- John Pilger
Award-winning investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker who has written close to a dozen books and made more than 50 documentaries. His latest film, which premiered last night on television and in theaters in Britain, is called The War You Don’t See.
The award-winning investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger is one of many high-profile public supporters of Julian Assange and his organization WikiLeaks. Pilger has attended Assange’s court proceedings in London and has offered to contribute funds for his more than $300,000 bail. Pilger’s latest film, The War You Don’t See, includes interviews with Assange. Pilger says that WikiLeaks is revolutionizing journalism and galvanizing public opinion to stand up to global elites. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re continuing with John Pilger, the famed Australian filmmaker who has lived in Britain for decades. John, your film, The War You Don’t See, premiered last night on ITV in Britain and in theaters throughout Britain. The film features your interview with Julian Assange. This is an excerpt.
JOHN PILGER: In the information that you have revealed on WikiLeaks about these so-called endless wars, what has come out of them?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Looking at the enormous quantity and diversity of these military or intelligence apparatus insider documents, what I see is a vast, sprawling estate, what we would traditionally call the military-intelligence complex or military-industrial complex, and that this sprawling industrial estate is growing, becoming more and more secretive, becoming more and more uncontrolled. This is not a sophisticated conspiracy controlled at the top. This is a vast movement of self-interest by thousands and thousands of players, all working together and against each other.
AMY GOODMAN: That is an excerpt of the new film that premiered last night in Britain, The War You Don’t See. John Pilger, you know Julian Assange. Talk more about what he’s saying and about the media’s coverage of what WikiLeaks has done, from the release of the Iraq war logs to those in Afghanistan to now this largest trove of U.S. diplomatic cables ever released in history, John.
JOHN PILGER: Well, what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is doing is what journalists should have been doing. I mean, I think you mention the reaction to him. Some of the hostility, especially in the United States, from some of those very highly paid journalists at the top has been quite instructive, because I think that they are shamed by WikiLeaks. They are shamed by the founder of WikiLeaks, who is prepared to say that the public has a right to know the secrets of governments that impinge on our democratic rights. WikiLeaks is doing something very Jeffersonian. It was Jefferson who said that information is the currency of democracy. And here you have a lot of these famous journalists in America are rather looking down their noses, at best, and saying some quite defamatory things about Assange and WikiLeaks, when in fact they should have been exploiting their First Amendment privilege and letting people know just how government has lied to us, lied to us in the run-up to the Iraq war and lied to us in so many other circumstances. And I think that’s really been the value of all this. People have been given a glimpse of how big power operates. And they’re — it’s coming from a facilitator, it’s coming from these very brave whistleblowers. And in my film, Julian Assange goes out of his way to celebrate the people within the system who he describes as the equivalent of conscientious objectors during the First World War, these extraordinarily courageous people who were prepared to speak out against that slaughter. All the Bradley Mannings and others are absolutely heroic figures. There’s no question about that.
In my film, I also went to Washington, and I interviewed the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Bryan Whitman, the man who’s been in charge of media operations, as they call it, through a number of administrations. And I asked him to give a guarantee that Julian Assange would not be hunted down, as the media was describing it. And he said he wasn’t in a position to give that guarantee. So, I think we’re in a situation here, Amy, where people have to speak out. This is a very fundamental issue, and the people we need to speak out most of all are those with the privilege of the media, with the privilege of journalism, because this is about free information. This is about letting us know truths that we have to know about if we are to live in any form of democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: The nationwide warning that has gone out has been remarkable, John. Democracy Now! obtained the text of a memo that was sent to employees at USAID, thousands of employees, about reading the recently leaked WikiLeaks documents. The memo reads in part, quote, “Any classified information that may have been unlawfully disclosed and released on the Wikileaks web site was not 'declassified' by an appropriate authority and therefore requires continued classification and protection as such from government personnel… Accessing the Wikileaks web site from any computer may be viewed as a violation of the SF-312 agreement… Any discussions concerning the legitimacy of any documents or whether or not they are classified must be conducted within controlled access areas (overseas) or within restricted areas (USAID/Washington)… The documents should not be viewed, downloaded, or stored on your USAID unclassified network computer or home computer; they should not be printed or retransmitted in any fashion.”
It’s gone out to agencies all over the government. State Department employees have been warned, again, not only on their computers where they’re blocked at work, but at home. People who have written cables are not allowed to put in their names to see if those cables come up. Graduate schools, like SIPA at Columbia University, an email was sent out from the administration saying the State Department had contacted them and that if they care about their futures in government, they should not post anything to Facebook or talk about these documents.
And then you have Allen West, one of the new Republican Congress members-elect, who called for targeted news outlets that publish the cables. In a radio interview, Congressmember West — well, Congressmember-elect West, called for censoring any news outlets that run stories based on the cables’ release. This is what he said.
ALLEN WEST: Here is an individual that is not an American citizen, first and foremost, for whatever reason, you know, gotten his hands on classified American material and has put it out there in the public domain. And I think that we also should be censoring the American news agencies which enabled him to be able to do this and then also supported him and applauded him for the efforts. So, that’s kind of aiding and abetting of a serious crime.
AMY GOODMAN: And speaking of crimes, another Congress member, longtime Congressmember Peter King from here in New York, has called for the classifying of WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization. I did my column this week talking about “'Assangination': From Character Assassination to the Real Thing” and the calls of Democratic consultants like Bob Beckel on Fox Business News for Julian Assange to be killed. He said he doesn’t agree with the death penalty, so he should be “illegally” killed, maybe taken out by U.S. special forces. John Pilger?
JOHN PILGER: Look, Amy, I thought you were reading out there several passages from 1984. I don’t think Orwell could have put it even better than that. Surely, we mustn’t think these things. I’m thinking it at the moment. So if I was over there, I must be guilty of something, and therefore I should be illegally taken out.
Look, there’s always been — as you know better than I, there’s always been a tension among the elites in the United States between those who pay some sort of homage, lip service, to all those Georgian gentleman who passed down those tablets of good intentions all that long time ago and a bunch of lunatics. But they’re powerful lunatics. They’re — perhaps “lunatics” is not quite right. They’re simply totalitarian people. And up they come in anything like this. I see — I read this morning that the U.S. Air Force has banned anybody connecting with it from reading The Guardian. So, everyone is banned from doing things and banned from thinking and so on.
They won’t get away with it. That’s the good news. They are hyperventilating, and they’re hysterical, and so be it, but they won’t get away with it. There are now two genuine powers in the world. We know about U.S. power. But that great sleeper, world public opinion, world decency, if you like, if I’m not being too romantic about it, is waking up. And the scenes outside the court yesterday went well beyond, I think, just the WikiLeaks issue. It is something else. WikiLeaks has triggered something. And I don’t think it will be the proverbial genie being stuffed back in the bottle, either. So, you know, world opinion is — when it stirs, when it moves, when it starts to come together collectively to do things that are important to us all, it’s a very formidable opponent to those totalitarian people who you’ve just quoted. So I’m rather more optimistic.
The immediate thing is to free Julian Assange. And I’m hoping that will happen tomorrow at the High Court. I should just add, you know, Mark Stephens was very eloquently describing the case. But, you know, the absurdity of this case is that a senior prosecutor in Sweden threw this thing out. And I’ve seen her papers. And she was left — she leaves us in no doubt there was absolutely no evidence to support any of these misdemeanors or crimes, or whatever they’re meant to be, at all. It was only the intervention of this right-wing politician in Sweden that reactivated this whole charade. So, in a way, it is perhaps symbolic of the kind of charades, rather lethal charades, that we’ve seen on a much wider scale in relation to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and other issues that have involved the deaths of literally hundreds of thousands of people around the world. So, what we’re seeing is a rebellion. Where it will go, I’m not quite sure. But it’s certainly started, I can tell you.
AMY GOODMAN: John Pilger, I’d like to ask you to stay with us as we talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as we talk about the power of the U.S. government. This week we reported on the sudden death of Richard Holbrooke, who has played such a key role through four Democratic administrations, from Vietnam to Yugoslavia, from Timor to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. And we’d like to talk about his legacy and about U.S. foreign policy. You have done a number of documentaries related to the areas where he worked, and we’re also going to be joined by Jeremy Scahill.
I also want to say, when you talk about a wave of reaction against what has happened to Julian Assange, I mentioned Columbia’s graduate school called SIPA that warned students not to post things to Facebook or deal with these issues raised by WikiLeaks, but there has been a reversal. Clearly, the administration at Columbia has been seriously embarrassed, and the dean there has now issued a new statement saying that he encourages the discussion of issues, wherever those issues may take one. John Pilger, stay with us. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.