With an administration known for keeping secrets butting heads with a newspaper that has frustrated past presidents with its disclosures, President Bush on Monday pushed back angrily at the New York Times for publishing details of a terrorist finance surveillance program, which the president branded as “disgraceful.”
“What we did was fully authorized under the law, and the disclosure of this program is disgraceful,” Bush told reporters, jabbing a finger for emphasis. “We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America,” he said, “and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America.”
President Bush thinks that a newspaper publishing details of a government program is disgraceful in a time of war. President Bush believes that a free press is doing more harm than good with their insatiable thirst for knowledge.
President Bush isn’t alone…
The Spanish Inquisition:
The Catholic Church, controlling universities such as the Sorbonne, also controlled all publications through its decree in 1543 that no book could be printed or sold without permission of the church. Then in 1563, Charles IX of France decreed that nothing could be printed without the special permission of the king. Soon other secular rulers of Europe followed suit, and scientific and artistic expressions, potentially threatening to the moral and political order of society, were brought under control through systems of governmental licence to print and publish.
The dual system of censorship created through the close alliance between church and state in Catholic countries, was also exported to the forcibly colonised countries in the Americas.
“The Spanish authorities were not only worried about the religious situation in Europe, but also in America. The possibility that America could be invaded with ideas from protestant countries was considered a permanent threat.” Notes the Peruvian historian Pedro Guibovich in his article The Lima Inquisition and Book Censorship.
The Inquisition established in Peru in 1568, was part of a colonial policy by Philip II of Spain, designed to deal with the political and ideological crisis in the Peruvian viceroyalty. The Peruvian system was a blueprint of the Spanish, entailing control of the import of books, the inquisitorial officers periodically examining ships and luggage in ports, inspecting libraries, bookstores and printing houses. When the Inquisition was established in Peru in 1569, the Tribunal’s district ranged from Panama to Chile and Rio de La Plata.
Oppressive and sinister as the censorship executed by the Inquisition no doubt was to the peoples of the colonies of the Americas, hardly anything can compare to the devastating effect of the destruction by the Spanish invaders of the unique literature of the Maya people. The burning of the Maya Codex remains one of the worst criminal acts committed against a people and their cultural heritage, and no less a terrible loss to the world heritage of literature and language.
A permanent threat, eh? Sounds right up President Bush’s alley. As he said himself:
Lauer: You said to me a second ago, one of the things you’ll lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror. That phrase strikes me a little bit. Do you really think we can win this war on terror in the next four years?
President Bush: I have never said we can win it in four years.
Lauer: So I’m just saying can we win it? Do you see that?
President Bush: I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world — let’s put it that way. I have a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand is to find them before they hurt us, and that’s necessary. I’m telling you it’s necessary. The country must never yield, must never show weakness and must continue to lead.
The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics maintained a particularly extensive program of state-imposed censorship. The main organ for official censorship in the Soviet Union was the Chief Agency for Protection of Military and State Secrets generally known as the Glavlit, its Russian acronym. The Glavlit handled censorship matters arising from domestic writings of just about any kind — even beer and vodka labels. Glavlit censorship personnel were present in every large Soviet publishing house or newspaper; the agency employed some 70,000 censors to review information before it was disseminated by publishing houses, editorial offices, and broadcasting studios. No mass medium escaped Glavlit’s control. All press agencies and radio and television stations had Glavlit representatives on their editorial staffs.
Even censoring food products? Bush thinks that’s a great idea:
On President Bush’s Air Force One flight to Florida Wednesday it was au revoir French toast, hello “Freedom toast.”
“Stuffed Freedom Toast” topped the breakfast menu, in a subtle slap at the French for helping to confound U.S. attempts to get the U.N. Security Council to authorize military force against Iraq.
The name change for the venerable breakfast dish — in this case stuffed with cream cheese — followed similar moves by the U.S. Congress and some restaurants across the country to change “French fries” to “Freedom fries.”
The Balkan Crisis:
The role of media in war was starkly demonstrated in the spring of 1999, when the NATO alliance started the campaign of bombing, designed to force the Yugoslav government to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosova and secure peace and human rights. The Yugoslav government, having clamped down on independent national media for almost a decade, expelled from Kosova all foreign media and independent observers. Thus the government gained unlimited license to kill, terrorise and deport hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosova. Due to their leader’s archaic policy of censorship and propaganda, the Serb population of Yugoslavia lost all sympathy in international public opinion. But also the NATO alliance launched a war of words, portraying their “war for peace” as just and clean. When in April 1999 it became indisputably evident that NATO bombs had killed Kosova-Albanian refugees, NATO Headquarters informed the international media in a manner that was characterised as misleading by the international media. NATO’s deliberate and deadly bombings of the radio and television stations in Belgrade were also strongly criticised as contradictory to the humanistic aims of the NATO operation.
No media, huh? President Bush has that covered:
More than 1,000 journalists have visited Guantanamo Bay since the U.S. military began locking up suspected al-Qaida and Taliban militants there 4½ years ago. But access has been severely restricted: Journalists could not talk to detainees, they had to be accompanied by a military escort and their photos were censored.
Now, the Pentagon has shut down access entirely — at least temporarily — expelling reporters this week and triggering an outcry from human rights groups, attorneys and media organizations even as the prison comes under renewed criticism for the suicides of three detainees last weekend.
“Now is the time when the media is most needed,” said Clive Stafford Smith, an attorney who has filed legal challenges on behalf of about 40 detainees. “The fact that right now, the most important time in the history of Guantanamo, they are being banned is un-American.”
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Pentagon officials defended the temporary ban on media, saying guards and base officials are preoccupied with investigating the deaths and maintaining security as detainees become more defiant. A clash with guards in May left six detainees injured. Another 10 prisoners were on hunger strike Thursday, including six being force-fed with nasal tubes.
“Those that live by the pen shall die by the sword”
With these words the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) declared war on the media in Algeria, instigating one of the most chilling contemporary examples of the deliberate murder of the messenger. From May 1993 until the end of 1995, 58 editors, journalists and media workers were systematically executed; 9 in 1993, 19 in 1994 and 24 in 1995, with the intent of punishing and scaring journalists from acting as mouthpieces for the Algerian authorities. This slaughtering was triggered by the conflict exploding when the Algerian army disrupted the election of a National Assembly in 1992, to prevent what seemed the be the certain victory of the fundamentalist party Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). The Algerian press, having long suffered rigorous censorship, not least during French colonial rule, was caught in the crossfire between the authorities and the opposition. As the conflict mounted, the authorities introduced sterner press censorship under the pretext of national security, clamping down ever harder on the coverage of civilian killings, introducing in 1996 rigid pre-censorship of all “non official” reports on the bloody conflict. With Algeria being off-limits to foreign press and independent observers, the killings could go on behind closed doors. By 1998, independent observers estimated that between 80 000 and 100 000 civilians had fallen victim to the frenzied slaughter. Only then, in 1998, did the Algerian government amend their press law, no doubt thanks to the incessant pressure from independent freedom of expression organisations.
Civilian killings are a real downer. Don’t worry, Bush is on the case:
REPORTER: Can you definitively say that hundreds of women and children and innocent civilians have not been killed?
RUMSFELD: I can definitively say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.
REPORTER: Do you have a civilian casualty count?
RUMSFELD: Of course not, we’re not in the city. But you know what our forces do; they don’t go around killing hundreds of civilians. That’s just outrageous nonsense. It’s disgraceful what that station is doing.
What Al Jazeera was doing in Falluja is exactly what it was doing when the United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001 and when US forces killed Al Jazeera’s Baghdad correspondent, Tareq Ayoub, during the April 2003 occupation of Baghdad. Al Jazeera was witnessing and reporting on events Washington did not want the world to see.
Faced with a public relations disaster, US officials did what they do best–they attacked the messenger. On April 11, with the unembedded reporters exposing the reality of the siege of Falluja, senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared, “The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies.” A few days later, on April 15, Rumsfeld echoed those remarks calling Al Jazeera “vicious.
Much of this Internet activity in Iran, particularly on the part of critics of the government, has developed in response to the relentless crackdown on the independent print media and continuing government control of television and radio. In April 2000, the Office of the Leader and the judiciary launched a campaign against the independent press, closing more than one hundred newspapers and journals in the period since then. The judiciary ordered the arrest of scores of journalists and writers. Saeed Mortazavi, then the judge of Public Court Branch 1410, was the leading force behind the crackdown in its early years, directed mainly at newspapers and journals which had become critical voices for change. He was subsequently appointed to the powerful position of Tehran Chief Prosecutor, a post he holds today.
Following this crackdown, many journalists and dissidents increasingly relied on the Internet to circumvent the judiciary’s tight control of print media. In 2004, the judiciary, relying on unaccountable intelligence and security forces, began to target online journalists and bloggers in an effort to quash this flourishing new medium.
Iranian Web sites–despite a desperate effort on the part of the government to control the Internet¾nevertheless continue to express opinions that the country’s print media would never run. The government has imprisoned online journalists, bloggers, and technical support staff. It has blocked thousands of Web sites, including–contrary to its claims that it welcomes criticism–sites that criticize government policies or report stories the government does not wish to see published. It has sought to limit the spread of blogs by blocking popular Web sites that offer free publishing tools for blogs.
Well, this sure does sound like a great idea. It seems to be working with Bush’s best pals. You’re doin’ a heckuva job Fletchie:
I’ve gotten a handful of e-mails this morning already that BluegrassReport.org has apparently been blocked to state computers by the Commonwealth Office of Technology. Readers in three different cabinets have e-mailed to tell me they get a “blocked” message when they try to access the site.
Nothing like a little censorship with your breakfast. Welcome to the People’s Republic of Kentucky.
I’ve had enough of this war on the free press! It’s ridiculous, it’s un-American, and even worse, it smacks of the exact kind of ideology that Bush asserts we are fighting.
Write your editors, write your representatives, run for Congress, crash the gate…
I’ve had enough, and I’m tired of waking up every morning to this kind of bullshit.
Feel free to add your own examples below, and I’ll add them to the list.