labor, a mercenary army, vulture funds, and the ongoing onslaught
against the Constitution—here is Project Censored’s list of
the biggest stories the media missed last year
are a handful of freedoms that almost always have been a part
of American democracy. Even when they didn’t exactly apply
to everyone or weren’t always protected by the people in charge,
a few simple but significant rights have been patently clear
in the Constitution: You can’t be nabbed by the cops and tossed
behind bars without a reason. If you are imprisoned, you can’t
be incarcerated indefinitely; you have the right to a speedy
trial with a judge and jury. When that court date rolls around,
you’ll be able to see the evidence against you.
The president can’t suspend elections, spy without warrants,
or dispatch federal troops to trump local cops or quell protests.
Nor can the commander in chief commence a witch hunt, deem
individuals “enemy combatants,” or shunt them into special
tribunals outside the purview of our 218-year-old judicial
Until now. This year’s Project Censored presents a chilling
portrait of a newly empowered executive branch signing away
civil liberties for the sake of an endless and amorphous war
on terror. And for the most part, the major news media weren’t
year it seemed like civil rights just rose to the top,” says
Peter Phillips, the director of Project Censored, the annual
media survey conducted by Sonoma State University researchers
and students who spend the year patrolling obscure publications,
national and international Web sites, and mainstream news
outlets to compile the 25 most significant stories that were
inadequately reported or essentially ignored.
While the project usually turns up a range of underreported
issues, this year’s stories all fall somewhat neatly into
two categories—the increase of privatization and the decrease
of human rights. Some of the stories qualify as both.
think they indicate a very real concern about where our democracy
is heading,” says writer and veteran judge Michael Parenti.
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 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, Parenti says, 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 reelection of Richard Nixon in 1972 in spite
of mounting evidence of the Watergate scandal, agreed 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,”
GOOD-BYE, HABEAS CORPUS
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
Habeas corpus, a constitutional right cribbed from the Magna
Carta, protects against arbitrary imprisonment. Alexander
Hamilton, writing in the Federalist Papers, 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 Guantánamo Bay detainees, and most journalists
have reported that it doesn’t have any impact on Americans.
On Oct. 19, 2006, editors at the The New York Times wrote,
in quite definitive language, “this law does not apply to
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.”
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
wrote. “Who has ‘an allegiance or duty to the United States’
if not an American citizen?”
Reached by phone, Parry told the Guardian that “this
loose phraseology could be interpreted very narrowly or very
broadly.” He said he has consulted with lawyers who are experienced
in drafting federal security legislation, and they agreed
that the “any person” terminology is troubling. “It could
be fixed very simply, but the Bush administration put through
this very vaguely worded law, and now there are a lot of differences
of opinion on how it could be interpreted,” Parry says.
Though U.S. 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. Until tested by time, exactly how
much the language of the Military Commissions Act may be manipulated
will remain to be seen.
“Repeal the Military Commissions Act and Restore the Most
American Human Right,” Thom Hartmann, Common Dreams Web site,
www.commondreams.org/views07/ 0212-24.htm, Feb. 12, 2007;
“Still No Habeas Rights for You,” Robert Parry, Consortium
(online journal of investigative reporting), consortiumnews.com/2007/020307.html,
Feb. 3, 2007; “Who Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law?” Robert
Parry, Consortium, consortiumnews.com/2006/101906.html,
Oct. 19, 2006.
MARTIAL LAW: COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU
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 in response to Northern troops overstaying their
welcome in the reconstructed South. That act wiped out a potentially
tyrannical amount of power by reinforcing 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.”
So 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, warning his peers Sept.
19, 2006, that “we certainly do not need to make it easier
for presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection
Act and using the military for law enforcement activities
goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy.
One can easily envision governors and mayors in charge of
an emergency having to constantly look over their shoulders
while someone who has never visited their communities gives
the orders.” In February, Leahy introduced Senate Bill 513
to repeal section 1076. It’s currently in the Armed Services
“Two Acts of Tyranny on the Same Day!” Daneen G. Peterson,
Stop the North America Union Web site, www.stopthe northamericanunion.com/articles/Fear.html,
Jan. 20, 2007; “Bush Moves Toward Martial Law,” Frank Morales,
Uruknet.info (Web site that publishes “information from occupied
Iraq”), www.uruknet.info/?p=27769, Oct. 26, 2006.
Jimmy Carter was the first to draw a clear line 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
The United States is now constructing 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 stated vaguely that the mission is to establish
order and keep peace for volatile governments—that just happen
to be in oil-rich areas.
Though the official objective may be peace, some say the real
desire is crude. “A new cold war is under way in Africa, and
AFRICOM will be at the dark heart of it,” Bryan Hunt wrote
on the Moon of Alabama blog, which covers politics, economics,
and philosophy. Most 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
Though details of the AFRICOM strategy remain secret, Hunt
has surveyed past governmental statements and reports by other
independent journalists to draw parallels between AFRICOM
and CENTCOM, making the case that the United States sees Africa
as another “vital interest.”
“Understanding AFRICOM,” parts 1–3, b real, Moon of Alabama,
www.moonofalabama.org/2007/02/under standing_a_1.html, Feb.
SECRET TRADE AGREEMENTS
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 European Union, 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 free-trade 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. “The overall effect
of these changes in the rules is to progressively undermine
economic governance, transferring power from governments to
largely unaccountable multinational firms, robbing developing
countries of the tools they need to develop their economies
and gain a favorable foothold in global markets,” states a
report by Oxfam International, the antipoverty activist group.
“Free Trade Enslaving Poor Countries,” Sanjay Suri, Inter
Press Service (global news service), ipsnews.org/news.asp?idnews=37008,
March 20, 2007; “Signing Away the Future,” Emily Jones, Oxfam
Web site, www.oxfam.org/en/policy/briefingpapers/bp101_regional_trade_agreements_0703,
SHANGHAIED SLAVES CONSTRUCT US EMBASSY IN IRAQ
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 staffed by Americans,
most of the workers are from small or developing countries
like the Philippines, India, and Pakistan and, according to
David Phinney of CorpWatch—a Bay Area organization that investigates
and exposes corporate environmental crimes, fraud, corruption,
and violations of human rights—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. One ex-foreman, who’s
worked on five other U.S. embassies around the world, says,
“I’ve never seen a project more fucked up. Every U.S. labor
law was broken.”
These workers often have been banned by their home countries
from working in Baghdad because of unsafe conditions and flagging
support for the war, but once they’re on Iraqi soil, protections
are few. First, Kuwaiti managers take their passports, which
is a violation of U.S. labor laws. “If you don’t have a passport
or an embassy to go to, what do you do to get out of a bad
situation?” asks Rory Mayberry, a former medic for one of
First Kuwaiti’s subcontractors, who blew the whistle on the
squalid living conditions, medical malpractice, and general
abuse he witnessed at the site.
The Pentagon has been investigating the slavelike conditions
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. As Phinney
reported, “No journalist has ever been allowed access to the
sprawling 104-acre site.”
“A U.S. Fortress Rises in Baghdad: Asian Workers Trafficked
to Build World’s Largest Embassy,” David Phinney, CorpWatch
Web site, www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14173, Oct. 17,
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 30,110
The Justice Department claimed the agents were targeting the
“worst of the worst” criminals, and 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
However, as writer Mike Whitney points out on Uruknet.info,
none of the suspects has been charged with anything related
to terrorism. Additionally, while 30,110 individuals were
arrested, only 586 firearms were found. That doesn’t sound
very violent, either.
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 in 2006 captured 462 violent sex-crime suspects,
1,094 registered sex offenders, and 9,037 fugitives.
What about the other 7,481 people? “Who are they, and have
they been charged with a crime?” Whitney asks.
The Marshals Service remains silent about these arrests. Whitney
suggests those detainees may have been illegal immigrants
and may be bound for border prisons currently being constructed
by Halliburton (see last year’s Project Censored).
As an added bonus of complicity, the Justice Department supplied
local news outlets with stock footage of the raids, which
some TV stations ran accompanied by stories sourced from the
Department of Justice’s news releases without any critical
coverage of who exactly was swept up in the dragnets and where
they are now.
“Operation Falcon and the Looming Police State,” Mike Whitney,
Uruknet.info, uruknet.info/?p=m30971&s1=h1, Feb. 26, 2007;
“Operation Falcon,” SourceWatch (project of the Center for
Media and Democracy), www.sourcewatch.org/index .php?title=Operation_FALCON,
Nov. 18, 2006.
outsourcing of war has served two purposes for the Bush administration,
which has given powerful corporations and private companies
lucrative contracts supplying goods and services to American
military operations overseas and quietly achieved 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 where the nation
is currently engaged in conflicts.
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.
become nothing short of the Praetorian Guard for the Bush
administration’s so-called global war on terror,” author Jeremy
Scahill said on the Jan. 26 broadcast of the TV and radio
news program Democracy Now! Scahill’s Blackwater:
The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army was
published this year by Nation Books.
“Our Mercenaries in Iraq,” Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!,
www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid= 07/01/26/1559232, Jan.
KIA: THE NEOLIBERAL INVASION OF INDIA
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 story 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 are seeing the folly of these deals, it’s
often too late. Suicide has become a popular final act of
opposition to what’s occurring in their country.
Vandana Shiva, who for 10 years has been studying the effects
of bad trade deals on India, has published a report titled
Seeds of Suicide, which recounts the deaths of more
than 28,000 farmers who killed themselves in despair over
the debts brought on them by binding agreements ultimately
Hope comes in the form of a growing cadre of farmers hip to
the flawed deals. 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.
“Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear
Deal, Wal-Mart in India,” Democracy Now!, www.demo
cracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/12/13/1451229, Dec. 13, 2006;
“Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India Take On Monsanto,”
Arun Shrivastava, Global Research (Web site of Montreal’s
Center for Global Research), www.globalre search.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=ARU20061009&articleId=3427,
Oct. 9, 2006.
THE PRIVATIZATION OF AMERICA’S INFRASTRUCTURE
1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ushered through 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.
Fifty years later, 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 to providing the public with improved services.
But opponents of all political stripes are criticizing the
deals as theft of public property. They point out that the
bulk of benefits is actually going to the private side of
the equation—in many cases, to foreign companies with considerable
experience building private roads in developing countries.
In the United States, 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.
As Daniel Schulman and James Ridgeway reported in Mother
Jones, “The Federal Highway Administration estimates that
it will cost $50 billion a year above current levels of federal,
state, and local highway funding to rehab existing bridges
and roads over the next 16 years. Where to get that money,
without raising taxes? Privatization promises a quick fix—and
a way to outsource difficult decisions, like raising tolls,
to entities that don’t have to worry about getting reelected.”
The Indiana Toll Road, the Chicago Skyway, Virginia’s Pocahontas
Parkway, and many other stretches of the nation’s public pavement
have succumbed to these private deals.
Cheerleaders for privatization are deeply embedded in the
Bush administration (see story 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.
“The Highwaymen,” Daniel Schulman with James Ridgeway, Mother
Jones, www.motherjones.com/news/ feature/2007/01/highwaymen.html,
Feb. 2007; “Bush Administration Quietly Plans NAFTA Super
Highway,” Jerome R. Corsi, Human Events, www.humanevents.com/article
.php?id=15497, June 12, 2006.
VULTURE FUNDS: DEVOURING THE DESPERATE
for a bird that picks offal 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 owed money
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.
Investigative reporter Greg Palast broke the story for the
BBC’s Newsnight, saying that “the vultures have already
sucked up about $1 billion in aid meant for the poorest nations,
according to the World Bank in Washington.”
With the exception of the BBC and Democracy Now!, no
major news source has touched the story, though it has incensed
several members of Britain’s Parliament, as well as the new
prime minister, Gordon Brown. US Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.)
and Donald Payne (D-N.J.) lobbied Bush to take action as well,
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 has donated $1.7 million
to Bush’s campaigns.
“Vulture Fund Threat to Third World,” Newsnight, www.gregpalast.com/vulture-fund-threat-to-third-world,
Feb. 14, 2007.