Some of them made quite a furor when they first broke, but were soon forgotten. Others were barely recognized at all. Either way, these are the top stories which I feel should've been covered more, or updated, but weren't.
The Firing of General Kevin Byrnes - Byrnes, a 4-star general, was dismissed in early August, just weeks before he was set to retire, allegedly because of an affair with a civilian. Byrnes at the time was married to someone else, but legally separated and in the process of getting a divorce. While his behavior was certainly not technically permissable, publically shaming him literally just a few days before his scheduled retirement was seen as politically motivated. After a lot of public fuss, the issue dropped off the headlines. Byrnes was quietly replaced as head of the military's training division and no explanation for the public humiliation ever came forth.
Election of Insulza as OAS President - On the face of it, the election of a new Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) was no big deal when it occurred in May. Every country in the hemisphere (except for Haiti and Cuba) voted for a new Secretary General. The real impact of the story, about which I wrote in-depth here, was that Insulza was the first OAS SecGeneral in history who was not backed by the United States.
In fact, the U.S. lobbied hard for other candidates, one of which who withdrew after a scandal (Flores of El Salvador) and the second (Derbez of Mexico) because his close ties with Washington actually hurt his chances. The increasingly strong leftist bloc of South America, led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, rallied around Insulza, who served under Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was overthrown in a 1973 coup sponsored by the United States. For the first time in United States' history, American hegemony over the hemisphere, in the tradition of the "Monroe Doctrine", was broken. Absolutely huge story, yet barely covered in the mainstream media.
Elections in Bolivia and Uruguay - Both countries held presidential elections, both of which I should mention were judged free and fair in the democratic tradition, to elect "leftist" presidencies. Combined with the growing regional influence of Venezuela and Brazil, South America has increasingly become independent of the United States, something literally unknown in the post-colonial period of the hemisphere.
Non-Election in Haiti - In February 2004, the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown in a coup fostered and financed by the United States and France. Despite the Haitian Constitution, which calls for fresh elections 90 days after the loss of a president, and a prohibition on foreign citizens holding the highest office, the nation has continued to be ruled by the junta put into power by the United States in 2004 (led by Gerard Latortue, an American citizen).
The nation, already the poorest in the hemisphere, has spiralled into ever-increasing poverty and violent clashes between the police and pro-Aristide supporters. Well, nobody ever gave a fig about Haiti, and it seems very few still do...
Elections in Liberia - After decades of some of the most brutal and violent civil wars, the African nation of Liberia successfully held a (largely) peaceful and fair, democratic election, with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf winning the top post.
Not only was it an amazing and wonderful step forward for Liberia to have a peaceful transition of power, but Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf is one of only a handful of female Africans to ever hold the top spot. Kudos to the U.N. peacekeeping team in Liberia, which did a good job of disarming rebels and reintegrating them into civilian life. Sadly, the United States, which could've played a leading role (and who would've been welcomed with open arms by most Liberians) did little but offer some cash and declined to send a single soldier to participate in the mission.
Coup in Mauritania - On the face of it, the coup in August in this impoverished African nation was nothing new - a junta of military officers threw off the yoke of a repressive dictator. However Mauritania had particularly pro-western ties, having open diplomatic relations with Israel and received a lot of both financial and military help from the United States. Although the country has not had democratic elections, the majority of the population supports the coupsters precisely because they were sick of the former administration's close ties with Israel and the United States, a very clear example of the way world opinion is turning.
African Famine - As "usual", many millions of people in Africa, particulary Niger, suffered from famine and large-scale malnutrition. Sadly, as usual, it is the children who suffer the most. While the UN begged for rich countries to send aid, little was sent.
Operation Murambatsvina - Over the summer, some 700,000 people were evicted from their homes in Zimbabwe as part of a "clean-up" operation by the increasingly dictatorial Zanu-PDF Party, led by Robert Mugabe. This story caused quite a furor at the time, but was soon forgotten. Yet the UN and other relief agencies continue to report that the vast majority of these "relocated" people are still suffering from malnourishment and basic living conditions. It is thought that the move was spurred by an attempt to fragment support for the opposition MDC party, whose voter base is largely concentrated in the urban areas, the target of the mass evictions.
Civil War in Yemen - Barely reported in the mainstream media, Shi'ite clansmen belonging to cleric Hussein al-Houthi fought the central government for months, the conflict only ending after largescale bloodshed and the shelling of villages. The insurrection began when the government tried to arrest al-Houthi for preaching anti-American and anti-Israeli messages, once again a clear example of the way world opinion is turning. The leadership in Yemen, such as in Mauritania, has a distinctly pro-western orientation and has allowed CIA agents to operate freely on its territory.
Peace in Aceh - After the devastating tsunami at the end of 2004, world attention was brought to Aceh. Prior to the tsunami, the area has been completely off-limits to foreigners as the central government had thousands of troops intent on violently crushing an independence movement which has been fighting for 30 years. The Indonesian army was cited many times for severe human rights abuses against the Acehenese people.
Yet amazingly, this year a peace accord was signed between Jakarta and Aceh, and just this week the final batallion of Indonesian soldiers left the region as the GAM disbanded. Kudos go to Finland, who sponsored and was heavily involved in negotiating peace in this long-troubled area of the world.
Peace and Democracy in Burundi - Like neighboring Rwanda, Burundi suffered for decades under military dictatorships and a bloody inter-ethnic war between the Hutus and Tutsis. Yet 2005 marked not only the democratic election of President Pierre Nkurunziza (a former rebel leader) but also a peace accord with the final rebel group, the FNL.
The Odd Tale of Charles Robert Jenkins - After serving for years in the U.S. Army, Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins deserted in 1965 to North Korea (of all places). A few years ago, it was revealed that his Japanese-born wife had been kidnapped by the North Korean government. She was allowed to return to Japan after extensive negotiations and then Jenkins finally made it to Japan himself. After a few months, he was tried by the U.S. military on the 40 year old desertion charges, served 25 days in prison, and is now a free man. He then later went to the U.S. for the first time in decades to see his mother. The tale was odd for many reasons, including the Bush administration's unbending intent to punish Jenkins for desertion some 40 years after the fact.
Jose Padilla - An American citizen, arrested on American soil, Padilla was seized in 2002. After being held incommunicado for 3 years, he was suddenly re-classified from being an "enemy combatant" to a normal criminal, charged only with a relatively minor crime of fundraising for terrorist groups. The saga continues, with just this week the U.S. government petitioning the Supreme Court to allow Padilla to be transferred to civilian custody. He has been held in a military brig for 3 years, completely without access to his family or to lawyers.
This story should never be forgotten because if it could happen to him, it could happen to any of us...
CIA Secret Prisons and Ghost Flights - Well this isn't exactly a "forgotten" story, but it's fading from the public's memory. I've already written a (so far) 19-part series on this issue, but what bears remembering is that the mainstream media (particularly the Washington Post) knows which countries hosted the secret prisons, but refuses to name names. Not only that, but the Bush administration has categorically refused to deny their existance.
And oddly enough, every potential host country has denied hosting them, leading to a paradox that apparently won't get sorted out until next year. Meanwhile Dick Marty at the Council of Europe is hard on the trail of those guilty of this shocking defiance of basic human rights in the name of the "war on terror".
London Bombings - Although the events of July 7 were well-documented, certain angles of the story have disappeared from the public's memory. Among them are the strange coincidence that a terror attack was planned on the same day at the exact same locations, that the police shot and killed an innocent man (and meanwhile defended this action) and that the "mastermind", Mohammed Sidique Khan, had been monitored by intelligence agencies for years yet somehow he managed to pull off the attacks flawlessly. I've written a 12-part series on this story if you're interested in more details.
Non-Publication of International Terrorism Report - Every year since 1985, the U.S. State Department has published an annual report on international terrorism. Yet in April of this year, they suddenly declined to publish one, without explanation. Later it was discovered that terrorist attacks had risen since 2004, embarassing the administration.
Darfur - The region in western Sudan has been devastated by a vicious and brutal inter-ethnic war with thousands killed, millions displaced from their home, and the violence has been marked by mass rape. Yet the United States and western powers have done little this year to end the fighting. Indeed, recently the Bush administration cut funds to the African Union peacekeeping force, some 7,000 soldiers trying to patrol an area the size of Texas.
Kashmir Earthquake - Despite widespread coverage after the earthquake hit on October 8, aid has trickled and 1.2 million were displaced, most of whom are still homeless and hungry in a mountainous region with bitterly cold winter setting in. These people still need help!
Bill Bennett - The former Education "czar" under Ronald Reagan and righteous preacher of morals opened his mouth on September 28, 2005 and said "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."
This after admitting in 2003 that he had lost millions of dollars in gambling but refused to say he had a "problem". Anyone feel like checking out "The Book of Virtues" from the library anytime soon?
White Phosphorous - First, the U.S. Army denied it had ever used WP in Iraq. Then after research by bloggers, it admitted it had used it in Fallujah, but not in such a way as to violate the Treaty on Chemical Weapons. Either way, a horrific documentary was produced by RAI television showing civilians with melted skin. Yet another example of the U.S. improving its own image.
Peeing on the Koran - Newsweek released a story about American guards urinating on the Koran, Islam's holy book, which triggered off riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and elsewhere). At first, the White House condemned Newsweek for their "irresponsible acts" yet later the Pentagon admitted the story was true, with the caveat that the pissing on the Koran was "purely accidental". Yet another example of the U.S. improving its own image.
Downing Street Memos - Someone released a copy of insider documents from the British Prime Minister's office, showing how the war to occupy Iraq was rigged. It got little attention from the mainstream media until it was heavily pushed by bloggers. Then it faded away as it seemed the public cared little about the issue.
Afghanistan - It seems the entire country has been forgotten. Amongst other things, that 2005 was the deadliest year of the 4-year occupation, that some 99 American soldiers (including NFL star Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire, which the Pentagon initially covered up) and 30 coalition soldiers have been killed (plus scores of Afghan troops).
Also forgotten is that finally a parliament was elected, marred by serious irregularities and also the inclusion of many drug- and warlords in the cabinet. Plus the Taliban is far from being eradicated as it still holds press conferences triumphing its "successes".
Oh yeah, hardly any reconstruction has been done, even Kabul is attacked/shelled regularly and women continued to be treated poorly, up to and including being jailed for running away from forced marriages. Oh yeah, plus 240 American soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan in 2005, bringing the total to 658.
Rick Santorum - The Senator from Pennsylvania, on April 7 in an interview with the AP:
SANTORUM: Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality --
AP: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.
SANTORUM: And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately.
This was on top of other controversies, including his saying pedophilia amongst priests in Boston was "no surprise" because it is a "liberal" city, his children's attendance at a school district in which they weren't living and his blaming of Katrina victims for not "heeding the warnings". Not to mention he's one of the most corrupt members of Congress.
Uzbekistan - A steadfast ally of the United States, regularly engaging in state-sponsored horrific torture (including boiling victims alive), gunned down hundreds of civilians in Andijan/Andizhan in May. After receiving only lukewarm criticism from the United States, the government responded by evicting the American military from its use of the K2 airbase.
Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey pipeline - After billions of dollars of financing, an oil pipeline was opened to carry petroleum from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. This despite the fact that the Azeri government is hideously corrupt and authoritarian, regularly cracking down on opposition movements and expressions of free speech.
The U.S. also lodged no complaints in November after a clearly rigged election kept strongman Aliyev's party in power. Not reported almost anywhere, the U.S. is also in the process of constructing an airbase near Baku, and has donated millions of dollars in "used" military equipment to the regime, including a Coast Guard cutter ship.
Halabja, Iraq - 17 years ago, Saddam Hussein become internationally condemned for using chemical weapons against the largely Kurdish town of Halabja, killing some 5,000 people. Yet over the years, more people died because of contaminated drinking water. Earlier this year, the U.S. eliminated funding to provide clean drinking water to the town due to a shifting of funds from reconstruction to defense. Absolutely tragic.
Terri Schiavo - Everyone remembers the controversy this March when a braindead woman had her feeding tube removed after 15 years of being in a vegetative state. What should never be forgotten however is the U.S. Congress' intervention in the case, "subpoening" her so she could get "witness protection", Florida Governor Jeb Bush's intervention and last but not least, Senator Majority leader Bill Frist "diagnosing" that she was not braindead after viewing a videotape of her.
Jeff Gannon/James Guckert - For years, the mainstream media at White House briefings let an unqualified reporter, who couldn't pass a basic security check, sit in at press briefings and lob softball questions to help out the president. Then activist bloggers, pooling together publically-available material, revealed his true background including his stint as a gay prostitute. Shame on the commercial media and endless kudos go to the citizens who did the media's job, resulting in the creation of E Pluribus Media.
Robertson Wants Chavez Assassinated - On August 23, conservative religious "leader" and long-time Republican funder Pat Robertson openly called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Robertson later "modified" his comments, saying he was quoted out of context. Meanwhile the White House refused to condemn Robertson's statements, lending more fuel to the leftist anti-U.S. fire burning in South America.
Saddam Not Connected to 9/11 - Boggling to the mind, on December 16 George Bush stated that he never said there was a connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein despite making dozens of such references in the lead-up to the war.
Paid To Publish - There were a whole heap of stories this year on this subject, from the military paying the Iraqi press to insert "favorable" stories to Armstrong Williams paid to promote the administration's "No Child Left Behind" to slimeball lobbyist Jack Abramoff paying syndicated columnists to publish favorable articles as he wooed policymakers to vote a certain way. Disgusting all the way around.
Iraq Worse Now Than Under Saddam Hussein - Despite what should've been a shellshocking revelation, little ink was spilled in covering the story that human rights abuses are worse now than under Saddam Hussein. Yep, it's the sad truth, and no less than the former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi confirmed it (not to mention entities like Human Rights Watch).
Bill O'Reilly Advocates Terrorism - Back in November on his show, O'Reilly publically called on terrorists to strike San Francisco. He later said he was quoted "out of context" and defended his statements.
Reasons for War Staged - Not I'm not talking about Iraq (although it should be admitted as well), but in October the American government officially admitted that the Gulf of Tonkin "incident", which sparked off the larger military "action" (war) in Vietnam was completely falsified in order for President LBJ to get Congress to authorize the war.
Hurricane Katrina - While obviously this story is not forgotten, it should never be allowed to fade that Bush was busy playing the guitar, Condoleezza Rice was shopping for shoes, and Michael "Brownie" Brown was complaining about his wardrobe when a major American city was nearly wiped off the map.
Nor should it be forgotten just how many National Guards troops and their equipment were in Iraq, unable to help defend the country they were employed to defend. Plus of course atrocious treatment of those who were unable to evacuate, including the nightmare that became the Super Bowl.
Cindy Sheehan - An ordinary woman, who lost her son in the foolish Iraq war, managed to light a spark in the nation when she camped outside of Bush's ranch in Crawford this summer, demanding an answer as to what "noble cause" her son died for. Kudos goes to the thousands of supporters who rallied behind her cause.
Spec. Sean Baker - You might remember him, he was the soldier who in 2003 was beaten to a pulp when he was "roleplaying" a detainee in Guantanamo Bay. In June, he sued the Pentagon for $15 million dollars, saying the incident violated his rights. After the incident, he was forced to retire for medical reasons after 5 soldiers banged his head against a concrete floor, choked him and sprayed him with pepper gas. It's also worth not forgetting that not a single person was ever punished for the incident.
John Negroponte - Confirmed in his post as National Intelligence Director, Negroponte's sordid history in the 1980's, covering up government-sponsored massacres by death squads (and advocating for their deployment in Iraq), was completely overlooked. Once again, the U.S. continued to destroy it's image in the view of the free world.
Alberto Gonzales - He was confirmed in his position as Attorney General, the person who is supposed to uphold the laws of the land, after conspiring with Torture MasterTM John Yoo to find legal "loopholes" to justify the torture of prisoners in the name of the "war on terror".
Maher Arar - An innocent Canadian citizen, stopping in New York City en route back to his hometown, was forcibly "rendered" unto Syria (via Jordan) to be tortured and denied access to his country's embassy. Arar sued the American government on March 29 but the case has not been heard. Meanwhile Rice and Bush continue to say the U.S. "does not send people" to countries where torture is practiced.
WMD Hunt Abandoned - In January, the Bush administration officially stopped all searches for Saddam Hussein's illegal WMD "stockpiles" as not a single illegal weapon was ever found. Meanwhile the casualties continue to mount up...
Abu Ghraib - On January 14 and September 26 respectively, Charles Graner and Lynndie England were convicted on minor charges of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. More on this here. Meanwhile no high-ranking officers were ever demoted or tried in court for this incident.
Also what should never be forgotten is that two lawyers who crafted some of the legislation that organized torture, Jay Bybee and Michael Chertoff, were both given plum jobs afterwards (Bybee as a Circuit Court judge and Chertoff as head of the Dept. of Homeland Security).
Bunnatine Greenhouse - Yes she's got a strange name but she is one of the military's bravest members. The WaPo story on here is here, detailing how she was fired for questioning the no-bid Army contracts going to Halliburton. She worked for years to save her country's military money so it could be as efficient as possible then was sabotaged when she dared to question the plum contracts being handed out to Halliburton and its affiliates.
Lynne Stewart - She's got quite a mug and she defends some of the most awful people on the planet, including terrorists. Still she didn't deserve being convicted on February 10 of a "terrorist conspiracy" when she gave a press conference concerning her client, Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind radical terrorist cleric. I wrote an entire article about her, which can be found here.
Hemant Lakhani - One of the oddest stories of the year, the British citizen was convicted in the United States on terrorism charges. Yet a closer look at the case reveals that A) he was primarily a rug merchant, B) the FBI approached him and offered to procure him missiles and C) the only missles he ever bought were supplied by the Russian government and they were fakes.
In my mind, it was a clear case of entrapment, designed to make headlines as "progress" in the pitiful "war on terror", in which the U.S. has had less than a dozen criminal convictions in the 4 years since 9/11. My complete story on Lekhani can be found here, was written in January. The mainstream media caught up to the case in September, when Lakhani was convicted.
Suez Canal - The waterway that connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and greater Middle East has been off-limits to U.S. naval vessels for a long period of time, apparently due to a threat of terrorist attacks. I wrote about this here. The issue is of major concern because it means all deliveries of military equipment via surface vessel (as opposed to via aircraft) must go all the way around the Horn of Africa. The mainstream media never picked up this story at all.
Nepal - Back in February, the king of Nepal, the world's last absolute monarch, dissolved the entire parliament and has ruled as an unabashed dictator ever since. Hundreds of people have been arrested for peacefully protesting and demanding the re-instatement of the parliament. Censorship is extreme and the press is not allowed to print anything without permission from the state. The crackdown is so heavyhanded that often all the telephone lines are cut simply to keep news of new atrocities from being communicated to the outside world. The government regularly uses torture against prisoners.
The army meanwhile continues to fight (and is losing) against a popular Marxist insurrection which has led to thousands of deaths. The U.S., Britain and India continue to pour weapons into the country despite the fact that Nepal is rapidly running out of money to pay for them.
Forgotten Wars - While the mainstream press focuses on Iraq (and occasionally) Afghanistan it should never be forgotten there are ongoing wars in: Algeria, Armenia/Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh), Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Congo (Brazzaville), DR Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, El Salvador, Eritrea/Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Moldova, Morocco (W. Sahara), Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia (N. Caucuses including Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia), Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen.
= criminal unrest rising to the point of near civil war, i.e. large-scale unrest beyond the ability of the government to effectively control.
Note: moving into the "peace" column by the end of this year are: Bhutan, Burundi, Comoros, Ireland, Liberia, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo and Yemen. Also the war in Aceh (Indonesia) has succesfully been negotiated with a peace treaty although two other parts of Indonesia (Malacca and Papua) continue to have ongoing insurrections.
Coddling of Dictators - And should I ever forget, the U.S. government in 2005 continued to supply military equipment, supplies and financial assistance to a large portion of the world's dictatorial regimes and human rights violators. These include, but are not limited to:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bosnia, the Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Sao Tome & Principe, Saudi Arabia, Tajikstan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
Countries in bold are providers of petroleum and/or natural gas.
Kenneth Maupin - And last but not least, Private Kenneth Maupin is still listed as being Missing in Action. He was captured by unknown Iraqi forces on April 16, 2004 and is the only American soldier listed as MIA. His family has just spent their second Christmas without knowing the fate of their son. You'll never be forgotten by those of us who truly support the troops.
Been a heck of a year, eh?
Crossposted from my blog, Flogging the Simian