When President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, on Dec. 31, 2011, civil liberties advocates were alarmed at several provisions within the legislation, particularly Section 1021, which empowers current and all future presidents to indefinitely imprison U.S. citizens and non-citizens who were either part of or “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Persons accused under this provision can be held by the U.S. military indefinitely or transferred to any nation in the world, without charge, trial or access to an attorney.
A lawsuit challenging this measure was filed on Jan. 13, 2012, on behalf of seven plaintiffs contesting the legality of what they assert are unconstitutional provisions of the NDAA. Their plaintiffs in the case, known as “Hedges vs. Obama,” include former New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and America’s most well-known dissident and MIT linguist Noam Chomsky.
On Sept. 12, 2012, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York, Katherine Forrest. issued a permanent injunction that barred the U.S. government from applying indefinite military detention to U.S. citizens. But the Obama administration appealed that decision to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which on July 17, 2013 overturned Judge Forrest’s permanent injunction, declaring that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge the indefinite detention powers specified in the NDAA. On Dec. 16, 2013, the plaintiffs appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they hope to overturn congressional support of presidential powers to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with journalist and author Chris Hedges, who provides an update on his case and talks about the urgency of restoring civil liberties lost since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Chris Hedges’ most recent book, co-written with cartoonist Joe Sacco, is titled, “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” Find more news and analysis on indefinite detention and NSA dragnet surveillance at Stop The NDAA at stopndaa.org/aboutlawsuit/.
- Interview with Chris Hedges, conducted by Scott Harris, Counterpoint, March 24, 2014 (24:15)
- “The NDAA and the Death of the Democratic State by Chris Hedges,” TruthDig, Feb. 11, 2013
- “Hedges v. Obama (January 2014): Interview with Christopher Hedges,” Supreme Court Press, January 2014
- “A Discredited Supreme Court Ruling That Still, Technically, Stands,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 2014
- “Chris Hedges v. Barack Obama, Amicus Brief,” Law and Freedom
- “A plea to cast aside Korematsu,” Supreme Court blog, Jan. 16, 2014
- “Hedges v. Obama – Southern District of New York,” U.S. District Courts Southern District of New York
- “Journalist Chris Hedges to Keynote March 29, 2014 CT Conference,” CT Coalition to Stop Indefinite Detention, March 29, 2014 Interview with Andrew Whelton, assistant professor of civil engineering at South Alabama University, conducted by Melinda TuhusShortly after MCHM, a chemical used in coal processing, spilled into the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians on Jan. 9, Andrew Whelton, an assistant professor of civil engineering at South Alabama University, drove with a graduate student 900 miles to Charleston to advise residents on how to flush their water systems in order to minimize contact with the chemical. He went to assist as a volunteer, but because of his early efforts, he and a colleague were awarded a $750,000 grant by West Virginia to lead the state’s Testing Assessment Project, or WVTAP.
Professor Whelton put together a global team of experts to study various aspects of the disaster. Most people affected by the toxic contamination were still not using tap water for drinking, though many were using it for other purposes in the weeks and months after the Do Not Use order was lifted several days after the initial spill.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who spent several days in and around Charleston in early March, spoke with Whelton about his study, which he called historic. Here, he talks about the problems that resulted from a lack of scientific information that led both the state and the water utility to declare the chemical non-detectable at a certain level, although Whelton and his team were able to detect MCHM at far lower levels as they conducted studies of the water quality in 80 homes spread throughout the affected area.
ANDREW WHELTON: And these individuals didn’t just do literature searches or read books and magazines and such just to put the information together. They also conducted experiments. We shipped the contaminant that was spilled into the river; we were able to get the actual chemical that was sequestered after it was spilled and we shipped that across the country to California to begin immediate odor testing of it to determine at what level you can smell it in water. We shipped it to Lancaster, Penn. and Monrovia, Calif. where they started characterizing it. The WVTAP team has started looking at the byproducts of how the different drinking water system chemicals interact with these chemicals were spilled because one of the concerns that we had upfront was that we knew everyone was looking for crude MCHM, which is a mixture of at least eight compounds, but many of the efforts had been focused on 4-MCHM, which is one of those eight compounds, and we know from basic and environmental chemistry and engineering that chemicals transform sometimes, in water treatment plants, into unintended byproducts. That has never been talked about by state officials or federal officials, and that is something that the scientific community has been asking for all along. There are many, many people have been sending me emails asking why hasn’t the government considered looking at other compounds that were produced, and we have done that.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So, Andrew Whelton, when you and your team report your findings, will you be able to say whether or not the water is safe? That’s what everyone was waiting for when I was down there two weeks ago – they were waiting for the tests!
ANDREW WHELTON: What you’re referring to is just a basic understanding that everybody has, including us: What are the chemical levels in the water, and are those acceptable, in terms of will they make me acutely sick or will they have chronic effects to not just me, but my children, my friend’s baby, my elderly grandmother. I mean, these are the questions that people are asking, and they have every right to do so because I would be asking the same thing. The toxicology panel that the WV TAP program is convening will examine the available data to determine if the levels the state of West Virginia has instituted – the 10 parts per billion, or 10 ppb level for MCHM – are protective of public health. Next, they’ll also look at the CDC’s level of 1,000 parts per billion to see if that level was protective of public health. And I expect – I can’t speak for the panel – but I expect they will make recommendations in terms of what other information should have been available to make certain determinations. Now, one of the major points that a lot of critics, including myself, make, was that at the very beginning a lot of the declarations that the water was safe to drink or that a certain level of chemical was acceptable, weren’t really backed up with enough public scrutiny in terms of availability of knowledge and availability of data, and outside vetting. What we are doing is coming in through the expert panel and actually trying to determine if what happened in terms of what levels cause acute or chronic health effects, are valid.
What’s important to recognize here – and I know, throughout this incident, everybody’s been talking about parts per billion, PPB, or PPM [parts per million] – the fact of the matter is, the screening level that West Virginia set for its population is 10 parts per billion, and they did this because at the time, I do know, analytical laboratories could only get to 10 ppb, so they could only conclusively say that the chemical was present above 10 ppb. The odor results that Dr. Mike Maguire has come out with basically demonstrate that at very, very low levels you can still smell some type of odor in that water with crude MCHM in it, even if the water is determined safe to drink at 10 ppb.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Does that mean it really isn’t safe, or people don’t know?
ANDREW WHELTON: That’s a great question. The odor is one component of it, mainly because throughout the incident, the state, as well as the utility, were declaring the chemical was not present – the chemical for MCHM was not present – at a certain level. So they’d say, it’s non-detect at 10 ppb. Then the public would say, but my water smells like licorice and their response was, but it’s non-detect at 10 ppb, or more recently, it’s non-detect at 3 ppb. And somebody will say, but my water smells like licorice. Well, Dr. Maguire’s work demonstrates that first of all, there’s a messaging issue here, that just because you can’t detect something doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it’s not causing problems. which then raises by homeowners and somebody – me included – what’s causing the odor and what concentration is it?
Find more information on the West Virginia chemical spill and lax regulation by visiting the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project at wvtapprogram.com.
- “Water testing team finds MCHM in home near treatment plant,” West Virginia Gazette, March 25, 2014
- “Many chemical spill questions remain, first WVTAP reports say,” West Virginia Gazette, March 17, 2014
- “West Virginia Drinking Water Incident Seminar File Posted: Lessons Learned,” The Whelton Group, March 13, 2014
- “Taxpayer-funded team completes W.Va. water testing,” News and Sentinel, Feb. 21, 2014
- “Statement from Dr. Andrew Whelton and Mr. Jeff Rosen on West Virginia Chemical Spill,” West Virginia Testing Assessment, Feb. 21, 2014
- “W.Va. Governor Directs Health Officials to Move Forward with In-Home Testing,” WSAZ 3 TV News Channel, Feb. 12, 2014
- “USA graduate team researches chemical spill in West Virginia,” The Vanguard, Feb. 20, 2014 Interview with Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, conducted by Scott HarrisOn Feb. 8, an estimated 80,000 people from North Carolina and 41 states across the nation gathered in the State Capitol in Raleigh to protest the Republican-controlled state government’s extremist agenda. Since North Carolina’s GOP took control of all branches of government in 2010, the party has passed one of the nation’s harshest voter suppression laws, cut back education funding, imposed new anti-abortion regulations and rejected federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage for 170,000 working poor families.
The protest rally on that winter day, the largest civil rights gathering in the South since the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama, was the culmination of months of grassroots “Moral Monday” protests and nonviolent civil disobedience actions organized at the State Capitol since April 2013.
The primary organizer of these protests is Rev. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, whose morally-based progressive movement for change has now spread to other states, including Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Wisconsin and New York. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Rev. Barber, who talks about building a movement that is beginning to resonate across race and class lines around the nation.
Find information on this hopeful new movement by visiting NAACPNC.org.
- Interview with Rev. William J. Barber, conducted by Scott Harris, Counterpoint, March 24, 2014 (31:23)
- “Dozens Arrested In ‘Moral Monday’ Protest In Atlanta,” Huffington Post, March 18, 2014
- “Moral Monday’ protesters decry cuts to education, Medicaid,” Statesville Record & Landmark, March 24, 2014
- “The ‘Moral Monday’ Movement Spreads Across South,” The Wire, March 19, 2014
- “Georgia Lawmakers Ignore Pleas From ‘Moral Monday’ Protesters And Block Medicaid Expansion,” Think Progress, March 19, 2014
- “Budding Liberal Protest Movements Begin to Take Root in South,” New York Times, March 18, 2014
- “Largest Civil Rights Protest in the South Since 1965 Selma to Montgomery March: A Hopeful Message to America,” Between The Lines, Feb. 19, 2014
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
- Despite years of delays, expensive cost overruns and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear complex in 2011, Japan still plans to open the massive $22 billion plutonium fuel plant at Rokkasho in the fall of 2014. (“Plutonium fever blossoms in Japan,” Center for Public Integrity, March 12, 2014)
- Fast food workers are mobilizing against McDonald’s restaurant and its franchisees over wage theft in the latest chapter in the fight for higher wages for low-paid service workers. (“Fast-food protests shifting attention to wage theft,” Associated Press, March 18, 2014; “NY settles with McDonald’s restaurants in wage theft investigation,” Huffington Post, March 17, 2014; “Fast food workers get new ally in NYC fight for fair pay,” Guardian, March 18, 2014)
- Under lobbying pressure from car dealers, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the state Motor Vehicle Commission have made it impossible for Tesla, the state-of-the-art electric automaker, to sell cars in the Garden State. (“Wanna buy a Tesla in N.J.? ‘Fuhgerttaboutit,’ says Christie,” Grist, March 13, 2014; “Motor Vehicle Commission passes “anti-Tesla” rule,” NJ.com, March 11, 2014; “Chris Christie pulls plug on Tesla—and his political career,” NJ.com, March 15, 2014)