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Inside Story Americas

Is the US intimidating the media?

As the justice department seizes AP's phone records, we discuss the aggressive pursuit of whistleblowers in the US.

Last Modified: 15 May 2013 12:06
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Outrage is being expressed at what the American Civil Liberties Union has called "an act of press intimidation" and an "unacceptable abuse of power" by the Barack Obama administration.

In May last year, the White House announced it had intercepted a plot to detonate an explosive on a plane headed for the United States.

This appears to be an unauthorised leak … probably because the White House and Justice department were upset that information on this investigation leaked out 24 hours before they wanted it too … which is really petty and strange.

Jesselyn Radack, whistleblower and lawyer ,

The al-Qaeda plan had originated in Yemen but a target had not yet been decided. The twist was that the would-be suicide bomber was actually a CIA agent, and the attack never happened.

But it was not the US government that released details of the plot; it was a news agency.

When the Associated Press (AP) discovered the story, it initially agreed to White House and CIA requests to withhold the information, as the operation was said to still be underway.

The news organisation eventually broke the story on the 7 May 2012, a day before the official announcement was made.

Ever since, the US government has wanted to know the identity of the AP's sources. And now it appears the hunt has intensified.

Last Friday, the Department of Justice told the AP it had secretly obtained the phone records from more than 20 lines assigned to the media company and its journalists.

Without any advance warning, home, office and mobile phone records were seized, covering all outgoing calls made in the two months before the bomb attack plot was revealed. The department did not explain why.

The AP was not impressed. The news agency has asked the justice department to return the subpoenaed phone records and destroy all copies.

The Obama administration has a history of pursuing whistleblowers. It has already brought six cases against people it suspects have leaked classified information, and there may still be more to come.

So, why has the Obama administration been so aggressive in its approach? And what alternatives do whistleblowers have under such conditions? 

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Jesselyn Radack, National Security and Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project, who is also a former government whistle-blower; and Kim Zetter  a senior reporter at Wired magazine.

Force-feeding detainees in Guantanamo

We have called on the US government to put an end to this crisis at the Guantanamo Bay … among other things by resolving the situation of those who are held there and have no reason to be held there. But also particularly to ensure that those who are on hunger strike be treated in accordance with the human dignity … and specifically we called on the US no to force-feed them.

Juan Mendez , UN special rapporteur on torture 

In Guantanamo Bay, a hunger strike by at least 100 detainees at the US detention centre is well into its third month.

Al Jazeera has obtained documents which outline the US military's standard operating procedure for force-feeding those refusing food.

According to the documents, the standard operating procedure, says: "When consent cannot be obtained, medical procedures that are indicated to preserve health and life shall be implemented without consent from the detainee.

"When a prisoner is force-fed the Guard force shackles detainee and a mask is placed over the detainee's mouth to prevent spitting and biting, he is then escorted to a chair restraint system, and appropriately restrained by the guard force.

"The feeding tube, of 3.3mm in diameter, is passed via the nasal passage into the stomach ... the tube is secured to the nose with tape."

The documents claim that "feeding can be completed comfortably over 20 to 30 minutes".

The detainee is then placed in a dry cell where he cannot access water. If the detainee vomits or attempts to induce vomiting "he will remain in the restraint chair for the entire observation time period during subsequent feedings".

The documents advise: "In event of a mass hunger strike, isolating hunger striking patients from each other is vital to prevent them from achieving solidarity". The documents also reveal that the military and not the medical staff have final say over who is force-fed.

So, what is the significance of the information contained in these documents? And why has the US chosen such radical alternatives?

To discuss this, Shihab Rattansi speaks to Juan Mendez, the UN special Rapporteur on torture. 

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