Project Censored 2009 

The top 10 stories mainstream media missed this year

Page 4 of 4

9. United States connected to white phosphorous strikes in Gaza

In mid-January, as part of a military campaign, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fired several shells that hit the headquarters of a United Nations relief agency in Gaza City, destroying provisions for basic aid like food and medicine.

The shells contained white phosphorous (referred to as "Willy Pete" in military slang), a smoke-producing, spontaneously flammable agent designed to obscure battle territory that also can ignite buildings or cause grotesque burns if it touches the skin.

The attack on the relief agency headquarters is just one example of a civilian structure that researchers discovered had been hit during the January air strikes. In the aftermath of the attacks, Human Rights Watch volunteers found spent white phosphorous shells on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards and at a U.N. school in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch says the IDF's use of white phosphorous violated international law, which prohibits deliberate, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that result in civilian casualties. After gathering evidence such as spent shells, the organization issued a report condemning the repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza as a war crime. Amnesty International, another human rights organization, followed suit by calling upon the United States to suspend military aid to Israel—but to no avail.

The United States was a primary source of funding and weaponry for Israel's military campaign. Washington provided F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles and a wide array of munitions, including white phosphorus.

Sources: "White Phosphorus Use Evidence of War Crimes Report: Rain of Fire: Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza," Fred Abrahams, Human Rights Watch, March 25, 2009; "Suspend Military Aid to Israel, Amnesty Urges Obama after Detailing U.S. Weapons Used in Gaza," Rory McCarthy, Guardian/U.K., Feb. 23, 2009; "U.S. Weaponry Facilitates Killings in Gaza," Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service, Jan. 8, 2009; "U.S. military resupplying Israel with ammunition through Greece," Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News, Jan. 8, 2009.

10. Ecuador says it won’t pay illegitimate debt

When President Rafael Correa announced that Ecuador would default on its foreign debt last December, he didn't say it was because the Latin American country was unable to pay. Rather, he framed it as a moral stand: "As president, I couldn't allow us to keep paying a debt that was obviously immoral and illegitimate," Correa told an international news agency. The news was mainly reported in financial publications, and the stories tended to quote harsh critics who characterized Correa as an extreme leftist with ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

But there's much more to the story. The announcement came in the wake of an exhaustive audit of Ecuador's debt, conducted under Correa's direction by a newly created debt audit commission. The unprecedented audit documented hundreds of allegations of irregularity and illegality in the decades of debt collection from international lenders. Although Ecuador had made payments exceeding the value of the principal since the time it initially took out loans in the 1970s, its foreign debt had nonetheless swelled to levels three times as high due to extraordinarily high interest rates. With a huge percentage of the country's financial resources devoted to paying the debt, little was left over to combat poverty in Ecuador.

Correa's move to stand up against foreign lenders did not go unnoticed by other impoverished, debt-ridden nations, and the decision could set a precedent for developing countries struggling to get out from under massive debt obligation to first-world lenders.

Ecuador eventually agreed to a restructuring of its debt at about 35 cents on the dollar. Nonetheless, the move served to expose deficiencies in the World Bank system, which provides little recourse for countries to resolve disputes over potentially illegitimate debt.

Sources: "As Crisis Mounts, Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate and Illegal," Daniel Denvir, Alternet, November 26, 2008; "Invalid Loans to Ecuador: Who Owes Who," Committee for the Integral Audit of Public Credit, Utube, Fall 2008; "Ecuador's Debt Default," Neil Watkins and Sarah Anders, Foreign Policy in Focus, Dec. 15, 2008.

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