Sonoma State University's Project Censored (www.projectcensored.org) is a 27-year-old program dedicated to shining light on the major news media. Researchers at Sonoma State meticulously combed through news reports from 2002 and the first quarter of 2003 to find stories that didn't get the media attention they deserved. This year's top 10 list includes the attack on civil liberties at home, Donald Rumsfeld's plan to provoke terrorists and treaty-busting by the United States.
In many cases, these stories got little or no play -- or else were presented without any attempt to put the information in context. "The stories this year reflect a clear danger to democracy and governmental transparency in the U.S. -- and the corporate media's failure to alert the public to these important issues," says Project Censored director Peter Phillips.
What follows is a rundown of Project Censored's top 10 censored or underreported stories for last year:
1. The neoconservative plan for global dominance
"Terror: A question of when, not if" read the front-page headline of the Sept. 7, 2003, San Francisco Chronicle. Americans, the article argued, will just have to get used to the fact that we're now engaged in a "perpetual war."
Later that day, Bush went on TV to ask the nation for $87 billion for the fight against terrorism. But the concept of perpetual war and the military strategy that comes with it -- of unilateralism, preemptive strikes and a "forward presence" in key regions throughout the globe -- is nothing new.
Back in the early 1990s, hawks in George H.W. Bush's administration -- notably, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, with the help of Gen. Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz (at the time, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chair and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, respectively) -- drew up a plan that was virtually identical to the National Security Strategy unveiled in September 2002. Their blueprint -- first spelled out in a 1992 classified internal policy statement titled "Defense Planning Guidance" (later repeated in Cheney's "Defense Strategy for the 1990s," formally released in January 1993) -- called for the United States to assert its military superiority to prevent the emergence of a new superpower rival.
The policy statement called for the United States to diversify its military presence throughout the world, offered a policy of preemption, argued for the expansion of the U.S. nuclear program while discouraging those of other countries, and foresaw the need for the United States to act alone, if need be, to protect its interests and those of its allies.
David Armstrong, Harper's Magazine, October 2002; Robert Dreyfuss, Mother Jones, March 2003; John Pilger, www.pilger.carlton.com, Dec. 12, 2002
2. Homeland security threatens civil liberties
As the Pentagon waged war abroad in the name of battling terrorism, the Bush administration pursued dissent at home, fusing foreign intelligence operations with domestic security.
Agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation were granted sweeping powers to spy on U.S. citizens. Civil liberties took the greatest hit in the last 30 years as the feds consistently slashed away at basic constitutional rights -- including the right to privacy, to any semblance of a fair trial in cases broadly defined as terrorism-related, and to the freedoms of speech, association and assembly. The Bush administration undertook this by means of the USA PATRIOT Act, executive orders and the newly created Department of Homeland Security. The administration is pushing the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, dubbed Patriot Act II.
Frank Morales, Global Outlook, Winter 2003; Alex Jones, www.rense.com, Feb. 11, 2003, and Global Outlook, Vol. 4; Charles Lewis and Adam Mayle, Center for Public Integrity, Feb. 7, 2003
3. U.S. illegally removes pages from Iraq U.N. report
Bush administration insiders often take extreme measures to protect their own -- including those who supplied Hussein's regime with weapons of mass destruction and training on how to use them.
Even as Bush urged military action against Iraq for the country's failure to divulge details of its alleged chemical, biological and nuclear arsenal, the U.S. government covertly removed 8,000 of the 11,800 pages of the weapons declaration the Iraqi government had submitted to the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But the Iraqis released copies of the full report to key media outlets in Europe. It turns out that the missing pages may have contained damning details on 24 U.S.-based corporations, various federal departments and nuclear weapons labs, and several high-ranking members of the Reagan and Bush administrations that, from 1983 until 1990, helped supply Hussein with botulinum toxins, anthrax, gas gangrene bacteria, the makings for nuclear weapons, and associated instruction. Among those implicated: Eastman Kodak, Dupont, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Bechtel, the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield.
Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice, Jan. 1, 2003, and The Humanist, March/April 2003
4. Rumsfeld's plan to provoke terrorists
Buried deep in one of its Sunday issues late last October, the Los Angeles Times published a story by military analyst William Arkin about a slew of secret armies the Pentagon had been creating around the world. One such force caught the eye of Moscow Times columnist and regular CounterPunch contributor Chris Floyd, who picked up on the tip and ran with it.
"According to a classified document prepared for Rumsfeld by his Defense Science Board, the new organization -- the 'Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group (dubbed the 'Pee-Twos')' -- will carry out secret missions designed to 'stimulate reactions' among terrorist groups, provoking them into committing violent acts which would then expose them to 'counterattack' by U.S. forces," Floyd wrote.
In short, the alleged document seemed to show that the Pentagon was gearing up to actively instigate terrorist acts, despite the risk to innocent civilians.
Chris Floyd, CounterPunch, Nov. 1, 2002
5. The effort to make unions disappear
What better way to make those pesky unions disappear than by branding them a threat to national security? Bush -- certainly not known as a stalwart of workers' rights -- invoked his war on terrorism rhetoric in early October 2002 to force striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union dock workers in Oakland back on the job, thereby undermining the future of the ILWU's West Coast labor agreement.
Then, when the Bush administration created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), its secretary Tom Ridge argued that the department's employees be exempted from civil service regulations governing pay scales, hiring and promotion practices, bans on discrimination, whistle-blower protections, and -- last but not least -- collective bargaining rights. The formation of the DHS accounted for the largest restructuring of U.S. government since 1947 and brought together more than 100 executive agencies under one roof -- equaling a total of 180,000 workers.
Immigrant workers also took a big hit. The federalization of airport screeners caused thousands of non-citizens to lose their jobs. Others were swept up by Immigration and Naturalization Service raids targeting not only baggage screeners but also other airport workers, including food servers.
Lee Sustar, Z Magazine, Sept. 20, 2002; David Bacon, War Times, October-November 2002; Anne-Marie Cusac, The Progressive, February 2003; Robert L. Borosage, The American Prospect, March 2003
6. Closing access to information technology
The Internet has functioned as the single most important medium for accessing alternative and international media sources. But if the big communications companies get their way, the Web could be compromised as a democratic source of alternative news and perspectives. Soon what we get from the Web could be a carbon copy of what we already get from corporate TV, cable, radio and newspapers.
Unlike the companies controlling telephone lines (which by law must grant access to any company that wants to use them), the Federal Communications Commission opted, in spring 2002, to grant cable companies full control over who could use their cable networks -- and under what terms. Cable companies can now manage the speed at which different sites pop up, block out any content they choose, and even deny sites and ISPs access to their lines altogether. Of course, telephone companies have since been lobbying for the same exclusive rights over DSL.
The telephone and cable lines are controlled by monopolies in most U.S. cities and towns. Without any open-access laws to preserve competition, those monopolies are sure to hike up their rates, making it more difficult for small businesses and nonprofits to stay online.
The thousands of ISPs currently available could dwindle to just two or three for any given region, as broadband distributors like AOL Time Warner favor their own companies' ISPs over others. Customers might be forced to pay more for a wider variety of sites, and companies could block whatever sites they chose to.
Of course, the largest media conglomerates have already been merging with the companies that provide Internet access to the vast majority of U.S. households and that stand to gain handsomely from such a deal. So is it any wonder they've blacked out the story?
Arthur Stamoulis, Dollars and Sense, September 2002
7. Treaty-busting by the United States
Even as the Bush administration publicly demanded that terrorists be brought to justice and that Iraq, Iran, North Korea and others dismantle their nuclear weapons programs, it consistently worked to undermine hard-fought international agreements -- including numerous treaties and the international court system -- meant to do just that.
Bush has resuscitated the Reagan-era missile defense program, pursued the development of a "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator" bomb and other small-size nuclear weapons for use in its military campaigns abroad, declared its intent to create bio-warfare-agent facilities at the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos labs, adopted a policy of preemptive military strikes, waged war against Iraq, and voted to authorize a U.S. military attack on the International Criminal Court in the Hague should the ICC dare try any American for war crimes.
In fact, the United States has now "either blatantly violated or gradually subverted" at least nine multilateral treaties on which it is a signatory, Project Censored found. These include the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Commission, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Treaty Banning Antipersonnel Mines, the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, and the Rome Statute of the ICC.
All these actions have been taken in the name of national security. Yet, "this unprecedented rejection of and rapid retreat from global treaties ... will render these treaties and conventions invalid without the support and participation of the world's foremost superpower," wrote Project Censored's authors.
Marylia Kelly and Nicole Deller, Connections, June 2002; John B. Anderson, The Nation, April 2002; Eamon Martin, Ashville Global Report, June 20-26, 2002; John Valleau, Global Outlook, Summer 2002
8. U.S. and British forces continue use of depleted uranium weapons despite massive evidence of negative health effects
Former Sergeant First Class Carol Picou will never be the same after serving in the first Gulf War. On the front lines with a mobile medical unit, "I noticed that all the bodies that were on the highways and the tanks and all the armament that was damaged was burnt," the veteran nurse told Hustler magazine last spring. "It was actually literally black, and I thought the Iraqi people were black-skinned. It amazed me that they were burnt that bad -- that we would have used some type of armament that would actually melt these people into their vehicles."
Picou began experiencing serious health effects almost immediately. Back in the United States, her muscles were deteriorating. She permanently lost control of her bowels. She suffered from 104-degree fevers, and her skin would break open and bleed. Rather than take care of Picou, who had served in the armed forces since 1978, the Army medically discharged her against her wishes in 1995.
"More than 9,600 of the relatively young Operation Desert Storm veterans have died since serving in Iraq, a statistical anomaly," wrote Dan Kapelovitz, the reporter who interviewed Picou. Of those still living, more than a third -- upward of 236,000 -- have filed Gulf War Syndrome-related claims with the Veteran's Administration.
Research overwhelmingly suggests these ailments and deaths were caused by depleted uranium, a metal the military uses in much of its hardware that is so dense it can pierce through steel-armored tanks. But this radioactive material has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, according to renowned scientist Helen Caldicott. In Iraq, incidences of cancer, childhood leukemia and rare mutations in newborns have skyrocketed.
A study conducted by the U.S. Army in 1990, at least six months before the first Gulf War, shows the U.S. government knew what the effects would be. Nonetheless, the Americans and Brits dropped anywhere between 300 to 800 tons of the stuff on Iraq over the four-day assault. They've done nothing to clean up the radioactive mess left behind.
But it didn't end there. The United States has since used depleted uranium weapons in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and again during its most recent assault on Iraq -- a fact that was reported in the European media but not widely in the United States.
Dan Kaplevitz, Hustler, June 2003; Reese Erlich, Children of War, March 2003
9. In Afghanistan: poverty, women's rights and civil disruption worse than ever
Rather than allow the international community to supply sufficient security forces to safeguard Afghan citizens from brutal warlords -- and thereby create the foundation necessary for democracy and reconstruction -- the United States has instead financed and armed regional warlords in its effort to root out the last remaining al-Qaeda forces.
As a result, by October 2002 -- a year after the United States embarked on its campaign to "liberate" that war-torn Central Asian country -- private armies were estimated to be 700,000 strong. (The International Security Assistance Force, in contrast, consists of a scant 5,000 troops -- only enough to provide meager protection for Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.)
The practice has, in effect, strengthened the nation's endemic system of military feudalism. The heroin trade has skyrocketed. Life expectancy is a mere 46 years -- with more than one in four children not making it to their fifth birthday. Only 10 percent of those who survive have access to an education. In many regions, the constraints placed on women's basic liberties have reverted to those imposed by the Taliban. Per capita average yearly income is only $280. And the basic infrastructure needed to reintroduce law and order -- like a working justice system, banking institutions, a national army -- remains a pipe dream.
As far as the mainstream U.S. media are concerned, Afghanis' worst fear has come true: Afghanistan has once again dropped off the corporate media's radar -- and, with it, that of the American public.
Ahmed Rashid, The Nation, Oct. 14, 2002; Pranjal Tiwari, Left Turn, February/March 2003; Jan Goodwin, The Nation, April 29, 2002; Scott Carrier, with a photo essay by Chien-Min Chung, Mother Jones, July/August 2002
10. Africa faces new threat of colonialism
Many Americans are now at least marginally aware of recent neoliberal economic programs such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas and Plan Colombia. But how many have heard of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) -- a plan being forwarded by the world's most powerful industrialized nations?
NEPAD was launched at the G8 meeting in June 2002 -- presumably to help combat poverty in Africa by encouraging outside investment. Curiously enough, the architects of the program didn't bother to consult with representatives of a single African nation while drawing up their plan. Critics fear the program is just another bid by more powerful nations to exploit the continent's last remaining natural resources -- at the expense of Africans themselves.
First-world meddling has already wrought havoc on Africa. During the Cold War, the United States alone injected $1.5 billion worth of weaponry and training into the continent, now the most war-torn in the world. From 1991 to 1995, the United States increased its military contributions to 50 of Africa's 53 nations. Millions have died from war, displacement, disease and starvation as a result.
Meanwhile, structural adjustment programs force-fed to African nations by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and G8 in the name of development have only resulted in the continent's foreign debt rising by a whopping 500 percent over the past 20 years.
Michelle Robidoux, Left Turn, July/August 2002; Asad Ismi, Briarpatch, vol. 32, no. 1 (excerpted from the CCPA Monitor, October 2002); Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, New Internationalist, January/February 2003