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Redacting Corruption

The Guardian’s Political Censorship of Wikileaks

by ISRAEL SHAMIR

Although we are treated to daily accounts of how the net tightens around Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the contents of the US embassy cables have been doled out to us in spoonfuls. To add insult to injury, it is now clear that The Guardian edits and distorts the cables in order to protect their readers from unflattering remarks about how their corporations behave overseas. The Guardian has deliberately excised portions of published cables to hide evidence of corruption.

A year ago, on January 25, 2010, the US Embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan sent out the secret cable ASTANA 000072, entitled KAZAKHSTAN: MONEY AND POWER. The cable chronicled the US Ambassador’s private dinner with a senior Kazakh government official named Maksat Idenov. At the time, Idenov headed the Kazakh state oil and gas company and represented the state in its dealings with foreign oil companies, including British Gas and ENI. A redacted version of the cable has been published, and so we have been given the rare privilege of viewing The Guardian’s editing process in action. It looks like nothing so much as political self-censorship.

Here is the relevant portion of the Astana cable; the words removed by The Guardian are printed in bold:

“? market economy means capitalism, which means big money, which means large bribes for the best connected.”

Why does The Guardian wish to conceal evidence of corruption in Kazakhstan? Are there Blairites ensconced in The Guardian’s editing room? It does seem like someone at The Guardian wants to save us from becoming disillusioned about free markets. Is the free market incompatible with free speech? The Guardian is not shy about revealing to their readers that capitalism means “big money”, but a discussion of what big money can do to a foreign government is strictly verboten. Idenov is not some discontented outsider; he is a power player in the heart of the machine. He knows of which he speaks. The readers of The Guardian may never get to hear it, but the “big money” of capitalism does in reality result in “large bribes for the best connected”.

Just before dinner, Idenov was overheard “barking into his cell phone” at British Gas (BG) Country Director Mark Rawlings “who is ‘still playing games with Mercator’s James Giffin,’ the notorious AmCit fixer indicted for large-scale bribery on oil deals in the 1990s, whose case drags on in the Southern District Court of New York. Idenov tells him: ‘Mark, stop being an idiot! Stop tempting fate! Stop communicating with an indicted criminal!’ ”

Again, the bold and very relevant information of the Astana cable has been removed from publication so that British taxpayers might not learn that the regional director of a prominent British company insists on dealing with an indicted grafter. The readers of The Guardian may never know that the case of American citizen (“AmCit”) James Giffen (spelled incorrectly in the cable) was dismissed by US District Judge William H. Pauley III because the bribes he gave to the Kazakh officials were authorized by the CIA. The judge publicly lauded the “notorious fixer” as a Cold War warrior who helped the Jewish cause  and stated for the record that “his business dealings were CIA-authorized operations”.

“Mr. Giffen was a significant source of information for the U.S. government and a conduit for secret communications to the Soviet Union and its leadership during the Cold War,” Pauley said. In Kazakhstan, Giffen was advancing US interests, including corporate interests. “He acted as a conduit for communications on issues vital to America’s national interest in the region,” the judge said.

“Oil industry middleman James H. Giffen, once accused of funneling $84 million in bribes to the president of Kazakhstan and other officials” walked away a free and rich man. Perhaps our man Rawlings knew a little more about Giffen’s CIA connections than did the Ambassador and Mr. Idenov.

The Guardian’s final cut takes the cake. Idenov goes on to say that both BG and Italy’s ENI are corrupt, and that bribe-hungry Kazakh officials are itching to work with them. This portion of the cable was completely excised.

The only portion of the cable that The Guardian felt worthy of highlight was that the currently favoured presidential son-in-law was “on the Forbes 500 list of billionaires (as is his wife separately)”. Furthermore, the redacted cable was dropped onto the pages of The Guardian without any background information or further comment. Kazakhstan is not next-door, and Guardian readers deserve better. Here is what they left out of the story: Idenov left the state’s service in May 2010 and in July he re-emerged as ?surprise, surprise – the Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning of ENI. Yes, none other than that selfsame “corrupt” ENI he dealt with from his ministerial desk.

The Astana cable is a microcosm of the robbery of the ex-Soviet space by Western corporations. From it we learn that bribes are authorized by the CIA and that the grafters are exonerated by the US courts. We learn that Harvard-trained lawyers like Mr. Idenov take full advantage of the revolving door between positions of state and the Western corporations that rob it. In short, we learn that “capitalism means large bribes for the best connected.” The readers of The Guardian, of course, missed out on all this.

Idenov concludes his talk with the rationalizations of his fellow sell-outs: “Almost everyone at the top is confused by the corrupt excesses of capitalism. ‘If Goldman Sachs executives can make $50 million a year and then run America’s economy in Washington, what’s so different about what we do?’ they ask.” Indeed, probably nothing. If the American people are helpless before the rapacity of Goldman Sachs executives, how can we expect the Kazakh people to defend themselves from transnational corporations assisted by the CIA? The full, unedited cable makes it too clear that their only choice is which bribe to take.

Although the agreement between Wikileaks and The Guardian permits the newspaper to block out the names of innocent people who might suffer upon disclosure, the Astana cable was clearly redacted for political reasons, in order to protect the image of the kind of predatory capitalism they preach in the East.

Perhaps we might review other Guardian news stories for this kind of heavy-handed doctoring of newly available documents. Consider the secret cable TASHKENT 000902, sent May 5?th, 2005. Here is The Guardian’s presentation of the cable. It is censored almost completely; only two irrelevant sentences survived the self-serving butchery of Guardian editors. With editors like these, the sword hanging over Private Manning and the noose around the neck of Julian Assange become superfluous.

The original Tashkent cable describes the dealings of Uzbekistani “crime boss” and “top mobster” Salim Abduvaliyev (more frequent spelling: Abduvaliev) who, according to the American embassy, controls government jobs and awards government contracts through his connection with Gulnara, the “First Daughter of President Karimov”. The primary message-carrier between the arch-criminal and Gulnara is a British citizen of Iranian origin. Why did The Guardian choose to excise the vast majority of the cable? To protect the British go-between? To protect the connection with Chernoy, a prominent Israeli businessman? Is there an Uzbekistani criminal pulling the strings at The Guardian? There doesn’t seem to be much logic behind the move, or any real interest in publishing the cables.

Another Secret cable, TASHKENT 000465, describes the mobster’s family wedding. It is not all that different from the famous description of the Dagestan wedding in another cable, MOSCOW 009533, yet The Guardian decided not to publish this one at all. Isn’t it considerate of The Guardian to protect the people of Uzbekistan from learning about the ties of corruption between the Karimov family and leading gangsters? Could it be explained by the drift of Karimov’s regime away from Moscow and into close cooperation with the Americans as another cable suggests?

Does The Guardian even understand why they have been given these secret and confidential cables? Wikileaks is trying to shed a little light upon the dark and dirty underworld of international intrigue, and The Guardian is blotting  it out again. The battle for truth is just beginning.

ISRAEL SHAMIR can be reached at adam@israelshamir.net