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BRITAIN'S OBSERVER SUED BY COMPANY OVER PALAST INVESTIGATION INTO
LINKS TO BUSH, HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
In retaliation for the investigative story about the finances of the
George W. Bush campaign, Barrick Gold Mining of Canada has sued my
paper, the Observer of London, for libel. The company, which hired
the elder Bush after his leaving the White House, is charging the
newspaper with libel for quoting an Amnesty International report,
which alleged that 50 miners might have been buried alive in Tanzania
by a company now owned by Barrick.
The company has also demanded the Observer and its parent, Guardian
Newspapers, force me to remove the article from my US website, a
frightening extension of Britain's punitive libel laws into the World
Wide Web. The company has also issued legal threats against
Tanzanian human rights lawyer Tundu Lissu, one of the Observer's
independent sources and an investigator of the mine-site allegations.
The attack by Barrick and its controversial Chairman, Peter Munk, one
of the wealthiest men in Canada, who boasts of his propensity to sue,
also aims to gag my reporting on his company's purchase of rights to
a gold mine in Nevada - containing $10 billion in gold - for a
payment of under $10,000 to the US Treasury.
My Observer story, Best Democracy Money Can Buy, looked into the
activities of several corporations linked to the Bushes. It was in
that article I first disclosed that over 50,000 Florida voters, most
of them Black, were wrongly tagged as `felons,' and targeted for
removal from the voter rolls. My follow-up reports in Salon.com, The
Nation, and the Washington Post as well as on BBC-TV's Newsnight
provided the basis for the US Civil Rights Commission finding of
massive, wrongful voter disenfranchisement in Florida.
My entire continuing investigation is in jeopardy. It is difficult
to imagine how my paper, owned by the non-profit Scott Trust, myself
and human rights lawyer Lissu can withstand the financial punishment
of litigation by the centi-millionaire Munk and his corporation.
In its latest Annual report, Amnesty says it cannot verify the
allegations of the mine killings because the government continues to
resist an independent investigation. Yet Barrick wants our paper to
state what we know to be untrue: that independent investigation found
the charges completely baseless. Yet our quoting Amnesty is no
defense. Americans cannot conceive of the medieval operation of
British libel law. It does not permit the defense of "repetition" -
straightforward reporting on the statements of human rights groups
are banned, a gag nearly as effective as Burmese law.
Independently of Amnesty, attorney Lissu went to the mine site and
provided our paper with witness statements. Tanzanians have offered
their services to help defend against censorship in Britain, a
poignant reversal for our paper which, with imperial pomp, has
launched a `Press Freedom Campaign' to excoriate developing nations
over gagging journalists.
`10 Little Piggies,' Adnan Khashoggi, and The Greatest Gold Heist
Since Butch Cassidy
Peter Munk's reputation precedes him. Last year, Mother Jones named
him one of America's `Ten Little Piggies' for his US gold mine's
literally `poisoning the water' through what environmentalists
consider polluting extraction practices.
How Barrick got the gold mine is something they would rather we not
First, Munk was set up in the gold business by funds from Saudi arms
dealer Adnan Khashoggi. We are being sued for discussing this
connection although the information comes from Peter Munk himself,
quoted in his biography.
Second, Barrick struck it rich when the company used (or misused, say
many) an old Gold Rush law to claim rights on a Nevada mine
containing $10 billion in gold by paying the US Treasury less than
$10,000. They are suing my paper for publicizing this extraordinary
transaction, which US Interior Secretary of the Interior Bruce
Babbitt called, "the biggest gold heist since the days of Butch
Cassidy," and "a form of legalized extortion."
Barrick's suit claims the Observer libeled them by failing to state
that Barrick had to spend money to buy other rights and equipment to
dig the gold out of the ground. What an odd misreading of our
words. We never said the US government mailed the gold bars to
Barrick in Canada. We only said that Barrick got the gold mine and
the public got the shaft.
The company's CEO has also demanded his lawyers slice a pound of our
journalistic flesh for mentioning that he, "made his name in Canada
in the 1960s as the figure in an infamous insider stock-trading
scandal." Yet, we read this in the Canadian magazine Macleans: "The
failure of [Clairetone Corporation] cost Munk his business and his
reputation. Most damning were allegations of insider trading that
were made after it was discovered that he and [his partner] had sold
shares in 1967 just before some of Clairetone's most serious problems
Lynching by Libel Law
The clear purpose of the suit is, as Barrick says, to force the
Observer to say the investigation "should never have been published"
an inquiry into those who purchase the favor and influence of the
Bush family, not just Barrick. The article was about the blizzard of
money whirling around a family of Presidents and their associations.
Among other paid favors for Barrick, the former President wrote the
dictator Suharto to convince him, successfully, to grant another gold
concession to Barrick.
And more than Barrick came into our investigative cross hairs. There
was Chevron Corporation, and ChoicePoint, the firm at the center of
the racially charged voter purge in Florida. This suit with
malicious tone attempts to besmirch our entire investigation and to
undermine ours and others further investigations into Bush and
The Observer's official history quotes a media critic's statement
that the papers new editor,
"... is expected to continue the paper's tradition of crusading
reporting as in the Lobbygate investigate investigation."
In that `Lobbygate' story, well known in the UK, I went undercover
with my partner Antony Barnett to expose corruption at the heart of
the Blair cabinet.
But the wrath of a Prime Minister is easy to dismiss - and our awards
were a pleasant salve. The withering, costly pounding of an enraged
corporate power with too much money to spend has chilled reporters'
and British newspapers' will to take on the tougher investigative
matters. Amnesty is, "silent on the advice of lawyers." And so, the
witness statements of those who watched the bodies exhumed, and one
who dug his way from the mass grave, will now also remain entombed in
How much longer I can hold the line if abandoned by the Guardian's
Scott Trust - which is cracking under the weight of legal bills - I
cannot say. And the consequences of capitulation to our source and
defender, Tundu Lissu and his Tanzanian human rights organization, we
Cheney to undergo heart tests
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Tom Raum
June 29, 2001 | WASHINGTON (AP) --
Vice President Dick Cheney disclosed Friday that he has been
experiencing irregular heart rhythms and will check into a hospital
on Saturday for tests that may lead to the implant of a pacemaker to
restore normal rhythm.
Cheney told a briefing at the White House that a "pacemaker plus"
could be put in after the tests.
He said he had noticed a rapid heart rate but "I can't feel anything
when it happens."
His ability to perform in his job as vice president probably would
not be affected, he said, but he added that he would follow his
Cheney said he had discussed the situation with President Bush on
Cheney was smiling and looked robust when making the announcement. He
said he had exercised on a stationary bike for half an hour earlier
The vice president said he expected to be home Saturday night after
the procedure and return to work on Monday. He said his condition
would not inhibit his ability to do his job.
He said his visit on Saturday to George Washington Hospital was
a "routine but precautionary step that my record calls for."
It will be his third hospitalization since last year's election.
Cheney has been suffering from coronary heart disease for a quarter
century, beginning with a heart attack in 1978 when he was a young
congressman. He had quadruple bypass surgery in 1988.
Last November, doctors treated Cheney for a mild heart attack by
implanting a stent, a little metal scaffolding, to prop open an
almost completely blocked artery. In March, Cheney underwent an
angioplasty to clear a clogged artery.
"The risks are minimal" for the new procedure, Cheney said. He said
the same procedure is done about 100,000 times a year, and it will
not require him to go under a general anesthetic.
He said doctors would insert wires into a vein during the test, then
if necessary insert a battery-powered pacemaker.
Green Group Comes Under Right-Wing Attack
Don Hazen, AlterNet
June 26, 2001
Inspired by a friendly Bush administration, a trio of anti-
environmental groups and companies is launching a multi-tiered attack
on the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Best known for its headline-
grabbing campaigns to protect forests, RAN has a proven track record
of altering corporate behavior through a range of pressure tactics.
A conservative group called the Frontier Freedom Foundation (FFF) --
heavily supported by tobacco, oil and timber money -- is lobbying the
IRS to revoke RAN's non-profit status. At the same time, logging
company Boise Cascade has aggressively targeted RAN's funders with
threatening letters, trying to undermine the organization by drying
up its cash flow. Both are working with the anti-green Center for the
Defense of Free Enterprise to cripple RAN's effectiveness.
RAN executes highly visible, aggressive campaigns primarily against
corporations destroying old growth forests in North America and
around the world. Its tactics include consumer boycotts and symbolic
efforts designed to capture media attention, including rappelling
down corporate buildings and unleashing giant banners. Along with
Boise Cascade, RAN has also targeted Mitsubishi and Occidental
Petroleum, among other corporate giants.
The first attack came from the FFF (founded by former Wyoming Senator
Malcolm Wallup, a close associate of Vice President Dick Cheney),
which charged in a letter to the IRS that RAN routinely engages in
non-educational activity, violating the legal requirement that it
be "operated exclusively for educational purposes." The FFF's
executive director, George Landrith, called RAN "fundamentally
radical, anti-capitalist and lawless."
In response, RAN says that the FFF is using the tax codes to attack
its First Amendment rights. As many have pointed out, civil rights
groups like the NAACP wouldn't have been able to organize sit-ins to
fight segregation if such a standard was in place.
"We believe when laws are unjust, they can be broken in a symbolic
way," RAN Executive Director Christopher Hatch told the Wall Street
Nevertheless, some other groups are expressing anxiety about the IRS
case. They fear a chilling effect on anti-corporate protests if the
FFF is successful. Indeed, the FFF's Landrith sees the RAN effort as
a test case with many more to follow if successful. Thus far, the
Bush administration hasn't been shy about employing hardball tactics
with its enemies, and the prospect of politicizing the IRS is not out
of the question. Also, experts note that the IRS language in this
arena is vague and the rulings on the books are close to 20 years
old. New language could be more narrow and restrictive.
If the FFF is successful, RAN would not be out of business, but would
have to raise what's known as "hard money" from its donors and
members. Put simply, donors wouldn't be able to claim a tax deduction
for supporting specific RAN activities, which could discourage them
from giving. Michael Klein, a business entrepreneur and one of RAN's
key funders said, "I don't think there is any merit in this case and
feel confident that the IRS will rule in RAN's favor. But I stand
behind the RAN's work in this area, and would be willing to more than
make up whatever shortfall might result."
Michael Shellenberger, a RAN spokesman, calls the whole effort with
the IRS a canard. "The only activities that would result in revoking
non-profit tax status are felonious activities, like embezzlement,"
said Shellenberger. "The FFF is trying to scare our supporters, but
they won't be scared."
"Let there be no doubt," Christopher Hatch adds, "the work to protect
our forests will not only continue, but escalate."
Exploiting IRS codes is only part of the attack on RAN. Boise Cascade
Corporation (BCC) is trying to cut off RAN's financial support in a
different way. BCC is currently RAN's public enemy number one for its
role as a "global forest destroyer." According to RAN, "data shows
that BCC engages in global rainforest timber trade and contracts with
companies that cut down old growth forests in the U.S., Chile,
Indonesia, Canada, Brazil and Russia." Furthermore, BCC was the lead
plaintiff in the effort to reverse the Clinton Administration's
Roadless Initiative for National Forests, strongly supported by the
American public in polls.
The RAN-generated negative public attention and pressure on Boise
Cascade has produced a chain reaction within the company, resulting
in threatening letters written to many of RAN's funders. Vincent
Hannity, a BCC vice president, wrote to RAN funders, "We are frankly
struggling to understand how and why RAN receives the support of
reputable, responsible, well-intentioned organizations such as
(foundation name blacked out). If RAN's lawless, radical agenda and
methodology are consistent with your organization's guidelines,
objectives and ethics we ask that you share those criteria with us."
Insiders say that BCC has even contacted principals of schools where
students have written to the company urging the protection of old
Students aren't the only ones worried about forest conservation. A
Los Angeles Times poll showed that nine out of ten people believe
protecting wilderness is important, and six out of ten say we
shouldn't build more roads in national forests.
According to Hatch, rather than admiting that the strong public
sentiment against irresponsible forestry might be cutting into its
bottom line, BCC is trying to blame RAN for its economic problems.
(BCC lost $35.5 million in the first quarter of 2001.) Clearly, RAN's
success in reducing demand for products made from old-growth wood --
including its groundbreaking agreement with Home Depot and a deal in
Canada to preserve large portions of the Great Bear rainforest -- has
motivated BCC. But instead of working with RAN to clean up their act
(which numerous companies have done), BCC has chosen a more hostile
BCC's aggressive strategy and denial of public opinion places it
among a group of conservative corporations that are highly resistant
to change, like oil giant ExxonMobil, which still refuses to
acknowledge global warming. Also like ExxonMobil, BCC enjoys long-
standing and close relationships with key members of the Bush
A second right-wing group, the Center for the Defense of Free
Enterprise, headed by notorious "wise use" advocate Ron Arnold, is
working with the FFF and Boise Cascade to undermine RAN's standing. A
press release from the FFF said that "Arnold would present RAN as an
attack group and not an environmental group. He will present RAN's
anti-capitalist and anti-corporate agenda of force, intimidation and
unlawful actions. Arnold will also show suspicious links between
RAN's rhetoric and Earth Liberation Front acts."
RAN denies such charges of unlawfulness, and a connection to more
militant groups. "RAN is strictly a non-violent organization strongly
opposed to property destruction of any kind," said RAN Communications
Director Shannon Wright. Coincidentally, the FFF's outrageous guilt
by association rhetoric received a major blow when police in Arizona
arrested a suspect for a series of fires that destroyed more than a
dozen homes adjacent to the desert. The suspect had apparently
written letters on behalf of a fake militant ecological group in
order to deflect attention away from himself.
It seems clear that RAN's efforts to protect old growth forests are
not going to be seriously inhibited by attacks from right-wing groups
and angry corporations. On the other hand, major companies with
billion-dollar investments in their brands are increasingly
vulnerable to the effective tactics -- advertising, public education,
and direct action protest -- employed by RAN and pioneered decades
ago by groups like INFACT and the United Farm Workers.
As more corporate money flows into the coffers of elected officials,
government often produces policies that protect corporate interests
at the public's expense. The only realistic shot at reform becomes
public campaigns aimed at the reputation and the bottom line of the
corporate behemoths. Ironically, as BCC's example may soon show,
exercising overwhelming influence in politics may lead to more
financial loses in the long run, if a company becomes a target for
activist campaigns. If only they understood the need to balance their
interests with the public and become better corporate citizens.
For more information, or to help defend the Rainforest Action
Network, visit RAN.org.
GEORGE ORWELL IN 2001: SPEAKING FROM THE GRAVE
By Norman Solomon / Creators Syndicate
I dreamed I saw George Orwell last night. Alive as you or me.
He'd been watching the news, and he was quite irate. "All
this doublespeak about war crimes is appalling," he said. "That chap
Milosevic -- I see the U.S. government wants him tried for war
"Yes," I replied. "All the pundits agree."
"But meanwhile, the news coverage of the Israeli prime
minister's visit to the White House failed to suggest that he, also,
would be suitable for prosecution as a war criminal. After all,
evidence clearly implicates Ariel Sharon in the massacres of hundreds
of Palestinian people inside the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in
Lebanon in 1982. Why aren't the media commentators demanding that he
stand in the dock at The Hague?"
"Well, the U.S. government is closely allied with Israel,
Orwell cut me off. "I was asking a rhetorical question. I
get it. Believe me." His voice began to waver and fade, so only
fragments were audible. "Plenty of examples ... Turkish
government ... U.S. ally ... killing Kurds for many years ...
brutally suppressing their language and culture ... where's the
press?" He coughed, then started again, faintly: "Henry Kissinger ...
wholesale murder in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia ... East Timor ... and
remember Chile ... Any evenhanded reporting would ..."
"During the last few months," I interjected, "the journalist
Christopher Hitchens has raised quite a ruckus about Kissinger and --"
Orwell waved a hand, dismissively. "Scant comfort ... news
delayed is news denied ... sickening media manipulation ..."
"You sound way too radical for mainstream media," I
exclaimed. "Yet these days you're almost universally revered."
Orwell laughed grimly, in the midst of coughing. His next
words were at full volume. "Indeed. Embraced with one hand and
watered down with the other. Now rendered as dreadfully weak tea and -
Then, suddenly, I woke up. The dull thud of a newspaper
echoed on the front porch. "Mr. Orwell," I murmured, "what were you
saying?" But there was no reply. Just the filtered light of dawn and
the far-off sound of "Morning Edition" on National Public Radio.
George Orwell died in 1950. If he had lived long enough to
reach the 21st century, it's a good bet that -- while treasuring the
civil liberties and other freedoms that exist in the United States --
he would deplore the deep patterns of indoctrination that undergo
reinforcement in our society.
"Democratic" processes of intellectual conformity and
insidious political propaganda were of great concern to Orwell. Not
content to merely point a finger from West to East in his satirical
novel about Soviet tyranny, "Animal Farm," he wrote a challenging
preface, which disappeared from editions of the book for nearly 30
The preface included a downbeat analysis of the conditions
of public discourse in England, where "admiration for Russia happens
to be fashionable at this moment." Orwell astutely speculated
that "quite possibly that particular fashion will not last." But, he
went on: "To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an
advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees
with the record that is being played at the moment."
Today, Orwell's record-player metaphor is a bit outdated --
we could refer to "the CD mind" -- but his statement remains acutely
relevant. Ideologies are most pernicious when they're so dominant
that they aren't even recognized as such.
What Orwell wrote in his introduction, describing the
England of 1945, is no less applicable to the United States of
2001: "In this country, intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a
writer or journalist has to face... Unpopular ideas can be silenced,
and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official
ban. ... At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas
which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept
In December 1946, four months after U.S. publication
of "Animal Farm," Orwell wrote in a letter to literary critic Dwight
Macdonald: "If people think I am defending the status quo, that is, I
think, because they have grown pessimistic and assume that there is
no alternative except dictatorship or laissez-faire capitalism." He
added: "What I was trying to say was, 'You can't have a revolution
unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a
Orwell was anti-Communist. He was also a socialist who
vehemently opposed the capitalist system -- a position that would
disqualify him from appearing as a regular commentator on any of
America's big TV networks in the present day.
Norman Solomon's weekly syndicated column -- archived at
www.fair.org/media-beat/ -- focuses on media and politics. His latest
is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."
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