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The Pentagon vs. Press Freedom

Tue, 23 Jan 2007 06:14:58 -0800

By Norman Solomon

Interview a soldier, go to jail

We often hear that the Pentagon exists to defend our freedoms. But the Pentagon is moving against press freedom.

Not long ago, journalist Sarah Olson received a subpoena to testify next month in the court-martial of U.S. Army Lt. Ehren Watada, who now faces prosecution for speaking against the Iraq war and refusing to participate in it. Apparently, the commanders at the Pentagon are so eager to punish Watada that they’ve decided to go after reporters who have informed the public about his statements.

People who run wars are notoriously hostile to a free press. They’re quick to praise it—unless the reporting goes beyond mere stenography for the war-makers and actually engages in journalism that makes the military command uncomfortable.

Evidently, that’s why the Pentagon subpoenaed Olson. They want her to testify to authenticate her quotes from Watada—which is to say, they want to force her into the prosecution of him. “Army lawyers are overreaching when they try to prosecute their case by drafting reporters,” the Los Angeles Times noted in a Jan. 8 editorial.

The newspaper added: “No prosecutor should be able to conscript any reporter into being a deputy by compelling testimony about a statement made by a source – or go fishing for information beyond what a reporter presents in a story – unless it’s absolutely vital to protect U.S. citizens from crime or attack. This principle should apply whether or not the source was speaking in confidence, or whether or not the reporter works for a media organization.”

Olson is a freelancer whose reporting on Watada has appeared on the widely read Truthout.org website and has aired on the nationwide public radio program “Making Contact.” (Full disclosure: I was a founder of that program and served as an advisor) For a number of years, she has been doing the job of a journalist. Now, in its dealings with her, the Pentagon is despicably trying to trample on the First Amendment.

As the LA Times editorialized, “there is something especially chilling about the U.S. military reaching beyond its traditional authority to compel a non-military U.S. citizen engaged in news-gathering to testify in a military court, simply to bolster a court-martial case. ... Sustaining the military subpoena would set a troubling precedent. It’s time for the Army to back off.”

But the Army hasn’t shown any sign of backing off—despite an outcry from a widening range of eminent journalists, mainstream media institutions and First Amendment groups.

“Trying to force a reporter to testify at a court-martial sends the wrong signal to the media and the military,” said the president of the Military Reporters and Editors organization, James W. Crawley. He commented: “One of the hallmarks of American journalism, as documented in the Bill of Rights and defended by our armed services, is a clear separation of the press and the government. Using journalists to help the military prosecute its case seems like a serious breach of that wall.”

By sending subpoenas to Sarah Olson and to another journalist who has reported on Watada (Gregg Kakesako of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin), the Pentagon is trying to chip away at the proper role of news media.

Two officials of the PEN American Center, a venerable organization that works to protect freedom of expression, put the issue well in a recent letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “If Olson and Kakesako respond to these subpoenas by testifying, they will essentially be participating in the prosecution of their source. Reporters should not serve as the investigative arm of the government. Such a role compromises their objectivity and can have chilling effects on the press.”

Writing for Editor & Publisher magazine, Sarah Olson summed up what is at stake: “A member of the press should never be placed in the position of aiding a government prosecution of political speech. This goes against the grain of even the most basic understanding of the First Amendment’s free press guarantees and the expectation of a democracy that relies on a free flow of information and perspectives without fear of censor or retribution.”

And Olson added: “You may ask: Do I want to be sent to prison by the U.S. Army for not cooperating with their prosecution of Lieutenant Watada? My answer: Absolutely not. You may also ask: Would I rather contribute to the prosecution of a news source for sharing newsworthy perspectives on an affair of national concern? That is the question I wholly object to having before me in the first place.”

The Pentagon’s attack on journalism is an attack on the First Amendment—and an attempt to drive a wedge between journalists and dissenters in the military. Resistance is essential for democracy.

GNN contributor Norman Solomon’s book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death is out in paperback. For more information about Pentagon moves against journalists, go to: www.FreePressWG.org.


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Bush Ignores True Cost of Iraq War by Jesse Jackson

Published on Tuesday, January 23, 2007 by the Chicago Sun-Times

This evening, in his State of the Union address, President Bush will make the case for his plan to escalate the war in Iraq. He'll paint the potential costs of pulling out of Iraq in stark colors. But he won't say much about the real costs of staying in and escalating.

We should never forget the incalculable cost of the war -- the lives and the limbs of U.S. soldiers. As of this month, more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers have died and 22,800 been wounded in this war. An estimated 35,000 Iraqi civilian lives were lost last year. A staggering percentage have been displaced from their homes. The U.S. casualties bring terrible grief to their families and friends, but the loss must sober and sadden us all.

In addition, this country pays very steep economic costs -- what economists call "opportunity costs" -- the costs of what is not done with the scarce financial resources we are devoting to war in Iraq. The price is particularly apparent as the president prepares to introduce a budget calling for cuts in child care, in education, in health care, and more.

Rep. John Murtha, the salty old Marine who chairs the House Armed Services Appropriations Committee, has been calling for redeploying the troops, and for letting the Iraqis settle their own civil war. This week, Murtha put out a document to remind people of the real domestic costs of staying in a war that costs nearly $9 billion a month, or $120 billion a year -- not counting the interest costs, the costs of veterans' health care and pensions, etc.

The president cuts Medicare and Medicaid in his FY 2007 budget: $5 billion will be cut over five years from Medicaid -- money that the country will spend in 2½ weeks in Iraq; $36 billion is slated for cuts in Medicare -- or about what the president will spend in a little more than 4½ months in Iraq.

The cost of six hours in Iraq would pay for the cuts in the National Institutes of Health research budget, cuts that are occurring even as scientists are starting to leave the field because of funding shortages.

For the cost of every 1½ months in Iraq -- about $15 billion -- we could provide health insurance for one year for 9 million children who now go without. Children who go without adequate health care when they are young find it more difficult to learn, and are more likely to develop chronic illnesses. We are not only stealing from their promise, we are adding to our own future health care bills.

At the price of 12 hours in Iraq, the president's budget cuts off food packages for 400,000 elderly poor people from the supplemental food program.

For the cost of 2½ days in Iraq, we could help 463,000 low-income students attend college, by paying to reverse the Perkins Loan program reductions in Bush's FY '07 budget. Thirteen days would enable us to reverse the cuts in funding for over 40 education programs, ranging from support for drug-free schools, to federal support for technology centers.

Or think about major national imperatives. The Apollo Alliance has detailed a program for energy independence -- $30 billion a year for 10 years would free us from our dependence on Persian Gulf oil, begin to address catastrophic climate change and generate 3 million jobs here at home.

We could pay for the whole agenda with what we've spent over the last two years in Iraq.

To make us more secure, five days in Iraq would pay for radiation detectors needed at all U.S. ports, rejected thus far due to cost. Two days would pay for detectors to scan 100 percent of all cargo on passenger planes. Two more days would pay to make emergency radio systems interoperable -- which still hasn't happened five years after Sept. 11. Five days would allow us to double federal spending for police on our streets.

So when the president calls for an escalation in Iraq, remember the price tag that he won't mention -- in the lives and limbs of young men and women, in children without nutrition and health care, the elderly without food and heating aid, and security in our own neighborhoods. We are a wealthy nation, but we cannot squander what economists estimate may total up to $2 trillion on a misbegotten war abroad without paying the price here at home.

© Copyright 2007 Sun-Times News Group

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Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link

U.S. warnings of advanced weaponry crossing the border are overstated, critics say.

By Alexandra Zavis and Greg Miller, Times Staff Writers January 23, 2007

BAQUBAH, IRAQ — If there is anywhere Iran could easily stir up trouble in Iraq, it would be in Diyala, a rugged province along the border between the two nations.

The combination of Sunni Arab militants believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda and Shiite Muslim militiamen with ties to Iran has fueled waves of sectarian and political violence here. The province is bisected by long-traveled routes leading from Iran to Baghdad and Shiite holy cities farther south in Iraq.

But even here, evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq's troubles is limited. U.S. troops have found mortars and antitank mines with Iranian markings dated 2006, said U.S. Army Col. David W. Sutherland, who oversees the province. But there has been little sign of more advanced weaponry crossing the border, and no Iranian agents have been found.

In his speech this month outlining the new U.S. strategy in Iraq, President Bush promised to "seek out and destroy" Iranian networks that he said were providing "advanced weaponry and training to our enemies." He is expected to strike a similar note in tonight's State of the Union speech.

For all the aggressive rhetoric, however, the Bush administration has provided scant evidence to support these claims. Nor have reporters traveling with U.S. troops seen extensive signs of Iranian involvement. During a recent sweep through a stronghold of Sunni insurgents here, a single Iranian machine gun turned up among dozens of arms caches U.S. troops uncovered. British officials have similarly accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs, but say they have not found Iranian-made weapons in areas they patrol.

The lack of publicly disclosed evidence has led to questions about whether the administration is overstating its case. Some suggest Bush and his aides are pointing to Iran to deflect blame for U.S. setbacks in Iraq. Others suggest they are laying the foundation for a military strike against Iran.

Before invading Iraq, the administration warned repeatedly that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Those statements proved wrong. The administration's charges about Iran sound uncomfortably familiar to some. "To be quite honest, I'm a little concerned that it's Iraq again," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last week, referring to the administration's comments on Iran.

* Lowered credibility

The accusations of Iranian meddling "illustrate what may be one of our greatest problems," said Anthony Cordesman, a former Defense Department official and military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"We are still making arguments from authority without detail and explanation. We're making them in an America and in a world where we really don't have anything like the credibility we've had in the past."

Few doubt that Iran is seeking to extend its influence in Iraq. But the groups in Iraq that have received the most Iranian support are not those that have led attacks against U.S. forces. Instead, they are nominal U.S. allies.

The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the two largest parties in parliament, is believed to be the biggest beneficiary of Iranian help. The Shiite group was based in Iran during Hussein's reign, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard trained and equipped its Badr Brigade militia.

But the Supreme Council also has strong U.S. connections. Bush played host to the head of the party, Abdelaziz Hakim, at the White House in December, and administration officials have frequently cited Adel Abdul Mehdi, another party leader, as a person they would like to see as Iraq's prime minister.

The Islamic Dawa Party of Iraq's current prime minister, Nouri Maliki, also has strong ties to Iran.

Some U.S. officials have also suggested that Iran, a Shiite theocracy, has provided aid to the Sunni insurgents, who have led most of the attacks against U.S. forces. Private analysts and other U.S. officials doubt that. Evidence is stronger that the Iranians are supporting a Shiite group that has attacked U.S. forces, the Al Mahdi militia, which is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr.

Top U.S. intelligence officials have been making increasingly confident assertions about Iran.

"I've come to a much darker interpretation of Iranian actions in the past 12 to 18 months," CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said in recent congressional testimony. Previously, Tehran's priority was to maneuver for a stable Iraq dominated by its Shiite majority, but that attitude has changed, he said.

"There is a clear line of evidence that points out the Iranians want to punish the United States, hurt the United States in Iraq, tie down the United States in Iraq," he said.

One high-ranking intelligence official in Washington acknowledged a lack of "fidelity" in the intelligence on Iran's activities, saying reports are sometimes unclear because it is difficult to track weapons and personnel that might be flowing across the long and porous border.

But U.S. forces have picked up specially shaped charges used to make roadside bombs capable of penetrating advanced armor, he said, with markings that could be traced to Iran and dates that were recent. The markings have been found on the devices themselves or the crates in which they were smuggled into the country, he said.

"Two years ago we were debating whether this was really happening," the official said. "Now the debate is over."

* Documents withheld

U.S. officials have declined to provide documentation of seized Iranian ordnance despite repeated requests. The U.S. military often releases photographs of other weapons finds.

British government officials, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, have also accused Iran of supplying advanced explosive devices to Iraq.

Blair said a year ago that the weapons bore the hallmarks of Iran or Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon. But British officers stationed in Iraq at the time said they had seized no such weapons in the districts for which they had responsibility.

"We do have intelligence which suggests that weapons and ammunition are being smuggled in from Iran," Maj. David Gell, a spokesman for British forces in Basra, said last week. "We don't always manage to find any."

U.S. military officials in Diyala have had the same experience. No munitions or personnel have been seized at the border, officers said.

Sutherland, the U.S. colonel who oversees Diyala, believes that Tehran is prepared to work with any group, Shiite or Sunni, that can tie up U.S. forces. But State Department and intelligence officials have privately expressed doubts that Iranians are helping Sunnis.

Sunni insurgents in Diyala don't appear to need outside suppliers. They exploit massive weapons stashes containing materiel dating back to the Iran-Iraq war, when Hussein had a major military base in the area. U.S. military officials say they have found the type of shaped charges they attribute to Iran and Hezbollah in majority-Shiite parts of the province.

Outside military analysts have questioned how many of these sorts of weapons actually come from Iran. The technology used to make them is simple and widely known in the Middle East, they note. Iran is a likely source for some of the more sophisticated devices, but other countries could also be pitching in.

"A lot of rather sophisticated weapons have actually been released by Syria," said Peter Felstead, editor of the London-based Jane's Defense Weekly.

Others note that smugglers could be bringing weapons across the border from Iran without government approval.

* 'They are significant'

A second high-ranking U.S. intelligence official in Washington acknowledged that only a "small percentage" of explosions in Iraq could be linked to shaped charges coming from Iran.

"But in terms of American casualties, they are significant," he said, because they are much more lethal than standard roadside bombs.

A senior U.S. military intelligence official said coalition forces in Iraq had also found shaped charges "in the presence of Iranians captured in the country." He declined to elaborate but noted that U.S. operatives who raided an Iranian office in the Iraqi city of Irbil this month captured documents and computer drives he called a "treasure trove" on Iran's "networks, supply lines, sourcing and funding."

Five Iranians were taken into custody in the raid, prompting angry protests from the Iraqi government.

U.S. intelligence officials emphasized that Iran intentionally stops short of steps that would be seen as direct provocation and provide justification for a military response. For example, Iran has refrained from supplying Shiite militias with surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry that was part of Hezbollah's arsenal in its fight with Israel last summer, they said.

A high-ranking U.S. intelligence official called it a "careful calibration" that probably reflected disagreements within the Islamic regime. "I don't doubt that Iranian national security council meetings are very contentious," the official said.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- zavis@latimes.com greg.miller@latimes.com

Zavis reported from Baqubah and Miller from Washington. Times staff writers Peter Spiegel in Washington and Solomon Moore in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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Tax Fugitive Barricaded in House: 'Show Us the Law, and We'll Pay' By Jackson Kuhl

The New Hampshire man who is holed up with armed supporters in his fortress-like house after being convicted of tax evasion says he just wants everyone to pay attention and obey the law.

"I want people to realize that there is no such thing as an obligation to pay income tax," said Edward Brown. "It has nothing to do with the Constitution."

A jury ruled Thursday that Brown and his wife, Elaine, plotted to hide their income and avoid taxes on Elaine Brown's income of $1.9 million between 1996 and 2003. Over 10 years, they also used $215,890 of postal money orders broken into increments just below the reporting threshold to pay for their hilltop compound and for Elaine Brown's dental offices.

After the pair were convicted Thursday on 17 felony counts, Brown and a group of supporters sequestered themselves in his home in Plainfield, N.H.

They say there is no law stating that they must pay tax on Elaine Brown's income. "We told them, 'Show us the law and we'll pay immediately,'" Edward Brown said in an interview Friday.

Brown said the tax-evasion charges were retaliation for a suit he filed against Judge Steven McAuliffe, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Morse and others after authorities raided his wife's dental practice last year.

"They had snipers with state troopers, they had 20 armed officers," said Brown. "What did they need all of them for? Just to download a computer?

"They've ruined my life. My wife is a basket case."

On Thursday, Morse ordered Elaine Brown not to join her husband at their home as a condition of her release until sentencing. She is now living in Worcester, Mass., with her son. The couple has been married since 1985.

"Some people are drawn to the anti-tax movements and the false representation that there is no legal requirement to file and pay taxes. Today's verdict clearly reaffirms the repeated rejection of these arguments in the courts," IRS Special Agent Douglas Bricker said in a statement after Thursday's court ruling.

When asked how many people were with him, Brown declined to cite a number and replied he was with friends and family.

But he added that authorities cannot risk removing him forcibly because "there are so many people involved. I have little old grandmothers staying with me."

Brown described his property as "self-contained" with generators, food, water, and Internet access. He said that supporters are not fearful of coming or going from the premises.

He said Gary DiMartino, a negotiator for the U.S. Marshals, "has been a gentleman," and that neither he nor his supporters have been abused or threatened.

"DiMartino has been honorable and is a negotiator," Brown added. "He's just rather confused after 25 years of brainwashing," he said, referring to the legality of income taxes.

"I told him [DiMartino] you got to do your job. ..."I have been around police all my life. They're my brothers."

Brown said he feels it's his obligation to protect and defend the Constitution by resisting unjust laws.

"We do this for our nation," he said. "I'm a man of honor. I can never lie, cheat, or steal, ever."

Earlier, Brown was quoted by the Associated Press as saying he expected federal agents to swarm his property soon.

"Live free or die," he said, quoting New Hampshire's Revolutionary War hero Gen. John Stark and the state's motto. "What else can I say?"

Bernie Bastian, a Brown supporter who said he was carrying two guns, said he and about two-dozen supporters would stand with their friend.

"He's here at the house, and he's not leaving of his own free will," Bastian said.