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2011-10-26

Glenn Greenwald on Occupy Wall Street, Banks Too Big to Jail and the Attack on WikiLeaks

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The prominent political and legal blogger Glenn Greenwald comments on the growing Occupy Wall Street movement. "What this movement is about is more important than specific legislative demands. It…is expressing dissent to the system itself," says Greenwald. "It is not a Democratic Party organ. It is not about demanding that President Obama’s single [jobs] bill pass or anything along those lines. It is saying that we believe the system itself is radically corrupted, and we no longer are willing to tolerate it. And that’s infinitely more important than specific legislative or political demands." Greenwald also discusses the possible shutdown of the online whistleblower website WikiLeaks due to a "financial blockade" led by MasterCard, Visa and PayPal. "The reason why all these companies cut off funds is because the government pressured and demanded that they do so," Greenwald says. "So, no due process, no accusation of criminal activity. You could never charge WikiLeaks with a crime. They’re engaged in First Amendment activity. And the government has destroyed them through their pressure and influence over the private sector... WikiLeaks has shed more light on the world’s most powerful factions than all media outlets combined, easily, over the last year, and that’s the reason why they’re so hated." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Glenn Greenwald. With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful is his book. Glenn, your book is divided into interesting chapters. One is "Too Big to Jail." Talk about that.

GLENN GREENWALD: I think most Americans realize—and I think you see this driving the Occupy protest movement that you covered at the beginning of the show and that everyone is aware of now—that there wasn’t just economic—poor decisions that precipitated the financial crisis, but massive, system- and industry-wide fraud on the part of Wall Street and the banking industry. And yet, there has been virtually no criminal investigations of any kind, let alone prosecutions or accountability.

At the same time, the United States is the largest prison state in the world. We imprison more of our citizens than any country on earth, including China and India and other countries with many more times the people that we have, for even trivial infractions, things that no other country in the Western world imprisons people for. And this chasm between how we treat ordinary Americans in the justice system, imprisoning them for petty and trivial offenses, versus how we treat the world’s most powerful and wealthiest individuals, who can commit the kind of fraud on the massive scale that we saw in 2008 with no accountability, pure impunity, is really what drove me to write the book and I think is what is driving so much citizen anger.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: How do you explain, actually, the convergence of the two? The legal immunity for the elite classes, and at the same time—because the period coincides exactly, four decades. From 1972 to 2007, imprisonment rates in the U.S. increased fivefold, from 93 per 100,000 to 491 per 100,000.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, well, one of the illustrative ironies is that Richard Nixon, of course, is—what I argue in the book, the pardon of Richard Nixon was the template that created how elite immunity is now justified and how it seeped into the private sector. And of course, Richard Nixon’s career, throughout the 1960s and then into the early 1970s, was made as a law-and-order Republican, demanding no leniency for criminals, harsher and harsher sentences for people who commit crimes. And this is the divergence between how the elite class treats itself when it commits crimes and how they treat ordinary Americans, what Occupy Wall Street calls the 99 percent, that has really destroyed the rule of law, because the rule of law ultimately was intended to be the sole anchor guaranteeing equal opportunity and equal treatment that would then legitimize outcome inequality, and we no longer have that.

AMY GOODMAN: You quote former Vice President Dick Cheney eulogizing former President Gerald Ford—this was in 2006—heralding his decision to pardon Nixon for the Watergate scandal. Cheney said, quote, "The President’s hardest decision was also among his first. And in September of 1974, Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon... It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely through a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe." Glenn, talk about Ford’s pardon of Nixon.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, of course, at the time, Dick Cheney was accused of all sorts of crimes, and so if you’re Dick Cheney, what do you want to do besides venerate this idea implemented by his former boss, Gerald Ford, that elites, political elites, should not be held accountable for crimes committed in office? And one of the things that Gerald Ford did—and what’s interesting is there’s evidence from Seymour Hersh and others that he was actually appointed as vice president because he was expected to pardon Richard Nixon. How corrupt of an arrangement can you get? But one of the things that Ford said, and he was very shifty-eyed and uncomfortable as he announced it, if you watch the video, was that he said the rule of law is "no respecter of persons," which is the basic premise of the American political system. And then he added, but it’s also "a respecter of reality," and then went on to justify why Richard Nixon had suffered enough and why it was good for the country—not for Richard Nixon, but for the country—to immunize him from consequences—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain Nixon’s crimes, what you felt were Nixon’s crimes.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Richard Nixon committed a whole slew of felonies, from lying to the FBI and to Congress, to withholding evidence that he was compelled to produce, to ordering a break-in or being part of the ordering of a break-in at the Democratic National Committee, and then covering up, through a whole series of acts of obstruction of justice for which numerous people were imprisoned, those crimes. And, of course, the Congress was ready to find that he committed those crimes through impeachment. And the pardon itself is a recognition that he indeed did commit felonies, but that the president is excusing him from consequences.

And what’s interesting is, there were people at the time, including Gerald Ford’s own press secretary—30 days after he was appointed, Jerald terHorst, who said, "I’m resigning because in good conscience I can’t watch you immunize the most powerful people from political consequence while, for example, we prosecute conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War. How do we explain this dual treatment for ordinary citizens versus our most powerful?" And he was very prescient, because that’s exactly what this precedent ended up spawning.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn now to one of the—to Occupy Wall Street, because a lot of the things that the protesters say, you bring up in your book. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been critical of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. He recently said the protests were unproductive, since the biggest tax base for New York City was in fact Wall Street.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: The protests, that are trying to destroy the jobs of working people in the city, aren’t productive. And some of the labor unions, the municipal unions that are participating, their salaries come from the taxes paid by the people that they are trying to vilify.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Your comments, Glenn?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, this is the propagandistic template that has been used to try and persuade Americans that it’s not only something they should accept, but cheer for, when the wealthiest in our society are permitted to prosper without constraints. It was the Ronald Reagan cliché of "a rising tide lifts all boats," meaning the richer the rich get, the better off you are. And, of course, it’s in Michael Bloomberg’s interest to propagate this mentality, as well. And I think, for a while, Americans believed that. And yet, what they’re seeing now is that that’s actually completely untrue, that the richer the rich get, nothing trickles down. Inequality starts to explode, and their opportunities start to become destroyed, because the richest are able to use the power that accompanies that wealth, the political power, to ensure that the system doesn’t work create equal opportunity, but works only to entrench and shield their own ill-gotten gains. So this kind of—these platitudes that Michael Bloomberg is spewing are no longer working, because people compare their own experience to what they’re teaching and see that it’s false.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting. You talk about the press secretary for Ford quitting, saying here we’re—you’re protecting the elite, and you have all these conscientious objectors that are going to jail. In a sense, would you describe this whole Occupy Wall Street movement around the country as a kind of conscientious objection to the system? These are conscientious objectors, too. You have more than 2,500 of them who have been arrested around the country. Compare that to the number of executives in the last two years, since the economy has just completely tanked, then the number of crimes that have gone unprosecuted.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it’s interesting. You watch the images, which are police state images, that you showed in Oakland, and we’ve seen this elsewhere, with pepper spray abuses and other kinds of police abuses. What this really is, is using the law to protect criminals, which are the people hiding in Wall Street buildings, from people who are really committing no crimes, who are exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly. It’s exactly how the law has been perverted.

But this is, I think, a really important point that you just asked about. In the beginning, people were criticizing Occupy Wall Street, including people who might otherwise be sympathetic, on the grounds that they didn’t have any policy platforms, they didn’t have PowerPoint presentations of the legislation they wanted. And I wrote very early on in defense of them repeatedly, because I think that what this movement is about is more important than specific legislative demands. It is exactly what you just said, which is expressing dissent to the system itself. It is not a Democratic Party organ. It is not about demanding that President Obama’s single bill pass or anything along those lines. It is saying that we believe the system itself is radically corrupted, and we no longer are willing to tolerate it. And that’s infinitely more important than specific legislative or political demands.

AMY GOODMAN: And what it would mean for Wall Street executives to be held accountable, and watching President Obama go around the country—last Sunday, he dedicates the Martin Luther King Monument. Not miles away is Cornel West and others being arrested in front of the Supreme Court, Cornel West saying, "If Martin Luther King is being honored today, someone’s got to be arrested."

GLENN GREENWALD: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And having President Obama referencing Occupy Wall Street, saying he understands, but traveling the country raising millions of dollars for the Democratic Party, saying, well, the Democratic Party plans to raise, what, a billion dollars for President Obama’s 2012 run.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I mean, there’s clearly an effort on the part of the Democratic Party to co-opt the energy that is behind the Occupy movement and to reinject the Obama campaign with the enthusiasm that it had in 2008, and which it now lacks obviously. And the reason why that’s so destined to fail is because, although President Obama was funded overwhelmingly by Wall Street in 2008, that fact was not very extensively reported or appreciated. And yet, now people have seen him in office shielding Wall Street from investigations. There is an excellent attorney general in the state of New York, Eric Schneiderman, who is trying to investigate Wall Street and is being very aggressively pressured by the Obama White House.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what they’re doing to him.

GLENN GREENWALD: They need him and all attorneys general to sign on to a deal that would allow Wall Street banks essentially to immunize themselves forever from all damages from the mortgage fraud that they systematically perpetrated on the country in the court for what is essentially a woefully inadequate check of cost of doing business. And Schneiderman, and actually now Beau Biden in Delaware, refuse to sign on to this legislation and insist on continuing their investigation. And the Obama White House and administration are aggressively pressuring them. And they want, as well, to raise funds, and are raising funds, from the securities and banking industry as a way of funding the President’s re-election campaign. So that idea that Occupy Wall Street will simultaneously occupy Wall Street and work to keep in power their most lavishly funded politician, I think, is a pipe dream of the Democratic Party and the Obama White House. But it shows the desperation, I think, that they’re feeling in terms of reinjecting some citizen enthusiasm into their campaign.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Glenn, I want to turn to Iraq. President Obama announced last Friday the United States would fulfill its pledge to pull troops out of Iraq by the end of the year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over. Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Glenn, can you say a little bit about this? Because you’ve talked about the significance of the Status of Forces Agreement, as well as the possible presence of private contractors in Iraq remaining after the U.S. troop withdrawal.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, this is really one of the more misleading storylines that we’ve seen in some time, this idea that President Obama has heroically ended the war in Iraq as promised. First of all, as the Obama White House itself is continuously pointing out, because they want to immunize themselves from criticism, the agreement with which they’re complying is a Status of Forces Agreement that was actually negotiated and put in place and ratified by the Bush administration before Obama took office. That’s what set the end of 2011 date, because the Iraqi government was forced by its own political pressures to demand that. More incredibly and more significantly, the Obama administration has spent the last six months doing everything possible to persuade and convince and cajole and bully the Iraqi government into waiving this deadline and allowing it to keep more forces in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline, and failed to do that because the condition that they were demanding, which is full legal immunity for our troops—just, you know, we don’t subject ourselves to the rule of law—is something that they couldn’t accept. And even with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, we are keeping what McClatchy called a small army of private contractors and others under the control of the State Department. So the Obama administration tried to keep troops in Iraq and failed, and now is claiming credit for withdrawing them.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about WikiLeaks, because when you talk about war, I think you also have to talk about WikiLeaks and getting information. Just on Monday, Julian Assange said his website has temporarily stopped publishing new documents, may soon be forced to shut down, because of funding problems. He accused MasterCard, Visa, Bank of America, blocking donations to WikiLeaks for nearly a year.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Since the 7th of December, 2010, an arbitrary and unlawful financial blockade imposed by the Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union has destroyed 95 percent of our revenue... In order to ensure our future survival, WikiLeaks is now forced to temporarily suspend all publishing operations in order to direct all our resources into fighting the blockade and raising funds.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Julian Assange. Overall, respond to what has happened to WikiLeaks and what’s happened to Julian Assange.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it is an example of the government, through extrajudicial and extralegal means, shutting down a group that has challenged and subverted it. The reason why all these companies cut off funds is because the government pressured and demanded that they do so. So, no due process, no accusation of criminal activity. You could never charge WikiLeaks with a crime. They’re engaged in First Amendment activity. And the government has destroyed them through their pressure and influence over the private sector. It’s actually quite frightening to think that the government can just shut down any group that challenges it, through this kind of control over the flow of their money.

AMY GOODMAN: In 10 seconds, the significance of WikiLeaks?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, WikiLeaks has shed more light on the world’s most powerful factions than all media outlets combined, easily, over the last year, and that’s the reason why they’re so hated.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald. His new book is With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.

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