Hard News by Russell Brown

Let Freedom Ring

Information Clearing House is the latest dissenting website to cop hack attacks from some self-styled friends of freedom, American-style. I can see why some people would consider the Clearing House a threat: it's very good at what it does.

Some of what appears there is a bit wild-eyed - this story about the US command's alleged deal with Iraq's Republican Guard might be wholly or partly true (Al-Jazeera heard similar rumours immediately after Baghdad fell), or it might be a nice way to ease the pain of Arab shame at military defeat.

Most of the stories, however, are simply mainstream reports that, for whatever reason, don't get the currency they deserve. Like, for example this report citing The Australian newspaper's scoop on the Pentagon's blueprint for bombing the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in North Korea. Or this observation that the Bush White House has allowed the hugely important investigation into the 9/11 attacks a budget of $US3 million - while Ken Starr spent $US47 million on ultimately pointless probes into Clinton's dealings over Whitewater and Lewinsky. You could be forgiven for thinking they're keeping this thing on a very short leash.

There's also this useful section-by-section analysis of the thoroughly scary - and quite un-American - Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, also known as the PATRIOT Act II.

But probably the best thing the Clearing House has carried of late is an amazing story in pictures of the much-covered toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad. The same "Baghdad resident" shown in wire pictures enthusiastically giving the V-for-victory sign to US troops on April 9 also appears in a picture of the Pentagon favourite Ahmed Chabali and his supporters after they had been flown into Nasiriyah on April 6. Only in Nasiriyah, he was dressed as a member of Chalabi's US-funded militia, the Free Iraqi Forces. Presumably, he was later flown into Baghdad for the big day. How many of the hundred-odd others dancing over the statue were also shipped in for the cameras? The taking of Baghdad appears to have been a brilliantly-managed media event. Are you feeling a little duped yet?

That story hasn't had a lot of play, unsurprisingly. But there has been much comment over The News We Kept To Ourselves, an op-ed column in the New York Times by CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan. Jordan revealed that he had kept secret his certain knowledge that some of CNN's local staff in Baghdad were beaten and tortured by the regime. He did so, he said, because to have blown the whistle would have cost the lives of those staff. Others have taken the view that CNN was more concerned about continued access to Baghdad. Jordan talked about the reactions to his confession on CNN itself. Time and The New York Times also tried to sift through the ethical issues. Me? I'm frankly not sure whether the right thing was done.

Meanwhile, as Iraq's Shia masses enjoyed the freedom to travel to Karbala, created extraordinary political momentum and threatened America with the spectacular own-goal of a new Islamic state, Chalabi - already convicted of massive financial corruption in Jordan and Lebanon - is facing a new bank scandal in Switzerland. He's in good company with the deeply suspect Richard Perle then, but does the White House really still seriously regard him as a viable leader of the country where he hasn't lived for 30 years?

Anyway, back to the drug debate - and medical marijuana. It's worth highlighting a little of the hypocrisy at play here. Peter Dunne is on record as defending the right of pub owners to milk the vulnerable of their money through pokie machines so that the public can have "a flutter" - but he's happy to deprive very ill people of relief from pain and nausea because … well, you decide.

This double standard is quite widespread. Remember Guy Leonard Smith, the delightful chap who owns both Pokies Bar in Otahuhu and the addiction treatment facility Capri Health Services - which makes money by treating some of Leonard's own victims?

Well, last time I checked, the director of clinical services at Capri was Tom Claunch, the ubiquitous zero-tolerance-for-drugs rent-a-quote, US publisher of Tom Scott's risible and dreadfully-researched Great Brain Robbery and founder of the International Institute for Addiction Studies (a fancy name for a PO Box in Hanmer). You have to wonder how some people sleep at night.

Green Cross has more local background on medical marijuana. Oh, and here's the Euphoria website. Oooh. Tight t-shirts a-go-go. Who would want to be associated with that kind of branding?