Saturday, December 03, 2005

State Dept. of Un-American activities

Knight Ridder reports that the State Department has been screening intellectuals used for government purposes. Basically, if you have said anything bad about the government's policies, be they in Iraq or elsewhere, then your disqualified from participating on government expeditions or panels. This includes U.S. Senators:

"I was told by a senior U.S. official that the State Department was conducting a screening process on intellectuals, and those who were against the Bush administration's Iraq policy were not welcomed to participate in U.S. government-sponsored programs," Phillips said.

"The ability of the United States to promote democracy effectively abroad is curtailed when we curtail free speech at home, which is essential to a free society," he said.

In another instance of apparent politicization, a request by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, to arrange a visit by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who lived in Indonesia when he was young, was delayed for seven months. The visit never occurred.

The article continues:

Current and former officials involved with the State Department's overseas speakers program said potential candidates were vetted -- via Internet searches, for example -- for any comments or writings that criticized White House policy.

"There's definitely a political litmus test. You don't have to be a Republican, but you better not have said anything against them," one official said.

The official said he knew of no blacklist of banned scholars. "But there certainly is a 'white list' of those who can go," he added.

He and others agreed to discuss the State Department practices only on condition of anonymity, saying they feared retaliation for exposing them.

Late this week, after Knight Ridder inquired about the litmus tests, Alexander Feldman, the head of the department's International Information Programs bureau, which runs the speakers program, sent a memo to his employees warning that "no one is to speak to the press without following the procedures" and getting approval. Knight Ridder obtained a copy of the memo.
How's that for democracy for you? How's that for respect of debate and dissent? During his term in office, Bill Clinton appointed both Republicans and Democrats to positions. As with his predecessors, he allowed those who dissented with him to be promoted in their offices. To be sure, those who disagreed may not have found promotion easily under previous administrations, but they weren't outright banned. Dictators ban dissenters and lock them in jails or worse. Democracies do not do that, but don't try explaining that to this administration other wise you might find yourself off of the "white list".

Hat tip to Laura Rozen. She writes further on her blog:

In their bones, and certainly in their practices, these people don't really seem to appreciate some of the finer features of democracy - a free press, the right to free speech, laws, etc. Instead, look at the stream of mainstream reports we've been reading the past several months about the US covertly paying for propaganda in Iraq and disguising it as journalism, the Bush administration pushing for the CIA to be exempt from an anti torture amendment, the US running black site prisons in the former gulags of Eastern Europe. And just a total penchant for doing government in the dark. These traits - the torture, the secrecy, the propaganda, and now this report of vetting the political views before even sending Sen. Barack Obama to Jakarta -- are uniformly associated with dictatorships, not democracies. How can this administration possibly be a credible engine of exporting it? Karen Hughes, Liz Cheney, Condoleezza Rice can have tea with every Muslim woman in the world, but they will never be an effective vehicle for improving the US's image in the world until this administration figures out what is essentially anti democratic about its practices, its worldview, that people see only the hollowness of the rhetoric.

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