The US War on Freedom of the Press
By David William Pear
November 21, 2019
The FBI abduction of Marzieh Hashemi is another milestone in the US turn to fascism. Marzieh Hashemi is a well-recognized and highly respected journalist and TV anchorwoman for Press TV, which is affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran. She was abducted on January 15th as she was boarding a flight to Denver from St. Louis.
Marzieh was whisked to an unknown location in the vicinity of Washington, DC. The Washington DC area was probably chosen, as Northern Virginia is the site of what is referred to as the “CIA court”, in which so-called national security cases are heard, because the government can be assured of government-friendly juries. In such cases, juries side with the government 99.9% of the time.
Marzieh is being held incommunicado, as this is being written, and she has not been heard from publicly. Nor does her family and friends know her exact location of imprisonment. It took nearly a week before the US government even acknowledged Marzieh’s arrest.
All the US government finally said was that Marzieh is being held as a “material witness” to an unspecified crime. Though not charged with any crime, Marzieh is being treated worse than a criminal. Her human, civil and religious rights have been violated. Reportedly all she has been able to eat is crackers, because the government is not respecting her religious dietary requirements.
According to reports from Press TV, Marzieh has been very mistreated to the point of torture. Her hijab was forcibly removed, she has been denied halal food, kept in a cold solitary dungeon without adequate clothing, and her hands and legs are shackled during brief period in an enclosed exercise yard.
Marzieh is also a US citizen, which should not make a difference. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, as well as the US Constitution, recognizes the inalienable rights of all human beings in the world, especially journalists. Among those rights are freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.
Until the War on Terror, it has been highly unusual for the US government to arrest someone as a material witness. Normally a “witness” is simply issued a subpoena to appear in court and testify on a specific date. Even in the even that witnesses cannot appear before a grand jury, they can be deposed under oath and the deposition entered into evidence. If the authorities fear that the witness might leave the country, then they can simply ask her to surrender her passport.
There is no question from those that know Marzieh that she would have cooperated with a subpoena, without the use of physical force and imprisonment. That is not to say that she is not a strong person and a fighter for truth and justice. She will now fight for her civil rights from behind prison walls.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, arrest as a “material witnesses” has been used to incarcerate so-called “enemy combatants” to indefinite detention. Such detention is indefinite because a grand jury or trial may be way in the future, or never even take place. Whereas, someone who is actually charged with a crime is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus informing them of the alleged crime. Someone charged with a crime is entitled to an attorney, and an opportunity to be freed on bail until there is a speedy trial.
The legality of arresting someone as a material witness and holding them indefinitely is an abuse of the law. Apparently, the Supreme Court has heard several cases but never ruled on it directly. However, such as in the case of Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, the material witness statute has not been ruled as unconstitutional.
In the past the arrest as a material witness has rarely been used against a US citizen. According to 18 U.S. Code § 3144 - Release or detention of a material witness, it appears that arresting Marzieh Hashemi, abusing her, disrespecting her freedom of religion, and keeping her incognito is to make a mockery of the law. The War on Terror has been used to make a mockery of international and domestic law.
The War on Terror is what has lowered the US in torturing people, conduct non-judicial assassinations of US citizens, engage in domestic spying, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, ignore the Geneva Conventions, and illegally start wars of aggression. The US has become the number one state sponsor of terrorism. What the US does abroad sooner or later it does at home to its own citizens.
It is not jumping to a conclusion to speculate that the US is preparing to move against Press TV, as it has against RT, the Russian sponsored news outlet. RT has been required to register in the US as a foreign agent, which is extremely unusual. As a so-called foreign agent, RT has lost many of its abilities to gather the news and present it to the public. The immediate concern for Marzieh Hashemi is the potential that she might be charged with being an agent of a foreign government. If tried and convicted under the oppressive 1917 Espionage Act and 1918 Sedition Act it could result in a lengthy prison sentence.
The 1917 Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act are two archaic laws that have no place in a free country. The laws are zombies from World War One. They were resuscitated as part of the War on Terror by Bush and Obama, after nearly a century of being dormant.
Apparently, the US government is preparing to ask a grand jury to rule that Press TV is a propaganda outlet. It is not as if the US government does not have its own propaganda outlets. The half-dozen or so mainstream media outlets, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and the print media are owned by monopolies that are virtual US government media propaganda organs. The US media are little more than repeaters of the US government propaganda narratives.
The proof of how much the US mainstream media kowtows to the government is that they are not coming to the defense of Marzieh Hashemi and freedom of the press. There was a time when they would have. And where is the ACLU? While the US news media and civil rights organizations are quiet, the rest of the world is not. At a time when the online alternative media is also under attack, they are defending freedom of the press for the people.
Every day the US becomes more fascistic, and every day the Bill of Rights is being eroded. No longer can any US citizen feel safe in freely expressing their opinion verbally, in the media or in writing. The US government has been on a binge of abusing its power. Following 9/11 Bush rushed the Patriot Act through an eager Congress. Among other provisions, the Patriot Act authorizes indefinite detention, search and seizure, domestic spying and wiretapping without a warrant. When the act was due to expire in 2011, Obama extended it.
For a while after 9/11 the US mainstream media was outraged with the US government’s illegal excesses. It was sensational news in 2013 when Edward Snowden disclosed the extremes to which the National Security Agency had gone in its illegal domestic spying.
The Patriot Act had given the government the proverbial inch and they had taken a mile, so to speak. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, alongside FBI Director Robert Mueller, was caught lying to Congress about US illegal spying. Unlike for most citizens if they are caught lying to Congress, Clapper was not prosecuted. Incredibly he even kept his government job and his security clearance.
[Post YouTube video here]
[ DNI Clapper tells Wyden the NSA does not collect data on millions of Americans ]
In 2015 when the Patriot Act was about to expired, and after Edward Snowden had revealed the magnitude of illegal US spying, then the USA Freedom Act was passed, amending and extending the Patriot Act through 2019. The US government and the media pretended that the USA Freedom Act had resolved the conflict between government spying and the Constitutional protections of the Bill of Rights. It did not, but one would never know it from the exuberant mainstream media and the Democratic and Republican members of Congress.
Rand Paul was accused of “having blood on his hands” for trying to filibuster the USA Freedom Act. A laughing Mitch McConnell, who had helped cut off Paul’s filibuster said, “I'm not concerned about my privacy, I'm concerned about my security.”
[Post YouTube video here]
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) begins his remarks on Patriot Act and NSA Surveillance
Unbeknownst to most of the public, the US has been in a declared state of emergency since September 11, 2001. The state of emergency was declared by George W. Bush with Proclamation 7463, and it has been renewed annually by Bush, Obama and Trump. In addition, Bush secretly put into effect Continuity of Government (COG). In effect, the US is under martial law, has been since 9/11, and the US Constitution is in state of suspended animation.
The mainstream media has been mum. The public is now pacified. Many citizens even enthusiastically support their civil rights being taken from them, just as Mitch McConnell has.
After the attacks of 9/11, it became a cliché for people to say about government surveillance, “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about”. Once the ridiculousness of that attitude became thoroughly mocked and a meme, then people stopped saying it, but they did not stop acting as if they did not believe it.
With a mum mainstream media and a pacified public, it was predictable that the US government would become more authoritarian, intolerant, and abusive of civil liberties. Many US Americans gladly gave up their civil rights for the illusion that the government would keep them safe from terrorists. They never thought about who would keep them safe from their government.
Western governments, particularly in the English-speaking countries, have cowed freedom of the press. According to a ranking of press freedom, “based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists” by Reporters Without Borders, the five eyes countries are ranked as follows for press freedom: New Zealand (8), Canada (18), Australia (19), United Kingdom (40), United States (45). These rankings are a disgrace to countries that claim to be democratic, free and exceptional.
With the demise of a free and independent mainstream media in the US, many people turned to the internet for its wide range and variety of news and opinion. The public was also able to easily and inexpensively start up their own media outlets. The internet was democracy at work. It was the free marketplace of ideas. The US government, the monopoly corporate mainstream media, and fascists oppose such freedoms of speech, press and ideas. The government became frightened that they were losing their authoritarian grip on the population.
The war against freedom of the press, which has been simmering for years, was launched on a massive scale of censorship with the publication in the Washington Post of the article, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say”. This was one of the worst pieces of yellow journalism in recent history. The so-called “expert” quoted is an anonymous organization called PropOrNot, otherwise known as “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!”. One can easily see the government’s (e.g. CIA) fingerprints all over PropOrNot. PropOrNot is an effort to discredit online publications, many of them more legitimate than the mainstream media. Listing over 200 online publication as linked to “Russian propaganda” is a regression to the bad old days of McCarthyism-era blacklisting.
While PropOrNot is a flop in the war against journalism, it was not the last battle of the war. Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter had their arms twisted, willingly or not, to steer web searches away from independent websites, and to self-censor their own web site. State governments are being encouraged to put “fact checking” (i.e. censorship) applications on school and library computers. Many legitimate websites are being blocked and infected with viruses, and one has good reasons to suspect it is by the government.
The war on journalism has also focused on some foreign government-sponsored news services that the US is hostile towards. RT, formerly Russia Today, has had the unusual requirement of registering with the US government as a foreign agent. Venezuela’s Telesur is under attack. Other state sponsored outlets such as British Broadcasting Corporation, France 24, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Israel Broadcasting Authority remain unmolested. And of course, what is Voice of America if not a propaganda outlet?
With the arrest of Marzieh Hashemi it is obvious that Press TV is in the sights of the US war on journalism. Marzieh is a US citizen as well as an Iranian citizen. Her abduction by the FBI has put everyone on notice that they speak and write at their own risk. It is not absurd to imagine that the day will come when people have to hide their computers, and huddle around them in the attic when going to verboten websites.
Criticizing the government, opposing US wars of aggression, protesting for civil rights and Black Lives Matter, and confronting injustice and the abuse of power may result in one being imprisoned without charge, held incognito, and indefinite detention.
David William Pear
[Bio: David William Pear is a columnist writing on U.S. foreign policy, economic and political issues, human rights and social issues. David is a Senior Contributing Editor of The Greanville Post (TGP) and a prior Senior Editor for OpEdNews (OEN). David has been writing for The Real News Network (TRNN) and other publications for over 10 years. David is a member of Veterans for Peace, Saint Pete (Florida) for Peace, CodePink, and the Palestinian-led non-violent organization International Solidarity Movement. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.]