Any Interest Except the Public Interest: Freedom of Information vs. 9/11

According to an Associated Press story, people are finding it a lot harder to obtain records under the Freedom of Information Act. “Shifting from the Clinton administration’s standard that experts say emphasized ‘maximum responsible disclosure,’ Ashcroft encouraged staff to consider ‘institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests’ and said the Justice Department would defend any rejections unless they lacked a ‘sound legal basis.'” The interest that isn’t considered here is the public interest.

Europeans investigate extraordinary rendition

It seems the CIA hasn’t just been flying people from the United States. According to a story in the Washington Post, European investigators have implicated the CIA in a number of kidnappings from their own countries.

Meanwhile, “a US judge has blocked the government from transferring 13 Yemeni prisoners from the US base in Guantanamo, Cuba, until a hearing can be held on whether they face torture in another country,” and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights faces a choice between losing credibility and condemning “Washington for mistreatment of prisoners detained abroad,” placing “the United States … in a similar position to Cuba, Iran and Sudan, countries that Washington and others are likely to seek to pillory…. ‘If the commission is going to be taken seriously, it needs to be looking at the United States as well as Cuba, China and other serious human rights situations,’ Loubna Freih, Geneva representative of Human Rights Watch, said.”

AntiWar protests planned for March 19

From the ANSWER Coalition:

Why We Should Be in the Streets on March 19

As we approach the second anniversary of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, a new report is blasting the U.S. and UK governments’ Iraqi casualty counts. The independent British Medical Journal is now supporting the Lancet Journal Report that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the beginning of the war. (see story below).

As evidenced by the conscious targeting of Iraqi cities, especially through aerial bombings, the real number of deaths may never be known. The Pentagon has kept what we all know hidden and has even said that counting civilian deaths is not part of military policy.

With ever-growing numbers opposed to the war in Iraq as well as Bush’s attempts to dismantle Social Security and other social programs, there has never been a better time to be in the streets than on March 19.

There are over 1000 cities around the world that will be holding demonstrations on March 19-20. In San Francisco we will gather at 11am at Dolores Park followed by a march and rally at the Civic Center.

Volunteers Needed!
Come to the final organizational meeting for the San Francisco demonstration, Tuesday March 16, 7pm at 2489 Mission St., Rm. 30, San Francisco, or call 415-821-6545 to get involved.

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International group of doctors blast official toll of Iraqi civil dead
Thu Mar 10, 7:11 PM ET

PARIS (AFP) – A group of top public-health physicians has branded the official toll of civilian dead from the Iraqi war as a serious underestimate and demanded an independent probe to establish the full casualty figures.

Their statement is published this Saturday in the weekly British Medical Journal (BMJ) as the second anniversary of the war looms on March 20.

It marks a fresh attempt by medical campaigners to establish the number of Iraqi civilian casualties after a rough estimate of 100,000 dead, made by epidemiologists last October, was brushed aside by the British government.

“Monitoring casualties is a humanitarian imperative,” the statement said.

“Understanding the causes of death is a core public-health responsibility, nationally and internationally.
“Yet neither the public, nor we as public-health professionals, are able to obtain validated, reliable information about the extent of mortality and morbidity since the invasion of Iraq.”

The statement is signed by 23 leading specialists from five countries (the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and Spain), led by Klim McPherson, a visiting professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford.

The doctors pour scorn on the sole official toll, compiled by the Iraqi ministry of health. This lists 3,853 civilian deaths and 15,517 injuries during the first six months of the war, the BMJ said separately in a news report.

The signatories complained that the ministry is “likely seriously to underestimate” the toll, as it only includes violence-related deaths that are officially reported through the health system, nor mortality from non-violent causes.

The October 2004 estimate of around 100,000 civilian deaths, published in the British journal The Lancet, was based on interviews among people in 988 households who were asked about deaths among their families. The figures were then extrapolated nationally.

The deaths were caused mainly by violence (with coalition air strikes the biggest attributed sources), as well as additional cases of fatal heart attack, stroke, neo-natal death and infectious disease inflicted by the conflict, The Lancet study said.

Its authors said it was a useful, and conservatively derived, estimate but acknowledged its limitations, both in the number of interviews and the conditions in which the questions were made.

The British Foreign Office described The Lancet figures as unreliable and said it had no legal responsibility under the Geneva Convention to count civilian casualties, a position also taken by its ally, the United States.

California Prison Population Swells

If we live in such a free country, why must so many be locked up? A story in the Los Angeles Times chronicles a prison population swelling well beyond capacity: “The fire marshal routinely approves such prison requests: ‘How are you going to tell them no?’ asked Hugh Council of the state fire marshal’s northern region. ‘They have to put them someplace.'” But as I’ve previously posted on disunitedstates.org, according to statistics published by the King’s College of London, the U.S. already locks up a larger proportion of its population than any other country in the world.

“To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news”

That line comes from a New York Times story today on government produced “news reports” run as news on local television stations. This practice is illegal, says the comptroller general, speaking of the reports slickly “designed to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast.” But just as newspapers have occasionally run press releases as news, local television stations are running video news releases as news, including one featuring an Iraqi visiting Kansas City, expressing gratitude for the devastation we have wrought upon his country. Evidently, there have been a number of these reports, reinforcing the ideology of the Bush Administration. “[M]ost news directors were at a loss to explain how the segments made it on the air. Some said they were unable to find archive tapes that would help answer the question. Others promised to look into it, then stopped returning telephone messages. A few removed the segments from their Web sites, promised greater vigilance in the future or pleaded ignorance.”

Jumpy and Trigger-Happy Teenagers

Iraqi insurgents freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena only to have American soldiers fire on her car as it approached the airport. Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, who had negotiated her release, threw his body over hers, and was killed; she was wounded by shrapnel. Apparently, her captors had warned her that the Americans wanted her dead. It is known that American authorities disapprove of ransom payments. U.S. and Italian accounts of the shooting differ, Italians have elevated Calipari to the status of a national hero, and demanded an explanation. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to blame Sgrena for accusing the Americans of intentionally targetting her.

But there is another side to the story. Imagine yourself a young soldier, full of hormones, in what is, for the most part, hostile territory. The might of American military power seems a lot less persuasive when it’s just you and a few of your buddies manning a roadblock. You have no way to tell whether that approaching car is friend or foe. The local people are overwhelmingly opposed to your presence; and some of them are willing to martyr themselves just to kill you.

Maybe you see something. Or maybe you just think you see something. Are these the circumstances in which you’re going to make your finest judgments?