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PBS Chat Raises More Questions on ‘WikiSecrets’ Documentary

7:41 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

ImageProducer Marcela Gaviria and producer/correspondent Martin Smith, who both worked on the FRONTLINE “WikiSecrets” documentary that aired last night, and Brian Manning, Bradley Manning’s father, participated in an online PBS chat that offered people an opportunity to ask questions and make comments about the film.

Gaviria/Smith suggest the prosecution in the Manning case is “quite strong” and investigators have “matched Manning’s computer to [computer hacker Adrian] Lamo’s, verifying the authenticity of the chats.” Gaviria/Smith add, “To be acquitted Manning’s lawyer would somehow have to prove that Manning had been framed and his computer had been tampered with.”

This focus on Lamo overlooks a key legal dilemma that has risen as a result of President Barack Obama declaring at a fundraiser that Manning “broke the law.” That’s the issue of “unlawful command influence.”

Whether Manning could have a fair trial now that the Commander-in-Chief has told his subordinates he thinks Manning is guilty is doubtful. A military officer would be risking his career if he or she handed down a decision that did not meet the approval of the Obama Administration. Gaviria/Smith are seemingly oblivious to this when they type their answer.

Asked why the documentary overplayed Manning’s homosexuality, Gaviria/Smith explain, “Manning’s homosexuality is not relevant. What is relevant was his struggle with the Army’s Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy. It eroded his respect for Army authority and led to disillusionment with Army life. It’s not that he was gay, it was that he was discriminated for being gay.”

A clarification is necessary. Two points are raised here: one is that he lost respect for authority. That is a point that could very well incriminate Manning during his trial. The other point that he was discriminated is much more benign. It implies his frustration with the military was justified because he was being treated unequally.
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Obama’s Middle East Speech Deceitfully Projects Esteem for People Power

4:06 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

US President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the State Department that described in detail the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. He focused on the unfolding transformation in the region and how it was a “moment of opportunity.” And, he called the State Department a “fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy.”

He called out Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and the rulers of Bahrain in a roll call of ongoing state repression. He illuminated what he thinks a peace deal between Israel and Palestine should look like at this point in world history and put forth an economic of foreign investment plan. And, he drew attention to the use of technology to fuel the Arab Spring but, despite the fact that Amnesty International hailed WikiLeaks as a catalyst in the Arab Spring, he did not mention WikiLeaks and the organization’s release of previously classified US State Embassy cables.

The core of the speech aims to highlight the value of ordinary citizens sparking movements for change. He says these movements “speak to a longing for freedom that has built up for years.” He explicitly highlights how America came from a history of nonviolence, protest and rebellion against empire.

This focus is deceitful on many levels because individuals who engage in nonviolence and fight against repressive domestic and foreign policies here in the United States (some that have to do with what Obama raised in his speech) can easily be harassed, intimidated and even criminalized for engaging in political activity. US citizens who take too much interest in US foreign policy in countries like Colombia or Palestine risk having their homes raided by the FBI/SWAT and subsequently being subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.

A “giant monster” that began in September of last year and involves six FBI division offices, seven raided homes and twenty-three activists subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury continues. Carlos Montes, long time Chicano activist and an individual who had been actively participating in the struggle against FBI repression of antiwar and international solidarity activists, had his home raided by the FBI and a SWAT Team of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on May 17 early in the morning.

The Team smashed the front door, rushed in with automatic weapons while Montes was sleeping and proceeded to “ransack the house, taking his computer, cell phones and hundreds of documents, photos, diskettes and mementos of his current political activities in the pro-immigrant rights and Chicano civil rights movement.”
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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.

WikiLeaks Demonstrates Where Citizens Need to Apply Pressure for Media Reform & Justice

9:31 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) put on by Free Press took place over the weekend. Thousands of attendees gathered to discuss the state of media and democracy in the US and how best to fight for better media. While the discussions tended to be general conversations on policy and politics, social justice and movement building, journalism and public media, the role of culture and art in media making, or technology and innovation, one subject was continuously mentioned in panel sessions: WikiLeaks.

It would be a stretch to suggest this if it weren’t for the fact that at the “Media and Corporate Power: Beating Back the K Street Juggernaut” panel The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel mentioned an individual in Russia, who has drawn inspiration from WikiLeaks, and now plans to publish corporate documents from Russia to his own “leak portal” website. Vanden Heuvel wondered why media reformers don’t get their own “leak portal” website established for the sole purpose of giving whistleblowers a place to turn and having a central location for Americans to see the truth about corporate power in the US. Following her remark, Bob Edgar of Common Cause thought it important to add the US should stop torturing or abusing the soldier alleged to have leaked information to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning.

The panel had nothing to do with WikiLeaks except for the fact that the issue of corporate power and transparency is critical to the story of WikiLeaks. The organization’s commitment to exposing secrets makes the organization an enemy of corporations, especially any corporation that has a well-established relationship with the political class in Washington and has records to prove just how they mutually work together to subvert democracy.

An organization like Free Press may prefer to not elevate WikiLeaks or any stateless news organization like it too much by making it a component of their agenda. That is understandable given the fact that the Knight Foundation, prior to the release of the Iraq War Logs and the beginning of Cablegate, awarded twelve groups with a “News Challenge” grant but did not award WikiLeaks a grant despite the organization’s request to spend about a half a million dollars “over two years to bring its anonymous method of leaking documents to local newspapers.” But, no organization in the world has exposed the fault lines in media and democracy like WikiLeaks has in the past year.

Part of the new news ecosystem that has arisen from what Yochai Benkler calls the “networked public sphere,” Benkler describes in piece of writing found in a book titled, “Will the Last Reporter Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done to Fix It,” which was handed out to attendees at the conference:

On April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released a leaked video from a US military helicopter that appeared to show US pilots callously killing combatants and civilians alike, including two Reuters news staff. Reuters had been seeking release of the video unsuccessfully, under FOIA, for over two years. The video became front-page news in all the leading papers the next day. WikiLeaks is a very-low-budget nonprofit hosted in Sweden. The site originally described its origins as having been “founded by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and startup company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa.” Its $600,000 annual budget is raised from contributions from around the world. Its resources are documents or videos uploaded by anyone, anywhere, securely and anonymously. It is a Wikipedia for leaks, produced by anyone who happens to be in the right place at the right time.

//

Attendees at the NCMR in Boston appeared to be keenly aware of the dangerous precedents, which would be set for media and democracy in the US, if the government were allowed to continue to suppress WikiLeaks and make an example of the organization as it has done. Keep in mind, already US-based companies like Visa and MasterCard have refused to process donations to WikiLeaks or Assange. PayPal has refused to allow WikiLeaks to use the service for donations. Amazon has censored the Wikileaks website, forcing it to go offline temporarily. Tableau opted to prohibit WikiLeaks from using its graphics service for data visualizations. The School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University warned students to refrain from commenting on the leaked diplomatic cables on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter–to not post links to the documents if they hoped to ever work for the State Department (while at the same time pledging to host World Press Freedom Day in 2011). The Obama Administration and the Department of Defense ordered hundreds of thousands of federal workers to not view the once secret cables or else. And, HBGary, a cybersecurity services firm, developed a plan to sabotage WikiLeaks on behalf of Bank of America (it now will likely face a Congressional probe).

WikiLeaks has demonstrated where media reform activists need to apply pressure to expand freedom and justice in American society.

On policy and politics, the issue of net neutrality is made clear. As Timothy Karr of Free Press said on an edition of Democracy Now!, “Should companies or the government be allowed to censor and block content that’s on the web at will, or do they need to follow constitutional law?” The US government’s current answer to that question is why WikiLeaks has asked individuals or organization to set up mirror sites to host the leaked information it has released.

Additionally, the organization has seen individuals sympathetic to it targeted. Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp, each with links to WikiLeaks, face an order from the Department of Justice to allow government to look at their Twitter account data to help with the government’s investigation of WikiLeaks. The case touches on issues of privacy, as the judge hearing the three’s legal arguments against disclosing information has argued the order is “a routine compelled disclosure of non-content information which petitioners voluntarily provided to Twitter pursuant to Twitter’s Privacy Policy.”

WikiLeaks has shown how movements can benefit from making a commitment to government openness and transparency a component of their struggle. US State Embassy cables were faxed into Egypt during the Egyptian uprising. Information activists believed the cables had the power to move Egyptians to join the revolution.

When it comes to journalism and public media, WikiLeaks shows how professional journalists in the corporate or Beltway media find themselves to be part of an elite class. They think citizens need them to understand and process current events and the political issues of the day. They find they should be deciding what to cover and what to leak and should cooperate with government when making decisions on coverage and leaks. Their worst fear is an organization like WikiLeaks that levels the playing field and challenges their “gatekeeper” role in society by publishing previously secret information for the public to read and cover on their own blog. They do not want citizen journalists to become as credible as they have historically been because then they might have to confront their allegiance and fealty to power. They do not want to be held accountable for failing to engage in the investigative journalism Americans should expect from the press.

WikiLeaks does not have a base of operations in the United States. Its founder Julian Assange is not a US citizen. Yet, the government has opened up a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia to investigate WikiLeaks and politicians like Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein would like to go after Assange and prosecute him under the Espionage Act. Bradley Manning, alleged to have leaked the information, continues to face inhumane treatment at Quantico Marine brig in Virginia. And, the political class remains committed to ensuring whistleblower protections for federal employees are further curtailed.

Media reform activists should learn from the government’s response to WikiLeaks. Organizations within the movement for media reform and justice should note how the limits of freedom in American democracy have been exposed.

The press’ indifference to WikiLeaks means media reform activists must increase their investment and reliance on independent media willing to openly admit, as the great muckraker I.F. Stone said, governments lie. It means singling out Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others that promote Internet freedom abroad but overtly or covertly subvert it within the US. And, it means working to make it harder for the US government to criminalize and discredit those who use technology and innovation to its full potential.

Whether US citizens accept the limits power seeks to prescribe or impose will greatly determine the future of media and democracy, especially as media work to tell the stories of workers and the poor–that are being forced to bear the brunt of revitalizing an economy the financial sector helped collapse–and fight to expose the work of corporations that have hijacked American democracy.

US Businesses in Libya Made Certain They Could Operate in the Rogue State

8:06 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The only people more terrified of the foreign mercenaries or anti-aircraft missiles or the fighter jets deployed to shell protesters than Libyans are the businessmen working for oil and gas companies in Libya. In fact, this whole democracy thing is a nightmare for companies in Libya that fought just over two years ago to ensure the market in Libya would not be restricted by an amendment that aimed to prevent companies from doing business with rogue states designated as state sponsors of terrorism.

Financial Times reports escalating violence in Libya has kept oil prices at two and a half year highs. Many of the oil ports and refineries are now shut down. International oil companies are evacuating their staff from the “world’s 12th largest oil exporter.”

All the violence, protest and political tension in Libya and the wider Middle East and North Africa seems to have led the US-Libya Business Association to make a cold calculated decision to disappear from the Internet for the time being until calm returns to Libya. RAW STORY reported on February 21 that the website of the US-Libya Business Association (USLBA) went down.

The group, which incorporated in 2005, describes itself as “the only US trade association” focused on the US and Libya.

Most recently, US-Libya Business Association Honorary Chairman Ambassador David Mack and Executive Director Charles Dittrich participated in a Middle East Institute-sponsored discussion in Washington, DC, titled, “US-Libya Relations: Surviving the WikiLeaks Controversy?” The two, who visited Libya for five days and met Libyan government officials in mid-December were scheduled to discuss their “impressions regarding the political and economic climate in Libya and the implications for both overall US-Libyan relations and the prospects for American business interests.”

A cache of the USLBA website reveals the companies affiliated with the association. Founding members include Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Hess Corporation, Marathon Oil Corporation, and Occidental Petroleum. General members include Dow Chemical, Fluor, Halliburton, Midrex Technologies, Motorola, Raytheon, Shell, United Gulf Construction, Valmont, and White & Case LLP.

Cables released by WikiLeaks on Libya so far do not explicitly name the USLBA. The cables do specifically deal with some of the member companies. They reveal that one of the chief objectives of diplomats in Libya over the past years have been to improve and ensure that the energy sector is able to have maximum commercial opportunities. This led the USLBA, the National Foreign Trade Council, the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce to urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “pursue waiver authority for Section 1083 for countries that have been removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism” on February 28, 2008.

Section 1083 of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (also known as the “Lautenberg Amendment”) made it easier for “plaintiffs in terrorism-related lawsuits to seize foreign government-owned assets to satisfy US court judgments.” It caused concern among US firms, especially those in the oil & gas sector, because the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) informed American oil companies that this was “their problem” to be solved.

Big Oil Companies Face Possibility of Seized Assets

Libya, which had terror claims lawsuits pending, worried this could impact business. The NOC wanted to cut business altogether to avoid any problems.

A little over two weeks before the USLBA and other organizations launched their pursuit of a waiver in February, a cable was filed explicitly dealing with Section 1083 on behalf of US businesses that were to be impacted. The author of 08TRIPOLI113 explicitly addresses the risks to oil & energy companies as a result of Section 1083:

OIL PRODUCING & OIL SERVICES COMPANIES AT GREATEST RISK

-2. (SBU) U.S. companies participating in joint venture partnerships with Libyan national oil companies assess themselves as being at greatest risk under section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act. This list includes Occidental, ConocoPhillips, Marathon and Amerada Hess. These companies are involved in jointly developing Libyan oilfields and in extracting and lifting crude oil. The three U.S. partners in the Oasis Group (Marathon, ConocoPhillips and Amerada Hess, who are partnered with Libyan state firm Waha) pay $2 million/month to the GOL in operating fees, and $100 million/month in taxes and royalties. Company reps assess that these payments — as well as jointly-held facilities and equipment — would be exposed to court-ordered attachment and seizure under section 1083. U.S. oil service companies, such as Halliburton, may also be exposed, according to local company reps, and most service companies have frozen further expansion until the risks are clarified. Company reps have expressed concern to us that their GOL partner companies would view any U.S. court-ordered attachments of payments or equipment as a breach of contract, potentially leading to termination of their work in Libya.

3.(SBU) U.S. companies engaged exclusively in the exploration (as distinct from production), such as Chevron and ExxonMobil, assess themselves to be subject to less risk for the moment, since they make no regular payments to the GOL that would be subject to attachment (the signing bonuses agreed in connection with winning their Exploration and Production Sharing (EPSA) agreements have already been paid to the GOL, and day-to-day exploration work is contracted out to largely non-GOL entities). Nevertheless, company reps say that they are concerned about the longer-term impact of this legislation on their future plans in Libya.

Shukri Ghanem, Libya’s NOC Chairman, reacts swiftly to the recent legislation and instructs “all international partner companies to cease conducting transactions in U.S. dollars.” Through contacts with US oil companies, US officials find out that NOC would like to “reduce its exposure to U.S. courts, since dollar transactions are routed through the U.S. financial system.” Furthermore, the cable shows that US companies believe the legislation could “find” the companies “in breach of their contractual obligations if US courts disrupt their montly payment of operational fees to the NOC.”

Leader and Guide of the Revolution Threatens Retaliation

08TRIPOLI214 , a cable filed on March 12, 2008, features Leader Gaddafi giving oil companies a “browbeating” for the fact that the passage of Section 1083 is coinciding with litigation over a settlement to compensate victims of the UTA Flight 772 bombing.

U.S. OIL COMPANIES TREATED TO BROWBEATING 2.(C) ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva was summoned to Sirte for a half-hour “browbeating” by Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi during his visit to Libya on/about February 24. Country manager Page Maxson told P/E Chief that the entire conversation focused on al-Qadhafi’s “personal ire” about the so-called “Lautenberg Amendment” (section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008) and the USD 6 billion award against Libya in the UTA bombing case, and al-Qadhafi’s view that Libya had not been sufficiently compensated for its decision to give up WMD and renounce terrorism. Al-Qadhafi passed a copy of his recent letter to the President on the subject (ref B) to Mulva. Telling Mulva that he and his fellow U.S. oil company CEOs needed to engage members of the U.S. Congress and the Administration on the matter, al-Qadhafi threatened to dramatically reduce Libya’s oil production and/or expel out U.S. oil and gas companies. Al-Qadhafi claimed Libya would rather “keep its oil in the ground” and wait for a more favorable overseas investment climate than continue high levels of production in an environment in which sizeable portions of its oil-related assets could be seized.

3.(C) In a related development, Exxon-Mobil Country Manager Phil Goss told P/E Chief that Shukri Ghanem, Chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation, had chastised him during a meeting on February 25 for nearly an hour on the “dire political signal” represented by the Lautenberg Amendment and the UTA judgment. Ghanem told Goss that U.S. oil and gas companies should “tell Washington” that Libya was serious in its threat to “significantly curtail” its oil production as a means to “penalize the U.S.” for Lautenberg and UTA. According to Goss, Ghanem — a U.S.-educated former Prime Minister — was emotional in insisting that Libya “would not tolerate” Lautenberg and UTA without taking some retaliatory measures. Privately, Goss questioned whether the GOL could really afford to significantly curb oil output at a time when it is making massive investments in infrastructure as part of the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought al-Qadhafi to power on September 1, 2009. Stressing the erratic nature of decisionmaking in the GOL, Goss was careful not to rule out the possibility that Libya could choose “to do something stupid”.

Days later, a discussion to focus on three major outstanding claims cases in US venues: Pan Am 103, LaBelle, and UTA is urged. Plans to settle and use the high-profile case to “find a mechanism to mitigate the effects of Section 1083″ are made by Libya and US officials. This indicates that the US was likely seeking to use the power of Section 1083 to force a pay out from the Libya government before finding a loophole for US-Libya business relations to return to normal.

New Freedom to Establish Position in a Lucrative Market

By August, the two countries managed to come to an agreement over Section 1083 and the outstanding claims cases in US courts. The reaction to the agreement was favorable. 08TRIPOLI666 summarizes:

Reaction among ordinary Libyans and well-informed contacts to news that the U.S. and Libya finalized a comprehensive claims settlement agreement has been enthusiastic. Coverage in state-owned media has been positive but limited, in part to minimize questions about the parameters of the compensation package and potential criticism from old guard elements. Some informed contacts have characterized the agreement as a “grand opening” in U.S.-Libyan bilateral relations, as compared to the “soft opening” between the re-establishment of diplomatic ties in 2004 and the signing of the claims agreement in 2008. There are high expectations in some quarters that the U.S. will seek to capitalize on the new tenor of the relationship to press Muammar al-Qadhafi to open further political space – particularly with respect to respect for human rights, freedom of the press and an expanded role for civil society – in what remains a tightly-controlled society.

Additionally, the diplomat who authored this cable comments, “There is also the belief that expanded political and economic engagement with the U.S. and the West, which is expected to accelerate with the lifting of the Lautenberg Amendment and potential asset seizure, will help solidify internal Libyan reforms undertaken in recent years. Many Libyans hope that expanded engagement with the U.S. will include U.S. advocacy for political reform and greater respect for human rights. A key challenge for al-Qadhafi will be to temper expectations that fully normalized relations with the U.S. will prompt an immediate shift in the nature of the regime and its reluctance to move quickly on political reform.”

Sec. of State Rice Travels to Libya to Seal the Deal

On September 5, 2008, Secretary of State Rice traveled to Libya. One of her key objectives was to help come up with a solution to this Lautenberg Amendment kerfuffle. A “scenesetter” was prepared for Rice so she could be prepared to help mediate this conflict over US company operations in Libya. It reads:

10. (C) Libya’s economy is almost entirely dependent on oil and gas. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves (43.6 billion barrels) and the third largest proven natural gas reserves (1.5 billion cubic meters) on the African continent. Libya currently produces about 1.7 million barrels/day of oil; only Angola and Nigeria produce more in Africa. Oil and gas infrastructure suffered during the sanctions period. The lifting of sanctions has opened the way for new exploration and improved production. New technology and refined management techniques introduced by international oil companies (IOC’s) are a key part of Libya’s plan to increase oil production to 3.0 million barrels/day by 2013. Most of Libya’s oil and natural gas are exported to Europe – Italy, Germany, Spain and France are key customers. Major U.S. energy companies active in Libya include Amerada Hess, ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Occidental. Joint ventures involving U.S. companies currently account for about 510,000 barrels/day of Libya’s 1.7 million barrels/day production. A large number of small to mid-sized U.S. oil and gas services companies are also working in Libya.

11. (C) After years of isolation under sanctions and limited spending by the GOL, Libya is currently in the midst of an economic boom, partly driven by a desire to complete large-scale infrastructure projects as tangible symbols of the regime’s achievements in advance of the 40th anniversary of al-Qadhafi’s revolution on September 1, 2009. High oil prices have helped fuel the outlays. Western companies, eager to establish a position in what is expected to be a lucrative market, are arriving in sizeable numbers. A temporary pause prompted by adoption of the Lautenberg Amendment in January 2008 and concern about asset seizure is coming to an end on news of the comprehensive claims agreement. XXXXXXXXXXXX Despite great promise, Libya remains a challenging business and investment environment. Contradictory regulations, inefficient government bureaucracy, limited human capacity and rampant corruption (in 2007, Transparency International ranked Libya 133rd out of 180 countries in terms of being most corrupt) are significant challenges that could hamper greater investment.

The Washington Consensus think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, notes Libya was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in the early 1970s after “Gaddafi established terrorist training camps on Libyan soil, provided terrorist groups with arms, and offered safe haven to terrorists” from groups like the Irish Republican Army, Spain’s ETA, Italy’s Red Brigades, and Palestinian groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in 1988, the bombing of a French passenger jet over Niger in 1989, and the Libya-sponsored bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two US soldiers all helped keep Libya on the list. The Libya government was also believed to be in pursuit of WMDs.

In the late 1990s, the Gaddafi regime began to take steps that led the US to alter the designation. It began to offer to surrender its WMD programs and cut ties to terror groups. It finally agreed to compensate victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing and also sent a letter to the UN Security Council taking responsibility for the attack.

Most importantly, the past ten years have seen the world close in on peak oil (if that point has not been passed already). Libya, in the past few years, has begun to privatize and open up its resources to development and exploitation by foreign companies. US companies that are a part of USLBA have greatly benefited from measures, which US diplomats have been keen to advocate for in meetings with Libyan government officials.

The last thing USLBA companies want right now is to see revolutionary change that leads Libya to no longer be opened for business .

Photo from the NY Daily News

Saif Speaks to Libyans: What WikiLeaks Cables Say About His Address

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

An address from Muammar al-Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, was aired on television in Libya early on February 21. Saif al-Islam told Libyans he had come without a prepared speech and was going to speak from his heart and mind.

The address (which can be read here) was given as Tripoli was turning into more of a battlefield. Snipers were firing in Saha Al Khadra. His father’s “thugs” were allegedly going into hospitals and killing Libyans who had been out in the streets and been wounded.

Rumors are circulating that Saif al-Islam was shot. Some of the unconfirmed reports say Saif al-Islam is dead and his father and some from the Gaddafi family has fled. Muammar has gone to Venezuela, some reports allege.

The death of Saif al-Islam is possible, but until there are reports which go beyond unconfirmed, this is largely a distracting story. What Saif al-Islam said in the recorded address that aired on February 20 is much more important.

Saif’s Address to Libya

In his rambling address, Saif al-Islam manages to outline what he thinks are key aspects of what is happening in Libya. First, there are political activists whom Libya should work with, who likely have valid grievances and demands worth considering. Two, in Bayda, where he is from and where his mother lives, “Islamic elements” have stolen weapons, killed soldiers, and would like to establish “an Islamic Emirate in Bayda.” And, third, “children” out protesting managed to take drugs and then were “used.” (The last part is interesting given the fact that since Libyans’ “Day of Rage” on February 17 there have been little reports, if any, on Libyans finding people are getting doped up and causing problems.)

If one looks through the entire address and then sifts through the many cables from Libya that have been released by WikiLeaks and leaked to newspapers by WikiLeaks, it is possible to pull out threads to illuminate what might happen from this point forward.

Saif al-Islam emphasizes oil in Libyan society at one point saying, “American Oil Companies played a big part in unifying Libya.” He indicates his fear of an Islamic Emirate being established in Bayda saying, “The British FM called me. Be ready for a new colonial period from American and Britain. ou think they will accept an Islamic Emirate here, 30 minutes from Crete? The West will come and occupy you. Europe & the West will not agree to chaos in Libya, to export chaos and drugs so they will occupy us.”

In a call for Libyans to lay down arms and not become enmeshed in conflict, he says, “Before we let weapons come between us, from tomorrow, in 48 hours, we will call or a new conference for new laws. We will call for new media laws, civil rights, lift the stupid punishments, we will have a constitution.” He says even his father, “Leader Gaddafi,” wants a constitution.

Saif’s Quixotic Bid for a Libyan Constiution

Saif has been one of the few leaders in Libya to push for Libya to develop a constitution. He is often regarded as a leader who owes his popularity to backers who are “reformists.” In a cable from November 19, 2009, on who which Qadhafi son will succeed Muammar, Mutassim is seen as a brother who stands with “conservatives” in Libya. The cable mentions in March 2009 he drafted a constitution but it was dropped from the General People’s Congress agenda.

In August 2008, Saif spoke at a youth forum, where he said he would be withdrawing from politics entirely to work with civil society organizations in Libya. He pushed for reforms and spoke explicitly about passing a constitution because, to him, the Jamahiriya system had failed. 08TRIPOLI679 details”:

Turning to governance, Saif al-Islam resurrected his call for a constitution, something he explicitly advocated in his 2006 Youth Forum speech in Sirte, which drew harsh criticism at the time from the Revolutionary Committees and other conservative regime elements. Reacting to that, Saif al-Islam had softened his language in his 2007 speech in Benghazi (ref B), using the term “social contract”. In Sabha this year, he adopted slightly more forward leaning language, saying Libya “needs something, which is perhaps called a constitution – let’s say a popular pact similar to the social pact or a pact of the mass of the people”. Such a contract should stem from the popular authority of the people, he said, but stressed that a formal document of some kind was needed to enshrine and protect the will of the people against unconstitutional attempts to usurp power as in the recent coup in Mauritania.

Criticizing the inchoate nature of the decentralized Jamahiriya system, he said Libyans are frustrated with the the existing system’s failure to deliver basic services such as trash collection, pest control, water and electricity, and now want a clearly articulated system of rules that govern personal conduct, economic affairs and governance. Describing the bedrock of good governance as effective local government, he stressed that despite the rhetoric about popular local committees, the Jamahiriya system of his father had not delivered on that front. Describing the decision to dismantle formal decisionmaking structures and to effectively decouple the local and central governments as “a mistake”, he called for a “new administrative structure” that would better integrate local municipalities and districts with the central government.

Referring to Muammar al-Qadhafi’s March 2 address to the General People’s Congress, in which he called for government restructuring and radical privatization (ref C), Saif al-Islam conceded that he had been personally involved in the work of the committees tasked with implementing his father’s vision. He emphasized that plans for restructuring the government are underway, and will involve reshaped local institutions and greater privatization. Arguing for aggressive privatization, he said “the state will not own anything” and “everything should be done by the private sector”. (Note: As reported ref C, five committees were established to formulate plans for implementing Muammar al-Qadhafi’s March 2 vision. Contacts have told us Saif al-Islam established shadow committees staffed by personnel from the Economic Development Board (EDB) and National Planning Council (NPC); the final recommendations for implementing al-Qadhafi’s vision reflected heavy input from the shadow committees. End note.) Referring obliquely to reports of fierce infighting over recommendations about restructuring and privatization, Saif al-Islam noted that “many things that were not nice” had happened in the course of recent intra-government debates, but stressed that those issues had been resolved.

Muammar initiated a process for adopting a constitution quietly in mid-November of 2008. 08TRIPOLI936 shows Muammar allegedly kept it quiet so his son, Saif, could be involved in the process.

The cable notes, however that the “secretive nature of the project has prompted concern among constitution committee members,” who fear Muammar could change his mind. A small circle of Libyans involved in the process are also keenly aware that “secretly developing a constitution reflects the failure of al-Qadhafi t orealize the importance of robust processes (a key weakness of the Jamahiriya system) as a precursor of durable political results.” Muammar is described as “taking the politically expedient route” instead of “investing in a more transparent and slower (but more credible) process.”

Is Saif Afraid Army of “John McClanes” Will Bring Libya to Utter Ruin?

Given the role of Islamic extremists in the continued global war on terrorism, it is no surprise that US diplomats have kept tabs on Islamists in Libya, especially ones believed to be engaged in terrorism. The fear Saif expresses in his address to Libyans appears to reflect a knowledge of how fixated US and European officials have been on what has been happening in Egypt and whether democracy will lead to an Islamist state run by the Muslim Brotherhood or some other group that the US might consider to be similar.

The city of Derna, which is ninety-three and a half kilometers east of Bayda, is described in one cable as a wellspring for foreign fighters who are heading off to fight coalition forces in Iraq. Gaddafi’s link to the US is alleged to be fueling the radicalization of young Libyans in the area. The cable quotes a Libyan “interlocutor,” who likens the young men in Derna to “Bruce Willis’ character in the action picture “Die Hard’” because, for them, “resistance against coalition forces in Iraq is an important act of ‘jihad’ and a last act of defiance against the Qadhafi regime.” The interlocutor suggests many of them refuse to die quietly.

Derna is compared to Bayda and other cities like Benghazi:

Benghazi and other parts of eastern Libya had benefited in the last several years from increased government patronage, Derna continued to “suffer from neglect”. Citing an indeterminate grudge between Libya’s former monarch, King Idriss al-Sanussi, and leading citizens of Derna, xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that Derna had long been the victim of a deliberate government campaign to keep it poor. He compared Derna’s plight to the fortunes of another conservative eastern Libyan town, Bayda. While Bayda had been the summer retreat for King Idriss and was initially shunned in the early years of Qadhafi’s rule, its fortunes changed after Qadhafi married Sadia Farkhis, daughter of a prominent citizen of the town. The government subsequently established the Omar al-Mukhtar University in what had been the royal palace and sited a number of government-owned enterprises there. By contrast, Derna had not benefited from any such measures.

The neighborhood of Baab al-Shiha, a “district from which a large number of the Libyan foreign fighters identified in documents captured during September’s Objective Massey operation in Iraq had hailed,” is described. Of interest in the “lower-middle class neighborhood” is the “number of small, discrete mosques tucked away in side alleys,” which are part of a “profusion of “popular mosques’” that has “complicated effective monitoring by security forces.”

Just how closely Libya likes to monitor cities comes through in this section of the cable:

4. (C) A number of residents were on the streets; however, they were visibly more wary and less friendly than in other Libyan towns. xxxxxxxxxxxx later noted that some residents were closely questioned by security officials after speaking with a visiting Newsweek reporter in April. Told P/E Chief was an American, xxxxxxxxxxxx jokingly swore and said “there goes my evening”. Clarifying, he said he had plans that night, but would likely be detained and questioned by security officials about his interactions with an Emboff. While P/E Chief had not obviously been followed, word would doubtless reach security officials’ ears that foreigners had visited and inquiries would be made. He dismissed the idea of parting company to avoid creating problems for him, saying it was important that he, as a son of Derna, not bow down to the central government’s authority. “They may have their boot on our throat, but it’s important that they know that we are still breathing and kicking”, he said.

In 08TRIPOLI120, which appears to be a cable that immensely influenced the aforementioned cable, US diplomat Chris Stevens comments, “[The] ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad despite GOL security organizations’ efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL officials that the east is under control may be overstated.”

It describes the frequent references to “martyrdom” in the mosques in Benghazi and Derna:

(S/NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx partly attributed the fierce mindset in Benghazi and Derna to the message preached by imams in eastern Libyan mosques, which he said is markedly more radical than that heard in other parts of the country. xxxxxxxxxxxx makes a point of frequenting mosques whenever he visits Libya as a means to connect with neighbors and relatives and take the political pulse. Sermons in eastern mosques, particularly the Friday ‘khutba’, are laced with “coded phrases” urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions. The language is often ambiguous enough to be plausibly denied, he said, but for devout Muslims it is clear, incendiary and unambiguously supportive of jihad. Direct and indirect references to “martyrdom operations” were not uncommon. By contrast with mosques in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country, where references to jihad are extremely rare, in Benghazi and Derna they are fairly frequent subjects.

The contents of the mentioned cables suggest that in Libya violent revolution is much more possible than it was in Egypt. The area of eastern Libya is filled with Libyans who may seize this moment as opportunity to finally throw off the chains of tyranny that have bound them for over four decades. That they have been repressed for so many years by Gaddafi’s regime will likely fuel desires to wage guerrilla warfare for freedom.

Libya’s Privatization of State Enterprises Increasing U.S. Oil’s Influence?

Saif’s nod to “American oil companies” either signals the growing instability worries Saif because it might have a negative impact on his ability to accumulate more wealth from oil operations in Libya or it points to how successful US oil companies have been at convincing the Gaddafi regime to open up its doors in the past few years.

Prospects for U.S. oil companies appear to be relatively good on February 11, 2010. 10TRIPOLI116 features Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) Shokri Ghanem expressing “support for improved Libya-U.S. relations.” He explains near-term goals for the NOC that include “plans for increasing oil and gas exploration and production” and “developing a cadre of Libyan experts to replace the expatriate workforce.”

Ghanem tells Ambassador Gene Cretz “76 percent of the positions in the oil and gas industry in Libya were occupied by “foreigners.” Many of the positions are jobs he thinks Libyans could be doing (although jobs requiring “experience with new technologies” would still require “expatriates”).

A Libyan privatization board was set up recently and welcomed US companies” in February 2010. And, in a cable titled, “U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Opens For Business in Libya,” suggests that over the course of the past years Libya has become more and more open to US corporations, particularly energy, telecommunications and construction companies. The cable describes Libya’s efforts “to diversify its economy and to privatize government enterprises.” Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Israel Hernandez, who has just opened up a “new Foreign Commercial Service office at the Embassy and discussed commercial opportunities with U.S. and Libyan business leaders and cooperation with senior Libyan government officials,” talks about Libya as “one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. trade.”

However, months ago, in June 2008, a cable is sent out lamenting how soaring oil prices are making it possible for Libya to push for “more stringent long-term contracts with foreign oil and gas producers.” The cable describes a Libyan national oil company ratifying a twenty-five year extension for a contract with Italian firm Eni North Africa BV. The outcome is seen as something that may lead international oil companies (IOCs) to abandon “production efforts” in Libya (this in spite of the fact that Libya is “widely perceived to be one of the relatively few places in the world with significant unproven reserves of sweet, light crude and natural gas”).

Several other major extensions are anticipated in the coming months, including those involving U.S. firm Occidental Petroleum (along with Austrian partner OMV) and Petro-Canada. Those agreements were signed with the NOC in late 2007, but still require GPC [General People's Congress] ratification. It is possible the NOC will seek further concessions in light of its deal with Eni. Spain’s Repsol and the NOC are renegotiating along the EPSA IV contractual model. The initial deal between Repsol YPF and NOC stipulated a 50-50 split of production; however, the NOC is now seeking a minimum production share of 72 percent.

“The NOC has approached numerous other IOCs about extensions, raising the possibility that it will reopen deals that were only concluded a few years ago. Even the U.S. Oasis Group (comprising Amerada-Hess, Marathon and ConocoPhillips), which paid $1.8 billion in December 2005 to return to acreage in Libya’s Sirte Basin that it held before the suspension of U.S.-Libyan diplomatic ties and the imposition of U.S. and UN sanctions, may be affected. Libya’s relatively modest 59.2 percent production share in that deal has generated preliminary probing by the NOC as to whether the Oasis Group would consider renegotiating, which it has so far successfully opposed” [emphasis added]

The diplomat authoring the cable comments:

Libya and the IOC’s have been here before: a spate of renegotiations and extensions occurred in the late-1960s and early 1970s, driven in part by the then-new al-Qadhafi regime to demonstrate to its people that it was a better steward of Libya’s hydrocarbon resources than the Sanussi monarchy had been. As during that period, the current penchant for shifting the goalposts has not been well-received by the IOCs. Despite Libya’s relatively unique position in terms of unproven reserves, high quality oil and low recovery costs, observers here expect that some IOCs facing potentially long renegotiation periods (and associated costs of idle personnel and materiel) and diminished production returns may choose to abandon altogether their production efforts in Libya.

How Saif benefits from Libyan oil business is detailed in the cable, “Qadhafi Incorporated,” from May 10, 2006, which details how Muammar al-Gaddafi’s children supposedly have “income streams from the National Oil Company and oil service subsidiaries.” Saif is believed to be “involved in oil services through One-Nine Petroleum and other Qadhafi family members and associates are believed to have large financial stakes in the Libyan Tamoil oil marketing company based in Europe and Oil Invest.” And notes, it is “believed that millions of dollars are distributed to politically connected Libyans and Libyan expatriates.”

Several cables mention Muammar’s plan to redistribute the country’s oil wealth to Libyans through a privatization scheme. That aspect of Libya’s recent history is worth exploring further as it seems like it is much more likely to have been a ploy to open up Libya to more foreign investment. US cables show the Libyan government has typically not wanted to up the standard of living for Libyans because it might lead to political instability. (Of course, they didn’t expect neighboring countries to inspire Libyans to revolt so the fear of raising Libyans to a better standard economically is no longer likely a chief concern for leaders at this moment.)

For the latest on Libya, follow WLCentral’s live blog.

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.

Cable Leaked by WikiLeaks Reveals Honduras Coup Was Illegal

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

One of over two hundred and fifty thousand State Department cables leaked by WikiLeaks reveals the coup in Honduras, the forced removal of President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, was understood to be illegal.

The cable summary explains, “The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the constitution. There is equally no doubt that Roberto Micheletti’s assumption of power was illegitimate.”

Yet, in what might be construed as cover for the fact that it would be difficult to restore Zelaya to power, the cable summary concludes, “The constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by the President and resolving conflicts between the branches of government.”

According to Just Foreign Policy, this revelation means the U.S. should have cut off all aid to Honduras except “democracy assistance,” as required by U.S. law. But, the State Department chose to maintain matters were murky and who did what to whom was hard to discern. In a press conference, it chose to hide behind semantics and say that this was not a proven “military coup” and instead just a “coup” so that changed what laws the US had to follow.

The semantics are proven to be bogus when one reads the “Comment” section of the cable. The cable, while noting the reality that politicians in Honduras were trying to deal with a man they thought had abused power, states, “No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti’s ascendance as “interim president” was totally illegitimate.” And, it adds, “The coup’s most ardent legal defenders have been unable to make the intellectual leap from their arguments regarding Zelaya’s alleged crimes to how those allegations justified dragging him out of his bed in the night and flying him to Costa Rica.” [emphasis added]

In August 2009, the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) noted that typically the U.S. had “responded to other coups by cutting U.S. aid within days. In these cases – in Africa – there was no lengthy deliberation on whether a “coup” was a “military coup.”

Why would an African coup be treated differently than a coup in Honduras? Just Foreign Policy provided an explanation in their post on this cable:

“…A key difference was that Honduras is in Central America, “our backyard,” so different rules applied. Top officials in Washington supported the political aims of the coup. They did not nominally support the means of the coup, as far as we know, but they supported its political end: the removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras. On the other hand, they were politically constrained not to support the coup openly, since they knew it to be illegal and unconstitutional. Thus, they pursued a “diplomatic compromise” which would “restore constitutional order” while achieving the coup’s central political aim: removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras. The effect of their efforts at “diplomatic compromise” was to allow the coup to stand, a result that these supporters of the coup’s political aims were evidently content with…”

Zelaya was moving toward rejecting neoliberalism, an ideology that has come to define US actions in the global economy. Since the US had capabilities to guard against such a move and since political forces existed in Honduras that could provide cover for delegitimizing a leader favoring a shift toward a different way of economics or politics, the US ultimately opted to go along with the illegal coup.

Coups as they relate to US foreign policy are a live issue. They are especially a problem for countries in Central and South America. In addition to Honduras, the US has had involvement in coups in Venezuela in 2002, in Bolivia in 2008 and Ecuador in 2010. And recently, President Evo Morales of Bolivia publicly condemned the US for supporting coups against people they consider to be “left-wing leaders” in the region.

Photo by ¡Que comunismo!