Tag Archives: The New York Times

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.

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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

Chris Hedges and Matt Taibbi on true ‘fake news’ and the monopolised censorship of the tech giants

Twitter and Facebook blocked access to a New York Post story about a cache of emails reportedly belonging to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s son Hunter, with Twitter locking the New York Post out of its own account for over a week. This overt censorship is emblematic of the widening and dangerous partisan divide within the US media. News and facts are no longer true or false; they are divided into information that either hurts or promotes one political faction over another.

While outlets such as Fox News have always existed as an arm of the Republican Party, this partisanship has now infected nearly all news organisations, including publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post along with the major tech platforms that disseminate news. The division of the press into warring factions shreds journalistic credibility, creating a world where facts do not matter, and where a public is encouraged to believe whatever it wants to believe.

This is Chris Hedge’s introduction to a recent interview with fellow journalist Matt Taibbi on his RT show On Contact broadcast Saturday [Oct 31st] on the eve of the US Presidential election. The show is embedded below with my own transcript provided:

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Chris Hedges: Let’s begin with 2016, which was awful, but now it’s worse. Can you talk about the progression?

Matt Taibbi: Sure. I mean I think what happened in 2016 – and it’s kind of been a story that’s assumed biblical importance for people in the news media – we had this episode where a cache of emails that had come from the Democratic National Committee [DNC] and had been from figures like Tony Podesta, came to be in the public sphere through groups like Wikileaks.

And this material was true – it wasn’t fake, it wasn’t what we would traditionally call disinformation or misinformation – and it was reported on in a small way but later blamed for helping to election Donald Trump. And, as a result, a kind of coalition of news media, tech platforms and politicians has since demanded that the next time a situation like this takes place, we have to make sure that nobody reports material like that.

And so we’re now in a semi-analogous situation, where there’s been an explosive report about some emails allegedly belonging to the nominee’s son, Hunter Biden; and there’s been suppression and the news agencies have essentially decided we’re not going to do what we did in 2016. We’re going to shut this off completely. [from 2:25 mins]

On October 22nd, Matt Taibbi was invited to speak on The Hill’s weekday morning show ‘Rising’ about the difference between how the mainstream media covered the Steele Dossier versus Hunter Biden:

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CH: But this wasn’t just Biden. They will run with stuff like the Steele dossier that obviously can’t be fact checked. They will trumpet that because it hurts Trump. And I’m not talking about partisan news agencies like MSNBC, which is just an arm of the Democratic Party, I’m talking about these old traditional media outlets like The New York Times: the kind of language that they’ll use; [how] they’ll marginalise any kind of news – even in this case of Hunter Biden’s laptop [when] no-one has denied its authenticity and yet the way they write about it will be to discredit it as black propaganda.

I think there’s kind of a sea change within that traditional media which I come out of; just a whole new ethic. I find days when I read The New York Times it’s unrecognisable in terms of how it writes, the language it uses, what it’s willing to say… it’s really a completely new organisation in many ways. Can you talk about that shift, because I find that very frightening.

MT: Sure, and of course you would know this better than I would, I think that traditionally what The New York Times would do with a story like this is; it would work very hard to ascertain first whether the material was real, and it would wait to come out with some kind of pronouncement about it news value until it had done that. And that is exactly what they don’t do anymore. You know, really in the first days after this story broke they already had a story by Kevin Roose in the paper that the headline was something along the lines of “There was a mistake in 2016, Facebook promised to fix it, well this is what the fixing looks like.”

And then the lead of that… [from 5:05 mins]

CH: Matt let me interrupt you because this is the headline… “Facebook and Twitter Dodge a 2016 Repeat, and Ignite a 2020 Firestorm

[Chris Hedges then reads from Matt Taibbi’s report published on taibbi.substack.com]

The Companies have said they would do more to stop misinformation and hacked materials from spreading, this is what the effort looks like. And then, I’m reading from your article: [Kevin] Roose, who you’ve just mentioned, notes that “politicians and pundits have hoped for a stronger response from tech firms, ever since Russian hackers and Wikileaks injected stolen emails from the Clinton campaign into public discourse.”

This again, a quote from him:

“Since 2016, lawmakers, researchers and journalists have pressured these companies to take more and faster action to prevent false or misleading information from spreading on their services.” The Podesta emails are not false – they’re real.

MT: No exactly, it’s a bait and switch. And this has been going on all across the media landscape. When they’re doing that… they’ve used the word disinformation, or misinformation, so many times that people associate those emails with words like that. And so they can get away with saying, “Well we have to do something to stop this misinformation or disinformation”. Even though, again, we are talking about things that are real and true, but just that it happened to come to the public through a means that is in their minds infamous.

So again, the traditional mission of an organisation like The New York Times – and they exist specifically because they have the resources and the training to hunt out whether or not stuff like this is real – they are just skipping straight past that and going to the editorial pronouncement about how this is the kind of material that should be suppressed, and this is what suppression looks like, and good for them, and that’s the angle that they’re taking right now, which is really extraordinary, it’s an amazing change.  [from 6:45 mins]

CH: Yeah, no it is seismic.

So Matt I want to ask you about this podcast because I don’t think it’s unrelated: ‘Caliphate’. It’s a five-part series [where] they interview [Abu Huzayfah] – it turns out that he’s an imposter – you call it, correctly, stuff of snuff films. He’s talking about stabbings. He claims to have been an al Qaeda murderer, putting people up on crosses and putting daggers in their hearts. It’s quite amazing – again, coming out of the culture of The [New York] Times.

It’s completely false. It’s rabidly salacious. You know the worse parts of tabloid trash television. But I think that that’s a piece of what’s happening here. Can you talk about that – especially back up a little bit for people who aren’t familiar with what happened.

MT: Sure, yes. They had what I think was a six-part podcast series, and the lead reporter was a pretty celebrated figure in the organisation: it’s Rukmini Callimachi… and she’s been a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer [Prize]. And they interviewed this character who’s a Canadian citizen, who’s a Muslim, who claimed to have gone over to Syria to become a soldier for ISIS, and in the process he accumulated all these tales of committing horrific acts of violence.

The podcast was essentially based around these graphic descriptions of what he had done while he was in Syria and in other parts of the Middle East, and then he was arrested by Canadian authorities for perpetrating a hoax under a law – I guess we don’t have an analogous law here in The States – but when The [New York] Times was presented with this news that their main source in this very acclaimed, significantly trafficked podcast had turned out to be an imposter; their immediate reaction was to deflect and say, actually one of the purposes of the podcast was to determine whether or not he was telling the truth, which is completely untrue.

As Eric Wemple of the Washington Post put it (who incidentally has been one of the few media critics who’s actually done real work on this kind of stuff), they spent the entire podcast really bolstering the credibility of this source and not calling it into question at all. Incidentally, what would be the worth of a podcast like that, if there was any question at all of whether or not it was true? It would be a complete waste of time to do the story.

So they undermined themselves rather than do what I think a traditional news organisation would do, which is to say “okay, we might have a problem here, we’re going to look into it – if necessary we’ll bring in an outside auditor to see what went wrong and we’ll come out with all the results of our investigation later, and in the meantime we apologise”; that’s exactly what they didn’t do.

They’ve learned that audiences now forgive this kind of thing, and if you just pretend that it didn’t happen you can just move along and just go to the next thing. And that’s now more the kind of modus operandi, which of course wasn’t what it was when you worked there and I think when a lot of other people entered The [New York] Times back in the day. [from 8:50 mins]

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Many of the media outlets that promoted Russiagate claims which helped to deflect attention from the contents of the DNC email leaks during the 2016 election, recently repeated the same ploy by reporting unsubstantiated claims made by former intelligence officials, including John Brennan and James Clapper, as well as of top Democrats, including Joe Biden and Adam Schiff, that the Hunter Biden laptop revelations are also “Russian disinformation”, even though no one from the Biden camp has disputed the authenticity of a single leaked email or document, or denied that the laptop belongs to Hunter Biden.

On October 23rd, The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté spoke to Ray McGovern, a former career CIA officer who served as chief of the CIA’s Soviet analysts division and chaired National Intelligence Estimates, about latest claims of “Russian disinformation”, and how these new allegations actually raise questions about the conduct of the intelligence officials behind the original Russiagate claims:

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CH: Well they will forgive it only if it bolsters the dominant narrative. If it doesn’t bolster the dominant narrative, they won’t forgive it. That’s why they’ve pushed you to the margins of the media landscape.

MT: Right, and you too obviously.

CH: Yes. So, on the one hand, you have the Podesta emails, the Biden [story], which is real, being denounced as “fake”. And you have a complete hoax defended – let’s call it what it is: fake news, sensationalist garbage – being perpetrated by The [New York] Times.

I just want to read a really great paragraph you wrote: Now the business (you’re talking about journalism) has reversed course, acting like a gang of college freshmen who’ve just read Beyond Good and Evil for the first time. Objectivity is dead! There’s no truth! Everything is permitted! The cardinalate has gone from pompous overconfidence in its factual rectitude to a bizarre postmodernist pose where nothing matters, man, and truth is whatever we can get away with saying.

I mean it’s funny, but it’s not. That is really what we’re documenting here.

What do you think the pressures were? Is it commercial? I think to an extent it must be commercial: The [New York] Times has bled advertising. It’s stumbling into a new media environment that it’s not familiar with. What do you think is causing this? Or maybe it’s just moral posturing, I don’t know.

MT: I think it’s a combination of all of those things. Clearly, the commercial aspect of it plays a strong role because – just to take an example of that ‘Caliphate’ podcast: here you’ve got somebody giving a first-hand account of crucifying a human being, and that’s what you’ve got to do to you know trend on Twitter for eight seconds now! You need to come up with stuff like that just to keep getting a requisite number of clicks. Just to not lose audience, you need to come up with sensational material because everybody’s hyping things left and right.

So there’s enormous pressure now to stretch the envelope of sensationalism in ways that probably didn’t exist when I first went into the business or you did. But that’s only part of the picture. The other part of the picture is there’s been this segmentation of audience.

You know the Pew Center did a study this summer where they asked people what their political affiliations were. If your primary news source was Fox, you know 93% of those people were Republican. If your primary news source was MSNBC, 95% of those people were Democrats. With The New York Times it was 91% of those people are Democrats. NPR are 87%.

So all of these news outlets are talking to one audience exclusively, and so they’ve learned that if they screw up and they make a mistake about the other audience, it’s not going to matter. So I think whether consciously or unconsciously, it’s sped up their fact checking process, or made it looser, because they know it doesn’t really matter. You know, if we make a mistake about this it’s not going to come and bounce back at us. If we predict that something’s going to happen – if we say the walls are closing in and they don’t – that’s not going to bounce back. So I think that’s a major, major part of this picture. [from 13:05 mins]

CH: Is this the death of journalism? I mean I don’t hold the commercial networks to the same standards (maybe it’s nostalgia) that I do for The [New York] Times. But, if you can’t communicate across these divides – which is essentially what’s happening – then the country just bifurcates into warring, antagonistic tribes, which is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia because you had competing ethnic groups seize rival media outlets, and speak only to their own and demonise the other.

But to see this happening in The New York Times and in the Washington Post: is this the end of traditional media?

MT: I think temporarily. I do believe – I mean I have maybe a naive hope – that some canny entrepreneur will realise that there’s a screaming need out there for a new kind of media product. I hear it every day from people sending emails: I just wish there was a place I can go to find out what happened, stripped of all the editorialising.

Like people want the old school boring when, why, where, how; third person; dead voice; that we used to get in all these newspapers. And they’re not getting that anymore because everything is highly charged and highly politicised and tailored for a political audience.

So I do believe that if somebody was smart they would create that outlet and there is some interesting stuff going on in independent media. But for the time being, the major commercial media outlets have become completely bifurcated as you put it. And it’s literally balkanising American society. I think you make a good point there.

I don’t think it’s an accident that we’re seeing groups of people who are marching around carrying AR-15s, really on both sides of the aisle, and that’s because we’ve developed different realities for different groups of people. And that’s very dangerous. [from 16:35 mins]

CH: It is: it’s very dangerous. And I will just throw in there that nobody in Yugoslavia thought they were going to have a war. You have people dressed up in camos posturing, but once that violence starts – we saw glimpses of it in Portland – once people start getting killed you open a Pandora’s Box that you can’t control.

I want to talk about the tech platforms because they’ve played a major role, I think a very pernicious role in all of this. You’ve also written about that. Can you talk about that?

MT: Sure. A couple of years ago when Alex Jones was thrown off basically all of the tech platforms in what was actually, in hindsight, kind of a remarkable moment, because it was clearly coordinated. All of the major platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Spotify, Youtube – they all kicked of Jones at the same time. And sort of liberal America cheered: said, well this is a noxious figure; this is a great thing [that] finally someone’s taking action. What they didn’t realise is that we were trading an old system of speech regulation for a new one [and] without any real public discussion.

You and I were raised in a system where you got punished for speech if you committed libel or slander or if there was imminent incitement to lawless action: that was the standard that the Supreme Court set. But that was done through litigation; it was an open process where you had a chance to rebut charges. That is all gone now.

Now basically there’s a handful of these tech distribution platforms that control how people get their media and they’ve been pressured by The Senate, which has called all of their CEOs in and basically ordered them: we need you to come up with a plan to prevent the sowing of discord and spreading of “misinformation”.

And now I think this past week is when this has finally come to fruition, when you see an major reputable news organisation like the New York Post, you know with a two hundred year history, is now locked out of its own Twitter account and that story [of Hunter Biden] which has not been disproven – it’s not disinformation or misinformation – it’s been suppressed in the manner as you know it would be suppressed in a Third World country. Which I think – I don’t know what you think – I think it’s remarkable kind of historic moment for us. [from 18:35 mins]

CH: No, it is: it’s a very frightening historic moment.

These tech platforms are not neutral. They’re on one side of the political divide. And the danger in my eyes – I’ll get your opinion on this – is that if Trump loses the election, this platform and this old media, and whatever their veracity is about their critiques of Trump, will essentially be completely written off. You won’t be able to reach that segment of the population at all.

MT: Right, yes. Exactly.

And I know some of the people who are high-ranking executives at some of the companies, and I’ve had discussions with some of them in the last year or so, and one of the things that I’ve tried to communicate is that there’s no possible way to institute a standard of something like factual reliability that can be done in an even-handed way without an awesome amount of people going through each and every submission. And they’re clearly not doing that. They are clearly creating rules and selecting out some content that they don’t like and allowing other content that they do like go through.

There’s no possible way to do it either with AI or with manpower in any kind of even-handed way. It’s automatically either going to be a mess or a double-standard. Like whack-a-mole, or a double-standard. And I think in a post-Trump reality, the danger is that we end up with essentially like a one-party informational system, where there’s going to be approved dialogue and unapproved dialogue that you can only get through certain kind of fringe avenues. And that’s the problem, because we let these companies get this monopolistic share of the distribution system and now they’re exercising that power. [from 21:15 mins]

CH: And I know you lived in Russia – I worked in Eastern Europe – what are the political consequences of that, because you’ve seen it?

MT: Yes, I kind of lived in both versions of Russia. I lived in the Soviet times – I was a student during that time – and I was there when the media freed up. And a lot of my former colleagues (Russian colleagues) worked under the Soviet system. And the similarities are pretty striking because what ends up happening is that it’s really more of a psychological form of censorship than it is an overt top-down kind of pressure.

The reporters end up knowing ahead of time what kinds of things they can write and what kinds of things they can’t write. And if you’re worried about where the edge is with Facebook or Twitter, and your career depends on not being deplatformed by those companies, you just won’t go anywhere near where you think the line might be.

And already, you know somebody like myself, or you, or Glenn Greenwald, reputable journalists, we’re already within range of possible suppression, which I would have said was outlandish even six months ago. And that’s no longer the case. So that’s what you worry about – is where the fear is going to take hold of the business [of journalism] very quickly. [from 22:45 mins]

On October 30th, Glenn Greenwald was invited by The Hill’s morning show ‘Rising’ to explain why he took the decision to resign from The Intercept (the alternative news outlet that he had co-founded) following censorship of his own reporting on the Hunter Biden story:

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CH: Well doesn’t the fear come from the fact that critics such as you have credibility, and therefore are dangerous because as the kind of moral centre erodes within journalistic organisations, critics such as yourself, who point it out, are no longer a nuisance, they essentially can be fatal, and so the suppression becomes much heavier?

MT: Yeah, and that’s the reason why I think this censorship is so self-defeating; it’s such a mistake. Normally, if you just allow this kind of speech to be distributed freely, it’s not going to have the impact. But what ends up happening in societies like the Soviet Union – you know, nobody would use a Russian newspaper, or a Soviet newspaper, for anything but lining a bird cage, or anything like that. But people would treasure the Samizdat [self-published undercover publications] documents that would be handed from family to family because that was the actual truth.

And that’s going to end up happening in this country, if you have an approved dialogue that you can get on Facebook and Twitter, and then there’s this other thing that’s forbidden. People are going to flock to that, which is why I don’t understand the commercial decision that companies like The New York Times and the Washington Post are making to throw off the thing that made them most valuable to people, which was the institutional credibility they had for being a kind of political third-party that was neutral. That was what gave them all of their value and they’re throwing it away and I don’t understand it. [from 24:25 mins]

CH: I think they’re throwing it away because they’re bleeding money. And they’re frightened. I mean you’re right it’s ultimately self-immolation.

You write: The people who run this country have run out of workable myths with which to distract the public, and in a moment of extreme crisis have chosen to stoke civil war and defame the rest of us, black and white, rather than admit to a generation of corruption, betrayal and mismanagement.

And I think part of it is that organisations such as The New York Times do not shine a light on the corruption, the betrayal, and the mismanagement.

MT: That’s right, and so they’ve had to come up with some other thing to sell to the public as the reason for all of our troubles. After the election of 2016, where internally within The New York Times we now know there was a tremendous kind of come-to-Jesus moment where they realised we didn’t see this coming how could we possibly have let that happen? We have to hire more people like Bret Stephens because we’re so out of touch with conservative America.

That’s what they were saying internally, but externally they spent all of their energy building their newsroom around this fictitious Russiagate story, rather than doing things like let’s look at what’s happening with poor and middle class America, and the massive amounts of insecurity that led to Trump’s election. They didn’t do that at all. They went with this other story.

And then later when that story fell apart, they kind of threw their weight behind The 1619 Project and other issues, because that was preferable to telling dangerous truths about the neoliberal economics and other issues that were really concerning the country. So that’s the danger that you get: that when they’re afraid to tell you what’s actually happening, they end up coming up with alternatives that are not convincing. [from 26:20 mins]

CH: Right, The 1619 Project, which they then denied what they wrote.

MT: Yeah, exactly.

CH: That was also kind of bizarre.

MT: Totally.

CH: That was Matt Taibbi, one of the few real journalists left on the disintegrating media landscape in the United States. Thanks Matt.

MT: Thanks Chris.

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how the Guardian, NYT and rest of the “Vichy journalists” all sold Julian Assange down the river

“Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy” — Noam Chomsky

*

On September 7th,  as Julian Assange’s extradition hearing entered its final stage, John Pilger gave this address outside the Central Criminal Court in London:

When I first met Julian Assange more than ten years ago, I asked him why he had started WikiLeaks. He replied: “Transparency and accountability are moral issues that must be the essence of public life and journalism.”

I had never heard a publisher or an editor invoke morality in this way. Assange believes that journalists are the agents of people, not power: that we, the people, have a right to know about the darkest secrets of those who claim to act in our name.

If the powerful lie to us, we have the right to know. If they say one thing in private and the opposite in public, we have the right to know. If they conspire against us, as Bush and Blair did over Iraq, then pretend to be democrats, we have the right to know.

It is this morality of purpose that so threatens the collusion of powers that want to plunge much of the world into war and wants to bury Julian alive in Trumps fascist America.

In 2008, a top secret US State Department report described in detail how the United States would combat this new moral threat. A secretly-directed personal smear campaign against Julian Assange would lead to “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”.

The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its founder. Page after page revealed a coming war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and democracy.

The imperial shock troops would be those who called themselves journalists: the big hitters of the so-called mainstream, especially the “liberals” who mark and patrol the perimeters of dissent.

And that is what happened. I have been a reporter for more than 50 years and I have never known a smear campaign like it: the fabricated character assassination of a man who refused to join the club: who believed journalism was a service to the public, never to those above.

Assange shamed his persecutors. He produced scoop after scoop. He exposed the fraudulence of wars promoted by the media and the homicidal nature of America’s wars, the corruption of dictators, the evils of Guantanamo.

He forced us in the West to look in the mirror. He exposed the official truth-tellers in the media as collaborators: those I would call Vichy journalists. None of these imposters believed Assange when he warned that his life was in danger: that the “sex scandal” in Sweden was a set up and an American hellhole was the ultimate destination. And he was right, and repeatedly right.

The extradition hearing in London this week is the final act of an Anglo-American campaign to bury Julian Assange. It is not due process. It is due revenge. The American indictment is clearly rigged, a demonstrable sham. So far, the hearings have been reminiscent of their Stalinist equivalents during the Cold War.

Today, the land that gave us Magna Carta, Great Britain, is distinguished by the abandonment of its own sovereignty in allowing a malign foreign power to manipulate justice and by the vicious psychological torture of Julian – a form of torture, as Nils Melzer, the UN expert has pointed out, that was refined by the Nazis because it was most effective in breaking its victims.

Every time I have visited Assange in Belmarsh prison, I have seen the effects of this torture. When I last saw him, he had lost more than 10 kilos in weight; his arms had no muscle. Incredibly, his wicked sense of humour was intact.

As for Assange’s homeland, Australia has displayed only a cringeing cowardice as its government has secretly conspired against its own citizen who ought to be celebrated as a national hero. Not for nothing did George W. Bush anoint the Australian prime minister his “deputy sheriff”.

It is said that whatever happens to Julian Assange in the next three weeks will diminish if not destroy freedom of the press in the West. But which press? The Guardian? The BBC, The New York Times, the Jeff Bezos Washington Post?

No, the journalists in these organisations can breathe freely. The Judases on the Guardian who flirted with Julian, exploited his landmark work, made their pile then betrayed him, have nothing to fear. They are safe because they are needed.

Freedom of the press now rests with the honourable few: the exceptions, the dissidents on the internet who belong to no club, who are neither rich nor laden with Pulitzers, but produce fine, disobedient, moral journalism – those like Julian Assange.

Meanwhile, it is our responsibility to stand by a true journalist whose sheer courage ought to be inspiration to all of us who still believe that freedom is possible. I salute him.

Click here to read the same transcript on John Pilger’s official website.

John Pilger also gave an extended interview with Afshin Rattansi on today’s ‘Going Underground’:

*

Yesterday was the last day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey and unless you have followed the daily reports from Craig Murray; Binoy Kampmark at Counterpunch; Joe Lauria of Consortium News or a handful of other alternative media sites, it is more than likely you have remained unaware that any trial was taking place, let alone what is at stake.

As Binoy Kampmark reported on Thursday – summing up events of the previous day:

Today will be remembered as a grand expose. It was a direct, pointed accusation at the intentions of the US imperium which long for the scalp of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. For WikiLeaks, it was a smouldering triumph, showing that the entire mission against Assange, from the start, has been a political one. The Australian publisher faces the incalculably dangerous prospect of 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Stripped to its elements, the indictment is merely violence kitted out in the vestment of sham legality. The rest is politics.

Doubtless, and was not for ‘the politics’, the Assange case would have made headline news and featured front-and-centre of mainstream news bulletins for weeks, not only because the seriousness of its potential ramifications – how it will cast a long shadow over press freedom and set a precedent for further US overreach based on trumped up charges of ‘spying’ – but more straightforwardly because of the prominence and quality of so many of the witnesses called to give testimony in Assange’s defence. These include (to single out just three of the more outstanding) Daniel Ellsberg, ‘Pentagon Papers’ whistleblower; Clive Stafford Smith, esteemed human rights lawyer and a  co-founder of Reprieve; before, on Wednesday, Noam Chomsky joined these illustrious ranks having issued a fourteen point submission of concise eloquence which concludes as follows:

One device to control the population is to operate in secret so that the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders will stay in their place, remote from the levers of power, which are none of their business. That’s the main purpose for classification of internal documents. Anyone who has pored through the archives of released documents has surely come to realise pretty quickly that what is kept secret very rarely has anything at all to do with security except for the security of the leadership from their domestic enemy, their own population.  The practice is so routine that illustration is really quite superfluous.  I’ll mention only one current case.  Consider the global trade agreements: Pacific and Atlantic, in actuality investor rights agreements masquerading under the rubric of free trade. They’re negotiated in secret. There’s an intention of a Stalinist style of ratification by parliaments –  yes or no –  which of course means yes with no discussion or debate, what’s called in the United States “fast track”.  To be accurate they’re not negotiated entirely in secret.  The facts are known to the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the details in such a way as to protect the interests of the constituency that they represent which is of course not the public. The public on the contrary is an enemy that must be kept in ignorance.

Julian Assange’s alleged crime in working to expose government secrets is to violate the fundamental principles of government, to lift the veil of secrecy that protects power from scrutiny, keeps it from evaporating – and again it is well understood by the powerful that lifting the veil may cause power to evaporate. It may even lead to authentic freedom and democracy if an aroused public comes to understand that force is on the side of the governed and it can be their force if they choose to control their own fate.

In my view, Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing. His actions in turn have led him to be pursued in a cruel and intolerable manner.

Click here to find Chomsky’s statement uploaded in full within Craig Murray’s report.

Returning to Binoy Kampmark’s report from the same day, he continues:

Witness statements were read from a veritable who’s who of courageous investigative journalism (Patrick Cockburn, Andy Worthington, Stefania Maurizi and Ian Cobain) and an assortment of legal freight from Guy Goodwin-Gill, professor of law at the University of New South Wales, Robert Boyle, well versed in the dark practices of grand juries and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

These statements, pointing to the value of the WikiLeaks publications, the care taken in releasing them, and the terrifying prospects for press freedom, deserve separate treatment.

Kampmark’s report then scrutinises in granular detail, evidence presented by two anonymous witnesses from the Spanish security firm UC Global S.L. in what he describes as “Wednesday’s grand show”. Since this lies outside of my purview, I direct and encourage readers instead to read his full article entitled “Assange on Trial: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping” published by Counterpunch on October 1st.

A précis is also provided by Craig Murray’s report from Wednesday:

Twenty minutes sufficed for the reading of the “gist” of the astonishing testimony of two witnesses, their identity protected as their lives may be in danger, who stated that the CIA, operating through Sheldon Adelson, planned to kidnap or poison Assange, bugged not only him but his lawyers, and burgled the offices of his Spanish lawyers Baltazar Garzon. This evidence went unchallenged and untested.

Meanwhile, here is what BBC has been reporting throughout what is (without exaggeration) the trial of the century – quite literally nothing! (the top article here is a ‘profile’ from September 23rd):

Screenshot from BBC website today

*

“If I am a conspirator to commit espionage, then all these other media organisations and the principal journalists in them are also conspirators to commit espionage. What needs to be done is to have a united face in this.”

These are the words of Julian Assange quoted from an interview with journalist Mark Davis of Australian TV channel SBS back in 2011, as he unpacked why the US preferred to charge him under the Espionage Act of 1917 in their determined effort to isolate him from other journalists and thereby lessen an otherwise perceived threat that they too might share his fate. (The relevant section is from 24–43 mins and the quote is at 40:00 mins.)

In a different article published last week by Counterpunch, investigative reporter Jonathan Cook reminds us of Assange’s statement and places it in context:

During the course of the current extradition hearings, US officials have found it much harder to make plausible this distinction principle than they may have assumed.

Journalism is an activity, and anyone who regularly engages in that activity qualifies as a journalist. It is not the same as being a doctor or a lawyer, where you need a specific professional qualification to practice. You are a journalist if you do journalism – and you are an investigative journalist if, like Assange, you publish information the powerful want concealed. Which is why in the current extradition hearings at the Old Bailey in London, the arguments made by lawyers for the US that Assange is not a journalist but rather someone engaged in espionage are coming unstuck.

Cook continues:

Assange was doing exactly what journalists claim to do every day in a democracy: monitor power for the public good. Which is why ultimately the Obama administration abandoned the idea of issuing an indictment against Assange. There was simply no way to charge him without also putting journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian on trial too. And doing that would have made explicit that the press is not free but works on licence from those in power.

For that reason alone, one might have imagined that the entire media – from rightwing to liberal-left outlets – would be up in arms about Assange’s current predicament. After all, the practice of journalism as we have known it for at least 100 years is at stake.

But in fact, as Assange feared nine years ago, the media have chosen not to adopt a “united face” – or at least, not a united face with Wikileaks. They have remained all but silent. They have ignored – apart from occasionally to ridicule – Assange’s terrifying ordeal, even though he has been locked up for many months in Belmarsh high-security prison awaiting efforts to extradite him as a spy.

In a follow-up piece also published by Counterpunch, Cook discusses at greater length and in detail how the corporate media have betrayed Assange. Most egregious is the Guardian, which of course worked in collaboration with Wikileaks to publish the Iraq and Afghan war diaries. Cook writes:

My first criticism was that the paper had barely bothered to cover the hearing, even though it is the most concerted attack on press freedom in living memory. That position is unconscionably irresponsible, given its own role in publishing the war diaries. But sadly it is not inexplicable. In fact, it is all too easily explained by my second criticism.

That criticism was chiefly levelled at two leading journalists at the Guardian, former investigations editor David Leigh and reporter Luke Harding, who together wrote a book in 2011 that was the earliest example of what would rapidly become a genre among a section of the liberal media elite, most especially at the Guardian, of vilifying Assange.

He continues:

Leigh and Harding’s book now lies at the heart of the US case for Assange’s extradition to the US on so-called “espionage” charges. The charges are based on Wikileaks’ publication of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, then an army private, that revealed systematic war crimes committed by the US military. 

Lawyers for the US have mined from the Guardian book claims by Leigh that Assange was recklessly indifferent to the safety of US informants named in leaked files published by Wikileaks.

Assange’s defence team have produced a raft of renowned journalists, and others who worked with Wikileaks, to counter Leigh’s claim and argue that this is actually an inversion of the truth. Assange was meticulous about redacting names in the documents. It was they – the journalists, including Leigh – who were pressuring Assange to publish without taking full precautions.

Of course, none of these corporate journalists – only Assange – is being put on trial, revealing clearly that this is a political trial to silence Assange and disable Wikileaks.

Cook then provides details regarding a specific incident that is central to the prosecution claims highlighting how it was the Guardian journalists themselves and not Assange who must be held responsible for many of these unredacted leaks:

The February 2011 Guardian book the US keeps citing contained something in addition to the highly contentious and disputed claim from Leigh that Assange had a reckless attitude to redacting names. The book also disclosed a password – one Assange had given to Leigh on strict conditions it be kept secret – to the file containing the 250,000 encrypted cables. The Guardian book let the cat out of the bag. Once it gave away Assange’s password, the Old Bailey hearings have heard, there was no going back.

Any security service in the world could now unlock the file containing the cables. And as they homed in on where the file was hidden at the end of the summer, Assange was forced into a desperate damage limitation operation. In September 2011 he published the unredacted cables so that anyone named in them would have advance warning and could go into hiding – before any hostile security services came looking for them.

Yes, Assange published the cables unredacted but he did so – was forced to do so – by the unforgivable actions of Leigh and the Guardian.

Not that any of Wikileaks publications are believed to have harmed informants, as a Guardian report substantiates:

“Brigadier general Robert Carr, a senior counter-intelligence officer who headed the Information Review Task Force that investigated the impact of WikiLeaks disclosures on behalf of the Defense Department, told a court at Fort Meade, Maryland, that they had uncovered no specific examples of anyone who had lost his or her life in reprisals that followed the publication of the disclosures on the internet. “I don’t have a specific example,” he said.

It has been one of the main criticisms of the WikiLeaks publications that they put lives at risk, particularly in Iran and Afghanistan. The admission by the Pentagon’s chief investigator into the fallout from WikiLeaks that no such casualties were identified marks a significant undermining of such arguments.

Click here to read the full Guardian report entitled “Bradley Manning leak did not result in deaths by enemy forces, court hears” written by Ed Pilkington, published on July 31st 2013.

Moreover, John Young, the editor of a US website Cryptome (which has in the past been highly critical of Wikileaks) is another who gave evidence at the Assange hearings. Young told the court they had published the unredacted cables on September 1st 2011, crucially the day before Wikileaks published, though they (unlike Wikileaks) have never been pursued by law enforcement agencies. Craig Murray, who has been reporting from the public gallery throughout the trial, writes that:

Cryptome is US based but they had never been approached by law enforcement about these unredacted cables in any way nor asked to take them down. The cables remained online on Cryptome.

Similarly Chris Butler, Manager for Internet Archive, gave evidence of the unredacted cables and other classified documents being available on the Wayback machine. They had never been asked to take down nor been threatened with prosecution.

Click here to read the same in Craig Murray’s report from day 17 of the hearing published on September 25th.

Jonathan Cook then goes on to list the Guardian’s deceptions point-by-point. He writes – and I have reproduced below his criticism in full:

Every time the US cites Leigh and Harding’s book, it effectively recruits the Guardian against Assange and against freedom of the press. Hanging over the paper is effectively a threat that – should it not play ball with the US campaign to lock Assange away for life – the US could either embarrass it by publicly divulging its role or target the paper for treatment similar to that suffered by Assange.

And quite astoundingly, given the stakes for Assange and for journalism, the Guardian has been playing ball – by keeping quiet. Until this week, at least.

Under pressure, the Guardian finally published on Friday a short, sketchy and highly simplistic account of the past week’s hearings, and then used it as an opportunity to respond to the growing criticism of its role in publishing the password in the Leigh and Harding book.

The Guardian’s statement in its report of the extradition hearings is not only duplicitous in the extreme but sells Assange down the river by evading responsibility for publishing the password. It thereby leaves him even more vulnerable to the US campaign to lock him up.

Here is its statement:

“The Guardian has made clear it is opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange. However, it is entirely wrong to say the Guardian’s 2011 WikiLeaks book led to the publication of unredacted US government files,” a spokesman said.

“The book contained a password which the authors had been told by Julian Assange was temporary and would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours. The book also contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September

Cook then goes on to highlight the deceptions:

  1. The claim that the password was “temporary” is just that – a self-exculpatory claim by David Leigh. There is no evidence to back it up beyond Leigh’s statement that Assange said it. And the idea that Assange would say it defies all reason. Leigh himself states in the book that he had to bully Assange into letting him have the password precisely because Assange was worried that a tech neophyte like Leigh might do something foolish or reckless. Assange needed a great deal of persuading before he agreed. The idea that he was so concerned about the security of a password that was to have a life-span shorter than a mayfly is simply not credible.

  1. Not only was the password not temporary, but it was based very obviously on a complex formula Assange used for all Wikileaks’ passwords to make them impossible for others to crack but easier for him to remember. By divulging the password, Leigh gave away Assange’s formula and offered every security service in the world the key to unlocking other encrypted files. The claim that Assange had suggested to Leigh that keeping the password secret was not of the most vital importance is again simply not credible.
  2. But whether or not Leigh thought the password was temporary is beside the point. Leigh, as an experienced investigative journalist and one who had little understanding of the tech world, had a responsibility to check with Assange that it was okay to publish the password. Doing anything else was beyond reckless. This was a world Leigh knew absolutely nothing about, after all.

But there was a reason Leigh did not check with Assange: he and Harding wrote the book behind Assange’s back. Leigh had intentionally cut Assange out of the writing and publication process so that he and the Guardian could cash in on the Wikileak founder’s early fame. Not checking with Assange was the whole point of the exercise.

  1. It is wrong to lay all the blame on Leigh, however. This was a Guardian project. I worked at the paper for years. Before any article is published, it is scrutinised by backbench editors, sub-editors, revise editors, page editors and, if necessary, lawyers and one of the chief editors. A Guardian book on the most contentious, incendiary publication of a secret cache of documents since the Pentagon Papers should have gone through at least the same level of scrutiny, if not more.

So how did no one in this chain of supervision pause to wonder whether it made sense to publish a password to a Wikileaks file of encrypted documents? The answer is that the Guardian was in a publishing race to get its account of the ground-shattering release of the Iraq and Afghan diaries out before any of its rivals, including the New York Times and Der Spiegel. It wanted to take as much glory as possible for itself in the hope of winning a Pulitzer. And it wanted to settle scores with Assange before his version of events was given an airing in either the New York Times or Der Spiegel books. Vanity and greed drove the Guardian’s decision to cut corners, even if it meant endangering lives.

  1. Nauseatingly, however, the Guardian not only seeks to blame Assange for its own mistake but tells a glaring lie about the circumstances. Its statement says: “No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September 2011.”

It is simply not true that Assange and Wikileaks expressed no concern. They expressed a great deal of concern in private. But they did not do so publicly – and for very good reason.

Any public upbraiding of the Guardian for its horrendous error would have drawn attention to the fact that the password could be easily located in Leigh’s book. By this stage, there was no way to change the password or delete the file, as has been explained to the Old Bailey hearing by a computer professor, Christian Grothoff, of Bern University. He has called Leigh a “bad faith actor”.

So Assange was forced to limit the damage quietly, behind the scenes, before word of the password’s publication got out and the file was located. Ultimately, six months later, when the clues became too numerous to go unnoticed, and Cryptome had published the unredacted file on its website, Assange had no choice but to follow suit.

This is the real story, the one the Guardian dare not tell. Despite the best efforts of the US lawyers and the judge at the Old Bailey hearings, the truth is finally starting to emerge. Now it is up to us to make sure the Guardian is not allowed to continue colluding in this crime against Assange and the press freedoms he represents.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s article in full at Counterpunch and here to read his previous article also published by Counterpunch.

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Update:

On October 3rd, Craig Murray spoke about the hearing with Chris Hedges on his RT show ‘On Contact’:

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how the Afghan ‘Bountygate’ hoax deflects from the dirty truth

On June 26th, The New York Times ran a sensational story claiming that as its headline announces in bold “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says”.

This first NYT report (one of many) begins:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Continuing:

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The first thing to note here is that the allegation itself has historical precedence:

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and finance the mujahideen (jihadists) in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989

Quoted above is the opening passage to the current Wikipedia entry on Operation Cyclone: a clandestine Cold War initiative led by Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, which cost more than $20 billion in U.S. funds. What the US did in the eighties is therefore precisely what Moscow is accused of doing by these ‘sources’ and the NYT today.

The next thing to note is the absence of evidence to back this purported ‘intelligence’ and exceedingly vague claim that bounties were paid not to the Taliban but to “Taliban-linked militants”. The NYT does however shed interesting light on the origins of the claim:

The intelligence assessment is said to be based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals. 1

“Interrogations” has become a familiar euphemism in our post-9/11 age, and I shall return to consider its meaning in this context shortly.

In the following week, the NYT embroidered its “suspicions of Russian bounties” (as one headline begins) with a series of follow-up pieces. To lend weight to otherwise unsubstantiated claims, evidence was now presented of sizeable transfers of money purportedly traceable to Russia:

American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence. […]

The intercepts bolstered the findings gleaned from the interrogations, helping reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees. The disclosures further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was too uncertain to brief President Trump. In fact, the information was provided to him in his daily written brief in late February, two officials have said. 2

This follow-up piece that appeared on June 30th proceeds from a byline with no less than five credited authors! (Safety in numbers?) In total, nine separate correspondents were seconded to work on this quickly expanding series of NYT ‘Bountygate’ articles; the account of events constantly revised as the dramatic “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops” claim was gradually walked back over the course of a few days.

As investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote in a detailed rebuttal of the ‘Bountygate’ story:

[S]ubsequent reporting revealed that the “US intelligence reports” about a Russian plot to distribute bounties through Afghan middlemen were not generated by US intelligence at all.

Regarding the specific allegation of money transfers to “Taliban-linked militants”, Porter continues:

The Times reported first on June 28, then again on June 30, that a large amount of cash found at a “Taliban outpost” or a “Taliban site” had led U.S. intelligence to suspect the Russian plot.  But the Times had to walk that claim back, revealing on July 1 that the raid that turned up $500,000 in cash had in fact targeted the Kabul home of Rahmatullah Azizi, an Afghan businessmen said to have been involved in both drug trafficking and contracting for part of the billions of dollars the United States spent on construction projects.

The Times also disclosed that the information provided by “captured militants and criminals” under “interrogation” had been the main source of suspicion of a Russian bounty scheme in Afghanistan. But those “militants and criminals” turned out to be thirteen relatives and business associates of the businessman whose house was raided.

While on the subject of “interrogation”, Porter adds:

Furthermore, contrary to the initial report by the Times, those raids had actually been carried out exclusively by the Afghan intelligence service known as the National Directorate of Security (NDS). The Times disclosed this on July 1. Indeed, the interrogation of those detained in the raids was carried out by the NDS, which explains why the Times reporting referred repeatedly to “interrogations” without ever explaining who actually did the questioning.

Given the notorious record of the NDS, it must be assumed that its interrogators used torture or at least the threat of it to obtain accounts from the detainees that would support the Afghan government’s narrative. Both the Toronto Globe and Mail and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have documented as recently as 2019 the frequent use of torture by the NDS to obtain information from detainees. 3

Porter’s analysis is assiduous and I very much encourage readers to follow the link to his full article entitled “How the Pentagon failed to sell Afghan government’s bunk ‘Bountygate’ story to US intelligence agencies” by The Grayzone.

On Saturday 11th, ‘Red Lines’ host Anya Parampil spoke with Gareth Porter about his latest report. Porter explains why the Afghan regime was so eager to concoct a story in fears that Trump was ready to pull out US troops to boost his own poll ratings:

But leaving aside these bogus ‘Bountygate’ claims cooked up to embarrass Putin and Trump (already joined at the hip thanks to the ‘Russiagate’ hysteria) and thereby apply leverage to “keep US troops entrenched in Afghanistan” as Porter puts it, there is actually far more to this sordid tale. In fact substantiated allegations do exist that the Taliban has been paid off in order to keep the war in Afghanistan going: evidence that forms the basis for a lawsuit. Those presently in the dock are not based in Moscow however, but representatives of businesses including US companies with their own vested interests in prolonging the war:

Nearly 400 people who were either wounded while serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan or are family members of service members who died in the conflict sued a group of companies on Friday they say helped fund attacks against Americans by making protection payments to the Taliban.

“Defendants supported the Taliban for a simple reason: Defendants were all large Western companies with lucrative businesses in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and they all paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests,” the 288-page complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Friday states. “Those protection payments aided and abetted terrorism by directly funding an al-Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgency that killed and injured thousands of Americans.”

From a report published by Courthouse News Service published in late December, which continues:

The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals.

“Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states. […]

The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals.

“Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states. 4

Click here to read the full report entitled “US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops”.

And here to read a report by NPR.

Hat tip to Scott Creighton of Nomadic Everyman.

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Update:

While the military is investigating the allegations, Mark Miley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says there’s no proof that Russian payments led to any US deaths. The National Security Agency says it found no communications intelligence supporting the bounty claim.

Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the US Central Command, says he’s not convinced that American troops died as a result of Russian bounties.

“I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” he tells The Washington Post.

From an article entitled “Russia Bounty Story Falls Flat” written by Reese Erlich, published in Antiwar.com on July 18th.

The piece goes on:

Matthew Hoh, who worked for the State Department in Afghanistan and is now a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy, tells me that the reports of Russian bounties likely originated with the Afghanistan intelligence agency.

“The mention of Russia was a key word,” says Hoh. CIA officials fast-tracked the Afghan reports. They argued that Russia’s interference, and Trump’s failure to respond, only emboldens the Russians. […]

Hoh says the alleged bounties make no sense politically or militarily. Last year, he says, “The Taliban didn’t need any incentives to kill Americans.” And this year, it has stopped all attacks on US forces as part of the February agreement.

Adding:

“There’s an entire infrastructure influencing policy,” says Hoh, who had an inside seat during his years with the government.

The Deep State is not monolithic, he cautions. “You won’t find a backroom with guys smoking cigars. But there is a notion of US primacy and a bent towards military intervention.”

And that’s what the current Russia-Taliban scandal is all about: An unreliable Afghan report is blown into a national controversy in hopes of forcing the White House to cancel the Afghan troop withdrawal. Demonizing Russia (along with China and Iran) also justifies revamping the US nuclear arsenal and building advanced fighter jets that can’t fly.

“It’s Russia hysteria,” says Hoh.

Click here to read Reese Erlich’s full article at Antiwar.com.

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1 From an article entitled “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says” written by Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt & Michael Schwirtz, published in The new York Times on June 26th 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/us/politics/russia-afghanistan-bounties.html

2 From an article entitled “Suspicions of Russian Bounties Were Bolstered by Data on Financial Transfers” written by Charlie Savage, Mujib Mashal, Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Schmitt & Adam Goldman, published in The New York Times on June 30, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/us/politics/russian-bounties-afghanistan-intelligence.html

3 From an article entitled “How the Pentagon failed to sell Afghan government’s bunk ‘Bountygate’ story to US intelligence agencies” written by Gareth Porter, published in The Grayzone on July 7, 2020. https://thegrayzone.com/2020/07/07/pentagon-afghan-bountygate-us-intelligence-agencies/

4 From an article entitled “US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops” written by Tim Ryan, published in Courthouse News Service on December 27, 2019. https://www.courthousenews.com/us-contractors-accused-of-funding-taliban-attacks-against-american-troops/

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John Pilger on war with China, the West’s loss of perception, and how “many journalists have simply given up”

“When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

“I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

“Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.” — John Pilger

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On today’s season finale special episode of Going Underground, Afshin Rattansi speaks to award-winning journalist and film-maker John Pilger in an extended interview about the current state of global affairs as it enters what Pilger describes as a state of world war: the ‘Coming War on China’ that he had warned about in an earlier documentary (embedded within the transcript below) has already arrived he says.

He also discusses his concern with John Bolton being at the ear of Donald Trump amidst the collapse of the global nuclear arms control framework that saw the end of the INF Treaty and the beginning of a new arms race with Russia; a situation where Washington’s goal is to break up the Russian Federation under Putin. He likewise sees a growing risk of war between other nuclear superpowers, most especially Pakistan and India.

Pilger also talks about western sanctions imposed on Venezuela and Iran and how they are deliberately bringing suffering to the citizens of those countries; how Brexit has provided a distraction from the most pressing issues at home (such as austerity and the NHS) and abroad; and finally, he provides an update on the condition of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, after he visited him recently in Belmarsh prison:

The full transcript of the interview is my own [interview begins at 2:30 mins]:

Afshin Rattansi: John thanks for coming back on. Boris Johnson [is] in Germany today. All eyes on the G7 at the end of the week: Russia not invited, China not considered by the IMF to be an advanced economy, but they will be talking about China apparently – we are being led to believe that Hong Kong is the centre of this weekend’s negotiations or talks.

John Pilger: Yes – what are these talks about? Excluding two of the most interesting developed powers in the world, China and Russia. I mean you know the truth is – what nobody is talking about – is there is a world war. It’s not a shooting war. But it could easily become a world war. There is a war already on China.

There has been a war of attrition against Russia for some years now: breaking up the Russian Federation is an American objective. Maintaining the supremacy of the US in all areas of human affairs – economic affairs, cultural affairs – is what particularly this regime in Washington is committed to. All regimes have been committed to.

It’s now reaching a head because they see a challenge in China. A challenge, and undoubtedly it’s an economic challenge, but it’s not a military challenge. This Nineteenth Century view of the world that permeates Washington and has returned to this country, the United Kingdom, has now created a war situation with China.

Very few know that China has now changed its nuclear posture from low alert – that is separating the warheads from missiles – to high alert – putting them together, the same as the United States. That’s something China didn’t do for many, many years, but they are clearly worried there now.

AR: You’re documentary was “The Coming War on China”, but you’re saying it is a war: we’ve seen colour revolutions thwarted – some successful against Putin in Russia. Is Hong Kong – millions of pounds have gone in from the National Endowment for Democracy – does Beijing understand what Hong Kong is?

JP: Oh yes. Yes, I think Beijing understands perfectly. The reason there is a rebellion in China is complex, of course, the people in Hong Kong do have a grievance. There is an inequality. But really what has happened is that manufacturing has moved to the mainland. The interference in Hong Kong, the subversion in Hong Kong by the US through the National Endowment for Democracy, through its local agents… and by all the others who make regular pilgrimages to John Bolton. Of course they are part of the war on China.

That’s not to take away from the fact that there are grievances within China – within Hong Kong – but Hong Kong didn’t sign up for two countries, two systems. It signed up for one country and two systems. And I find it almost grotesque the whole idea [that] the Union Jack should be draped over the speaker’s chair in the assembly in Hong Kong, when it was the Union Jack over hundred that represented an oppressive system.

I went to Hong Kong several times to write about the oppression of the police under the British. A corrupt police force led by British officers. A brutal police force. There was never any democracy.

AR: Even up to the 1990s?

JP: Right up to the 1990s. What there was – Hong Kong has been a business island. Well one could say that perhaps China is a business nation. And the mainland has usurped this special role of Hong Kong.

AR: So why here are we treated to endless images – as you say, no doubt some of these protesters have justification for opposing what is going on in Hong Kong – but yet the Gilets Jaunes protests are probably not going to be discussed in Biarritz this weekend at the G7?

JP: Because never before have people been called upon to think within such a narrow spectrum. And we could sit here all day talking about the iniquities of the media and so on, but it’s even wider than the media. There is a spectrum in which we are, if you like, allowed to think.

The news is dominated by Hong Kong and yet 29 miles from England there’s France, and this extraordinary rebellion of the Yellow Jackets, which has produced the most equally extraordinary violence from the state, has been virtually ignored. The same is true of Kashmir. I mean Kashmir was a fleeting moment, if you like, allowed into our perception. And here is a country bigger than Belgium, bigger than Portugal – 30 million people – where people are denied everything by the Indian state: denied food, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. India’s been doing this for a very, very long time. But India is our friend – the world’s greatest democracy and so…

AR: Trump says he’s being even-handed on it. China, of course, which has an interest there – another nuclear power apart from the other two – has taken it up at the Security Council.

JP: It’s our perception, I suppose, that we’re thinking about here… the way people are concerned that we’re going to run out of medicines after October 31st. We have no perception of the way the people of Iran are suffering under the sanctions that deny cancer drugs almost entirely because of these sanctions.

We have no perception of the way the people of Venezuela are suffering under sanctions. We have absolutely zilch understanding of how the people of Gaza continue to suffer in their open prison, as that has been obliterated almost from the news agenda and by extension from our perception. So within this spectrum – this narrow spectrum – the manipulation of people is probably the most extraordinary I’ve know in my career as a journalist.

AR: But obviously it’s not a physiological problem amongst journalists in newsrooms around the world that they can’t understand say Brexit no deal – there’s going to be problems here with medicines and food – and not understanding Yemen.

JP: I think journalists have given up. Many journalists have simply given up. There is a so-called mainstream, which is a misnomer: it’s not a mainstream at all, it’s an agency of extreme economic policies, policies that produce 4.1 million children in poverty in Britain.

AR: Four million children, two million under the age of five in Britain.

JP: Yes. And the kind of suffering that has come out of these extreme policies – called neoliberalism or whatever you want to call it – is echoed through our media in the same way that the whole absence of a warning that these virulent campaigns against China and Russia (particularly against the nuclear armed countries) could actually lead to something.

The abandonment by the United States of the INF treaty – the most important anti-nuclear war treaty ever signed – and here we had yesterday, I think it was, the US now testing again these intermediate-range nuclear weapons. And Russia, Putin, saying well yes of course we’re in an arms race again. The dangers of this. The dangers of accidentally, mistakenly beginning a nuclear war are not known to most people. That’s left out of this spectrum.

AR: Some say the INF treaty had to be revised because China was always opposing and violating the terms… in which the INF treaty was originally negotiated between Gorbachev and…

JP: That would come out of Washngton. And even if that treaty did need revision, then revise it. I remember those discussions and I interviewed a number of the American negotiators, extraordinary men… who sat down and negotiated with the Russians these complex treaties. They were serious people. We are not dealing with serious people.

AR: Some school textbooks in this country still say that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the prices to pay for ending the Second World War. You went there.

JP: You only have to read the US Air Force bombing survey and it’s very clear that that wasn’t the case.

When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.

AR: Well, John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, who advises Trump we are led to believe, says that all options should be on the table against dictators like Maduro, against people in Iran who lead their government – attacking all these different places.

JP: I’ve interviewed John Bolton. John Bolton comes as close to being a political lunatic as you can get.

AR: He had friendly conversations with Boris Johnson here just the other week.

JP: Often political lunatics can have a very friendly conversation with others if they recognise similarities. But Bolton particularly is a man absolutely salivating it appears – and I don’t think I’ve ever said this about any politician of this kind – for a war. Or for an attack. Or for an overthrow. Or for a coup. That he is in the position he is in is the most terrifying thing.

AR: In foreign policy terms you see the European Union, which completely backs John Bolton’s view on Venezuela – Britain and Brussels completely aligned with Washington saying Juan Guaidó is the real leader of Venezuela. The EU is an arm of Nato?

JP: Well, you see the problem with the whole Brexit nonsense – this utterly almost internecine struggle of wills following the referendum in 2016 – is how much it excludes. There is no public debate, certainly no parliamentary debate – probably there never would have been – no public debate on the fact that the European Union is an agency of Nato. And Nato is, almost by definition, certainly by example, a nuclear war fighting provocative organisation. All this is supported by the EU. It should be part of our debate about the EU. I have no doubt there are great virtues in some things about the EU.

AR: Of course it’s the kind of thing Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party here in Britain, used to talk about. Is there reason why he perhaps has been on the fence – or is regarded as being on the fence about Lexit versus Brexit, because he understands that?

JP: Jeremy Corbyn seems to have become so overwhelmed by Brexit, whereas the country – this country – in which so many people are suffering is as a result of this hideous ideology “austerity”. One only has to drive outside London as I’ve done in making the film I’ve made about the National Health Service. And drive into rather nice places like Wiltshire and see the boarded up towns. This needs a Labour leader.

Now Jeremy Corbyn has presented himself as that Labour leader, but Brexit seems to have overwhelmed every party, anyone who steps anywhere near Parliament or this subject – it’s a very important subject, of course. No deal or not no deal. But what is most important is whether the National Health Service will survive, not Brexit, but will survive the ideological attacks on it. Whether people will survive this hideous mutation of welfare called Universal Credit.

In Durham, a father of three killed himself because he had no money anymore, it hadn’t come through under Universal Credit. The suffering of people in this developed country, which is now the sixth or seventh richest country in the world, is obscene.

AR: This is a week when the Childhood Trust has said that in Britain children are eating toilet paper to stave off hunger. Is this in a sense, when you talk about the United States or Germany, is this the Achilles heel? Because, of course, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, there are people heading to 2020 to overthrow, democratically, Donald Trump, who seem to have a different vision. And is the 2008 crisis the context: the foreign policy, the home policy, the starvation?

JP: I mean I think Sanders and the rest of them are social democrats rushing to catch up with a kind of social democracy which has been in Europe and is now being rapidly extinguished. But their foreign policy doesn’t change. We had two of the leading socialists – at least they are members of the Democratic Socialists of America – vote for Donald Trump’s 738 billion arms budget recently in Congress. That should concern us in the outside world, that Sanders and the others – which they interestingly call “the left” in the United States – okay, but they’re social democrats – whether they bring some form of civilised life to a country where now up to half the population are suffering some form of impoverishment (in the United States).

AR: You certainly won’t hear them defending Julian Assange of Wikileaks. If anything they might arguably be seen as part of those people who consider Wikileaks a Russian cut-out of an organisation. You met Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison not far from this studio. Chelsea Manning of course is refusing to testify against Julian Assange. She’s in solitary in the United States. Tell me first of all about Julian’s health.

JP: Can I just say very quickly, first you know we’ve been talking about censorship by omission on a huge scale. A federal court ruled that there was no Russian connection with Julian Assange. That he had constitutional rights to do as he did as a journalist and as a publisher, and that has been completely ignored.

Julian’s own condition is, how do I put it, very dangerous. When I last saw him about ten days ago I was shocked because he’d lost more weight. He was isolated. They seemed to be imposing a regime that must be punitive on him of isolation. He’s in the health wing – what they call the ‘healthcare wing’ or ‘hospital wing’ – of Belmarsh prison, but he’s in a single cell and he told me that I see people walking by and I’d like to talk to them but I can’t.

Category A prisoners, murderers and others who have committed serious crimes, are allowed to fraternise; Julian is not allowed to fraternise. He’s not even allowed to telephone his American lawyers and he’s facing extradition to the United States. He had to wait two and a half months to see an optician and then when he got his glasses one of the lens didn’t work.

He’s being denied the right – the right – to prepare his own defence. He’s denied access to documents. Access to the library. A laptop. His lawyer, his solicitor Gareth Peirce spoke to the governor on the fourth of June about this and received no reply. What’s going on?

We understand if there is no basic justice in the treatment of somebody like this, who is in prison because he infringed bail – that is just about the merest – it’s not a crime actually – it is about the merest thing that the law can nail you for (and that is infringing your bail). He is there also, of course, because he is facing US extradition. But primarily he is there for this minor offence and he has been treated in the way that political prisoners are treated all over the world. That’s a moniker that won’t be appreciated, but it applies.

AR: Have his previous partners, the Guardian newspaper in London, The New York Times, have they helped to seal his fate?

JP: Yes they have helped to seal his fate. Mind you they’re worried. They’re worried because in the federal court ruling it was made clear by the judge in this very considered judgement that newspapers like The New York TimesThe New York Times and the Guardian published the war logs in 2010 – the war logs from Iraq, the war logs of Afghanistan that Wikileaks had been the conduit for, had passed to them – they published them first, before Wikileaks.

In law, and that’s what he [the judge] was saying, they are as liable. But they are also, as Julian is – and this was the point he was making – are protected by the US Constitution. Now the US Constitution is being torn up by the Trump administration. That’s why Julian, basically, is in the trouble he is.

All these charges that he’s meant to be facing in the United States are concocted. They’re ridiculous. They don’t apply. They are charges against a journalist and a publisher, but they would apply equally against the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, the editor of The New York Times, and the editor of El País, the editor of Der Spiegel, the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. They know this and they’re worried.

But they’re in such cahoots, they collude so deeply with the establishment of their country, and that now means the intelligence agencies – they have the power now in western societies – they collude so deeply with them that they dare not speak up. I suggest that as this whole grotesque charade against Julian Assange goes on, they should speak up pretty quickly.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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