- Jeremy Scahill
Democracy Now! correspondent. He is author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Thousands of delegates descended on Denver over the weekend for the Democratic National Convention, as did thousands of journalists, as well as protesters from across the country. We hear some of the voices of the protesters and speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill, who covered the events from the ground. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We go now from the streets to the suites. There are more than 1,200 parties over this five days of the Denver DNC. One of the first was the AT&T Blue Dog fundraiser thrown at Mile High Station. It’s one of the closest venues to Invesco Field at the Mile High Stadium, where Barack Obama will accept the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday night. In a moment, we’re going to go to that party, as we attempted to get in, though we were told by those at the door that they were not allowing press — delegates, yes; press, no. But first, we’re going to go to the streets. Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! correspondent, spent yesterday in the streets.
Jeremy, what did you find?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first of all, the city of Denver was given about $50 million — $50 million — just by the US federal government for security operations alone. There are estimates that the city is going to pay over a million dollars in overtime to police officers. And they’ve set up a twenty-four-hour, what they’re calling “fusion center.” It’s really a war room with every law enforcement entity in the country, as well as locally represented, from the Secret Service and FBI, diplomatic security at the State Department, right down to local law enforcement. Indeed, we saw police with what they call non-lethal weapons deployed on the street to face down against a protest that was relatively small compared to other conventions.
And there are a number of coalitions that are organizing here. The most prominent yesterday was — on Sunday was Recreate ’68. There was a pretty significant rally that included a wide variety of speakers from various portions of the antiwar movement. And Cynthia McKinney was there, the Green Party candidate for president. Cindy Sheehan was there, as well. Ron Kovic, you mentioned before, led a march of protesters to go in attempt to symbolically blockade access to the Pepsi Center.
The message that was very clear on the streets is that people are rejecting what they see as a real move to the right on the part of the Obama campaign. Joseph Biden is just the tip of the iceberg. You have Madeleine Albright, Anthony Lake, Warren Christopher. All of these people that were sort of the major players in a very belligerent foreign policy under Clinton have now become the core of the Obama foreign policy team. And Biden — I know you’re going to talk about it in a moment — really is a veteran of US wars and was one of the key people in facilitating the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And that was a lot of what was being discussed on the street. And people are very concerned about a potential attack on Iran, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, I mean, you spent a lot of time in Iraq, Jeremy. On the issue of Biden, though we are going to have a debate on the nomination of Biden to be vice president, Barack Obama’s vice president, the years that — for example, there was an attempt to get Scott Ritter to testify.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. Well, in 2002, in the summer of 2002, was when Biden had that responsibility at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chaired — the Democrats were in control of the Senate at the time. A lot of people don’t remember that. Biden was an instrumental player in all of this. Biden held the hearings, the key hearings on Iraq, where the debate was supposed to happen, and the parameters of the debate were basically set at bomb Iraq, or bomb them and invade them.
Those dissenting voices, those people who actually had on-the-ground experience, like Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector, was available to testify. People were urging the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to call him, because he had direct knowledge over these allegations of WMDs. I happened to be with Hans von Sponeck, and this is a story that really has gotten no play. The former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, the man who headed the Iraq program for the UN for years, resigned in protest. He had just been in Iraq, in the northern part of Iraq, meeting with Ansar al-Islam guerrillas, the so-called al-Qaeda presence in Iraq, and when he came back, what he was saying is that Ansar al-Islam was actually fighting Saddam Hussein. So what that meant is that the alleged al-Qaeda connection in Iraq was actually in the US-controlled section in the north of Iraq. This man, a thirty-two-year veteran of the UN, was in the United States when those hearings were held by Biden. We urged Senator Biden’s committee to call him as a witness, and they wouldn’t do it.
And so, we see a man who didn’t just make a mistake in voting to authorize use of force in Iraq; this was a man who was a key player in the authorization and the continued support of it. And let’s be clear, Joe Biden was a hawk during the ’90s, when the Clinton administration was economically and militarily targeting Iraq. So I think a lot of people in the streets, from Leslie Cagan, who’s one of the leaders of United for Peace and Justice, on down to rank-and-file people see this selection of Biden as a continuation of this hawkish Democratic policy. It’s not just about the candidate. It’s about who the candidate is surrounded by. And in the case of Obama, there are some very right-wing Democrats.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to some of the voices of protest in the streets of Denver.
PROTESTERS: Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine! Rise up with the people of the world! Rise up with the people of the world!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We’re in Denver, Colorado. We march to protest the Democratic National Convention, because they don’t represent the interests of the people. The Democratic Party represents the interests of the ruling class.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We’re here to protest against two-party politics and politics itself.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: The time has come for direct action. Take to the streets. Stop sitting back and watching your TV. Politics is in the streets, and it’s every day before your eyes. This affects all of us. This is a common struggle of all people throughout the world.
PROTESTERS: Tell me what a police state looks like! This is what a police state looks like!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Essentially, the question being brought upon in a lot of people’s minds right now is, if we’re going against the Democrats, essentially, what are we going to do then? That’s our last resort, supposedly. But what we’re pushing forward as the Revolutionary Communist Party is a science and understanding how we can get out of the situation that we’re in and how to get rid of this American empire that does things like this.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: The whole idea is to document what the police are doing, hopefully prevent police brutality, prevent excessive use of force. I have seen a lot of automatic weapons, held by the police over there, quite a few non-lethal devices also, pepper spray, shooters and a whole bunch of different things. So they’re ready for whatever they imagine is going to happen, and we’re ready to document what they do.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: I’m out here to express my opposition to the war in Iraq and the criminal foreign policy, and I want to, you know, express my opposition to the economic policies of the Bush regime, its anti-environment positions, and I also express my support for the Constitution of the United States. I’m an attorney. I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.
PROTESTERS: Pay attention! This could be a peace convention!
MEDEA BENJAMIN: We actually tried to go into Union Station to just do a little walk through, and they locked us out of there, so we had to come up the streets. And we’ve been peacefully walking up the streets saying this could be a peace convention. We’re stopped periodically by the police. Sometimes they’re kind of nice to us, and sometimes they are not so nice.
PROTESTERS: US out of the Middle East! No justice, no peace!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We are here at the Democratic National Convention, because the Democrats have been as complicit as the Republicans in screwing over the veterans and continuing this illegal, immoral and unjustifiable occupation.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: It’s funk the war. We’re going to funk the war this afternoon on the 16th Street Mall. That means that we’re going to have some dance, and we’re going to fight some of the anger and evil with a little bit of love. Drop beats, not bombs.
PROTESTERS: We will study war no more. We will study war no more.
MENNONITE PROTESTER: We’re Mennonites with the Mennonite Church USA denomination, and we’re here to speak a religious word of peace. We see ourselves as an alternative to making war. We try to find practical ways to make peace in this world, so we’re out here singing hymns, which a great part of our tradition, and we’re pleased to join these other people who are also working for peace.
NADER CAMPAIGNER: We are with the Nader campaign, and we are out here to support pretty much ending the war and all of the platform issues that Nader stands for. Right now, pretty much, you can only do the duopoly of the Democrats and the Republicans, and we’d like Nader to be able to speak and talk to the American people about the issues at hand and the issues that concern the American people.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: No change. Obama keeps talking about real change, but he’s an imperialist, you know? He supports unconditional support for Israel. He said the people should respect the judge’s decision when the cops in New York got away with murdering Sean Bell. I mean, he’s talking about just redeployment, put the troops in Pakistan and Afghanistan, you know. He’s not talking about — he’s not an antiwar candidate.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the voices from the protests in and around Denver on Sunday.