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Glenn Greenwald on Why He Strongly Supports WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning

Web ExclusiveApril 29, 2011
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    Glenn Greenwald, the legal blogger, explains why he is a strong supporter of WikiLeaks, and discusses its recent revelation that the U.S. imprisoned more than 150 innocent men for years without charge in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay. “If you think that government secrecy is one of the gravest threats to how our governments function, that it’s the linchpin of abuse, then you ought to be welcoming transparency that WikiLeaks is bringing, especially if you’re a journalist,” says Greenwald.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re still with Glenn Greenwald. And Glenn, talk more about WikiLeaks. You have had some amazing interactions on television with — particularly on CNN, when talking about the role of a journalist and what it means. Who was it who called WikiLeaks a “terrorist website”?

    GLENN GREENWALD: You mean a journalist?

    AMY GOODMAN: No, it was a government official.

    GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, Newt Gingrich has said that. Joe Lieberman has suggested that. There’s a lot of people who have invoked that.

    AMY GOODMAN: Various political figures have said this.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, right.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about why you are such a strong supporter of WikiLeaks.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, for one thing, I would point to the fact that, over the last year, the newsworthy scoops that have been generated by WikiLeaks exceed the number of newsworthy scoops of all other media outlets combined. It is virtually impossible to read a story, a news story, about any of the countries in the Middle East that are undergoing such turmoil, or U.S. military programs in Iraq or Afghanistan, without reference to documents that WikiLeaks has disclosed. And, of course, the allegation is it’s really Bradley Manning who is responsible for that. So the amount of light that has been shed on the national security state, which has been operating under an extreme and dangerous level of secrecy for the last decade, at least, is inconceivable, that nobody could have thought that that level of transparency was possible.

    And if you think that government secrecy is one of the gravest threats to how our governments function, that it’s the linchpin of abuse, then you ought to be welcoming transparency that WikiLeaks is bringing, especially if you’re a journalist who ostensibly is devoted to shining light on what the world’s most powerful factions are doing. And if the opposite is true, they’ve been the most hostile — these journalists have — in first calling for WikiLeaks’s prosecution and then in condemning them. And I think it gives the lie to the idea that they’re devoted to transparency and disclosure.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: And the amazing thing about these leaks is that it’s not just occurred in one country, that basically, in country after country around the world, the release of particular documents relating to the actions of the leaders of that country have then rocked — created huge problems and scandals within each of — whether it’s Haiti or whether it’s Spain or — in country after country.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Right. You’re absolutely right. I mean, I live, of course, in Brazil, and even though that wasn’t one of the principal countries targeted by the WikiLeaks documents, there were months of headlines generated by WikiLeaks about statements that the government made about Islamic terrorists or environmental cooperation with the United States that got exposed as being false.

    In Spain, it has been an ongoing controversy, and still is, that in essence the Spanish judiciary was intent on launching criminal investigations into the Bush torture program, which swept up their citizens, Spanish citizens. And yet, the Obama administration brought extreme amounts of pressure to bear on Spanish politicians to intervene in what was supposed to be the Spanish independent judiciary and to put a stop to these investigations. Of course, that’s not even on the radar in the United States, but in Spain it’s a major, major political controversy.

    And you are right. You go through every one of these countries, virtually, and there has been headlines. And what’s interesting about WikiLeaks is, before they started doing all the U.S.-related leaks, they had spent years exposing deceit in Australia or the cooperation of the government in the financial collapse in Iceland or corruption by toxic-dumping corporations in West Africa, and on and on and on. So, it really has been a worldwide phenomenon, the transparency they’ve brought.

    AMY GOODMAN: And in the case of Spain, not only the case against government officials in this country, but also the case of José Couso, the journalist who was killed April 8th, 2003. He was working for Telecinco, had a video camera on the Palestine Hotel, on the balcony, just as Taras Protsyuk did, who was working for Reuters, on another balcony. They were just filming what was happening. The next day, Baghdad would fall. The U.S. military attacked, strafed, the Palestine Hotel and killed these two cameramen. His family — Javier Couso is his brother, and his mother —- have not let this story die. And they have tried to go after the soldiers, the U.S. soldiers, who killed their son and brother. The documents show that Edward Aguirre, the banker who was Bush’s ambassador to Spain -—


    AMY GOODMAN: — intervened, was weighing in with the Justice Department to try to get this case squelched. But they continue in Spain. And the stories have been headlines —- El País and all the other newspapers in Spain, as in other countries, as Juan pointed out. They’re not talking about the politics of WikiLeaks. They’re actually just, day after day, talking about -—

    GLENN GREENWALD: The substance.

    AMY GOODMAN: — the substance, what these cables say.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, that’s what’s so striking is — and these WikiLeaks cables have really underscored it to such an extent. It’s obviously been known that the Obama administration has been very active in squelching criminal prosecutions and investigations of Bush officials domestically, and has directed the Justice Department not to do it. But at the same time, all over the world, they’ve engaged in exactly the same efforts. They’ve prevented American courts from investigating. They had a large scandal, because they told the British government that if their courts disclosed information about American torture, we would no longer share intelligence with them. In Germany, the same thing, where we pressured German politicians not to allow prosecutors to investigate. So, all over the world, people perceive not only that the United States created a torture regime under Bush, but that Obama is now really improperly interfering in their countries’ internal affairs and independent judiciary to try and do everything possible to prevent an investigation.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your interactions on CNN. They’ve been quite something.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what was really striking to me from the start, and I’ve said this several times, is that I actually did think that journalists would at least pretend to be a bit sympathetic to WikiLeaks, because journalists like to maintain the pretense — TV journalists do — that they actually are real journalists and that they are interested in uncovering government secrets, which, you know, you sort of have to say that you believe in if you want to be a journalist. And yet, here is WikiLeaks doing exactly that, so you would think that they would at least be somewhat balanced in how they approached it to maintain this pretense, and yet they weren’t. They were as emphatic and vicious in deriding Julian Assange, condemning WikiLeaks as a destructive force, even calling for their prosecution, which would be the gravest threat to press freedoms in decades.

    And so, every time I would do these TV shows, I’d usually be on with a member of the political class attacking WikiLeaks and then a member of the media, a journalist, hosting the debate. And yet, the two of them were indistinguishable, because members of the media and political class think identically. And the one in particular that I had on CNN was with a CNN anchor and Fran Townsend, the former Bush national security adviser. It was Jessica Yellin. And both of them were in complete agreement — if you weren’t watching the screen, you wouldn’t know who was talking — that WikiLeaks was an evil and odious enterprise and ought to be stopped, using the force of law. And I just found that unbelievable, not that they thought that way, but that they were so brazen about admitting it.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what about Wolf Blitzer, what he has to say about this issue?

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, Wolf Blitzer was particularly emotional one day when he was talking about WikiLeaks in the wake of the diplomatic cable. And I actually did think, when I first saw him, that what he was angry about would be the revelations of these cables, that we were ordering spying on the U.N., on U.N. officials, with our diplomats, or that the government had lied about its participation in the strikes in Yemen, a whole variety of revelations that show deceit and corruption. But when I started listening to him, what he was actually angry about — furious, actually, literally — was that the U.S. government hadn’t taken more steps to safeguard the sanctity of these secrets. In other words, he was furious that as a journalist he was allowed to discover the truth about what the government was doing, and he was beside himself with rage that the government hadn’t done more to conceal it from him. That was really his principal approach to the WikiLeaks controversy.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the revelations, the most recent ones, about Guantánamo, talk about the significance of them.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one of the — one of the, you know, interesting aspects is you can know things on a broad level. So we’ve known for a long time, of course, that there were hundreds of imprisoned Guantánamo detainees who were guilty of absolutely nothing. Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff to Colin Powell, said not only were at least half of them innocent, but they knew that half were innocent and didn’t want to release them, because they would complain about the treatment and they would raise it. So we know on broad levels.

    But what these documents do is it provides the incontrovertible evidence and the specific proof in various cases. So you have all these cases of people who have been held for years, and in some cases still are held for years, based on nothing but the allegations of people who were tortured or people who Guantánamo officials assessed as being psychiatrically ill or people who were given all sorts of favors in exchange for coming up with very implausible accusations against anyone that they could find. And you even had one case where President Obama recently ordered him detained indefinitely without charges ever, who has been there for nine years. And the government’s own report says we actually have doubts about who this person is, whether he really is the person who we think we have in custody.

    And so, you know, Guantánamo itself was such an evil and oppressive and inhumane institution, but the mechanisms used to determine who went there and who stayed there, and the way in which it was kept out of the courts, is probably even the darker spot, because due process is the most basic feature of any kind of civilized government, the idea that you don’t put people in cages without letting them go to a court. And that’s exactly what we didn’t do, and the results are exactly what you would expect, which is arbitrary and entirely unjust detentions.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: And the enormous failure of the Obama administration — one of the first announcements that he makes after his inauguration is the closing of Guantánamo, and yet here we are, more than two years later, and basically nothing has changed in terms — I mean, other than the reduction of the population of Guantánamo. But either Obama was ridiculously naive in thinking that, as president, he would have the power, actually have the power to shut it down, or he just made the promise and then decided that it was too politically costly to be able to keep it.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, of course, it was not just a commitment that he made in the form of an executive order once elected, but it was really a centerpiece of his campaign. I mean, Guantánamo was the symbol of Bush-Cheney lawlessness and the disgrace into which they had brought the nation, and he was going to close it as a — the symbolic means, the announcement to the world that we were reversing course.

    But I think what’s really important to note about the closing of Guantánamo is, even under the Obama plan, had it been allowed to be implemented, Congress had done nothing, it was never really closing Guantánamo. What it was was moving Guantánamo a few thousand miles to the north, to Thomson, Illinois, because the essence of the Guantánamo controversy was that people were being imprisoned without charges, that it was a legal black hole. And so, when he closed Guantánamo, his plan was to simply move those prisoners to a supermax facility in Thomson, but retain the same system that Bush and Cheney had used, a combination of military commissions and indefinite detention. So, even closing Guantánamo in the way that he meant it was the most superficial and meaningless approach.

    AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the way the rest of the press and the U.S. press deal with WikiLeaks, the difference in — even when they are talking about — even on Guantánamo, the way the New York Times does it versus the way The Guardian does it, what they emphasize.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what was, you know, really amazing, for example, if you look at the documents in Iraq, for example, the documents in Iraq show that the United States had adopted an official policy to do nothing in the face of torture and abuse by the Iraqi police system, right under our noses. An incredible indictment on the American occupation of Iraq, because we’re there to bring freedom and democracy, and yet we have an official policy to turn the other cheek when there’s torture and detainee abuse by the police force we’re training. The Guardian blared that as a front-page headline, because that was the most significant aspect of it. That same day, the New York Times had as its prominent headline an article about Julian Assange’s personality quirks and his dirty socks and his paranoia.

    And you see this over and over. I mean, I think the thing that the New York Times has most touted in the WikiLeaks revelations is the idea that a handful of Arab dictators want the United States to attack Iran, which is hardly surprising. And yet, you know, you can through document after document, including in these last ones, where The Guardian and The Telegraph blared hundreds of people kept in Guantánamo who were innocent, and you could hardly find any hint of that in the Times. If anything, what they were highlighting was the opposite: that these were very dangerous people, and these files prove that. That’s the New York Times, as usual, looking at the world and reporting the world from the perspective of an allegiance to the U.S. government.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Glenn, I’d like to ask you about something we discussed yesterday, with the news of the shake-up in President Obama’s nominations to the — to defense secretary and CIA, the militarization of the CIA increasingly. You’ve written about this, as well.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what’s interesting is, if you look at the history of the CIA — and obviously you don’t look at it through rose-colored glasses, but still — the first four directors of the CIA were retired military officials. And then in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower decided that that was a very bad idea, that the primary benefit of the CIA was to be a pushback against the Pentagon and the national security state; that it would be run by civilians; that it would, instead of doing what the Pentagon does, which is always giving rose-colored assessments of the wars they’re fighting, provide an independent basis of analysis; that it would really not be a war-fighting arm of the U.S. military state, it would be intelligence gathering. Now, obviously, that has, you know, been violated in numerous ways. The CIA has been involved in all kinds of actions that are militaristic in nature, overthrowing governments and the like. But over the past 10 years, it’s really become primarily a war-fighting agency, so that the drone attacks are carried out by the CIA, all kinds of special forces are coordinated by them, all sorts of CIA agents on the ground. And so, what you had was really a departure from what became the civilian tradition of only having civilians in charge, when George Bush nominated General Michael Hayden in 2006, and Democrats, in unison, said, “This is not a good idea, to have a general in charge of the CIA. It will militarize the CIA, and it will merge it with the Pentagon.” Well, of course, a few years later, Barack Obama is doing exactly the same thing, nominating David Petraeus, a four-star general, and you hear very little controversy. And I think the real issue here is that General Petraeus is most associated with not just the overt war in Afghanistan, but the covert war in Pakistan and Yemen. And what this is about is taking wars that are already covert, and therefore beyond the reach of democratic accountability or consent, and placing them even further into the dark by hiding Petraeus and his wars into the CIA. And it represents not just a militarization of national security policy, but increasing secrecy and a lack of accountability.

    AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, we’re on Free Speech TV right now, and we’re going to be offering the National Conference on Media Reform, the panel that you spoke on, talking about WikiLeaks, talking about Bradley Manning, Glenn. Also, Greg Mitchell spoke.


    AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to be offering his book, both on Bradley Manning as well as on WikiLeaks. You wrote a recommendation for his WikiLeaks books. Greg is blogging at The Nation.


    AMY GOODMAN: And he’s keeping a daily log of what’s being released.

    GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, it really merits Guiness Book of World Record entry at this point. I think that he’s now blogged about WikiLeaks literally something like 135 days in a row. And it isn’t just sloppy and fly-by-night blogging. It is unbelievably comprehensive. So, any story that has anything to do with WikiLeaks end up in his daily columns. And he’s now written two books about WikiLeaks. And so, he’s really become the authoritative encyclopedia on the entire WikiLeaks controversy. And these books, for anyone who believes that the WikiLeaks controversy is significant — and I think it’s one of the most significant conflicts of our generation — would do themselves a huge favor in reading either of his books.

    AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Glenn Greenwald, for being with us.

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