As 2010 draws to a close, what is the role of the United States in the world today? From the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the cuts to social programs here at home, where is there emerging hope for change around the world? We spend the hour with award-winning investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn. "You vote for Democrat, you vote for Republican, you get the same thing on state murder, on preventable death. But we here have the right to rebel. We have to use it." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As 2010 draws to a close, what is the role of the United States in the world today? From the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the cuts in social programs here at home, where is the emerging hope for change around the world?
Today we spend the hour with award-winning investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn. In 1991, we were both covering Indonesia and occupied East Timor and witnessed and survived the Santa Cruz massacre, in which Indonesian soldiers killed more than 270 Timorese. We survived the massacre, but the soldiers fractured Allan’s skull.
Over the past three decades, he has exposed how the U.S. government has backed paramilitary death squads in El Salvador, in Guatemala, in Haiti. He also uncovered U.S. support for the Indonesian military’s assassinations and torture of civilians. Among other awards, he’s won the Alfred I. duPont Award and the Robert F. Kennedy International Prize for International Reporting, the George Polk Award for his exposé of Pentagon and CIA funding of paramilitary death squads in Haiti, and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Reporting. He’s just back from China and in the region of Asia over the last year. He’s joining us in our studio today for the hour.
Allan, welcome to Democracy Now!
ALLAN NAIRN: Thanks. Good to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it is a tall order to talk about the role of the United States in the world today, but why don’t we start right there?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, now, as the U.S. is losing its edge economically, it has one clear comparative advantage. And that’s in killing. And it’s using it. Obama has increased the attacks on Afghanistan, Pakistan. Brookings Institution last year estimated that for every one militant, as they put it, killed in Pakistan, the U.S. drones kill 10 civilians. And they said that was OK; they defended the U.S. policy. General Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, also the National Security Agency, also former director of National Intelligence, said that our default position is to kill our adversaries, referring to the use of the drones. Harold Koh, who’s the legal adviser for the Justice Department, earlier this year at a State Department briefing on the results of the review conference on the International Criminal Court, described the international legal environment that the U.S. had helped shape. And he said this: "No U.S. national can be prosecuted for aggression. We ensure total protection to our American forces and other nationals going forward." So, in that situation, the U.S. defines who the adversaries is. The default U.S. position is to kill the adversary. When you kill the adversary, you kill 10 civilians. What are the survivors, the loved ones of those civilians, supposed to do, when the international legal system is rigged so that there is no peaceful redress, so they have no place to go? It’s unjustified. It’s terrorism by the U.S. law’s own definition.
But it’s also ominous for Americans, especially ominous in a historical moment where the U.S. is losing its edge. Right now it still has the massive military advantage, but how long is that going to last? Other countries have more people to field as troops. Other countries can manufacture weapons more cheaply. The U.S. still has the edge in military technology, but in today’s information age, that can’t last very long. So, if the appeal to decency can’t wake up Americans and make them say stop, maybe the appeal to self-interest and fear can do it.
Imagine a moment not too far in the future — some of the technical magazines just started writing about this — where foreign countries would have the capacity to put drones in the skies over New York, over San Diego, over Alabama, over Chicago. How would Americans feel about that, when the discretion on whether to push the button on the missile and launch it at anyone — at anyone in the U.S. — a member of Congress, a member of the President’s staff, a GI, someone walking down the street — when that discretion lies with someone in some foreign capital, some commander? And imagine how Americans would feel if those overseas controllers of the drones flying in the skies over the U.S. decided to apply American standards; if they decided to apply the Brookings standard that says, OK, if we target one American military planner and we kill 10 civilians, that’s OK; if they decide to apply General Hayden’s standard that, well, it’s our default position to kill these adversaries; and if they decide to apply the U.S. State Department standard, which says no matter what we do, we can’t be prosecuted. That’s the situation that the U.S. is setting up. And it’s going to be increasingly dangerous for Americans as time goes by.
AMY GOODMAN: The international soldier death toll in Afghanistan is, well, I think, as of this broadcast, around 709. Almost 500 of those are U.S. soldiers. It’s the deadliest year in what? We’re coming — we’re in the 10th year, the longest war the U.S. has been involved in, ongoing work, in the history of this country. What about Afghanistan, what you feel needs to be done?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s interesting that you mention the killings of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. To me, one of the most interesting points that’s made in the documents released by WikiLeaks came out in some of the earlier releases, particularly the Iraq war logs. If you read those, you see that when the U.S. military is reporting on U.S. killings of civilians in Iraq or in Afghanistan, they almost always say, "Well, we did it to protect our forces. Some of our soldiers came under fire. We responded. And we wiped out the house." In some cases, they end up wiping out the whole village compound. "And that’s why those civilians were killed." Or, "There was fire from the ground. Our men were in the air in a helicopter. We returned fire. It turned out that it was a wedding party on the ground, and they were shooting their guns in celebration. But we did it with the intent of protecting our forces."
And there’s a certain logic to that. If you’re a soldier and you’re in combat, naturally you want to protect yourself and protect your friends, and you will do everything possible to do that, including killing someone who you think, who you speculate, might be firing at you or might potentially fire at you. So that inevitably sets up a situation where when you send troops into a country in a hostile situation, when you invade a country, that means — really it means, in a practical sense — that in order to protect your troops, you have to kill civilians, you have to kill them in large numbers. And that’s what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan. That’s what it did in Iraq. And that’s what it’s setting up to do in a series of other places. It’s an inevitable result of the initial act, of the initial act of invasion, and, in legal terms, what is often the initial act of aggression.
AMY GOODMAN: In Pakistan, you were talking about the drones, and we just read this headline about U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killing at least 33 people over the last two days. On Tuesday, drones struck a pair of sites in North Waziristan, killing 15 people. Separate attack Monday, 18. U.S. has carried out more than 116 drone attacks this year, more than double the amount from last year. I think the figure of some poll taken in Pakistan, about 59 percent of the people of Pakistan feel the United States is the enemy, yet the United States is pouring billions of dollars to shore up the government of Pakistan.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. That poll would actually suggest that maybe the U.S. image is improving a little, because there have been some other polls where it’s like 70 and 80 percent of Pakistanis saw the U.S. as the main enemy.
What the U.S. is doing with the Pakistan military is remarkable, especially when you compare it with the Iran nuclear situation. The U.S. is saying that, well, maybe we’ll have to invade Iran, or maybe we’ll have to let Israel invade Iran, because Iran is developing nuclear weapons and Iran is a hostile Islamist regime. Well, the U.S. also says, as documented further in the WikiLeaks releases, but it’s said this publicly, that the Taliban in Afghanistan and also the — what are called the Taliban and their allies of Pakistan are backed by the Pakistani military, are backed by the ISI, the Inter Services Intelligence. That is the same Pakistani military that controls the nuclear weapons that Pakistan already has. That is the same Pakistani military that is receiving billions upon billions of dollars in U.S. aid. Yet the U.S. is not saying, "Oh, we have to cut off that Pakistani military. We have to invade Pakistan, because they’re backing the Taliban."
So, the solution for Iran possibly getting a nuclear weapon is to invade Iran. The solution for Pakistan actually having a nuclear weapon and actually backing the Taliban is to give more money to Pakistan. There’s no underlying logic to it, except the logic of sustaining war, of sustaining conflict, of sustaining tension, of having an ongoing drama that provides the top politicians, like Obama, like Bush before him, a chance to prove their toughness, a chance to boost their popularity, and which sustains the vast military complex that chews up so much of the U.S. economy. Once you get beyond that, you can’t come up with a coherent explanation as to why the U.S. should be doing that.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think the U.S. should do right now with Afghanistan?
ALLAN NAIRN: Get out.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
ALLAN NAIRN: Pull the troops out. The only legitimate role would be if you could find a way — and it’s not easy now in a state, in a place that is so devastated and corrupted — if you could find a way to pump in money that would serve as a kind of reparation for the damage that the U.S. has done to Afghanistan and maybe have that money go to rebuild houses and feed hungry people. That would be a justified U.S. role. But the military, the intelligence people, just get them out. They are only making matters worse. They are only making matters worse for the civilian population of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they’re also only making matters worse for Americans, who worry about being bombed when they’re on an airplane, who worry about car bombs in Times Square. Anyone who seriously looks at this sees, and often says and often writes, that this creates more animosity, more people who want to attack the U.S. So get out, and you save more lives on the ground there, and you also diminish the danger to Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to award-winning investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn. His articles appear online at allannairn.com. That’s A-L-L-A-N-N-A-I-R-N dot com. We’ll continue with him after break. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up 2010, we’re spending the hour in a wide-ranging discussion with Allan Nairn — he has just returned from China, he was in Asia for the last year — to get an outside perspective of what’s happening in this country, how people in the other parts of the world see the United States and also what’s happening here at home. Allan Nairn is an award-winning investigative journalist and activist.
Allan, you mentioned the issue of reparations. Expand on that.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, this came to mind with what happened earlier this year in Haiti, with the earthquake, now the cholera. Haiti, just a few miles from Miami, is in so many ways a devastated place. You know, when Haitians and some well-meaning foreigners who try to help in Haiti look around and try to help, try to rebuild from the earthquake, try to stop the spread of the diarrhea that’s killing thousands, it’s not always clear what they can do. Some steps are evident, but the damage to Haiti has been so massive — the hillsides stripped of trees, the entire national housing stock in such a weak state that it could be knocked down by the shaking of an earthquake that would not do the same damage in another country — they’re starting at a tremendous disadvantage.
Yet Haiti, if you look historically, is one of the great nations of world history. They were a pioneer of democracy. The Haitian slave rebellion that led to the founding of the nation led to the establishment of one of the first republics in the world, a republic that the U.S. Founding Fathers immediately said had to be destroyed because of the destructive example it would set, because of the threat that it might give the slaves in the American South an idea and they might try to rebel and establish — turn America into a republic, a real republic, in which slaves could also have citizenship rights, as opposed to the fake republic which prevailed in the U.S. at that time. Haiti was also the source of great riches, gold in the mountains, riches that were taken by France and used to gild the palaces of Paris and Versailles. And the place was looted, the place was sacked, by France, the U.S., by other foreign interests. And now it’s at one of the lowest economic levels of any place in the world.
And if you look at Haiti, if you look at Afghanistan and other of the world’s poorest places, part of the solution is obviously letting people alone politically and militarily so they can pursue their own solution. You know, China is now being heralded as an example of economic progress. Well, China was an imperial system. They were colonized. And they went through, really, what was in effect a series of revolutions, a series of political revolutions, before they were able to reach the point that they could achieve this rapid economic progress. Can you imagine the United States letting Haiti go through an actual revolution, a social revolution that would change the basic terms of who owns the land, of who owns the property, of who has power? The U.S. won’t even let Haiti have a fair election. When Aristide, the reformist priest, got elected as president, the military ousted him in a coup, and the U.S. came in and backed death squads to institutionalize that. When Aristide later got elected as president, the U.S. kidnapped him and ran him out of the country. So the U.S. won’t even let Haiti have an election, let alone a revolution. But if you look at — so that would be one element, allowing real political freedom, so the Haitians could choose a way out.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "allowing"?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, allowing, not — if the Haitians decide to try to redistribute land, or as — the very modest steps that Aristide tried to take when he was first president, he doubled the minimum wage. He tried to institute a basic Social Security system. This was enough for the U.S. to say, well, a military coup is a better solution. So, stepping back and letting them do what they need to do politically.
But beyond that, the practical solution, and the only reasonable one, would be some kind of massive reparation, some kind of giving back of the modern equivalent of all that gold that was stolen and all the other wealth that was taken out of Haiti over the years.
Now, the immediate response to that, when you say reparations, is people say, "Oh, that’s not reasonable. That’s not fair, because that was done by ancestors. That was done by people in the past. I didn’t — I’m not guilty of robbing Haiti. Why should I pay?" OK, that’s a reasonable argument. But if you want to cancel the old guilt, because you didn’t do it, you didn’t do the crime, you didn’t do the theft, that would also mean that you should also cancel the old inheritance that came down to you from those same ancestors. So, alright, so you don’t have to pay reparations, but that would also mean you have to surrender your unearned inheritance. And if you look realistically at the world, most of what people have comes from what they inherit, not from what they earn themselves.
Take this country. You grow up in the suburbs. You grow up in, you know, a nice neighborhood of New York City. You have good food. You have clean water. You won’t be sickened by your own excrement. You live in a building that’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The roads outside are solid and safe. You can go to school for free. You have all these things and more. And you have all this before you have lifted a finger in labor, in work, in earning, in initiative, in free enterprise. You have all this while you’re just a kid sitting there watching cartoons on television. So, obviously, you have a vast inheritance, some of it from your own family, but most of it from the society as a whole, from the rich society.
You know, in this country and in a lot of the rich world, when we talk about issues of equality, there’s always a standard debate goes on, a very sterile debate, between equality of opportunity and equality of result. The right says, "Oh, we can only have — we shouldn’t have equality of result: everybody ends up at the same place. We should only have equality of opportunity: people start from the same place, and then you have a fair race." I tell you, the poor of the world would be thrilled to settle for just equality of opportunity. Forget equality of result. If you really had a regime of equality of opportunity, that would mean all children start from the same place. They all start with nutritious food, with clean water, with free schooling, with a safe home, etc., and then, let the chips fall where they may, run the race. But that is so far from what we have now in the world. It’s obvious. It’s obvious to everyone. In order to achieve that equality of opportunity and in order to be evenhanded in applying the principle of what to do about the theft and the inheritance accumulated by our forefathers, you would need massive reparations, a massive flow of money from the rich world to places like Haiti, to places like Afghanistan. And that’s just through applying consensus principles that everyone accepts.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to award-winning journalist Allan Nairn. Allan, talk about AFRICOM.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, AFRICOM is the Africa military command that was started by Bush, Jr., and has continued and expanded under Obama. And it’s a remarkable thing. It gets very little publicity, especially in the U.S. But what it does is it sends into the hungriest parts of the world, the countries of — in particular, the countries of north and northeastern Africa, it sends in U.S. Green Berets, drones, CIA operatives. They militarize these societies. They are there ostensibly to fight what they refer to as Islamist terrorism. And so, in these societies where people are stunted from hunger, where it’s a day-to-day struggle for food among vast percentages of the populations, the U.S. is sending in bullets and increasing tensions.
Ethiopia is a good example. Ethiopia is famous as a place with recurring hunger problems. And the U.S. has seized upon it as its key military platform in the region, kind of like the role that Colombia plays for the U.S. in South America. The U.S. backed Ethiopia in an invasion of Somalia. The U.S. is sending covert operatives in constantly, and this in the midst of the worst kind of deprivation. And no one talks about it here. Yet, it’s criminal.
AMY GOODMAN: When President Bush wanted to establish AFRICOM in Africa, he couldn’t get an African country to agree to be its base, so he had to turn to Europe.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, for good reason. But if you look at how things are changing in the world today, the U.S. militarily is in some senses in retreat, and that’s a very good thing. It’s what allowed South America to experiment with democracy in recent years. You have the rise of populist movements in places like Venezuela and Ecuador that would have been impossible in an earlier era, when the U.S. was ready to pounce on any stirring of dissent in Latin America. The U.S. created death squads throughout Central America and also South America in the 1960s and '70s, starting under Democratic administrations, Kennedy and Johnson. But today, in the recent period, U.S. attention has been diverted elsewhere, and it's allowed politics to — some free choice, some free elections, to develop. And it’s a very good thing.
Now there’s a possibility that the U.S. may be forced into a retreat in Asia as the power of China grows. Now, China is a dictatorship. They apply repression on their borders. They back a murderous regime in Burma. They repress the people of Tibet. But they are not anywhere near as aggressive as the U.S. in defining their area of operations as the entire globe and sending in military and intelligence forces into every country on earth. And so, in the face of the rise of China’s power, if the U.S. starts to retreat from Asia, it could provide some tactical possibilities for popular movements. They could start to play one off against the other.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have the United States, a first-rate military power, and yet its economy is seriously slipping. What does that mean — first-rate military power, second-rate economy?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it means that, in a certain sense, killing and the use of force abroad becomes even more important for the U.S. than it was before. But even that, even that edge, I think, is — may not last for too long. You know, after Reagan invaded Grenada, he said, "Now the U.S. is standing tall. Now we can be proud." After the U.S. invaded Iraq, Wesley Clark, General Wesley Clark, who became — later became a leading politician in the Democratic Party, said, "This shows that we cannot be challenged. No one can dare to defy us."
Well, Reagan turned out to be right, because after Grenada, the U.S. launched a series of attacks on soft targets, places that couldn’t really defend themselves, like Panama, Nicaragua, many other places. But Clark turned out to be wrong, because the U.S. was essentially defeated in Iraq, essentially rebuffed. What initially looked like a victory turned into a disaster for U.S. power. And now, it’s not the case that the U.S. can just drop a hint to a given country and they have to fear that the U.S. parachuters will be dropping the next day. And that is something that opens up possibilities for the world. It’s something that we have to take advantage of.
AMY GOODMAN: The tax compromise, the bill that was passed, $800 —- more than $800 billion, who it helped? It extends the Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, reduces the estate tax, in return for a 13-month extension for jobless benefits, a handful of tax credits for low— and moderate-income Americans, at least a quarter of the tax savings going to the wealthiest one percent of the population. The only group that will see taxes increase are the nation’s lowest-paid workers. Talk about who benefits in this country and the trend that’s going on in this country.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, there’s this remarkable trend now, this mania for what they call "austerity" among the — almost the entire U.S. intelligentsia, everyone saying, "Oh, we have to cut the deficit. We have to cut back."
AMY GOODMAN: The most hit word in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is the word "austerity" in 2010.
ALLAN NAIRN: And the meaning of austerity, or the usual understanding of that word, is cutting back on luxuries. And that’s a good thing. That would be a good thing if the U.S. were to cut back on luxuries. Well, you can’t cut back on luxuries unless you have luxuries. And the people who really have luxuries are the U.S. rich. But those who push austerity are not talking about cutting back on luxuries for the rich; they’re talking about cutting back on necessities for working people and the poor. So, at a time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture is documenting increasing numbers of American families that report experiencing some days of hunger in their household, at a time when U.S. schools are turning out fewer students who are good at reading and math and logical thinking as compared to — especially as compared to students from other countries, at this precise time, what does the entire U.S. intelligentsia say with one word? Cut Social Security. Cut unemployment insurance. Cut food stamps. Cut the public schools. Cut the opportunity to get higher education. As opposed to saying — real austerity — cut the luxuries of the rich. In a way, it’s a little puzzling, in a way, because the overall economic effect of it is to cut at a time when you should be expanding. In the midst of a recession, conventional capitalist economic theory says, you have to stimulate, you have to expand. Instead, they’re talking about going in exactly the opposite direction.
In a way — I mean, this is just kind of speculation, but there may be some connection to the military troubles the U.S. is having, because, you know, in American politics, and among American intellectuals who deal with politics, you always have to prove you’re a tough guy. You always have to prove you’re willing to be harsh, you’re willing to make the tough choices. And for most of recent history, that’s been proven by backing various wars and invasions and support for repressive regimes overseas. You know, you would prove you were tough-minded by backing that. Now, after what happened to the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan with their military failures, it’s a little embarrassing to go down that route to prove your toughness. So today, to prove you’re tough, you talk about, "Oh, we have to make painful choices on entitlements. We have to make painful choices on Social Security and Medicare." They don’t mean painful for the people who have the money; they mean painful for the people who don’t.
AMY GOODMAN: The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. We spend more than six times as much as the country with the next-highest budget, which is China.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, but that will be — that’s a very interesting state of affairs, because it’ll be hard for the U.S. to sustain that. OK, they spend the money on weaponry, but where are they going to make those weapons? Because the entire movement of U.S. corporations in recent years has been to shift their industrial production of everything overseas, in search of the cheapest, most repressed, most terrorized labor they can find. And military equipment is an industrial good like any other. And before long, it’s going to become increasingly more and more uneconomical for the U.S. to try to make that military equipment domestically, and it’s going to be harder to control that technology.
You know, but that also — that economic shift has some good implications. You know, it’s especially striking when you’ve been overseas for a while and you come back to the U.S. You see that there is — especially among the U.S. upper middle class, there’s this whole lifestyle, this whole green cyber lifestyle where everybody’s got their iPad and their iPod and, you know, their i-this and their i-that. But if you look at what is behind that, you know, the coltan, the minerals that are used to make the components for that, that’s mined in the Congo, where the workers are virtual slaves. The manufacturing of those electronic gadgets is no longer done in the U.S.; it’s done in places like China — the iPhone made in Shanghai, for example. So, what lies behind that is fun for the upper middle class, who are playing with the gadgets; unemployment for the U.S. workers, who don’t make them anymore; virtual slavery for the Congolese workers who are extracting the minerals under the lash.
But on the Chinese end of things and in other comparable economies, it’s a slightly different and more interesting story, in one sense. There’s tremendous exploitation of these Chinese workers. After they shifted away from communism in the strict economic sense and made the capitalist opening, labor rights declined in China. This is according to a study by a corporate-sponsored think tank there. Even under the strict communist dictatorship of Mao, workers in China had more rights than they did in the initial years of the capitalist opening that began with Deng. But now, that picture is starting to change. There are labor shortages in China. There have been a series of actions by workers. They’re not allowed to organize unions, but there have been, in effect, wildcat strikes, riots, workers so driven to despair that they commit suicide — this, in particular, at Foxconn, one of the companies that makes components for the iPhone — all sorts of turmoil around Chinese labor. And in response, the government has had to make big concessions to them. They got severance pay. The migrant workers who come in from the countryside are now allowed certain rights in the city that they didn’t have about the schooling of their children, about social welfare. Without yet having legal unions, they are starting to make progress, and they’re generating upward pressure on wages.
Now, that is profound, because China is such a large and growing production — percentage of world production, that upward pressure on wages out of China is going to ripple everywhere. It’s going to ripple all the way to Indonesia, all the way to Haiti, and all the way to the U.S. This started about two-and-a-half years ago. And even though U.S. labor has been all but crushed politically — and that’s what’s making these attacks on Social Security and the schools and Medicare possible, because labor isn’t — American labor isn’t there to defend them anymore. The middle class that labor helped create is badly weakened. Even though that’s the current situation, there’s kind of a reinforcement coming, and that is upward pressure on wages by the new activity of workers in the very politically repressed China. And this inevitably will be spreading to other places. So it’s actually a very hopeful development to look out for and to look — that people can be looking to take advantage of.
AMY GOODMAN: Allan, we have to break. When we come back, I want to ask you about WikiLeaks, the largest release of secret documents in the history of this country. We’re speaking with award-winning journalist, activist, Allan Nairn. He lives overseas, has just come back for a week to this country, returning to Asia in just a few days. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. We’ll be back with Allan in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re spending the hour with the award-winning investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn. Allan survived the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991 in East Timor, when Indonesian troops armed with U.S. M-16s opened fire on thousands of innocent Timorese. They killed more than 270 Timorese. They fractured Allan’s skull. Ultimately, 10 years later, East Timor won its independence and became the newest nation in the world.
Allan has has been covering the world for years, has won many journalistic prizes for his coverage of U.S. involvement in supporting death squads in El Salvador and exposing the G2, Guatemalan intelligence, in Guatemala during the 1980s, exposing CIA-Pentagon support of death squads in Haiti, the FRAP, and lives overseas in Asia, in Malaysia, in Indonesia, in China, in Burma. He has just returned from Thailand and other places, here for a week or two.
Allan, WikiLeaks — what is the significance of this whistleblowing website? By the way, AP, other news organizations, though they often — they had referred to it as a whistleblowing website, have now officially dropped the term "whistleblowing" because it has too positive connotations. But talk about the significance of WikiLeaks.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s a very good thing. People should realize, though, it only scratches the surface. These documents that are released, they’re a very low level of classification, so it’s not as if the deepest, darkest secrets of the U.S. government are out there. These documents, which have produced what people regard as quite a few shocking headlines, are the most commonplace matters of U.S. operations, so common that literally hundreds of thousands of people had routine access to these documents. And apparently, Private Bradley Manning decided to download them and leak them to WikiLeaks. And by the way, he’s the real protagonist in this. He’s the real hero. And he’s imprisoned without charge under horrible conditions. People should be supporting him.
There’s talk now, there are reports, that the U.S. is looking to indict Assange on conspiracy. Obama’s Justice Department, Holder, is reportedly, according to the New York Times, trying to do this. And they’re looking at a charge that would say it’s conspiracy because Assange encouraged Manning to leak the documents. He didn’t just passively receive them; he encouraged him. Well, if they indict him for that, they should also indict me, because I have done that, as well. They say that it’s a crime of conspiracy to solicit classified U.S. material in that way. Well, I have done that. I have done that on numerous occasions. And I’ll now tell Attorney General Holder, you can come and arrest me, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, like many investigative journalists.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s what investigative journalists do, right?
ALLAN NAIRN: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the process is, for someone to understand, when you want to get information.
ALLAN NAIRN: And while he’s at it — and while he’s at it, he’ll also have to come for a lot of the staff of the New York Times and the Washington Post, who, you know, several times a week publish classified material, usually leaked out of self-interested motives to justify this or that government policy. I mean, when you get classified material, sometimes it’s just handed to you. But I would say, you know, maybe about half the time, you have to work for it. You have to — you talk to somebody who knows about something, and they say, "Yeah, that’s true." And then you say, "Oh, well, is there any documentation on that?" And they say, "Well, there is, as a matter of fact." And, "Well, can you get it?" By the case they’re apparently building against Assange, that constitutes conspiracy.
If they go along this route, it’s just another step toward the U.S. renouncing the recently developed, through popular struggle, tradition of civil liberties and real rule of law. I mean, the U.S. has accomplished a lot in the rule of law. There’s a lot of impartial judging that takes place now and then in American society. But the current trend is against it.
Another related front, the Supreme Court decision on what they call "material support for terrorism." This was argued by then-Solicitor General Kagan before she joined the Supreme Court as an Obama appointee. And this Supreme Court decision this year said, essentially, hat if you even talk to people from an organization that’s on the U.S. terrorist list and tell them to lay down their arms, tell them to respect human rights — you say anything of substance to them, you can be prosecuted as giving a material support to terrorism, because you’re merely speaking to them. Now, if you seriously applied that precedent, you would have to indict every U.S. taxpayer, because they’re giving funds to the U.S. government, which is killing civilians, which is the definition of terrorism. But even more narrowly, if you just looked at groups that are on the terrorist list, you know, the IRA was on the terrorist list for years. Congressman Peter King was a big supporter of the IRA. Now he’s the one who’s leading the anti-Muslim hearings in Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: But what about this?
ALLAN NAIRN: Never talk of prosecuting him. Just last week, there was a conference at which four or five members of the Bush cabinet — including Mukasey, the attorney general; Fragos Townsend, the counterterrorism chief; Bolton, the U.N. ambassador; Ridge, the Homeland Security chief — came out in support of an organization called the MEK, which is currently on the terrorism list. This was a group that attacked Iran with support from Saddam Hussein, and they’re still against Iran, so these Bush people want to back them. And by the standard of the Supreme Court decision that Kagan advocated, all these former Bush cabinet people should now be indicted and arrested. It’s farcical. That’s the direction that Obama, continuing the trend, is bringing U.S. law.
AMY GOODMAN: Allan, we only have three minutes. We spoke to you in Indonesia recently when the Indonesian military, when the government was threatening to arrest you because you had released documents from the Kopassus, the feared military unit in Indonesia. Can you talk about — in fact, WikiLeaks has just exposed, by releasing documents showing the battle within the Obama administration to restore aid to the Indonesian military. I’d like you to talk briefly about that and then your assessment of President Obama.
ALLAN NAIRN: I did a piece exposing assassinations by the Indonesian military in Aceh. The military then said they would arrest me, and a capture order went out to military intelligence bases to seize me extrajudicially. But before they were able to do that, it was canceled from the top, because the president and the cabinet decided it would be too politically risky to do that.
Later, I released documents from Kopassus, the U.S.-backed special forces, which show that in West Papua, which is under de facto occupation by the military, the Kopassus targets civilians. They have a 15-person enemies list who they go after, and they’re all civilians. It’s headed by the chief of the local Baptist church.
In January, I’m going to be releasing more documents, more secret documents from Kopassus and the Indonesian military, and these deal — these documents basically lay out the entire — with names and details, the entire covert intelligence network they have in Papua and elsewhere. So, they should know — if Kopassus is listening to this, they should know that their intelligence network is now blown. They’ve got to shut it down, because the names of their people are out. And other documents classified as top secret, sangat rahasia, deal with the armed rebels in Papua, the OPM, and they basically show that the armed rebels don’t have many arms. Yet they are the justification for the Indonesian military presence there.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet, the United States restored military aid. President Obama restored military aid to Kopassus.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, he went there personally. And he made a political statement in one of his speeches, which basically endorsed the Indonesian military occupation of Papua. And within days, a secret, a covert, threatening message went out to activists across Papua, essentially telling them, "Abandon all hope. Obama is on our side now."
AMY GOODMAN: What about President Obama?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, as we said in the discussion last year at this time, he has kept the machine set on "kill." He’s continued backing for the dozens of repressive regimes. He’s upped the killings in Pakistan and Afghanistan. You know, when you compare the Democrats and the Republicans on core issues of preventing preventable death, shifting funds to stop hunger, of killing of civilians, there’s no difference. But we have some democratic rights in this country, and people have to organize to stop that. You know, on the basic issues, there’s not —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.
ALLAN NAIRN: There’s not that much difference between the choice that an American has and the choice that a person in repressive Burma or repressive China or repressive Indonesia has. In none of those countries, including the U.S., can you choose to alter the basic policies. You vote for Democrat, you vote for Republican, you get the same thing on state murder, on preventable death. But we here have the right to rebel. We have to use it.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Allan Nairn, award-winning investigative journalist and activist. We will link to his articles at allannairn.com on our website, democracynow.org.