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Worse Than Nixon? Committee to Protect Journalists Warns About Obama Crackdown on Press Freedom October 11, 2013

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ROGER’S NOTE: THIS IS THE PRESIDENT WHO PROMISED MORE TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT.  THIS IS THE PRESIDENT WHO IS QUICK TO ACCUSE THE ECUADORIAN AND VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENTS OF SUPPRESSING FREEDOM OF THE PRESS.

http://www.democracynow.org, October 11, 2013

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we shift gears and turn to the first report on press freedom in the United States ever published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which usually advocates for press freedoms overseas—and the news isn’t good. Titled “The Obama Administration and the Press,” the report looks at the many ways President Obama has ushered in a paralyzing climate of fear for both reporters and their sources. Among the cases it details, six government employees, plus two contractors, including Edward Snowden, have faced felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act for leaking classified information to the press, compared with just three prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. The Department of Justice has also secretly subpoenaed and seized Associated Press reporters’ phone logs and emails, and New York Times reporter James Risen was ordered to testify against a former CIA officer who provided leaked information to him, or Risen would go to jail.

The new report is written by Leonard Downie, former executive editor of The Washington Post. He spoke with dozens of journalists who told him officials are, quote, “reluctant to discuss even unclassified information … because they fear that leak investigations and government surveillance make it more difficult for reporters to protect them as sources.” It comes as Glenn Greenwald, columnist for Britain’s Guardian newspaper who is based in Brazil, and his partner David Miranda testified before a Brazilian Senate committee this week about his work with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who remains in Russia while he’s wanted in the U.S. on espionage charges.

GLENN GREENWALD: [translated] In reality, there is a war against journalism and the process of transparency. And this war is with the government of the United States and its closest allies, mostly the British government. They are doing a lot of things against the freedom of press to hide this whole report, which generally the United States or English government say these things only happen in China or Iran or Russia, but now we can see that the United States government is doing these exact same things.

AMY GOODMAN: That of course wasn’t Glenn Greenwald’s voice that you mainly heard, because Glenn Greenwald was speaking Portuguese in the Brazilian hearing. This comes as the Obama administration seized the emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen as part of probes into the leaking of classified information. In May, President Obama said he made no apologies for seeking to crack down on leaks.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk. I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me, as commander-in-chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Leonard Downie, former executive editor of The Washington Post, author of this new report, “The Obama Administration and the Press,” commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Leonard Downie’s 44 years at The Washington Post included overseeing much of its Watergate coverage. During the 17 years he served as executive editor, the paper won 25 Pulitzer Prizes. He’s now is a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

Leonard Downie, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about your findings, this comprehensive, first-time report of the Committee to Protect Journalists on press freedom here in the United States.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: I found that these leaks investigations and a program called the Insider Threat Program, instituted since the Bradley Manning leaks, that requires government employees to monitor each other to make sure that they’re not leaking information to anyone, including journalists, to have really frightened government officials. Many, many reporters that I interviewed here in Washington say that government officials are afraid to talk to them. They’re afraid that their telephone conversations and their email exchanges would be monitored. That is to say that investigators could come in later, as they did in several leaks investigations, and use their telephone and email records in order to find the contacts between government officials and reporters. So they’re simply scared to talk to reporters.

And this, this is not good, because—I just heard the president saying that he was concerned about the safety of our troops and our intelligence officers. It’s important that responsible, knowledgeable government officials be able to talk to reporters about these matters, so that, among other things, they can alert reporters to information that might be harmful to national security or harmful to human life, in which case no responsible news organization would publish those.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: I guess I was most surprised by—you know, I’m used to reporters complaining about access, because we all want more access than we can get all the time, and that’s understandable. But I was surprised by the pervasiveness of this administration’s control over the—over information, by how much it discourages leaks of all kinds and not just classified information leaks, and how much it does not allow for unauthorized contacts with the press, if it can help it, and how much it uses social media and other digital means—websites and so on—to put out a lot of its own story, a lot of its own information, that makes the administration look good, while restricting access to information that would hold the government accountable for its actions.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Downie, for this report you spoke with New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane—we also—

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —just interviewed him—who said sources are now scared to death to even talk about unclassified, everyday issues. He said, quote, “There’s a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone,” Shane said. “It’s having a deterrent effect. If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.” That was Scott Shane of The New York Times. Leonard Downie?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Yes, that’s exactly what he told me. And this is exactly what I heard from dozens of reporters around Washington, from news executives, and even from some former government officials, who are concerned, as I said earlier, about the fact that there—that it’s important that knowledgeable reporters, like Scott Shane, who know so much about national security, and his editors, who can make good decisions about what to publish—if they’re cut off from this information, it’s important for them—but here’s a good example. Look at how much the administration has revealed now about the NSA surveillance program, only because Edward Snowden provided that information to the press. The press published it, and that forced the administration to make public information about this program that Americans ought to have so that they can make decisions about it.

AMY GOODMAN: In May, reporters asked President Obama whether his administration’s probe of the emails of Associated Press reporters and editors’ emails recalls President Richard Nixon’s targeting of the press when it attempted to block The New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War leaked to the paper by whistleblower Dan Ellsberg. This is part of the exchange.

REPORTER: I’d like to ask you about the Justice Department.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Mm-hmm.

REPORTER: Do you believe that the seizure of phone records from Associated Press journalists this week, or before, that was announced recently this week, was an overreach? And do you still have full confidence in your attorney general? Should we interpret yesterday’s renewed interest by the White House in a media shield law as a response to that? And more broadly, how do you feel about comparisons by some of your critics of this week’s scandals to those that happened under the Nixon administration?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, yeah, I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons. And you can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions. My concern is making sure that if there’s a problem in the government, that we fix it. That’s my responsibility. And that’s what we’re going to do.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is White House spokesperson Jay Carney questioned in May about the AP spying scandal and the Obama administration’s prosecutions of whistleblowers.

REPORTER: This administration in the last four years has prosecuted twice as many leakers as every previous administration combined. How does that reflect balance?

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I would say that the president is committed to the press’s ability to pursue information, to defending the First Amendment. He is also, as a citizen and as commander-in-chief, committed to the proposition that we cannot allow classified information to be—that can do harm to our national security interests or to endanger individuals, to be—to be leaked. And that is a balance that has to be struck.

REPORTER: But the record of the last four years does not suggest balance.

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: That’s your opinion, Ari, but I—

REPORTER: No, it’s twice as many prosecutions as all previous administrations combined. That’s not even close.

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I understand that there—you know, that there were ongoing investigations that preceded this administration. But I—again, I’m not going to—I can tell you what the president’s views are, and the president’s views include his defense of the First Amendment, his belief that journalists ought to be able to pursue information in an unfettered way. And that is backed up by his support for a media shield law, both as senator and as president. And it is also true that he believes a balance needs to be struck between those goals and the need to protect classified information.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can respond to both of those, Leonard Downie? Of course, that’s White House spokesperson Jay Carney—

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —who is the former Washington bureau chief of Time magazine.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Yes, and I interviewed him for my report, and he stated responses like those you just heard.

First, there’s too much that’s classified. The president himself has said repeatedly in the past that too much information is classified. It’s not just information that might be harmful to national security or human life; it’s just lots and lots, millions and millions and millions of documents and pieces of information that are classified that shouldn’t be. Obviously that preceded this administration, but it’s not improved during this administration.

The president promised to have the most transparent government in American history. He promised to reduce overclassification. He promised to make it easier to obtain government information through the Freedom of Information Act. And so far, none of these promises have been kept. So, part of the reason for why I agreed to do this report for the Committee to Protect Journalists is I would like to alert the president to the fact that this is one of the most—this is one of the first promises he made. He signed presidential directives about open government his first day in office. These are not being carried out by his administration. He still has time for his legacy to make good on these promises.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the Justice Department acknowledging seizing the work, home and cellphone records used by almost a hundred reporters and editors at the Associated Press. The phones targeted included the general AP office numbers in New York City, in Washington, D.C., in Hartford, Connecticut, and the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, which of course means that many other reporters were speaking on it—the action coming as part of a probe into leaks behind an AP story on a U.S. intelligence operation.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: This has had a chilling effect on both government officials, government sources and journalists. And it’s not the only one of these investigations in which such records were secretly subpoenaed and seized—half of these eight investigations that took place. So, reporters and sources know that records have been seized in the past, and as a result, reporters told me, people are afraid to talk to them on the telephone, they’re afraid to engage in email traffic with them, and the reporters themselves are concerned about putting their sources at risk by conducting telephone and email conversations with them, which means we have to go back to secret meetings, like the—you know, the underground garage meetings with Deep Throat during Watergate. Reporters are trying to figure out if they can encrypt their email, but we now know that NSA is trying to figure out how to—how to get past the encryption. So, reporters are very, very worried about putting their sources in jeopardy merely by trying to talk to them about the people’s business.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the Insider Threat Program?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: The Insider Threat Program, which was first described by the McClatchy Newspapers last summer, is a presidential order that came after the Manning case. The government was very, very concerned about other Mannings somewhere in the government, because so much—so much of this information is digitally available to clever people. And so, they instituted this program where they ordered every government department and every agency to order their employees—and there are directives that have gone out, which McClatchy Newspapers obtained, that instruct employees to monitor each other to make sure that there are no leaks of classified information. And it’s been interpreted by some of the agencies, as you look at their plans, to go beyond classified information to information about anything that’s going on in that agency.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think, overall, Leonard Downie, the press have been impacted? I mean, going back to this point that the Committee to Protect Journalists has never issued a report on press freedom in the United States before.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Correct, correct. This has had a chilling effect on not just coverage of national security, but coverage of the government generally. Along with the other policies of the administration, in which they have exercised such tight control over their message, over their information, it makes it very difficult for the press to hold the administration accountable for its actions. Now, that doesn’t mean reporters are going to stop. And even though they complain to me, they’re still out there working aggressively, and there still is good coverage of a lot of things. But we don’t know what we’ve not been able to find out about how this government works, in order to hold it accountable to the American people. If the president said he wants to be able to have his government held accountable to the American people, then I think they should change their policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is President Obama doing this? I mean, you hear the questions of Jay Carney. I mean, under the Obama administration, more than twice the number of journalists and sources have been gone after, prosecuted, than all administrations combined.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: There are two different patterns here. One began with 9/11, and in fairness to the administration, the PATRIOT Act was passed under George Bush. Some of these leaks investigations did begin during the Bush administration, as Jay Carney said, although then they reached fruition and with prosecutions under the Obama administration. And new investigations began, like the one with the Associated Press and Fox News that you’ve talked about. So, that atmosphere of being concerned about national security leaks and pressure from the intelligence community to stop these kinds of leaks, it began during the Bush administration, has accelerated during the Obama administration.

At the same time, the Obama people discovered during the two election campaigns that very tight message control, in which they try to get their news out to people, news that they generate out to Americans, but make it more difficult for reporters to hold them accountable, worked very well during the campaigns. And they’ve been much more successful than previous administrations at carrying that control over into the workings of government itself once they took office. Other administrations have tried this, but they’ve not been as successful at it.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Downie—

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: And the third—

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: I’m sorry. And the third factor is, is obviously, you know, the new digital world we live in, which gives them much more levers for controlling the message than we’ve ever had before.

AMY GOODMAN: What needs to be done, very quickly?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: The president needs to keep his promises. He needs to reduce overclassification. He needs to make it easier to obtain information through the Freedom of Information Act. He needs to put the word out that government officials should be allowed to talk to the press unless it’s something that’s going to be harmful to national security.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Downie, I want to thank you for being with us, former executive editor of The Washington Post, author of the new report, “The Obama Administration and the Press,” commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the first time the CPJ has looked at freedom of the press in the United States. We’ll link to that report at democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.

Gates Invokes New Authority to Block Release of Detainee Abuse Photos November 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
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(Roger’s Note: here is just one more example of how Obama lied to the American people when he promised  transparency in government and change from the policies of the Bush torture machine. He re-appoints Bush’s Defense Secretary and uses his majority in Congress to authorize Gates to bury torture evidence — all, of course, in the name of the sacred cow known as national security.  Slowly what passes for the American left may be awakening to the fact that Obama is a fraud, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Much too slowly, however.)

Saturday 14 November 2009

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has blocked the release of photographs depicting US soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, invoking new powers just granted to him by Congress that allows him to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and keep the images under wraps on national security grounds.

In a brief filed with the US Supreme Court late Friday, Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, said Gates “personally exercised his certification authority” on Friday to withhold the photos and “determined that public disclosure of these photographs would endanger citizens of the United States, members of the United States Armed Forces, or employees of the United States Government deployed outside the United States.”

“Based on that determination, the Secretary has concluded that the photographs are ‘protected documents’” and are “exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIA,” the government’s brief states.

In his certification included with the filing, Gates said his decision to withhold as many as 2,000 photos was based “upon the recommendations of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [Michael Mullen], the Commander of U.S. Central Command [David Petraeus], and the Commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq [Ray Odierno]…”

As first reported by truthout, the photographs at issue include one in which a female solider is pointing a broom at a detainee “as if [she were] sticking the end of a broomstick into [his] rectum.”

Other photos are said to show US soldiers pointing guns at the heads of hooded and bound detainees in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division investigated the matter and “three of the six investigations led to criminal charges and in two of those cases, the accused were found guilty and punished,” according to papers Kagan previously filed with the Supreme Court.

The ACLU filed a FOIA request in 2003 to gain access to photographs and videos related to the treatment of “war on terror” prisoners in US custody and sued the government a year later to enforce the FOIA filing. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the release of the photos in a June 2005 ruling that was affirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in September 2008.

The Bush administration challenged the Second Circuit’s ruling, and in March the court denied that petition. In its earlier ruling, the appeals court also shot down the Bush administration’s attempt to radically expand FOIA exemptions for withholding the photos, stating that the Bush administration had attempted to use the FOIA exemptions as “an all-purpose damper on global controversy.”

The Obama administration indicated it would abide by the appeals court order and release at least 44 of the photographs in question, but, in May, after he was pilloried by Republicans, President Obama backtracked, saying he had conferred with high-ranking military officials who advised him that releasing the images would stoke anti-American sentiment and would endanger the lives of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Truthout previously reported, the Obama administration petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the case last summer. The petition raised similar arguments related to FOIA exemptions in this case as those made by the Bush administration and later rejected by the Second Circuit.

Justices were prepared to meet and decide whether to take the case, but the high court agreed last month to delay their decision at the request of Obama administration officials who wanted to wait and see if Congress would pass legislation authorizing the Defense Department to circumvent FOIA.

In other words, the Obama administration wanted Congress to pass a law that would effective quash the Second Circuit’s decision. And that’s exactly what lawmakers did last month when they passed the Homeland Security appropriations bill, signed into law by President Obama, which included a provision to amend FOIA. The provision gave Gates the power to withhold “protected documents” he believes would endanger the lives of US soldiers or government employees deployed outside of the country if publicly released.

The amendment was originally sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, (I-Connecticut), and Lindsey Graham, (R-South Carolina). Obama sent a letter to the lawmakers last summer stating that he would work closely with Congress to help pass the measure to keep the abuse photographs sealed, according to a footnote in the administration’s Supreme Court petition.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, (D-New York), who opposed the FOIA amendment, said in a floor statement in October as Congress was debating the provision, that the language, stripped from an earlier version of the bill, was quietly reinserted “apparently under direct orders from the [Obama] administration.”

According to the bill, the phrase “protected documents” refers to photographs taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009, and involves “the treatment of individuals engaged, captured or detained” in the so-called “war on terror.” Photographs that Gates determines would endanger troops and government employees could be withheld for three years.

The ACLU said Gates’ certification “is categorical with respect to all of the photos and fails to provide the individualized assessment that the amendment’s language requires and also fails to provide any basis for the claim that disclosure of the photos would harm national security.”

The group intends to file a response to the administration’s brief next week.

In an oped column published in the Los Angeles Times last month, Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said although the powers Congress granted Gates is meant to cover the abuse photos, it “could also cover, for example, video footage of aerial attacks that resulted in civilian casualties or photos showing the conditions of confinement at the Bagram detention center in Afghanistan.”

“The legislation establishes a regime of censorship that would extend to many images of the military’s activities abroad.” Jaffer wrote.

Obama’s decision to sign legislation into law that allows his administration to circumvent FOIA marks an about-face on the open-government policies that he proclaimed during his first days in office.

On January 21, Obama signed an executive order instructing all federal agencies and departments to “adopt a presumption in favor” of Freedom of Information Act requests, and promised to make the federal government more transparent.

“The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears,” Obama’s order said. “In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.”

Instead of withdrawing its petition now that legislation has been passed, the Obama administration on Friday asked the high court to vacate the Second Circuit’s ruling, and then “remand to allow the lower courts to address the effect of the new legislation on the litigation.”

“Given Congress’s enactment of intervening legislation resolving the present dispute by providing for withholding of the records at issue, the Court now has no occasion to address the proper construction of [FOIA] Exemption 7(F) as set forth in the government’s petition,” the government’s filing states. “The appropriate disposition, after these events, is for this Court to [pull the case up from the Second Circuit and take jurisdiction of the case and the issue], vacate the judgment of the court of appeals, and remand for further proceedings… in light of the intervening legislation” passed by Congress.

In its earlier Supreme Court petition, the Obama administration argued that FOIA Exemption 7(F) allows for the withholding of information if it threatens the lives of individuals.

The Second Circuit, however, disagreed. The court ruled that FOIA “mandates the public disclosure of such photographs – regardless of the risk to American lives – because FOIA Exemption 7(F) requires the government to ‘identify at least one individual with reasonable specificity’ and show that disclosure ‘could reasonably be expected to endanger that individual.'”

The government argued that the Second Circuit misinterpreted the law when it ruled that the government had to identify specific individuals who would be harmed by the disclosure of the photographs

The Obama administration maintained that the Second Circuit’s interpretation of Exemption 7(F), “is inconsistent with the text of Exemption 7(F), which broadly encompasses danger to ‘any individual,’ with no suggestion of the court’s extra-textual requirement of victim specificity. The history of drafting that exemption “underscores that conclusion. Congress did not mean for public disclosure of agency records to trump the life and physical safety of individuals – particularly in a case such as this, in which the government has already made public the underlying investigative reports revealing all relevant allegations of wrongdoing and the associated investigative conclusions.”

“The President and the United States military fully recognize that certain photographs at issue depict reprehensible conduct by American personnel and warranted disciplinary action,” the government’s petition states. “There are neither justifications nor excuses for such conduct by members of the military. But the fact remains that public disclosure of the photographs could reasonably be expected to endanger the lives and physical safety of individuals engaged in the Nation’s military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photographs therefore are exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIA. Review by this Court is warranted to give effect to Exemption 7(F) and the protection it affords to the personnel whose lives and physical safety would be placed at risk by disclosure.”

Alex Abdo, a legal fellow with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said the Obama administration’s argument for continuing to suppress the photos “sets a dangerous precedent – that the government can conceal evidence of its own misconduct precisely because the evidence powerfully documents gross abuses of power and of detainees.

“This principal is fundamentally anti-democratic. The American public has a right to see the evidence of crimes committed in their name.”