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Glenn Greenwald on “Submissive” Media’s Drumbeat for War and “Despicable” Anti-Muslim Scapegoating

StoryNovember 19, 2015
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In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, media coverage has seen familiar patterns: uncritically repeat government claims, defend expansive state power, and blame the Muslim community for the acts of a few. We discuss media fearmongering, anti-Muslim scapegoating, ISIL’s roots, and war profiteering with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and co-founder of The Intercept. “Every time there’s a terrorist attack, Western leaders exploit that attack to do more wars,” Greenwald says. “Which in turn means they transfer huge amounts of taxpayer money to these corporations that sell arms. And so investors are fully aware that the main people who are going to benefit from this escalation as a result of Paris are not the American people or the people of the West — and certainly not the people of Syria — it is essentially the military-industrial complex.”

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StoryNov 17, 2015There is No Military Solution: Could ISIL Be Strengthened by U.S., French, Russian Bombing?
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest for the hour is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, as we turn to comments made by former CIA Director James Woolsey on Sunday. Speaking to NPR, Woolsey said Edward Snowden “has blood on his hands” following the Paris attacks.

JAMES WOOLSEY: I am no fan of the changes that were made after Snowden’s leaks of classified information. I don’t think they have improved our ability to collect and use intelligence, and I think they’ve seriously reduced our abilities. I think Snowden has blood on his hands from these killings in France.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the former director of central intelligence, Glenn Greenwald, James Woolsey?

GLENN GREENWALD: First of all, it’s absolutely remarkable that James Woolsey, of all people, is the person who has been plucked to be the authoritative figure on the Paris attacks by leading media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC news, when he is by far one of the most extremist and radical neoconservatives ever to be puked up by the intelligence world. He not only was one of the leading advocates of attacking Iraq, he was one of the leading proponents of all of the lies that led to that invasion, and has been calling for war and other sorts of really extremist policies, and disseminating lies to the American people for decades. And so, to hold him out as some sort of authority figure, some kind of like respected elder intelligence statesman, on these attacks is just exactly the sort of thing we’ve been talking about, which is the state of the American media. Not one person has challenged anything that he said.

I should also note that what this really is about is this really shameless effort on the part of the CIA and other government officials to exploit the emotions that have been generated by watching the carnage in Paris for all sorts of long-standing policies. If you go back to 2013, the very same James Woolsey went on Fox News, and he said—this was two years before the Paris attacks—”Not only do I think Edward Snowden is a traitor, I think he should be hung by the neck until he’s dead.” That’s the mentality of the kinds of people who the media is holding out as our leading experts.

And again, as far as who has blood on their hands, there’s zero evidence that the attackers used encryption or anything else that was revealed as a result of Edward Snowden, but there’s lots of evidence that the CIA utterly failed in their mission and that the U.S. government has done all sorts of things unwittingly to strengthen ISIS. And so, I think if you want to talk about who has blood on their hands, personally, I would look first to ISIS, the people who actually shot those people in the Paris streets. It’s really weird. Usually after a terrorist attack, nobody is allowed to suggest that anybody has blame other than the terrorists themselves. But for some reason, in this case, leading establishment figures and journalists feel free to go around detracting—distracting attention from ISIS and saying, “No, it’s not ISIS that has blood on their hands, it’s Edward Snowden.” For some reason, that’s now allowed. So, if that’s what we’re doing, if that’s the game we’re playing, I would look to the U.S. government first, because they failed to find the plot despite huge amounts of money and unlimited power to do so, and because they’ve done all sorts of things to strengthen the group that apparently bears responsibility for this attack.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I’d like to turn to a clip from an Al Jazeera interview in August with the former head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn. The host, Mehdi Hasan, questions Flynn about how much the U.S. knew about the rise of the so-called Islamic State in Syria.

MEHDI HASAN: Many people would argue that the U.S. actually saw the rise of ISIL coming and turned a blind eye, or even encouraged it as a counterpoint to Assad. In a secret analysis by the agency you ran, the Defense Intelligence Agency in August 2012 said—and I quote—”there is a possibility of establishing a declared”—

MICHAEL FLYNN: Not so secret.

MEHDI HASAN: —”or undeclared Salafist”—it’s not secret anymore. It was released under FOI. The quote is: “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria … and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” The U.S. saw the ISIL caliphate coming and did nothing.

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, I think that what we—where we missed the point—I mean, where we totally blew it, I think, was in the very beginning. I mean, we’re talking four years now into this effort in Syria. Most people won’t even remember—it’s only been a couple years—the Free Syrian Army, that movement. I mean, where are they today? Al-Nusra, where are they today, and what have—how much have they changed? When you don’t get in and help somebody, they’re going to find other means to achieve their goals. And I think right now what we have allowed is—

MEHDI HASAN: Hold on, you were helping them in 2012, while these groups—

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, we’ve allowed this—we’ve allowed this extremist—you know, these extremist militants to come in—

MEHDI HASAN: But why did you allow them to do that, General?

MICHAEL FLYNN: Those are—those are—

MEHDI HASAN: You were in post. You were the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, right, right. Well, those are—those are policy—

MEHDI HASAN: I took the liberty—

MICHAEL FLYNN: Those are policy issues.

MEHDI HASAN: I took the liberty of printing out that document.

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, yeah.

MEHDI HASAN: This is a memo I quoted from. Did you see this document in 2012? Would this come across your table [inaudible]?

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I paid very close attention to all the [inaudible]—

MEHDI HASAN: OK, so when you saw this, did you not pick up a phone and say, “What on Earth are we doing supporting these Syrian rebels?”

MICHAEL FLYNN: Sure. I mean, that—that kind of information is presented, and—

MEHDI HASAN: And what did you do about it?

MICHAEL FLYNN: —those become—those become—I argued about it.

MEHDI HASAN: In 2012, your agency was saying, quote, “the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”


MEHDI HASAN: In 2012, the U.S. was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups. Why did you not stop that, if you’re worried about the rise of, quote-unquote, “Islamic extremism”?

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, I mean, I hate to say it’s not my job, but that—my job was to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be. And I will tell you, it goes before 2012—I mean, when we were in Iraq, and we still had decisions to be made before there was a decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011. I mean, it was very clear what we were going to face.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was the former head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn, being interviewed by Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera. So, Glenn Greenwald, could you respond to that interview? And also explain—you’ve said repeatedly that the U.S. media tends to simply echo what U.S. government and military officials say. Explain what you think accounts for that.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, that clip is unbelievable. It is literally one of the three most important military officials of the entire war on terror, General Flynn, who was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He’s saying that the U.S. government knew that by creating a vacuum in Syria and then flooding that region with arms and money, that it was likely to result in the establishment of a caliphate by Islamic extremists in eastern Syria—which is, of course, exactly what happened. They knew that that was going to happen, and they proceeded to do it anyway. So when the U.S. government starts trying to point the finger at other people for helping ISIS, they really need to have a mirror put in front of them, because, by their own documents, as that extraordinary clip demonstrates, they bear huge responsibility for that happening, to say nothing of the fact that, as I said, their closest allies in the region actually fund it.

And then, just to take a step further back, The Washington Post six months ago reported what most people who pay attention to this actually know, which is that what we call ISIS is really nothing more than a bunch of ex-Baathist military officials who were disempowered and alienated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent instability that it caused, and then the policies of the—the sectarian policies of Prime Minister Maliki in basically taking away all of the power of those ex-Baathists in favor of Shiite militias and Iran-aligned militias and the like. And so, essentially, what I think everybody at this point understands is that the reason there is such a thing as ISIS is because the U.S. invaded Iraq and caused massive instability, destroyed the entire society, destroyed all of the infrastructure, destroyed all order, and it was in that chaos that ISIS was able to emerge. So, again, if you’re looking for blame, beyond ISIS, the U.S. government is a really good place to look.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to—

GLENN GREENWALD: As far as why the media—go ahead. Sorry, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: No, go ahead. Go ahead, Glenn.

GLENN GREENWALD: So, as far as why the media is willing to sort of spread these claims so uncritically, I mean, you know, there are complicated reasons. I mean, one is that the media itself is very nationalistic, and they get wrapped up and caught up in the sort of uber-patriotism and jingoism as much as non-journalists do, and see the world through that lens. Another is that they spend a huge amount of time with these government officials. They are in the same socioeconomic sphere. They talk to them all day and night, because that’s where they get their stories from, is the ones that are fed to them by officials. And so they see the world through their lens and also, at the same time, want to serve them and please them in order to continue to get sources. A lot of these people are people who work for large corporations, and large corporations want to keep positive relations with the U.S. government, and so report favorably on them rather than in a way that would anger the government, because that’s not in their interest to do.

And then, finally, there’s a lot of resentment and bitterness to the Snowden reporting among lots of journalists, because they were excluded from the story, though journalism won a lot of awards that they themselves have never won. And they hate Edward Snowden, and they hate the journalism that he enabled, and so this is sort of their chance to demonize not just him, but the journalism. And so, they’re eagerly giving a platform to any U.S. officials who want to say that the person who has blood on their hands is Edward Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back. We’re talking to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. We’ll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “The Ballad of Joe Hill” by Paul Robeson. Joe Hill was executed in Utah 100 years ago today. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest for the hour is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, speaking to us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Let’s turn to a clip from a CNN interview on Sunday morning with Yasser Louati from the Collective Against Islamophobia in France. CNN anchors John Vause and Isha Sesay spent several minutes grilling their guest on the role of the Muslim community in the Paris attacks.

JOHN VAUSE: It seems to me that this was a pretty big plan. Surely, someone beyond the seven guys who have been killed over the last 48 hours would have to have known something, and that was probably within the Muslim community, but yet no one said anything.

YASSER LOUATI: Sir, the Muslim community has nothing to do with these guys. Nothing. We cannot justify ourselves for the actions of someone who just, you know, claims to be Muslim. Our secret services knew about these guys. And again, just like during the January attacks, it turned out they were all, you know, on a blacklist somewhere, somehow, on a desk. So, right now we can’t take responsibility for anything. Right now, what these terrorists are—

JOHN VAUSE: Why not? What is the responsibility within the Muslim—

YASSER LOUATI: —blaming this for is belonging to the French nation. And—

JOHN VAUSE: Sure. Sorry. Sorry to interrupt you, Yasser, but what is the responsibility—

YASSER LOUATI: How can we be responsible if they are blaming our country—

JOHN VAUSE: —within the Muslim community to identify what is happening within their own ranks when it comes to people who are obviously training and preparing to carry out mass murder?

YASSER LOUATI: No, no, no, no, no. No, no, sir. No, no, no. They were not from our ranks. If they were trained, they were trained abroad. And what these terrorists are blaming our country for is for its failed foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: When the interview concluded with Louati, the anchors, John Vause and Isha Sesay, had this discussion.

JOHN VAUSE: You know, I’m yet to hear, you know, the condemnation from the Muslim community on this. But we’ll wait and see.

ISHA SESAY: I mean, you know, again, the point he’s making is, it’s not our fault. But the fact of the matter is, when these things happen, the finger of blame is pointed at the Muslim community. And so, you have to be preemptive. It’s coming from the community. You’ve got to—you’ve got to take a stand and—

JOHN VAUSE: The word “responsibility” comes to mind.

ISHA SESAY: Yeah, it just comes to mind. You can’t shirk that.

AMY GOODMAN: That was CNN. Glenn Greenwald, you’re a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Can you talk about what they said and how they treated this Muslim civil rights activist in Paris?

GLENN GREENWALD: Honestly, that interview is so despicable that it almost leaves me speechless. I think that’s probably the 10th or 11th time I’ve heard it, and it’s still actually hard to believe that any human beings, let alone people calling themselves journalists, would say any of the horrific things that they said. I mean, I know Yasser, and, I mean, he’s a—you know, he’s a civil rights activist in Paris. He’s very smart. He’s very educated. He’s very savvy about the law and about politics. And so, to go on and essentially accuse him of bearing responsibility for terrorist attacks because he’s Muslim and the people who did it are Muslim, I mean, is so reprehensible.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I was thinking, Glenn—

GLENN GREENWALD: There’s so many lies that those journalists said, too—yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, I was thinking about, after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City building, if they had brought on white Christian male minister after minister and saying, “He is from your ranks. What do you say?”

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. Or imagine if they—you know, if they did a story on the Israeli who went to the gay and lesbian pride parade in Jerusalem a couple months ago and stabbed six people, and then every time they had a Jewish guest on, they said, “Why didn’t you Jews, who obviously knew about this, do anything to stop it? And why aren’t you, as Jews, condemning this and you bear responsibility?” They would be fired before the interview was over.

They also said that, you know, no Muslims are condemning this, which is a total lie. Every leading Muslim organization in the West issued statements immediately condemning the Paris attacks, like they always do in these cases. I wish they actually wouldn’t do it, because it bolsters the idea that they have the obligation. But the reality is that they did. So, I mean, that’s just one small part, is the lie that these journalists told.

But, you know, and then the other part is, is to say, “You, as Muslims, obviously knew about this plot and had the responsibility to stop it and yet failed to do so.” All of the leading world’s intelligence agencies, with tens of billions of dollars and massive surveillance infrastructure, had no idea about this plot, and yet they’re telling Yasser Louati that he and every other Muslim in France obviously knew about it and should have stopped it and is guilty for not doing so. It’s really despicable, but it’s what’s in the ether. It’s absolutely the really scary climate that has emerged in the wake of Paris—an extremely anti-Muslim strain of animosity that we’ve seen historically in the past, and that is both ugly and really dangerous.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Glenn Greenwald, let’s go to one of the reasons that have been cited for the growth of the Islamic State—not the Muslim community in France. The Guardian reported Wednesday that four former Air Force drone operators have written an open letter to Barack Obama warning that the program of targeted killings by drones has become a major driving force for ISIS and other terrorist groups. They write, quote, “[T]he innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay.” Glenn Greenwald, could you respond to that?

GLENN GREENWALD: It’s amazing how we just refuse to learn this lesson. I mean, obviously, there are some differences between ISIS and al-Qaeda, but there’s many, many more similarities than differences. And one of the things that we should have learned and that a lot of people have learned, including not just, you know, left-wing activists or independent journalists, but even think tanks—and even the Rumsfeld Pentagon commissioned a study finding this—that what fuels and strengthens terrorist organizations is resentment toward the United States as a result of the policies that we engage in, the actions we engage in, in that part of the world. Yemen is probably the best example. If you talk to Yemenis, what they will tell you is, is that there was no al-Qaeda in Yemen, or very little al-Qaeda in Yemen, very weak and very—just the presence was marginal and negligible, prior to the U.S. escalating its drone campaign in 2009, 2010, and killing huge numbers of civilians, which is what drove Yemenis into the arms of al-Qaeda and strengthened al-Qaeda to become al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

And so, of course, you will always have violent extremists. We have them in the United States, as Amy mentioned earlier, you know, people who are like Timothy McVeigh, anti-government extremists, or Christian extremists who kill abortion doctors, or white supremacists who go into a church in Charleston and shoot up people in a church for no reason other than hatred of their race. So you’re always going to have violent extremists. You can’t eliminate that. We’re always going to have ISIS. You can’t eliminate that.

The question then becomes: How do you avoid giving them an infrastructure of support and fueling and strengthening the willingness of people to run into their arms? And so much of what we’re doing, from dropping bombs on civilians in virtually—you know, in multiple countries in that region, to pouring weapons and money into that region that end up in the hands of ISIS, is absolutely strengthening them. And as these four Air Force whistleblowers said this morning, the Obama drone campaign is a major recruitment tool for ISIS because people in that region constantly see—just like we just saw in Paris, they constantly see images of dead women and children and innocent men at the hands of the United States government. And just like we have anger toward ISIS when we see that and want to do violence to them, the people in that part of the world who see images of our victims want to do that, as well, to us, and running into the arms of ISIS is a natural thing for them to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, what about if the media did not see war as an option? So, for example, you have these horrific attacks in Paris. The immediate response is the pummeling of Raqqa. Yes, they say it’s the headquarters of the Islamic State. It’s got hundreds of thousands of civilians. France pummels it, the U.S. pummels it, Russia pummels it. Where are the questions in the media about the civilian death toll? And then the people, of course, fleeing that hellhole will be stopped from resettling anywhere, as we see from the United States to Europe. So, that question of broadening the discussion to peaceful options. Clearly, war has not worked for well over 14 years now. Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than it did before the U.S. invaded.

GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, Afghanistan is the perfect example, Amy, which is, you know, if you go back and listen to what American political leaders, in both parties, and journalists and pretty much the entire country—I mean, 90 percent of the American population supported the war in Afghanistan. I mean, there were a good number of people who didn’t, but overwhelmingly people did. What everybody was saying at that time was—they were speaking out of rage and anger and hatred and disgust for the Taliban for their involvement, or perceived involvement, or responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. And the idea was, we’re going to go to Afghanistan, and we’re going to obliterate the Taliban. We’re going to basically just bomb them out of existence. And the Bush administration has a completely free hand, cheered on by the media and the overwhelming majority of the American population to do exactly that. And they tried. And yet, as you just said, 13 years later, the Taliban is stronger than ever, because you cannot do that. All you end up doing is turning the people of Afghanistan against you, and therefore driving them into the arms of the Taliban. We just won’t learn that lesson.

And the reason we won’t learn that lesson is twofold. Number one is, a lot of what is being stoked are really potent instincts in human nature—our tribalistic instinct, our desire for vengeance, our desire to otherize people and then destroy them. And so, when you see carnage in Paris—I’m sure it’s true for you, I know it’s true for me—all of us have that impulse to say, “The people who did this are monsters, and we want to destroy them.” But we, as human beings, have not only impulse, we also have reason. And the purpose of our reason is to control our instincts and impulses. We don’t just act by instinct and impulse. If we did, we’d be the lowest-level animals. But the media is trying to stoke that id part of our brain, and so is the government, to just focus on vengeance and focus on the desire to obliterate, even when it’s not in our interest to do so.

And then the second reason is, you know, the American media benefits immensely from war. A huge number of people watch CNN and MSNBC when there are wars. They get to go to war zones and dress up as soldiers, you know, with camouflage flaks, and they embed with the American media. It’s exciting for them. They win awards as part of their career. They feel nationalistic. They feel like they have purpose. Telling people that they’re part of a civilization war and fighting for freedom and democracy, that makes people feel really good, especially journalists. And so, journalists are hungry for war. You could basically see them drooling in that press conference they did with Obama a few days ago where they tried to badger him into sending ground troops into Syria. So, all of these emotions and all of these instincts and all of these really ignominious impulses are combining into this really toxic brew, that we’ve seen many times in the U.S. over the last several—you know, since 9/11, but I don’t think we have seen it quite as potently since 2002 or 2003. And it’s amazing to watch everything just repeat itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Just to clarify on the issue of the Taliban, the Taliban control more of the country now than right after the U.S. invaded, when supposedly the U.S. was going to take charge and force the Taliban out. Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yeah, Glenn Greenwald, talking about the increasing militarization of the conflict, you’ve spoken of the effects of pouring so many weapons into the region. And your recent article — one of your recent articles is headlined “Stock Prices of Weapons Manufacturers Soaring Since Paris Attack.” So could you talk about what you found? What arms manufacturers, and where, are increasing their arms sales?

GLENN GREENWALD: It was really—it was amazing that the Paris attacks happened on Friday night, last Friday night, so the markets obviously weren’t open over the weekend. They open first thing in the morning Monday. Instantly, if you had looked at the charts of the stock prices of the leading weapons manufacturers, not only in the United States, but also in France, there was a massive leap the minute the markets opened. It was like buyers were, investors were frothing at the mouth to buy the stock of the leading arms manufacturers, such as Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon—and then, in France, the leading one is Thales—Thales is the French pronunciation, I believe. And in each case, you see this straight-up vertical line, beginning right at the beginning of the day, and then throughout the day the stock prices continued to increase from anywhere to 3 to 5 to 6 percent. And then, the following day, in a lot of cases, it continued, even as the rest of the market was basically flat or up very, very slightly. There was a huge gap between the weapons manufacturers’ stock prices and the rest of the market.

And the reason is obvious, which is, every time there’s a terrorist attack, Western leaders exploit that attack to do more war, as Amy was just saying, which in turn means they transfer huge amounts of American taxpayer money, and the taxpayer money in France and Great Britain, to these corporations that sell arms. And so, investors are fully aware that the main people who are going to benefit from this escalation as a result of Paris are not the American people or the people of the West, certainly not the people of Syria. It’s essentially the military-industrial complex that is going to profit greatly.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the weapons manufacturers. What about the countries? If you can—we can end on Saudi Arabia, and we only have 30 seconds. U.S. just signing of one massive arms deal after another with Saudi Arabia.

GLENN GREENWALD: It’s the weirdest part of the war on terror, which is that there’s one country basically most identified with the 9/11 attacks and the ideology that drove it, and that happens to be the second-closest ally of the United States in that region, which is Saudi Arabia. They not only were responsible for lots of parts of al-Qaeda, but are funding, in lots of different ways, ISIS, as well. And yet we continue to hug them while waging war on countries that have never had anything to do with attacks on our country.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, we want to thank you for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. We will link to your pieces at The Intercept, among them, ”NYT Editorial Slams 'Disgraceful' CIA Exploitation of Paris Attacks, But Submissive Media Role Is Key.” Glenn Greenwald is speaking to us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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There is No Military Solution: Could ISIL Be Strengthened by U.S., French, Russian Bombing?

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