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Review: PBS FRONTLINE’s ‘WikiSecrets’ Wants to Be Objective and Fair and That’s Why It’s Weak

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

ImageAnyone familiar with the stories of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, the organization’s founder and Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks, would be forgiven for wondering whether PBS Frontline’s documentary “WikiSecrets” presents anything new or not. The documentary attempts to make a sensational connection between Manning and Assange and suggest that Assange might know Manning is the source of the information.

The Story

PBS FRONTLINE documentaries are typically straightforward. Thus, the opening montage provides a good idea of what the main points of the documentary will be: it’s hard to tell if Manning approached Assange or whether Assange approached Manning, WikiLeaks had feared one of its “sources” would be exposed, the chat logs suggest Manning knows Assange (but Assange denies that) and WikiLeaks is an anti-secrecy organization that doesn’t believe in secrets, which is why over half a million documents were leaked.

In the first act, FRONTLINE attempts to psychoanalyze Manning and make a determination on his mental health. Sordid details are presented leading one to understand that Manning found himself to be smarter than most of the other soldiers in the military. He was gay and had no respect for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He was using Facebook in a way that put him at risk. He was incapable of keeping a steady job. He was a vocal person and had little respect for his commanding officers. And, an army supervisor did not find him to be fit to go to Iraq.

Adrian Lamo enters the story. The personal dilemma he experienced when deciding whether to turn Manning into the authorities is presented in terms of the fact that he is a hacker, who typically would not be an informant for the government. He consulted Tim Webster, Army Counterintelligence 2002-07, and recognized the value of classified information.

“There was no correct option…only the least incorrect one,” Lamo says. Ultimately, the viewers are to believe he wanted to do the right thing.

Following Manning’s arrest the story moves into a next act, which focuses on Assange, how he worked to build a coalition to release the war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and then subsequently the US State Embassy cables.

The documentary hammers away at the idea that Julian Assange had an utter disregard for collaborators and informants—innocent people—and thought if the release of logs endangered them they should die. News organizations are presented as players who fought to convince Assange that his “purist ideology that all information should be accessible to everybody” could cost lives.

Assange rebuts this presented criticism but the rebuttal is nothing more than a simplistic denial. On its face, there is no explanation of why this “rhetorical trick” is wrong. (And that’s because the footage, which features him explaining himself did not make the final cut.)

In the next act, Assange and WikiLeaks are scrutinized for releasing the cables and making it difficult for US diplomacy. Former State Department spokesperson, who was forced out of his position as spokesperson when he spoke out about Manning’s treatment at Quantico, says, “Mr. Assange has disclosed this material without regard to the risk that it does generate to real people,” and, “The unauthorized release of 251,000 cables that covers every relationship the United States has with countries around the world has done damage to the national interests of the United States.”

John D. Negroponte, former Ambassador to the United Nations and Deputy Secretary of State for the Bush Administration who helped push America into a war in Iraq, explains the disclosure of cables has been a “pretty serious irritant.” He stops just short of equating the damage the cables has done to a nuclear bomb saying, “It’s serious.”

In the final act, FRONTLINE gives viewers the first glimpse into some of the deeper elements of the story of WikiLeaks, Manning and Assange. Viewers see supporters standing in solidarity with Manning at Quantico. Viewers are informed that the cables released so far have “exposed widespread corruption” in Tunisia and “helped fuel a revolution and, arguably, had a domino effect.”

Now consider that detail: FRONTLINE, at the very least, implicitly credits WikiLeaks with much of what has happened in the Arab Spring, which means much of President Barack Obama’s recent Middle East speech given at the State Department would have been different if WikiLeaks had not been releasing cables.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former member of WikiLeaks, mentions how, at the core of debate on WikiLeaks, there is this tension between transparency and secrecy. What needs to be figured out is what should be secret and what shouldn’t be kept secret.

After noting Lamo now lives in an undisclosed location and fears for his life, the documentary closes with this line, “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life. It’s important that it gets out. I feel for some bizarre reason it might actually change something.”

Beyond the discussion of mental health, this may be the first and only time that the audience gets a sense that Manning may have chosen to leak classified information not because he is a troubled young kid but because he had a moral compulsion to release such information.

FRONTLINE Glosses Over Possibility Manning Allegedly Leaked Because of Moral Values

Had FRONTLINE wanted, it could have found a way to include this nugget on Manning, which comes from Micah Sifry’s book WikiLeaks & the Age of Transparency on page 33-34:

Why did Manning allegedly do it? According to his dialogue with Lamo, he had been instructed to watch fifteen detainees held by the Iraqi federal police for printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” Manning says he found out “they had printed a scholarly critique” against Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, “a benign political critique titled, ‘Where did the money go?’… following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet.” But, when Manning “*ran* with this information to a senior officer to explain, “he didn’t want to hear any of it…he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs [federal police] in finding *MORE* detainees.

After that, he said, “I saw things differently. I had always questioned the [way] things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was the point where I was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…” Manning, it appears, knew he might be on a quixotic mission, but despite his military oath, he felt an allegiance to something higher. “Its important that it gets out… I feel, for some bizarre reason it might actually change something,” he wrote Lamo. “God knows what happens now….

This anecdote, however, is conveniently omitted. One can speculate that FRONTLINE is just like any other media organization, deferential to state power. The faults that can be found in this documentary are the faults that can be found in the traditional media’s coverage for the past months. Not only is traditional media appalled by WikiLeaks and afraid this organization is doing great damage to the journalism profession but traditional media adheres to the official line coming from government so closely that its coverage of WikiLeaks inevitably distorts facts and misrepresents key aspects of the organization’s operations, which are adversarial to state power.

A more appropriate critique is that Frontline suffers from a belief in the tradition of objectivity. Thus, the organization fashions a “fair” and “objective” documentary that balances out two sides. Those who have worked for the press, the military or the government detail their views on WikiLeaks. In the case of Executive Editor of the New York Times Bill Keller, and The Guardian’s David Leigh, they actually worked with Assange and WikiLeaks.

The other side is Assange, Bradley Manning’s friend, Jordan Davis, David House, the only person other than Bradley Manning’s immediate family that was allowed to visit Manning at Quantico, and Daniel Ellsberg. (Perhaps, Bradley Manning’s father, Brian Manning, who gives viewers some reason to empathize with Manning.)

Quest for “Balance” is the Documentary’s Chief Weakness

FRONTLINE lays out its “Journalistic Styles and Practices” stating, “publication of truthful, accurate information is the prime mission of our nonfiction national programs.” The guidelines make clear, “Truth is an elusive combination of fact and opinion, of reason and experience. We ask for the viewer’s trust. In turn, we promise that the subject matter and the people in the program will be treated fairly.”

Producers are to: approach stories with an open and skeptical mind and a determination, through extensive research, to acquaint themselves with a wide range of viewpoints; keep personal bias and opinion from influencing their pursuit of a story; examine contrary information; exercise care in checking the accuracy and credibility of all information they receive, especially as it may relate to accusations of wrongdoing; give individuals or entities who are the subject of attack the opportunity to respond to those attacks; represent fairly the words and actions of the people portrayed; inform individuals who are the subject of an investigative interview of the general areas of questioning in advance and, if important for accuracy, will give those individuals an opportunity to check their records; try to present the significant facts a viewer would need to understand what he or she is seeing, including appropriate information to frame the program; and be prepared to assist in correcting errors.

Such guidelines for objectivity invariably mean programs FRONTLINE produces may be far more conventional than say a documentary produced by a director like Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock or Alex Gibney (who is producing a WikiLeaks documentary). They may not seek to provide deeper insights into issues because the fairness and objectivity of the documentaries they produce could be called into question.

Michael Rabiger, who founded the Documentary Center at Columbia College Chicago, writes in the Directing the Documentary textbook he authored the following on objectivity, fairness and clarification:

Objectivity: People frequently assume documentaries are objective because factual television likes to balance out opposing points of view. This is supposed to ensure a fair, unbiased view of the events and personalities in question. Such balance is a tactic inherited from journalism, which sometimes must preserve the identity of sources that gave information on condition of anonymity. Political balance lowers the dangers to, and responsibilities of, the newspaper. Papers fear accusations of political bias or of being proved wrong, because this brings discredit and lawsuits. So part of a journalist’s professionalism has always been to keep things looking objective. A newspaper will further this appearance by prescribing a uniform and faceless “house” writing style, and by camouflaging staff attitudes as the opinion or the conflicts of others.

In the 1930s this fixation with equipoise led reputable British newspapers to depict the trouble brewing in Germany as a petty squabble between Communism and Blackshirts whipped up by Red troublemakers. We see in hindsight that no responsible commentator could sit on the fence and report in this hands-off way. It was neither fair nor responsible when the Nazis had already begun acting on their genocidal intentions.

Reporters and documentary makers, then and now, must interpret events. This means that for each specific issue your film must imply where the cause of justice and humanity probably lies. To guide us there, you will often have to lead us through a maze of contradictory evidence and let us make our own determinations—just as you made yours. Interestingly, this is how a court presents evidence to the ultimate authority in a democracy—a jury.

Fairness:>In a world of ambiguities the documentarian’s responsibility is to be fair. If, for example, you are telling the story of a malpractice accusation against a surgeon, it would be prudent not only to cover the allegations from both sides but to cross check everything that can be independently verified. In this you follow the same practices as the good journalist and the successful detective. Because matters are seldom as they first seem, the accused is not always guilty, and the accuser is not always innocent. Being fair to countervailing points of view also guards your own interests: your film will have its enemies no matter whose part you take, and you will probably have to defend them, possibly in court. If your enemies can demonstrate a single error of detail they will try to use it to damn the whole work. This is how opponents tried to shoot down Michael Moore’s first film, Roger and Me (1989).

Clarification, not simplification: What interests the documentarian is seldom clear-cut, but there is an ever-present temptation to render it so. Nettie Wild’s A Rustling of Leaves (1990) is a courageous and sympathetic account of the populist guerrilla movement in the Philippines, but the partisan nature of her beliefs makes one feel guiltily skeptical throughout. She makes heroes of the left-wing peasants in their struggle against right-wing thugs, and though her sympathy is clearly justified, we know that armed resistance cannot long remain honorable. Soon both sides commit atrocities and the waters become too muddy for the story to remain one of moral rectitude. To be fair means not only relaying the protagonists’ declared principles but also exposing the ugly and paradoxical aspects of liberation through violence. Wild does this, for instance, by showing the trial and execution by guerrillas of a youthful informant. But one doubts if there is much of a trial when the camera is not around.

A film may be accurate and truthful, but it may fail unless it is perceived as such. Handling your audience well means anticipating the film’s impact on a first-time viewer every step of the way and knowing when justifiable skepticism requires something more built into the film’s argument. The more intricate the issues, the more difficult it will be to strike a balance between clarity and simplicity on the one hand and fidelity to the ambiguities of actual human life on the other.

An Unusual Opportunity to Check the “Fairness” of the Producers

ImageBecause WikiLeaks posted the full interview correspondent Martin Smith did with Assange, it is possible to draw conclusions on the nature of objectivity and fairness imposed upon this project.

What Assange says in the final cut of the documentary is the following: we do not know whether Mr. Manning is our source or not; journalists can be identified by their camera bags in the “Collateral Murder” video; WikiLeaks could have better structured various deals and attached economic incentives; source identities are not collected, WikiLeaks is dedicated to protecting sources; WikiLeaks does not know if Manning is the source or not; chats with sources are always anonymous; “Collateral Murder”-type videos can potentially stop wars; WikiLeaks reached out to Lamo because of the difficult position he put them in by turning in Manning, never heard of Bradley Manning or Bradass87; did not receive cables Manning is discussing in logs, WikiLeaks discussed whether it was good to release logs and cables since a young man could potentially be harmed; insisted on working with New York Times so First Amendment protections could provide operation cover; WikiLeaks has harm minimization process to protect lives from being endangered; diplomats deserve to face consequences for engaging in embarrassing behavior; history is on WikiLeaks’ side and when you challenge powerful organizations you will be attacked and WikiLeaks continues to step up publishing speed.

What doesn’t make the final cut is talk about the US military and the national security establishment—what Assange calls a “patronage system”—and how Assange contends it was inevitable that WikiLeaks would face counterattacks; the various traditional media versus new media issues that are raised by WikiLeaks; the importance of not letting the New York Times characterize WikiLeaks as a “source” and not a collaborative partner; the threat to national security journalism from the US national security establishment that this period in history has revealed; exactly why Assange suggested people needed to be named in the Afghan War Logs and how WikiLeaks is one of the most accountable organizations in the world.

Somewhere in that material, a more sympathetic presentation of WikiLeaks could have been pieced together. But, Smith had a concern: in the post-9/11 world, shouldn’t we be worried that someone like Manning would just choose to leak classified information? (You can hear him note this in the full interview video WikiLeaks posted.) That concern appears to have trumped giving WikiLeaks more sympathy.

An Array of People Missing from the Film

Go down the list of people in the documentary. Why wasn’t Glenn Greenwald featured? Why wasn’t Amy Goodman invited to appear? Why wasn’t Micah Sifry included?

Why doesn’t Carne Ross appear to talk about WikiLeaks’ impact on diplomacy?

Why wasn’t Rep. Dennis Kucinich or Rep. John Conyers asked to speak? Conyers held a hearing on Capitol Hill in December of last year. Kucinich has been fighting to get a meeting with Manning.

Why doesn’t Daniel Ellsberg appear in more of the documentary?

Why was the one person who has been blogging WikiLeaks for nearly two hundred days now, Greg Mitchell, not interviewed?

Most appearing in the documentary have a history of animosity toward WikiLeaks. There is one person who appears in the documentary as an unapologetic supporter of WikiLeaks. And, who is that person? Julian Assange.

David House’s Reaction to the Documentary

On Twitter, House tweeted the following messages: “This year I’ve been calm despite being stalked, surveilled, bribed, detained, & having my computer seized, car towed, and friends punished….  The first substantive anger I felt throughout these months arose tonight after watching the stridently propagandized @ frontlinepbs special….Indignation is the only orienting sense after gawking through the twisted pro-Washington hallucination called WikiSecrets.” And, also, he tweeted, “The obvious government bias in @frontlinepbs‘s “WikiSecrets” documentary mirrors a disturbing trend among US media outlets,” and, “Students in Boston are subject to documented harassment by gov officials and @frontlinepbs focuses on unsubstantiated threats to Lamo.”

Martin Smith Just Doesn’t Get It

Watch the full interview posted and one can hear Smith during a break in the interview say to Assange that he is sorry he has to bring all these criticisms of WikiLeaks but he feels it is his “responsibility” to give Assange a chance to respond to the criticism. Assange disagrees and asks why critics should get to set the frame.

The answer is critics get to set the frame because PBS FRONTLINE is committed to producing objective and fair documentaries.

It’s much easier to get Assange to address criticisms. It’s far harder to put power on the defensive and force them to address some of Assange’s concerns with the national security establishment in the United States, which is now trying to prosecute him and those linked to WikiLeaks.

Smith also says, “I’m not trying to get you in trouble on that. I just have to ask you these questions cause they’re out there. Anybody who looks at the chat [logs] says what the hell is this? And I understand you are in a position where you can say only so much.”

This remark comes after a line of questions aimed at unearthing a connection between Assange and Manning. Someone interviewing a person only talks like this if he or she feels he has to justify what he or she was asking in the interview to regain trust.

It’s quite clear that Smith came to the interview with the intention of getting Assange to incriminate himself on camera so FRONTLINE could present a sensational “conspiracy” for viewers.

Those who watched the documentary can appreciate the visual representation of a timeline of events that occurred between Manning’s arrest and now. The documentary, like most FRONTLINE documentaries, is well-produced and, nonetheless, informative. However, it presents itself as a production that has sensational new information to impart to viewers, which it does not. It also seeks to help viewers understand the nature of the WikiLeaks organization and it fails.

That’s because it never intended to help viewers have a better understanding. As far as one can tell, nobody is supposed to walk away willing to trust WikiLeaks or support the stated mission and objectives of the organization.

WSJ Launches WikiLeaks-Imitation Site to Further Solidify Role as Gatekeeper

10:22 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Several reports on the web security and privacy of the Wall Street Journal‘s new site, SafeHouse, which is inspired by WikiLeaks, have been published. Reactions centered around the “terms and conditions” on the website, which include a disclaimer that SafeHouse “cannot ensure complete anonymity.” It also states the leak portal “reserve[s] the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process.”

Web security and privacy experts will continue to scrutinize this new venture. Those like Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher and senior developer on the Tor online anonymity network, will continue to let others know the Journal is being negligent and that this is not a project to be beta-tested on an open Internet. In addition to the security questions, there is the larger question of the Journal’s role in the press and why anyone would ever consider leaking to a newspaper like the Journal.

For establishing a basic understanding of this news organization, this is how SourceWatch, run by the Center for Media and Democracy, characterizes the publication: “The Wall Street Journal, an influential international daily newspaper published in New York City, is owned by News Corporation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. It does an abysmal job of informing its readers about climate change.”

External links on their page on the Journal lead to an article by David Carr that highlights the newspaper’s rightward turn under Murdoch. It covers two men, Robert Thomson, a top editor, and Gerard Baker, now the newspaper’s deputy managing editor. The article notes the two have adopted “a more conservative tone” and the paper has been “editing and headlining articles to reflect a chronic skepticism of the current [Obama] administration” with the support of the newspaper’s readers.

The issue of the newspaper being right wing is not all that bad if one considers working to maintain objectivity to be a foolish and often dangerous game for professional journalists to continue to play. But, there is the potential that leakers’ information submitted to the Journal would just be used to score points against the other side and against the vast “liberal media,” which the paper’s staff likely finds itself to be in a never-ending struggle against. (Recall, Karl Rove recently launched “Wikicountability,” a site that aims to collect government “dirt” that can be used against the Obama Administration to advance the agenda of Rove’s Crossroads GPS.)

A post by the Columbia Journalism Review indicates the Journal may not be all that interested in real journalism after the “greased exit” of Marcus Brauchli. The story covered how the “exit” indicated a new direction for the newspaper, a likely retreat from a focus on business and sophisticated in-depth reporting. It highlighted how the new owners wanted “newsier stories and more general news,” “shorter and more alluring” stories with a “heavy emphasis on scoops.” CJR suggested the newspaper was adopting an “Anglo-Australian newspaper model–straight, wire-service-type business news coupled with extensive and often smart analysis inside.”

No media organization in the past year has had more scoops than WikiLeaks. If the Journal indeed doesn’t have the manpower for investigative reporting, would it be looking to cut corners and just mine troves of information it hopes “sources” will feed this new portal? And would they hastily and shoddily go through all the material in the way the New York Times, meaning months down the road domestic or international events happen that could have been influenced if they had properly researched the information?

Forget whether it would seek to genuinely check power or not, does the Journal have the capacity to do the investigative reporting necessary to properly cover fraud, abuse, pollution, insider trading and other harms? And would this be anything more than an intelligence operation for Big Business in America?

With the creation of this new “leaks portal,” it appears the Wall Street Journal, like other traditional media, is setting this up because it believes it needs a digital platform for accepting news tips from sources instead of having sources go through a traditional system that may mostly exist offline. As the managing editor of WSJ.com, Kevin Delaney, quoted by Michael Calderone on Huffington Postacknowledges, “We all agree that WikiLeaks has had a huge impact on the journalism landscape over the last year or so.” And adds, “There’s been a discussion among editors that it made sense to create a system to receive information from sources digitally.”

The Journal like the New York Times and the Washington Post, which are both considering setting up their own WikiLeaks-imitation sites, is seeking to solidify its role as a gatekeeper. It is hoping to get out ahead and ensure that WikiLeaks and new media does not make it wholly irrelevant and, in effect, impact profits. This, just like the decision to set up a paywall, is about surviving the current transformation that is rocking the world of journalism in the United States.

Greg Mitchell, who has been blogging WikiLeaks for The Nation for one hundred and sixty days, said at a panel on WikiLeaks at the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform in Boston, “The traditional role of the press in America and elsewhere in the world has been to want to be the gatekeepers. They release the information. They decide what to cover. They decide how to cover it. And, in relation to leaks, very importantly, for every leak that made big news, there are dozens or hundreds or however many that went nowhere.”

What about the possibility that someone risks his or her life or livelihood by releasing information to the Journal and the Journal does nothing with the information but the newspaper decides to act on the information it received and forward it to law enforcement?

Julian Assange said this of direct-to-newspaper leak sites weeks ago:

[Newspaper] organizations could create such a site if they cared about it. But it’s our experience that at least the Guardian and New York Times don’t care so much to protect sources. In fact, for Cablegate the Guardian and the New York Times communicated over phones. They swapped cables over email. The New York Times approached the White House with its list of stories it was going to publish on the cables one week before publication, and campaigned against the alleged source of the cables, Bradley Manning. We also cannot be sure that they would even publisht the stories they receive. The New York Times sat on the story about the National Security Agency mass-tapping Americans for over a year. CBS sat on the story of the torture at Abu Ghraib for months.

Additionally, why leak to the Journal if what is ultimately published on your leak is going to be up behind a paywall and not be as easy to share as stories posted on other news sites? Why blow the whistle and put your self at risk for a story that people will only get to read a teaser for weeks or months down the line if not days after the story is published?

US Hosts World Press Freedom Day in the Midst of Prosecuting WikiLeaks

9:49 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Today, the United States hosts World Press Freedom Day. The day, which was proclaimed to be May 3 by the UN General Assembly in 1993, is supposed to be an occasion for informing citizens of violations of press freedom. The day is to serve as a reminder “in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.”

When it was announced in December 2010 the US would be hosting World Press Freedom Day, WikiLeaks had just partnered with a few media organizations to release the US State Embassy Cables. The release known as “Cablegate” led to calls from elected politicians to prosecute members of the WikiLeaks media organization. While no specific newspapers were condemned or targeted (only the New York Times was publishing cables), the calls for prosecution were in effect attacks on press freedom from those in power.

The prosecution of WikiLeaks escalated last week as federal prosecutors stepped up its investigation into WikiLeaks by delivering a letter and a subpoena to an individual in Boston, someone whom a Grand Jury in Alexandria, Virginia, would like to press for details on WikiLeaks. The letter makes it clear the Grand Jury is interested in prosecuting WikiLeaks under the Espionage Act and would like to find out if individuals working for or with WikiLeaks conspired with the leaker of the information to get information.

Without evidence of conspiracy, there can be no prosecution of WikiLeaks that would not effectively be an attack on the press freedom of well-established newspapers like the New York Times or any other news organization in the United States.

Additionally, there exists two other significant dangers to press freedom: (1) the intimidation of those individuals and organizations in the press who are not deferential to power and (2) the placement of restraints on arenas in the private and public sphere so that the reading of what used to be classified information in newspapers or on news websites is discouraged if not strictly prohibited under threat of penalty.

At a fundraiser in San Francisco for President Barack Obama, a group of supporters upset with Obama’s handling of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the individual alleged to have leaked classified information to WikiLeaks, interrupted the fundraiser and sang a song in support of Manning. Following the interruption, a few directly questioned President Obama on the arrest and detention of Manning. President Obama, allegedly not realizing a camera phone was recording, said the following:

I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source. That’s not how…the world works. If you’re in the military, and — I have to abide by certain classified information. If I was to release stuff that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law…We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate… He broke the law.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci was there to cover the protest. She shot video of protesters interrupting the fundraiser with her own camera phone. There as a part of a “print pool,” Marinucci and the Chronicle were informed after she posted video online that she had been banished from covering presidential visits to the Bay Area because she used something more than a pen and a pad to cover the fundraiser.

A strong editorial by Editor at Large Phil Bronstein was published by the Chronicle condemning the White House’s censorship and attempt at banishment. Bronstein writes:

…more than a few journalists familiar with this story are aware of some implied threats from the White House of additional and wider punishment if Carla’s spanking became public. Really? That’s a heavy hand usually reserved for places other than the land of the free.

But bravery is a challenge, in particular for White House correspondents, most of whom are seasoned and capable journalists. They live a little bit in a gilded cage where they have access to the most powerful man in the world but must obey the rules whether they make sense or not.

Bronstein acknowledges the reality that “powerful people and institutions want to control their image and their message. That’s part of their job, to create a mythology that allows them to continue being powerful.” But, he adds, “Part of the press’ job is to do the opposite, to strip away the cloaks and veneers.” Banning Marinucci, he concludes, does not just put a reporter “in a cage” but into something “more like one of those stifling pens reserved for calves on their way to being veal.”

White House spokesperson Jay Carney denied after the Chronicle published the aforementioned editorial that Marinucci had been banned, which led Chronicle editor Ward Bushee to react: “Sadly, we expected the White House to respond in this manner based on our experiences yesterday. It is not a truthful response. It follows a day of off-the-record exchanges with key people in the White House communications office who told us they would remove our reporter, then threatened retaliation to Chronicle and Hearst reporters if we reported on the ban, and then recanted to say our reporter might not be removed after all.”

Juxtapose that with what happened last week just days after Manning was flown from Quantico Marine Brig to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. The Department of Defense unusually chose to give a group of approved reporters a tour of Leavenworth. Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman, said of the tour, “We don’t anticipate doing this again. It is highly unusual that we allow media into a correctional facility run by the Department of Defense…Then again, we think it’s important that the public understand the conditions of confinement here.”

KCUR reported, “The Army wanted reporters to see the physical layout of the prison to which he was moved earlier this month from the U.S. Marine Corps Brig at Quantico, Virginia.” No cell phones or video was allowed (and nobody would violate that rule as they feared being singled out like Marinucci).

The government’s management and control of the press in the US was on display. The message was clear: If you want to cover Manning’s detention, the US government will effectively manage how you cover it. Like with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, if you wish to cover, you will embed with power. You won’t cover power but be given quotes that make it impossible for you to not cover for power.

Former and estranged WikiLeaks media partner New York Times has helped reinforce the US government’s desire to have a lapdog press by consulting with the Pentagon on its coverage of the Guantanamo Files and the State Department on its coverage of the US State Embassy Cables. It has further cemented the subservient relationship between press and government by choosing to regard WikiLeaks as a “source” and not a publishing media organization. In seeking to cast WikiLeaks as a “source” to possibly insulate itself from prosecution, the Times may not simply be protecting itself but also promoting a climate that threatens less established members of what Yochai Benkler calls “the networked fourth estate.” Denying membership to “the club” effectively puts other journalists at “greater risks than fringe journalists have been in the United States for almost a century.”

On the placement of prohibitions to access to the published material, the Justice Department informed Guantanamo defense lawyers last week that they would not be allowed to read the released files and use them in detainees’ cases. They are to treat the material as information that is still classified.

Scott Shane of the New York Times put this into context noting:

In December, Columbia University warned international relations students that commenting on the documents disclosed by WikiLeaks online or linking to them might endanger their chances of getting a government job. The same month, the United States Agency for International Development told workers that viewing the documents on an unclassified computer at work or home could violate security rules that govern their employment. In February, an Air Force unit cautioned that employees and even their family members could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for looking at the WikiLeaks documents at home.

Some of those warnings were quickly modified or withdrawn after attracting public ridicule. But the general principle that the leaked files remain classified remains in effect, with varying consequences.

Some foreigners applying for asylum in the United States have attached diplomatic cables printed from the Internet that describe repression in their native countries — requiring the Department of Homeland Security to store their applications in special safes and to apply cumbersome security rules.

State Department employees have confided that they read leaked cables on newspaper Web sites at home rather than risk trouble by viewing them at work. A Times reporter who appeared with a State Department official on a recent panel was advised not to show leaked cables as slides — the official was prohibited from looking at them.

Seeking to prevent access to the material indirectly impacts press freedom. If organizations and agencies are not allowed to use the reports or news, those who can most benefit from the information will begin to not seek out such information. They will become conditioned to a press that does not provide material that can be useful to their jobs or careers. As more and more arenas are controlled, more and more in the citizenry will prefer to read less controversial stories just so their livelihood is not threatened. And, if people do not wish to consume journalism that checks power, what business sense does it make to publish investigative reporting? Why invest in watchdog journalism?

Trevor Timm, who operates the Twitter account @WLLegal, explains the prosecution and isolation of WikiLeaks does not mean “nobody is going to report on national security anymore or that nobody is going to leak.” It does mean the press “will increasingly give the government discretion to go after the papers that report critically on them and not go after the papers that report favorably to them.” Because, “if somebody leaked information that made [the government] look bad, [the government] could essentially go after a paper and essentially put it out of business.”

Given the collapse in journalism and the rise of “new media,” Timm further notes, “The government can bring charges and cause a news organization to spend millions and millions of dollars they don’t have on legal defenses.” He adds, “Back when Nixon Administration started subpoenaing reporters, they fought them tooth and nail,” but suggests that if the Obama Administration went after reporters today like Nixon did they would not be able to afford taking a stand for press freedom.

WikiLeaks is a publisher. It should be afforded the same protections and rights as any blogger, journalist or media professional. Yet, the US continues its prosecution of WikiLeaks. The State Department could at least pay lip service to arguments that the targeting of WikiLeaks and those associated is unwarranted. It could make an honest assessment of the way government has chilled whistleblowing through threats of prosecution to whistleblowers. It should go beyond discussing press freedom in the context of simply ensuring bloggers and journalists should be allowed to report on tyrannical regimes in the Middle East like Iran.

There exists an opportunity for the US to not make a mockery of press freedom. A wider conversation could be had. Unfortunately, there is little indication that anyone with the ability to influence power will be moved to address the hypocrisy of the US hosting a World Press Freedom Day when those running the US are largely incapable and unwilling of upholding the universal principle of freedom of the press.

Will WikiLeaks vs. NYT, The Guardian & Daniel Domscheit-Berg Drama Overshadow Contents of Gitmo Files?

4:22 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The release of the files should draw attention to the reality that, despite US President Barack Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, the prison is still open. In fact, El Pais has posted analysis to complement coverage of the Guantanamo Files, which details how “legal and political setbacks” prevented Obama from closing the military prison:

Barack Obama criticized George W. Bush for orchestrating, executive order, a labyrinthine detention center that sent hundreds of terror suspects after the attacks of [September 11th] , condemning them to oblivion and without the right to a fair trial in civil court. Obama has perpetuated the shame of Guantánamo to the president’s decision, also through an executive order to reinstate the military commissions created by Bush and formalize the system of indefinite detention, which offers the only solution to many of the 172 inmates who reside in the prison to rot within its walls.

There is no other solution. And there is none because the invention was conceived Guantanamo from violating the most basic principle of humanity and legality rules for governing the United States and the developed democracies for centuries. To send to whom the administration of George W. Bush considered suspected of violating U.S. and be soldiers of Al Qaeda, the legal architects of the “war on terror” was invented the concept of unlawful enemy combatants, thus bypassing the safeguards offered by the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war . Detainees in secret CIA prisons anywhere in the world began to land in Guantanamo in January 2002, hooded and shackled hand and foot.

It should draw attention to each of the individual reports and place them in the context of information that journalists have already reported. It should help us further understand what has been going on in the dark and murky military prison that has become so notorious and perhaps further color the world’s understanding of documents the ACLU and other organizations have managed to obtain in the past years.

But, the New York Times has published coverage of the documents and did not obtain them from WikiLeaks. Also, according to Greg Mitchell, who has been covering WikiLeaks for TheNation.com with a daily blog since Cablegate began, “”WikiLeaks abruptly lifted the embargo Sunday night, after the organization became aware that the documents had been leaked to other news organizations, which were about to publish stories about them.”

By 8:50 ET, the Times had posted a story on the Gitmo Files. The Telegraph then reported seeing the cables. The Pentagon had posted a statement that was circulating by 9:15 PM ET. Around 9:20 PM ET, WikiLeaks began to post the files and had an editorial written by Andy Worthington up on the site framing the Guantanamo Files. As 9:50 ET rolled around, the Washington Post finally had their package on the Guantanamo Files posted.

The Times claimed that the Guardian and NPR had files. NPR reported it had obtained the files from the Times. And, by 11:10, The Guardian’s David Leigh was talking about the media organization’s the just released files, which he said were obtained from the Times.

The timeline of events in the release of the documents raises numerous questions, as many of the WikiLeaks releases have. Some of these questions Mitchell asks:

Who leaked the WikiLeaks files to The Times? To summarize: WikiLeaks gave its Gitmo files to 7 news outlets but not the NYT or The Guardian, probably due to falling out with them over previous leaks. But someone leaked the files to the Times, which in turn gave them to The Guardian and NPR. The Times decided to go ahead tonight with covering / publishing files tonight, and WikiLeaks and partners apparently then rushed to lift embargo and come out with their coverage an hour or two behind the Times. At least that’s all suggested by McClatchy and The Guardian. Or did NYT learn that embarge was about to be broken and so moved “abruptly” first? In any case: WHO LEAKED THE FILES TO THE TIMES? Remember, the Times is not claiming that it got them from a government or Gitmo or military source, or from the original leaker — it says these ARE the WikiLeaks documents. So does that mean they came from one of several disgruntled ex-WikiLeakers?

The tension WikiLeaks has with prominent newspapers of the world like the New York Times and The Guardian now inevitably means any release will have this sort of drama. Like teenagers in high school, WikiLeaks selects a few “trusted” media organizations to provide the material. But, since it has sour relationships with organizations and a few disgruntled former members of WikiLeaks out there like Daniel Domscheit-Berg (who likely still has many of the files WikiLeaks plans to release), the material that is planned for release gets shared with other news organizations. And, in some cases, the “trusted” organization defies WikiLeaks and shares the material with organizations that have been left out so they can get in on the coverage.

At 12:00 pm ET, WikiLeaks tweeted, “Domschiet, NYT, Guardian, attempted Gitmo spoiler against our 8 group coalition. We had intel on them and published first.”

It appears WikiLeaks moved to release the files at this time because there was a conspiracy afoot to pre-empt WikiLeaks’ release, which may have been planned to take place some time later on April 25th and late in the evening on Easter Sunday.

Now the material is out. The reports deserve more attention than what just unfolded in the past twenty-four hours between some of the world’s most prominent media organizations. Nonetheless, WikiLeaks yet again demonstrates how it is a prism for understanding how the press operates.

The Guardian and the New York Times desperately wanted to beat WikiLeaks on the release. And that is not just because the two media organizations have beefs with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It’s also because WikiLeaks challenges their traditional role as gatekeepers—organizations that decide what to leak and what not to leak and when to leak material and when not to leak material. Beating WikiLeaks was about reclaiming that gatekeeper function, but, unfortunately for the organizations that weren’t in on the project, they were unable to get their material up and out to people before the partners and WikiLeaks began to cover the Guantanamo Files.

Update

Michael Calderone has posted a full backstory: what supposedly happened in the run-up to the release of the Gitmo Files.

The Guantanamo Files: What Can Be Found in a File

10:55 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

McClatchy Newspapers writes “the US military set up a human intelligence laboratory at Guantanamo,” the Washington Post details new classified military documents obtained by the “anti-secrecy organization” present “new details” of detainees whereabouts on Sept 11, 2001 and afterward and the Daily Telegraph reports that it has exposed “America’s own analysis of almost ten years of controversial interrogations on the world’s most dangerous terrorists.”

Months after news organizations reported the Guantanamo Files might be WikiLeaks’ next release, the files are now posted on the WikiLeaks website. Nearly 800 documents, memoranda from Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), the combined force in charge of the Guantanamo Bay prison to US Southern Command in Miami, Florida.

The memoranda do not detail torture or how detainees were interrogated. The reports from between 2002 and 2008 show how JTF-GTMO justified when to keep detainees and also when it chose to release detainees. In cases of detainees “released,” that detainee’s “transfer” is detailed to “the custody of his own government or that of some othergovernment.”

The reports represent not just JTF-GTMO but, according to WikiLeaks, they also represent the Criminal Investigation Task Force created by the Department of Defense to conduct interrogations and the Behavioral Science Teams (BSCTs) consisting of psychologists who had “a major say in “exploitation” of [detainees] in interrogations.”

The Washington Post, the McClatchy Company, El Pais, the Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, Aftonbladet,La Repubblica, L’Espresso, and Andy Worthington are each listed as partners. (The New York Times has coverage of the documents but is not listed as a partner and neither is NPR.)

What is a Guantanamo file?

First, the detainee’s personal information is listed. That information includes what the US considers to be the detainee’s name, aliases, place and date of birth, citizenship. The information also includes an Internment Serial Number (ISN).

The second section describes detainees’ mental health or physical health issues.

The third section is a “JTF-GTMO Assessment.” This section is where recommendations on whether a detainee should be held or released can be found. “Executive Summaries” in this section provide explanation for why a detainee should continue to be detained or released. The section denotes whether the detainee is a low, medium or high-risk detainee. And, under “Summary of Changes,” whether there have been changes in the information provided since the last report on the detainee is listed.

The fourth section is the detainee’s own testimony detailing the detainee’s background and how the detainee was seized and captured.

The fifth section is “capture information.” This section may be one of the more interesting sections in the released reports. Here one can see “Reasons for Transfer.” These are alleged reasons for the detainee’s transfer. WikiLeaks, however, notes there is reason to be skeptical:

The reason that [these reasons are] unconvincing is because, as former interrogator Chris Mackey (a pseudonym) explained in his book The Interrogators, the US high command, based in Camp Doha, Kuwait, stipulated that every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be transferred to Guantánamo — and that there were no exceptions; in other words, the “Reasons for transfer” were grafted on afterwards, as an attempt to justify the largely random rounding-up of prisoners.

A sixth section contains an analysis from the Task Force explaining whether the Force finds the detainee’s testimony to be convincing.

The seventh section presents an assessment detailing how much of a threat the detainee happens to be. This is another one of the more interesting sections of the reports because the “Reasons for Continued Detention” often come from statements from fellow detainees in Guantanamo or secret prisons run by the CIA where torture or other forms of coercion have been used to get detainees to talk. In some cases, detainees were offered rewards such as better treatment if they made statements on detainees in US military custody.

This section also looks at the “detainee’s conduct” and how a detainee has behaved citing “disciplinary infractions.”

The eighth section contains a “Detainee Intelligence Value Assessment.” This information suggests areas of intelligence that could be further “exploited.”

Finally, the “EC Status,” yet another interesting section, details whether the detainee is to still be considered an “enemy combatant” or not. Based on findings from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, just 38 out of 558 detainees that came before tribunals held in 2004-05 were determined to no longer be enemy combatants.

Now, as of 12:15 AM ET on April 25, sixty-seven detainee reports have been posted on the WikiLeaks website.

This is WikiLeaks first new leak since Cablegate. Presumably, WikiLeaks will continue to post US State Embassy Cables to its website as it releases these files.

*I will have coverage all week of the Guantanamo Files. Check back regularly for updates.

Former CIA Spy Who Runs Private CIA & WikiLeaks Cables on Afghanistan

8:22 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


U.S. Army Special Operations Soldiers at the Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan by The U.S. Army

The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti reports that Duane R. Clarridge, who parted with the Central Intelligence Agency over twenty years ago, has been running a private network of spies from his poolside at his home near San Diego. Clarridge has “fielded operatives in the mountains of Pakistan and the desert badlands of Afghanistan. Since the United States military cut off his funding in May, he has relied on like-minded private donors to pay his agents to continue gathering information about militant fighters, Taliban leaders and the secrets of Kabul’s ruling class.”

Furthermore, Mazzetti reports that Clarridge, “who was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal and later pardoned,” “has sought to discredit Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar power broker who has long been on the C.I.A. payroll, and planned to set spies on his half brother, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in hopes of collecting beard trimmings or other DNA samples that might prove Mr. Clarridge’s suspicions that the Afghan leader was a heroin addict, associates say.”

Mazzetti paints a portrait of the 78-year-old Clarridge. He is someone who believes Washington is bloated with bureaucrats and lawyers who impede American troops in fighting adversaries and that leaders are overly reliant on mercurial allies. He has for years sent dispatches, “an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports,” to military officials and conservative commentators like Oliver L. North, “a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst,” and Brad Thor, who writes “military thrillers” and frequently appears on Glenn Beck’s show. His reports were used by officials in the U.S. military up to plan military strikes in Afghanistan until spring of last year.

Nowhere in the embassy cables that have been leaked by WikiLeaks are there cables that explicitly indicate the U.S. military and U.S. diplomats were working closely with Clarridge. Clarridge’s name never appears. But, they provide great context.

On President Karzai’s younger brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, Mazzetti reports:

For years, the American military has believed that public anger over government-linked corruption has helped swell the Taliban’s ranks, and that Ahmed Wali Karzai plays a central role in that corruption. He has repeatedly denied any links to the Afghan drug trafficking.

According to three American military officials, in April 2009 Gen. David D. McKiernan, then the top American commander in Afghanistan, told subordinates that he wanted them to gather any evidence that might tie the president’s half brother to the drug trade. “He put the word out that he wanted to “burn’ Ahmed Wali Karzai,” said one of the military officials.”

One WikiLeaks cable from early in 2010 corroborates this revelation that the military was trying to “‘burn’ Ahmed Wali Karzai.” During a meeting between Senior Civilian Representative Frank Ruggiero (SCR) and Ahmed Wali Karzai (AWK) on February 23, 2010, Karzai raised allegations of his involvement in narcotics:

Unprompted, AWK raised allegations of his involvement in narcotics, telling the SCR that he is willing to take a polygraph anytime, anywhere to prove his innocence and that he has hired an attorney in New York to clear his name. He suggested that the coalition pay mullahs to preach against heroin, which would reduce demand for poppy cultivation. AWK dismissed the narcotics allegations as part of a campaign to discredit him, particularly by the media, saying the allegations are “like a spice added to a dish to make it more enticing to eat.” [emphasis added]

The talk about media alleging he was involved with narcotics raises questions on whether the U.S. military or private individuals like Carridge were planting these stories in the Afghan media to discredit him. His desire to take a polygraph makes one wonder whether he had been intimidated and harassed for some time prior to the meeting and was using the meeting as an opportunity to end the harassment and intimidation once and for all.

Mazzetti reports, “In early 2010, after General McKiernan left Afghanistan and Mr. Clarridge was under contract to the military, the former spy helped produce a dossier for commanders detailing allegations about Mr. Karzai’s drug connections, land grabs and even murders in southern Afghanistan. The document, provided to The Times, speculates that Mr. Karzai’s ties to the C.I.A. — which has paid him an undetermined amount of money since 2001 — may be the reason the agency “is the only member of the country team in Kabul not to advocate taking a more active stance against AWK.”

The story suggests that Clarridge particularly enjoys going after drug traffickers that have power in countries, which the U.S. has interests in controlling. Mazzetti does not talk about profiting off of helping private interests secure control of key land or resources in countries through his work. But, if that is what he has been doing, this cable mentioning Ahmed Wali Karzai might explain why Clarridge would go after Karzai:

As the kingpin of Kandahar, the President’s younger half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai (AWK) dominates access to economic resources, patronage, and protection. Much of the real business of running Kandahar takes place out of public sight, where AWK operates, parallel to formal government structures, through a network of political clans that use state institutions to protect and enable licit and illicit enterprises. A dramatic example is the Arghandab river valley, an agriculturally rich and heavily-populated district strategically located at the northern gate to Kandahar City, where the President’s direct intervention in the Alikozai tribal succession increased Karzai political dominance over two of the most valuable resources in Kandahar — fertile land and water.

What seems to be evident through cables like this is that Carridge’s work on Ahmed Wali Karzai was likely pushing the military to escalate its “courses of action” (COAs) against Karzai:

The first Nexus-Corruption Leadership Board, co-chaired by Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs, Ambassador Wayne, and ISAF J2 (Intel), Major General Flynn, met on February 4 to consider possible courses of action (“COAs”) that U.S. military and Embassy personnel may employ against criminal and corrupt Afghan officials in an effort to change their behavior. These recommendations were developed through the joint effort of the Embassy’s Nexus-Corruption Coordination committee (NCC) and ISAF’s Anti-Corruption Task Force (ACTF). The Leadership Board approved three recommendations: (1) to apply a set of minimum COAs against high-profile corrupt officials to signal a change in U.S. policy on corruption; (2) to begin a series of high-level demarches to persuade the Karzai government to follow through on promises to tackle corruption; and (3) to consider at the next Leadership Board meeting recommendations on applying appropriate COAs, including possible law enforcement actions, against three prominent Afghan malign actors in southern Afghanistan: Abdul Razziq, Ahmed Wali Karzai, Asadullah Sherzad.” [emphasis added]

In the comments section of the above mentioned cable, it is noted, “Given the fluidity of developments on the ground (e.g., rumors of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s appointment as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia or Oman, and Abdul Razziq’s initiative to form an anti-corruption task force in Spin Boldak), the time is right to determine an appropriate policy for dealing with such officials.”

According to Mazzetti, Clarridge has really worked to prove that President Hamid Karzai is a heroin addict.

Mr. Clarridge pushed a plan to prove that the president was a heroin addict, and then confront him with the evidence to ensure that he became a more pliable ally. Mr. Clarridge proposed various ideas, according to several associates, from using his team to track couriers between the presidential palace in Kabul and Ahmed Wali Karzai’s home in Kandahar, to even finding a way to collect Hamid Karzai’s beard clippings and run DNA tests. He eventually dropped his ideas when the Obama administration signaled it was committed to bolstering the Karzai government.

There are no WikiLeaks cables on Clarridge trying to collect “beard clippings” or “run DNA tests” (there are, however, cables detailing how diplomats were asked to collect biometric data on United Nations diplomats).

Mazzetti notes, “American law prohibits private citizens from actively undermining a foreign government, but prosecutions under the so-called Neutrality Act have historically been limited to people raising private armies against foreign powers.” Was Clarridge undermining a foreign government? Yes. But, isn’t that what occupying forces do? The military undermines foreign government to, to an extent, and that’s why Hamid Karzai has so much difficulty with governance.

Appropriately concluded is the fact that Clarridge’s story is “a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.” Clarridge exploited the inability and failure of the CIA to provide information military officials could consider credible. Clarridge expanded the possibility that in the future the military would depend on private individuals to provide information that could be used.

Unless WikiLeaks has released all the cables from the embassy in Kabul, more cables will likely be released mentioning Ahmed Wali Karzai and Hamid Karzai (at this point only 2% of the 250,000 cables have been released). Those cables would provide context to this story that–in an age where everything is being made into a movie–is ripe for a Hollywood translation.

Indefinite Detention of Guantanamo Detainees to Be Long-Term U.S. Policy

9:43 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Street art of a hooded detainee at Guantanamo Bay by The 2 Tone Man

The Obama Administration will be making indefinite detention a more institutionalized part of U.S. policy in the so-called war on terrorism. An executive order to set up a “parole board” to periodically “review evidence” against “prisoners” being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba is being discussed and is expected to be signed by Obama next year.

ProPublica and the Washington Post were the first to report on the executive order. ProPublica suggests “the White House alone” would “manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.” The order, “being drafted jointly by White House staff in the National Security council and the White House counsel, will offer detainees in this category a minimal review every six months and then a more lengthy annual review. Detainees will have access to an attorney, to some evidence against them and the ability to challenge their continued detention.”

The New York Times notes, “The proposal would replace the ‘annual review boards’ that the Bush administration had used to revisit its decision to hold each prisoner. Under that system, which the Obama administration shut down, a panel of military officers periodically reviewed the accusations against and talked to each prisoner who wanted to participate. The prisoners were not represented by lawyers. Officers then decided whether a prisoner was still a threat or should be released.”

In contrast, the new system would supposedly afford detainees more opportunities to challenge their detention.

The move toward a system of indefinite detention is undoubtedly a response to the Obama Administration’s failure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, as Obama committed his Administration to doing when he signed an executive order during his first days as president. But, that isn’t the only reason for this move. ProPublica claims, the drafting of this order also “stems from the president’s embrace of indefinite detention and his assertion that the congressional authorization for military force, passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, allows for such detention.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported on Obama’s disappointing approval of indefinite detention in a report it released this year titled, “Establishing the New Normal.” From the report, which detailed the Administration’s efforts and struggle to close Guantanamo, it noted:

“Of far greater significance than the administration’s failure to meet its own one-year deadline is its embrace of the theory underlying the Guantanamo detention regime: that the Executive Branch can detain militarily–without charge or trial–terrorism suspects captured far from a conventional battlefield. President Obama first expressly endorsed this claim of authority in May of 2009, in a major speech at the National Archives. The President stated that the Guantanamo detainees whome the administration deemed dangerous, but who “could not be prosecuted” because of a lack of reliable evidence, would be held indefinitely without trial, and he proposed that Congress provide legislative authority for a new detention regime. Although, to its credit the administration has now publicly stated that it will not support any new legislation expanding detention authority, it has continued to assert, in habeas corpus proceeding involving Guantanamo and Bagram detainees, a dangerously overbroad authority to detain civilian terrorism suspects militarily. And its task force has identified 48 Guantanamo detainees who will be held indefinitely without charge or trial…”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has posted a “habeas scorecard” (habeas corpus is due process, a right to petition a court to determine whether or not you should be released from prison custody). The scorecard “provides an overview of habeas case outcomes for men who have been illegally detained at the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” The numerical summary as of November 2, 2010, was: total habeas cases decided: 56; habeas cases granted: 37; habeas cases denied: 19; habeas granted and released: 23; habeas granted and still detained: 14; current Guantanamo population: 174.

In the Boumediene v. Bush/Al Odah v. United States decision, handed down on June 12, 2008, the detainees were determined to have a right to habeas corpus, the right to challenge their detention before a neutral judge in a real court. This right, which was granted to detainees, was something the detainees had been struggling to get recognized since 2002. It was outlined by Justice Anthony Kennedy that “the underlying purpose of habeas corpus” was “to allow the courts to act as a check against the abuse of Executive Power.”

As CCR notes in a factsheet posted on its website, “In 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court upheld the detainees’ statutory right to habeas corpus, and in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the high court rejected the Bush administration’s framework for military commissions and upheld the rights of the detainees under the Geneva Conventions.”

Time and time again, courts have upheld the rights of detainees to an extent that has been uncomfortable for political leaders in this country. This executive order appears to indicate a move toward developing an extralegal system for handling detainees that would limit the amount of political dilemmas leaders experience. It appears the order would set up a board that would operate outside of the purview of the courts. It would limit the likelihood that courts would create news when they go against the conventional political wisdom of officials in the Executive Branch and actually uphold civil liberties by deciding in favor of detainees.

What would the impact be on trials like the one now-convicted Ahmed Ghailani enjoyed? That trial showed that justice can work. But, the judge threw out multiple charges because those charges rested on evidence that had been illicitly obtained. Would this remove the necessity to hold civilian trials for these detainees?

This would also make it more possible to admit evidence obtained by torture into proceedings meant to determine whether to release a detainee or not. When considering how the Obama Administration has been strongly urged to not resettle detainees by political leaders in Congress, it is likely any board handling detainee matters would err on the side of caution and find any way to keep the detainee in detention. Instances where the board was faced with letting detainees be released would undoubtedly present quandaries for any administration.

It seems like the establishment of this board would further politicize a matter of justice and law that should be handled outside of the realm of politics. Placing control of a board in the hands of the Executive Branch would make it vulnerable to elections and majority opinion polls. It would put power in the hands of people who often practice politics of the possible and seek to cut corners when faced with legal matters because they desire certain outcomes that won’t put their brand as leaders at risk.

Not only does it appear that President Obama does not have the authority to argue for the institutionalization of indefinite detention in U.S. policy, but it also seems this is a move, which demonstrates the Obama Administration wants to limit the “bungling” of detainee cases, which has often happened as a result of a crazy little thing called the rule of law.

The Irony of Lieberman’s Devotion to Prosecuting WikiLeaks

11:08 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

*DemandProgress has a petition to stop leaders like Sen. Lieberman from outlawing WikiLeaks. Sign it.

I previously wrote about Senator Joseph Lieberman’s (I-CT) appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, December 7th, where he suggested that New York Times should be subjected to an inquiry by the Justice Department on whether they committed a crime or not by publishing or reporting on the contents of the diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks. I intentionally ignored one aspect of Sen. Lieberman’s remarks on Fox News because I felt that aspect deserved its own article.

Just after addressing whether the press reporting on WikiLeaks should face a Justice Department investigation or not, Sen. Lieberman added:

“And, again, why do you prosecute crimes? Because if you don’t–Well, first you do because that’s what our system of justice requires. Second, if you don’t prosecute people who commit crimes, others are going to do it soon and again.

As someone familiar with what Bush Administration officials did when they were in power and how there are officials who should be dragged into court to face a trial for war crimes, I instantly noted the inconsistency. This remark was laughable. But, I am conscious of the fact that it also revealed those in charge of deciding who is guilty of crimes and not guilty of crimes do not think certain violations of the law are crimes.

They think waterboarding, which has traditionally been defined as torture, an act considered to be a war crime, is permissible in some situations. They think warrantless wiretapping is acceptable if there is information to be gained that could be of use (and don’t believe they should be required to prove in the aftermath that what they gained was useful). They find little problem with a CIA, which kidnaps terror suspects and uses extraordinary rendition to send them off to countries that are known to torture suspects, like Egypt. And, they are willing to have terror suspects imprisoned indefinitely in secret prisons or, in the case of detainees at Guantanamo, they are willing to prevent terror suspects from being granted due process.

On April 23, 2009, Sen. Lieberman appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Fox News. Here is a full transcript of the interview he did with host Brian Kilmeade, who expressed his gratitude for Lieberman’s lack of interest in prosecuting former Bush Administration officials:

MR. KILMEADE: Senator Joe Lieberman urging the president not to prosecute. He’s live at the Russell Rotunda. You’re a Democrat telling a Democratic president not to prosecute a Republican — that’s not a popular move. Why shouldn’t he go forward?

SEN. LIEBERMAN : I suppose that’s what it means, Brian, to be an independent Democrat. Look, in the best of all worlds, interpreting what the president said in the clip you just ran, he was deferring to Attorney General Holder to make this decision. But the three of us — Senator McCain, Senator Graham and I — think it’s a real mistake to start breaching the possibility that you criminalize a legal opinion. I mean, you could disagree with the opinions these lawyers wrote during the Bush administration about these enhanced interrogation tactics.

I disagree with some of them. I think they are reasoned opinions. It looks to me like they and the CIA people were really trying to find out exactly what would not be torture under the law of the United States. But you know, if you’re going to start — look, we had an election last year. We got a new administration. This president has prohibited these tactics from being used against suspects in the war against terrorism. So let’s move on. If we start to go back, it raises the possibility we’re going to — we’re basically going to find lawyers who wrote an opinion, that I presume they believed in, guilty of a crime –

MR. KILMEADE: Exactly.

SEN. LIEBERMAN : We’re opening a door that’s going to make it hard for any administration in the future to get the kind of legal advice that it wants, let alone deal with people who are suspects that may have information in the war on terrorism.

MR. KILMEADE: As we hear, you know, there’s going to be a time when this party is not in power and this president is not in the White House. Do you want to go back and investigate that administration? Is it ever going to end and is it going to help anyone except for people get political points? Sena what about those ranking Democrats that knew about these enhanced interrogation tactics on the Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee? Should they be hauled in front of Congress and investigated?

SEN. LIEBERMAN : Well, I mean, there’s no end to this if you go on. That’s the point. Look, the American public, I think, wants us to do two things: One is to focus on the economy today and get going again — protect and create jobs; and two, defend America from the Islamist terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and are still looking for every opportunity to do it today. If we get into basically a political war here in Washington over what happened during the last eight years, it’s going to take our eyes and our attention and our effort off of what we really ought to be doing for the American people. There is simply nothing to be gained from it and it is going to have a bad effect on every administration of any party that follows in the generations ahead.

MR. KILMEADE: As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I’m sure he’s got to take your calls, Senator Lieberman .   Make that call to the Oval Office and spare us a long, drawn out investigation. Thanks so much for expanding on the letter your put out there with Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as John McCain. Always great to see you, Senator. [emphasis added]

Sen. Lieberman’s arguments against prosecuting Bush Administration officials for crimes could be used to argue against prosecuting WikiLeaks. Lieberman and others upset by WikiLeaks could choose to disagree but protect the actions of WikiLeaks just like leaders like Sen. Lieberman suggest we all should respect the actions and opinions of lawyers that created legal justification for torture. This could open a door that in the future makes it harder for the press to report on government and fulfill their role as a watchdog of government (it actually could mean more WikiLeaks-type organizations spring up because press do not find it safe to report on classified information anymore).

There could potentially be no end to this if Sen. Lieberman’s and others’ crusade against WikiLeaks gains further traction. What starts with WikiLeaks would have to move on to publications like the New York Times. And then, on to members of other press organizations that reported on the leaks. Perhaps, it would be used to specifically criminalize independent media like Democracy Now!. And then, would there be interest in extraditing individuals who work for The Guardian, Der Spiegel, El Pais, or Le Monde to the United States since they have been cooperating and working with WikiLeaks?

What is to be gained from this? There is no evidence to suggest that any real damage has occurred. No deaths have been reported as a result of WikiLeaks’ release of leaked documents. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that reactions over the harm that WikiLeaks’ release of documents would do to America were “significantly overwrought.” The gains from going after WikiLeaks will be further repression of press freedom, increased support for censorship and security that destroys the openness and democratic nature of the Internet, and criminalization of those who dissent against America.

Of course, this comparison requires one note be made: WikiLeaks has not committed any crimes. It has not been convicted of anything. On the other hand, former Bush Administration officials committed crimes (crimes the leaked diplomatic cables show U.S. government has been trying to cover up or blackmail people into not investigating).

The persecution of WikiLeaks is entirely political. Julian Assange may be guilty of a sex crime and, if that is the case, he will be prosecuted and face a fine or time in prison. But, Assange and WikiLeaks are not being hunted and strangled because their leader may have committed a sex crime. They are “Public Enemy No. 1″ because they have challenged America.

WikiLeaks has brought out into the open the contradiction that is the United States. Its leaders do little to challenge those who might use the scientific journalism of Wikileaks to repress press freedom and, at the same time, celebrate the fact that U.S. will be the host of World Press Freedom Day in 2011. Its leaders jabber about justice and making sure people are prosecuted so others do not commit the same crimes in the future and simultaneously ignore their history of complicity toward lawlessness and misconduct by U.S. government. And, they purport to be leaders of a free nation as they engage in acts of censorship, coercion and intimidation against American citizens who might take interest and express a desire to support WikiLeaks.

I suppose citizens of the world should expect nothing less from these American leaders. People that argue WikiLeaks is endangering lives and then change their argument to the leaks reveal nothing new clearly are doomed to an existence of contradiction.

Julian Assange’s Real Crime: Making It Difficult for America to Wage Superpower

6:02 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


WikiLeaks pledges to continue to fight government secrecy despite persecution by the U.S. and other countries. by R_SH

Political leaders like the tyrannical Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and complicit authoritarian Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have come out in full support of prosecuting the now-captured and arrested Julian Assange under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917. Whether they can do so or not is of no concern to them, and don’t expect that to matter as the press repeats this idea that Assange could be prosecuted.

Sen. Lieberman, Senator John Ensign (R-Nev) and Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass) have introduced a bill that would “stop” WikiLeaks and make it “illegal to publish the names of military or intelligence community informants.” The bill known as the Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination Act (SHIELD) would amend the Espionage Act. The main problem with the act is, as Dave Weigel of Slate wrote, “the information being leaked, while embarrassing, hasn’t been highly classified. It’s been secret, or marked “NOFORN,” but it’s not classified.” Thus, it appears the act might currently be ineffective in “stopping” WikiLeaks or future releases of information by any individual, group or organization.

What these senators aim to do is guaranteed to further reduce the protections for journalists and members of the media in this country. It’s guaranteed to further create a political climate where journalists are faced with the possibility of coercive measures if they actually exercise the rights and privileges granted to them by the First Amendment. And, it’s that climate that ensures more and more individuals will leak materials to WikiLeaks instead of media outlets in America, who cannot give their sources guarantees they will be protected under the law.

Sen. Lieberman appeared on the Fox News Channel on December 7th to express his support for not only prosecuting Assange but also examining the culpability of media organizations like the New York Times, which have referenced in the leaked secrets in their news articles.

HOST: Julian Assange has written an editorial that points out or characterizes his organization as an underdog in the media world. And he’s saying that he is a journalist and he’s saying that he’s just providing information out there for the world’s citizens to see. He mentions that organizations like the New York Times have published his information, which you’re classifying as state secrets. So, are other media outlets that have posted what WikiLeaks put out there also culpable on this and could be charged with something?

LIEBERMAN: I have said that I believe the question you are raising is a serious legal question that has to be answered. In other words, this is very sensitive stuff because it gets into America’s First Amendment, but if you go from the initial crime–Private Manning charged with a crime of stealing these classified documents, he gives them to WikiLeaks, I certainly believe WikiLeaks has violated the espionage act. But then what about the news organizations, including the NYT, that accepted it and distributed it? I’m not here to make a final judgment on that. But to me the New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime I think that bears very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department. [emphasis added]

In his appearance, Sen. Lieberman called the release of documents by Assange and WikiLeaks “the most serious violation of the Espionage Act” in America’s history.

Sen. Feinstein, in her editorial published by the Wall Street Journal , wrote, “When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released his latest document trove–more than 250,000 secret State Department cables–he intentionally harmed the U.S. government. The release of these documents damages our national interests and puts innocent lives at risk. He should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.”

She claimed the authority to decide whether Assange is or is not a journalist, a power she and nobody in government holds. She promoted the idea that the release has hurt people, when there is absolutely no proof that anyone has been harmed as a result of these leaks. And, she concluded, “As for the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has held that its protections of free speech and freedom of the press are not a green light to abandon the protection of our vital national interests. Just as the First Amendment is not a license to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, it is also not a license to jeopardize national security.”

This is where we get into the real crime that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are guilty of committing. They are guilty of posing a threat to American superpower.

They have made it more difficult to wage a secret propaganda campaign to manufacture false cases for any future wars. They have made it harder to mislead Americans and other citizens of the world to believe a country poses an imminent threat to the United States. They have made it more problematic for America to use illegal detention, torture, and rendition on the world’s citizens when prosecuting the “war on terror.” They have made it more complicated for America to use spying and blackmailing when engaging countries in diplomacy. And, they have made leaders of countries in the world less willing to upset the sensibilities of people whom they govern and lie to them to prevent them from demonstrating their disapproval and outrage for going along with a ruthless superpower.

Political leaders and media pundits are disinforming the public when they talk about prosecuting Assange. Leaders like Sen. Feinstein are cherry-picking portions of a Congressional Research Service report to suit their worldview on what can and cannot be done to “protect” America. Indeed, an October report did claim there exists “ample statutory authority for prosecuting individuals who elicit or disseminate the types of documents at issue, as long as the intent element can be satisfied and potential damage to national security can be demonstrated.” But, as Evan Harper commented on one of Glenn Greenwald’s posts:

“In Feinstein’s WSJ op-ed, she claims “That he is breaking the law and must be stopped from doing more harm is clear. I also believe a prosecution would be successful,” citing a Congressional Research Service report which wrote that “there is ample statutory authority” for such a prosecution. But she very badly cherry-picked the report, which goes on to say:

‘…we are aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it. There may be First Amendment implications that would make such a prosecution difficult, not to mention political ramifications based on concerns about government censorship. To the extent that the investigation implicates any foreign nationals whose conduct occurred entirely overseas, any resulting prosecution may carry foreign policy implications related to the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction.’

Essentially, CRS found that a plausible reading of the Espionage Act, by itself, might find some grounds to charge Assange — but that precedent, the Constitution, and jurisdictional issues all weigh against a successful prosecution. Feinstein was grossly dishonest in eliding this.”

It’s quite telling that they would fall back on the Espionage Act as the tool that could prevent Assange and WikiLeaks from causing more damage to America’s image in the world. The Espionage Act was signed into law by Glenn Beck’s least favorite president, Woodrow Wilson, shortly after America entered World War I. The act was intended to only apply during wartime, but, like many expansions of executive power in recent American history, the act continued to be applied to dissidents who were getting in the way of military recruiting or efforts to prosecute wars.

As Neal Rockwell points out on NYC Indymedia, “Its first major test case was with a Socialist named Charles Schenck, who received a six month sentence for passing out leaflets denouncing the draft, which was upheld by the Supreme Court. There have been a number of high profile Individuals prosecuted or threatened with this law over the years. In 1918, the famed Socialist organizer Eugene Debs was given a ten year sentence for delivering an anti-war speech on the grounds that it obstructed recruitment and the war effort. His sentence was later commuted by Warren Harding in 1921, and he was released after spending thirty two months in prison. The poet E E Cummings spent a few months in jail under the Act, for speaking openly about his lack of hatred for the Germans. The Post Office was also instrumental in using this law, in that it refused to deliver materials which were deemed to violated it, thus suppressing many radical newspapers.”

Julian Assange has brought out the true spirit of America. Visa and MasterCard refuse to process donations to WikiLeaks or Assange. PayPal refuses to allow WikiLeaks to use the service for donations. Amazon censors the Wikileaks website. Tableau opts to prohibit WikiLeaks from using its graphics service for data visualizations. The School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University warns students to refrain from commenting on the leaked diplomatic cables on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter and not post links to the documents if they hope to ever work for the State Department (while at the same time pledging to host World Press Freedom Day in 2011). And, the Obama Administration and the Department of Defense orders hundreds of thousands of federal workers to not view the once secret cables.

The U.S.-led “war on WikiLeaks” has tacitly endorsed censorship of the Internet and taken steps that will move it further away from being an arena where all citizens of the world can act openly without fear of being met by unchecked political power. The crew of WikiLeaks has demonstrated that America is more interested in being a closed, conspiratorial, inefficient and totalitarian country instead of using the document dumps WikiLeaks have brought to the world to become more open and honest in government operations. And, those who have supported, aided or abetted WikiLeaks should be aware of how this all could steamroll into a situation where Americans are increasingly asked to take “loyalty oaths” in order to take jobs or use services on the Internet and face surveillance that will lead to persecution if found to be engaging in suspect political activity (indeed, a new round of witch hunts aimed at “disloyal” Americans is already being mounted by the FBI in this country).

Ask yourself: Will there be an agent at your door asking you, “Are you or are you not working in cooperation with Julian Assange and others associated with WikiLeaks?” And, if so, do we intend to stand up and mobilize and raise our voices high and defend our right to disseminate now-public information and utilize our First Amendment rights without threat of intimidation or criminalization?

Whether Julian Assange is guilty of rape or sexual molestation allegations is for the Swedish courts to decide. If he did in fact commit a crime, he will suffer the consequences. But, the charges increasingly appear to be part of a campaign of political persecution that is being endorsed and sponsored by a nation that wishes revenge on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for daring to challenge American superpower.

“Iran Loves WikiLeaks”: An NYT Op-Ed’s Wild Claim

10:01 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Former assistant secretary of defense from 1993 to 1994 and the United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War, Chas Freeman, has published an op-ed in the Sunday, December 5th edition of the New York Times. The piece attempts to make an argument that WikiLeaks is a danger to America because Iran will be helped as a result of information that was revealed. While that may be an arguable possibility, the premise of the editorial – that “Iran loves Wikileaks” – is an outlandish premise ensures the op-ed is merely a sloppy attempt by a member of the Washington establishment to further smear WikiLeaks.

First off, Freeman might have been able to write an editorial that could provide insight on the impact of the hundreds of diplomatic cables that have been released so far as a result of WikiLeaks. Freeman, however, chose to not make that the thrust of his op-ed; instead, he went with “Julian Assange, has much in common with the anarchists of the early 20th century: he aims to disrupt the established order by impairing its alliances and violating its proprieties.”

A respectable op-ed could have been published given the fact that Freeman has a history of diplomatic experience in Middle Eastern, African, East Asian and European countries especially with Saudi Arabia. He serves as director of the American Iranian Council, which would lead one to assume he is knowledgeable on issues surrounding Iran and would at least be able to discuss the Washington Consensus on Iran openly. And, as president of the Middle East Policy Council, he published Professor John Mearsheimer and Professor Stephen Walt’s working paper, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” His open sympathy toward views on the influence of Israel over U.S. foreign policy made it impossible for him to survive the nomination process for chair of the National Intelligence Council in 2009.

But, Freeman opted to publish a fallacious editorial that displays utter contempt for WikiLeaks. One can surmise that this is probably a result of Freeman’s experience as a diplomat and a personal volley at WikiLeaks because  of a belief that this will hurt diplomacy in the Middle East. Why couldn’t he have just written that in an editorial?

The editorial operates on a Washington Establishment assumption: that prior to the release of cables it was not already known to Arab leaders what neighboring countries were thinking. If, as Freeman suggests, the U.S. is “deeply unpopular among Arabs” there might have already been an inability to get straightforward answers. The Bush Administration years probably had the effect of making Middle Eastern countries approach all talks or negotiations with caution. Even with the election of President Obama, they probably still have been overly cautious, preferring to say things they think U.S. diplomats want to hear instead of saying what they think.

There is little indication that Iran will gain prestige as a result of WikiLeaks. Iran hasn’t seen a concerted effort by Arab countries to unite in the country’s defense. And that’s probably because, as Freeman surely knows, Iran is more isolated than ever.

Finally, Press TV in Iran has not run any stories indicating the leadership of Iran is pleased with the leak. Secretary General of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights Mohammad Javad Larijani said the documents were released to “save the face of the United States,” and Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast suggested the release was a “highly dubious scheme,” one that had taken place through cooperating with intelligence services of Western governments. Like all governments in the world, they have been leery of what might be revealed.

This editorial, therefore, appears to be a chance to remind Americans that healthy and effective diplomacy cannot take place if operations like WikiLeaks are allowed to enjoy legitimacy or freely release classified documents to people all over the world. That notion is part of a myth larger than the idea that “Iran loves WikiLeaks.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said the descriptions of possible harm from WikiLeaks to U.S. foreign policy were “significantly overwrought,” but don’t expect that to get in the way of former diplomats appearing on the pages of pro-Washington Establishment publications like the New York Times.

*Photo by Graphic Tribe. (http://rixstep.com/1/1/1/20101027,01.shtml) [GPL (www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons