Manning tortured like terrorist, Welsh relatives say 15 Dec 2014 US authorities tortured Chelsea Manning with barbaric CIA techniques, which posed a threat to her psychological health, the Welsh aunt of the jailed whistleblower revealed to local media. Before her trial for providing WikiLeaks with the largest cache of classified information in US history, Chelsea Manning was humiliated in a similar way that terrorist suspects were, her Welsh relatives told WalesOnline on Sunday. “What really hurt me was the treatment Chelsea received in Quantico two years before the trial: stripped naked, kept in solitary confinement, made to stand in a corner, everything taken away,” said Sharon Staples, Manning’s aunt. Her revelation echoed the 2012 report of UN special rapporteur Juan Mendez, who ruled that “the alleged prolonged solitary confinement…was…a violation of Manning’s right to physical and psychological integrity,” as well as of presumption of innocence.
The details in the Senate report on Central Intelligence Agency torture, released today, are shocking. But don’t expect anyone to be held responsible. The only person the Obama administration has prosecuted in connection with the torture program is a man who revealed its existence to the media. Much of the information in the report is new to the public, but a lot of it would have been uncovered during a detailed torture investigation Attorney General Eric Holder conducted during President Obama’s first term. After carefully examining the evidence, Holder decided not to prosecute anyone for the CIA’s torture. “The department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt,” Holder said when he dropped investigations into two torture-related deaths in 2012. That seems consistent with Obama’s own views on the subject. Asked about investigating CIA torture in 2009, Obama replied that “it’s important to look forward and not backwards.” Obama admitted that “we tortured some folks” earlier this year, but he didn’t call for those responsible to be punished. But the Obama administration has had a different attitude when it comes to those who revealed the existence of the CIA torture program. In 2012, the Obama administration charged former CIA official John Kiriakou for leaking classified information related to the torture program to reporters. Threatened with decades in prison, Kiriakou was forced to plead guilty and accept a 30-month prison sentence. He’s in prison right now. Obama has vowed to “use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again.” But prosecuting people who revealed the program, instead of the people responsible, makes it more likely that abuses like this will happen again.
In recent years, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under fire for disallowing scientists working for the Canadian government to speak directly to the press. An article published in August by The New Republic said “Harper’s antagonism toward climate-change experts in his government may sound familiar to Americans,” pointing to similar deeds done by the George W. Bush Administration. That article also said that “Bush’s replacement,” President Barack Obama, “has reversed course” in this area. Society for Professional Journalists, the largest trade association for professional journalists in the U.S., disagrees with this conclusion. In a December 1 letter written to Gina McCarthy, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the society chided the Obama administration for its methods of responding to journalists’ queries to speak to EPA-associated scientists. “We write to urge you again to clarify that members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the twenty other EPA science advisory committees have the right and are encouraged to speak to the public and the press about any scientific issues, including those before these committees, in a personal capacity without prior authorization from the agency,” said the letter. “We urge you…to ensure that EPA advisory committee members are encouraged share their expertise and opinions with those who would benefit from it.” Press NGOs: Muzzling Policy Impacts Harper maintains similar procedures, with scientists unable to speak directly to the press without prior authorization from public relations higher-ups. Unlike the Harper rules, EPA Science Advisory Board members do not work directly for the U.S. government. Instead, they serve as advisors for U.S. environmental policy, but almost all members work full-time at U.S. universities, corporations or environmental groups. Critics say muzzling of these scientists matters because they make policy decisions with real-world impacts on society. “Federal advisory committees are generally composed of experts outside the federal government who provide advice to policymakers on a broad range of issues,” the Society for Professional Journalists, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Society of Environmental Journalists and others wrote in an earlier August letter. “Very often, their advice carries great weight and is reflected in final rules, especially when statutes require that regulations be developed based solely on the best available science.” Muzzling Fits into Broader Trends Due to National Security Administration (NSA) surveillance of electronic communications and the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaing phone records of the Associated Press’ newsroom, the Committee to Protect Journalists — which generally only covers the media of other countries — wrote an October 2013 report about Obama’s press treatment. The committee’s report concludes that the AP subpoena and NSA electronic surveillance has gone a step further than the EPA’s procedure to route journalists to PR spokespeople for comment. That is, they also want to control and know who journalists are talking to off-the-record or confidentially, which the report concludes has had a chilling effect for both sources and reporters. “I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” R. Jeffrey Smith, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, said in a statement to the Committee to Protect Journalists. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for the government to monitor those contacts.” Due to the report’s findings and other related issues, investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill has said on multiple occasions that the Obama Administration has launched a “war on journalism.” Stop Spin, Let Sunshine In A July letter written by many free press and open government organizations called on the Obama Administration “to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.” “You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government,” they wrote. “You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.” These groups also demanded the Obama administration reverse course and issue a new, press-friendly policy. “We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so,” they continued. “We believe that is one of the most important things you can do for the nation now, before the policies become even more entrenched.” To date, there is little indication a policy shift from Obama is in order in this sphere, though. So for now, not only do Canada and the U.S. have a shared bond in that record amounts of Alberta’s tar sands now flow into the U.S, but also that the muzzling of scientists, and by extension the press at-large, is a threat to democracy in both countries. Photo Credit: Vladimir Gjorgiev | Shutterstock Tags: Obama administrationJeremy ScahillGood Government OrganizationsCenter for Public IntegrityLeonard DownieR. Jeffrey SmithRCFPReporters Committee for Freedom of the Presssociety of environmental journalistsSEJPRPublic RelationspropagandaGina McCarthyEPAEnvironmental Protection AgencyGeorge W. Bush AdministrationThe New RepublicHarper GovernmentStephen HarpercanadaEPA Science Advisory Boardtar sandsoil sandsobamaSociety of Professional JournalistsSPJObama Muzzling ScientistsHarper Muzzling ScientistsCanada Muzzling Scientistsclimate changeclimate disruption
Think whistle-blowing is a matter of telling the truth? Think again. “Successful” whistle-blowing, in which the protagonist actually manages to make themselves heard in the media and get the support of the public, is a matter of luck. Last month a new whistle-blower emerged to tell us about the goings-on in a well-known bank, JPMorgan. Alayne Fleischmann gave her description of how the firm handled the approaching car crash in the market for packaging and reselling mortgage debt. She joins the small but important number of fellow banking whistle-blowers. From Ireland’s Jonathan Sugarman and Olivia Greene to the U.K.’s Paul Moore, some people did try to speak up about the misdeeds that lead to the global financial crash. Fleischmann is a little different however—she is working on a deadline. Time is running out to prosecute her former employers. Fleischmann would like to see convictions on the basis of wire fraud, which in the U.S. has a 10-year statute of limitation—and it’s already been eight since she witnessed the alleged events she has described. The clock is ticking and Fleischmann is making an appeal for people to listen to her story. This well-spoken securities lawyer is bravely forgoing any future career in banking by forcing herself into the limelight to make this point. Statistically, a whistle-blower is unlikely to work in their industry again. As she told Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, “The assumption they make is that I won’t blow up my life to do it… But they’re wrong about that.” So what’s luck got to do with it? Well, if Fleischmann had read the research on whistle-blowing she would know that most whistle-blowers’ stories are simply not heard. In the vast majority of cases, people who speak out suffer in silence, alone and unheard. There is a way of drawing the attention of the public and the media. But it is an elusive one. Successful whistle-blowers are not those with the most shocking truths, but rather they are the ones who happen to tap into a current trend. Their stories match up with what the media are excited about, what the public are angry about, or what the politicians can use for political capital at that particular time. Rather depressingly, therefore, the truth is a matter of trends. Need convincing? Look at Rudolf Elmer, the Swiss banker who tried for years to alert the media in his own nation about his bank’s alleged role in the process of tax evasion. He became involved in a protracted dispute with his bank, which made allegations of forgery and theft against him. He was painted as a thief and a blackmailer by journalists in Switzerland and even imprisoned for over six months. Fearful for his future and his family, Elmer agonized about what to do, until something dawned on him: the realpolitik of whistle-blowing. Switzerland didn’t want to hear, but perhaps another country would. Elmer contacted The Guardian and was welcomed warmly. The U.K., and most of Europe, was trying to clamp down on the assistance Swiss banks might offer to wealthy citizens who want to avoid tax. There was an appetite for his story, and through the newspaper, and Wikileaks, he made his story public. Elmer, in other words, tapped into a trend in the U.K. when there was no such appetite in Switzerland. Many other banking whistle-blowers have found that trends are important. When I was interviewing banking whistle-blowers for my book on this topic, it came up again and again. For example, Paul Moore at HBOS managed to appear on the BBC to tell his story about the overheated sales culture at the Halifax. It was just at the time of the U.K. Treasury Select Committee, when the public was screaming for news of why the banks had collapsed. Politicians were delighted to see him coming—and he was celebrated in the media. While Moore suffered for his disclosures, fortuitous timing meant he could tell his story and counter any of the usual smearing by his former employer or backlash by the media. Likewise, Eileen Foster, a whistle-blower at Countrywide (later Bank of America) in the U.S. was contacted by the influential TV show 60 Minutes—and this was very helpful for her campaign for justice. Now, back to Wall Street and Fleischmann’s struggle to draw attention to events at her former bank. She should try to figure out how she can tap into current political and media trends. It sounds shallow, and somewhat cynical, but when it comes to other whistle-blowers, it does appear that “truth” is contingent—it depends on the time and the place. Insert yourself into the news cycle and you might just avoid being crushed by the wheels. What does this say about the value society places on whistle-blowing? If the truth is not enough to get attention, perhaps there is a problem with the way whistle-blowers are perceived. Even the most honest whistle-blowers have been seen as suspicious figures, a cultural perception that persists in our media and our institutions. Groups that support and help whistle-blowers have been trying hard to change this perception, and a great example is G.A.P.’s Whistle-blower Tour, which brings people’s real-life experiences to audiences across the United States. Transparency International Ireland has hosted similar events. Culture change is not easy, but these groups are trying. Whistle-blowing remains something of a lottery. Is this a fair way to treat whistle-blowers, to leave their lives up to chance? Until there is a more robust system for listening to genuine public interest disclosures, it looks like this is all we’ve got. This post appears courtesy of The Conversation.This article was originally published at http://theconversation.com/whats-luck-got-to-do-with-it-everything-if-you-are-a-banking-whistleblower-34689
I don’t agree with Romney and Obama health care advisor Jonathan Gruber that Americans are stupid, but there is abundant evidence that we’re incredibly gullible. And we’re paying a big price for it. For the latest evidence, check out the documentary Remote Area Medical, which opens in select theaters across the country this coming Friday. We’ve been told over and over again by politicians and flacks—including me in my previous career—that we have the world’s best health care system. As I explained in Deadly Spin, if you continue to believe that no other country could possibly have a better system than ours, it’s because of the overwhelmingly successful PR campaign my former colleagues and I carried out over decades. The purpose of that campaign—a campaign that’s ongoing, by the way—is to protect the profitable status quo by obscuring an empirical truth: that when it comes to access to affordable health care, millions of Americans might as well be living in a third world country. And that’s still true today, more than four years after Obamacare became law. Although the Affordable Care Act is helping people find coverage that doesn’t bust the family budget, more than 30 million of us are still uninsured because the law doesn’t bring down the cost of insurance nearly enough. You will meet a few of those millions in Remote Area Medical, which is named after the organization that former TV star Stan Brock founded 30 years ago to fly doctors to remote villages along the Amazon. “Welcome to America,” Brock says early in the film as thousands of people wait patiently in long lines at the Bristol Motor Speedway in East Tennessee. During many weekends in the spring and summer, tens of thousands of fans fill the seats at this racetrack, one of NASCAR’s biggest. But over three days in late April or early May every year, the Speedway is transformed into an enormous pop-up health clinic. People start arriving days early and sleep in their cars and trucks in the vast parking lot in hopes of getting one of the numbers Brock hands out before dawn each day the clinic is in operation. Inside are doctors, dentists and other caregivers who have volunteered their time to treat the thousands of men, women and children, many of whom have driven hundreds of miles—and all of whom have fallen through the big cracks that continue to differentiate the U.S. health care system from those in every other developed country. Brock had hoped health care reform would put his operation out of business. He’d like to return to the days when all of his medical “expeditions,” as he calls them, were to countries in South America, Africa and the Caribbean. While Remote Area Medical (RAM) still conducts some missions abroad, most of its clinics for the past several years have been in the U.S. And they still are. RAM’s schedule for 2015 includes 22 clinics, in locations from Anaheim, California to Grundy, Virginia. Not all of those who show up at RAM clinics are uninsured. Brock told me that a growing number of folks actually have insurance. The problem is that they can only afford plans with high deductibles —deductibles so high they must pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets before coverage kicks in. The Affordable Care Act caps the amount of money people have to pay out of pocket each year—$6,600 for an individual and $13,200 for a family—but many folks enrolled in high-deductible plans simply don’t earn nearly enough to afford those high deductibles. The RAM staff frequently gets calls from budget-strapped folks in high-deductible plans who say their insurance companies have suggested they try to find a RAM clinic to get the care they need. The documentary was produced and directed by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman, a Brooklyn-based couple who first heard about RAM from Jeff’s aunt, a retired nurse, who had volunteered at a RAM clinic. Intrigued, Jeff and Farihah decided to volunteer at a RAM clinic themselves. “It changed us,” Farihah told me. “We knew we had to make a film about what our system has wrought.” Unlike other documentaries about health care, Remote Area Medical doesn’t focus on politics. “We wanted to get people to think about health care in a different way,” Farihah said. “It’s easy to have a knee jerk reaction (to the politics of health care). What we wanted to do was make a film that shows what it’s actually like for people who can’t afford health care.” Although the filmmakers offer no political point of view, they do hope lawmakers—including all those who contend we have the best health care system in the world—will see the film, either on the big screen or in March when it will be available on iTunes and Netflix. Better yet, the filmmakers would like to see lawmakers volunteer at a RAM clinic. Unfortunately, not many have done that yet. Wendell Potter is the author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans and Obamacare: What’s in It for Me? What Everyone Needs to Know About the Affordable Care Act.