Chris Hedges gave this talk Tuesday, June 11, at an event held in London in support of Julian Assange.
Ask the Iraqi parents of Sabiha Hamed Salih, aged 15, and Ashwaq Hamed Salih, aged 16, who were killed by shrapnel in Baghdad on July 31, 2004, what they think of Julian Assange.
Ask the man and his two young daughters who saw their wife and mother shot to death and were themselves wounded in a car fired upon by U.S. Marines in Fallujah on July 22, 2005, what they think of Julian Assange.
Ask the parents of Huda Haleem, an 18-year-old girl, and Raghad Muhamad Haleem, a 5-year-old boy, shot dead by U.S. soldiers on June 2, 2006, in Iraq’s Diyala province what they think of Julian Assange.
Ask the parents of the 15-year-old boy choked with a wire and then shot to death by U.S. Marines in Ramadi on Aug. 10, 2006, what they think of Julian Assange.
Ask the relatives of Ahmed Salam Mohammad, who was shot dead on Nov. 27, 2006, when U.S. troops attacked a wedding party near Mosul, an attack that also left four wounded, what they think of Julian Assange.
Ask the families of the over one dozen people shot to death with .50-caliber machine guns by bantering U.S. Apache helicopter crews in east Baghdad in July 2007—the crew members can be heard laughing at the “dead bastards” and saying “light ’em up” and “keep shooting, keep shooting”—a massacre that included two journalists for Reuters—Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh—what they think of Julian Assange. Ask the then 10-year-old Sajad Mutashar and his 5-year-old sister, Doaha, both wounded, whose 43-year-old father, Saleh, was shot to death from the air as he attempted to assist one of the wounded men in the Baghdad street what they think of Julian Assange.
There is nothing like the boot of the oppressor on your neck to give you moral clarity.
None of these war crimes, and hundreds more reported to the U.S. military but never investigated, would have been made public without Julian, Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks. That is the role of journalists—to give a voice to those who without us would have no voice, to hold the powerful to account, to give the forgotten and the demonized justice, to speak the truth.
We have watched over the last decade as freedom of the press and legal protection for those who expose government abuses and lies have been obliterated by wholesale government surveillance and the criminalizing of the leaking and, with Julian’s persecution, publication of these secrets. The press has been largely emasculated in the United States. The repeated use of the Espionage Act, especially under the Obama administration, to charge and sentence whistleblowers has shut down our ability to shine a light into the inner workings of power and empire. Governmental officials with a conscience, knowing all of their communications are monitored, captured and stored by intelligence agencies, are too frightened to reach out to reporters. The last line of defense lies with those with the skills that allow them to burrow into the records of the security and surveillance state and with the courage to make them public, such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond, now serving a 10-year prison term in the United States for hacking into the Texas-based private security firm Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor. The price of resistance is high not only for them, but for those such as Julian willing to publish this information. As Sarah Harrison has pointed out: “This is our data, our information, our history. We must fight to own it.”
Even if Julian were odious, which he is not, even if he carried out a sexual offense, which he did not, even if he was a poor houseguest—a bizarre term for a man trapped in a small room for nearly seven years under house arrest—which he was not, it would make no difference. Julian is not being persecuted for his vices. He is being persecuted for his virtues.
His arrest eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities carried by the Ecuadorian, British and U.S. governments in the seizure of Julian two months ago from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London are ominous. They presage a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes, especially war crimes, carried out by the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presage a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power, no matter what their nationality, will be hunted down around the globe and seized, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms. They presage an Orwellian dystopia where journalism is outlawed and replaced with propaganda, trivia, entertainment and indoctrination to make us hate those demonized by the state as our enemies.
The arrest of Julian marks the official beginning of the corporate totalitarianism and constant state surveillance, now far advanced in China, that will soon define our lives. The destruction of all protection of the rule of law, which is what we are witnessing, is essential to establishing an authoritarian or totalitarian state.
The BBC China correspondent Stephen McDonell was locked out of WeChatin China a few days ago after posting photos of the candlelight vigil in Hong Kong marking 30 years since student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square were gunned down by Chinese soldiers in June 1989.
“Chinese friends started asking on WeChat what the event was?” he wrote. “Why were people gathering? Where was it? That such questions were coming from young professionals here shows the extent to which knowledge of Tiananmen 1989 has been made to disappear in China. I answered a few of them, rather cryptically, then suddenly I was locked out of WeChat.”
In order to get back on WeChat he had to agree that he was responsible for spreading “malicious rumors” and provide what is called a faceprint.
“I was instructed to hold my phone up—to ‘face front camera straight on’—looking directly at the image of a human head. Then told to ‘Read numbers aloud in Mandarin Chinese.’ My voice was captured by the App at the same time it scanned my face.”
Governmental abuse of WeChat, he wrote, “could deliver to the Communist Party a life map of pretty much everybody in this country, citizens and foreigners alike. Capturing the face and voice image of everyone who was suspended for mentioning the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary in recent days would be considered very useful for those who want to monitor anyone who might potentially cause problems.”
This is almost certainly our future, and it is a future that Julian has fought courageously to prevent.
In another sign the noose is tightening, the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corp., the country’s national broadcaster, were raided by federal police last Wednesday. The raid was carried out because the broadcaster had disclosed detailed accounts of Australian special forces in Afghanistan killing unarmed people, including children. That story was generated, in part, by a leak of hundreds of classified military documents. The police raid and search through raw footage and thousands of files, emails and internal documents appear to be part of a hunt for the source, who will, no doubt, be arrested and imprisoned.
Under what law did Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno capriciously terminate Julian’s rights of asylum as a political refugee? Under what law did Moreno authorize British police to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy—diplomatically sanctioned sovereign territory—to arrest a nationalized citizen of Ecuador? Under what law did Prime Minister Theresa May order the British police to grab Julian, who has never committed a crime? Under what law did Donald Trump demand the extradition of Julian, who is not a U.S. citizen and whose news organization is not based in the United States?
The psychological torture of Julian—documented by the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and ill treatment, Nils Melzer—mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of the novel “1984.” It is said the Gestapo broke bones and the East German Stasi secret police broke souls. Today, we too have refined the cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo. We break souls as well as bodies. It is more effective. This is why Julian, his physical and psychological health in serious decline, has been moved to a prison hospital. We can all be taken to George Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to be made compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures”—and you can be sure there are American intelligence operatives here assisting the British in the psychological torture of Julian—have destroyed thousands of detainees in black sites around the globe. These techniques, including prolonged solitary confinement, are the staple form of control in maximum-security prisons in the United States, where the corporate state makes war on its most oppressed and politically astute underclass—African Americans.
There has been a coordinated smear campaign against Julian by our Thought Police, one that is amplified by the very media organizations that published WikiLeaks material. The campaign was detailed in a leaked Pentagon document prepared by the Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch and dated March 8, 2008. The document called for eradicating the “feeling of trust” that is WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity” and destroying Julian’s reputation.
This character assassination was championed by the Democratic Party establishment after WikiLeaks published 70,000 hacked emails copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The Podesta emails exposed the donation of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the major funders of Islamic State, to the Clinton Foundation. It exposed the $657,000 that Goldman Sachs paid to Hillary Clinton to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe. It exposed Clinton’s repeated mendacity. She was caught in the emails, for example, telling the financial elites that she wanted “open trade and open borders” and believed Wall Street executives were best positioned to manage the economy, a statement that contradicted her campaign statements. It exposed the Clinton campaign’s efforts to influence the Republican primaries to ensure that Trump was the Republican nominee. It exposed Clinton’s advance knowledge of questions in a primary debate. It exposed Clinton as the principal architect of the war in Libya, a war she believed would burnish her credentials as a presidential candidate. Journalists can argue that this information, like the war logs provided to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, should have remained hidden, that the public did not have a right to know, but they can’t then call themselves journalists.
WikiLeaks has done more to expose the abuses of power and crimes of the American Empire than any other news organization. In addition to the war logs and the Podesta emails, it made public the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency and their interference in foreign elections, including in the French elections. It disclosed the internal conspiracy against British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by Labour members of Parliament. It intervened to save Snowden from extradition to the United States by helping him flee from Hong Kong to Moscow after he made public the wholesale surveillance of the American public by our intelligence agencies. The Snowden leaks also revealed that Julian was on a U.S. “manhunt target list.”
We must build popular movements to force the British government to halt the extradition and judicial lynching of Julian. We must build popular movements to force the Australian government to intervene on behalf of Julian. We must build popular movements to reclaim democracy and the rule of law. If Julian is extradited and tried, it will create a legal precedent that will terminate the ability of the press, which Donald Trump has attacked as “the enemy of the people,” to hold power accountable. The crimes of war and finance, the persecution of dissidents, minorities and immigrants, the pillaging of the ecosystem and the ruthless impoverishment of working men and women to swell the profits of corporations and consolidate the global oligarchs’ total grip on power will no longer be part of public debate. First Julian. Then us.
I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
- Smedley Butler, from a speech (1933)
Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940) was a United States Marine Corps major general, the highest rank authorized at that time, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. During his 34-year career as a Marine, he participated in military actions in the Philippines, China, in Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars, and France in World War I. Butler later became an outspoken critic of U.S. wars and their consequences.
WASHINGTON — When I was a political reporter at The Times, I had an editor who told me never to give anyone a Homeric epithet.
Such epithets denote a permanent trait, the editor explained, and people in the caldron of politics were mutable. So if I called that Republican strategist “savvy” this week, the man might do something dumb the following week. (And that is exactly what happened.)
But I might have to make an exception for William Barr. Homer had a couple of epithets that would suit our attorney general: “crooked-counseling” and “devious-devising” come to mind.
In an interview in Alaska for “CBS This Morning,” Jan Crawford asked Barr — who was doing his best Cheneyesque dour-jowly-outdoorsman under the Big Sky routine — if he was worried about his reputation.
Barr came into the job, Crawford said, with a good reputation on the right and the left and now he stands “accused of protecting the president, enabling the president, lying to Congress.”
In Homer’s epic poems, reputation is more exalted than life itself. But in Donald Trump’s epic reign as the hotheaded, ammonia-haired, serpent-tongued destroyer of worlds, political survival is paramount, no matter the venality involved or the cost to your reputation.
Barr responded to Crawford with fatalism, saying “everyone dies” and he doesn’t believe in “the Homeric idea” that immortality comes by “having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?”
It’s a good thing, too, because no one will be singing odes about this general being lionhearted in the rosy-fingered dawn.
The twisty saga of Robert Mueller and Bill Barr is a case of an imperfect hero and a perfect villain.
Yet this very coherence could—and under present conditions likely will—undo itself. Right now Trump is fighting on many fronts to suppress many investigations of many different forms of alleged wrongdoing. He must plug more holes in the dike than he has fingers. But submerge all those many stories into one big question—“remove or don’t”—and the impeachers will have to focus their energy on the most salient allegations. The battlefront will narrow, and as it narrows, the unity of the executive branch will confer a tactical advantage on even a weak presidential defense over the fissiparous offense in the House of Representatives.
Impeachment at this point is all but certain to end in Trump’s acquittal in the Senate, which is controlled by a Republican majority. The votes of two-thirds of the senators who are present are required to remove a president from office, and 67 is a number not within the present political reality. That may change, but it won’t change for reasons internal to the impeachment process. It will change only if new real-world facts materialize—either legal facts (evidence of other crimes) or political facts (a collapse in Trump’s support in the country).
A Trump facing impeachment will rally reluctant Republicans to him, with the argument, so effective for Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Even if he did something wrong, it does not merit removal from office.
And an acquitted Trump will be an immunized Trump. Is it vexing to hear Trump’s team misrepresent Robert Mueller’s report as an “exoneration”? Imagine what they will say and do if they defeat impeachment on a party-line Senate vote. It was all fake news, a plot by the Deep State. As false and wrong as those claims will be, how will Democrats sustain the momentum to hold Trump to account after a trial and acquittal? Won’t they then have to submit to the jeers of Trump henchpersons: This issue was litigated, and it’s time to move on?
Impeachment now threatens to turn the 2020 election into a referendum on the Democrats’ methods in Congress, not Trump’s wrongdoing in the presidency, in the campaign, and in private life.
Trump accountability is not an all-or-nothing choice. It’s not now or never. The House can investigate every Trump misdeed, exposing to the light of day everything from allegations of money laundering and bank fraud to the abuse of undocumented-immigrant laborers at Trump-owned properties. It can investigate the Trump-Russia file, not as a case of criminal conspiracy, but as a national-security threat. It can fight the battle for proper Trump financial disclosure in the courts—and summon the national-security professionals who were overruled by Trump when they denied Jared Kushner a security clearance to testify before committees.
By focusing on many different issues at once rather than the singular issue of impeachment, Democrats have the chance to do three things:
- They focus on the discovery of facts rather than arguments over consequences: “What wrongs did Trump do?” rather than “Is removal the right remedy for these wrongs?”
- They liberate their presidential candidates to campaign on the bread-and-butter issues that will mobilize and motivate less-committed voters, rather than obliging them to opine on the big existential question of impeachment and removal.
- They reserve the impeachment remedy for the very genuine possibility of a Trump second term, by which time the Senate will likely have shifted more in the Democrats’ direction.
Trump outrages the sense of justice. It is understandable that many yearn for urgent and decisive action to cleanse the American system. But wise action is better than urgent action, and the best decision is one that leads to success.
I think about how talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge is, with her two mordant shows, “Killing Eve” and “Fleabag.” I think about how cool it will be to see Idris Elba resume his role as a world-weary London homicide detective in “Luther.” I think about what a harrowing tale Patrick Radden Keefe has woven in “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.”
But once I’m completely awake, a gravitational pull takes hold and I am once more bedeviled by our preposterous president.
I flip on the TV and gird for the endless stream of vitriol coming from the White House, bracing for another day of overflowing, overlapping, overwrought news stories about Trump. I’m sapped before I rise.
As Mayor Pete said on his Fox town hall about the national Trump preoccupation, “It is the nature of grotesque things that you can’t look away.”
My head hurts, puzzling over whether Trump is just a big blowhard who’s flailing around, or a sinister genius laying traps to get himself impeached to animate the base ahead of the election.
A minute ago, we were fixated on the half of the Mueller report that vividly details how Trump tried to shut down and hinder the Mueller investigation. But now the president has triggered the media’s shock collar, so everyone is fixated on how he gave William Barr vast new powers to use the intelligence agencies to investigate the investigators.
Just as Trump once wore out contractors, bankers, lawyers and businesspeople in New York with his combative, insulting and wayward ways, now he’s wearing out the political crowd, as he tries to beat everybody here into submission with his daily, even hourly, onslaught of outrage piled upon outrage.
Journalists must not become inured to Trump’s outlandish, transgressive behavior. Mitch McConnell, Barr and almost everyone else in the G.O.P. have made themselves numb to his abhorrent actions because of self-interest.
But for those who are concerned about the scarring of the American psyche, it’s exhausting to find the vocabulary to keep explaining, over and over, how beyond the pale and out of the norm the 45th president is.
How do you ratchet up from “remarkable,” “extraordinary,” “unprecedented”?
What words can you use about someone who considers pardoning war criminals on Memorial Day? Who wants to make it simpler for adoption agencies to bar same-sex couples? Who circumvents Congress to complete arms deals to benefit the same Saudis who are clearly culpable in the case of the dismembered Washington Post columnist?
Pete Buttigieg and Nancy Pelosi have both mastered the art of puncturing Trump — far better than his Republican primary debate rivals did.
“I don’t have a problem standing up to somebody who was working on Season 7 of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan,” Buttigieg told The Post’s Robert Costa, saying he took a dim view of Trump’s bone-spurs excuse to get out of serving in Vietnam.
Pelosi winds Trump up when she drips condescension worthy of a Jane Austen grande dame, saying she will pray for the president or pleading for someone to stage an intervention with the poor soul.
After Pelosi remarked that the president was engaged in a cover-up, Trump dynamited his own meeting with “Crazy Nancy,” as he called her. His I’m not crazy, you’re crazy rebuttal to Pelosi echoed his I’m not a puppet, you’re a puppet line to Hillary Clinton during the debate.
California Senator Kamala Harris’ pointed questioning of Attorney General Bill Barr during this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings garnered a lot of attention. Not only because Harris asked questions with unflinching precision but because she left Barr with no choice but to obfuscate about whether or not President Donald Trump or other White House officials “asked or suggested” Barr open an investigation into anyone.
On Friday, Harris sent a letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general Michael Horowitz asking for an investigation into the matter. According to CNN, Harris said in the letter that, “Such inappropriate requests by the President have been well documented. Special Counsel Mueller … documented a disturbing pattern of behavior on the part of the President—repeated attempts to target his perceived opponents.”
The letter continued: “There must be no doubt that the Department of Justice and its leadership stand apart from partisan politics, and resist improper attempts to use the power of federal law enforcement to settle personal scores.”
Harris appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show later that night, and Maddow asked the Democratic 2020 presidential candidate: “Do you believe that it’s possible that [Barr has] been getting direction from the White House or from the president about opening investigations into the president’s perceived enemies?”
Harris answered flatly, “Based on his non-response, I am now suspicious.” She went on to say that is why she sent the letter to the inspector general requesting an investigation.
“The Attorney General is supposed to act on behalf of the people and not act as the president’s henchman,” Harris added.
Harris then hammered Barr’s overall testimony in front of the committee and his previous statements and actions.
“The issue that is really at play is the integrity of our system of justice, literally. This is the top law enforcement and top law official of the United States Department of Justice who through his testimony and then all of the weeks leading up to him testifying before us has called into question his integrity,” Harris said.