Pentagon are attempting to link these resistance groups to international terror networks in order to legitimize the use of the U.S. military to “stabilize” these areas and secure the energy flow. No evidence has been found to link the Niger Delta resistance groups to international terror networks or jihadists.

Source: “Understanding AFRICOM” by Bryan Hunt., Feb. 21, 2007.

4. Destructive Free Trade Agreements

The March 2007 Oxfam report, “Signing Away the Future,” reveals that the United States and the European Union are vigorously pursuing increasingly destructive regional and bilateral agreements outside the auspices of the World Trade Organization. These agreements require enormous irreversible concessions from developing countries, while offering almost nothing in return.

The U.S. and E.U. are demanding unprecedented tariff reductions, sometimes to nothing, as the two superpowers dump subsidized agricultural goods on undeveloped countries, plunging local farmers into desperate poverty. Meanwhile, the U.S. and E.U. provide themselves with high tariffs and stringent import quotas to protect their own producers. Unprecedented loss of livelihood, displacement, slave labor, along with spiraling degradation of human rights and environment are resulting as economic governance is forced from governments of developing countries and taken over by unaccountable multinational firms.

The U.S. and E.U. fair trade agreements (FTAs) also require the adoption of plant-breeder rights that remove the right to share seeds among indigenous farmers. The livelihood of the world’s poorest farmers is thus made even more vulnerable, while profit margins of the world’s largest agribusinesses continue to climb. FTAs from the U.S. are now pushing for patents on plants, which will not only limit the rights of farmers to exchange or sell seeds, but also forbid them to save and reuse seed they have grown themselves for generations.

Under other U.S. FTAs, developing-country governments will no longer be able to reject a patent application because a firm fails to indicate the origin of a plant or show proof of consent for its use from a local community. As a result, communities could find themselves forced to pay for patented plant varieties based on genetic resources from their own soil.

Sources: “Signing Away The Future,” Oxfam International, March 2007. “Free Trade Enslaving Poor Countries,” by Sanjay Suri. Inter Press Service, March 20, 2007.

5. Forced Labor Builds U.S. Embassy in Iraq

The enduring monument to U.S. liberation and democracy in Iraq will be the most expensive and heavily fortified embassy in the world. It is being built by a Kuwaiti contractor repeatedly accused of using forced labor trafficked from South Asia under U.S. contracts. The estimated $592 million, 104-acre fortress equal in size to the Vatican City is scheduled to open this month.

With a highly secretive contract awarded by the U.S. State Department, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting has joined the ranks of Halliburton/KBR in Iraq by using bait-and-switch recruiting practices. Thousands of citizens from countries that have banned travel or work in Iraq are being smuggled into brutal and inhumane labor camps, and subjected to months of forced servitude—all in the middle of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, right under the nose of the U.S. State Department.

Though the Associated Press reports that “the 5,500 Americans and Iraqis working at the embassy are far more numerous than at any other U.S. mission worldwide,” there is no mention in corporate media of the 3,000 South Asian laborers working in dangerous and abysmal living and working conditions—sometimes after being tricked into working in Iraq—that no American worker would tolerate.

On April 4, 2006, the Pentagon issued a contracting directive following an investigation that officially confirmed that contractors in Iraq, many working as subcontractors to Halliburton/KBR, were illegally confiscating worker passports, using deceptive, bait-and-switch hiring practices and charging recruiting fees that indebted low-paid migrant workers for many months or even years to their employers.

The Pentagon has yet to announce, however, any penalty for those found to be in violation of U.S. labor trafficking laws or contract requirements.

Source: “A U.S. Fortress Rises in Baghdad: Asian Workers Trafficked to Build World’s Largest Embassy,” by David Phinney., Oct. 17, 2006.

6. Operation FALCON Raids

Under the code name Operation FALCON (Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally), three national mass arrests occurred between April 2005 and October 2006. In an unprecedented move, more than 30,000 “fugitives” were arrested in the largest dragnets in the nation’s history. The operations directly involved over 960 state, local and federal agencies and were the brainchild of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and U.S. Marshals director Ben Reyna.

The Department of Justice supplied television networks with government-shot action videotape of marshals and local cops raiding homes and breaking down doors, “targeting the worst of the worst criminals on the run,” with an emphasis on suspected sex offenders. Yet less than 10 percent of the total 30,150 were suspected sex offenders; less than 2 percent owned firearms. To date, the U.S. Marshals office has issued no public statement as to whether the people arrested in Operation FALCON have been processed or released. Is this action a practice roundup in the move toward martial law?

Between April 4 and April 10, 2005, FALCON I swept up 10,340 fugitives in the largest nation-wide mass arrest (to that date) in American history. Operation FALCON II, April 17–23, 2006, arrested another 9,037 individuals from 27 states mostly west of the Mississippi River. Operation FALCON III, Oct. 22–28, 2006, netted another 10,733 fugitives in 24 states east of the Mississippi River.

The U.S. Marshals Service has not yet disclosed the names of the people arrested in these massive sweeps nor what crimes they were accused of. The media appear to have played an essential role in concealing the important details of the operation. Noncritical cookie-cutter articles that appeared in newspapers across the country suggest that the media may have collaborated directly with the Justice Department.

Sources: “Operation Falcon and the Looming Police State” by Mike Whitney., Feb. 26, 2007.

7. Behind Blackwater Inc.

The company that most embodies the privatization of the military industrial complex—a primary part of the Project for a New American Century and the neoconservative revolution—is the private security firm Blackwater. Blackwater is the most powerful mercenary firm in the world, with 20,000 soldiers, the world’s largest private military base, a fleet of 20 aircraft, including helicopter gunships, and a private intelligence division. The firm is also manufacturing its own surveillance blimps and target systems. Blackwater is headed by right-wing Christian and ex–Navy Seal Erik Prince, whose family has had deep neoconservative connections.

One of the last things Dick Cheney did before leaving office as Defense Secretary under George H. W. Bush was to commission a Halliburton study on how to privatize the military bureaucracy. That study effectively created the groundwork for a continuing war profiteer bonanza.

Private contractors currently constitute the second-largest force in Iraq. At last count, there were about 100,000 contractors in Iraq, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report. These soldiers operate with almost no oversight or effective legal constraints and are politically expedient, as contractor deaths go uncounted in the official toll. With Prince calling for the creation of a “contractor brigade” before military audiences, the Bush administration has found a backdoor for engaging in an undeclared expansion of occupation.

Blackwater currently has about 2,300 personnel actively deployed in nine countries and is aggressively expanding its presence inside U.S. borders. They provide the security for U.S. diplomats in Iraq, guarding everyone from Paul Bremer and John Negroponte to the current U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. They’re training troops in Afghanistan and have been active in the Caspian Sea, where they set up a Special Forces base miles from the Iranian border. According to reports, they are currently negotiating directly with the Southern Sudanese regional government to start training the Christian forces of Sudan.

Blackwater’s connections are impressive. Joseph Schmitz, the former Pentagon Inspector General, whose job was to police the war contractor bonanza, has moved on to become the vice chairman of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company, and the general counsel for Blackwater.

Bush recently hired Fred Fielding, Blackwater’s former lawyer, to replace Harriet Miers as his top lawyer; and Ken Starr, the former Whitewater prosecutor who led the impeachment charge against President Clinton, is now Blackwater’s counsel of record and has filed briefs with Supreme Court to fight wrongful death lawsuits brought against Blackwater. Cofer Black, 30-year CIA veteran and former head of CIA’s counterterrorism center, credited with spearheading the extraordinary rendition program after 9-11, is now senior executive at Blackwater and perhaps its most powerful operative.

Sen. John Warner, the former head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called Blackwater “our silent partner in the global war on terror.”

Source: “Our Mercenaries in Iraq: Blackwater Inc. and Bush’s Undeclared Surge” by Jeremy Scahill. Democracy Now!, Jan. 26, 2007.

8. KIA: The U.S. Invasion of India

Farmers’ cooperatives in India are defending their nation’s food security and the future of Indian farmers against the neoliberal invasion of genetically modified (GM) seed. As many as 28,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last decade as a result of debt incurred from failed GM crops and competition with subsidized U.S. crops. Yet, when India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh met with President Bush in March 2006 to finalize nuclear agreements, they also signed the Indo-U.S. Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), backed by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Wal-Mart.

The KIA allows for the grab of India’s seed sector by Monsanto, of its trade sector by giant agribusiness ADM and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart. The KIA impacts 650 million farmers of India and 40 million small retailers, and it is redefining the relationships between people in the two biggest democracies in the world.

KIA has paved the way for Wal-Mart’s plans to open 500 stores in India, the first of which was to have debuted last month, which will compound the outsourcing of India’s food supply and threaten 14 million small family venders with loss of livelihood.

Sources: “Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India” by Vandana Shiva with Amy Goodman. Democracy Now!, Dec. 13, 2006. “Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India take on Monsanto” by Arun Shrivastava. Global Research, Oct. 9, 2006.

9. Privatization of U.S. Infrastructure

In 1956, when President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, he considered the interstate highway system so vital to the public interest that he authorized the federal government to assume 90 percent of the massive cost.

Now, more than 20 states have enacted legislation allowing public-private partnerships to build and run highways. Investment firms including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and the Carlyle Group are approaching state politicians with advice to sell off public highway and transportation infrastructure.

Proponents celebrate these transactions as a “no-pain, all-gain” way to off-load maintenance expenses and increase highway-building funds without raising taxes. Opponents are lambasting these plans as a major turn toward handing the nation’s valuable common asset over to private firms whose fidelity is to stockholders.

On June 29, 2006, Indiana’s governor Mitch Daniels announced that Indiana had received $3.8 billion from a foreign consortium made up of the Spanish construction firm Cintra and the Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG) of Australia. In exchange, the state handed over operation of a 157-mile Indiana toll road for the next 75 years. With the consortium collecting the tolls, which will eventually rise far higher, the privatized road should generate $11 billion for MIG-Cintra over the course of the contract.

In September 2005, Daniels solicited bids for the project, with Goldman Sachs serving as the state’s financial adviser—a role that netted the bank a $20 million advisory fee. When Goldman Sachs began advising Indiana on selling its toll road, it failed to mention that its Australian subsidiary’s mutual funds were ratcheting up their positions in MIG, becoming de facto investors in the deal.

Despite public concerns, privatization of U.S. transportation infrastructure has the full backing of the Bush administration. Tyler Duvall, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s assistant secretary for transportation policy, says his department has raised the idea with “almost every state” government and is working on sample legislation that states can use for such projects. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry still refuses to release details of a $1.3 billion contract his administration signed with Cintra for a 40-mile toll road from Austin to Seguin, or of an enormous $184 billion proposal to build a 4,000-mile network of toll roads through Texas.

It is known, however, that the Bush administration is quietly advancing the plan to build a huge 10-lane NAFTA superhighway through the heart of the United States along Interstate 35, from the Mexican border at Laredo, Texas, to the Canadian border north of Duluth, Minn., financed largely through public-private partnerships.

Sources: “The Highwaymen” by Daniel Schulman with James Ridgeway. Mother Jones, February 2007. “Bush Administration Quietly Plans NAFTA Super Highway” by Jerome R. Corsi Human Events, June 12, 2006.

10. Vulture Funds Threaten Debt Relief

Vulture funds are financial organizations that buy up debts that are near default or bankruptcy. The vulture fund pays the original investor pennies on the dollar for the debt and then approaches the debtor to arrange a better repayment on the loan, or goes after the debtor in court.

In the private financial world, these funds, like the birds they are named for, provide a useful function for investors who are unable to follow up on defaulted debts and are themselves facing financial ruin if the debtor reneges entirely.

In the case of nations, the actions of vulture funds are corrupting the process begun in 1996 to provide debt relief for Third World nations struggling to emerge from the heavy debt laid upon them by previous corrupt rulers and colonial masters.

In one recent case, the poverty-stricken nation of Zambia was negotiating with Romania to reduce a $40 million debt still owed from a 1979 loan to buy Romanian tractors. In 1999, Romania had agreed to liquidate the entire loan for $3 million. Zambia planned to use the debt cancellation to invest in much-needed nurses, teachers and basic infrastructure. Just before the deal was finalized however, investors at the England-based vulture fund Donegal International convinced the Romanian government to sell them the loan for just under $4 million, not much more than Zambia had offered. Donegal then turned around and sued Zambia (where the average wage is barely a dollar a day) for the full $40 million.

Throughout the lawsuit, global NGOs have pleaded with the English high court to void the new contract and allow Zambia to honor the original agreement of $3 million. But on Feb. 15, 2007, an English court ruled that Donegal was entitled to much of what it was seeking—at least $15 million, perhaps more.

In a last desperate plea, global NGOs working to relieve Third World debt (such as Oxfam and the Jubilee Debt Campaign) turned to Donegal directly, asking them to forgive the debt. Donegal knows that, as a national entity, even a cash-poor country like Zambia has access to considerable resources; in this case, copper, cobalt, gem stones, coal, uranium, marble and much more. Public works and other civic improvement projects can also be liquidated.

Also, Donegal has no history of mercy toward impoverished nations. In 1996, it paid $11 million for a discounted Peruvian debt and threatened to bankrupt the country unless they paid $58 million. Donegal got its money. Now they’re suing Congo Brazzaville for $400 million for a debt they bought for $10 million. Donegal and other vulture funds have teams of lawyers combing the world for assets that can be seized.

Source: “Vulture Fund Threat to Third World” by Greg Palast with Meirion Jones. BBC Newsnight, Feb. 14, 2007.

Other Headlines That You Never Saw 11. ‘Reconstruction’ in Afghanistan

A report issued in June 2005 by the nonprofit organization Action Aid reveals that much of the U.S. tax money earmarked to rebuild Afghanistan actually ends up going no further than the pockets of wealthy U.S. corporations.

12. Massacre in Haiti by U.N. Troops

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas political party were ousted from power on Feb. 29, 2004. Eyewitness testimony confirms the killing of some 30 people by U.N. forces in Haiti’s Cité Soleil community on Dec. 22, 2006, reportedly as collective punishment for a massive demonstration in which about 10,000 people rallied against the foreign military occupation of their country.

13. Immigrant Roundups to Gain Cheap Labor for United StatesImmigration law is creating a two-tier society, in which millions of people are denied fundamental rights and social benefits because they are recruited to come to the U.S. by those corporations on visas that condemn them to a second-class status.

14. Impunity for U.S. War Criminals

A provision mysteriously tucked into the Military Commission Act just before it passed through Congress and was signed by President Bush on Oct. 17, 2006 (see Top Ten numbers 1 and 2), redefines torture, removing the harshest, most controversial techniques from the definition of war crimes, and exempts the perpetrators—both interrogators and their bosses—from prosecution for such offenses dating back to November 1997.

15. Toxic Exposure Can Be Transmitted on ‘Second Genetic Code’

Research suggests that, contrary to previous belief, our behavior and our environmental conditions may program sections of our children’s DNA. New evidence about how genes interact with the environment suggests that many industrial chemicals may be more ominously dangerous than previously thought.

16. No Hard Evidence Connecting Bin Laden to 9-11

Osama bin Laden’s supposed role in the events of Sept. 11, 2001, is not even mentioned on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” poster. Why? Because the FBI evidently likes to operate on facts.

17. Drinking Water Contaminated

Despite the federal government’s avowed commitment “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters,” corporations, municipalities and the U.S. military pollute our waters—often with little or no accountability.

18. Mexico’s Stolen Election

Overwhelming evidence reveals massive fraud in the 2006 Mexican presidential election between “president-elect” Felipe Calderón of the conservative PAN party and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the more liberal PRD.

19. People’s Movement Challenges Neoliberal Agenda

There is a successful and growing resistance among Latin American and African leaders to the current “one-size-fits-all” U.S. trade policy model.

20. Terror Act Against Animal Activists

The term “terrorism” has been dangerously expanded to include acts that interfere with, or promote interference in, the operations of animal enterprises.

21. U.S. Seeks WTO Immunity for Illegal Farm Payments

On July 24, 2006, after nearly five years of global trade negotiations, talks at the meetings of the World Trade Organization collapsed. In a last-minute proposal, one not included on the original agenda, the United States suddenly insisted that all trade agreements include a special clause called a “Peace Clause” that would make its use of illegal farm subsidies immune from prosecution by the countries affected.

22. North Invades Mexico

The number of North Americans living in Mexico has soared from 200,000 to 1 million (one-quarter of all U.S. expatriates) in the past decade. With more than 70 million American baby boomers expected to retire in the next two decades, experts predict “a tidal wave” of migration to warmer—and cheaper—climates.

23. Sen. Feinstein’s Conflict of Interest in Iraq

Dianne Feinstein—the ninth wealthiest member of congress—has been beset by monumental ethical conflicts of interest. As a member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (MILCON) from 2001 to the end of 2005, Sen. Feinstein voted for appropriations worth billions of dollars to her husband’s firms.

Source: “Senator Warbucks” by Peter Byrne. North Bay Bohemian, Jan. 24, 2007.

24. Media Misquotes Threat from Iran’s President

Across the world, a media story has spread that Iran’s president Ahmadinejad has threatened to destroy Israel, by saying that, “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Contrary to general belief, this statement was actually a misinterpretation.

25. Who Will Profit from Native Energy?

The Department of the Interior estimates that Indian lands hold undiscovered reserves of almost 54 billion tons of coal, 38 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 5.4 billion barrels of oil. Tribal lands also contain enormous amounts of alternative energy.

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