Tag Archives: CIA

Assange extradition given go-ahead on International Human Rights Day

Today’s High Court ruling which grants permission for Julian Assange’s extradition to the US with the prospect of a 175 year prison term in a maximum security jail makes it evident that the US-UK “special relationship” overrides justice. With the verdict delivered on UN International Human Rights Day, it seems equally apparent that the British establishment is quite happy to thumb its nose at advocates of human rights and freedom of speech.

The mainstream media has once against relegated this critically important story, taking great care to keep it out of the headlines while they also downplay the menacing significance of the case for all real journalists with an ounce of integrity. Meanwhile Assange’s partner Stella Moris speaking to those rallying outside the court said:

“Today is International Human Rights Day: what a shame; how cynical to have this decision on this day. To have the foremost journalist of the past fifty years in a UK prison accused of publishing the truth about war crimes…

“And in fact every time we have a hearing, we know more about the abusive nature, the criminal nature, of this case. Julian exposed the crimes of CIA torturers, of CIA killers, and now we know those CIA killers were planning to kill him too. How can these courts approve an extradition request under these conditions?”

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Speaking on RT, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said:

“This is not a case that is being fought on the basis of the law. This is an absolute travesty of any legal process. This is a political case, and Julian’s arrest, as we have said for many, many years is a political persecution.”

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Former Labour MP Chris Williamson also denounced the decision saying, “the British judiciary and the British government are acting like the US’ poodle”:

My intention is to post regular updates as this story continues to develop.

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Updates:

Democracy Now! reported on the day of the High Court ruling and invited Gabriel Shipton, who is a filmmaker and Julian Assange’s brother, and Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, to speak about the case (partial transcript below):

Ben Wizner: “This is the first time in the 100-year ignominious history of U.S. Espionage Act, which was passed during an earlier Red Scare, that someone has been prosecuted with felony charges for publishing truthful information. We’ve never seen a case like this. This was a Rubicon that we didn’t want to see crossed. The Obama administration considered making Julian Assange the first person charged, convened a criminal grand jury, but, at the end, cooler heads prevailed, and they realized that there was simply no way to distinguish the conduct that they would have to charge in this case from what investigative journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker do on a daily basis.

And let’s remember, this case involves disclosures from 2010, 2011, that Chelsea Manning was convicted for providing to WikiLeaks. This was not something that WikiLeaks published on its own. WikiLeaks partnered with The New York Times, with Der Spiegel, with The Guardian. And those newspapers published award-winning journalism covering war crimes that the U.S. and U.K. military had committed in Iraq and in Afghanistan, diplomatic cables that shed light on our support for oppressive regimes and torture and contributed to the Arab Spring. So this was really vital information that the public around the world had a right and a need to know.

And here’s our concern. At the U.S. level, this indictment criminalizes investigative journalism. Now, the Justice Department wants to say this isn’t journalism, this is a criminal conspiracy; he conspired with Chelsea Manning, tried to urge her, cajole her, help her to turn over U.S. government secrets. But that precisely describes what our best investigative journalists do. You could describe everything they do as a criminal conspiracy, because they’re trying to persuade people with access to privileged and important information to violate the law and turn it over to journalists in the public interest. So, this precedent, if there is a conviction here, will chill journalists. It doesn’t mean that The New York Times will be prosecuted the next day, but it means their lawyers will tell their journalists that they can’t publish important things because of that threat of prosecution.

Gabriel Shipton: “Well, I think the appeal was approved based on the assurances given by the U.S. These assurances have been found — you know, Amnesty International has said they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on. If he’s extradited, he, I’m sure — you know, they can’t guarantee his safety in the U.S. prison system. He will likely die here, if not beforehand. So, that’s — really, we live in fear of that happening to Julian.

And as I said, it’s his third Christmas in Belmarsh prison now. You know, the conditions there, they’re not good there, either. He should be at home with his family. He’s just — you know, he’s being crushed, basically. And I’m so — you know, it’s hard to — it’s hard to put into words, really, what we’re seeing happening to Julian. He is so strong and so resilient, but this whole process has really taken its toll on him.

So, the next stage, so Julian has now two weeks to appeal this decision. The High Court has ordered the magistrates’ court to approve the extradition and send it to Priti Patel to approve. So Julian has two weeks to appeal this decision. And we’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to appeal. And there is also a cross-appeal in the works, which will appeal all the substantive press freedom issues, as well.

Click here to watch the discussion and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Also on the day of the judgement, Useful Idiots Katie Halper and Matt Taibbi spoke with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Human Rights Chair at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Switzerland and Professor of International Law at University of Glasgow, Nils Melzer:

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Following his release from prison, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray travelled to London to attend the hearing and afterwards reported on the latest ruling:

The effect of the judgement is that the case is now returned to Judge Baraitser with the instruction to reverse her decision and order Assange’s extradition. In doing so she passes the papers up to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, with whom the final decision on all extraditions lies. Julian has until 23 December to submit an appeal against this High Court decision to the Supreme Court, something he is minded to do.

Now read this very carefully. The United States Government’s appeal to the High Court was only on those points on which Baraitser had ruled against extradition – Assange’s mental health and the effect upon it of extradition and US prisoner conditions. Assange’s appeal now to the Supreme Court will also be restricted to those subjects. The points on which Baraitser originally ruled in favour of the United States, including Assange’s First Amendment protections and the right of freedom of speech, the bar on political extradition and the inapplicability of espionage charges to journalism – will only be heard later, if he loses at the Supreme Court on what is still the US appeal.

If the Supreme Court decides for the US on the basis of diplomatic assurances, and the case returns to Baraitser to exercise the extradition warrant, at that time we finally have the cross appeal on all the issues this case is really about. If the High Court then accepts the cross-appeal as arguable (and Holroyde stated specifically that Assange’s wider points of appeal “would be heard at a later stage in proceedings”), then Patel’s trigger itching hand will be stayed while we restart the appeals process, quite possibly back to Holroyde and Burnett.

This benefits the Machiavellian state in two ways. For up to another year the legal argument will continue to be about Julian’s mental health, where the self-disparagement required by his defence suits the state political narrative. Nobody inside court is currently permitted to be talking about freedom of speech or the exposure of US war crimes, and that of course feeds in to the MSM reporting.

The state also is happy that this convoluted Supreme Court and then cross-appeal process will last for years not months, even before we look at the European Court of Human Rights, and all that time Julian Assange is stuck in high security in Belmarsh jail, treated as a terrorist, and his mental and physical health are visibly deteriorating in a way that is simply horrible. It is not hyperbole to state we may well be watching his slow murder by the state. It certainly appears now probable that he will never fully regain his health. The Julian who went into captivity is not the same man we would get back if ever released.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s report in full on his official website published on December 13th.

Here is Craig Murray speaking outside the High Court on the day of the ruling:

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, Craig Murray, internet freedom, police state, USA

Conspiracy and Class Power | Michael Parenti

No ruling class could survive if it wasn’t attentive to its own interest, consciously trying to anticipate, control, or initiate events at home and abroad, both overtly and secretly.

— Michael Parenti

Michael Parenti is a historian and political scientist and the author of many books, including Democracy for the Few; Power and the Powerless; Inventing Reality: The Politics of the Mass Media; Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism; The Face of Imperialism, God and His Demons, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome; and Superpatriotism.

In 1993 he delivered an outstanding speech entitled “Conspiracy and Class power” in Berkeley, California, that was recorded and preserved on audio cassette from a radio broadcast, and then, more recently, rediscovered in a collection kept by a listener:

A full and annotated transcript is provided below.

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Related thoughts for the day

Remember, remember the fifth of November, 
Gunpowder treason and plot…

Across the United Kingdom this evening, people will congregate around bonfires and go to watch firework displays. Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night, or Guy Fawkes’ Night is a uniquely British festival and one that commemorates what has come to be known as The Gunpowder Plot, which in earlier centuries was often called the Jesuit Treason. Nowadays this is widely treated as just a fun night out although there remains a darker sectarian side to the celebrations in some Protestant parts of Northern Ireland.

But ask most people attending a bonfire party tonight and few will be unable to tell you much more than The Gunpowder Plot was a failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. They are unlikely to know more precisely that the target of the attack was the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. Or even that this was an attempt to assassinate King James I with the hope of restoring a Catholic monarchy. And in spite of the annual festivities, scarcely anyone in Britain would be able to recall the year of 1605.

Of the plotters the best remembered by far is Guido or Guy Fawkes; a Catholic convert who had fought for Spain against the Dutch reformers. But again, few people in Britain pay much attention to the historical background. They remember the name of Fawkes mainly because it is a gloriously evocative one and because it is his effigy that traditionally was burned on the top of the bonfires: thankfully an increasingly forgotten tradition. In the past, there was another tradition called “penny for the Guy” where Fawkes’ effigy was propped up beside a begging bowl; the children who made him begging donations for sweets – this was Britain’s precursor to “trick or treat”.

In short, the image of Guy Fawkes is confusing. Originally the villain, he has since been almost redeemed and partially transformed into a defiant antihero: during the Occupy protests Fawkes masks were worn at protests all over the world.

Update:  Twelve people were arrested and eight police officers were injured in London’s Parliament Square at a Bonfire Night rally last night after hundreds of demonstrators turned out many wearing Fawkes masks and also burning an effigy of Boris Johnson:

And while Fawkes has become a sort of anarchist superstar, few again could recall any of the names of his fellow conspirators, nor do we give much thought to the motivations of this small band of provincial English Catholics led by (lesser known) Robert Catesby. But the official story – and today’s historical account – is certainly an illuminating one.

Had The Gunpowder Plot taken place recently, then more than likely we would all know it simply as 5/11. Indeed, it shares some features with the atrocity of September 11th that took place across the Atlantic four centuries later: a group of religious fanatics with plans to execute an audacious terrorist attack – failing only because of – if we accept the official story of 5/11 – an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle on October 26th.

With foreknowledge of an attack, the arrest of Guy Fawkes then sealed the fate of the conspirators. As luck would have it, he was discovered guarding a large pile of firewood in the cellar beneath the House of Lords that was concealing 36 barrels of gunpowder – enough to have razed the building to rubble – during a search conducted on the evening of November 4th. Shortly afterwards, Fawkes was convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

As with the aftermath of 9/11, the political repercussions were swift and drastic, and Parliament soon introduced a raft of anti-Catholic legislation. Many were suspicious and doubted the official story. Specifically, they wondered who had advance knowledge of the plot. According to the current Wikipedia entry:

Many at the time felt that Salisbury [i.e., Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury] had been involved in the plot to gain favour with the King and enact more stridently anti-Catholic legislation. Such conspiracy theories alleged that Salisbury had either actually invented the plot or allowed it to continue when his agents had already infiltrated it, for the purposes of propaganda.

I have highlighted the phrase “conspiracy theories” because it is surely remarkable how more than 400 years on, Wikipedia finds it necessary to downplay contemporary concerns about the veracity of the official story and to draw our attention away from revised historical accounts with this exceedingly modern and weaponised term. And this brings me right back to Michael Parenti’s outstanding talk embedded above – with an annotated transcript below.

Parenti’s central point (and mine) is that conspiracies happen all the time. The Gunpowder Plot obviously involved a conspiracy. 9/11 involves a conspiracy. Whether you subscribe to the fully authorised narrative or not, both of these remain conspiracies. The question then is who was behind the conspiracies: was it carried out by the accused alone, or were others complicit, whether actively involved, or who had foreknowledge but stood down? To those (like Wikipedia) who feel compelled to use this weaponised term “conspiracy theory” whenever a version of the truth differs from the official narrative, I would advise great caution.

Manufacturing consent necessarily involves conspiracies and yet it happens all the time – Babies out of incubators in Kuwait lied us into the Gulf War; false allegations of WMDs in Iraq and Syria have led to more bloodshed; lies about Viagra purportedly supplied to Gaddafi’s troops enabled another war of empire – you name it, war after imperialist war was instigated on pretexts founded on carefully and deliberately crafted lies.

QAnon(sense) was very likely a psyop concocted to distract a gullible audience, exacerbate divisions between political factions and to justify clampdowns on free speech. But it wouldn’t have gained very much traction had it not contained just a germ of truth: Q plainly doesn’t exist, but child sex trafficking is horribly real. Moreover, Jeffrey Epstein ran an elite child prostitution ring that most likely operated as a honey trap for intelligence agencies. And who among us believes that Epstein committed suicide?

As I have documented extensively, Russiagate was essentially a hoax, whereas US meddling in foreign elections and its involvement in coups failed or otherwise inside Bolivia, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ukraine and elsewhere is well-established to have happened.

Covid is a real and present danger but where did it actually originate? Truth is we still don’t know. It is not a “conspiracy theory” therefore to raise the question of origins or even to point toward probable answers.

Finally, if the left doesn’t hold its ground and seek judiciously and consistently to challenge official narratives in attempts to transcend the increasingly narrow positions that are deemed respectable, ‘reputable’ and permissible (the ever-tightening Overton Window), but instead instantly dismisses alternative inquiry, whether valid or not, as “conspiracy theory”, then it serves the interests of the establishment and ruling elites by enabling them to shutdown debate and tighten controls on us.

Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper recently took the Washington Post conspiracy theory quiz only to discover that the Washington Post had failed its own test!

See the full quiz at http://usefulidiots.substack.com

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Additional:

Some years later and post-9/11 (delivered prior to 2012 and possibly 2008), Michael Parenti delivered a speech entitled “Understanding Deep Politics” which follows almost directly from his talk at Berkeley. Embedded below, Parenti’s analysis and choice of illustrative examples gets more interesting and insightful as it goes on:

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Full transcript

The transcript below is my own with links also included where relevant:

The title of the talk is conspiracy and class power and the key word in that title is the ‘and’. That is, what you’re getting on the Left lately is a debate in which people are saying: “we mustn’t look at conspiracy, we’ve got to look at the broader institutional systems”. That’s an argument being made by Alexander Cockburn, Noam Chomsky, Chip Berlet, and any number of people.

And I think it’s an incorrect argument, that it’s not conspiracy or class power; it’s conspiracy and class power. And I’m not going to talk about any specific conspiracies in any detail, I want to talk about the relationship of conspiracy to the larger political economic context of the system – I want to start off by talking about that political economic system and I think it can be approached in three basic ways:

First, you can look at the system as a conservation celebration. We’ve had twelve years of that as you know. How wonderful our free market society is and how much more wonderful it would be if it were not for meddlesome government regulations and the demands of undeserving low-income groups that feed out of the public trough. That’s the conservative celebration.

The second approach is a liberal complaint about how some of our priorities are all wrong. How there are serious problems that represent aberrant departures from what is otherwise a basically good system. That would be the Bill Clinton approach, perhaps.

And then the third approach you might call a radical analysis, and that sees ecological crises and military interventions and the national security state and homelessness and poverty and an inequitable tax system and undemocratic social institutions such as the corporate-owned media – it sees these things not as aberrant outcomes of a basically rational system, but as rational outcomes of a system whose central goal is the accumulation of wealth and power for a privileged class.

That is, they must be looked at as part of a context of power and interest that is systemic; and you could look at race, you could look at gender; and you could look at class itself undialectically – just look at it as an income bracket or whatever else – but what I’m talking about today is not class but class-power, the class-power system which is something more and something else.

If you take that third perspective of a radical analysis: if you move from a conservative celebration or a liberal complaint to a radical analysis then you cross an invisible line and you’ll be labelled in mainstream circles as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ or a Marxist or even a paranoiac: terms that some people treat as coterminous.

One theorist I will quote, J.G. Merquior, who wrote a book called The Veil and the Mask, a book which I recommend to you if you like bloated, turgid self-inflated theorising that never pauses to substantiate its pronouncements – and Merquior, he says: “Conspiratorial accounts of social dynamics are produced by vulgar Marxists.” He further asserts that “Class interest is seldom a conscious matter.”

That’s the cool position. Less cool than him was 1837, a Congress person by the name of Abraham Lincoln. And this is what Abraham Lincoln said in 1837 (quote):

These capitalists generally act harmoniously [that’s in concert/together] to fleece the people. 1

Now today Abe Lincoln would be dismissed as a ‘conspiracy theorist’! He is ascribing conscious intent to a class interest. We know that isn’t the way it works, they say.

Now for some conspiracy is by definition ridiculous and non-existent, but in fact, brothers and sisters, conspiracy is a very real thing, in fact it’s a concept in law; people go to jail for it: it means planning or acting together in secret, especially for an unlawful or harmful purpose, often with the use of illegal means. It’s come to mean, in fact, any machination, plot or concerted deception.

The State’s major mode of operation, I have maintained in my books Democracy for the Few, Power and the Powerless, The Sword and the Dollar, Inventing Reality – the major mode of operation is systemic and legalised, rather than conspiratorial – never argue that the State maintains itself conspiratorially: no ruling interest could last long if it tried to control an entire society through the manipulations of secret cabals. At the same time, no ruling class could survive if it wasn’t attentive to its own interest, consciously trying to anticipate, control, or initiate events at home and abroad, both overtly and secretly.

It’s hard to imagine a modern state in which there’d be no conspiracies, no plans, no machinations, deceptions or secrecies within the circles of power. In the United States there have been conspiracies aplenty and I’ll list a bunch of them – these are all now a matter of public record:

In recent decades, the deliberately fabricated Tonkin Gulf Incident, which served as an excuse for escalating the Vietnam War – you mean the president deliberately lied to the people to mislead the American people and are you saying he had this cold conspiracy to get them all worked up for something that never happened? Yes! We now know yes… the Pentagon Papers are out… yes, it was a total fabrication and a lie.

Operation Phoenix [aka Phoenix Program] which no-one heard about in which US forces set up assassination squads that murdered thousands, tens of thousands of dissidents in Vietnam: secretly organised, illegal, immoral, unpublicised.

The Watergate break-in was a conspiracy: an illegal, secret, unlawful act followed by another conspiracy – the second one, which was the one that brought Nixon down – the Watergate cover-up.

The FBI COINTELPRO involving dirty tricks, infiltration and harassment of left dissident groups – I remember reading in The New York Times when the story finally broke and the Church Committee and all that – The august New York Times said: for years left groups have been saying that the FBI has been harassing them and we thought it was paranoia; now it seems to turn out that there might be some truth in it. Well, welcome to reality New York Times; every so often The Times hits right on reality like that and it’s worth mentioning because it’s so rare.

Iran-Contra in which executive leaders conspired to circumvent the law, secretly, illegally selling arms to Iran in exchange for funds that were then used in covert actions against Nicaragua – a conspiracy which the Joint Congressional Committee investigating Iran-Contra said: we will probably never get at the bottom of this immense conspiracy 2 – that’s what they said; it wasn’t some ‘conspiracy theorists’, it was these people there: we will never get to the bottom of this… certainly not the way you guys were investigating it, you would never get at the bottom of it!

The function of the investigation is to uncover some stuff to let you know that the system is self-rectifying and self-cleansing, but not uncover too much as to destabilise the State itself. And you heard guys on the committee saying: we need a successful presidency; we must be careful what we’re doing and all that.

The assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, a matter of public record: the House Select Committee on Assassinations uncovered the fact that there were all sorts of things; it was sparse uncovering, but there have been any number of independent investigators who have uncovered the fact that these conspiracies were done not by some lone crazed assassin, who just suddenly on an impulse devoted six months of his life, somehow financed himself to go kill this or that leader. 3

[Aside: A fortnight ago on October 22nd, President Joe Biden took the decision to ‘postpone’ the release of sixty-year-old assassination-related records that the CIA has steadfastly been keeping secret from the American people. As Jacob Hornberger, a former attorney and adjunct Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Dallas, wrote a few days later:

There has got to be a good reason why the CIA does not want people to see those 60-year-old secret records. That’s why they didn’t disclose them during the era of the Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s. That’s why they demanded that President Trump continue keeping them secret in 2017. That’s why they demanded that Biden extend the secrecy. […]

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, those 60-year-old secret records obviously contain incriminating evidence — evidence that consists of more pieces to the puzzle pointing to a regime-change operation in Dallas.

After all, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the notion that the release of 60-year old records could constitute a grave threat to “national security” is nonsensical on its face. Is there anyone who really believes such nonsense?

Click here to read the full article entitled “Surprise! Biden Continues the CIA’s JFK Assaassination Cover-Up, published on October 25th by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

And here to read a follow-up piece entitled “What the CIA is Hiding in the JFK Assassination Records” published by Counterpunch on November 4th. ]

The CIA drugs-for-guns trade in Central America; covert CIA-sponsored terrorist wars in a dozen countries [most recently in Syria]; the BCCI scandal involving what some call the most crooked bank in the world, in 1990, the motherlode of all conspiracies: the Savings and Loan [crisis] which the Bush Justice Department itself called: a thousand conspiracies of bribe, theft and fraud – a thousand conspiracies – they said we don’t have enough agents to investigate it. Sure, because all the agents are checking out events like this one!

Too busy keeping tabs on people who want to keep raising medical funds for El Salvador to go look at the Savings and Loan conspiracy, which is ripping off literally billions of dollars from the American taxpayer. The greatest financial crime in the history of humanity: Savings and Loan – you’ve been living it and you’re going to pay for it, or we are going to pay for it, so you might as well know about it.

Conspiracies, I maintain, are carried out regularly by the national security state. What’s the ‘national security state’? It’s the White House executive office. It’s elements within the State Department and the Pentagon. It’s the Joint Chief of Staff. It’s the National Security Council, the National Security Agency and the CIA and other intelligence agencies. That conglomeration or operational link groups in that conglomeration are what is known as the ‘national security state’. Well, it can list the Treasury at times, it could list commerce, I feel there are people in Congress who are link to it – I think Sam Nunn’s got one foot [in it].

The national security state is involved in secretly planning operations around the globe. It resorts to low-intensity warfare, special forces, undercover agents, surveillance, infiltration and destruction of dissident groups, the bribing of state leaders, unlawful break-ins, the training of death squads and torturers, political assassination, counterinsurgency suppression, and terrorist military forces against revolutionary governments as in Angola, Mozambique and Nicaragua.

Our rulers themselves explicitly call for conspiratorial activities. They call publicly admit it, except they don’t call them conspiracies; they call them ‘covert action’, ‘clandestine operations’, ‘special operations’ and ‘national security’. Now, if for some reason you don’t want to call these undertakings ‘conspiracies’, don’t call them ‘conspiracies’, give them another name: call them ‘peekaboo operations’, ‘surprise surprise initiatives’; call them whatever you want, but recognise them for what they are – as wilfully planned actions whose real intentions are almost always denied.

If they’re not conspiring, why all the secrecy? I’m reminded of my friend Phil Agee, he was just here a few months ago, and I was sitting having coffee with him when he gave a talk here in Berkeley. When Phil left the CIA, disillusioned because he thought America was helping the world, and he found out that America was doing something quite the opposite, and he left, he wrote a book called Inside the Company.

In 1980, American filmmaker Allan Francovitch produced a documentary featuring Philip Agee and exposing the secret dirty history of the CIA entitled On Company Business which is embedded below. A discussion about the making of the film can be found at the Internet Archive. Francovitch suffered a fatal heart attack in a Customs area at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, on April 17, 1997 whilst entering the United States from England. He was 56-years-old:

The book was banned from the US and I remember that and the government said ‘national security’: it’s banned. I said, wait a minute, the book has been published in Europe in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese – I said, doesn’t the KGB have anyone who reads French or German…? The book was even available in English in Canada. I said, oh but foreign agents aren’t allowed to buy books in Canada, I said to myself!

No, the reason [for] the ban was not intended to keep Agee’s exposé from foreign enemies, but from the American public. It was not national security but the political interests of the national security state in continuing to deliberately lie and mislead the American public. That’s a ‘conspiracy theory’, then you tell me what was the reason for banning a book in the USA that was available everywhere else in the world. Give me the alternative reason. That’s only one small instance of the many cases in which the government uses manipulative measures.

The existence of the national security state also demonstrates that along with issue politics, we have class rule. In academic political science and in our news media, issue politics are either ignored or they’re looked at in a kind of vacuum. I mean you can get issue politics [but] it’s in a vacuum: like this issue comes up, that issue comes up, that issue comes up… and nothing’s linked to anything else.

Some political scientists I know, and I can name two very prominent ones right here in Berkeley, have studied the American presidency for thirty years and written books on the subject and never mentioned capitalism and corporate interests. I remember turning to one – we were on a panel together – Aaron Wildavsky and I said: how could you write about the American presidency for thirty years and never once mention capitalism? And he looked at me blankly. It turned out to be a rhetorical question!

Now to be sure, class interests permeate issue politics: tax policies, subsidies to corporate investments, corporate plunder of public lands – any number of kinds of issues – but issue politics do not encompass the totality of a class system. Class rule is not achieved solely by pressure group politics – by interest group politics. Class rule is not achieved solely by big campaign donations, lobbyists, and other manifestations of interest group politics.

Interest group politics operates within a systemic totality of power and class interest. It operates within the dynamics of a capitalist state system which over and above the desires of any individual elites imposes its own necessities. These systemic imperatives are things that must be taken care of if the system is to be maintained. If value is to be extracted from the labour of the many to go into the pockets of the few, this system has to be maintained.

Conditions of hegemony must constantly be refortified. And that’s something that no one IBM or ITT or General Motors could do for itself. So there has to be central financing and subsidising. There has to be regulating and cushioning competition. There has to be a lot of new research and development that has to be carried out at public cost with the benefits of it then privatised and handed over to corporations. There has to be transferring public domain resources into private corporate hands for their exploitation and profit. There’s absorbing from the public realm riches [that] go to the private realm, and then from the private realm, you absorb the diseconomies, the poverties from the private sector into the public realm. The diseconomies are picked up by the public: you know, the pollution, the toxic waste dumps; all these things we then have to pay for them – we have to pay [for] the homeless, the helpless; whatever else, those are things we have to pay for.

That system [also] has to do something else. It has to act as the agent of class control. It has to mobilise repressive forces at home and abroad. It has to limit and repress dissent. It has to control information and manipulate opinion. This is the essence of the State. That’s what the State is about. It’s to act as an overarching conscious agent – a conscious agent – for maintaining the entire system; doing what no private interest group can do to buttress class hegemony.

To put it simply, the function of the capitalist state is to sustain the capitalist order and it must consciously be doing that. So for those who would deny conscious intent, we would ask: what is the function of the State?

It pushes for privatisation – one of the things it’s very actively doing is pushing for privatisation here at home and everywhere else – in Russia too. You see it in the papers: what are called ‘reforms’; the reformers, the media keeps talking about the ‘reformers’. Boris ‘buy me a drink’ Yeltsin has ‘reforms’. What are the ‘reforms’ about? The ‘reforms’ are to privatise, to open up the vast riches and resources of Russia and hand them over to private foreign corporations for exploitation and big, quick profits. That’s what the ‘reforms’ are. It is to push forth the system of capitalism.

If the choice is between democracy without capitalism, we don’t want it – our leaders don’t want it, that is. If it’s capitalism without democracy that’s much more preferred. Ideally, what they want is capitalism with a window-dressing of democracy. But democracy is a very dispensable component of that whole thing. Now what the media, of course, is doing is associating market economy with democracy; they keep putting the two together.

In fact, I though the presidential debates last Fall – The Three Stooges act that went on – was a very interesting thing, because at one point Ross Perot got up and said: and we’ve got to keep getting our country right, getting it straight, so that we work for building democracy and capitalism. And Bill Clinton started because the guy was saying it – you see you’re not supposed to say you serve capitalism. He’s supposed to say ‘build for democracy’. But Perot was uninitiated in these things [and] came out and said what it really was about – and not necessarily in the order of importance: he said democracy and capitalism. And I saw the moment. I saw Clinton really start that he would say ‘capitalism’ you see. They usually don’t say that.

In sustaining capitalism the State has a monopoly of the legitimate use (legal use) of force and violence. In mobilising that force and violence the State has another extraordinary resource which is control of the public treasury: that is, through a process of coercive non-voluntary taxation they extract from the public monies which are then used to carry out these services. They tell me some things are also done, you know, building roads and schools and those kinds of things, but generally [with] the federal government, that’s what it’s doing.

Well, who is this corporate class, this super-rich plutocracy, this oligarchy that you keep talking about, Parenti? Who are these guys? Well, there’s no mystery. I’m talking about the top 400 families; they’re listed in Forbes, the Social Register. Almost a third of the descendants of whom are linked by blood or marriage to the Rockefeller, du Pont, Mellon and Morgan dynasties. I’m talking about the super-rich 1%; less than 1% of the population of this country that owns 70% of the nation’s wealth. I’m talking about the top 800,000 individuals over the age of sixteen who have more wealth and income than the other 184 million individuals combined over the age of sixteen.

The economist Paul Samuelson, thirty years ago, gave a very vivid image – it still holds. He says if you want to look at the income distribution in this country; if you want to build an income pyramid, imagine taking children’s blocks and each block is a thousand dollars, and you pile them up. The highest income in this country would be vastly higher than the Eiffel Tower, while almost all of us would be not more than a yard or a yard and a half off the ground. This gives you an idea of the spread and the distribution.

Instead of ‘conspiracy theory’ what the apologists for power give us is what I call ‘innocence theory’. Now ‘innocence theory’ has several varieties:

There’s ‘somnambulist theory’ that those in power do things walking in their sleep without a thought for their vast holdings and interests. David Rockefeller wakes up in the morning and he says: what am I going to do today? Am I going to look after my immense fortunes and investments…? No, no, if I did that I would only be playing into the hands of the conspiracy theorists; I won’t do that! And I don’t like unions, David Rockefeller says, and oh, Morgans, Mellons, you don’t like unions either, well isn’t that a coincidence?  I don’t like unions I guess because they sound like ‘onions’; I don’t like onions, yeah, that’s it!

Along with ‘somnambulist theory’ we might explain away their hegemony as ‘coincidence theory’; that by sheer chance things just happen repeatedly and coincidentally to benefit their interest without any conscious connivance by them – and it is most uncanny.

A frequent mode of explanation is ‘stupidity theory’. You hear it among people all the time: they just don’t know what they’re doing! There’s a radio talk show host in this area who every time she has a guest says: aren’t they just a bunch of stupid, goofy guys who just don’t know what they’re doing? Isn’t that it?

In fact, Ronald Reagan for years we heard he was the moronic, ineffectual president; his administration was called ‘a reign of errors’. There was even a book by that title. Even as he successfully put through his conservative agenda, even as he destroyed the progressive income tax, even as he did all the other things that he did, again and again and again – the judiciary, the budget, the welfare spending, military, everything, did all these things – we kept saying: what a stupid dodo. And I felt like I was the only person in America going ‘he’s not stupid, he knows what he’s doing’.

I mean he would flub – you know he went to Uruguay and said it’s wonderful to be here in Bolivia! And at his press conferences and whatever else… But the guy had his class agenda. He was one of the few presidents who got into the White House and knew what the hell he really wanted to do and set out to do it. By the way, Reagan himself used the ‘stupidity theory’ as a defence during the Iran-Contra; he purportedly was guilty only of a lackadaisical, overly casual management style and was not sufficiently in control of his subordinates. That’s what his hand-picked Tower Commission came out and said: he should have had better control and knew what was happening; he didn’t know what was happening.

In fact, some of his subordinates including Secretary of State [George] Shultz who just published a book [Turmoil and Triumph] saying Reagan was in charge all the while and made all those decisions. In court, some of them said the same thing: that the president not only was informed, but he himself initiated most of the Iran-Contra policy decisions that led to a circumvention of the law and the Constitution. He should be in jail. 4

Those who hold to ‘innocence theory’ would have us believe that unjust social arrangements, wrongful policies, are momentary aberrations – so there’s ‘momentary aberration theory’. There’s ‘incompetence theory’. There’s ‘unintended consequences theory’. There’s ‘innocent cultural proclivities theory’. And by the way, to be sure such things exist. I mean there are unintended consequences. There are cultural influences and all that. But do they explain the reasons why the major policy decisions of political and economic leaders – the reasons for the major policy decisions of our leaders?

Evidence and common sense suggest that the rich and powerful are not oblivious to their interests and do not leave things to chance. The ‘innocence theorists’ dismiss those who see evil and evil-doers as paranoid.

A few years ago I was participating in a conference at University of Colorado in Boulder [with] some interesting people like David Dellinger was there; David Barsamian. I think Holly Sklar. I think Ward Churchill was there. And I was to give the keynote address in the evening, and there were these panels during the day, so I slipped away to do what I really like to do, and I went over to find a used bookstore to look for odd titles of books –

And I was standing in the aisle and on the other side of the bookshelf – I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me – were these two guys and one said to the other: hey, you see this conference was on the CIA, imperialism (he didn’t use the word ‘imperialism’, that’s what I talked about), drugs, Central America, stuff like that. And so the guy says to the other person: hey, you see who they have talking up on the campus at this conference? And he says, guess who. Well, it looks like a who’s who in paranoia. And I sort of stifled the guffaw and I said wait a minute, they’re talking about me! And I said, who are those guys and why did they follow me here! No, no, I didn’t say that… But paranoia! These things don’t really happen; we’ve imagined all this stuff about death squads in Central America.

For years the United States financed, equipped and trained a counterrevolutionary murderous army of thugs and killers that conducted a two-front invasion against Nicaragua, murdering tens of thousands of Nicaraguans, destroying farm cooperatives, power stations, clinics, schools, homes, villages, to bring ruin upon that nation’s economy – for years that happened, for years the president threatened them in every way, imposed boycotts and every other kind of aggression – Reagan even said he wanted the Sandinistas to “cry uncle”.

Secretary of State Shultz promised to cast out the Sandinistas from our hemisphere. Yet when the beleaguered Sandinista government charged that the US wanted to overthrow them, ABC News dismissed the charge as (quote): “the Sandinista paranoia”. Washington Post called it: “Nicaraguan paranoia”. In a speech at the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, noted psychiatrist [!], diagnosed the Sandinistas as paranoiac schizophrenics. Very good, Jeane Kirkpatrick – why, you’re so smart! Kirkpatrick’s comment came two weeks after Reagan and Shultz both announced at the United Nations that the United States might have to invade Nicaragua soon. So much for paranoia. I thought of what James Baldwin once said years ago: that even paranoiacs have real enemies.

Well look Parenti, really, aren’t we asking people to believe too much by suggesting there are all these conspiracies? No, not as much as when asking them to believe there are not conspiracies. Historian Frank Kofsky puts it well in his book called Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948 [sic], which will be published in the Fall. I read it in manuscript and let me read a little statement he said:

What would those who are so ready to derisively exclaim conspiracy theory have us believe? That people with enormous fortunes and/or high political positions do not have greater opportunity than the ordinary citizen to get what they want? That men and women who spend most of their adult lives seeking to obtain or retain money and influence, do so only in order to abstain from employing the advantages these confer? That those with wealth and power are inhibited by some mysterious force from making use of their wealth and power to accomplish their purposes? That the rich and well-placed refuse to cooperate with each other in the pursuit of common political-economic goals? If, in fact, there is one thing that characterizes those at the top, it is their readiness to organize amongst themselves to secure their desires. No other group in society ever comes close in this regard.

And I would add, it’s ironic that the group most organised to concert and control is to be least considered as doing so by the ‘innocence theorists’.

As the capitalist state develops it also increasingly develops its class consciousness and it brings forth coteries of policymakers, who move in law, business, military and government circles; sometimes rotating from one to the other. Those who are sometimes referred to as the ‘power elite’, ‘the ruling elite’, ‘the plutocracy’ – more broadly I consider them the active agents of the ruling class.

Their existence is a matter of public record. It’s been documented excellently by such fine scholars as Lawrence Shoup, who’s here today in the audience – that’s not why I’m mentioning him, I was going to do that anyway before I knew he was here – William Domhoff, Holly Sklar; they’ve talked about the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Conference and the other coteries of consciously organised power and policymaking.

These individuals all have a loyalty to a particular class ideology. You could not get into their ranks with a different ideology – if you can give me an example. You don’t have to be rich to be brought into the ranks, although it helps; you just have to be useful.

Kissinger, Nixon, Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton – Bill Clinton, who by the way is a member of the Trilateral Commission, attended the Bilderberg conference and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations – they all come from relatively modest backgrounds, but they gained entry, they proved valuable and reliable. They all become rich after a while: Kissinger, Nixon, Reagan, Johnson are rich now. [Note: we could add Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson to the list.]

William Appleman Williams, another historian: a description of the power wielded in the Woodrow Wilson administration of 1918: I think it’s very interesting, I want to quote it at length because it’s still apt, he says:

First, none of these men was naive or innocent. They very seldom blundered into success or failure. Many more times than not they won because they shrewdly picked their spots and deployed their power effectively. All of them, furthermore, had extended experience in business and politics. They were also men who had to come to terms with and practise the kind of routine deceptions and rationales; casuistry that often seemed to be inherent in the conduct of big business, big law, domestic politics and diplomacy. They were not dishonest in the usual meaning of that term, and they were not hypocrites; they were simply powerful an influential men of this world, who had concluded from hard experience and close observation that all of the truth, all of the time, was almost always dangerous, hence, they did not use all of the truth, all of the time.

Secondly, these American decision-makers viewed economics as of extremely great, if not of literally, primary importance in the dynamic operation of the American system. This does not mean that they were motivated by personal pocketbook considerations; it means that they though about…

By the way, I think they are also motivated by personal pocketbook considerations – it is not mutually exclusive of the larger issues.

It means that they thought about economics in a national sense as an absolutely crucial variable in the functioning of the system per se, and as the foundation for constitutional government and a moral society. And all of them viewed overseas economic expansion as essential to the continued successful operation of the American free enterprise system.

Finally, these men shared a central conviction that the good society and the good world were defined by the forms and substance of Western civilisation as they had manifested themselves in the United States. Some were conservatives concerned to preserve aspects of the status quo that they considered particularly valuable; others were reformers, more interested in improving the existing order; but all of them shared a fundamental belief in, and a commitment to the established system.

(End of quote.)

Now it’s understood that coalminers might consciously direct efforts to advancing their interests, and steel-workers, and small farmers, and schoolteachers, but not these elites – at least according to the ‘innocence theorists’. Now, of course, coalminers and steel-workers publicly push for their goals because they’re trying to enlist the support of other publics; broader publics.

Corporate heads, plutocrats, network owners, policy elites tend to move more quietly, less visibly through the corridors of power, preferring not to stir too much public attention. At other times, by the way, they will actually seek to mobilise public sentiment in a particular direction. For instance, in the mid-1970s we had a very interesting development: business leaders showed an increasingly class-conscious concern for the drift of things in the mid-70s. One corporate leader spoke to his concurring colleagues at a meeting of The Conference Board in 1974; I quote him:

The have-nots are gaining steadily more political power to distribute the wealth downwards. The masses have turned to a larger government.

This isn’t Lenin talking, this is a corporate elite (unquote).

Another top executive concurred; he said (quote):

If we don’t take action now, we will see our own demise. We will evolve into another social democracy…

(Like Sweden or Denmark or something like that.)

This is the research done by Leonard Silk and David Vogel. Silk, a former economics, business writer for The New York Times – quite conscious and explicit awareness of their class interests, speaking in explicit class terms here. Not to the public – they don’t say that when they come on the air – but when they talk to each other, it’s remarkable what they say.

What they wanted was outlined, by the way, very explicitly. There’s no conspiracy. They concerted, they plan, but it was right out there; out in the public. Very explicitly in major business publications from the mid-1970s onwards: a cutback in government spending, massive cutbacks to government spending and human services; they wanted an increase in military spending; they wanted generous tax write-offs and credits for upper income individuals and corporations; and they wanted a rollback of government regulations on business. That’s what they wanted.

Giant corporations like Citibank, IBM, Morgan Guranty Trust, Exxon, Ford and Genereal Motors played an increasingly active and conscious role in financing conservative think tanks like the Hoover Institute, American Enterprise Institute; and seeing that a conservative business agenda penetrated the academic circles and mass media. You saw in the 70s, a mass array of conservative pundits and columnists moving in to the media, and they still clutter up that media today.

Corporate money financed the campaigns of ideologically conservative candidates through political action committees [PAC] and the corporations devoted much more systematic effort to breaking labour unions. By 1978, some of the changes that corporate America wanted were already being instituted by the President himself: a Democrat named Jimmy Carter. He started cuts in human services. He started increasing military spending.

The Clawsons were right. The Clawsons wrote an article in which they called it “Reaganism before Reagan”. I was calling it that then too. I said Carter gave us Reaganism before Reagan. But there were problems with Carter because he was partially beholden to labour unions, the African-American vote, you know. And what corporate America wanted was an unencumbered ideological conservative, and their support went overwhelmingly to Ronald Reagan.

Now they were lobbying for issue politics, but not just issue politics, they were trying to shift the centre of political gravity of the entire policy arena in order to maintain class rule and avoid a social democracy that might cut too deeply into their privileges, wealth, and class power. And they succeeded quite well.

The ‘innocence theorists’ will sometimes acknowledge that there is fault: that some people do some bad things. But when they do they place responsibility on everyone; on an undifferentiated ‘we’. Richard Nixon saying, ‘what a strange creature man is that he fouls his own nest’. And saying, ‘we, we are all the Buddhists’. Erich Fromm once said, ‘we produce cars…’ what? ‘We produce cars with built-in obsolescence and dangers’. ‘We continue to pollute the environment’. An alternative radio commentator on a show I was on announced in 1991: ‘we are all guilty of John Kennedy’s death. We’re all guilty of the Gulf War’. I said, ‘no, we aren’t’.

The ‘innocence  theorists’ can get quite specific about conscious intent and conspiracy if it comes from the left; if it involves militant dissenters; labour unions; leftists guerrillas; peace demonstrators; or leaders of communist forces; then intent is readily subscribed. Then it’s recognised that people will actually be fighting for particular agendas to push certain things – in fact, very sinister intent.

The FBI, you remember, looking at the Nuclear Free movement that was sweeping America and charging that it was KGB directed. Now there was a bunch of ‘conspiracy theorists’ right there, but the ‘innocence theorists’ didn’t turn to them and say ‘are you kooky conspiracy theorists?’ They said, ‘could there be KGB agents or not?’ You know they treated that as a serious proposition.

It’s recognised that revolutionaries are capable of conspiracy – there are even laws against them – that revolutionaries are capable of concerted action directed toward consciously desired goals, but not counter-revolutionaries. Peace advocates, but not militarists and interventionists. Proponents of change, but not champions of the status quo. The poor but not the rich.

Nothing said here, by the way, is meant to imply that ruling class leaders are infallible or omnipotent. That’s the straw man that’s always put up in the literature and the debates we have – these people would say that there’s this cabal of people that make no mistakes, they’re infallible, they consciously know everything, or they do everything… nobody’s saying they are infallible. Nobody’s says they’re limitless in their power.

Despite the immense resources at their command they’re sometimes limited in their options by circumstances beyond their control, by pressures from within the economic system. They have divisions among themselves about tactics, about what’s going to be more effective, or what isn’t. They have pressures for the need to maintain legitimating democratic appearances. By their fear of angry and mass popular resistance, sometimes, sometimes.

But whatever the limits of their power, these ruling elites are as fervently involved in class struggle as any communist. And if they don’t always succeed, they succeed often enough. They may not be omnipotent, but they are enormously powerful. They’re far from infallible, but they have such a plenitude of resources as to do sufficient damage control and minimise their losses when mistakes are made – unlike us sometimes.

One of the characteristics of ‘innocence theory’ is that you never ask why: why are certain things done? And that even happens on the left. See the essence of political analysis is two things: when you analyse the impact of policies and situations, what happens long-range, immediate effects and outputs; the other thing is you try to determine intent.

Well, a few years ago when I was teaching a graduate seminar at Brookyn College in New York, I had Walter Karp come and talk to my class. Walter Karp wrote a very wonderful book Liberty Under Siege, and he’s written other books too, Politics of War.

I asked him, ‘have you ever been accused of being a conspiracy theorist?’ Because you’re placing intent, you’re saying that Reagan is doing these things in limiting democracy, because this, that and the other thing. And he said, ‘all the time I’m fighting against the charge that I’m a propagator of The Elders of the Protocol, you know…’ He said, ‘but the essence of political analysis is to try to define and divine intent. That’s what you have to be looking at.’

And yet there’s so many exposés written that never deal with it. We read about environmental devastation. We read about the terrible effects of US intervention in Panama or Nicaragua or Cuba or here or there. But why? Why is US policy doing this? Why are they doing these things?

We read about costly military bases. There’s a very interesting book on that, The Sun Never Sets, how the US has these global bases all over the world. Why do they have these? Not mentioned. They talk about the costliness of it, the violation of the sovereignty of the countries involved, this, that and the other thing… but why?

So we have even on the left where people don’t ask why. We learned not to ask why because once you ask why then you cross the line from a liberal complaint into a radical analysis. Then you are talking, or have to talk about something, or you have to start doing all those other ephemeral explanations: Oh Bush is doing this because he’s got a macho problem; that’s why he invaded Panama. Or, oh we’re doing this because we’d like to feel big, or we’re just kooky that way, or… these become the explanations.

It’s the same with US foreign policy. We hear again and again: US foreign policy is so foolish. So stupid! Why did we go in there? So stupid! Why are we doing that? Just because you don’t understand what they’re doing, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what they’re doing. And never is it asked, ‘what is the intent?’ Without understanding intent, indeed, US policy remains an unsettling mystery, a puzzling thing to liberal critics.

But such policy is really rational and quite successful. It consistently moves against any nation or social movement that tries to change the client state relations of US dominance and imperialism; that tries to use a greater portion of its natural resources, markets and labour for self-development; moves that would infringe upon the interests of rich investors.

Now, if taken in the larger context, US policy appears consistent and sensible and predictable and mostly successful. But most media analysts and academic analysts lack this larger context; even most alternative media analysts. Once we realise these things about US policy, we move as I say from a liberal complaint about how rational the policy is, to a radical analysis about the rational interests involved, and how a particular policy coincides with similar US policies all over the world for decades, supporting privileged interests against popular movements.

This isn’t a ‘conspiracy fantasy’; it’s a conspiracy actuality to conclude that US leaders were not interested in reaching a peaceful accord; that they were lying about their real intentions to the American public, and even to their own staffs.

Well, isn’t this just a demonisation of ruling elites? I mean you have a demon theory about them, the way they have about you. No, it’s not demon theory: they see me and people like me as a real mortal enemy to their class interest; they’re absolutely correct. It’s not a kooky theory. They’re right about me; I’m right about them!

Are they really capable of supporting death squads, assassinations, tortures, violent deeds like this, I mean, you know, you’re talking about Yale, Princeton, Harvard graduates here? I remember speaking to a former CIA – actually he’d been in the OSS and he’d gone to the CIA in the early years under Wild Bill Donovan – he was in the administration at Yale University when I was back there for postdoctoral, and I remember him saying, ‘well Michael, well you know it’s not a pretty world out there, we have to sometimes do things that aren’t very pretty, because we’re facing some very nasty individuals, so we’re compelled to do this – if the politics in the world were like politics in the US we wouldn’t have to do it.’

It’s pretty dirty in the US too. So they have it all rationalised, but the evidence does come out. Yes, they are capable of such things, even Congress, the last to know – I always think of Congress as the deceived spouse. You know, they’re always ‘the last to know’!

Do you remember during the Iran-Contra hearings, the Republican senators who got up – Senator Cohen of Maine, Senator Rudman of Vermont [sic] – they got up and said, ‘I thought we were intervening in Nicaragua because we were interdicting the arms that they were sending to El Salvador.’ I mean those guys really believe that reason when Jeane Kirkpatrick and Shultz and Reagan gave that reason. I said, ‘Boy, we have boy scouts!’ You read history – that stuff I was doing on the Spanish-American War, same thing… these senators were getting up… They really believe the reasons that are given by the White House; at least, they give every appearance of believing.

But Congress eventually – some elements in Congress – catch on. A very unusual member of Congress, Robert Torricelli, head of the Torricelli Bill against Cuba. Yes, you can hiss, but on this issue somehow – you see Torricelli sponsored that bill because somehow he actually thinks that Cuba’s a bad place, and a danger, and we’ve got to democratise it. He really thinks that’s what it is. So then he finds out what the US was doing in El Salvador, and he says (Washington Post, March 17th ’93):

The Chairman of a House subcommittee, Robert Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey charged yesterday that the Reagan administration lied to Congress for years about the Salvadoran armed forces complicity in murder, and he said [quote]

“Every word uttered by every Reagan administration official about the observances of human rights in El Salvador should be reviewed for perjury.”

Torricelli went on: “It is now abundantly clear that Ronald Reagan made these certifications about human rights in defiance of the truth.” 5

Welcome to reality, congressman!

I just finished doing an investigation of the death of an American president. He died in 1850, Zachary Taylor. I wrote an article called “History as Mystery: The Strange Death of President Zachary Taylor”. In 1991, his tomb was opened and they investigated because some historians were saying – one historian was suspicious that he had actually been poisoned. And they came out with the report that he wasn’t poisoned, he died of natural causes.

Well, I got their reports and started looking at them more closely and found all sorts of funny things: that the arsenic level in him was fifteen times higher than the normal level in a person walking around; that the antimony level in him was vastly higher, was fifty, sixty times higher (antimony is used as a poison with even a higher toxicity than arsenic); and a bunch of other things.

And so I wrote this whole article. And one of the quotes I came across was by a historian, Eugene Genovese. He was asked by the press, ‘would any political protagonist in the United States of 1950 be capable of such a deed? Taylor, you see, was opposing the slave power. He refused to have any extension of slavery. He was holding a hard line against any extension of slavery into the Western territories, and there was a lot of hard feeling against him about this. And when he died Millard Fillmore came in and the policy immediately shifted: total change in policy; the Compromise of 1850 came in and the slave powers got all they wanted. Fugitive Slave laws were strengthened. I won’t go into any more particulars.

That’s what it was all about: there was a real political interest involved. And Genovese says: ‘I can’t imagine any Southern personalities who would have been involved in such a conspiracy.’ Now, it’s an interesting thing when you make these kind of statements because it’s a reflection of you. It’s a reflection of how moderate and decent you are, when you say, ‘I can’t imagine this kind of crazy thing happening.’

If you can imagine this kind of crazy thing happening; this sort of begins to raise some question about your credibility you see. Because I can’t imagine if there could’ve been anybody involved in such a conspiracy. He goes on, he says, ‘but there’s always the possibility that there were some nuts who had access to him and did it.’

Well, I want to say that history shows us that nuts are not the only ones capable of evil deeds. That gentlemen of principle and power, of genteel manner, can arrive at very grim decisions. If they commit crimes, it’s not because they harbour murky and perverse impulses, but because they feel compelled to deal with the dangers that are opposed to their way of life.

This doesn’t mean that they’re motivated by purely financial reasons, although that’s a very real consideration I think, but they equate their vital interests with the well-being of their society and the nation. In this case, with the well-being of the cause of Southern rights. And far from being immoral, or unscrupulous, they are individuals of principles that are so lofty as to elevate them above the restraints of ordinary morality.

They don’t act on sudden impulse. The feeling grows among them that something must be done; something that’s best for all. That the situation is becoming intolerable. They move gradually toward the position – the change is gradual and yet it’s so compelling that when they arrive at their decision, they’re no longer shocked by the extreme measures they’re willing to employ.

The execution of the unsavoury deed is made all the easier by delegating its commission to lower level operatives. Most of the evil in history is perpetrated not by lunatics or monsters or lone psychotics, but by persons of responsibility and commitment whose most unsettling aspect is the apparent normality of their deportment.

It’s like child molesters. We’re finally saying there’s danger in the stranger. It’s not the stranger we find out are the child molesters and the abusers – it’s not some guy who goes around like this with drool coming down like this – it’s the, in many case, upright, estimable gentlemen of the community, who no-one would believe could do such a thing.

I want to point out that the social order itself is not without intent. That you can think of a social order operating with immense impersonality and yet it too has intent.

I had a friend years ago who was a nurse and when she was trained as a nurse she had three patients. And she did very well with these patients, she had a real knack for it; she talked to them, and that’s a good part of the healing process you know, their feelings and all that, and she really liked her work.

And then, she went to work in a hospital, and she was the only nurse on the whole ward: she had twenty-five to thirty patients. Now nobody can take care of twenty-five to thirty patients. And what begins to happen after a while she gets irritated and angry, and she starts to get annoyed, and feeling that they are wanting to be pampered and all that and [she’s] getting very curt with the patients: acting like a nurse.

So what you see here is the patients are ascribing this behaviour to her personality, when in fact its behaviour that’s the result of a structured situation that’s beyond her control – which is too many patients to take care of. But there’s something more to that story.

The hospital is run by a bunch of rich directors and profiteers. They make the decision to maximise their profits, they cut down on staff. The more you cut down on staff, the more you increase your rate of exploitation per person you’ve employed. If I can get one person to do the work of three that increases my profits. So that board of directors which drew huge salaries and extracted large profits for the corporate shareholders at the hospital were very much involved in that paradigm between nurse and patient.

You know Marx and Freud have very little in common, but one thing they do have in common is this idea that human behaviour is often prefigured by forces that are removed from the immediate situation. For Freud, it was all-out hidden agendas and our family and our parents and all that; for Marx, it’s the social situation, the class structure, the institutions and the culture and those kinds of thing, which are operating in ways we don’t see.

It’s the nature of our culture that we don’t see it. And we immediately ascribe it to some psychological or personality component of the other person. It’s not that the directors of that hospital, by the way, took pleasure in overworking the nursing staff and seeing them hassled and irritable. I mean quite the contrary; they’d want a staff that’s pleasant to the patients. But different institutional arrangements evoke different forms of behaviour.

The fact that a dispirited workforce is unintentional does not mean there is no interested power involved. The fact that it’s unintentional, that effect, doesn’t mean there are not intentions working to get some kind of effect there. In other words, institutional arrangements may have unintended effects, but if the arrangements are serving explicit interests, how really unintended are the effects?

And you want to see, by the way, when those interests are threatened. It’s impressive how conscious intention can suddenly be mobilised in situations where conscious intention supposedly plays no role.

This applies to the debate that’s going on right now about the JFK assassination conspiracy. That there are people saying that we shouldn’t get hung up on conspiracies, we should be looking at the larger institutional forces. And what I am arguing is that those larger institutional forces are directed by conscious human agency. And those agencies use conspiracy or non-conspiracies – use conspiratorial forces or non-conspiratorial forces – and that the conspiratorial forces are important; they’re not rare exceptions – and that they are systemic in the nature; and in their output.

There are those who said that, ‘yeah, so three-fourths of the American people believe that John Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy; so what, three-fourths of the American people – Cockburn’s made this argument, Chomsky’s made this argument to me – three-fourths of the American people believe in miracles too. Well, that’s a very facile argument. It’s a confusion. They’re confusing the gullibility about miracles with the public’s refusal to be gullible about the story that the officials are handing down to them about how Kennedy was killed. It’s quite different.

So what I would say is, what I would say to our friends is that we ought not to patronise the public; we ought to educate ourselves about the actualities of that murder, and about every other conspiracy that goes on. We should not dismiss these conspiracies as distractions from the bigger picture, but see how they are an essential part of the bigger picture.

The concern with conspiracy and assassination is not a manifestation of Camelot yearnings, it’s not a search for lost messiahs, or father figures; it’s an immature, kooky idea. It is the angry realisation that state power is used in gangster ways by gentlemen gangsters who defend imperialism and the national security state. Concern about these issues is not gullibility, it’s not irrational yearnings for lost leaders, but it’s an expression of public concern about the nature of our government.

The expression of public concern about the nature of our government; the angry criticism: there’s a name for that, and that is called democracy, and let’s have more of it.

Thank you very much.

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Hat tip to Max Blumenthal for drawing my attention to Michael Parenti’s talk and also to independent journalist and environmental activist Cory Morningstar for featuring it on her blog Wrong Kind of Green, where you can also find the quote at the top of this article.

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1 Speech to Illinois legislature (January 1837); This is Lincoln’s First Reported Speech, found in the Sangamo Journal (28 January 1837) according to McClure’s Magazine (March 1896); also in Lincoln’s Complete Works (1905) ed. by Nicolay and Hay, Vol. 1, p. 24.

2 The Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair was released on November 18, 1987.

Below are excerpts of the Executive Summary’s “findings and conclusions”

[T]he question whether the President knew of the diversion is not conclusive on the issue of his responsibility. The President created or at least tolerated an environment where those who did know of the diversion believed with certainty that they were carrying out the President’s policies.

This same environment enabled a secretary who shredded, smuggled, and altered documents to tell the Committees that ‘sometimes you have to go above the written law;’ and it enabled Admiral Poindexter to testify that ‘frankly, we were willing to take some risks with the law.’ It was in such an environment that former officials of the NSC staff and their private agents could lecture the Committees that a ‘rightful cause’ justifies any means, that lying to Congress and other officials in the executive branch itself is acceptable when the ends are just, and that Congress is to blame for passing laws that run counter to Administration policy. What may aptly be called the ‘cabal of the zealots’ was in charge.”

https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/h-themajorityreport.php

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The House Assassinations Committee concluded in its final report July 17 that conspiracies probably played a role in the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The committee, which spent two years and $5.4 million investigating the deaths, was unable to pinpoint any specific conspiracy, and its report criticized agencies involved in earlier probes for not pursuing information that could have uncovered such plots. […]

The committee agreed with the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy Nov. 23, 1963, by firing three shots at the president from the Texas School Book Depository Building in Dallas.

However, the panel said scientific acoustical evidence indicated a fourth shot was fired and “establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at [Kennedy].”

Kennedy “probably was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy,” the report stated, but committee members were “unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.” They ruled out involvement by the Soviet or Cuban governments, the Secret Service, CIA or FBI. […]

The committee concluded that James Earl Ray killed King on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. But the committee said there was “substantial evidence to establish the existence of a St. Louis conspiracy to finance the assassination of Dr. King.”

https://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/document.php?id=cqal79-1185454

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Was President Reagan aware that his agents were offering Iran a ransom of arms to buy back hostages? Was George Bush a full participant in that demeaning decision, despite his frequent protestations of being “out of the loop”?

The answer to both questions, according to the first part of former Secretary of State Shultz’s memoirs, excerpted this week in Time magazine, is a dismaying “yes.” His eyewitness evidence shows that Reagan lied to himself, sticking to a script denying reality; Bush lied only to investigators and the public.

From an article entitled “George Shultz’s Book Stirs up a Hornet’s Nest of Iran-Contra Lies”, written by William Safire, published by Chicago Tribune on February 5, 1993. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1993-02-05-9303175679-story.html

5 Based on the original article entitled “Reagan Administration Accused of Lies on El Salvador” written by John M. Goshko, published in the Washington Post on March 17, 1993. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1993/03/17/reagan-administration-accused-of-lies-on-el-salvador/857e23c3-c709-4fc7-868b-08ff210ccad0/ 

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first they came for Julian Assange, then they came for Steven Donziger…

Update:

Chris Hedges and Joe Lauria, Editor-in-Chief of Consortium News both followed this week’s extradition hearing for Julian Assange via video link. On Saturday 30th, with the ruling from the proceedings still pending, they discussed the case on Chris Hedge’s RT show On Contact:

On the same day, Afshin Rattansi spoke with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, about the trial and the treatment of Julian Assange. They discuss Melzer’s assessment that Julian Assange has been psychologically tortured by UK authorities; why it has become harder for the UK courts to refuse the US extradition request; the parallels between the video of the murder of George Floyd and Julian Assange’s revelations; and what Julian Assange’s persecution means for the average citizen’s rights:

The original article begins below.

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“If they can do it to anyone, they can do it to us,” Marianne Williamson recalls her father warning. As Julian Assange faced his extradition hearing and Steven Donziger lost his appeal and had to report to prison, Marianne Williamson spoke with independent journalist Katie Halper about the “viciousness of the system”.  She reminds us that this anyone who takes on corporate and state power will be gone after by corporations and state institutions or a combination, which is why we need to stand up and speak out.

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The last week was a terrible week for justice.

After two and a half years of detention inside HMP Belmarsh maximum security prison, Julian Assange, who appears to be seriously ill, is facing extradition to America where he is expected to receive a 175 year sentence; guilty of the grave crime of practising journalism. As Chris Hedges writes:

Assange’s “crime” is that he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians.

He exposed the torture and abuse of some 800 men and boys, aged between 14 and 89, at Guantánamo.

He exposed that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered US diplomats to spy on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

He exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime.

He exposed that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and General David Petraeus prosecuted a war in Iraq that under post-Nuremberg laws is defined as a criminal war of aggression, a war crime, which authorized hundreds of targeted assassinations, including those of US citizens in Yemen.

He exposed that the United States secretly launched missile, bomb, and drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians.

He exposed that Goldman Sachs paid Hillary Clinton $657,000 to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe, and that she privately assured corporate leaders she would do their bidding while promising the public financial regulation and reform.

He exposed the internal campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by members of his own party.

He exposed how the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency permits the wholesale government surveillance of our televisions, computers, smartphones and anti-virus software, allowing the government to record and store our conversations, images and private text messages, even from encrypted apps.

He exposed the truth. He exposed it over and over and over until there was no question of the endemic illegality, corruption and mendacity that defines the global ruling elite. And for these truths alone he is guilty.

Click here to read Chris Hedges full article entitled “The Most Important Battle for Press Freedom in Our Time” published by Sheerpost on Thursday 28th Oct.

This week Julian Assange was back in court for the final decision on his extradition hearing. In response the stenographers of power with feet tucked comfortably under their desks, politely sat back and said absolutely nothing.

This was the home page on the BBC website late on October 27th (following the first day of Assange’s hearing):

BBC news home page oct 27 2021

And this is the BBC politics page:

BBC news politics page Oct 27 2021

There was also no mention at all on the BBC world events page, although Assange does finally manage to grab a column inch on their UK page:

BBC news UK page Oct 27

On the second and last day of the hearing, BBC News did at least manage to produce a brief résumé of the case (embedded below) which is truly a masterpiece in how to mislead an audience by means of clever changes in tone and a disconnected series of half-truths:

Lies of omission abound. So although it reminds us that Assange had originally skipped bail telling the world his extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations (charges were later dropped) would inevitably result in his deportation to America, the report entirely fails to then put two and two together. Clearly Assange had been telling the truth all along and wasn’t making excuses.

Still more negligent is the BBC’s abject failure to mention how a de facto regime change in Ecuador first enabled the British to arrest him inside the embassy; or that private meetings with his lawyers were illegally bugged; or how the central allegations against him that led to charges of hacking and espionage are discredited by the dodgy witness who made them; or even the truly staggering revelations that the CIA actually formed plans to kidnap and assassinate Assange in London.

Nonetheless Channel 4 News still managed to outdo the BBC and on Wednesday failed to provide any mention whatsoever of Assange’s trial on any of its pages – here’s a glimpse of their main UK page:

Channel 4 news UK page Oct 27 2021

And here is a screenshot of Channel 4 NewsYoutube channel showing uploads for the entire week – stories that cover Ethiopia, Welsh ambulances, COP26, Frances Haugen and Facebook, Rishi Sunak’s budget, UK police abuse, Nigerian bronzes “looted” by British Museum, Sudan, the Met Police… but once again, no mention at all of Julian Assange:

Channel 4 news Youtube channel Oct 28 2021

Meanwhile, the Guardian, which once worked extremely closely with Assange, supplied their readership with a small offering on what is undoubtedly the trial of the century:

Guardian home page Oct 27 2021

Coincidentally, on the very same day that Julian Assange was fighting for justice and hoping to avoid extradition and the hell of an American jail, the environmental lawyer Steven Donziger whose case I have detailed here had his own appeal rejected by a court in New York and faced imprisonment too. Once again, none of the mainstream outlets either in the UK and America has devoted any attention to this story.

Instead, the Guardian environmental page looked like this:

Guardian environment page Oct 27 2021

And if you had typed Steven Donziger into Google this is all you would see – reports from The Nation and Democracy Now! but no coverage whatsoever by any newspapers or major TV channels in America or Europe:

Google main page for Steven Donziger Oct 27 2021

Here is one of the few post-judgement reports on Donziger’s imprisonment that I can find uploaded on Youtube:

To loosely paraphrase Martin Niemöller’s famous entreaty once more: first they came for the journalists, next they came for the lawyers…

So the last week has been a terrible week for Julian Assange and Steven Donziger, and more generally a terrible week for freedom and democracy.

So far, it has been a terrible week for all of us full stop.

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Additional:

Outside the High Court on day two, Julian Assange’s partner Stella Moris, Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, and Jeremy Corbyn arrive to speak to the crowd of protesters and with RT journalists:

Awaiting the decision on Julian Assange’s extradition at the end of the two-day hearing, on Thursday evening [Oct 28th] Roger Waters, shared his thoughts in an interview with RT:

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Free Assange | The Belmarsh Tribunal

On the eve of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange’s extradition proceedings, which are set to recommence tomorrow [Wed 27th Oct] in London’s High Court, and in light of the extraordinary recent revelations of a CIA plot to kidnap and assassinate Assange while he sought political asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, last Friday [Oct 22nd] the Progressive International convened for the first physical Belmarsh Tribunal to put the case against Assange and the US ‘War on Terror’ on trial:

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Speakers included:

Former President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa;

Labour MPs, Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon & John McDonnell;

Former Labour leader and independent MP, Jeremy Corbyn;

Die Linke MEP, Özlem Demirel & former member of the Bundestag for Die Linke, Heike Hänsel;

Spokesperson for the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan, Selay Ghaffar;

Intelligence whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), Annie Machon (MI5) & Edward Snowden (NSA);

Member of Greek Parliament & co-founder of DiEM25, Yanis Varoufakis;

Former Australian Senator, Scott Ludlam;

Political writer, journalist, filmmaker and historian, Tariq Ali;

Investigative journalist for La Repubblica, Stefania Maurizi;

Human rights lawyers Renata Ávila & Ben Wizner, who is a civil liberties advocate with the ACLU; and,

British Israeli architect, Eyal Weizman, who is the director of the research agency Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The event was chaired by Croatian philosopher, author and political activist, Srećko Horvat and was streamed live by Novara Media. The partial transcript provided below is courtesy of yesterday’s Democracy Now! broadcast which can also be read and watched here in full.

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Stella Moris [partner of Julian Assange – from 1:55:50 min]:

We’re meeting five days before Julian’s — before the U.S. appeal at the High Court here in London. And I want to remind everyone that Julian won the case on January 4th, and the Trump administration, two days before leaving office, lodged the appeal. And Julian’s bail application was refused, so he’s been in prison, in Belmarsh prison, for over two-and-a-half years. …

In the last few weeks, the mask has fallen in relation to the case against Julian. It’s fallen because there was an article — well, it’s been progressively falling over the years. There is no case, as others have said. This is just a naked political persecution. But there was an article published by Yahoo News just a few weeks ago, a 7,500-word investigation with over 30 sources, named and unnamed, high-level sources from current and past U.S. administrations, from the National Security Council, from the CIA, and that story revealed that the extrajudicial assassination of Julian in London was discussed at the highest levels of the U.S. government, that the seventh floor of the CIA in Langley, which is the director’s office, requested sketches and options for how to kill Julian inside the Embassy of Ecuador. They talked about kidnapping him, too, about rendition, rendition, extraordinary rendition, which is what the CIA developed to kidnap people and take them across jurisdictions to disappear them and then put them in a black site somewhere. And the embassy was essentially a black site towards the end. I felt that anything could happen there.

Julian’s lawyers were targeted by name, not just incidentally spied on. There are emails telling the security company to target Gareth Pierce, to target Aitor Martínez, to target Julian’s legal team, and their documents were stolen. And Baltasar Garzón’s office was broken into, just as the CIA was planning to murder Julian. And our 6-month-old baby’s nappy was instructed to be stolen so that they could use that, analyze the DNA to check whether Julian was the father.

This is flagrant criminality. We’re dealing with criminals who have instrumentalized the law, instrumentalized the extradition arrangements with this country and their good relationships with this country to politically persecute an innocent man, a journalist for doing his job.

Ewen MacAskill [Pulitzer-winning journalist – from 1:08:30 min]:

Another whistleblower that I owe much to is Edward Snowden. I went to Hong Kong in 2013 with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and spent over a week holed up with Snowden in our hotel room in Hong Kong.

Whistleblowers are essential to good journalism. They allow reporters to get behind the walls of secrecy, the walls of secrecy built up by officials and press officers. The whistleblowers reveal abuses and wrongdoing within governments, companies, the military, intelligence agencies. These whistleblowers should be rewarded for their courage; instead, too often they end up facing prosecution or jail.

There’s been a war being waged against journalism and free speech that’s been going on since at least 9/11. It’s not a general war. It’s specific to national security and the intelligence agencies. The intelligence agencies are waging it to try and dissuade future leakers within the agencies, and try and dissuade the journalists covering the national security beat. And this is what Assange has been caught up in.

What Assange has been accused of is fundamentally no different from the normal interaction between whistleblowers and journalists on the national security beat. There’s no fundamental difference between what Julian Assange was doing and what I was doing. And when I was in Hong Kong with Snowden, I spent a week with him discussing the ins and outs of his work at the National Security Agency. I spent a week going through tens of thousands of secret documents. And he passed me a memory stick with tens of thousands of secret documents on it. I mean, how is that fundamentally different from the relationship between the whistleblower Chelsea Manning and the publisher Julian Assange? …

If Julian is to be prosecuted, then there’s a equally good case for the editor and journalists in The Guardian or New York Times, Der Spiegel, El País, La República and all the other organizations involved in this coverage being prosecuted, too.

Obama, in spite of his liberal background, failed to stand up to the pressure from the intelligence agencies, and he used the draconian 1917 Espionage Act and other laws against whistleblowers and journalists. In fact, Obama was responsible for more prosecutions and action against journalists and whistleblowers than all the other presidents in the U.S. combined.

Tariq Ali [from 8:00 min]:

Julian exposed another set of wars. Basically, he exposed the so-called war on terror, which began after 9/11, has lasted 20 years, has led to six wars, millions killed, trillions wasted. That is the only balance sheet of that war. Nowhere has it redeemed itself or done any good, as we’ve seen most recently in Afghanistan.

So, what do you say to people like Chelsea Manning and Julian, who’s the principal target of the legal and judicial brutalities taking place, when they reveal stuff, which everyone knows it’s true, since some of it is on video — Americans bombing Iraqi families, totally innocent — totally innocent — laughing about it and are recorded killing them? That’s a big joke. Well, it isn’t a big joke for the millions who have died in the Arab world since these 20 years of war began. And Julian, far from being indicted, should actually be a hero. He’s not the first. And if they think that punishing him in this vindictive and punitive way is going to change people’s attitudes to coming out and telling the truth, they’re wrong. …

Julian is unfortunate to be captured by this particular state and its different apparatuses in order to appease the United States of America. He should never have been kept in prison for bail. He should not be in prison now awaiting a trial for extradition. He should be released. And I hope that acts like the Belmarsh Tribunal will help to bring that nearer.

Selay Ghaffar [Solidarity Party of Afghanistan – from 14:30 min]:

Dear comrades and friends, I am thrilled and honored to join you on this historical tribunal. All Afghans, particularly the families of the war victims, expect the Belmarsh Tribunal to heal their wounds by holding the United States accountable for the thousands of innocent Afghans’ lives they destroyed and the future they stole. And I salute the Progressive International for this remarkable initiative.

In the wake of the U.S. humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, everybody asks this question: How did the two decades of the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, ended with the Taliban terrorists gaining a swift and easy victory in Afghanistan?

Well, so far, in my opinion, only one person, by the name Julian Assange, possibly had the answer to this mystery. In 2011, he unmasked the truth through a set of documents called the Afghan War Diary, where he exposed the tyrannical U.S. policy in Afghanistan and said that one of the goals behind sustaining the war was to wash money out of the tax bases of the U.S. and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of the transnational security elite.

Two decades of U.S. occupation brought us nothing but ruin and loss of lives. And while the mainstream media tried to portray a rosy picture of Afghanistan, the leaks by Assange, in contrary, revealed bloody atrocities committed by the U.S. and NATO occupying forces. For instance, in 2007, the U.S. Special Forces dropped six 2,000-pound bombs on a compound where they believed a high-value individual was hiding; however, locals reported that up to 300 civilians had been killed in this raid. None of the media reported that incident.

According to reliable sources, about 241,000 Afghans have been killed by crossfire between the U.S. forces and the Taliban, of whom 48,000 civilians have been killed by U.S. occupation forces in a number of unknown incidents. But in my belief, the real number is much, much higher, as many incidents are not reported and not documented.

Well, the U.S. occupation has also inflicted invisible wounds. In 2009, the former Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported that fully two-thirds of Afghans suffer from mental health problems. The war has exacerbated the effects of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, a lack of access to healthcare, and environmental degradation on Afghans’ health. Therefore, U.S. and NATO allies are responsible and accountable for all the past 20 years’ misery of our tormented people, particularly our ill-fated women.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to be among you all today in this tribunal. And I hope Julian Assange will be free soon. Thank you.

Jeremy Corbyn [from 18:25 min]:

Julian Assange has paid a very, very, very high price for his lifelong determination to expose the truth. Why? Is it because he has some idea that he can make himself famous by exposing the truth? Or is it something much stronger and much more moral than that, the belief that by exposing the truth, you can save lives, you can stop wars, and you can make sure that democracies function properly by holding all public officials, elected or unelected, to public account?

And that’s why the role of Julian Assange in all of this is so important. His information exposed the dishonesty surrounding the claims on Iraq. His information exposed the dishonesty of the continuing reporting of Iraq after 2003 with hidden information about the numbers of people that had died from “friendly fire” in Iraq, but also the dangers to all journalists, to everyone who believes in free speech, of the concept of the embedded journalist, embedded on an aircraft carrier, sent into a barracks or whatever else, to produce reports that are to the liking of the military.

So, those of us who want to live in a peaceful world and do not believe that a repeat of Iraq will do anything other than bring about even worse consequences than the Iraq War did are here because we want to support Julian Assange in the bravery that he’s shown and the price that he’s already paid for that bravery of ensuring that the whole world knows the truth about it.

Yanis Varoufakis [economist & Greek MP – from 49:20 min]:

A young man in Australia, a long, long time ago, well before we ever knew about WikiLeaks, had an idea: the idea of using Big Brother’s technology to create a large digital kind of mirror to turn to the face of Big Brother so as to enable us to be able to watch him watching us — a bit like turning the mirror to the face of the Medusa. WikiLeaks is based on that idea.

I remember spending a very long night with Julian in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, when he called upon me to help him decipher and transcribe a conversation between officials of the International Monetary Fund. Having spent, in the previous year, a very long time negotiating with them, listening to them on that tape that Julian had procured, through WikiLeaks, through this blind, digital post box, was such a splendid experience. It was so liberating, because I could suddenly hear with my own ears the very same officials effectively agreeing with everything that the good people of Greece were saying, that we were saying, that I had been saying to them.

Now, of course, WikiLeaks has done far more important work than simply revealing that the International Monetary Fund knew that they were committing crimes against the Greek people and other peoples, in Latin America and so on, while perpetrating them. WikiLeaks and Julian, as we know, have been persecuted for revealing to the world, especially to liberals, Democrats, Tories, social democrats — revealing to them the crimes against humanity perpetrated by our own elected leaders, in our name, behind our backs. This is why they are now killing Julian Assange.

So, our message as the Belmarsh Tribunal must not simply be one of support for Julian or a call to have him released. No, we are a tribunal. We are trying the criminals that are killing Julian, as we speak, for crimes against humanity, not just for the crime of slowly murdering Julian Assange. You are criminals, and we are going to pursue you to the end of the Earth and back for the crimes you are committing all over the world against humanity while also murdering slowly Julian Assange and other whistleblowers who are revealing your crimes.

Edward Snowden [from 2:09:15 min]:

It’s difficult to be here. I struggle to understand how we can be here, after so many years there has been. There have been so many stories told. There’s been so much criticism. There has been so much deception. And where has it brought us? Has this been constructive? Is this a victory for us, for the state, for humanity, for our rights?

When I came forward in 2013, I said the reason that I came forward was that we have a right to know that which is done to us and that which is done in our name by our governments. That was already under threat. And when you look at the world since, it seems that that trend is accelerating. Do we still have that right? Do we have any rights if we don’t defend them? Well, today we see someone who has stood up to defend that right, who has aggressively championed that right, at an extreme cost. And it’s time for us to defend his rights.

What we are witnessing is a murder that passes without comment. And I want to say that it is difficult for me to comprehend the spectacle of the press of a nation, the “developed world,” aiding and abetting, with full knowledge, a crime not only against this man, but against our public interest. However, at this moment that we are, we all see this. We all feel it. It’s no less familiar than the shoes on my feet.

Everywhere we look, from Afghanistan to economics, from pandemic to pervasive surveillance, the obvious has been made unspeakable. And it has become unspeakable because the truth of our circumstances could be taken as evidence in the defense of the actions of the out of favor. And in the eyes of the American state, few represent this class, a greater object of hatred, than the person of Julian Assange. He has been charged as a political criminal — something that I understand quite well, but he has been charged as the purest sort of political criminal, for having committed the transgression of choosing the wrong side.

The charges, which are — they are absolutely an unadorned legal fiction. We are told to believe that the state has these powers over what can be said and what can’t be said, the things that can and cannot be said. But what happens if we permit that? Where does that lead? What are we? Can we be said to be free, if even our power to express ourselves, to understand the facts of our world, can be fenced off from us, and we look beyond, through the gauze, through the veil, at what could be the facts of the world, but we’re not permitted to acquire them?

Julian Assange did not accept that. And the charges against him reduce to an allegation to commit the crime of journalism in the first degree, which is to say, when we look at it applied elsewhere, the same sort of publication of classified material that we see in The New York Times or The Washington Post, aggravated by a conspiracy to accomplish the same, which is simply uncovering an uncomfortable truth. But something distinguishes Julian Assange from the greatest newspapers of our day, and that is his independence. Julian Assange is not a person who will be told no lightly.

I remember, in the case of 2013, when I came forward and revealed evidence of mass surveillance, which the government of my country had constructed the apparatus of mass surveillance, an entire scheme that spanned the globe, with the participation of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and, of course, the United Kingdom. And when the newspapers of all of these countries began publishing these things, one of the papers who held the archived material originally included The Guardian, who was headquartered in the United Kingdom, still is. And I remember reading a story — of course, I wasn’t there for it personally; I’m getting this secondhand — who knows what we can rely on, the state of journalism as it is today? But they were approached by the British state, who said, “OK, OK, you’ve had your fun. You’ve done enough. Now it’s time to stop.” And they had to send their archival material away to the United States, to a partner publication, because they no longer believed that they were safe to continue publishing. And they were right. Agents in the British state went to The Guardian. They destroyed their laptop computers. They’ve got it all on film, the putting angle grinders to computer chips, trying to erase any trace that these stories had been written from within the confines of the newsroom.

Now, Julian was not deterred by that, and he never would be. When you perform the level of surveillance against a person that has clearly been performed, and is being performed even today, certainly in prison, against Julian Assange, you understand at least something about their character. You understand what the breaking point is. You know what it will take to make them bend. And he didn’t bend. He will break before he does. He has consistently and continuously dared to speak the unspeakable, in the face of opposition, in the face of power. And that is a remarkable and rare thing. That is the reason that Julian Assange sits in prison today.

If you love the truth, as I think everyone here does — you wouldn’t be listening to this, you wouldn’t be watching this, you wouldn’t be participating in this, you wouldn’t care about this, unless something in you told you that something important was happening here. And if you do care, as I think you do, you are a criminal of the same category as Julian Assange. In the eyes of the state, what differentiates you, what divides you from him, that is only the degree. We share the same guilt. Each of us share in the crime. And we are unindicted co-conspirators in his quest to raise a lantern in the halls of power.

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Mansoor Adayfi: kidnapped as a teen, sold to the CIA by Afghan warlords and held without charge at Guantánamo for 14 years

cranes by a coastal landscape - artwork by Mansoor Adayfi

We, as prisoners, or detainees, we weren’t just the victims at Guantánamo. There are also guards and camp staff, were also victims of Guantánamo itself. You know, that war situation or condition brought us together and proved that we’re all human and we share the same humanity, first.

This is the verdict of Mansoor Adayfi, who had been abducted as a teenager, imprisoned, interrogated and tortured, kept in solitary confinement, force-fed, and finally released without charge from the CIA gulag of so-called ‘black sites’. Speaking to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, he continues:

Also, Amy, a simple question: What makes a human as a human, make Amy as Amy, make Mansoor as Mansoor, makes the guys in there as individual and person, you know? What makes you as a human, and uniquely, is your name, your language, your faith, your morals, your ethics, your memories, your relationships, your knowledge, your experience, basically, your family, also what makes a person as a person.

At Guantánamo, when you arrive there, imagine, the system was designed to strip us of who we are. You know, even our names was taken. We became numbers. You’re not allowed to practice religion. You are not allowed to talk. You’re not allowed to have relationships. So, to the extent we thought, if they were able to control our thought, they would have done it.

So, we arrived at Guantánamo. One of the things people still don’t know about Guantánamo, we had no shared life before Guantánamo. Everything was different, was new and unknown and scary unknown, you know? So, we started developing some kind of relationship with each other at Guantánamo between — among us, like prisoners or brothers, and with the guards, too, because when guards came to work at Guantánamo, they became part of our life, part of our memories. That will never go away. The same thing, we become part of their life, become memories.

Before the guards arrived at Guantánamo, they were told — some of them were taken to the 9/11 site, ground zero, and they were told the one who has done this are in Guantánamo. Imagine, when they arrive at Guantánamo, they came with a lot of hate and courage and revenge.

But when they live with us and watch us every day eat, drink, sleep, get beaten, get sick, screaming, yelling, interrogated, torture, you know, also they are humans. You know, the camp administration, they cannot lie to them forever. So the guards also, when they lived with us, they found out that they are not the men we were told they’re about. Some of them, you know, were apologizing to us. Some of them, we formed strong friendships with them. Some of them converted to Islam.

The military rules is cruel. And they treat those guards as a product, not humans, you know? Even those guards, when they — some of them went to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. When they came back, we saw how they changed. When I grew up and became my thirties, when they used to bring younger guards, I looked at them as like younger brothers and sisters, and always told them, like, “Please, get out of the military, because it’s going to devastate you. I have seen many people change.”

Adayfi, the author of the new memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, says Guantánamo was not only constructed as a prison and torture site but reminds us how under the direction of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, it was used as a US research lab for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EIT) and other forms of unusual punishment of detainees. Moreover, when army captain James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, had courageously spoken out against these crimes, he was in turn falsely accused of stealing classified documents, denounced and punished as a collaborator:

I remember, the first time I talked to James Yee, I was taken to the interrogation room, stripped naked, and they put me in a — we call it the satanic room, where they have like stars, signs, candles, a crazy guy come in like white crazy clothes reciting something. So, they also used to throw the Holy Qur’an on the ground, and, you know, they tried to pressure us to — you know, like, they were experimenting, basically. When I met James Yee, I told him, “Look, that won’t happen with us that way.”

James Yee tried to — he was protesting against the torture at Guantánamo. General Miller, the one who was actually developing enhanced interrogation technique, enhanced torture technique, saw that James Yee, as a chaplain, is going to be a problem. So he was accused as sympathizer with terrorists. He was arrested, detained and interrogated. This is American Army captain, a graduate of West Point University, came to serve at Guantánamo to serve his own country, was — because of Muslim background, he was accused of terrorism and was detained and imprisoned. This is this American guy. Imagine what would happen to us at that place.

So, when they took James Yee, we protested. We asked to bring him back, because the lawyers told us what happened for him after like one year. We wrote letters to the camp administration, to the White House, to the Security Council, to the United Nations — to everyone, basically.

Today Mansoor Adayfi works as the Guantánamo Project coordinator at CAGE, an organization that advocates on behalf of victims of the ‘war on terror’. Wearing an orange scarf during the interview, he says he likes to wear orange – inside the camp he had been told by a psychologist then whenever he saw the colour, it would traumatise him again, to which his response was, “No, this is part of my life, and I will never let Guantánamo change me.” Adayfi and his fellow inmates also found solace in music and painting:

People who were at Guantánamo, they were artists, singers, doctors, nurses, divers, mafia, drug addicts, teachers, scholars, poets. That diversity of culture interacted with each other, melted and formed what we call Guantánamo culture, what I call “the beautiful Guantánamo.”

Imagine, I’m going to sing now two songs, please. Imagine we used to have celebrate once a week, night, to escape away pain of being in jail, try to have some kind of like — to take our minds from being in cages, torture, abuses. So, we had one night a week, in a week, to us, like in the block. So, we just started singing in Arabic, English, Pashto, Urdu, Farsi, French, all kind of languages, poets in different languages, stories. People danced, from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, to rap, to all kind. It’s like, imagine you hear in one block 48 detainees. You heard those beautiful songs in different languages. It just — it was captivating.

However, the interrogators took it as a challenge. We weren’t challenging them. We were just trying to survive. This was a way of surviving, because we had only each other. The things we brought with us at Guantánamo, whether our faith, whether our knowledge, our memories, our emotions, our relationships, who we are, helped us to survive. We had only each other.

prisoners under a starry sky - artwork by Mansoor Adayfi

Also, the guard was part of survival, because they play a role in that by helping someone held sometimes and singing with us sometimes. We also had the art classes. I think you heard about the — especially in that time when we get access to classes, we paint. So, those things helped us to survive at that place.

Hope also. Hope, it was a matter of life or death. You know, you have to keep hoping. You know that place was designed just to take your hope away, so you can see the only hope is through the interrogators, through Americans. We said, “No, it’s not going to happen that way.” So we had to support each other, try to stay alive.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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Additional: the case of Abu Zubaydah, the first post-9/11 CIA torture victim

On Wednesday [Oct 6th] The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case brought by Abu Zubaydah, the Guantánamo prisoner who was the first subject of the CIA’s torture programme. Zubaydah’s legal team has spent years trying to obtain testimony from two psychologists, Drs James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who helped the CIA design and implement his torture, and the Biden administration is continuing the Trump’s administration strategy to keep key information about Zubaydah’s torture in Poland classified despite the fact that the two psychologists are willing to testify:

On Thursday, Democracy Now! spoke with Abu Zubaydah’s attorney, Joe Margulies, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Raymond Bonner, who has long followed the case – the segment is embedded above.

Raymond Bonner, who assisted Alex Gibney in making a new documentary, The Forever Prisoner, about the case, provides the background story on how Abu Zubaydah – the first terrorist suspect captured after the 9/11 attacks – was quickly rendered to a secret site in Thailand, where he was then subjected to relentless bouts of torture:

Soon after he got there is when James Mitchell and then Bruce Jessen showed up and began the interrogation. And as Joe just pointed out, it was very interesting yesterday in the argument to hear, and Justice Barrett included, talking straight about torture. What happened to Zubaydah was torture. There was none of this euphemisms like EITs, you know, enhanced interrogation techniques. And he was the guinea pig, in a way. This is where Mitchell designed the program and tested the program of torture.

You know, Amy [Goodman], it’s always struck me that a lot is made of the 83 times he was waterboarded. If you read what was done to him, read in the government cables that were sent at the time, I mean, to me, the waterboarding was almost benign. I mean, they kept him sleepless. They put him in a small coffin-sized box for hours, overnight. He couldn’t move. They hung him by the cell bars with his feet dangling off the ground. I mean, it got to the point it was so bad, that Mitchell would just snap his fingers, and Zubaydah would act, would get onto the waterboard. I mean, what they did to him was far worse, in my view, than waterboarding.

And then, when journalists started to get onto the story about a secret prison — and you’ve got to remember, this was back in 2002, and we didn’t know about secret prisons and black sites. And when they found out about it and started to ask questions, then the CIA moved him to Poland, and quietly, of course, secretly, which leads to the case, as Joe has described, that’s in the Supreme Court, that was heard in the Supreme Court yesterday.

But if I could say one more thing about yesterday’s argument, in addition to the three points Joe raised, I was gobsmacked when they started asking the lawyers about Zubaydah’s habeas petition. Fourteen years ago — Justice Roberts asked about it, too: “Well, hasn’t he filed a habeas petition?” Yes, he has — 14 years ago. And Joe Margulies was his lawyer then. Fourteen years, and the court has yet to rule on his habeas petition. And it’s — “unprecedented” is always dangerous to say, because somebody will find a case that’s taken longer than 14 years. But it’s just staggering that for 14 years you have had two judges have now had the case in the D.C. District Court, the federal court in Washington, D.C., and they’ve yet to rule.

You know why? The cables are there. Because in 2002, Mitchell and the CIA interrogators in Thailand sent a cable to Washington saying, “We’re about to do these EITs,” the torture of this guy. “He might die,” they said. “He might die. And if he does, we’re going to cremate him. And if he doesn’t, we want assurances that he will never be in a position to tell his story.” And Langley cabled back: “You have the assurances of everyone here that he will be held incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” And that is exactly what is happening. We’re never going to hear from Abu Zubaydah. I would be stunned if he’s allowed to testify.

After this spell in Thailand, Zubaydah had then been transferred to a ‘black site’ located somewhere in Poland. His lawyer, Joe Margulies picks up the story:

What Ray describes is exactly right, but what he’s describing is the torture that took place in Thailand, which was the first black site. Abu Zubaydah was the first person thrown into a black site, the first person to have his interrogation, quote, “enhanced.” And we know a fair amount about what happened to him at Thailand.

But we don’t know what happened to him in Poland. We know that, in testimony, James Mitchell described it, just said that Abu Zubaydah was treated very shabbily. But he uses those kind of euphemisms for the most grotesque torture. And that’s all he says. But no one has ever questioned him about what went on in Poland. The Polish prosecutor knows where the site was. He knows when it operated. But inside the cell, he doesn’t know. There were only three people there. It was Abu Zubaydah, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. And they won’t let Abu Zubaydah testify. So if we’re going to get at what happened there, we have to get it from James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who, I should say, are perfectly willing to provide this testimony. When we sought their testimony in this case, they said, “We have no objection. We’re happy to tell you. We’re happy to sit down for a deposition.” It was the United States government that intervened and said, “No, their testimony is a state secret, and you can’t have any of it.”

The other thing I would want to observe — it’s important to remember this — even Mitchell and Jessen, when they were torturing him in Thailand, after six days of virtually 24-hour-a-day torture, they decided that they were done, that they had emptied the content of his head. And they had concluded that they had gotten all the information they needed from him, or all the information he had left — he had to give. And they cabled that to CIA headquarters in Langley. And Mitchell believes it was Jose Rodriguez who cabled back — someone in the Alec Station — who, in James Mitchell’s words, “You guys are a bunch of pussies. You’ve got to continue this. Blood is going to be on your hands if there’s another attack. Keep torturing him.” And so they did, for another two weeks. And what they eventually concluded is that Abu Zubaydah was telling the truth all along. Contrary to what they believed when they started torturing him, he was not a member of al-Qaeda. He had no involvement with the planning for 9/11. He’s never been a member of al-Qaeda. He is ideologically opposed to al-Qaeda, which is what he had been saying. And they eventually concluded that that was true.

The suppression of information relating to this case as well as the denial of justice continues under Biden, just as it did under Trump. As Margulies says:

Our litigation began during the Trump administration. And the Trump administration sought the review in the United States Supreme Court, and there was the passing of the baton between Trump and Biden, while the case was pending. And the Biden administration picked up the Trump administration’s argument and doubled down on it. So, there’s no — there’s no window. There’s no air between the two administrations.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the same interview at the Democracy Now! website.

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Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi was also tortured and detained for 13 years without charges

The United States repatriated Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi, to Tunisia on June 15, 2015, after 13 years in custody without charges or trial. El Gherissi, 52, here recounts being severely beaten with batons, threatened with an electric chair, subjected to various forms of water torture, and being chained by his arms to the ceiling of his cell for a long period. He has received no compensation or support for his wrongful detention or the torture he endured. At the time of filming in October 2016, he was destitute, unable to work, and experiencing the consequences of serious physical and emotional trauma that he says is a direct result of his treatment in US custody:

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Filed under Afghanistan, Poland, Thailand, USA

Afghanistan: the war you didn’t see

A war that began with the massacre of hundreds of captured Taliban soldiers who were crammed into shipping containers and left to suffocate under the baking desert sun – the containers vented with machine gun fire once the victims pleaded for air – now ends with the targeted drone killing of a family and credible reports of the indiscriminate shooting of dozens more innocent civilians in the ensuing pandemonium after Thursday’s ISIS-K suicide bombing:

With the spotlight now fixed on Afghanistan and Kabul in particular, these latest atrocities have received an uncommon level of mainstream coverage, shedding light on what the public is only seldom permitted to see. These images and reports present us with the true face of the West’s dirty war and a glimpse of the day-to-day evils of a foreign occupation. They should also lead to the following questions:

How many more men, women and children have been casually butchered by “soldiers” an ocean away playing computer games for real in their air-conditioned offices? Moreover, what warfare could ever be more asymmetric than the cowardly terrorisation of a population by drones?

How many innocent others have been mown down by the indiscriminate fire of automatic weapons, whether unleashed by panicked troops or else with cold-blooded deliberation?

And lastly, how many more horrific war crimes have been perpetrated by western troops or their “allies” in the vast wilderness of the Afghan deserts?

As Harold Pinter said in his Nobel Prize winning speech delivered in 2005:

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.

Continuing:

The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

Watch it above and read it in full here – it is without doubt one of the greatest political speeches of all-time.

Update:

Glenn Greenwald contrasts the US media’s immediate embrace of the Biden administration’s false claim that its Afghan drone strike killed no civilians, with its polar-opposite Trump-era posture of extreme scepticism:

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In 2011, investigative journalist and filmmaker John Pilger released a documentary entitled “The War You Don’t See” in which he exposed the western media’s central role and historic complicity in manufacturing consent for wars.

In the film, he says:

“We journalists… have to be brave enough to defy those who seek our collusion in selling their latest bloody adventure in someone else’s country… That means always challenging the official story, however patriotic that story may appear, however seductive and insidious it is. For propaganda relies on us in the media to aim its deceptions not at a far away country but at you at home… In this age of endless imperial war, the lives of countless men, women and children depend on the truth or their blood is on us… Those whose job it is to keep the record straight ought to be the voice of people, not power.”

Framing the current plight of the people of Afghanistan within its broader political and historical context, Pilger writes in his latest article:

As a tsunami of crocodile tears engulfs Western politicians, history is suppressed. More than a generation ago, Afghanistan won its freedom, which the United States, Britain and their “allies” destroyed.

In 1978, a liberation movement led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the dictatorship of Mohammad Dawd, the cousin of King Zahir Shar. It was an immensely popular revolution that took the British and Americans by surprise.

Foreign journalists in Kabul, reported the New York Times, were surprised to find that “nearly every Afghan they interviewed said [they were] delighted with the coup”. The Wall Street Journal reported that “150,000 persons … marched to honour the new flag …the participants appeared genuinely enthusiastic.”

The Washington Post reported that “Afghan loyalty to the government can scarcely be questioned”. Secular, modernist and, to a considerable degree, socialist, the government declared a programme of visionary reforms that included equal rights for women and minorities. Political prisoners were freed and police files publicly burned.

Under the monarchy, life expectancy was thirty-five; one in three children died in infancy. Ninety per cent of the population was illiterate. The new government introduced free medical care. A mass literacy campaign was launched.

For women, the gains had no precedent; by the late 1980s, half the university students were women, and women made up 40 per cent of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70 per cent of its teachers and 30 per cent of its civil servants.

So radical were the changes that they remain vivid in the memories of those who benefited. Saira Noorani, a female surgeon who fled Afghanistan in 2001, recalled:

Every girl could go to high school and university. We could go where we wanted and wear what we liked … We used to go to cafes and the cinema to see the latest Indian films on a Friday … it all started to go wrong when the mujahedin started winning … these were the people the West supported.

For the United States, the problem with the PDPA government was that it was supported by the Soviet Union. Yet it was never the “puppet” derided in the West, neither was the coup against the monarchy “Soviet backed”, as the American and British press claimed at the time.

President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, later wrote in his memoirs: “We had no evidence of any Soviet complicity in the coup.”

In the same administration was Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser, a Polish émigré and fanatical anti-communist and moral extremist whose enduring influence on American presidents expired only with his death in 2017.

On 3 July 1979, unknown to the American people and Congress, Carter authorised a $500 million “covert action” programme to overthrow Afghanistan’s first secular, progressive government.  This was code-named by the CIA Operation Cyclone.

The $500 million bought, bribed and armed a group of tribal and religious zealots known as the mujahedin. In his semi-official history, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward wrote that the CIA spent $70 million on bribes alone. He describes a meeting between a CIA agent known as “Gary” and a warlord called Amniat-Melli:

Gary placed a bundle of cash on the table: $500,000 in one-foot stacks of $100 bills. He believed it would be more impressive than the usual $200,000, the best way to say we’re here, we’re serious, here’s money, we know you need it … Gary would soon ask CIA headquarters for and receive $10 million in cash.

Recruited from all over the Muslim world, America’s secret army was trained in camps in Pakistan run by Pakistani intelligence, the CIA and Britain’s MI6. Others were recruited at an Islamic College in Brooklyn, New York – within sight of the doomed Twin Towers. One of the recruits was a Saudi engineer called Osama bin Laden.

The aim was to spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and destabilise and eventually destroy the Soviet Union.

Aptly entitled “The Great Game of Smashing Countries”, I very much encourage readers to follow the link to the full article and so will merely add Pilger’s concluding remarks:

The invasion of Afghanistan was a fraud. In the wake of 9/11, the Taliban sought to distant themselves from Osama bin Laden. They were, in many respects, an American client with which the administration of Bill Clinton had done a series of secret deals to allow the building of a $3 billion natural gas pipeline by a US oil company consortium.

In high secrecy, Taliban leaders had been invited to the US and entertained by the CEO of the Unocal company in his Texas mansion and by the CIA at its headquarters in Virginia. One of the deal-makers was Dick Cheney, later George W. Bush’s Vice-President.

In 2010, I was in Washington and arranged to interview the mastermind of Afghanistan’s modern era of suffering, Zbigniew Brzezinski. I quoted to him his autobiography in which he admitted that his grand scheme for drawing the Soviets into Afghanistan had created “a few stirred up Muslims”.

“Do you have any regrets?” I asked.

“Regrets! Regrets! What regrets?”

When we watch the current scenes of panic at Kabul airport, and listen to journalists and generals in distant TV studios bewailing the withdrawal of “our protection”, isn’t it time to heed the truth of the past so that all this suffering never happens again?

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article published by Counterpunch on Wednesday August 25th.

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Additional:

On August 27th, independent journalist Katie Halper spoke with three-times Nobel Peace Prize nominated peace activist Kathy Kelly, who since 2010 has made thirteen trips to Afghanistan, and with anti-war veteran and author Danny Sjursen. They discussed the true motives behind the Afghanistan War and carefully deconstructed the media narrative about women’s rights and human rights:

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, John Pilger, USA

failure in Afghanistan was inevitable yet the noble lies of the “war on terror” persist

In the last few days we have heard a great deal about the plight of Afghanistan, which is in stark contrast to the last two decades when there has been next to no news reporting from this war-torn and beleaguered nation. The officially recorded quarter of a million lives lost in the last twenty years of western invasion and occupation have mostly happened unseen; the millions more soldiers and civilians who lost their limbs, eyes, genitals or were otherwise mutilated by shrapnel and high explosives and others who fell victim to shadowy CIA-backed death squads have likewise hardly received any mention.

On December 18th 2020, Democracy Now! spoke to Andrew Quilty of The Intercept about his shocking exposé of how CIA-backed death squads in Afghanistan have killed children as young as eight-years old in a series of night raids on madrassas, which are Islamic religious schools:

Yet it is only in the aftermath of America’s shambolic and humiliating exit when suddenly there is any outpouring of expressed concern for the plight of women and children (in particular), as if all the drones and the air strikes and the CIA black sites and Trump’s “mother of all bombs” were their last and only salvation from the admittedly monstrous Taliban. And I say admittedly monstrous, but again, these are strictly speaking our monsters; ones America trained and funded to be the cat’s paw that ultimately defeated the Soviet Union.

As Hillary Clinton admitted an interview to Fox News: “we have helped to create the problem we are now fighting”:

And here is a different statement made by Hillary Clinton justifying the US support for the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets under Operation Cyclone:

Click here and here to watch different uploads of the same clips available on DailyMotion.

More recently the western powers have trained, funded and also provided air support for comparable and arguably worse Islamist factions in order to bring about regime change in Libya and to attempt another overthrow in Syria – if you’ve never heard of it, look up Timber Sycamore. This is how western foreign policy operates covertly today.

For a better perspective on moral responsibility, here is Noam Chomsky’s response to a concerned pro-war critic speaking at a forum held on October 18th 2001 (the war began on October 7th) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):

Click here to watch the full debate. The excerpt above is from 3:50 mins of the second part which is a Q+A session.

The extreme levels of hypocrisy and ahistorical revisionism surrounding the Afghan War (so often downplayed as merely an “intervention”) make the task of unravelling the truth a difficult one, so I shall leave it to two US war veterans turned activists to supply the details.

Mike Prysner served in Iraq and afterwards became co-founder of March Forward!, an organisation of active-duty members of the U.S. military and veterans that encourages current active-duty service personnel to resist deployment. Stan Goff retired from the US Army in February 1996. A veteran of the US occupation of Vietnam, he also served in seven other conflict areas.

In an interview with Katie Halper (embedded below), Mike Prysner addresses a range of questions that cover the true historical background to conflict, the serious issues around women’s rights, and gives valuable insight into how for more than a decade the war was officially but secretly acknowledged as a failure. In more sardonic tone, Stan Goff gives praise to Biden for finally ending the perpetual war and considers the true repercussions of the US withdrawal. Please skip down the page for these excellent pieces.

Update: On Thursday 19th, Novara Media spoke with British Labour MP Clive Lewis, a veteran of the Afghanistan War who did not get a chance to speak during the previous day’s parliamentary debate:

My purpose here is instead to scrutinise the latent ideology that actually drove the West into this well-named “graveyard of empires” and that entirely inflamed the “war on terror”. Once this is properly understood, it becomes clear that as Joe Biden confessed in his recent White House speech on Monday 16th:

Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building.  It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy.

Of course, for these candid admissions, Biden has received furious bipartisan opprobrium from the usual hand-wringing politicians and media alike, although this part of his statement is nothing more than the unvarnished truth.

Moreover, when George W Bush told the world two decades ago that America was hunting down Osama Bin Laden “wanted: dead or alive”, he was clearly playing both to an audience traumatised by the attacks of 9/11 and one brought up on Hollywood stories where the guys with the white hats are unimpeachably good and always win.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the neo-con faction who seized power were eager to launch a global US-led military offensive on the pretext of a “new Pearl Harbor” that neatly fitted the one outlined in their own document Rebuilding America’s Defenses published almost precisely one year earlier.

Furthermore, if the Afghanis were the immediate victims of this neo-con strategy that got the ball rolling on “the New American Century”, then even from the outset it was abundantly clear that the next target would be Iraq. In a letter to President Bush dated September 20th (scarcely more than a week after 9/11), the neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) led by William Kristol and Rober Kagan already implored the president to ramp up his “war on terrorism”, specifying:

We agree that a key goal, but by no means the only goal, of the current war on terrorism should be to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and to destroy his network of associates. To this end, we support the necessary military action in Afghanistan and the provision of substantial financial and military assistance to the anti-Taliban forces in that country.

Continuing in the next paragraph under the heading “Iraq”:

We agree with Secretary of State [Colin] Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Clearly then, the neo-cons were not interested in “justice” (the official spin) but determined to embark on a vast neo-imperialist project that in their own terms would bring about a Pax Americana. However even this is a lie, of course, as they knew perfectly well too, since peace was never a serious concern. But the neo-cons unflinchingly justified every deception in terms their intellectual progenitor Leo Strauss espoused: for these were “noble lies”.

Significantly, the neo-cons are the direct heirs of Strauss and not only because Paul Wolfowitz was one of his most notable students. Strauss’s uncompromising worldview is the main inspiration to the whole neo-con ideology. In order to better understand their methods and motives, therefore, we must take a closer look at Straussian philosophy.

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In 2003, Danny Postel, who is Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, and former senior editor of openDemocracy, produced an extended article based on an interview with Shadia Drury, professor of political theory at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan and a leading scholarly critic of Leo Strauss.

The article entitled “Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neo-cons, and Iraq” is a really excellent one and its significance is very much resonant today – why? Because although the discussion surrounds the illegal Iraq invasion, it considers the motives of the same cast of neo-cons who launched the “war on terror” against Afghanistan; both conflicts clearly intended to deliver corresponding geopolitical ends.

Of course, it more or less goes without saying that the “war on terror” was an absolute godsend for the military-industrial complex. As America’s most decorated general Smedley Butler told us: war is a racket! – which is always the bottom line.

Top 5 US Defence Contractors shock market gains since 2001

But what of the ideology behind the neo-cons and the importance of Leo Strauss? Well, the key to following their methods, and to seeing why their approach has been so succesful in inculcating a pro-war consciousness amongst the liberal classes, lies in understanding their basic stratification of society into three layers: the wise few (the elite, and in their terms, rightful rulers), the vulgar many (the majority), and the gentlemen. Crucially, it is role of the gentlemen to be the unwitting enablers, who, according to this scheme, although well-intentioned are simply useful idiots who are manipulated to achieve the desired ends for the ruling elite. As Shadia Drury says:

“There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the higher pleasures, which amount to consorting with their puppies or young initiates.

“The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society that is, the illusions of the cave [reference to Plato’s cave]. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

“The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.”

She continues:

“For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.”

Drury then considers Strauss’s immediate philosophical influences, before summarising his general political outlook as follows:

“Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and creature comforts. Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

“This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

“I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.”

Understood in this context, it is perfectly easy to see why the neo-cons would be keen to initiate conflicts that might then go on indefinitely. Although Drury herself offers a caveat saying that factions within the neo-cons may also have somewhat different aspirations; ones that more closely align with those ‘the gentlemen’ are in fact encouraged to believe:

“I think that the neo-conservatives are for the most part genuine in wanting to spread the American commercial model of liberal democracy around the globe. They are convinced that it is the best thing, not just for America, but for the world. Naturally, there is a tension between these idealists and the more hard-headed realists within the administration.

“I contend that the tensions and conflicts within the current administration reflect the differences between the surface teaching, which is appropriate for gentlemen, and the nocturnal or covert teaching, which the philosophers alone are privy to. It is very unlikely for an ideology inspired by a secret teaching to be entirely coherent.”

To sum up then, the chief architects of the “war on terror” which began in Afghanistan hold views that are (in Drury’s own terms) wholly fascistic, although into that mix we must admit that some do believe in globalised neoliberalism. Soft or hard, the imperialist desire is both undeniable and unrestrained.

I have appended an unabridged version of their “guide to his influence on US neo-conservatism” that takes the form of Q+A interview with all highlights and links retained at the end and recommend reading it all – indeed following the link to read the original article.

*

Understanding Afghanistan with Anti-war Iraq Veteran Mike Prysner

On August 16th, political commentator Katie Halper invited Mike Prysner, an Iraq veteran, anti-war activist and organiser, producer of Empire Files and co-host of the Eyes Left Podcast to share his thoughts on the war in Afghanistan, what needed to happen, and what needs to happen next. Their discussion features in the first 45 minutes of the video upload embedded below. I have also produced a full transcript with relevant links included.

Katie Halper: [from 2:05 mins]

I just wanted to know your perspective on this as someone who was an anti-war former soldier, a current veteran – I guess you’re always a veteran – what you thought of what’s happening in Afghanistan. If you could just set up where we are right now and I guess the question I have is what could have been done? What should have been done? And what needs to happen now?

Mike Prysner: [from 2:30 mins]

I just want to say from the outset that I wasn’t in Afghanistan – I was in Iraq. I joined the army two months before the September 11th attacks in 2001, so I witnessed the Afghanistan war from an inside perspective. From the beginning, even though I was sent to, as Obama called it, ‘the dumb war’, instead of ‘the smart war’ which is Afghanistan: that whole framing…

But I’ve been super-engaged in this issue for the duration because after I separated from the military in 2005 and became a part of the anti-war movement, since then [I’ve been] very much a part of organising around the Afghanistan war specifically – so mobilisations for the anniversary of Afghanistan, but in particular, working with active-duty soldiers who were deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq. And so, I got that inside perspective of organising with Afghanistan veterans who were then returning to the country, helping them resist orders to go, and still to this day I’m in touch with that community.

I know a lot of people normally don’t talk about Afghanistan – a lot of people are talking about it now who never talked about it before. But my engagement with the issue of Afghanistan was always around creating media content and agitation directed at active-duty soldiers who were about to deploy. So having to follow the issue very closely because we were literally on a military bases talking to soldiers who were having orders to go – and talking to them about their options for why they should not go, and all the political and strategic reasons why they shouldn’t as well.

My take on what’s happening now is… what we’re seeing now is what we knew back in Obama’s first term. You know I think in 2009-2010 there was probably still some hope among the Pentagon establishment that the war could be turned around. I mean the Taliban were dispersed within the first months of the US invasion, but then once they started mounting a comeback there was probably some belief in the Pentagon brass that they could turn the war around and emerge victorious.

But by 2011, it was clear to the military establishment – the top generals, the commanders, all of them – they knew that they couldn’t win. They knew that they could never defeat the Taliban. They knew that the only possible victory that the US military and US government could get out of Afghanistan was putting enough military pressure on the Taliban where the Taliban would enter a power-sharing agreement. Where they’d say okay we get 50% of the new government and the US-backed puppet government will get 50%.

So that since about 2010 that’s what the US has been pursuing. The troop surge in Afghanistan – all these massive strategies that led to large numbers of people dying on US and Afghan sides and the Nato side – all of that was on the understanding that the US couldn’t actually defeat the Taliban. All they could do was maybe give them enough of a bloody nose where the Taliban would concede and say maybe we’ll do a 50/50 government. So that’s really been the goal of the war for the entire time.

You know in 2011, is when there is this major report came out by a guy named Lieutenant-Colonel [Daniel] Davis, and he was tasked by the Pentagon to travel to every province in Afghanistan – travel 9,000 miles across the country – and give an honest assessment of how everything was going. And he came back and he went out to the media and he said ‘we’ve got to get out now’. He’s like ‘I’ve seen the war more than anyone else – for a longer period of years than anyone else – and we have lost and there is no possibility for us to win’. I mean this is back in 2011 that he did this.

From that point on the Pentagon knew that there was no military victory against the Taliban and the best they could do was unity government. Even that seemed almost impossible to accomplish because the Afghan puppet forces were not reliable, they weren’t capable, and you know the Taliban were just a strong resistance force. And that knew then too that if there was a US withdrawal the very situation we are seeing today would happen.

You know in 2019, we had the Pentagon Papers [aka Afghanistan Papers], the bombshell revelation that came out, which made a little bit of a media splash but not much – you know Joe Biden was very much implicated in the Pentagon Papers as one of the people who helped cover up how badly the Afghanistan war was going. He got one debate question the Primary that was hammering him for it, but he never really had to answer for that.

For those who don’t know, really what the Pentagon Papers revealed was that, particularly throughout the Obama administration, all of the generals were going to the White House and saying ‘by every metric we have lost the war – by every metric’ and the Obama administration went back and said ‘well create a metric that has us winning the war’. So they created all these false charts for progress of oh, we built this many schools compared to five years before, so that shows we’re winning! They just created all these fake rationales to show there was progress. To deceive the American people into thinking there was some hope for a victory in Afghanistan, while they knew all along they were just lying to the American people.

So, for example, the maps that we are seeing now of how quickly the Taliban took over – where you see the provinces outlined – and saying two months ago the Afghan government controlled all of these provinces and now it’s all Taliban controlled – I mean most of those have been under Taliban control forever – as the Pentagon Papers show, the US is just lying about what provinces the US-backed Afghan government controlled. So this has been, of course, a dire situation for the US for a long time.

For the United States they know that it looks bad for the image of the empire. A war that they can’t win – to just be bogged down for twenty years in a military quagmire where we can talk about how badly they were losing – but when they try to go out into the countryside they are hammered and kicked back to the main bases and then they could have dealt with maybe this endless stalemate situation, but that looks back for the empire. And so for a long time the Pentagon has acknowledged that they need to retreat. They need to leave.

And really this is what happened under Obama, when Obama announced his troop surge – his flooding of soldiers into every remote area of Afghanistan – like bulking up troop numbers to 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan bolstered by a lot of Nato forces too – because it wasn’t just a defeat for the US but every other major imperialist army was a part of this. You know when Obama announced we are going to do this troop surge but then we’re going to leave in two years – announcing the end of the war – they knew that they are going to be retreating and so it’s very similar to the Vietnam war where once the White House and the Pentagon knew ‘we’ve lost – we can’t win’ instead of just saying ‘well if we’ve lost and we can’t win and the outcome of a conquest by our enemies is the same no matter what, [so] why don’t we  just leave right now and stop killing people and stop having our own people [killed]’ but the hubris of the American political machine doesn’t allow that.

I mean what President wants to admit defeat at the hands of an insurgency that’s using rifles from a hundred years ago? No-one wants to be in that position of admitting defeat and so what we’ve seen over the past more than a decade has really been a slow-motion retreat by the US empire. Knowing that eventually they are going to fully leave, but like Nixon did, the strategy of ‘peace through honour’, meaning ‘yes we’ve lost, we’ve got to end the war, but we’re going to kill a bunch more people on our way out, so it doesn’t seem like the empire has been defeated so badly’.

So that’s really been the strategy [with] an acceptance that the US would eventually leave…

[connection problems briefly cut the conversation]

Katie Halper: [from 10:40 mins]

I was listening to you on Brian Becker’s show on his podcast [embedded immediately below], and I don’t know if I ever knew this, or I don’t know if my politics were so naive that I didn’t think this was a big deal, but I didn’t realise that… the Taliban said that they were willing to give up Osama Bin Laden and the United States said ‘we refuse to negotiate with terrorists’ – again, it shouldn’t have been shocking, but it was shocking. Can you talk about that and what the significance is and what it reveals about the United States’ motives in Afghanistan?

Mike Prysner: [from 11:20 mins]

Yeah. Well, it’s important to remind people that the Taliban had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks – no role in it. Of course, Bin Laden from being essentially an operative and ally of the United States through the war in the 1980s and funded by the United States, you know had training camps and a base of operation for his al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan. And maybe there was some overlap with Taliban people going to the al-Qaeda schools. You know they’re in a war with a group called the Northern Alliance and so they would send some of their soldiers to al-Qaeda training camps that existed in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban did not support the 9/11 attacks. They condemned the 9/11 attacks, so it was a shock to them when all of a sudden the US was talking about the Taliban and at the time the Taliban was trying very hard to prevent that from happening.

And we’re not just talking about this ragtag group that’s just issuing statements from the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan. Afghanistan had a robust press network and so they’d have spokespeople who would give press conferences in English in countries in the region and would be talking directly to the United States saying ‘we’re trying to negotiate; we don’t support what happened; we want to find a resolution’ and they even said in these press conferences ‘the United States used to call us freedom fighters, not too long ago – and then all of a sudden we’re terrorists and they won’t negotiate with us’.

So that is what happened, as you recounted it Katie. The Taliban offered a solution where the US didn’t have to invade and occupy the government in Afghanistan but that wasn’t really the motives for the US going into Afghanistan. The US didn’t really invade Afghanistan because they thought that was the only way to destroy al-Qaeda and get Osama Bin Laden. They easily could have done that through other methods.

The reason that they wanted to invade Afghanistan is because the Taliban weren’t subservient collaborators to the United States. I mean Clinton in the ’90s had tried very hard to build relationships. He didn’t care that the Taliban lynched people when they came to power in the ’90s. He just cared that maybe they could sign an oil contract together. Unocal, the oil company, flew delegations of Taliban leaders to Texas to stay in their ranches and discuss plans for oil pipelines.

But the Taliban wasn’t that interested in that kind of development and they weren’t a subservient client state to the United States. So any country that is in its own orbit – [enjoys] its own independence – and isn’t a client to US corporations and subservient to the US government, they get targeted for destruction. And so when 9/11 happened, the US government said ‘great, this is perfect’ because we’ve been trying to negotiate with these guys and they won’t let us build this pipeline, or they won’t let us have a military base, so we’ll just overthrow them, set up our own puppet government – move over to Iraq, overthrow them, set up a puppet government, move over to Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Somalia, Sudan – all the countries that were on their list for overthrow after the 9/11 attacks.

So that was the reason in the first place. I mean that’s really what’s behind it. It was never really about al-Qaeda. And it was never really about giving the Afghan people a better life from the Taliban. But to answer your question, yes, it was a totally avoidable war in the first place – there was no reason to do – but if you can remember at that time, I mean support for it was high.

[And 9/11] was used as a way for the US to achieve its other objectives, which is proven by the fact that we ended up in Iraq a year later, which had less to do with 9/11 than the Taliban.

Katie Halper: [from 15:25 mins]

There’s a kind of parallel between the way people frame the war in Afghanistan with the first Iraq War. There’s a whole group of liberals who consider the first Iraq War, ‘the good Gulf War’, and the war in Afghanistan, ‘the good response to 9/11’. As you have pointed out, and others have pointed out, that’s not the case and… I don’t know if you know about Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez – they started “not in our name” – their son Greg was in one of the towers when he was killed, and they immediately knew that the US government was going to try to use this to justify a war and they wrote a letter saying “Not in our son’s name”… you know, he didn’t die so that you could use his name to invade another country.

And you know what she told me…? She told me that they wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that they didn’t publish. Can you imagine? Right after 9/11, you have one of the parents of the people who died saying ‘don’t go to war in our son’s name’ – can you imagine the gall of the New York Times not even printing that op-ed?  Like not even seeing the newsworthiness of it? They’re such ideologues that they would not publish that.

Mike Prysner: [from 16:50 mins]

The first major demonstration against war on Afghanistan occurred, I think it was four days after the September 11th attacks. It was about 40,000 people – so it’s not a small crowd. The slogan of the march: the banner was “war won’t bring our loved ones back”, and the march was led by people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks [Guardian report from Sept 20th ­­] .

And then all the headlines about this fairly significant anti-war demonstration after 9/11 was like ‘people rally in support of terrorists’ and ‘people rally in support of negotiating with terrorists and not fighting terrorism’ and things like that. So it just gives you a window into the war fervour in the country post-9/11, which continued for quite a long time.

I mean even in the anti-war movement there was an entire sector that supported the Afghanistan war. Even in Veterans Against the War, it was controversial – it wasn’t okay to talk about Afghanistan too, in fact it was too alienating to lots of veterans who were in the anti-war movement – ‘I joined the army to go fight in Afghanistan, I didn’t join to go fight in Iraq’. It was a significant faction that had to be battled against for a long time.

And so that’s [what] Obama essentially campaigned on: he campaigned on the intense opposition to the Iraq War, but kind of this idea: ‘weren’t we supposed to go fight in Afghanistan…? And then immediately we went to Iraq and then we lost the war in Afghanistan’. So Obama’s thing was, we’re going to get out of Iraq (‘the dumb war’) and then we’re going to win the war in Afghanistan. And that got a lot of support from liberal-minded people as well.

But that’s when that new era began that really defined the Afghanistan War. The US said: ‘okay, we were slacking, focussing too much on Iraq, so now we’re going to get everyone out of Iraq (not everyone) but we’re going to get a good portion of people out of Iraq and send them right to Afghanistan, and then we’re going to try to completely overwhelm the Taliban’. And even when the United States had an insane number of troops there – and they were everywhere in Afghanistan – there was really no place where they really could win or beat back the Taliban. So I think that’s one of the hidden histories of the Afghanistan War.

I mean you have the US outposts out in the middle of the countryside with [about] 40 soldiers there – 40 US troops – this is what a normal day would be like: you would get up (and this is just recounting from countless friends of mine) and you would leave the gates of your base to go on a patrol that had no purpose other than to say ‘hey, we’re here! we’re patrolling this area’.

You get a hundred yards off the base, if you’re lucky, when you start getting shot at by people that you do not see – they are a thousand yards away just harassing you with sniper fire and machine gun fire – at some point on your little walk, your little pointless walk through a bunch of fields that have no purpose to walk through for any reason, some will get blown up by an IED because you’re walking on paths every day – and you know the signature wound of the Afghan War around that time (the surge time) was triple amputations; so losing usually two legs and one arm and your genitalia (I think when the troop surge happened there was about a 92% increase in wounds to genitalia – that became really the most common wound)… If you kept your legs you probably lost a bunch more flesh down there.

So every day you’d go on these completely meaningless, pointless patrols, where basically the point was just to get shot at so then you know who to shoot back at, which most of the time they didn’t do anyway. Then you’d go back to your base at night, and then at night you would just come under heavy assault by missiles and mortars and indirect fire. And sometimes you’d have hundreds of Taliban fighters assaulting a little outpost that had 40 US soldiers. And this was happening all over the country… and in a lot of cases you had Taliban fighters getting over the wall, and being inside the US base and being killed inside the US base.

The job of US soldiers then was basically to be bait for these Taliban to come – it was exactly like the Vietnam War: you’re on a hilltop [and] you’re just bait for the Taliban to attack, and your job is to survive long enough for air support to get to you. So you start getting attacked, you call in air support, it takes 30 minutes or so for the Apache helicopters, the A-10s, [and] the B-52 bombers to come in and just level the area where you’re being attacked from with heavy munitions.

So that really defined the troop surge era of the war. I mean it was just a complete failure from a military standpoint and it was just completely senseless bloodshed. There’s even a lot of rebellion and opposition among soldiers who are very pro-military and pro-war – blowing the whistle on all this, just saying there’s no reason for us to do this; there’s no reason for us to go on these convoys; no reason to go on these patrols. We’re just meant to be bait. We’re just meant to be sitting ducks.

All of those deaths then were just completely pointless. And then the US realised, you know this strategy doesn’t work at all. They retreated from all those areas all across the country – you know places like Korangal Valley [nicknamed “The Valley of Death”] which was ‘the most strategically important valley’ of the Afghanistan War. Like 120 US soldiers died defending just this one valley and then at the end of this two year period of huge battles there, the Pentagon said: ‘you know what this valley doesn’t actually matter at all, we’re just going to go back here’. So that really was emblematic of the war.

So then the US pulled back to its main bases and that defined the war in the post-surge era when US casualties went down, but that’s because they basically had retreated from most of the country already [and] were just holed up on the big bases, where they are operating through proxy forces and special operations. And then the ironic thing about that too is that the US said: the US casualties are getting too serious, we need to just hide out on the bases and send our proxy forces out. Well, when they tried that strategy the number one killer of US troops became the Afghan soldiers who they were training just killing them.

So you had tons of people who were either Taliban or just anti-US joining the Afghan army and then within a week they’re sitting there with US soldiers getting trained on how to shoot, they just turn their guns around and kill all the US soldiers training them. So then it became even too strategically untenable to have US soldiers training troops back in these supposedly super-safe and secure bases. So from every angle it was a total military defeat. Mind you we’re talking about a decade ago that it was that bad, and they knew at that point we’re not going to make any more progress.

You know Trump came in and thought he could win the war by taking bombing to a whole new level, and that was really Trump’s legacy in Afghanistan. Although he campaigned on ending the war, he was responsible for more civilian casualties for two years in a row than any other previous year of the war, just through air strikes. And that says a lot because Obama was in charge of the troop surge. A lot of people died in the troop surge. Trump killed more people just by changing the rules of engagement so they could really drop huge munitions everywhere in the country. And that didn’t do anything either.

I mean I guess it got the Taliban to the table in the sense that they would accept this deal which they did accept – and the Taliban spokesman before we started talking said we are going to honour our commitment to not allow terrorist attacks against the United States from Afghanistan, and we’re not going to punish anyone in the former government – it’s kind of sticking to the Doha Agreement so they have some kind of legitimacy.

I think the important thing is that the generals, the Pentagon, the White House; they’ve always known that this was inevitable anyway, unless we just stayed forever holed up on a base in Kabul. But what we didn’t have was a president that was willing to say: ‘I’m going to end the war and I accept the responsibility for it looking bad when the Taliban comes in to take over’.

And it’s funny that Biden is that person, because Biden doesn’t have any guts. He never has been advocating for withdrawing from Afghanistan because it’s the right thing [and] it is the right thing. A full, complete and immediate withdrawal of US troops is the right thing. Biden never advocated for that. He always advocated staying until the Afghan government was stable enough to stand on its own, which was always a pipedream.

So I think he was just kind of the fall guy, you know. He came in after campaigning on staying in Afghanistan – criticising Trump’s Taliban agreement and saying that we need to leave 3,000–4,000 troops because we can’t abandon the Afghan government. After a couple of months in office, he’s like: ‘actually, you know what? we’re going to leave Afghanistan fully’. So he does press conferences now and [he gets]: ‘what do you mean the Taliban are going to take over the government? what are you talking about?’

So instead of having a president saying ‘finally I’m willing to do the right thing even though it’s going to end up aesthetically bad, it’s still a war that we need to get out of’, he didn’t do that for that reason… and the proof that Biden thought it was going to look good for him – ‘I’m the one who ended the war that the Americans are tired of’, which they are; polls show that about 70% of Americans support the withdrawal – Biden actually thought he could have a 9/11 victory lap celebration. And they’ve been planning this event for 9/11 where he could boast that our administration ended the war: we did it; we ended a long, unpopular forever war. I don’t think they’re going to be doing that celebration any more.

And even if back in April they were getting some good press around this: for ending the war; people want the war to end. You know this is maybe a good thing. Kamala Harris came out and leaked to the press back in April: ‘I helped convince Biden to do a complete withdrawal’ and ‘the last person Biden talked to before making his decision was me, Kamala Harris’; trying to take credit because she anticipated that the story was actually going to look good for the Biden administration.

I think now that the press is pretty negative – it’s a pretty humiliating, embarrassing defeat for the US that their puppet forces fell so dramatically – but the Pentagon knew. You had Pentagon insiders weeks ago saying the Taliban will probably take over within 30 days. And there was a real disconnect between what Biden and Harris were projecting out to the public and what the actual Pentagon officials were telling them.

Katie Halper: [from 27:35 mins]

So why is the withdrawal happening when it’s happening?

Mike Prysner: [from 27:40 mins]

I think the US really just needed to get out. I mean obviously the US is going to stay engaged in some way. They’re going to continue with probably bombing Afghanistan whenever they feel like it; just like they did a B-52 bombing just a week ago against a school and a health clinic and killed about 20 civilians. There’s still going to be CIA operatives and proxy forces on the ground – you know the death squads that have been terrorising the country for 20 years. They are of course still going to be there.

But the US lost and I think a lot people just thought well there’s money to be made in the Afghanistan War and so they’re going to stay forever. So job of the state (which includes the military establishment) is to advance the collective interests of the ruling class, right? – so yes, there are particular industries (the weapons manufacturers, the mining companies, energy companies) that probably aren’t happy with the withdrawal. But it’s not about this or that sector of the ruling class that matters, it’s what collectively is good for the empire; what’s collectively good for American capitalism and American imperialism.

US Defence Contractor board members and revolving doors of govt

And so the state [and] military establishment calculated that ‘you know we’re not really achieving our objectives here’. We can’t have a puppet government because the Taliban are too powerful. We can’t defeat the Taliban. And this idea of well we can be there to steal Afghanistan’s mineral resources – well, how are you going to build a mine if you’re coming under attack by the Taliban constantly? And they knew that it was never going to be resolved. They were never going to be able to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, or mine Afghanistan, so long as they were in a war with the Taliban.

So they figured we can get out of Afghanistan and then just do what we do with every country: we negotiate with them; sanction them if they don’t do what we want; bomb them if they don’t do what we want; but try to get something out of the situation. Because they knew that staying and fighting endlessly wasn’t going to. So they felt that the time had finally come. They had a president who was willing to – whether he was conscious of it or not – bear the brunt of all the negative press that’s going to come down. And then they’re going to treat the Taliban government like they do others that they try to get something out of who, you know, they don’t approve of everything they do, but well as long as you’ll meet our strategic interests we’ll work with you, and if you don’t we’ll just bomb you.

Katie Halper: [from 30:15 mins]

And what do you say to people who are arguing that women are going to be especially vulnerable? I’m not talking about cynical people who have shitty politics. I’m talking about people who really are in good faith worried about the civilian population. What’s your response to that?

Mike Prysner: [from 30:35 mins]

Sure well, the backwardness that exists there, first of all is a construct of the United States. It was the legacy of US intervention in the country that even brought to prominence these reactionary forces; these right-wing forces. I mean they are completely born from the US intervention in the ’80s. So first off, the situation for women in Afghanistan is because of the United States in the first place. So the idea that it could be solved by continued US intervention is just also kind of absurd.

Everyone talks about the Taliban’s treatment of women but the Afghan puppet government was also really bad towards women. And that was never really scandalous in the media that the Afghan puppet government had almost the same policies towards women as the Taliban…

To understand that the majority of civilian casualties – for people who care about women in Afghanistan – are from US air strikes, and US forces, and US proxy forces. So it’s kind of disingenuous to say the US military can play some sort of role of protecting women in Afghanistan. But how many women have been killed by US air strikes over the last 20 years? A lot.

The US government doesn’t care about that. They’re happy to work with Saudi Arabia. They’re happy to work with other countries that have horrible repressive policies towards women. And they will be happy to work with the Taliban, as long as the Taliban say ‘hey, we’re ready to work with you’, the US government [in] Washington will forget about all of the criticisms they have of the Taliban’s treatment of women.

And just one thing I’ll say about the conduct of US forces in Afghanistan. There is an expose by The Intercept. It was covered on Democracy Now! I think the Washington Post did a story on it also. But the CIA, you know these Special Activities Divisions – the CIA soldier, ground troops – did a couple of operations where they went to religious schools in Afghanistan. They rounded up these children – some of them were as young as eight-years old, nine-years old – they took them all into one room together and then they executed them.

I mean this is Americans – CIA soldiers, ground troops – who were executing children. Shooting children in the head to create the sense of terror that if you one day – you know, this is what happens if you go to a religious school that could one day feed people into the ranks of the Taliban army. And that’s pretty brutal. That’s pretty representative of the conduct of Afghan military, Afghan special operations, US special operations. I mean summary executions were so, so commonplace, especially by special operations, US and CIA and others.

So the idea that an occupying military force that is carrying out over the last 20 years these type of actions can be some sort of force that can protect people is just false. Afghanistan can [move] forward; it can move towards progress; just like so many other countries that are plagued with the backwardness of just the impact of US imperialism. They can’t begin to move forward – they can’t begin to progress – until they solve that main contradiction, which is the contradiction with imperialism; an occupying foreign army.

So any [progressive] forces in Afghanistan – women’s activism – none of that will be able to get momentum or steam to push Afghanistan in the direction that it needs to go socially if there’s a war in the country between an occupying imperialist power – multiple ones – and an insurgent force that’s fighting it – that gets pretty popular fighting it, because most people don’t like the foreign occupying troops.

Of course we want to see social progress in Afghanistan, but that is a chapter that has to start with the elimination of an occupying imperialist force – when that exists it sucks up everything [and] becomes the main problem in the country. And I think now that that’s gone, it opens up an entirely new space for there to be social progress.

And the last thing I’ll say is I don’t want to paint any kind of rosy picture of the Taliban, or make any optimistic predictions about the kind of government that they’re going to impose on the country, but I will say that one of the recent statements by the Taliban was saying ‘we want to create a unity government’, and even said specifically ‘we believe in the right of women to get an education and so forth’ and so they seem to be trying to have some kind of PR around the fact that ‘we’re not what everyone says we are, we’re not going to do things that are objectionable, we’re going to be a legitimate government of a sovereign country on the world’s stage’.

So I don’t want to give that too much credence – I mean we’ll have to see – but that’s also the kind of thing that you don’t see in the dire projections. Not only that but also the impact on women by the US occupation.

Katie Halper: [from 35:55 mins]

Yes, that’s a really important point, and the civilian deaths are something that don’t really get talked about.

Can you also share what changed your politics?  I mean you were in the army, so what changed your politics? Why are you anti-war now? And what were your politics like when you enlisted?

Mike Prysner: [from 36:15 mins]

Well like I said, I joined before 9/11, so it was just a different climate. Everyone I was in training with, everyone was just like ‘we’re not going to have to go to war’. Like the last war in our memory was the Gulf War when barely anyone went and all of the soldiers who died – like 99% – died from friendly fire: everyone blowing themselves up!

So there wasn’t really a consciousness about ‘oh, we’re going to go to war’. The memory of Vietnam was [that] that was the way wars were fought in the past, whereas they aren’t fought this way anymore. So everyone in my generation who joined was like ‘ah, we’re never going to go to war’.

I think the Iraq War in particular was just so outrageous, so heinous, that it didn’t matter how much propaganda and racism we were fed. I mean being in Iraq as an occupying soldier, pretty quickly you see that everything Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were saying on TV when you were going were just complete lies and that there was no justification…

For me I think that the thing that turned me around – which was the thing for most soldiers, because thousands of active-duty people turned against the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War too, but predominantly the Iraq War – is realising we’d be doing the same thing if we were Iraqi. And seeing what US forces were doing in the country.

I mean even if they weren’t just driving around shooting random people – which was happening – just being there, just being this kind of messed up occupying force, you know imposing a new government on people, subjecting people to checkpoints and home raids and all of these things – everyone I was with was basically like: ‘if I was Iraqi I’d be shooting at American forces’. You know who wouldn’t? It was like Red Dawn – everyone’s like this is like Red Dawn, except that we’re the bad guys!

So it wasn’t a big leap for people to not only to see through the propaganda, but identify with the people that we were told were enemies – and to see a great deal of commonality between the Iraqi people and ourselves. That’s really what moved me was feeling an intense brotherhood and kinship and commonality with the people that I was interacting with every day as an occupying soldier and understanding.

You know it reached the point where we’d be getting attacked and I’d be [thinking] I support this even though I might die, you know I definitely support that this is happening. Because I’d become so disgusted with what the Iraqi people had been made to live under.

And so I think that that actually happens in every war that the US wages, and that’s really the history of US intervention in every war – I mean going back to the 1800s [with] US occupation of the Philippines and so forth, you had soldiers who basically switched sides. I think that’s going to be the case in future wars also, but it’s also part of the history of the Afghanistan War. Large numbers of Afghanistan veterans became fighters and activists against it and they’re as much a part of the history as the history that’s going to be written for us.

After Obama ended the Iraq War, you know he declared this new national holiday: I thnk it was called ‘Freedom Day’ or something; marking the end of the Iraq War. And just laid out: this is the legacy of the Iraq War. The White House gave their own convoluted narrative history of the Iraq War, which was completely false and fake.

So it’s up to people like us to make sure they don’t do the same thing with the Afghanistan War. They’re going to try to rewrite the narrative, rewrite the history of what happened, what US forces did, but of course it’s going to bear no real resemblance to what really happened, and that’s up to grassroots independent media to make sure that stuff is still on the record.

Katie Halper: [from 40:10 mins]

A lot of people are talking about the poppy fields. Do you know what the significance of those are and the motives of the United States?

Mike Prysner: [from 40:25 mins]

Yeah, Afghanistan is like the biggest heroin producer. I mean it wasn’t until the US invasion. The Taliban had strict rules against cultivation of opium and so they had eradicated most of the opium production in the country. The US comes in and I think there’s a lot of speculation that the CIA wanted the opium because it was using it for dark money for black ops, and there probably was some degree of that.

The Taliban and the US basically allowed the cultivation of poppy in the country. The Taliban because it was a big money-maker. They had moral objection to it, but when you’re fighting a war against not only the United States, but all of the Nato powers, all the big imperialist countries, and all of their technological advance, it helps to have, you know, a few million dollars a week rolling in in heroin money.

How Afghan opium farming expanded during US occupation

But also the US allowed the heroin production because the US is stationed in all these middle-of-nowhere areas in Afghanistan; they’re having to have the loyalty of local farmers [as] people that they want to trust and say don’t let the Taliban put IEDs on our path. Tell us if there are insurgents who are going to come kill us. So in order to maintain good relationships with farmers in the countryside, they had to not just let them grow opium, but protect the opium.

And so you’ll hear any soldier who was stationed in the area where they were growing opium – there’d be paths where there would be IEDs on them, where you know if you walk down this path you’re going to get blown up – then there’s the opium field where you know if we walk through the field there’s probably not a good chance that there’s going to be an IED because where would you put them, it’s such a huge field? But they would get in trouble for walking through the opium field, because then the farmer would get mad and then they would call the commanders and the commanders would say ‘don’t walk through the opium fields’.

So then who knows how many people are walking around right now, or who are not walking around, [but] in wheelchairs or missing arms and legs, missing their genitals, simply because they didn’t want to walk through the opium fields because they would make someone [mad] who the commander thought was strategically important. So that speaks to the absurdity of the war the entire time.

The US of course would have liked to have a puppet government in Afghanistan – you know big pharma buys opium from places like India – I mean it is a commodity on the market; the US doesn’t really grow it itself. So of course the US, if they had won the Afghanistan War, would have thought ‘oh great, now we have a supply of opium that’s under our own jurisdiction’. And so yes, that was probably one of the ideal outcomes for the US war on the country – not just the oil industry, not just the mineral industry, not just the defence industry, but big pharma had a lot to gain from it also.

So I think that’s why you’re seeing a lot of opposition in the media. In the corporate media there’s a lot of anger about the withdrawal right now. Number one, because it’s just humiliating and makes the US look bad, and so they’re all mad that it happened in such a disastrous way. But there are sectors of the ruling class that are pissed that they are going to miss out on a huge cash crop unless they can have some kind of long-shot deal with the Taliban.

It’s funny because normally the media are just stenographers of the Pentagon, but it’s more that they’re just supporters of war whatever war it is. Because the Pentagon wants to leave: this is the Pentagon’s plan, and so it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the entirety of the establishment media, and all these big talking heads, go against the wishes of pretty much the entire Pentagon establishment is when they’re actually pulling back from a war. So it made me reevaluate that they don’t just repeat everything the Pentagon says, but [only] when it’s pushing more war around the world.

Katie Halper: [from 44:15 mins]

Yes, that’s really interesting.

And finally, [a listener] asks “isn’t this withdrawal to help with the new cold war with China?”

Mike Prysner: [from 44:20 mins]

Oh, absolutely. I mean that’s probably the most important thing about this.

When Obama came into office, he became very critical of Bush’s wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He said, ‘you screwed up Afghanistan; that should have been a quick easy in-and-out war’. But the case that Obama made was not that Iraq was just immoral and wrong, Afghanistan was a complete mistake to do this – his thing was: the American empire has become bogged down in the Middle East, and it is preventing us from pointing towards our real enemy which is China, and this doctrine of great power confrontation.

‘The Asia Pivot’ – many people will know that term, ‘the Asia Pivot’, which was Obama’s foreign policy orientation towards confronting China and building up military forces against China and rallying all our allies and potential allies to create confrontation and conflict with China

Pivot away from what? He meant pivot to Asia from the Middle East. So that was the Obama Doctrine: pivot away from the Middle East towards our real enemy China.

The drawdown, which is also happening in Iraq, the drawdown in Afghanistan, this is very much a re-orientation. That’s been happening for a little while. A re-orientation of US foreign policy and imperialism to try to disrupt and confront China, and other places in the world as well. But it’s harder to do that when you’re bogged down in a lost war. So yes, that’s obviously something everyone needs to be very conscious of.

You know I see a lot of comments saying, ‘the empire’s crumbling, the empire’s in decline’, because it’s been dealt this big embarrassing, humiliating military defeat. You know it was defeated very badly in Korea. The US was defeated very badly in Vietnam. That didn’t mean the US backed off at all: ‘hey man, we’ve got to relax on this war stuff’. They just went towards other parts of the world. They went to Latin America, and they went to the Middle East. I mean it doesn’t matter and it’s almost like they need to redeem themselves.

You know after the defeat in Vietnam, they were like: ‘communism got one over on us, but we’re going to get one over on the communists in Latin America’, and sponsor all these dirty wars, and start funding coups of independent and socialist governments around the world.

They’re not going to take this well. They know they look very bad. And what they can do to recover from it is focus everyone’s attention on some other theatre or some other American victory around the world, which we should be a little nervous about, but also prepared to confront it, because that’s of course what’s necessary.

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In Praise of Joe Biden | Stan Goff

The following extended excerpt is taken from an article published by Counterpunch on August 18th.

The US is not morally, socially, or politically fit to run the affairs of people halfway around the world. Forgotten — in the plethora of images being pumped into the fires of public outrage by the military-industrial-media complex — are the atrocities of “our side,” of the state of extreme exception that has been normalized since 2001, of the expansion of the war into seven countries by Obama, of the torture and execution black sites, the drone strikes against civilians, and the fascist Patriot Act. Unreported were the day-to-day humiliations and abuses that are committed by ALL occupying forces everywhere and throughout history.

I’ll tell you who made out like bandits, though. War industries and their politicians. Mercenary “contractors.” Cable news.

I completely understand, even if I disagree with, the sentiment of veterans and military families: “Can this all be for nothing? Did all those people spend all that time and effort, some losing life, limb, or eyesight . . . was all that treasure spent ($2.26 trillion conservatively) . . . for nothing?”

It’s an important question, because it’s the question that will become a campaign slogan soon enough, even though the answer is far less satisfying and politically effective than attacking Joe Biden for this affront to the nation’s masculinity. To those veterans and military families — from a retired Army veteran who belongs to a very military family — I say, yes, it was all for nothing . . . like a tragic accident, only one that someone did on purpose. It was all for nothing . . . if we let it be; that is, if we fail to learn from this. That’s how we make it “worth it,” as if such an accounting weren’t part of the bodyguard of lies that accompanies all wars.

I’m praising Joe Biden. This departure took guts. It takes guts in a culture so steeped in simulacra, manufactured myth, and incessant political maneuvering to do a thing that’s simultaneously necessary and sure to produce unsavory results. Whatever else Biden does that pisses me off in the future — and that’s a sure thing — he deserves credit, not all this hand-wringing and blame. He has confronted the Archons of the military-industrial-media complex, who are writhing and raging now across the screens of cable news — an industry taken over by the same ideology that got us into Afghanistan in the first place: neoconservatism, an arrogant and clueless late imperial ideology now spouted on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC.

Biden is not to blame for a “debacle” in Afghanistan.

This exercise in mortal stupidity started with George W. Bush, and cheered on by the media. It was extended and expanded by Bush II (Obama). It was denounced by Trump, but allowed to go on, because even Trump didn’t have the guts to risk a hit to the very performative masculinity that fueled his popular appeal. The occupation was not wine, improving with age. It was a wound festering to gangrene, and now there had to be an amputation. And none of them, not Bush, not Obama, not Trump, had the guts to say, “Stop!” Only Biden, at long last. Praise be!

Click here to read the full article entitled “In Praise of Joe Biden” by Stan Goff, published by Counterpunch on August 18th.

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Addendum: a guide to Leo Strauss’s influence on US neo-conservatism

A natural order of inequality

Danny Postel: You’ve argued that there is an important connection between the teachings of Leo Strauss and the Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war. What is that connection?

Shadia Drury: Leo Strauss was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics. Public support for the Iraq war rested on lies about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United States the business about weapons of mass destruction and a fictitious alliance between al-Qaida and the Iraqi regime. Now that the lies have been exposed, Paul Wolfowitz and others in the war party are denying that these were the real reasons for the war.

So what were the real reasons? Reorganising the balance of power in the Middle East in favour of Israel? Expanding American hegemony in the Arab world? Possibly. But these reasons would not have been sufficient in themselves to mobilise American support for the war. And the Straussian cabal in the administration realised that.

Danny Postel: The neo-conservative vision is commonly taken to be about spreading democracy and liberal values globally. And when Strauss is mentioned in the press, he is typically described as a great defender of liberal democracy against totalitarian tyranny. You’ve written, however, that Strauss had a profound antipathy to both liberalism and democracy.”

Shadia Drury: The idea that Strauss was a great defender of liberal democracy is laughable. I suppose that Strauss’s disciples consider it a noble lie. Yet many in the media have been gullible enough to believe it.

How could an admirer of Plato and Nietzsche be a liberal democrat? The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty, and that giving them these sublime treasures would be like throwing pearls before swine. In contrast to modern political thinkers, the ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition, they held, is not one of freedom, but of subordination and in Strauss’s estimation they were right in thinking so.

Praising the wisdom of the ancients and condemning the folly of the moderns was the whole point of Strauss’s most famous book, Natural Right and History. The cover of the book sports the American Declaration of Independence. But the book is a celebration of nature – not the natural rights of man (as the appearance of the book would lead one to believe) but the natural order of domination and subordination.

The necessity of lies

Danny Postel: What is the relevance of Strauss’s interpretation of Plato’s notion of the noble lie?

Shadia Drury: Strauss rarely spoke in his own name. He wrote as a commentator on the classical texts of political theory. But he was an extremely opinionated and dualistic commentator. The fundamental distinction that pervades and informs all of his work is that between the ancients and the moderns. Strauss divided the history of political thought into two camps: the ancients (like Plato) are wise and wily, whereas the moderns (like Locke and other liberals) are vulgar and foolish. Now, it seems to me eminently fair and reasonable to attribute to Strauss the ideas he attributes to his beloved ancients.

In Plato’s dialogues, everyone assumes that Socrates is Plato’s mouthpiece. But Strauss argues in his book The City and Man (pp. 74-5, 77, 83-4, 97, 100, 111) that Thrasymachus is Plato’s real mouthpiece (on this point, see also M.F. Burnyeat, Sphinx without a Secret, New York Review of Books, 30 May 1985 [paid-for only]). So, we must surmise that Strauss shares the insights of the wise Plato (alias Thrasymachus) that justice is merely the interest of the stronger; that those in power make the rules in their own interests and call it justice.

Leo Strauss repeatedly defends the political realism of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli (see, for example, his Natural Right and History, p. 106). This view of the world is clearly manifest in the foreign policy of the current administration in the United States.

A second fundamental belief of Strauss’s ancients has to do with their insistence on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.

The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. In On Tyranny, Strauss refers to this natural right as the tyrannical teachingof his beloved ancients. It is tyrannical in the classic sense of rule above rule or in the absence of law (p. 70).

Now, the ancients were determined to keep this tyrannical teaching secret because the people are not likely to tolerate the fact that they are intended for subordination; indeed, they may very well turn their resentment against the superior few. Lies are thus necessary to protect the superior few from the persecution of the vulgar many.

The effect of Strauss’s teaching is to convince his acolytes that they are the natural ruling elite and the persecuted few. And it does not take much intelligence for them to surmise that they are in a situation of great danger, especially in a world devoted to the modern ideas of equal rights and freedoms. Now more than ever, the wise few must proceed cautiously and with circumspection. So, they come to the conclusion that they have a moral justification to lie in order to avoid persecution. Strauss goes so far as to say that dissembling and deception in effect, a culture of lies is the peculiar justice of the wise.

Strauss justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie. But in truth, Strauss has a very impoverished conception of Plato’s noble lie. Plato thought that the noble lie is a story whose details are fictitious; but at the heart of it is a profound truth.

In the myth of metals, for example, some people have golden souls meaning that they are more capable of resisting the temptations of power. And these morally trustworthy types are the ones who are most fit to rule. The details are fictitious, but the moral of the story is that not all human beings are morally equal.

In contrast to this reading of Plato, Strauss thinks that the superiority of the ruling philosophers is an intellectual superiority and not a moral one (Natural Right and History, p. 151). For many commentators who (like Karl Popper) have read Plato as a totalitarian, the logical consequence is to doubt that philosophers can be trusted with political power. Those who read him this way invariably reject him. Strauss is the only interpreter who gives a sinister reading to Plato, and then celebrates him.

The dialectic of fear and tyranny

Danny Postel: In the Straussian scheme of things, there are the wise few and the vulgar many. But there is also a third group the gentlemen. Would you explain how they figure?

Shadia Drury: There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the higher pleasures, which amount to consorting with their puppies or young initiates.

The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society that is, the illusions of the cave. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.

Like Plato, Strauss believed that the supreme political ideal is the rule of the wise. But the rule of the wise is unattainable in the real world. Now, according to the conventional wisdom, Plato realised this, and settled for the rule of law. But Strauss did not endorse this solution entirely. Nor did he think that it was Plato’s real solution Strauss pointed to the nocturnal council in Plato’s Laws to illustrate his point.

The real Platonic solution as understood by Strauss is the covert rule of the wise (see Strauss’s The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws). This covert rule is facilitated by the overwhelming stupidity of the gentlemen. The more gullible and unperceptive they are, the easier it is for the wise to control and manipulate them. Supposedly, Xenophon makes that clear to us.

For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.

Nowhere is this state of affairs more advanced than in America. And the global reach of American culture threatens to trivialise life and turn it into entertainment. This was as terrifying a spectre for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmitt.

This is made clear in Strauss’s exchange with Kojève (reprinted in Strauss’s On Tyranny), and in his commentary on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (reprinted in Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue). Kojève lamented the animalisation of man and Schmitt worried about the trivialisation of life. All three of them were convinced that liberal economics would turn life into entertainment and destroy politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death. In short, they all thought that man’s humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and creature comforts.” Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.

Danny Postel: You’ve described Strauss as a nihilist.

Shadia Drury: Strauss is a nihilist in the sense that he believes that there is no rational foundation for morality. He is an atheist, and he believes that in the absence of God, morality has no grounding. It’s all about benefiting others and oneself; there is no objective reason for doing so, only rewards and punishments in this life.

But Strauss is not a nihilist if we mean by the term a denial that there is any truth, a belief that everything is interpretation. He does not deny that there is an independent reality. On the contrary, he thinks that independent reality consists in nature and its order of rank the high and the low, the superior and the inferior. Like Nietzsche, he believes that the history of western civilisation has led to the triumph of the inferior, the rabble something they both lamented profoundly.

Danny Postel: This connection is curious, since Strauss is bedevilled by Nietzsche; and one of Strauss’s most famous students, Allan Bloom, fulminates profusely in his book The Closing of the American Mind against the influence of Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.

Shadia Drury: Strauss’s criticism of the existentialists, especially Heidegger, is that they tried to elicit an ethic out of the abyss. This was the ethic of resoluteness choose whatever you like and be loyal to it to the death; its content does not matter. But Strauss’s reaction to moral nihilism was different. Nihilistic philosophers, he believes, should reinvent the Judæo-Christian God, but live like pagan gods themselves taking pleasure in the games they play with each other as well as the games they play on ordinary mortals.

The question of nihilism is complicated, but there is no doubt that Strauss’s reading of Plato entails that the philosophers should return to the cave and manipulate the images (in the form of media, magazines, newspapers). They know full well that the line they espouse is mendacious, but they are convinced that theirs are noble lies.

The intoxication of perpetual war

Danny Postel: You characterise the outlook of the Bush administration as a kind of realism, in the spirit of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli. But isn’t the real divide within the administration (and on the American right more generally) more complex: between foreign policy realists, who are pragmatists, and neo-conservatives, who see themselves as idealists even moralists on a mission to topple tyrants, and therefore in a struggle against realism?

Shadia Drury: I think that the neo-conservatives are for the most part genuine in wanting to spread the American commercial model of liberal democracy around the globe. They are convinced that it is the best thing, not just for America, but for the world. Naturally, there is a tension between these idealists and the more hard-headed realists within the administration.

I contend that the tensions and conflicts within the current administration reflect the differences between the surface teaching, which is appropriate for gentlemen, and the nocturnal or covert teaching, which the philosophers alone are privy to. It is very unlikely for an ideology inspired by a secret teaching to be entirely coherent.

The issue of nationalism is an example of this. The philosophers, wanting to secure the nation against its external enemies as well as its internal decadence, sloth, pleasure, and consumption, encourage a strong patriotic fervour among the honour-loving gentlemen who wield the reins of power. That strong nationalistic spirit consists in the belief that their nation and its values are the best in the world, and that all other cultures and their values are inferior in comparison.

Irving Kristol, the father of neo-conservatism and a Strauss disciple, denounced nationalism in a 1973 essay; but in another essay written in 1983, he declared that the foreign policy of neo-conservatism must reflect its nationalist proclivities. A decade on, in a 1993 essay, he claimed that “religion, nationalism, and economic growth are the pillars of neoconservatism.” (See The Coming Conservative Century, in Neoconservatism: the autobiography of an idea, p. 365.)

In Reflections of a Neoconservative (p. xiii), Kristol wrote that:

patriotism springs from love of the nation’s past; nationalism arises out of hope for the nation’s future, distinctive greatness. Neoconservatives believe that the goals of American foreign policy must go well beyond a narrow, too literal definition of national security. It is the national interest of a world power, as this is defined by a sense of national destiny not a myopic national security. The same sentiment was echoed by the doyen of contemporary Straussianism, Harry Jaffa, when he said that America is the Zion that will light up all the world.

It is easy to see how this sort of thinking can get out of hand, and why hard-headed realists tend to find it naïve if not dangerous.

But Strauss’s worries about America’s global aspirations are entirely different. Like Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kojève, Strauss would be more concerned that America would succeed in this enterprise than that it would fail. In that case, the last man would extinguish all hope for humanity (Nietzsche); the night of the world would be at hand (Heidegger); the animalisation of man would be complete (Kojève); and the trivialisation of life would be accomplished (Schmitt). That is what the success of America’s global aspirations meant to them.

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man is a popularisation of this viewpoint. It sees the coming catastrophe of American global power as inevitable, and seeks to make the best of a bad situation. It is far from a celebration of American dominance.

On this perverse view of the world, if America fails to achieve her national destiny, and is mired in perpetual war, then all is well. Man’s humanity, defined in terms of struggle to the death, is rescued from extinction. But men like Heidegger, Schmitt, Kojève, and Strauss expect the worst. They expect that the universal spread of the spirit of commerce would soften manners and emasculate man. To my mind, this fascistic glorification of death and violence springs from a profound inability to celebrate life, joy, and the sheer thrill of existence.

To be clear, Strauss was not as hostile to democracy as he was to liberalism. This is because he recognises that the vulgar masses have numbers on their side, and the sheer power of numbers cannot be completely ignored. Whatever can be done to bring the masses along is legitimate. If you can use democracy to turn the masses against their own liberty, this is a great triumph. It is the sort of tactic that neo-conservatives use consistently, and in some cases very successfully.

Among the Straussians

Danny Postel: Finally, I’d like to ask about your interesting reception among the Straussians. Many of them dismiss your interpretation of Strauss and denounce your work in the most adamant terms (bizarre splenetic). Yet one scholar, Laurence Lampert, has reprehended his fellow Straussians for this, writing in his Leo Strauss and Nietzsche that your book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss contains many fine skeptical readings of Strauss’s texts and acute insights into Strauss’s real intentions. Harry Jaffa has even made the provocative suggestion that you might be a closet Straussian yourself!

Shadia Drury: I have been publicly denounced and privately adored. Following the publication of my book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss in 1988, letters and gifts poured in from Straussian graduate students and professors all over North America books, dissertations, tapes of Strauss’s Hillel House lectures in Chicago, transcripts of every course he ever taught at the university, and even a personally crafted Owl of Minerva with a letter declaring me a goddess of wisdom! They were amazed that an outsider could have penetrated the secret teaching. They sent me unpublished material marked with clear instructions not to distribute to suspicious persons”.

I received letters from graduate students in Toronto, Chicago, Duke, Boston College, Claremont, Fordham, and other Straussian centres of learning. One of the students compared his experience in reading my work with a person lost in the wilderness who suddenly happens on a map. Some were led to abandon their schools in favour of fresher air; but others were delighted to discover what it was they were supposed to believe in order to belong to the charmed circle of future philosophers and initiates.

After my first book on Strauss came out, some of the Straussians in Canada dubbed me the bitch from Calgary. Of all the titles I hold, that is the one I cherish most. The hostility toward me was understandable. Nothing is more threatening to Strauss and his acolytes than the truth in general and the truth about Strauss in particular. His admirers are determined to conceal the truth about his ideas.

Respond to this article, and debate Strauss, philosophy and politics in our forum.

My intention in writing the book was to express Strauss’s ideas clearly and without obfuscation so that his views could become the subject of philosophical debate and criticism, and not the stuff of feverish conviction. I wanted to smoke the Straussians out of their caves and into the philosophical light of day. But instead of engaging me in philosophical debate, they denied that Strauss stood for any of the ideas I attributed to him.

Laurence Lampert is the only Straussian to declare valiantly that it is time to stop playing games and to admit that Strauss was indeed a Nietzschean thinker that it is time to stop the denial and start defending Strauss’s ideas.

I suspect that Lampert’s honesty is threatening to those among the Straussians who are interested in philosophy but who seek power. There is no doubt that open and candid debate about Strauss is likely to undermine their prospects in Washington.

Click here to read the full article written by Danny Postel based on an interview with Shadia Drury, published in October 2003.

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Noam Chomsky, September 11th, USA

Craig Murray becomes the UK’s latest prisoner of conscience

 

FORMER UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, is to begin an eight-month jail term after being found guilty of contempt of court after an appeal bid was refused.

Murray was sentenced to eight months imprisonment after a judge ruled that he had unlawfully published details about the identities of female witnesses in Alex Salmond’s criminal trial on his blog last year. But he was released on bail in order to launch an appeal bid that has now failed.

Murray continues to deny intent to breach the court order protecting their identities, and that such a breach took place.

Lady Dorrian laid down her verdict in May, saying that Murray’s blog could lead to jigsaw identification of four of those involved, if read with other published materials.

A statement released yesterday said the 62-year-old would “surrender himself to police shortly and begin to serve the custodial sentence handed to him”.

That comes after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

Sentence was deferred for that purpose but will now begin

Click here to read the full article entitled “Craig Murray to hand himself over to police to face jail sentence” written by Kirsteen Paterson published in The National on July 29th.

For more details surrounding the case you can find many articles on Craig Murray’s website. For a summary and overview I recommend this one written by Kirsten MacDonald: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2021/06/craig-murrays-trial-what-happens-next/

It begins:

On Monday morning [June 7th], Lady Dorrian and two supporting judges will hear the application from Roddy Dunlop QC for Craig Murray to be allowed to appeal to the UK Supreme Court against both their verdict of contempt of court for jigsaw identification, and against the disproportionate sentence.

It is widely expected, given the obvious animus against Murray she has shown throughout the proceedings, that leave to appeal will be refused and Lady Dorrian will commit Craig Murray to jail, probably from Wednesday 9 June. At that stage, Murray’s legal team will have to apply direct to the UK Supreme Court to grant him an appeal, but his eight month sentence will likely be served before the Supreme Court even looks at whether to consider it.

Concluding:

Murray is of course one of Sturgeon’s fiercest critics and opposes both the abolition of juries and the abolition of the right of defence lawyers to cross-examine accusers. The prime thrust of the reporting for which he is being jailed was that Nicola Sturgeon was behind the false accusations that were made against Alex Salmond.

There is a real possibility that aspects of Dorrian’s handling of the Murray case could come in for serious criticism by the Supreme Court. These include her acceptance of a handful of anonymous tweets claiming to have learnt identities from Murray’s blog (with zero evidence they actually knew identities) as having important evidential weight, her effective dismissal of his entire affidavits as lies despite hearing no evidence that contradicted them, her making no reference at any stage to Salmond’s acquittal (indeed both her judgement and sentencing remarks on Murray refer to Salmond’s “victims” and “offences” with no “purported”, “alleged” or other qualifier, even after the acquittal), her extremely low bar for jigsaw identification (to any individual who already had specialist knowledge), the breathtakingly draconian sentence, and the curt and offhand dismissal of all Article X ECHR freedom of speech arguments.

If Dorrian grants the appeal to the Supreme Court, she is opening herself up to criticism at a crucial time in her career. As one lawyer put it to me, to grant the appeal would be “asking for a kicking”. If she refuses permission to appeal, she is putting back any Supreme Court decision probably for two years, and giving herself the ability to imprison and silence Murray in the interim.

Murray’s team have very little hope for Monday.

*

Now a prisoner himself, Craig Murray has been at the forefront of the campaign calling for the release of Julian Assange. Held indefinitely in Belmarsh, Assange currently faces extradition to the US on the basis of charges relating solely to allegations made by an Icelandic informant, Sigi Thordarson. Thordarson is a registered sex offender guilty of online activities with under-age boys. He was also convicted of stealing approximately $50,000 from Wikileaks as well as of impersonating Julian Assange online. More recently, Thordarson confessed that his claims against Assange are entirely false.

As Murray reported a month ago on June 29th:

Thordarson has now told Icelandic magazine Stundin that his allegations against Assange contained in the indictment are untrue, and that Assange had not solicited the hacking of bank or police details. This is hardly a shock, though Thordarson’s motives for coming clean now are obscure; he is plainly a deeply troubled and often malicious individual.

Thordarson was always the most unreliable of witnesses, and I find it impossible to believe that the FBI cooperation with him was ever any more than deliberate fabrication of evidence by the FBI.

Edward Snowden has tweeted that Thordarson recanting will end the case against Julian Assange. Most certainly it should end it, but I fear it will not.

Many things should have ended the case against Assange. The First Amendment, the ban on political extradition in the US/UK Extradition Treaty, the CIA spying on the preparations of Assange’s defence counsel, all of these should have stopped the case dead in its tracks.

It is now five months since extradition was refused, no US government appeal against that decision has yet been accepted by the High Court, and yet Julian remains confined to the UK’s highest security prison. The revelation that Thordarson’s allegations are fabricated – which everyone knew already, Baraitser just pretended she didn’t – is just one more illegality that the Establishment will shimmy over in its continued persecution of Assange.

Assange democratised information and gave real power to the people for a while, worldwide. He revealed US war crimes. For that his life is destroyed. Neither law nor truth have anything to do with it.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full piece “FBI Fabrication Against Assange Falls Apart”.

As Julian Assange languishes in prison under conditions described by UN special rapporteur, Nils Melzer, as torture for no crime other than publishing facts that are embarrassing to the British and US State, now Craig Murray too has been jailed for publishing unwanted facts and, in this case, ones already widely available in the public domain.

Assange and Murray are Britain’s most prominent political prisoners. Their prosecutions represent the finals blows to the last vestiges freedom of speech in the UK. Meanwhile, where is the outcry from the liberal media? The Guardian which once worked with Assange in releasing Wikileaks documents, today fabricates and disseminates savage but idiotic propaganda hit-pieces that it then fails to retract even when caught out.

And where too is the outcry from backbench and/or opposition politicians including Labour leader Keir Starmer who is the former Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Director of Public Prosecutions?

Following the expected outcome of his own case, Craig Murray issued a response on his official website yesterday under the title “Going Dark” with a statement from his wife, Nadira:

This blog will be going dark for a few months. The Queen kindly paid for my dinners for over twenty years while I was a British diplomat and Ambassador, and now she is going to be paying for my dinners again. That is very kind, I thought she had forgotten me.

The following is a statement from Nadira:

29.07.21
Today is the most heartbreaking day. My husband whose health has been found to not be suitable for prison must hand himself in for detention within hours following the UK Supreme Court’s decision not to hear his appeal.

We were extremely hopeful that the Supreme Court would hear his case and had no doubt that this particular case should have been heard given how important and relevant it is in the context of Freedom of Speech in the UK. Instead, the Supreme Court declined to hear it.

Yet again my heart is deeply saddened to find that the UK, once a country which placed great importance on Human Rights issues, has failed to listen to my husband’s case. Additionally, the Scottish Court outright dismissed Craig’s poor health, having been made aware through the mandatory Social Work report and doctor’s reports that his wellbeing would be at risk if forced to go to jail.

At first I tried to come to terms of him being jailed in the hope he would be granted dignified conditions in jail but I am saddened and shocked to learn he could be placed among criminals, with no ability to bring books or enable him to write, with no entertainment allowed. He is being treated like a criminal. This is not a just punishment, this is a deliberate attempt to break the spirit of anyone brave enough to make use of free speech.

Given a pen and paper what do you do? You write in your own voice speaking the truth. Having been with Craig for two decades he has always spent his time and energy highlighting injustices and standing up for what is right, carefully, considerately and consistently.

I was brought up during Soviet times, and post independence in my own country, Uzbekistan. I have witnessed and personally experienced myself what the price of freedom of speech truly is. Opponents were ‘disappeared’ or it was claimed they had ‘taken their own life’, or been locked away in asylums. I am filled with fear this pattern is now repeating itself in the UK. It is appalling to see Craig is going through the same treatment in the so-called ‘human rights’ respecting country UK.

This is an attack on Truthtellers. His writings are those of a highly qualified Journalist, Human Rights Activist, former Rector of Dundee University and former British Ambassador. To us, his family, this situation is devastating: I am now left with my 5 months old baby, yet to find a good way to explain Craig’s jail sentence to his confused and anxious 12 year old son.

Of any readers concerned with the loss of freedom of speech and equality before the law I ask that you show active and outspoken solidarity with my partner.

A Craig Murray Justice Campaign has been formed which I hope you can support. Find them on twitter @cmurrayjustice. Their website will be up shortly and details will be posted on this site.

*

Update:

The Campaign for Justice for Craig Murray has released an official statement which is reproduced in full below:

Legal precedent will be set tomorrow as Craig Murray will be the first person to be imprisoned on the charge of jigsaw identification in the UK, and indeed in the entire world. Scotland’s second most senior judge, Lady Dorrian, sentenced Murray to 8 months of incarceration following a contempt of court charge for ‘jigsaw identification’ relating to the trial against Alex Salmond.

In May Lady Dorrian said that in her view Murray had intended to release identities of Salmond’s accusers. Mr Murray has always denied any intent to identify and that anybody was actually identified. Murray had not directly identified any of the accusers in the Salmond trial, but Dorrian argued identification may be possible if his reporting of the case was read in connection with other materials in the public domain.

No one aside from Murray was charged with jigsaw identification in connection with the Salmond case, despite the fact that 81% of respondents in a Panelbase survey who believed that they had learned identities, gave mainstream media as the source of their knowledge. Lady Dorrian specifically stated that bloggers and mainstream media should be treated differently, as mainstream media are self-regulated.

Murray is the first person to be imprisoned in the UK for a media contempt for over 50 years, and in Scotland for over 70 years.

Murray’s imprisonment comes after an announcement from the UK Supreme Court that it will not hear his appeal. Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray will surrender himself to Police shortly and begin to serve the custodial sentence handed to him. A public protest against Murrays’ incarceration is planned. Murray’s wife and mother of their 5 month and 12 year old sons Nadira has written an open letter asking for “active and outspoken solidarity from anyone concerned about the loss of freedom of speech and equality before the law”.

Murray had recently been called as a witness in a case brought by Spanish state prosecutors against UC Global for allegedly acting on behalf of the CIA in covertly spying on Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Material before the Spanish court includes several hours of covert surveillance video of Murray in private conversation with Assange on the future of Assange and Wikileaks. The Scottish court removed Murray’s passport expressly to prevent him traveling to Spain to testify.

Craig Murray commented:

“I go to jail with a clean conscience after a Kafkaesque trial. I genuinely do not know who I am supposed to have identified or which phrases I published are said to have identified them, in combination with what other information in the public domain. This judgement will have a chilling effect on reporting of the defence case at trials, to the detriment of justice, and the different treatment of bloggers and approved media is sinister. I carefully protect the identities of the accusers in my reports. I believe this is actually the state’s long sought revenge for my whistleblowing on security service collusion with torture and my long term collaboration with Wikileaks and other whistleblowers. Unfortunately important free speech issues are collateral damage.”

Murray and the Craig Murray Justice committee have both signalled their intention to continue to resist the penalty handed to him by continuing to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights via all routes required. They are particularly concerned that in her opinion Lady Dorrian implied that bloggers and public commentators like Murray ought to be punished more severely than mainstream journalists for the same offense. Ellen Joelle Dalzell, coordinator of the Craig Murray Justice campaign group stated:

“The sentence handed to Craig Murray not only sets legal precedent in terms of a custodial sentence for the charge of jigsaw identification, it represents an attack on free speech in general, and a tangible threat to the free reporting of legal trials in particular. The judgement is excessively punitive, is likely to have severe implications for Murray’s poor health and represents a dangerous precedent for journalists and other writers who seek to fairly report or comment on matters of public law.”

*

Additional:

On August 1st, Craig Murray posted the following article summarising once again the importance of issues surrounding his own case and in a response to the ensuing Twitter storm. I have reproduced his article in full including the embedded House of Commons speech made by Kenny MacAskill MP with transcript supplied beneath courtesy of Hansard:

I want to make one or two points for you to ponder while I am in jail. This is the last post until about Christmas; we are not legally able to post anything while I am imprisoned. But the Justice for Craig Murray Campaign website is now up and running and will start to have more content shortly. Fora and comments here are planned to stay open.

I hope that one possible good effect of my imprisonment might be to coalesce opposition to the imminent abolition of jury trials in sexual assault cases by the Scottish Government, a plan for which Lady Dorrian – who wears far too many hats in all this – is front and centre. We will then have a situation where, as established by my imprisonment, no information at all on the defence case may be published in case it contributes to “jigsaw identification”, and where conviction will rest purely on the view of the judge.

That is plainly not “open justice”, it is not justice at all. And it is even worse than that, because the openly stated aim of abolishing juries is to increase conviction rates. So people will have their lives decided not by a jury of their peers, but by a judge who is acting under specific instruction to increase conviction rates.

It is often noted that conviction rates in rape trials are too low, and that is true. But have you ever heard this side of the argument? In Uzbekistan under the Karimov dictatorship, when I served there, conviction rates in rape trials were 100%. In fact very high conviction rates are a standard feature of all highly authoritarian regimes worldwide, because if the state prosecutes you then the state gets what it wants. The wishes of the state in such systems vastly outweigh the liberty of the individual.

My point is simply this. You cannot judge the validity of a system simply by high conviction rates. What we want is a system where the innocent are innocent and the guilty found guilty; not where an arbitrary conviction target is met.

The answer to the low conviction rates in sexual assault trials is not simple. Really serious increases in resources for timely collection of evidence, for police training and specialist units, for medical services, for victim support, all have a part to play. But that needs a lot of money and thought. Just abolishing juries and telling judges you want them to convict is of course free, or even a saving.

The right to have the facts judged in serious crime allegations by a jury of our peers is a glory of our civilisation. It is the product of millennia, not lightly to be thrown away and replaced by a huge increase in arbitrary state power. That movement is of course fueled by current fashionable political dogma which is that the victim must always be believed. That claim has morphed from an initial meaning that police and first responders must take accusations seriously, to a dogma that accusation is proof and it is wrong to even question the evidence, which is of course to deny the very possibility of false accusation.

That is precisely the position which Nicola Sturgeon has taken over the Alex Salmond trial; to be accused is to be guilty, irrespective of the defence evidence. That people are oblivious to the dangers of the dogma that there should be no defence against sexual assault allegations, is to me deeply worrying. Sexual allegation is the most common method that states have used to attack dissidents for centuries, worldwide and again especially in authoritarian regimes. Closer to home, think of history stretching from Roger Casement to Assange and Salmond.

Why would we remove the only barrier – a jury of ordinary citizens – that can stop abuse of state power?

I am worried that this abolition of juries will have been enacted by the Scottish Parliament, even before I am out of jail. I am worried Labour and the Lib Dems will support it out of fashionable political correctness. I am worried an important liberty will disappear.

I want to touch on one other aspect of liberty in my own imprisonment that appears not understood, or perhaps simply neglected, because somehow the very notion of liberty is slipping from our political culture. One point that features plainly in the troll talking points to be used against me, recurring continually on social media, is that I was ordered to take down material from my blog and refused.

There is an extremely important point here. I have always instantly complied with any order of a court to remove material. What I have not done is comply with instructions from the Crown or Procurator Fiscal to remove material. Because it is over 330 years since the Crown had the right of censorship in Scotland without the intervention of a judge.

It sickens me that so many Scottish Government backed trolls are tweeting out that I should have obeyed the instructions of the Crown. That Scotland has a governing party which actively supports the right of the Crown to exercise unrestrained censorship is extremely worrying, and I think a sign both of the lack of respect in modern political culture for liberties which were won by people being tortured to death, and of the sheer intellectual paucity of the current governing class.

But then we now learn that Scotland has a government which was prepared not only to be complicit in exempting the Crown from climate change legislation, but also complicit in hushing up the secret arrangement, so I am not surprised.

What is even more terrifying in my case is that the Court explicitly states that I should have followed the directions of the Crown Office in what I did and did not publish, and my failure to not publish as the Crown ordered is an aggravating factor in my sentencing.

If the Crown thinks something I write is in contempt and I think it is not, the Crown and I should stand as equals in court and argue our cases. There should be no presumption I ought to have obeyed the Crown in the first place. That Scottish “justice” has lost sight of this is disastrous, though perhaps as much from stupidity as malice.

My next thought on my trial is to emphasise again the dreadful doctrine Lady Dorrian has now enshrined in law, that bloggers should be held to a different (by implication higher) standard in law than the mainstream media (the judgement uses exactly those terms), because the mainstream media is self-regulated.

This doctrine is used to justify jailing me when mainstream media journalists have not been jailed for media contempt for over half a century, and also to explain why I have been prosecuted where the mainstream media, who were provably responsible for far more jigsaw identification, were not prosecuted.

This is dreadful law, and my entire legal team are frankly astonished that the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on this point. This excellent article by Jonathan Cook explains further the chilling implications.

Those articles which the Court ordered me to take down, have been taken down. But I was not ordered to take down this one, which was found not to be in contempt of court. I was also not ordered to take down my affidavits, which though slightly redacted are still extremely valuable. I swore to the truth of every word and I stick by that. At the time I published these, far less was known about the Salmond affair than is known now, and I believe you will find it well worth reading them again in the light of your current state of wider knowledge – absolutely nothing to do with learning identities, but to do with what really happened on the whole plot to destroy Alex Salmond (something the judgement states I am allowed to say).

Finally I urge you to consider this truly remarkable speech from Kenny MacAskill MP. Scotland’s former Justice Secretary, and consider its quite staggering implications. It tells you everything you want to know about the British Establishment’s capture of the Scottish government, that the mainstream media felt no need to report the main points he was making, which constitute a simply astonishing outline of corrupt abuse of power.

Kenny MacAskill:

Before the post of Secretary of State for Scotland was created, the Lord Advocate was the power in the land, and some postholders were despotic indeed. The transportation of Thomas Muir and the hanging and beheading of Baird, Hardie and Wilson, the Scottish radicals and 1820 martyrs, are crimes that lie with them. Thankfully, the post devolved and became a purely legal role, but an anachronism was built in, for the postholder is both principal legal adviser to the Scottish Government yet also head of the prosecution service—the Crown Office, as it is known. That is something replicated neither elsewhere in the United Kingdom nor, indeed, in any modern democracy. Conflict of interest precludes it. In England and Wales, an Attorney General advises the Government from within. Meanwhile, a head of the prosecution service is both separate and independent from Government. But not so in Scotland, and therein lies the problem.

To be fair, apart from those despotic years, postholders, irrespective of political hue and whether pre or post-devolution, have acted with the impartiality expected. Modest steps were taken to mitigate the conflict of powers. Under Alex Salmond’s Administration a convention was invoked that the Lord Advocate appeared at Cabinet only when legal advice was to be given and did not participate in wider political debate. But the anachronism still lingered. Under Nicola Sturgeon’s Administration it has been brutally exposed by both Scottish Government and Crown Office actions, with the Lord Advocate straddling both. Change is now needed, and fast.

Firstly, there has been an admission by the outgoing Lord Advocate of malicious prosecutions involving the administrators in the Rangers FC liquidation. That is unprecedented in Scotland, not just in recent years but since those days of the early 19th century. Even south of the border there have been no such cases since 1999, and high-profile cases before such as the Winston Silcott and Daniel Morgan cases were rare. It has caused alarm with the public and been of huge reputational damage in an organisation where impartiality is imperative. It has also caused consternation and anger within police and prosecution services, where the overwhelming majority of staff act without bias and free of any favour or prejudice. The reputation of the many has been traduced by a few.

It was the former Lord Advocate’s decision, and seeking to cast blame on his predecessor was shameful and inadequate. An inquiry, perhaps even by a non-Scottish judicial figure, has been promised. Additionally, there is the financial cost. The quantum of damages is for the court, but suggestions are that the final bill could reach £60 million or £80 million—this in an organisation with an annual budget of £300 million, struggling to meet existing commitments. The price will be paid by Scottish taxpayers and the loss felt by hard-pressed Scottish public services.

Secondly, and just as alarming, has been the role of the Lord Advocate and a coterie around him within the Crown Office in the Alex Salmond case, and the fallout from it. It is another instance of the public having to pay the price of Government incompetence, with the legal expenses bill in the civil case amounting to £500,000, but where the issue of impartiality as well as competence was raised. In the civil case, the presiding judge described the Scottish Government’s actions as “unlawful”, “unfair” and “tainted by apparent bias”. During proceedings, senior external counsel, Roddy Dunlop QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, expressed horror at the situation he and his colleague had been put in by their client. They could no longer rest on pleadings they knew to be untrue. The client was the Government, and their senior legal adviser was the Lord Advocate. A criminal case followed the failed civil case and was prosecuted by the Crown Office, where the same Lord Advocate remained in office.

Despite growing pressures on police and prosecution, nothing has been spared—nothing has been too trivial—but the targets always seem selective. The Alex Salmond case saw resources deployed that are normally reserved for serious organised crime figures or serial killers, for charges that, were it not for who was being prosecuted, would either never have seen the light of day or appeared only in the lowest courts, not the High Court. I say that as someone who was Justice Secretary for seven and a half years but also a defence agent for 20 years. As it was, Mr Salmond was acquitted on all charges, by a majority female jury.

It is standard practice in cases involving politicians that the Lord Advocate recuses himself from involvement in the consideration or prosecution of the case, and that was done here, with no direct involvement in the prosecution. However, at the same time, the Lord Advocate had been, and was, sitting on Scottish Government committees dealing with the civil case, where referral or prosecution was being actively sought and advised by the Administration.

Let us recall that a prosecution was sought by the Scottish Government, as the actions of the director of human resources in contacting the police confirm. Many—indeed, most—complainers were and remain at the heart of Government, or are officials or otherwise closely linked with the governing party. Prosecution was encouraged and pressed for by the chief executive of the governing party, who is the First Minister’s husband.

Chinese walls and recusal are entirely inadequate. In one role, the Lord Advocate was supporting a Government pursuing prosecution; in another, he was denying that it was anything to do with him. A separation of powers this certainly was not. When James Wolffe appeared before the Holyrood Committee considering the Salmond prosecution, he was frankly evasive and obfuscating, mirroring the actions of the Crown and the Government in a lack of openness and transparency. There was neither contrition nor candour. Open government this certainly was not.

The fallout and failures continue to reverberate. Following on from the Alex Salmond case has been that of Craig Murray, a writer and former diplomat. His conviction is under appeal at the Supreme Court; accordingly, I refrain from commenting on specifics of the case. Instead, I restrict my remarks to the decision by the Crown to prosecute Mr Murray for jigsaw identification of complainers in the case. Why was he prosecuted when others who did so—in one case certainly overtly, and in many others much more flagrantly than by Mr Murray—were not? No action was taken against them.

Moreover, publications that in any other case would have constituted a clear contempt of court went without censure by the Crown. They included newspaper articles as prejudicial as I have ever seen, but they were supporting prosecution, whereas Mr Murray, though seeking to report factually, was not. It seems that the Crown has one law for those supporting the Government line and another for those who challenge it.

Click here to read the full transcript of Kenny MacAskill’s House of Common’s speech.

And here to read Craig Murray’s original post entitled “Keeping Freedom Alive”.

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, Craig Murray, internet freedom

corona marginalia: ‘weaponising truth’

In just the past week, the national-security states of the United States and United Kingdom have discreetly let it be known that the cyber tools and online tactics previously designed for use in the post-9/11 “war on terror” are now being repurposed for use against information sources promoting “vaccine hesitancy” and information related to Covid-19 that runs counter to their state narratives.

writes Whitney Webb in a recent article in which she investigates the newest wave of censorship in the now relentless campaign against free speech on the internet.

Entitled “US – UK Intel Agencies Declare Cyber War on Independent Media”, the article continues:

A new cyber offensive was launched on Monday by the UK’s signal intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which seeks to target websites that publish content deemed to be “propaganda” that raises concerns regarding state-sponsored Covid-19 vaccine development and the multi-national pharmaceutical corporations involved.

Similar efforts are underway in the United States, with the US military recently funding a CIA-backed firm—stuffed with former counterterrorism officials who were behind the occupation of Iraq and the rise of the so-called Islamic State—to develop an AI algorithm aimed specifically at new websites promoting “suspected” disinformation related to the Covid-19 crisis and the US military–led Covid-19 vaccination effort known as Operation Warp Speed.

Both countries are preparing to silence independent journalists who raise legitimate concerns over pharmaceutical industry corruption or the extreme secrecy surrounding state-sponsored Covid-19 vaccination efforts, now that Pfizer’s vaccine candidate is slated to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by month’s end.

Pfizer’s history of being fined billions for illegal marketing and for bribing government officials to help them cover up an illegal drug trial that killed eleven children (among other crimes) has gone unmentioned by most mass media outlets, which instead have celebrated the apparently imminent approval of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine without questioning the company’s history or that the mRNA technology used in the vaccine has sped through normal safety trial protocols and has never been approved for human use. Also unmentioned is that the head of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Patrizia Cavazzoni, is the former Pfizer vice president for product safety who covered up the connection of one of its products to birth defects.

Essentially, the power of the state is being wielded like never before to police online speech and to deplatform news websites to protect the interests of powerful corporations like Pfizer and other scandal-ridden pharmaceutical giants as well as the interests of the US and UK national-security states, which themselves are intimately involved in the Covid-19 vaccination endeavor.

In the same piece, Whitney Webb also highlights the involvement of a US tech firm called Primer whose founder, Sean Gourley, has previously worked on military AI tracking systems and called for the creation of a “Manhattan Project for truth”:

In early October, the US Air Force and US Special Operations Command announced that they had awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to the US-based “machine intelligence” company Primer. Per the press release, “Primer will develop the first-ever machine learning platform to automatically identify and assess suspected disinformation [emphasis added]. Primer will also enhance its natural language processing platform to automatically analyze tactical events to provide commanders with unprecedented insight as events unfold in near real-time.”

According to Primer, the company “builds software machines that read and write in English, Russian, and Chinese to automatically unearth trends and patterns across large volumes of data,” and their work “supports the mission of the intelligence community and broader DOD by automating reading and research tasks to enhance the speed and quality of decision-making.” In other words, Primer is developing an algorithm that would allow the national-security state to outsource many military and intelligence analyst positions to AI. In fact, the company openly admits this, stating that their current effort “will automate the work typically done by dozens of analysts in a security operations center to ingest all of the data relevant to an event as it happens and funnel it into a unified user interface.”

Primer’s ultimate goal is to use their AI to entirely automate the shaping of public perceptions and become the arbiter of “truth,” as defined by the state. Primer’s founder, Sean Gourley, who previously created AI programs for the military to track “insurgency” in post-invasion Iraq, asserted in an April blog post that “computational warfare and disinformation campaigns will, in 2020, become a more serious threat than physical war, and we will have to rethink the weapons we deploy to fight them.”

In that same post, Gourley argued for the creation of a “Manhattan Project for truth” that would create a publicly available Wikipedia-style database built off of “knowledge bases [that] already exist inside many countries’ intelligence agencies for national security purposes.” Gourley then wrote that “this effort would be ultimately about building and enhancing our collective intelligence and establishing a baseline for what’s true or not” as established by intelligence agencies. He concludes his blog post by stating that “in 2020, we will begin to weaponize truth.”

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article which is straplined “British and American state intelligence agencies are ‘weaponizing truth’ to quash vaccine hesitancy as both nations prepare for mass inoculations, in a recently announced ‘cyber war’ to be commanded by AI-powered arbiters of truth against information sources that challenge official narratives” on her official website Unlimited Hangout.

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Filed under Britain, internet freedom, USA

Brazilian ex-President Lula da Silva on Op. Car Wash, Bolsonaro, Assange, US meddling and more

In April 2018 former Brazilian President Lula da Silva (of the Workers’ Party or PT) was convicted on charges of money laundering and corruption and sentenced to serve 12 years following the largest investigation into corruption in the country’s history; this was so-called Operation Car Wash.

Although Lula’s sentence was upheld at appeal, he has always vigorously denied all the charges and consistently claimed the case against him was politically motivated: Lula’s conviction immediately opening the way for Jair Bolsonaro to be elected with his main challenger now eliminated from the race. As if to settle the matter, Judge Sérgio Moro, who had presided over the case, was shortly afterward appointed as Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice:

In a transaction that even anti-Lula crusaders found highly distasteful, the judge who found Lula guilty and cleared the path for Bolsonaro’s ascension to the presidency — Judge Moro — thereafter accepted a position in Bolsonaro’s government that has been described as a “Super Justice Minister”: a newly designed position consolidating powers under Moro that had previously been dispersed among various agencies. It rendered Judge Moro — less than a year after putting Lula in prison and thus removing Bolsonaro’s key obstacle — one of the most powerful men in Brazil.

From an article written by Glenn Greenwald based around an interview he conducted with Lula while he was still in prison. In the same piece, Greenwald explains in more detail how Lula’s conviction paved the way for Bolsonaro’s accession:

Lula’s criminal conviction on corruption charges last year came under highly suspicious circumstances. All year long, polls showed him as the clear front-runner for the 2018 presidential race. After anti-PT forces finally succeeded with [former President] Dilma [Rousseff]’s impeachment in doing what they spent 16 years trying with futility to accomplish at the ballot box — removing PT from power — it seemed that Lula’s 2018 return to presidency was virtually inevitable and that only one instrument existed for preventing it: quickly convicting him of a felony which, under Brazilian law, would render him ineligible to run as a candidate. And that’s precisely what happened. 1

Lula was finally released in November 2019 after serving 580 days in prison. This followed revelations also published by Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept based on:

[G]roup chats between Car Wash prosecutors and conversations between task force coordinator Deltan Dallagnol and Moro, showing that the then-judge and the prosecutors were unethically and inappropriately collaborating in secret. Despite repeatedly insisting in public that they were acting ethically and impartially, the chats revealed that the judge was passing on advice, investigative leads, and inside information to the prosecutors — who were themselves plotting to prevent Lula’s Workers’ Party from winning last year’s election. 2

Click here to find the full “Secret Brazil Archive” published by The Intercept (The quote above is from Part 4 of the 14 part series).

On his release, Lula spoke to supporters saying, “They did not imprison a man. They tried to kill an idea.”

Adding that under Bolsonaro, “Brazil did not improve, Brazil got worse. The people are going hungry. The people are unemployed. The people do not have formal jobs. People are working for Uber – they’re riding bikes to deliver pizzas.” 3

Click here to read an earlier post about the coup against Dilma Rousseff entitled “‘Brazil’: now more than ever, a satire for our age”.

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On Saturday, RT’s Going Underground devoted its show to an extended interview with Lula da Silva, which is embedded below. He told host Afshin Rattansi:

In Brazil some important things took place that the world needs to know about. For the first time in its history, during my government, Brazil became an international player. Brazil had created UNASUL [the Union of South American Nations] demonstrating a beautiful relationship within South America. Brazil had developed a relationship between South America and Africa; between South America and the Arab countries. Brazil had taken part in the creation of the BRICS. Brazil had created IBAS [or IBAS initiative (India, Brazil and South Africa), also called the G-3]. That is, Brazil was becoming an international player and that is something that the Americans never allowed.

Now Brazil is returning to the colonial period. After the coup on President Dilma, they would never want to have Lula back as the President of the Republic to continue our domestic social inclusion policy and our international protagonism policy. They want Brazil to continue to be a colony.

So they conjured this lie called the Car Wash Operation against me. They invented a lie during the procedure. They condemned me without any evidence. I’ve proved my innocence and I am waiting for them to prove any guilt on my part. I have challenged the Federal Prosecutor and the Judge who headed my trial. But I am much more concerned with Brazil at this moment. [from 4:55 mins]

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Continuing:

We had eliminated hunger in Brazil and hunger has returned. We were in a process of raising education in this country and now we have a great setback in education as well as in science and technology.

We have major setbacks in the environmental legislation, in deforestation and in the preservation of our forests and out water resources. Obviously Brazil would be better off if I had been allowed to be a candidate [during the last Presidential elections]. They withdrew my candidacy for presidency with a legal procedure because they knew that if I ran in the elections I would have won in the first round.

And here in Brazil, a part of the country’s elite cannot stand to see poor people eating in restaurants, or travelling by plane, or buying cars. They cannot stand to see poor people ascending, which is what we achieved through hundreds of public policies to improve the lives of the poor people in this country.

I am proud that the President of the United Nations acknowledged that Brazil had eliminated hunger. I am proud that in 2010, Brazil was the country with the highest level of hope in the world – with the happiest people in the world – because we had so many expectations; so many dreams. And Brazil was about to become the fifth global economy.

Now we see Brazil experiencing a rise in poverty. People are hungry in Sao Paolo, in Rio de Janeiro and all over the country people have gone back to the streets. Wages dropped drastically and unemployment has risen. This is the country of the fascists who rule it.

I want a democratic country, a sovereign country, a country where people are happy and proud to say they are Brazilian. [from 6:25 mins]

When asked whether leaving the oligarchs in power to falsely prosecute him and afterwards to remove Dilma from office in a de facto coup, Lula replies:

I won an election; I did not start a revolution. I do not believe that a metalworker, like myself, could have become President of the Republic if it had not been for democracy; and if it had not been, most of all for democracy and for the Brazilian people’s comprehension and maturity when they voted.

I confess that I ruled for all. I doubt that there was any moment in Brazil’s history when everyone benefited so much. It is true that businesses won. It is true that bankers won. It is true that big landowners won. But it is also true that the poor workers won too.

We had the greatest pay rise for the poor during my government; the greatest rise in education. We are already known in history as the government that built the greatest number of universities and technical schools; invested the most in science and technology; and for sure we must have made mistakes, or else there would have been no coup against President Dilma.

The coup was the beginning of a new attitude in Brazil. In my opinion it was organised by the US Department of Justice with the participation of the CIA. We have video recordings. The Intercept has publicly exposed all the scams of the Federal Prosecutor and Judge Moro – and the participation of the US DOJ in destroying the construction and engineering sector in Brazil; the gas industry in Brazil; and the country’s politics. Because the US never accepted the fact that Brazil would become an international player.

You must remember that the US and Europe had a hard time dealing with Iran, because they could not reach an agreement with regards to uranium enrichment. Ambassador Celso Amorim and I went to Iran with the President of Turkey, and we were successful in convincing Iran to accept an agreement which was better than this deal that was signed by the Americans and the European Union.

Regretfully, when we proposed the agreement I expected that the US and the EU would thanks Brazil and Turkey; instead they applied more sanctions against Iran in a clear demonstration that they were telling us that Brazil is a small third world country that cannot meddle with major countries’ affairs.  [from 8:50 mins]

In 2008, Lula had also negotiated with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to win a contract with naval supplier DCNS [renamed Naval Group] for the sale of five submarines. This deal permitted a transfer of technology enabling Brazil to assemble four conventional submarines and one submarine with nuclear capability. During Operation Car Wash in 2016, DCNS was investigated over concerns of “corruption of foreign officials”. Asked about this part of the scandal, Lula says:

I am certain that the Americans did not agree that we should settle an agreement with France to build the nuclear submarine. I am certain that they did not appreciate it when I created the South American Defence Secretariat because as soon as we discovered the pre-salt oil, which was the major oil discovery of the twenty-first century – one thousand meters deep in the Atlantic Ocean – the Americans announced that they would reactivate their Fourth (maritime) Fleet in the Atlantic Ocean, which had ceased to operate after World War II.

Petrobras, the Brazilian state-run energy giant, had discovered the Tupi oilfield, which is located in the Santos Basin’s subsalt layer and estimated to hold recoverable reserves of between 5 billion and 8 billion barrels of oil, back in November 2007. It began pumping in May 2009. 4

Our oil is on the maritime border with international waters. So I believe that the US truly is interested in taking over our oil, just as they grabbed so much oil in so many countries around the world.

As you know Afshin, all political confusions around the world occur because of oil and the Americans do not want Petrobras, or the Brazilian people, to keep all that oil. [from 15:15 mins]

Lula also spoke about the assistance gave to his friend Hugo Chavez in Venezuela:

I had a fantastic relationship with President Chavez for many years, and I created a group of “Friends of Venezuela” to prevent any American intervention. And we were very successful during the Bush administration and later in the Obama administration with the following phrase: The people of Venezuela take care of democracy in Venezuela.

An American citizen who wins elections based on fake news like Trump has no moral authority to talk about democracy – likewise Bolsonaro in Brazil. Certainly I may have been naive, as well as Dilma, in believing in democracy; in believing in the conduct of the Brazilian elite, and we are paying the price for that. But nevertheless, I think that the solution is a democratic one. It involves democracy; freedom of the press; freedom of labour unions; freedom of association; respect for human rights. This is what motivates me and this is what I will fight for because it is only with democracy that we will be able to improve the quality of life of the poor; of the workers; and of the excluded people in our country. [from 17:00 mins]

Regarding the current political situation in Brazil, Lula says he thinks his former prosecutor Sérgio Moro will not run for President in 2022:

Moro will never become president. Moro was fabricated by Globo TV. Moro is an invention of the media and without the media, he is nothing. Moro is a citizen who I believe seems to be a coward because I have challenged him to debate with me. Now that he’s no longer a judge he could debate with me, but he won’t. And I do not think Globo will have the guts to support him. But if he is it is not a problem at all. [from 21:50 mins]

While at another point Lula says:

I am sure that Moro and [lead prosecutor of Op. Car Wash, Deltan] Dallagnol must take very heavy drugs to sleep because their conscience is not calm. They know that they lied about me. Dallagnol knows that he formed a gang in the Car Wash taskforce to pass on information to the US, and to strike a deal – a financial deal even – through which Dallagnol would raise a 200 million real fund to do something here in Brazil. My conscience is clear because my innocence is proven. Now I want to prove their guilt in the crimes they committed against Brazil. Attempting to destroy Brazil’s sovereignty.

Today I do not feel any hatred or resentment. I am actually destined to continue fighting for democracy, because as you know, although I will be 75-years old on October 27th, I have the energy of a thirty-year old and the political will of a twenty-year old. Therefore I still have a lot of energy to fight for democracy and for the Brazilian people and also to try to contribute to a world with new leaders that are more impetuous and brave for politics, because world governance nowadays has been outsourced.

Crises are no longer managed by governments, but rather by bureaucrats. So there are no more political leaders and this weakens politics and originates people of the like of Trump and Bolsonaro. [from 12:15 mins]

The full story is available in the “Secret Brazil Archive” at The Intercept but you can also read a summary of some of these allegation in a Guardian report published in June 2019.

Asked why he did nothing to reform oligarch-owned media in Brazil, Lula says:

I didn’t do anything because in Brazil to change the rules for the media you need to submit a bill to be voted in the National Congress and the majority in Congress being so conservative will never approve the rules to make the media more democratic.

We created a public TV channel. Certainly we did not make the necessary investments to make it competitive – not financially competitive – but competitive with regards to providing more information to society. This is something I regret not having one.

We developed a project to regulate the media – it was complete by mid-2009. We did not have support from Congress because elections would be held the following year, and we left it for the new administration. This is one thing that we will need to do when the PT returns to the government, because information that is meant for society cannot have an owner. Information cannot be conveyed to society from the viewpoint of ‘the economy’, or of a part of that society. [from 20:00 mins]

And regarding the incarceration and looming potential extradition to America of Julian Assange, Lula reminds us:

It is true that the Americans may hate Snowden because he was a State Department employee and he leaked information, but the fact is that Assange should be considered a hero by all democratic countries around the world. Because he was the one who used Snowden’s leaks to expose US espionage in Petrobras, in Brazil, in Germany, in Argentina, in France. That is why Assange cannot be handed over to the US. Assange should win the Nobel Peace Prize because he managed to expose the rotten espionage of the US in the rest of the world.

It is a pity that European and South American countries are not brave enough to stand up for Assange for all the good he did for mankind. [from 18:30 mins]

At the beginning of the interview, Afshin Rattansi asks Lula directly “why are you accusing your successor Jair Bolsonaro of genocide?” To which he replies:

For a very simple reason, our president did not take care of Brazil and of the Brazilian people as he should have done. This pandemic did not reach Brazil without prior notice. We already had experience of what was going on in other countries around the world, and the president should simply have done the obvious, only what common sense teaches us to do.

The president, since he doesn’t know about anything except weapons and violence, should have set up a technical committee with experts and scientists. He should have gathered all state governors as well as mayors and established a crisis committee to guide Brazilian society – to participate in the process of mitigating the impact of the pandemic in Brazil.

He did not do this. He decried the pandemic. He said that people should not wear masks. He proscribed a drug called chloroquinine to the population without any scientific basis. And to this date he continues to vulgarise death because effectively he does not believe in science, or in the Brazilian people, and he does not respect individuals. The only thing he does is compliment Trump and to try to copy the same foolish things that Trump does in the US. [from 1:27 mins]

Later in the interview, Lula is asked what he believes the likely consequences of Bolsonaro winning 2022 election will be, especially when it comes to impacts on the environment. He replies:

[Protection of] the Amazon must remain an issue for the Brazilian society. The Amazon does not need to have squatters or invaders. Instead of cattle breeders and soy bean farmers, the Amazon needs to be occupied by researchers, anthropologists and scientists to study its plants and animals, and all of the pharmacological wealth it has, as well as its potential to feed our society.

The Amazon is extraordinary for mankind and Brazil needs to have the obligation, the moral and ethical commitment, to preserve the Amazon in order to provide balance to Planet Earth. This is an irresponsibility of the Bolsonaro government, which has destroyed the entire surveillance system. Even the director of the agency that monitored deforestation with spatial imaging was dismissed. Now they are blaming the indigenous people and the small farmers for deforestation.

I have high hopes that in 2022, Brazil will return to democracy: that the people will elect a democrat for president who respects the environment and our air space; our borders; and who knows the meaning of our country’s sovereignty. [from 22:30 mins]

Adding finally:

I am convinced that the only solution we have is to strengthen democracy including for the American people now. They have the right to change American politics by electing someone who is civilised; someone who has some humanity; someone who has at least some respect for blacks, for native Americans, for the women and for differences between human beings. Therefore we have the duty to rebuild democracy in the world, so that we can prevent the destruction of Planet Earth, which is like a boat and we are all sinking in it.

I think we need to realise that the Americans are going backwards in exercising democracy. Recently I saw Trump calling Obama a communist. Calling Biden a communist. Calling Clinton a communist. He doesn’t even know what communism is.

I think ignorance is defeating intelligence and… intelligence, humanism, solidarity need to be restored in the world. The world today is being ruled by committees, not by governments. I think that governments need to rediscover their role in governance including the United Nations.

The UN needs to change its role. Today’s UN cannot be the same as it was in 1948. We need to have African countries in the UN Security Council. We need Latin American countries in the Security Council. And countries like India. It cannot be the same five countries as in 1948. We need to create a new global governance.

In 1948 the UN was strong enough to create the State of Israel. In 2020 the UN does not have the power to create the Palestinian state.

It is shameful because we need to renegotiate the role of the UN and other institutions. We need to discuss the IMF. What is the use of the IMF? What is the use of the World Bank?

I have already talked to Pope Francis. I have gone to the World Council of Churches in Geneva. We need a global campaign against inequality on our planet. It is not possible that half a dozen entrepreneurs in digital corporations make in one year what billions of human beings do not ever have. We also need to discuss the role of capitalism. And I am willing to do this.  [from 24:35 mins]

Note that: The transcript above is my own although based on the translation provided by the show. It is more or less complete but reordered with time stamps for each section.

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1 From an article entitled “Watch: Interview With Brazil’s Ex-President Lula From Prison, Discussing Global Threats, Neoliberalism, Bolsonaro, and More” written by Glenn Greenwald, published in The Intercept on May 22, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/05/22/lula-brazil-ex-president-prison-interview/

2 From an article entitled “Their Little Show” which is Part 4 of a series of 14 articles based upon what is described as “A massive trove of previously undisclosed materials provid[ing] unprecedented insight into the operations of the anti-corruption task force that transformed Brazilian politics and gained worldwide attention”, entitled “Secret Brazil Archive” published by The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/series/secret-brazil-archive/ 

3 From an article entitled “Brazil’s former president Lula walks free from prison after supreme court ruling” written by Dom Phillips, published in the Guardian in November 8, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/08/lula-brazil-released-prison-supreme-court-ruling

4 https://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/75679/petrobras_pumps_first_crude_from_massive_tupi_field_offshore_brazil/ 

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