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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.

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The killing of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son October 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Human Rights, War on Terror.
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Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 5:21 AM 21:23:15 CDT

 

Extreme secrecy, as usual, shrouds this act, but it underscores how often the U.S. uses violence around the world

By Glenn Greenwald, www.salon.com
 

 (Credit: Reuters/AP)

 

(updated below)

Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people. News reports, based on government sources, originally claimed that Awlaki’s son was 21 years old and an Al Qaeda fighter (needless to say, as Terrorist often means: “anyone killed by the U.S.”), but a birth certificate published by The Washington Post proved that he was born only 16 years ago in Denver. As The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson wrote: “Looking at his birth certificate, one wonders what those assertions say either about the the quality of the government’s evidence — or the honesty of its claims — and about our own capacity for self-deception.” The boy’s grandfather said that he and his cousin were at a barbecue and preparing to eat when the U.S. attacked them by air and ended their lives. There are two points worth making about this:

(1) It is unknown whether the U.S. targeted the teenager or whether he was merely “collateral damage.” The reason that’s unknown is because the Obama administration refuses to tell us. Said the Post: “The officials would not discuss the attack in any detail, including who the target was.” So here we have yet again one of the most consequential acts a government can take — killing one of its own citizens, in this case a teenage boy — and the government refuses even to talk about what it did, why it did it, what its justification is, what evidence it possesses, or what principles it has embraced in general for such actions. Indeed, it refuses even to admit it did this, since it refuses even to admit that it has a drone program at all and that it is engaged in military action in Yemen. It’s just all shrouded in total secrecy.

Of course, the same thing happened with the killing of Awlaki himself. The Executive Branch decided it has the authority to target U.S. citizens for death without due process, but told nobody (until it was leaked) and refuses to identify the principles that guide these decisions. It then concluded in a secret legal memo that Awlaki specifically could be killed, but refuses to disclose what it ruled or in which principles this ruling was grounded. And although the Obama administration repeatedly accused Awlaki of having an “operational role” in Terrorist plots, it has — as Davidson put it — “so far kept the evidence for that to itself.”

This is all part and parcel of the Obama administration’s extreme — at times unprecedentedfixation on secrecy. Even with Senators in the President’s own party warning that the administration’s secret interpretation of its domestic surveillance powers under the Patriot Act is so warped and radical that it would shock the public if they knew, Obama officials simply refuse even to release its legal memos setting forth how it is interpreting those powers. As EFF’s Trevor Timm told The Daily Beast today: “The government classified a staggering 77 million documents last year, a 40 percent increase on the year before.” And as I wrote about many times, the Obama administration even tried — and failed — to force The New York Times‘ James Risen to reveal his source for his story about an inept, disastrous CIA effort to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program, but as Politico‘s Josh Gerstein reports today, the Obama DOJ is now appealing the decision in Risen’s favor. Gerstein writes:

The executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Dalglish, said the appeal was troubling for First Amendment advocates, but not unexpected.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Dalglish said “The Obama administration has made it absolutely clear they detest leakers and they are going to be very aggressive against leakers.”

Since Obama took office, his administration has initiated five prosecutions of alleged leakers under the Espionage Act — a sum roughly equal to the total number of such prosecutions in all prior administrations combined. . . .

“It’s really looking like they want to put Risen in prison,” [the defendant’s lawyer Edward] MacMahon said in a brief interview. . . . “For the journalists in the world, it’s quite a significant First Amendment appeal.”

You can offer the ability to citizens to choose from one of the two parties and elect their leaders as much as you want. But “democracy” is an illusion — a sham — if the most significant acts taken by those leaders are kept concealed from the citizenry. Dana Priest and William Arkin wrote a multi-part series, and followed it up with a book, describing “Top Secret America”: the sprawling, secret government/private-sector apparatus accountable to nobody. Leaks and whistleblowers are the only real avenue remaining for citizens to know what their government does, and it’s why the Obama administration is so obsessed with persecuting whistleblowers, crushing WikiLeaks, and now even trying to imprison one of the nation’s best investigative journalists.

For many people, this type of secrecy is not bothersome because — when their party controls the White House — they trust their leader to be honest and act properly; that’s what Bush followers who viewed Bush as a good, earnest Christian constantly said in response to objections over radical secrecy, and it’s what many Obama followers say now (if Obama says someone is a Terrorist, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure he is – if Obama says Iran is behind a Terrorist plot, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure they are). But that obviously isn’t a healthy mindset when forming expectations of political leaders. More so, you can’t have a functioning democracy if the government refuses even to discuss its most radical and significant acts. The Obama administration is just off waging a secret war in Yemen, killing its own citizens from the sky, and refusing to account to anyone for what it’s doing. If you accept that level of secrecy, what don’t you accept?

(2) Every now and then it’s worth pausing to reflect on how often we talk about the killing of people by the U.S. Literally, the U.S. government is just continuously killing people in multiple countries around the world. Who else does that? Nobody — certainly nowhere near on this scale. The U.S. President expressly claims the power to target anyone he wants, anywhere in the world, for death, including his own citizens; he does it in total secrecy and with no oversight; and this power is not just asserted but routinely exercised. The U.S., over and over, eradicates people’s lives by the dozens from the sky, with bombs, with checkpoint shootings, with night raids — in far more places and far more frequently than any other nation or group on the planet. Those are just facts.

What’s most striking about this is how little effort is needed to induce America’s political and media elites to acquiesce to it. The government need do nothing more than utter empty nationalistic phrases such as “we’re at war” and “Terrorist!” and this unparalleled, endless state violence all becomes instantly justified. Yesterday, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen wrote about the Awlaki killings: “Many Yemenis can understand (if disagree) killing the father, few can understand killing the son,” and pointed to this Facebook entry from a young Yemeni as illustration of what he meant; read the text:

I have no doubt that many Americans, probably most, would consider this comparison to be outrageous hyperbole, even offensive and slanderous. I have just as little doubt that many Americans, probably most, would be saying things quite similar to this if it were another country, engaging in far more violence than all others, routinely zapping innocent teeangers, children, women and men out out of existence on American soil using sky robots and cluster bombs (just look at America’s ongoing reaction to a single, one-day attack on its soil a full decade ago). But the U.S. does this so often, and has for so long, that most of the citizenry has either concocted or ingested mental and intellectual strategies for pretending this doesn’t happen or justifying it when they can’t. So we just killed an American teenager and his teenage cousin by drone-bombing them to death? They merely join a very long list of similar recent victims — a list that, paradoxically, makes less of an impact the longer it becomes.

UPDATE: Those who believe evidence and transparency in such matters are unnecessary because the government under Obama — unlike under Bush — would never issue false claims about such things and can be trusted without accountability should review this and this.

Let’s Fight the Obama Administration’s Crusade to Jail Another May 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Media.
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AlterNet /
By Rory O’Connor

We need to stand up for NYT reporter James Risen and against
the sleazy, Bush-like tactics of the Obamacrats and the burgeoning national
security state.
May 26, 2011  |
German theologian Martin Niemoller was a
staunch anti-Communist who supported Hitler’s rise to power — at first. He
later became disillusioned, however, and led a group of German clergymen opposed
to Hitler. In 1937 Niemoller was arrested for the crime of “not being
enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement” and later was sent to concentration
camps. Rescued in 1945 by the Allies, he became a leading post-war voice of
reconciliation for the German people.

Niemoller is most famous for his well-known
and frequently quoted statement detailing the dangers of political apathy in the
face of repression. Although it described the inactivity of Germans following
the Hitler’s rise to power and his violent purging of group after group of
German citizens, his statement lives on as a universal description of the
dangers of not standing up against tyranny.

The text of the Niemoller’s statement is
usually presented as follows:

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a
Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for
me.

I was reminded of Niemoller recently when
federal prosecutors issued a subpoena intended to force New York Times
reporter James Risen, the author of a book on the Central Intelligence Agency,
to testify at the criminal trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer.
Sterling was charged as part of a wide-ranging Obama administration crackdown on
officials accused of disclosing restricted information to journalists.

Now the Obama Justice Department is
threatening to jail a journalist as well — unless Risen tells them if Sterling
or someone else leaked information about the CIA’s efforts to sabotage the
Iranian nuclear program.

The subpoena, as Charlie Savage reported recently in the Times, “tells Mr. Risen
that ‘you are commanded’ to appear at federal district court in Alexandria, Va.,
on Sept. 12 to testify in the case. A federal district judge, Leonie M.
Brinkema, quashed a similar subpoena to Mr. Risen last year, when prosecutors
were trying to persuade a grand jury to indict Mr. Sterling.”

Risen rightly says he will ask the judge to
quash the new subpoena as well, stating forthrightly, “I will always protect my
sources,” and rightly that, “this is a fight about the First Amendment and the
freedom of the press.”

It’s bad enough that ever since President
Obama took office, he has repeatedly gone after whistleblowers like Sterling
with a cold vengeance, charging more people in cases involving leaking
information than “all previous presidents combined,” as Savage noted.

But Obama administration officials are no
longer content just with targeting whistleblowers like Sterling, former National
Security Agency official Thomas Drake, (who goes on trial soon on charges of
providing classified information to The Baltimore Sun) and of course
Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused – and already pronounced
guilty by the president — of passing classified documents to Wikileaks.org. Now
they are coming for the journalists as well – just as Bush Administration
officials did before them. And if Risen’s subpoena is not quashed and he still
refuses to testify, he risks being held in contempt and imprisoned, just as
Times reporter Judy Miller was for 85 days for her refusal to testify
in connection with the Valerie Plame Wilson leak in 2005.

Obama’s prosecutors argue that the First
Amendment doesn’t give Risen any right to avoid testifying about his
confidential sources in a criminal proceeding, and that the Pulitzer Prize
winner should be compelled to provide information to a jury “like any other
citizen.”

Citizens as well as journalists need to stand up for Risen and against the
sleazy, Bush-like tactics of the Obamacrats and the burgeoning national security
state. Otherwise, if you don’t speak out when they come, first for the
whistleblowers, and then for the journalists, when they come for you, there will

be no one left to speak out…

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O’Connor is the author of “Shock
Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio
” (AlterNet Books, 2008). O’Connor also

writes the Media Is A Plural blog.

Five Blackwater Guards Face US Charges in Iraq Deaths December 6, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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FILES-IRAQ-US-UNREST-BLACKWATER

Blackwater mercenaries patrolling in Iraq. (Photo: Getty Images) Saturday 06 December 2008, www.truthout.org  Washington – The Justice Department has obtained indictments against five guards for the security company Blackwater Worldwide for their involvement in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians and remains a thorn in Iraqi relations with the United States.    The indictments, obtained Thursday, remained sealed. But they could be made public in Washington as soon as Monday, according to people who have been briefed on the case and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the indictments had not been unsealed.

    A sixth guard was negotiating a plea, those people said.

    Peter A. Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment on Friday. Anne E. Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Blackwater, also declined to comment.

    The six guards have been under investigation since the shootings occurred Sept. 16, 2007, as their convoy traveled through a traffic circle in Nisour Square that was filled with cars, pedestrians and police officers. The guards have told investigators that they fired after coming under attack. Blackwater has maintained that its guards did nothing wrong, and the company itself is not being charged in the case. Investigations by the Pentagon, the F.B.I. and the Iraqi government found no evidence to support the guards’ version of events.

    Among those named in the indictment, according to the people briefed on the case, are Paul Slough, a 28-year-old who served in the Army Infantry and the Texas National Guard before joining Blackwater in 2006, and Dustin Heard of Tennessee, a former marine who joined Blackwater in 2004.

    Those who have been briefed on the case said prosecutors could seek 30-year prison sentences under a Reagan-era antidrug law focusing on the use of machine guns in the commission of violent crimes. Drugs were not involved in the Blackwater case.

    Mark Hulkower, Mr. Slough’s lawyer, would not confirm whether his client was one of those indicted. But if he is, Mr. Hulkower said, “We will contest the charges in court, and we are confident he will be vindicated.”

    The Nisour Square shootings have had a profound impact in Iraq, both on the role of contractors in the war zone and on the Baghdad government’s relationship with the Bush administration. The episode was the bloodiest in a series of violent events involving Blackwater and other American security contractors that had stoked anger and resentment among Iraqis.

    Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former member of the Navy Seals and heir to a family fortune made in the auto parts industry, Blackwater had developed a reputation among Iraqis and American military personnel for flaunting an aggressive, quick-draw image and for security personnel who took excessively violent actions to protect the people they were paid to guard.

    In December 2006, a Blackwater guard who was off duty and reportedly drinking heavily was reported to have shot a bodyguard for an Iraqi vice president in Baghdad. In 2007, the State Department acknowledged that Blackwater had been involved in many more shootings than the two other security contractors in other regions of Iraq.

    But the Nisour Square episode prompted so much protest that Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, demanded that the Bush administration pull Blackwater out of the country.

    In a profile of Mr. Slough, The New York Times reported this year that he had used dry military language to explain to investigators that he fired his weapon only at targets who posed immediate threats to his life and to those of his colleagues.

    He described fighting his way out of a terrifying ambush that began when the driver of a white, four-door sedan ignored numerous hand signals and drove directly at the Blackwater motorcade. And he described muzzle flashes from a shack about 160 feet behind the car, a man in a blue button-down shirt and black pants pointing an AK-47, small-arms fire from a red bus stopped in an intersection, and a red car backing up toward his convoy.

    “I engaged the individuals,” Mr. Slough told investigators, “and stopped the threat.”

    The F.B.I. concluded that at least 14 of the 17 fatal shootings in Nisour Square were unjustified, saying that Blackwater guards recklessly violated American rules for the use of lethal force. Military investigators went further, saying that all of the deaths were unjustified and potentially criminal. Iraqi authorities characterized the incident as “deliberate murder.”

    Still, the guards could not be prosecuted under Iraqi law because of an immunity agreement signed by the Coalition Provision Authority, the governing authority installed by American troops after the invasion. And legal experts have long pointed out that the case faces significant legal hurdles in American courts, which have only vague powers to prosecute Americans for crimes committed abroad.

    Immunity for security contractors became a central issue this year in the negotiations between Iraq and the United States over an agreement setting out the terms under which American troops could remain in Iraq. Iraqi officials repeatedly demanded an end to legal immunity for American contractors. The Bush administration eventually agreed, and tens of thousands of contractors will be held responsible for their actions under Iraqi law at the start of next year.

by: Ginger Thompson and James Risen, The New York Times