- Noam Chomsky
author and Professor Emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at MIT, where he taught for over half a century. He is author of dozens of books, most recently, Occupy, part of the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series. He was recently awarded the Latin America Peace and Justice Award from the North American Congress on Latin America.
As the United States carries out another deadly drone strike in Yemen, Noam Chomsky compares the counterterrorism policies of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. “If the Bush administration didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers,” Chomsky says. “If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them.” Chomsky also praises the whistleblowing activities of WikiLeaks, as well as the ongoing Latin American shift away from Washington’s long-running political and economic dominance. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Noam Chomsky. I spoke with him last week in the courtyard of the King Juan Carlos I Center at New York University. I asked him about WikiLeaks.
NOAM CHOMSKY: I don’t see anything that’s come out on WikiLeaks that was a legitimate secret. I mean, WikiLeaks is a service to the population. Assange should get an award for—presidential medal of honor. He’s—the whole WikiLeaks operation has helped inform people about what their elected representatives are doing. That should be a wonderful thing to do, like—and it’s interesting. Nothing really sensational has come out, but it is interesting to know, for example, that when the Obama administration effectively supported the military coup in Honduras that kicked out the democratic government and put in a—what amounts to a military-backed government, that they knew exactly what they were doing, because the embassy in—we learn from WikiLeaks that the embassy in Honduras had presented a detailed analysis right at the beginning of the coup that expelled the president and said, “Yeah, this is unconstitutional, it’s illegal,” you know, and so on. So, yes, they knew exactly what they were doing when Obama and Clinton were saying, “Well, you know, it’s not that bad. Everything is going fine,” and so on.
Or, for example, when Anne Patterson, the ambassador to Pakistan—this is some of the most interesting revelations. She supports U.S. policy in AfPak, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but she did warn that U.S. policies of, you know, assassinations, pressures on Pakistan, and so on, carry a real danger. They carry the danger of radicalizing Pakistan and—where opposition to these policies is enormous, and maybe creating even a situation where its nuclear facilities would be accessible to jihadi elements. So it’s creating terrific danger. In fact, Pakistan is way more dangerous to U.S. security than Afghanistan, which is nothing. Well, it’s good to know that they were getting that information. They were getting that information from analysts, you know, people who write about it and know about it, but the fact that they were getting it from the embassy is significant, when you think about how these policies were escalated. And, in fact, it’s quite striking that the policies are undertaken in ways which almost—it’s almost as if they’re consciously trying to increase the threat.
So, take, say, the assassination of Osama bin Laden. I mean, I’m a small minority of people who think that was a crime. I don’t think you should have a right to invade another country, apprehend a suspect—remember, he’s a suspect, even if you think he’s guilty—apprehend him, after he’s apprehended and defenseless, assassinate him and throw his body into the ocean. Yeah, civilized countries don’t do that sort of thing. But—and notice that it was undertaken at great risk. The Navy SEALs were under orders to fight their way out, if there was a problem. If they had had to fight their way out, they would have gotten air cover and probably intervention. We could have been at war with Pakistan. Pakistan has a professional army. They’re dedicated to protecting the sovereignty of the state, very dedicated to it, and they wouldn’t take this lightly. A war with Pakistan would be an utter disaster. It’s one of the huge nuclear facilities, laced with radical Islamic elements. They’re not a big part of the population, but they’re all over. But they did it anyway. Then, right after it, when Pakistan was, you know, totally outraged, we carried out more drone attacks in Pakistan, almost—you know, it’s kind of astonishing when you look at the planning, quite apart from the criminality.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the U.S. increased reliance—President Obama increasingly using drones to attack people in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Good comment about that made by Yochi Dreazen. He’s the military correspondent—was the military correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, is now for some other outfit, a military analyst. He pointed out accurately—this after the killing of Osama bin Laden, which he approved of, but he said that there’s an interesting difference between Bush and Obama. I mean, I’m now paraphrasing in my own terms, not his terms, so the way I would have said it is: Bush—if Bush, the Bush administration, didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers; if the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them, so you don’t have to have torture chambers all over.
Actually, that tells us something else. Just take a look at the first Guantánamo detainee to go to trial under Obama. Trial means military commission, whatever that is. The first one was a very interesting case and tells us a lot. The first one was Omar Khadr. And what was his crime? His crime was that when he was 15 years old, he tried to defend his village against an attack by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. So that’s the crime, therefore he’s a terrorist. So he was sent to Bagram, then to Guantánamo, eight years in these torture chambers. And then he came up for trial under Obama. And he was given a choice: you can plead not guilty and stay in Guantánamo for the rest of your life, or you can plead guilty and get another eight years. So his lawyers advised him to plead guilty. Well, that’s justice under our constitutional law president, for a 15-year-old kid defending his village against an attacking army. And there was nothing said—the worst part is, there’s nothing said about it.
Actually, the same is true of the Awlaki killing, you know, this American cleric in Yemen who was killed by drones. He was killed. The guy next to him was killed. Shortly after, his son was killed. Now, there was a little talk about the fact that he was an American citizen: you shouldn’t just murder American citizens. But, you know, the New York Times headline, for example, when he was killed, said something like “West celebrates death of radical cleric.” First of all, it wasn’t death, it was murder. And the West celebrates the murder of a suspect. He’s a suspect, after all. There was something done almost 800 years ago called the Magna Carta, which is the foundation of Anglo-American law, that says that no one shall be subjected to a violation of rights without due process of law and a fair and speedy trial. It doesn’t say, if you think somebody’s a suspect, you should kill them.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the media has improved at all, as you assess it over these decades, right now?
NOAM CHOMSKY: I think it’s better than it was. I’m not a great fan of the media, but I think, if you compare them to, say, the '50s and the ’60s, it's considerably improved.
AMY GOODMAN: Because there’s competition and because people have access to other information, it puts pressure on the establishment media?
NOAM CHOMSKY: I don’t think so. In fact, it’s more monopolized than it was then. I think it’s because the country has changed. It’s a much more civilized country than it was, I mean, if you think back what things were like in the '60s. And first of all, you know, you have to—take, say, women's rights. I mean, throughout American history, up 'til quite recently, under law, women were basically property. They were the property of their fathers and their husbands. I mean, in the early years of the country, the argument against women voting was that it wouldn't be fair, because then the husband would get two votes, since obviously the wife has to do what she’s told, you know. And, in fact, until the 1970s, women didn’t have a guaranteed right to serve on juries, because they were considered—you know, couldn’t do that kind of thing. If you go back to the universities in the early ’60s, my university, it was, you know, obedient, deferential white males. All of that has changed.
It’s changed in many other respects. You mentioned gay rights. I mean, that would have been—you know, you couldn’t even utter the words not many years ago. And there are laws against sodomy, up until recently, maybe still. And it’s the same in England. There was just a dramatic case there. I don’t know if you’ve been following it. But one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, Alan Turing, who was also a British war hero—he’s the one who pretty much decrypted the German codes and saved Britain from attack—well, he was a homosexual. In the early 1950s—that’s against British law. Early 1950s, he was subjected to treatment to cure him of this disease. The treatment was so grotesque, he finally committed suicide. Well, that’s, you know, a long time ago, that’s 1954. Now, Prime Minister Cameron was just asked whether time has come to issue a belated pardon. It’s the hundredth anniversary of his birth. And he said, “No, he violated British law. No pardon for that.” So, OK, we killed—basically killed this war hero and great mathematician because he was violating British law. Well, you know, that’s—that’s changed a lot, maybe not in Cameron’s office, but—and it’s changed in many ways. And that’s affected the media, because, you know, the people working there, who—a lot of women, went through these experiences.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, what gives you hope?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, lots of—right here, for example. Take the Occupy movement. That’s very striking and dramatic. Or take where we are today. We’re in a meeting of NACLA, North American Congress on Latin America. What’s happened in Latin America in the last 10 years is just spectacular. I mean, in the last 10 years, for the first time in—since the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors—that’s half a millennium—Latin America has freed itself, substantially freed itself from Western domination and control, meaning mainly U.S.
In fact, there was a just very dramatic example of it just a couple of weeks ago at the Cartagena hemispheric conference, which is very important. It was kind of suppressed here. There was some Secret Service scandal, but there were really interesting things that happened. This is a hemispheric conference. There were two major issues. There was no declaration, because you couldn’t get agreement. The two issues were Cuba and drugs. The whole hemisphere wants Cuba to be admitted to the hemispheric—to the summit. The U.S. refused—U.S. and Canada refused. On drugs, practically the whole hemisphere is pressing for decriminalization, because they’re suffering the brunt of the—you know, they are the ones who get hit in the solar plexus. The demand for drugs is here. The supply of arms is here. And they suffer from it. So they want to move towards decriminalization. U.S. and Canada refused.
U.S. and Canada are isolated in the hemisphere. And in fact, there’s a new organization, just formed about a year ago, CELAC, which formally excludes the U.S. and Canada, includes everyone else. It’s quite possible that that may replace the Organization of American States, which is U.S.-run. One sign of it is the U.S. has been essentially kicked out of its military bases in South America. They’re also moving towards dealing with some of their internal problems, which are severe.
And the other thing that’s exciting there is the role of popular movements. I mean, there are mass popular movements of indigenous people, working people, others who have just been—you know, who have been extremely successful in substantially changing policy. That’s of historic significance.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the Occupy movement gives you hope. Latin America gives you hope.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Arab Spring. I mean, there are a lot of interesting things happening in the world. But I think consciousness is changing on a lot of things. I mentioned the attitudes of kids 18 to 24, which is pretty bad, but I think that can be changed, too.
AMY GOODMAN: MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, world-renowned scholar, dissident and linguist. He has taught more than half a century at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s Institute Professor and professor of linguistics. I interviewed him last week here in New York at the 45th anniversary celebration of NACLA, the North American Congress on Latin America, where he was being honored. Noam Chomsky is the author of over a hundred books, most recently, Occupy.