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Time for Those Subpoenaed in WikiLeaks Grand Jury Investigation to Setup Support Committee?

7:56 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks has widened. A subpoena has been issued to David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network. Manning’s ex-boyfriend, Tyler Watkins, who recently appeared in PBS Frontline’s “WikiSecrets” documentary, and Nadia Heninger, who has done work with WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum (someone whose Twitter user data has been subpoenaed by the government), have each been served with a subpoena.

The new subpoenas come just over a month after the grand jury began meeting in Alexandria, Virginia on May 11 this year. Then, it was known at least one individual from Cambridge was issued a subpoena seeking to compel him to testify before a Grand Jury. And, Carrie Johnson of NPR, in one of the few articles published on the investigation by a US media organization, suggested “national security experts” could not “remember a time when the Justice Department has pursued so many criminal cases based on leaks of government secrets.”

Glenn Greenwald, who has been following the Grand Jury investigation since its inception, calls attention to the potential for witnesses to refuse to cooperate in this “pernicious investigation.”

One witness who has appeared before the Grand Jury has already refused to answer any questions beyond the most basic biographical ones (name and address), invoking the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to do so, and other witnesses are highly likely to follow suit.

Greenwald illuminates what could happen in the event that a witness refuse to answer questions and suggests that if this happens the federal prosecutor could offer immunity. The offer would then mean anything said could not be used against the witness. But, then the witness would still be compelled to answer questions and, if the witness refused to answer questions, the witness could be found in contempt of court.

An attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, Jim Fennerty, who is representing anti-war and international solidarity activists subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury empanelled in Chicago, described this on the “This Week in WikiLeaks” podcast weeks ago.

…If you’re called for a grand jury, you’re usually given a subpoena to be there. My advice is if you get a subpoena you should call a lawyer immediately and get some legal advice. But, if you go to the grand jury, you then are called into the grand jury to answer questions. You cannot take a lawyer in there to answer questions with you. Your lawyer waits out in the hallway or adjacent room. What you can do then is, before you answer questions, you can say I am going to go back and consult with my attorney before answering…

You can refuse to answer the questions and invoke the Fifth Amendment. But then a witness called to appear must understand:

…If you go to a grand jury and they do say they are going to offer immunity but it’s not total immunity, it’s called use immunity, which means that if you say something they can’t use that against you to prosecute you if they uncover other evidence around the situation. They [can’t] use that evidence to come back and use it to prosecute you or indict you.

If you’re offered immunity, you have to decide if you will speak to the grand jury or not.

If you are given immunity and refuse to speak, then you will be taken before a judge at some time, that day or maybe couple weeks later, and you’ll be presented these questions again by a judge and the judge will order you to answer those questions. If you then refuse to answer those questions, you can then be held in civil contempt of the grand jury. And you can then be incarcerated for the life of the grand jury. People have spent months and months in jail just on civil contempt.

Greenwald notes that one witness is considering going to jail as an act of “civil disobedience” because the witness views “the attempt to criminalize WikiLeaks as such a profound assault on basic freedoms, including press freedoms.

During the podcast interview, Fennerty says the grand jury typically “rubberstamps what the government wants.” The prosecutor is part of the grand jury, the grand jurors get to hear one side of the story and they don’t get information from the other side.

If one considers the government’s war on those linked to WikiLeaks as part of the larger war on whistleblowing, which the Obama Administration is waging, then the use of the grand jury should be especially disturbing because grand juries have a history of being used as a tool of political repression. That this new McCarthyism could strike a blow to freedom of the press in America is even more troubling.

In the event that witnesses refuse to testify and participate in what some characterize as a fishing expedition, federal prosecutors involved in grand juries will typically try to peel off one individual by exploiting their fears or weaknesses. So, for example, someone like Manning’s ex-boyfriend could be considered a “weak link” and be exploited by the grand jury to crack and provide information to the grand jury.

In the case of the twenty-three activists Fennerty is representing, the activists have bound together in solidarity. They have held press conferences, rallies and participated in public speaking events describing the work they do to make the case in the court of public opinion that they are being persecuted for their work.

Fennerty finds this to be the right thing to do because those ensnared in grand juries cannot win in the courts. Those subpoenaed have to work to keep their side of the story in the news so the official story the grand jury tries to craft might be considered suspicious or disingenuous by the public.

Therefore, those subpoenaed might want to start a political support committee and take cues from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, which is a group that has formed to support the activists Fennerty is representing.

It will be up to those subpoenaed to decide how public they want to be about the investigation. The attorneys they have represent them will suggest they keep certain details secret but much of the government’s claims about them should be shared because the less mystery, the better chance the activists have of discrediting the government’s decision to issue subpoenas and launch an investigation into their activities in the first place.

Moreover, a support committee could truly open up a conversation about whether it is a crime to be connected to an organization like WikiLeaks and whether American citizens want to live in a society that criminalizes people who organize or work with this pro-transparency organization that, if one examines the evidence in media coverage and statements from US government officials, is not proven to have committed one single crime.

Grand Jury Investigation Into WikiLeaks Just Another Government ‘Fishing Expedition’

7:28 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A federal grand jury was scheduled to meet at 11 am EST in Alexandria, Virginia. The grand jury is being employed to “build” a case against Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who just won a gold medal for peace and justice from the Sydney Peace Foundation.

“The WikiLeaks case is part of a much broader campaign by the Obama administration to crack down on leakers,” writes Carrie Johnson of NPR. Johnson is one of a few reporters in the US press who has published a report today on this stirring development in the United States. She finds “national security experts” cannot “remember a time when the Justice Department has pursued so many criminal cases based on leaks of government secrets.”

The number of people subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury is unclear (and not in any of the few news articles published on the grand jury so far). What is known is that at least one individual from Cambridge was issued a subpoena seeking to compel him to testify before a Grand Jury. Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com reported the individual served had a public link to the WikiLeaks case and it was “highly likely” the subpoena was connected to the WikiLeaks Grand Jury investigation.

There are two other federal Grand Juries that are ongoing in the country. In San Jose, California, a Grand Jury has been empanelled to investigate the “hacktivist” group, Anonymous. Another Grand Jury in Chicago has been empanelled to target antiwar, labor and international solidarity activists for their political action.

The last news reports on the Grand Jury investigating Anonymous came in the beginning of February. Then the Grand Jury began to review “evidence” in multistate raids that took place on January 27. The “evidence” includes “computers and mobile phones seized from suspected leaders” and was to be used to investigate the “denial-of-service attacks” the group launched in December against MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and the UK-based Moneybookers.com.

There are not many details known. What is evident is those who are serving on the Grand Jury are working to piece together all the information that they have on Anonymous so the government might have a case, which could then lead to indictments.

Much further along in the grand jury process is the Grand Jury in Chicago. In fact, just days ago one of the activists, Hatem Abudayyeh, had his and his wife’s bank accounts frozen by the US Treasury Department. He and twenty-three activists from Chicago, Minneapolis and the greater Midwest have been subpoenaed to testify before a Grand Jury on suspicions of providing material support to foreign terrorist groups, Abudayyeh and thirteen other activists had their homes raided by the FBI back in September of last year. The activists were called to appear before a Grand Jury in October. More activists were raided and subpoenaed, bringing the total number of activists facing investigation to twenty-three by the end of the year. The activists were called to appear before the Grand Jury in Chicago on January 25 of this year. They all refused to testify.

The activists subpoenaed consider the Grand Jury investigation to be a “fishing expedition.” That, in fact, may be how Julian Assange and staff members of Wikileaks view the WikiLeaks Grand Jury investigation.

A statement on “Grand Juries” posted on the Coalition to Stop FBI Repression website explains the nature and processes of a federal grand jury.

A grand jury is a panel of jurors who hear evidence from a prosecutor and decide whether or not to charge someone with a crime. The grand jury can subpoena pretty much anyone they want and ask about anything, and people can be jailed for contempt if they do not answer questions. The jurors are hand-picked by prosecutors with no screen for bias. All evidence is presented by a prosecutor in a cloak of secrecy. The prosecutor has no responsibility to present evidence that favors those being investigated. Grand jury witnesses have no right to have a lawyer in the room to object to how the prosecutor is conducting the proceedings.

The grand jury process “dates back to the Nixon administration’s attack on the social movements of the 1970s.” One can surmise from the statement that Anonymous, WikiLeaks and antiwar, labor and international solidarity activists have become ensnared in a grand jury process that is “neither fair nor even handed, no matter who is in charge.”

A more detailed explanation of the grand jury process can be found in the archives of Firedoglake.com. User Masoninblue explains typically 17 to 23 citizens serve on the grand jury and meet once per week for about 18 months to hear witness testimony, review evidence and vote on the issuing of indictments. The Fifth Amendment requires all federal felony prosecutions to be by grand jury indictment “unless a defendant waives his right to be prosecuted by indictment and agrees to be prosecuted by information.”

A grand jury’s chief task is to vote on whether the government has “presented sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that the defendant(s) have committed crime(s) charged. Twelve members vote to approve the indictment. A “foreperson” of the grand jury hands down the indictment to a District Court Clerk’s Office.

Grand juries do not typically decline to issue indictments. All twenty-three of the subpoenaed activists are currently bracing themselves for indictments and have launched a “Pledge of Resistance” campaign to organize support for when they are indicted.

It is likely those subpoenaed in investigations of WikiLeaks and Anonymous will in the end be indicted too.

In case the process does not yet sound unfair or unjust, like something that can be used as “a tool for political repression,” consider the following:

Grand juries meet in secret and its members take an oath never to discuss what happens inside the grand jury room. The only other people present in the room when the grand jury is in session are a court reporter who transcribes the proceedings, a federal prosecutor who presents the government’s case, the case agent who is the law enforcement officer in charge of the investigation, and the witness who is testifying. Witnesses may appear with counsel, but their attorney must wait outside the grand jury room while the witness is testifying. The witness must answer all questions truthfully under penalty of perjury. The witness can request a recess in response to a question in order to consult with counsel outside the grand jury room. The witness may refuse to answer any question on the ground that a truthful answer might tend to incriminate the witness, or lead to the discovery of evidence that might tend to incriminate the witness. Since the Fifth Amendment protects this privilege to refuse to answer, no witness can be punished for refusing to answer a question on the basis of asserting the Fifth Amendment. Properly subpoenaed witnesses who refuse to appear before the grand jury, or who appear but refuse to answer questions without asserting the Fifth Amendment, may be held in contempt of the grand jury and jailed until such time as they agree to answer the question, or the grand jury term expires, whichever happens first.

These details can all be confirmed by Tom Burke, one of the twenty-three activists subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury in Chicago:

As an activist or any citizen, you’re called to face a grand jury where there’s no judge in the proceedings. There’s only the US prosecutor. It’s like a preemptive trial. So the US prosecutor gets to pick the 23 jurors. There’s no one from your side in the room. The US prosecutor guides the 23 through the process. They tend to want to help and identify with the prosecutor. They just hear one side of the story. When you enter the room, your lawyer is not allowed to be with you. You have to excuse yourself and go to the hallway to talk. Media is not allowed to watch it and you can’t have your family or friends support you in the room either.

The shady nature of the grand jury process has led all twenty-three activists being investigated to refuse to testify. They stand in solidarity and may face jail time. They know there may be consequences for not providing testimony, but they are convinced the Grand Jury they are being called to appear before is part of a new McCarthyism in America.

This is a choice those subpoenaed to testify in Alexandria can make. Those asked to speak on WikiLeaks’ operations can refuse to give testimony. If individuals subponeaed know the others who are being called before the grand jury, they can stand together united against a “fishing expedition” that seeks to conjure up a case.

It is not obvious or clear that any crime has been committed, but the government feels a burden, perhaps because of the political climate soured by Republican politicians, to prosecute and hold responsible at least someone they can claim was involved in recent WikiLeaks releases.

The government is likely to use information obtained through an order for Twitter user data from the accounts of three individuals linked to WikiLeaks: member of Icelandic Parliament, Birgitta Jonsdottir, Rop Gonggrijp, founder of Internet service provider XS4ALL, and Jacob Appelbaum, a computer programmer. Legal questions surrounding the obtaining of this data for investigating WikiLeaks may be all the more reason for those subpoenaed to testify to refuse to appear before the grand jury.

WikiLeaks has urged those seeking protection to contact the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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.

BP Doesn’t Want You Filming, Move Along Now

8:17 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 Photo by MindfulWalker

 

Drew Wheelan, conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association chose to film a video in Houma, Louisiana, with a BP building in the background. He stood right in a field that was private property but was not owned by BP. A police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggested” he get lost because BP didn’t want people filming.

 

 

The two went back and forth. Wheelan asked if he was “violating any laws or anything like that.” The officer said “not particularly” but that BP didn’t want people filming. Wheelan said he was not on BP’s property and they had nothing to say about what he was doing right now. The officer restated that BP didn’t want people filming and then added all he could really do is strongly suggest he “not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

 

Wheelan continued the work he was doing. He finished up, got in his car and drove away only to be pulled over by the same cop. This time the cop had someone with him named Kenneth Thomas, who had a badge that read “Chief BP Security.”  Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes asking “who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana, “phoned Wheelan’s information in, tried to figure out if he had any outstanding warrants, and then confiscated Wheelan’s Audubon volunteer badge from an Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training he had recently attended.

 

After bullying Wheelan for a period of time, he was let go, but as he drove away, “two unmarked security cars” followed him. He pulled over to figure out if they were following him. Each time he pulled over, the two unmarked vehicles pulled over behind him.

 

This is what Mac McClelland reported weeks ago from Louisiana. It’s one example of the authoritarian state that the corporation, BP, and the government, through the Coast Guard, National Guard, police officers, etc, have erected in the aftermath of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In the context of the society we live in, it is less of an anomaly than one might think.

 

Under “Spy Files,” in a post published in the last week of June titled, “More About Suspicious Activity Reporting,” the ACLU connects the targeting of photographers to the expansion of “suspicious activity reporting” (SAR) programs (programs set up to encourage the public to report ‘suspicious’ activities of their neighbors to law enforcement or intelligence agencies”):

 

Photographers appear to be the most frequent targets of SAR and SAR-like information collection efforts. Whether lawfully photographing scenic railroad stations, government-commissioned art displays outside federal buildings or national landmarks, citizens, artists and journalists have been systematically harassed or detained by federal, state, and local law enforcement. In some instances, the ensuing confrontation with police escalates to the point where the photographer is arrested and their photos erased or cameras confiscated with no reasonable indication that criminal activity is involved. A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy even threatened to put a subway photographer on the Terrorist Watchlist. 

Comedian Stephen Colbert had a light-hearted take on the story of a man arrested by Amtrak police for photographing an Amtrak train for an Amtrak photography contest, but illegal arrests of innocent Americans exercising their right to photograph in public (like this and this and this) are happening too often to be just a laughing matter. Congress held hearings into the harassment of photographers at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Several government agencies, including the New York Police Department (NYPD), the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (MUNI), the Department of Transportation, and Amtrak have had to send out memos to their police officers and security personnel reiterating that photography is not a crime. Given the contradictory messages sent by SAR programs, however, it is not surprising there is confusion among the officers on the street…

 

What is the extent that SAR and other security programs have influenced the treatment of journalists, photographers, videographers, freelancers, etc? As the increase in security personnel on the Gulf Coast continues and becomes more and more a part of the narrative on the cleanup response (or lack thereof) in the Gulf, what might the influence of SAR program be on the treatment of press and independent videographers/photographers? How advantageous is the existence of SAR programs to BP and is BP using these programs to advance their agenda, to prevent the production of images, video and news reports that might negatively impact their market share, which recently rose 9 points?

 

One can see BP is exercising full authority with the cooperation of the U.S. government to severely limit access to areas where stories could be produced and told that would not follow BP’s official storyline (which seems to be that they will clean this up and find it honorable to have been tasked with the patriotic duty of “saving” the Gulf Coast). Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, wrote in a recent column:

 “Stories of denial of media access accumulate like tar balls on the beach (which have now made their way into Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain and to beaches in Texas). “PBS NewsHour” reporters were repeatedly denied access to a Department of Health and Human Services “National Disaster Medical System” trailer, ringed with barbed wire. A “CBS Evening News” crew on a boat was accosted by another boat with five BP contractors and two U.S. Coast Guard members, and denied access to an oil-drenched beach.”

 

Adm. Thad Allen issued a directive days before the Fourth of July requiring individuals and organizations to obtain direct permission to get closer than 65 feet to any response vessels or booms out on the water or on beaches. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges. The directive ran counter to a public claim made earlier in June that the media was receiving uninhibited access.

 

McClelland and others have been conducting high-quality investigative reporting, confronting police blockades and areas where media access has been all but limited or shut off.

 

That said, what happened to Wheelan should be distinguished from media organizations. Wheelan does not have the protections someone with credentials might normally have. Individuals who do what they do have little to shield them from police intimidation that might occur as a result of requests made by property owners or nearby property owners. And, law enforcement may not understand what they are being told is repressive and out-of-line. They may not care and, in the case of Wheelan, one might find out the police officer was actually off-duty and working for BP. (To here more, listen to Mac McClelland talking with Glenn Greenwald on Salon Radio.)

 

However, in the case of the Pro Publica journalist being detained, your job in the media may not protect you from security interfering with your work at all.  

Israel’s Campaign to Discredit Attacked Humanitarian Convoy

8:20 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Israeli censorship of activists and journalists coupled with what Israeli authorities consider the official story has successfully pushed media organizations in the U.S. and other countries to frame the story in a way exclusively beneficial to Israel. The official story usually includes the story of the Free Gaza Movement at the bottom and frames the attack as a public relations nightmare for Israel instead of a disproportionate attack on a righteous humanitarian aid initiative.

 

Numerous articles have given Israel the benefit of the doubt and published Israel’s description of the Free Gaza Movement especially the IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief organization Israel claims has ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups at odds with the country of Israel.

 

FOX News (and other news organizations) published reports on the raid leading with the perspective of the Israeli prime minister who said he gave "full backing to military in deadly raid against aid flotilla sailing to Gaza" and Israel’s Deputy UN Ambassador Daniel Carmon who said, "What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and fire from weapons stolen from soldiers to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?"

 

Carmon’s suggestion that Israel’s attack followed international law is very disputable, and the idea that peace activists caught ambushing Israeli commandos severely off guard seems patently absurd. Yet, Fox News provides little additional context to this notion expecting people to believe Israeli forces that landed on board the ship were somewhat impotent and incapable of taking on peace activists despite the fact that they may have received military combat training none of the activists have had.

 

Fox News specifically repeated Carmon’s claim that the activists were with a group with a "radical anti-Western’ orientation that supports terrorist organizations like Hamas and al Qaeda" (in fact, al Qaeda was in the Fox News headline).

 

CNN reported this as well and named the IHH Humanitarian Relief Association claiming the IHH has ties to terrorism and is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But, there was zero context to this assertion; no explanation of how this piece of information is known except for the fact that Israel is claiming this link exists.

 

The Washington Postpublished a story on June 1st, a day after news of the incident, titled, "Israel says Free Gaza Movement poses threat to Jewish state; Aid flotilla was run by member charity with alleged ties to Islamists." Of IHH, the article reported, "Israel has been concerned about the participation of IHH, or Humanitarian Relief Fund, a large Turkish charity that raises some of its money from Islamic religious groups." But, despite the fact that the focus is the threat the Free Gaza Movement poses to Israel, there is little hard evidence published in this article to prove that the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or al Qaeda has been using this charity that had members on board the flotilla to effectively carry out terrorism against Israel.

 

Another story published by the Telegraph in the UK titled, "Gaza Flotilla: The Free Gaza Movement and the IHH," repeats the Israeli official story and also cites an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment, who claims the organization has had ties to Hamas for a long time. Unfortunately, Hamas was democratically elected in 2005 and has controlled Palestine since. They have made several attempts to sustain truces with Israel. They are guilty of acts of state-sponsored terrorism but so is Israel.

 

The Jerusalem Post published a story, "What is the IHH?" explaining that the charity "may be linked to jihadist groups." It The story listed the Israeli NGO, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, as a source for its claim that the IHH is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Union for the Good. The Jerusalem Post, however, does not explain that the center is "dedicated to the memory of members of Israel’s intelligence community who fell in the line of duty" and puts out weekly disinformation reports on Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Hizbullah, and Iran and has close ties to Israel’s military leadership and maintains an office at the Defense Ministry.

 

A published article by Reuters on IHH, "Factbox: Turkish charity group behind Gaza-bound convoy," lists no details suggesting the humanitarian relief organization has terror ties.

  

Finally, BBC News‘ article,"Q&A: Israeli raid on aid flotilla," describes the Free Gaza Movement as:

A group called Free Gaza, an umbrella organisation of activist groups from numerous countries, and a Turkish group called the IHH (Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief). The Israeli government says the IHH is closely linked to Hamas, and is a member of another organisation, the Union of the Good, which supports suicide bombings. However, the Turkish government regards the IHH as a legitimate charity, and urged Israel to let the flotilla through.

 

The link to Hamas and the suicide bombing-supporting organization Union of the Good are only listed because the Israeli government has said so. This has to be just another tidbit from Israel’s propagandistic storyline being spread to make people around the world believe the humanitarian convoy aimed to attack or delegitimize Israel.

 

If one conducts a LexisNexis searches for articles published before May 31, 2010 that contain the words "Free Gaza," zero results appear in connection to the Freedom Flotilla. Even though the Free Gaza Movement publicized its intentions and what countries/organizations were participating, there were no alerts put out by any news organizations that this humanitarian aid initiative had terror ties to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood or al Qaeda, which one can reasonably presume means no one following this movement considered them to be a threat.

 

Prior to the raid, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Navy was preparing to block the fleet of 9 ships and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were awaiting orders from the prime minister. Also, according to YNet, Israel also was preparing a media blitz similar to what the world is witnessing now:

Israel is also preparing for the media blitz certain to follow the flotilla, which many believe will harm the state’s already floundering reputation. Foreign Ministry, IDF, and PR spokespersons are preparing interviews for global news agencies in order to explain Israel’s position, mainly that the flotilla serves the terror organization ruling Gaza and not its residents.

 

Public relations officials said Israel is also attempting to expose the true face of the organization behind the flotilla, and the fact that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

 

"This is a media-related provocation, and we have made it clear to the organizers that Israel is prepared to convey the supplies to Gaza itself following a security check," a Jerusalem official said.

James Marc Leas dissects Israel’s disinformation campaign against the Freedom Flotilla.

The Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, with close ties to the Israeli military and an office in the Defense Ministry, is the source of much of the talking points on the Free Gaza Movement’s so-called ties to terrorism. Here is the Center’s complete list.

These talking points are what is being repeated. Their aim is to make the people of the world forget that Israel took this action against the Freedom Flotilla with the intention of deterring future attempts to deliver humanitarian aid to the starving civilians suffering under an Israeli blockade in Gaza.

Israeli Raid Censored: Journalist Ban Gives Israel’s Official Story “Head Start”

3:29 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 

Immediately following a deadly attack by Israeli commandos on the Freedom Flotilla, a humanitarian aid convoy seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, Israeli authorities put in place, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), a ban on media preventing any information about the dead and wounded taken to hospitals in Israel from being reported by journalists. Such censorship has made it possible for Israel to promote a claim that the Free Gaza Movement behind the Freedom Flotilla has participants allied with al Qaeda.

The international organization for press freedom released this statement on the attack on the flotilla that was carrying aid, 750 pro-Palestinian activists and several journalists to the Gaza Strip:

"We deplore this assault, which left a heavy toll of dead and wounded. The journalists who were on the flotilla to cover the humanitarian operation were put in harm’s way by this disproportionate reaction. We urge the Israeli authorities to release the detained journalists and allow them unrestricted access to the Gaza Strip. The international community needs accurate information about this Palestinian Territory."

 

Robert Booth with The Guardian, a newspaper based in the United Kingdom, wrote, "Shortly after the assault, all communications with the flotilla were blocked. Mobile phones, satellite phones and Internet access all went down, making it all but impossible to glean any account from the passengers about what happened beyond the few minutes that were captured on film. Israel’s version of events became the only one available in any detail." [Booth's editorial went on to explain what The Guardian thinks has happened based on information they have been able to piece together.]

Israel’s censorship of information has made it possible for authorities and officials to get out in front on this story. Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah appeared on Democracy Now! hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez and urged those reading stories of the raid to put it into context.

AMY GOODMAN: "Ali Abunimah, can you talk about the videotape? And again, we have to stress, in the brief coverage that we see in US media right now, because we do not even know the names of the dead or the injured, not to mention hundreds of people who are now in jail in Israel, we’re only getting one side here. But the videotape that the Israeli government is showing of what happened on the lead ship, on the Turkish ship, Ali?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. I mean, what we have to do is put all this in the context of Israel’s propaganda strategy. What they’ve done is imposed a total news block-outblackout. Hundreds of people are detained. They’ve had no access to lawyers, certainly no access to media. It was reported there was one Al Jazeera cameraman, of the six Al Jazeera staff who were kidnapped with the ships, who was released. And what he said is that all the passengers were allowed to leave the ships only with their passports, with no other personal belongings. He was personally attacked by Israeli soldiers while he was filming, and his camera smashed. In any case, no journalists were allowed to leave the ships with any film or any recordings whatsoever. We don’t know the names of the dead. The families of all those passengers are anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones. Why is this? So that the Israeli narrative can get a long head start. This is all about the Israeli propaganda strategy to give the Israeli propagandists, like Mark Regev, a free run. They’ve had more than twenty-four hours. And, Amy, it’s working in the mainstream media, because they’re only reporting, you know, the atrocious reporting on National Public Radio and on the BBC, which is taking mostly the Israeli version. [emphasis added]

Reinforcing Abunimah’s comments is a list from RSF recently published which indicates, of the foreign journalists on board the flotilla, at least fourteen are still unable to be reached.

The treatment of foreign press is another reminder that Israel does not adhere to core principles of press freedom. Israel frequently bans foreign journalists from entering Gaza. This is because Danny Seaman, head of Israel’s government press office, believes, "When you have hundreds of journalists coming in, most haven’t the faintest idea about the war or the situation…Take the UN school [where 42 people were killed by an Israeli shell] for example. There’s a lot of questions as to what actually happened. If the foreign media had been there it would have had much more of an impact on the conflict than it has at the moment. For the first time, when Israel raised questions, journalists had to address these issues and not get caught in feeding frenzy of reporting the story."

 

 

“Embedded Media” Only Allowed to Cover BP Oil Disaster?

11:16 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

CBS journalists were filming a beach in South Pass, Louisiana, when, according to CBS, a "boat of BP contractors and two Coast Guard officers told them to turn around or be arrested." The incident is thought by bloggers tracking the oil leak in the Gulf to not be the only time that BP has challenged the right of journalists to film.

If in fact BP has instructed crews to specifically regulate and turn away groups with video cameras or even still cameras, this raises many questions about what Americans are able to access and not access, what they are able to document and not document.

Should a person have to be embedded with authorities, corporations or organizations at the center of a disaster in order to document a disaster? Must a person be with a recognized news organization that regularly gets into press conferences in order to film critical events like the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico right now?

RAW STORY noted the effect of BP’s restrictions on reporting on the disaster and leak so far and mentioned how anecdotes from bloggers have become "a primary source of additional information." Keep in mind the videos released by BP so far have only been released as a result of pressure from Congress and other organizations. That is why BP is finally releasing a live feed of the leak.

Journalists were told by "someone aboard the boat" this is BP’s rules, not ours. That alone would be enough to seriously question the situation and ask why citizens should have to follow rules and only document what authorities, corporations, or organizations involved grant citizens permission to document. But, the Coast Guard was present and they released a statement on the matter that was published by the Mother Nature Network.

"CBS Evening News reported they were denied access to oiled shoreline by a civilian vessel that had clean-up workers contracted by BP, as well as Coast Guard personnel on board. CBS News video taped the exchange during which time one of the contractors told them (on tape) that " … this is BP’s rules not ours."

Neither BP nor the U.S. Coast Guard, who are responding to the spill, have any rules in place that would prohibit media access to impacted areas and we were disappointed to hear of this incident. In fact, media has been actively embedded and allowed to cover response efforts since this response began, with more than 400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date. Just today 16 members of the press observed clean-up operations on a vessel out of Venice, La.

The only time anyone would be asked to move from an area would be if there were safety concerns, or they were interfering with response operations. This did occur off South Pass Monday which may have caused the confusion reported by CBS today.

The entities involved in the Deepwater Horizon/BP Response have already reiterated these media access guidelines to personnel involved in the response and hope it prevents any future confusion." [emphasis added]

That the Coast Guard, a national military organization, is going along with whatever happened between BP and the CBS journalists should lead those involved in the creation and production of media to be even more concerned. The Coast Guard is, with this statement, legitimizing BP’s right to limit the privileges of those wishing to document the destruction.

When one breaks down the "400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date" the Coast Guard claims BP has allowed, it comes out to approximately 13 embeds per day in the month since the oil rig explosion occurred. And, if each embed is one journalist, this means 13 journalists per day have been allowed (on average) to document the disaster and response efforts/failures.

Is this satisfactory? Have all those interested in documenting been allowed to embed and see the devastation? Who has been turned away because BP didn’t agree with the intentions or motivations of a videographer or how a journalist wanted to frame the story?

Read between the lines. In the U.S. war in Iraq journalists have been embedded and they have followed instructions on what to cover and not cover. Such embedding has become standard procedure. Embedding socializes those engaging in media coverage. It leads them to see what is happening from the official point-of-view that those at the center may want media coverage to come from.

The Coast Guard statement also says, "The only time anyone would be asked to move from an area would be if there were safety concerns, or they were interfering with response operations." What constitutes a safety concern or interference with response operations? If that is up to BP’s discretion, it seems like anyone deemed to be a "threat" to BP could be deemed a "safety concern" and directed to leave.

It’s unlikely that CBS will push back against BP if they have in fact been restricted from filming areas of destruction on the Gulf coast. The news organization risks access privileges if they challenge authorities. The news organization also risks advertising dollars if it mounts a campaign against BP for restricting journalist access to the Gulf.

That does not mean there should not be an increased effort to track BP’s restriction of access to the Gulf. In a time when any person should be able to be a blogger, photographer, or filmmaker and can be a blogger, photographer, or filmmaker, pushing back against a corporation’s attempts to hide what is really happening in the Gulf is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, there is no record of incidents of this nature. Despite the fact that countless journalists or videographers might share anecdotes about trying to film or document corporations like Monsanto before being threatened with arrest for filming, this is not a trend that can be discussed quantitatively yet (and certainly an organization should consider tracking this comprehensively). But, when put into a world context, it makes one wonder just how much freedom people really have in this country.

Reporters Sans Frontieres, an organization that tracks the state of press freedom around the world, consistently reports on incidents like what happened between CBS, BP and the Coast Guard.

In February 2007, journalism student Mehrnoushe Solouki, who has dual French and Iranian nationality, was arrested and held in Evin prison for a month for filming "the families of the victims of violence in the 1980s and her notes and film were confiscated." She was in Tehran with the intention of producing a documentary on the 1988 ceasefire between Iran and Iraq.

In April 2005, CBS cameraman Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein was filming a ceremony at Mosul University and was shot by U.S. troops "during an exchange with rebels." He was arrested and held by the U.S. military for a year before being released. Charges were eventually dropped making it even more likely that the fact that he was there filming with a camera was why he was ultimately arrested.

In December 2005, three television crews were prevented from covering the third round of voting in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

In March 2004, Pakistan engaged in efforts "to stop foreign and local journalists from freely covering an offensive against Taliban and al-Qaeda supporters in the Wana region of South Waziristan."

In November 2002, prior to the U.S. invasion, French TV reporters in Iraq were preventedfrom filming. The reporters attempted to report on the "Oil Road" but were bullied and censored. Reporters Sans Frontieres reported, "Police even banned them from filming rubbish on the grounds saying "this is not good for the government’s image."

In February 2002, Palestinian police prevented journalists from covering the trial of three Palestinians charged with murder. The journalists managed to film a part of the trial but the "cassettes of the television teams were forfeited by police." This happened less than a year after a photographer and an editor for Reuters, a cameraman for APTV, the satellite television correspondent of Abou Dhabi and a photographer for the AFP had been arrested and forced to forefit their footage of a demonstration in a refugee camp in Nusseirat.

It may seem over-the-top to place the incident between BP and CBS in the context of incidents between governments and press in other countries. But, with the consent of a military organization like the Coast Guard, threats of arrest made against journalists or individuals seeking to conduct coverage of a situation especially in public areas like beaches must be compared because, if it is not challenged, the repression could rise to the level of actual arrest and detention of individuals on a regular basis.

Either journalists and individuals who believe in their right to document and gather information allow authorities, corporations or organizations to place restrictions on access or they challenge it. If challenged, invariably one must expect incidents like the ones covered byReporters Sans Frontieres to occur. If BP is serious about controlling the images and words seen in relation to the oil leak, they will have to repress people.

At a time when surveillance is entirely acceptable and normal, when cameras at traffic intersections photograph those running red lights, when cameras watch your every move in city, state, federal or private buildings, when street cameras track movements of people in areas thought to have high levels of crime, the public must decide whether it will or should assert its right to survey and cover anything in the same way that authorities, corporations or organizations would assert their right to survey and cover anything.

The democratization of media makes it possible for all of us to be, at least, amateur journalists. Coverage of events no longer has to be left up to officially recognized news organizations (see OpEdNews.com and countless other Internet news sites for further examples).

This is more than an issue of press freedom. This is an issue that concerns the public’s right to share and disseminate information.