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Glenn Greenwald: Cruz, Trump, Clinton “Playing into the Hands” of ISIL After Brussels Bombings

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Belgium has entered its second day of mourning following Tuesday’s bombing attack targeting the Brussels Airport and a crowded subway station near the headquarters of the European Union that killed at least 31 people and injured over 230. The bombings took place just days after authorities arrested Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the November Paris attacks that killed 130 people. In response to Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Republican front-runner Donald Trump called for “closing up” U.S. borders and doubled down on his vow to bring back waterboarding and other forms of torture. And Hillary Clinton asked for Silicon Valley’s help, calling for “an intelligence surge” to help track online activity. For more on the election, the attacks in Brussels and more, we speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Belgium has entered its second day of mourning following Tuesday’s bombing attack targeting the Brussels Airport and a crowded subway station near the headquarters of the European Union. The attacks killed at least 31 people and injured over 230. The bombings took place just days after authorities arrested Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the November Paris attacks that killed 130 people. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton asked for Silicon Valley’s help in a speech at Stanford University calling for, quote, “an intelligence surge” to help track online activity.

HILLARY CLINTON: Our enemies are constantly adapting, so we have to do the same. For example, Brussels demonstrated clearly we need to take a harder look at security protocols at airports and other sensitive so-called soft sites, especially areas outside guarded perimeters. To do all this, we need an intelligence surge, and so do our allies. We also have to stay ahead of the curve technologically.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Hillary Clinton, Democratic presidential candidate, speaking Wednesday. In response to Tuesday’s attack in Brussels, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said, quote, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Republican front-runner Donald Trump called for “closing up” U.S. borders and doubled down on his vow to bring back waterboarding and other forms of torture.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the election, the attacks in Brussels and more, we’re still with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. Glenn, start off by talking about what happened in Brussels and the response in the United States.

GLENN GREENWALD: What we’ve seen in Brussels is the same exact pattern as we’ve seen, essentially, for the last 15 years each time there is one of these attacks. There is never any sense at all that there’s some balance needed between security, on the one hand, and civil liberties and privacy and a constrained budget for our military and intelligence, on the other. Every single time there’s a terrorist attack—every single time—politicians like Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz come forward and say we need more of everything we’ve been doing. We need more money for intelligence, more surveillance authorities, more military presence, more security. You know, imagine if every single time there were a fatal car accident, every single time, in response, someone said not, “Well, we accept the fact that in exchange for having roads, we know there’s going to be some fatalities,” but instead, every time, said, “We need more safety regulations for cars. We need to lower the speed limit even further.” The reality is, in an open society, especially if you have a government that is constantly bombing people around the world, there are going to be people who want to bring back violence to you and who are going to succeed in doing it. You can’t stop people in every case. And it’s not necessarily the case that each time there’s a terrorist attack it means that you need more security measures, more intelligence gathering, and more security and military adventures in the way that politicians just almost reflexively call for.

I think it’s really important to note a couple things about Brussels. Number one is, the Brussels attack is now the fourth straight attack, after Boston, the Charlie Hebdo massacre and then the Paris attacks, where siblings, brothers, were at the heart of the planning. And just like in those three previous attacks that I just referenced, the attacks were carried out by people who live in the same communities, who live very close to one another, and who almost certainly met in person in order to plan them. And yet, the exploitive mindset of Western politicians is to say, every time there’s a successful attack carried out, it means we need to wage war on encryption, we need greater surveillance, we need more police in these communities. But the reality is, if people are meeting in person, if you’re talking about siblings and cousins and family members and people who go to the same mosques, who are meeting in person to plan the attacks, none of that will actually help detect the attack.

What’s amazing is that if you listen to the media narrative about how these attacks get discussed—and I had the misfortune of listening to hours of CNN coverage and MSNBC coverage, because I’m traveling, about these attacks—the one question that’s never asked is “What is the motive of the attackers? Why are people who are in their twenties and thirties willing to sacrifice their lives to kill innocent people in this really horrific way?” And ultimately, it’s not hard to figure out. They say what it is, and it’s really not that difficult, which is the countries that they’re targeting—France and Belgium and the United States and others—are in Iraq and Syria bombing ISIS. And so, of course, it’s just natural to expect—doesn’t mean it’s justified; it’s never justified to target civilians, but it’s natural to expect—that countries that go and bomb ISIS, ISIS is going to want to bomb and attack back, just as the United States, for 15 years, has been declaring itself at war and bombing multiple countries and then acts surprised when people want to come and attack us back. And so I think, more than saying we need more intelligence and more surveillance and wage war on encryption and more bombing campaigns, we need to be asking whether there are things that we can be doing that reduce the incentive for people to want to kill us—and in the process, kill themselves—and especially the support infrastructure that they get because of the anti-American and anti-European sentiment that gets generated when we engage in all of this violence in the world.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, one of the other—well, what the Islamic State has revealed explicitly about its own motivations, which was revealed in a newsletter circulated after the Paris attacks in November, included weakening—that is, their objectives—weakening unity across the European continent and exhausting European states economically. What do you make of that, Glenn?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, we’ve seen the same type of announcements and rationale very early on from al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who talked about the ultimate goal of the 9/11 attacks being to provoke the United States into this endless campaign of militarism and military spending that would essentially weaken and ultimately bankrupt the United States, much like the Soviet adventures, military adventures, in the 1980s helped to bring down the Soviet Union. And we seem to be happy to play into their hands. I mean, the goal isn’t just to make us engage in military adventures that weaken us economically. It’s also, as ISIS has said, to drive a wedge between Western Muslims and the Western societies in which they live, to essentially eliminate what ISIS refers to as the grey zone, which are Western Muslims, first-generation immigrants or second generation who are born in these countries, to feel alienated from the Western governments and the Western countries in which they live and to essentially have to choose between either ISIS and those governments, and to feel so alienated by their own countries that they’re driven into the arms of extremism. And ironically, again, the best friend of ISIS seems to be Western politicians, like you hear Ted Cruz, like you hear from Donald Trump, who, essentially, every time there’s one of these attacks, want to declare Muslims or Islam the actual culprit, which does nothing but serve to exacerbate the very wedge that ISIS is trying to drive into the heart of these Muslim populations in Western societies.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s—Glenn, let’s go right now to the two men you mentioned. Following the Belgium attacks, Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz issued a statement saying, quote, “We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Later, on Tuesday, Senator Cruz spoke to CNN.

SEN. TED CRUZ: If you have a neighborhood where there is a high level of gang activity, the way to prevent it is you increase the law enforcement presence there, and you target the gang members to get them off the streets. … I am talking about an area where there is a higher incidence of radical Islamic terrorism. If you look at Europe, Europe’s failed immigration laws have allowed a massive influx of radical Islamic terrorists into Europe, and they are now in isolated neighborhoods where radicalism festers.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Ted Cruz. And on the day of the attacks, Donald Trump was asked on NBC’s Today Show about what Belgium officials should do to get information from Salah Abdeslam, who was captured last week.

DONALD TRUMP: I’m not looking for breaking news on your show, but frankly, the waterboarding, if it was up to me, and if we changed the laws and—or have the laws, waterboarding would be fine. And if they want to do—as long as it’s with—because, you know, we work within laws. They don’t work within laws. They have no laws. We work within laws. The waterboarding would be fine. And if they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding. You have to get the information from these people. And we have to be smart, and we have to be tough, and we can’t be soft and weak, which is what we are right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, in fact, he said that we have to torture them. Donald Trump said that this week. At least he called it what it was. But talk about the significance of what Donald Trump is calling for, the man who could be President Trump, and Cruz, before him.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, first of all, I do get a little bit disturbed by this widespread notion on the part of a lot of well-intentioned people that Donald Trump is somehow so far outside of what we regard as what had been previously acceptable within American political discourse. I mean, if you look at what Ted Cruz has actually been saying and what he’s been doing, you could certainly make the case—and I would be someone who agrees with this—that Ted Cruz is, in many respects, maybe most respects, more dangerous than Trump. I mean, Ted Cruz is this true evangelical believer who seems to be really eager to promote this extremist religious agenda. You have him constantly expressing animosity toward Islam and toward Muslims in a way that’s sort of redolent of almost a religious-type war. He holds himself out as this constitutional scholar and small-government conservative and yet advocates some of the most extremely unconstitutional measures you could possibly imagine, like targeting American communities filled with Muslims with additional police patrolling and monitoring and surveillance and scrutinizing.

And as far as Donald Trump is concerned, you know, when he comes out and says, “I want to do waterboarding and worse,” and we all act so shocked, I mean, as you just said, you know, he almost deserves credit for what he’s saying, in the sense that he’s being more honest. The United States for 10 years did engage in torture. We did use not only waterboarding, but techniques far worse. And the reason why that’s still part of the debate is because the current administration, under President Obama, made the choice not to prosecute any of the people who implemented those techniques and who used to them, despite the fact that we’re parties to treaties requiring their criminal prosecution. And when he did that, he turned torture into nothing more than just a standard partisan political debate. And that’s why people like Donald Trump are able to stand up without much repercussion and advocate that we use those techniques. But we shouldn’t act all that shocked. The U.S. government did exactly what Donald Trump is advocating as recently as seven or eight years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, didn’t President Obama say, “We tortured some folks”?

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. And so, you know, I think if you look at the reaction to Donald Trump and this kind of horror that even Republican elites and conservatives are expressing when reacting toward him, to call it hypocritical is really to be generous. It is true that he doesn’t use the language of political diplomacy. He doesn’t really use euphemisms. He speaks like ordinary people speak when talking about politics at their dining room table, which is one of the reasons for his appeal. And in that sense, he actually provides an important value, which is he’s stripping away the pretense of what the American political system and American political culture have become and describing it in a much more honest way. And that’s the reason that so many Republican elites and other media figures, who have no problem with Republican politicians or even Democratic politicians who advocate similar policies, why they’re so offended by Donald Trump, because he sort of renders the entire system nakedly candid about what it actually is.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re spending the hour with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His piece for The Intercept is headlined “Brazil Is Engulfed by Ruling Class Corruption—and a Dangerous Subversion of Democracy.” He lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but he’s in Tucson now. He’ll be participating in a major event with Edward Snowden, who can’t be in this country but will be joining through some kind of video situation, and Noam Chomsky, as they talk about the state of democracy in America. We’ll continue with him. We’ve talked about Ted Cruz. We’ve talked about Donald Trump. We’ll also talk about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. He’s in Arizona, where a major voting scandal is unfolding around the Democratic primary that took place on Tuesday. People waited hour after hour after hour at voting polls. Is it because the response was so enormous on Tuesday, or is it because they quartered the number, almost, or a third, the number of polling places in places like Maricopa County, from 200 to 60? Stay with us.

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