UNBLINKER: To read all 25 of the most underreported stories of the past year and to see fuller synopses of those listed below, go to [ http://www.projectcensored.org/ ] www.projectcensored.org.
Project Censored 2009
The top 10 stories the U.S. news media missed in the past year
Edited by Amanda Witherell
Since 1976, Sonoma State University has released an annual survey of the top 25 stories the mainstream media failed to report or reported poorly. Culled from worldwide alternative news sources, vetted by students and faculty, and ranked by judges, the stories may not have been overtly censored. But their controversial subjects, challenges to the status quo, or general under-the-radar subject matter might have kept them from the front pages. Project Censored recounts them, accompanied by media analysis, in a book published annually by Seven Stories Press.
"This year, war and civil liberties stood out," Peter Phillips, who's been director of the project since 1996, said of the top stories. "They're closely related and part of the war on terror that has been the dominant theme of Project Censored for seven years, since 9-11."
1. How Many Iraqis Have Died?
Nobody knows exactly how many lives the Iraq War has claimed. But even more astounding is that few journalists have mentioned the issue or cited the top estimate: 1.2 million dead. During August and September 2007, Opinion Research Business, a British polling group, surveyed 2,414 adults in 15 of 18 Iraqi provinces and found that more than 20 percent had experienced at least one war-related death since March 2003. Using common sociological study methods, they determined that as many as 1.2 million people had been killed since the war began.
The U.S. military, claiming it keeps no count, still employs civilian death data as a marker of progress. For example, in a Sept. 10, 2007 report to Congress, Gen. David Petraeus said, "Civilian deaths of all categories, less natural causes, have also declined considerably, by over 45 percent Iraq-wide since the height of the sectarian violence in December."
Whose number was he using? Estimates have ranged wildly, and are based on a variety of sources, including hospital, morgue, and media reports, as well as in-person surveys.
The AP began its own count in 2005 and by 2006 said that at least 37,547 Iraqis have lost their lives due to war-related violence, but called it a minimum estimate at best, and didn't include insurgent deaths.
Iraq Body Count, a group of U.S. and U.K. citizens who aggregate numbers from media reports on civilian deaths, puts the figure between 87,000 and 95,000. More recently, in January 2008, the World Health Organization and the Iraqi government did door-to-door surveys of nearly 10,000 households and put the number of dead at 151,000.
The 1.2 million figure is out there, too, higher than the Rwandan genocide death toll and closing in on the 1.7 million who perished in Cambodia's Killing Fields. It raises questions about the real number of deaths from U.S. aerial bombings and house raids, and challenges the common assumption that this is a war in which Iraqis are killing Iraqis.
2. NAFTA on Steroids
Coupling the perennial issue of security with Wall Street's measures of prosperity, the leaders of the three North American nations have convened the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The White House–led initiative—launched at a March 23, 2005, meeting of President Bush, Mexico's then-president Vicente Fox and Canadian prime minister Paul Martin—joined beefed-up commerce with coordinated military operations to promote what it calls "borderless unity."
Unlike NAFTA, the SPP has been formed in secret, without public input. Instead, the SPP has a special workgroup: the North American Competitiveness Council. It's a coalition of private companies that include Chevron, Ford, General Electric, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Merck, New York Life, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart.
"It's a scheme to create a borderless North American Union under U.S. control without barriers to trade and capital flows for corporate giants, mainly U.S. ones," wrote Steven Lendman in Global Research. "It's also to insure America gets free and unlimited access to Canadian and Mexican resources."
3. INFRAGARD Guards Itself
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have effectively deputized 23,000 members of the business community, asking them to tip off the Feds in exchange for preferential treatment in the event of a crisis.
InfraGard was created in 1996 in Cleveland as part of an FBI probe into cyberthreats. Yet after 9-11, membership jumped from 1,700 to more than 23,000, and now includes 350 of the nation's Fortune 500 companies. Eighty-six chapters coordinate with 56 FBI field offices nationwide.
"The FBI should not be creating a privileged class of Americans who get special treatment," said Jay Stanley, public-education director of the ACLU's technology and liberty program.
And they are privileged. The information they have may be of critical importance to the general public, but first it goes to the membership—sometimes before it's released to elected officials. On Nov. 1, 2001, the FBI sent an alert to InfraGard members about a potential threat to bridges in California. Barry Davis, who worked for Morgan Stanley, received the information and relayed it to his brother Gray, then the governor of California, who released it to the public.
4. Training Ground for Illegal Wars?
The School of the Americas earned an unsavory reputation in Latin America after many graduates of the Fort Benning, Ga., facility turned into counterinsurgency death squad leaders. So the International Law Enforcement Academy recently installed by the U.S. in El Salvador—which looks, acts and smells like the SOA—is also drawing scorn.
The school, which opened in June 2005, before the Salvadoran National Assembly had even approved it, has a satellite operation in Peru and is funded with $3.6 million from the U.S. Treasury and staffed with instructors from the DEA, ICE and the FBI and tasked with training 1,500 police officers, judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement agents a year in counterterrorism techniques.
El Salvador's ILEA recently received another $2 million in U.S. funding through the congressionally approved Merida Initiative but still refuses to adopt a more transparent curriculum and administration, despite partnering with a well-known human rights leader. Journalist Wes Enzinna's FOIA requests for course materials were rejected by the government, so no one knows exactly what the school is teaching, or to whom.
5. Seizing Protest
Protesting war could get you into big trouble, according to a critical read of two executive orders recently signed by President George W. Bush. The first, issued July 17, 2007, and titled, "Blocking property of certain persons who threaten stabilization efforts in Iraq," allows the Feds to seize assets from anyone who "directly or indirectly" poses a risk to the U.S. war in Iraq. And, citing the modern technological ease of transferring funds and assets, the order states that no prior notice is necessary before the raid.
On Aug. 1, Bush signed another order, similar but directed toward anyone undermining the "sovereignty of Lebanon or its democratic processes and institutions." In this case, the Secretary of Treasury can seize the assets of anyone perceived as posing a risk of violence, as well as the assets of their spouses and dependents, and bans them all from receiving any humanitarian aid.
"This is so sweeping, it's staggering," said Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration Justice Department official, who editorialized against it in the Washington Times. "It expands beyond terrorism, beyond seeking to use violence or the threat of violence to cower or intimidate a population."
6. Radicals = Terrorists
On Oct. 23, 2007, the House overwhelmingly passed, by a vote of 404-6, the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act," designed to root out the causes of radicalization in Americans.
With an estimated four-year cost of $22 million, the act establishes a 10-member National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, as well as a university-based Center of Excellence "to examine the social, criminal, political, psychological and economic roots of domestic terrorism," according to a press release from the bill's author, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.
Jessica Lee, writing in the Indypendent, pointed out that in a later press release, Harman stated, "The National Commission [will] propose to both Congress and [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent."
Which could be when they're speaking, writing and organizing in ways that are protected by the First Amendment.
7. Slavery's Runner-Up
About 121,000 people legally enter the United States to work every year with H-2 visas, a program legislators are modeling as part of future immigration reform. But Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., called this guest worker program "the closest thing I've ever seen to slavery."
The Southern Poverty Law Center likened it to "modern-day indentured servitude." They interviewed thousands of guest workers and reviewed legal cases for a report released in March 2007, in which authors Mary Bauer and Sarah Reynolds wrote, "Unlike U.S. citizens, guest workers do not enjoy the most fundamental protection of a competitive labor market—the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated. Instead, they are bound to the employers who 'import' them. If guest workers complain about abuses, they face deportation, blacklisting or other retaliation."
8. Bush Changes the Rules
The Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice has been issuing classified legal opinions about surveillance for several years. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., had access to the DOJ opinions regarding presidential power and he had three declassified in order to show how the judicial branch has, in a bizarre and chilling way, assisted President Bush in circumventing its own power. According to the three memos:
1. "There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it";
2. "The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President's authority under Article II," and;
3. "The Department of Justice is bound by the President's legal determinations."
9. Soldiers Speak Out
Hearing soldiers recount their war experiences is the closest many people come to understanding the real horror, pain and confusion of combat. Winter Soldier was designed to give soldiers a public forum to air some of the atrocities they witnessed. Originally convened by Vietnam Vets Against the War in January 1971, Iraq Veterans Against the War hosted the 2008 reprise of the 1971 hearings. An investigation by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian in The Nation that included interviews with 50 Iraq War veterans also revealed an overwhelming lack of training and resources and a general lawlessness with regard to the traditional rules of war. Testimonies can be heard at www.ivaw.org
10. APA Helps CIA Torture
Psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, neither of whom are American Psychological Association members, honed a classified military training program known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which teaches soldiers how to tough out torture if captured by enemies. As Mark Benjamin noted in a Salon article, employing SERE training, which is designed to replicate torture tactics that don't abide by Geneva Convention standards, refutes past administration assertions that current CIA torture techniques are safe and legal.
Ongoing uproar within APA resulted in a petition to make an official policy limiting psychologists involvement in interrogations. On Sept. 17, a majority of 15,000 voting members approved a resolution stating that psychologists may not work in settings where "persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the U.S. Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights."
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