- Chelsea Manningnetwork security specialist and advocate for government transparency and queer and transgender rights. She is an Army whistleblower who spent seven years in military prison after leaking a trove of documents about the Iraq and Afghan wars and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2010. She is currently running for the U.S. Senate in her home state of Maryland.
- Ramah KudaimiSyrian-American activist based in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Syrian Solidarity Collective. She is also on the National Committee of the War Resisters League.
On Friday, the U.S., U.K. and France launched coordinated military strikes in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, over a week ago. The attack has not yet been independently investigated. The U.S. has blamed the Assad government for the alleged attack. On Sunday, United Nations chemical weapons investigators began examining the scene of the alleged attack, which came amid a brutal campaign by the Syrian government to retake the rebel-held district of Eastern Ghouta outside the capital Damascus. We get response from perhaps the most famous whistleblower of the Iraq War, Chelsea Manning, who is now a network security specialist and advocate for government transparency and queer and transgender rights. She spent seven years in military prison after leaking a trove of documents about the Iraq and Afghan wars and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2010 and is now running for the U.S. Senate. We also speak with Ramah Kudaimi, a Syrian-American activist who is a member of the Syrian Solidarity Collective and on the National Committee of the War Resisters League.
AMY GOODMAN: “Aleppo” by Sinne Eeg, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we get the latest on what happened this weekend with the U.S., French, British bombing of Syria. In his tweet on Saturday morning, President Donald Trump wrote, “A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” And this is President Trump on Friday night.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My fellow Americans, a short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now underway.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our look at Syria with Ramah Kudaimi, Syrian-American activist based in Washington, D.C., with the Syrian Solidarity Collective. She is on the National Committee of the War Resisters League. Here in New York City, Chelsea Manning is a network security specialist and advocate for government transparency, a queer, gender rights activist. She’s perhaps best known as, well, the most famous whistleblower of the Iraq/Afghanistan war, served in the Army in Iraq, spent seven years in military prison after leaking a trove of documents about the Iraq and Afghan wars and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2010, currently running for U.S. Senate in her home state of Maryland.
So, Chelsea Manning, what was your response when you heard President Trump’s announcement Friday night and then him tweeting “Mission Accomplished!”?
CHELSEA MANNING: Well, “Mission Accomplished!” I believe I’ve heard those words before.
AMY GOODMAN: But why don’t we go back—
CHELSEA MANNING: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —to those words right now. Let’s go back—
CHELSEA MANNING: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to 2003. At the time, it was President George W. Bush.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
AMY GOODMAN: That was May 1st, 2003. Where were you at the time, Chelsea Manning?
CHELSEA MANNING: I was in high school.
AMY GOODMAN: But you then would go on to Iraq.
CHELSEA MANNING: Yes, I did.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about why that matters to you, this echo of what you heard before.
CHELSEA MANNING: Well, we’ve been—we’ve intervened in the Middle East for quite some time now, you know, going back, for the United States, half a century at this point. We’ve been involved in, you know, Iraq, Afghanistan. Now we’re more embroiled in Syria. And so, this is just a continuation—you know, these recent events are just a continuation of years of really a projection of power into the region. And we’re constantly intervening, you know. And for what reason? You know, it always comes down to some excuse.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, interestingly, one of those who responded was Ari Fleischer—
CHELSEA MANNING: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —who served as a White House press secretary for President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003. Fleischer wrote, quote, “Um…I would have recommended ending this tweet with not those two words.” And he said the “Um…”
CHELSEA MANNING: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Ramah Kudaimi, your information about both the alleged attack, what we know about it at this point, and the sites that were hit? And then I want to put that same question to Chelsea.
RAMAH KUDAIMI: Yeah, so, I think it’s interesting that we tend to go—continue to go back to Iraq in 2003 and the horrible decision, obviously, to invade and occupy Iraq, horrible because it destroyed, you know, an entire country and created—you know, destroyed millions of lives. And I think we continue to go back on that, and we pretend that the Arab uprisings that happened in late 2010, 2011, didn’t happen. And we need to really—you know, we need to look at and analyze Syria and the rest of the region in light of those uprisings, not to take away the horrible history of the United States of intervening, the complete—obviously, the United States is concerned with its national interest, just like Russia is concerned with its national interest, just like Saudi Arabia is concerned with national interests, Iran, Turkey, etc., etc. All of these players that are now in Syria have their national interests at play, not the hopes and dreams of the Syrian people to live without a dictator, to live in freedom and dignity. And so, I think it’s very important that we use—we see places like Iraq and not just assume Syria is Iraq, is Libya, which is a very racist notion and just assumes all of these places that have Muslims and Arabs and are full of brown people are the same. We can take lessons learned, but take—let’s take the right lessons learned, not just, “Oh, U.S. intervention is bad,” and just stay with that shallow analysis.
In terms of what’s happening in Syria with the use of chemical weapons attacks, there have been numerous investigations in the past few years about chemical weapons attacks. People who are claiming and crying that, “Oh, the reason that we are against this, you know, U.S.—what the U.S. just did over the weekend. We need to wait and see the investigations,” investigations have happened in the past, and they’ve ignored them. So, last year, for example, when the attack happened in April of 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun, and as a response, you know, Trump bombed that empty airfield, six months after the chemical weapons attack, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons came out with a report, an investigation: Yes, in fact, the regime was responsible for that attack. No one went back and corrected themselves and said, “Oh, see? Actually we were wrong by claiming that the regime didn’t do it.” It just didn’t happen, because there is this lag time between when a chemical weapon attack happens and when the investigation is actually concluded.
And because we live in, unfortunately, a media world that—you know, whether it’s mainstream media or even alternative left media, that only pays attention to, you know, a few days and then forgets about the conflict in Syria, we don’t see this constant thing of like, actually, chemical weapons attacks have happened again and again, and various international bodies, whether it’s the U.N., the OPCW, human rights groups, have found the regime guilty again and again.
So, there is a pattern of behavior on behalf of the regime, and it is not—should not be shocking, then, that this latest attack in Douma that happened about a week or so ago would also be responsible of the regime. And I’ve heard reports, for example, that this morning, that Russia and the regime were blocking access to—for OPCW investigators to the site in Douma, which is, again, something that happens. The regime blocks access to investigators, human rights investigators, activists, journalists, and then we say, “Well, we can’t trust the United States, but here, let’s listen to regime propaganda and Russia propaganda instead.”
AMY GOODMAN: It’s the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, that has investigators there. Interestingly, Chelsea Manning, you tweeted, “oh! so if a foreign country launched missiles at pueblo chemical depot in colorado and blue grass depot in kentucky it’d be totally chill.” Explain your comparison.
CHELSEA MANNING: So, yeah, that was in response to somebody who’s tried to say that this isn’t a war, this wasn’t an act of war against, you know, a foreign—in a foreign country, but it’s a subjective matter. You know, if somebody did that to us, it would obviously be—you know, it would obviously be a war. So, this is—you know, and this is war. This is an engagement. And this is a—this is an escalation. I mean, this has been a consistent escalation.
And I just want to say that this is not—that what happened in Syria in the last few days has not been, from the American perspective, has not been—or, you know, West—you know, like Britain and France perspective, has not been about what’s actually happening in Syria. It has nothing to do with Syria. It has nothing to do with the Syrian people. It has nothing to do with the Middle East. And it has everything to do with domestic policy, and it has everything to do with Russia. I mean, we’ve heard this constant rhetorical position again and again about Russia, Russia, Russia, and we’re really—you know, and the tweets indicated—you know, the tweets that we saw last week by Donald Trump indicated that we’re trying to provoke Russia into a proxy war. And that’s a very dangerous thing to do. We’re really putting ourselves closer and closer to the brink every single time that we increase the rhetoric, we increase the pressure, and, you know, whether it’s sanctions or if it’s bombings against—you know, like the tweet was about—the tweet we saw last week was about Russia, not about Syria. Like, that just indicates how little this has to do with Syria, and everything to do with Russia.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, British Royal Air Force jets joined American and French warplanes and ships in hitting targets in Syria Saturday, in response to the reported chemical attack in Douma. Today, British Prime Minister Theresa May will face lawmakers as she attempts to justify her decision to launch the airstrikes against Syria without a vote in the British Parliament as, quote, “in Britain’s national interest” and meant to stop more suffering from chemical weapons attacks. This comes as Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, said it should introduce a War Powers Act to ban military action without Parliament’s approval. Speaking on the BBC, Corbyn also said President Trump should speak directly with Putin.
JEREMY CORBYN: Quite clearly, any country that’s deeply involved in Syria could cause an awful lot more trouble now if they wanted to. I hope that President Trump will listen to wise counsels, listen also to wise counsels outside the U.S.A., and pick up the phone to Putin and talk.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s the British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. Ramah Kudaimi, your response?
RAMAH KUDAIMI: [inaudible] he was saying, this has nothing to do—it seems like we talk about U.S. and Russia, and that’s what Corbyn is also saying, is that, “Oh, well, the U.S. and the Russia need to talk things out.” Where’s the justice for the Syrian people? Where’s the justice for the Syrian people, who, again, were inspired by the uprisings that took place in Tunisia, in Libya, in Egypt, in Bahrain, in Iraq, in Yemen, were inspired to say, “Hey, we can also make a demand. We can also live without a brutal dictatorship. We want our freedom and our dignity”? And then they were met with supporters of Assad, who said, “It is Assad, or we burn the country.” And they’ve proceeded to burn the country, with the support of Iran, with the support of Russia, with friends of Syria, such as the U.S. and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who in fact were not friends but actually also going in and looking for their national interests. And I think that is what is missing in all of these discussions about the future of Syria, is: Where is justice and accountability for war crimes?
And Russia is an enabler of the regime. Russia has—for so long now, Russia has been, quote-unquote, “leading peace processes.” We’ve had several years, people who say, “Well, it’s time for diplomacy.” There has been diplomacy since 2012. There has been talks and negotiations in Geneva, in Sochi, in Astana, in so many different places, you know, for years. And yet, the problem is because these demands are not around justice, these demands are not around an end, immediate end, to all airstrikes, whether they are regime airstrikes, U.S. airstrikes, Russian airstrikes, and putting on the table that the Syrian people deserve accountability from the leaders who brought all these war crimes against them. And until we get to that level of discussion, there is no—there is no purpose in talking about diplomacy. There’s no purpose talking about ceasefires, if no one is actually concerned with talking about the reality of what happened in Syria, and instead we’re constantly fed, “Oh, it’s not clear what’s happening. It’s too complicated. These are just—you know, Syrians are just killing each other, and we should just stay out of it. The United States should just stay out of it,” when, in fact, again, the reality is the Syrian people are suffering.
They’ve made a demand for the fall of the regime. They’ve requested support in getting that accountability for war crimes and getting justice. And frankly, they have been abandoned, not only by the powers that be—and that’s expected, obviously, because powers of be are not concerned with these issues, they are concerned with national interest and their own security and their own war profiteering—but they have been abandoned, most sadly, by an international left, the international antiwar movement, that should have been said, “Yes, we support people’s struggles. We support revolution. We support the idea that we want to live in freedom and dignity, and bring down systems of oppression.” And instead, the Syrian people have been spit on by these people and told, “Actually, you need to die in silence and stop bothering us.”
AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of who is allowed to come into the United States, the ban on Syrians, as the U.S. is bombing Syria, Ramah?
RAMAH KUDAIMI: Yeah, this is—and again, this is where we need to push on U.S. policies, you know, that Trump likes to present himself as some hero in this case, and has been [inaudible] that they’ve—that this Muslim ban, which mostly—which impacts, obviously, people from a lot of countries, but very directly the Syrian refugees, who are trying to escape these various powers that are bombing the country. And, yeah, it is ridiculous.
And we need to be pushing, in terms of thinking about demands. People say, “Well, there’s nothing to do on Syria.” There’s a lot of things to do on Syria. One, obviously, pushing the United States to accept more refugees, and not only the U.S. The EU itself has also shut down its borders. Countries across the globe are shutting down their borders to various refugees, but especially Syrian refugees. So, demanding open borders for all refugees, and then demanding a discourse shift, that we talk about Syria based on what the Syrian people rose up and demanded, and looking at it in that way and demanding, yes, an end to all airstrikes, more humanitarian aid to support people’s needs for survival, and accountability for all war crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Chelsea Manning, you’re running for U.S. Senate against Ben Cardin. The primary is in June. What about the issue of taking the U.S. bombing of Syria to Congress, to have it authorized?
CHELSEA MANNING: Well, I think that congressional authorization is sort of this—I mean, like, obviously, no single person should have the power to be able to arbitrarily engage in airstrikes just, you know, for whatever reason, without any checks and balances or anything like that. So, I really think that having a president or having any single person with this much power is problematic. But I also think that in this instance, where you have—you know, even if you had congressional authorization, this is not about—you know, you don’t bring humanitarian relief by sending in missiles. That’s not how this works. What we need to do—and I completely agree—is we need to open the borders. We allowed 11 refugees in the last few months. Eleven. You know, if this is about the humanitarian needs, then we need to start opening the borders, here in the United States, here in the—I mean, throughout the EU, and, you know, we should be letting people pass through the borders, because they’re getting turned away in mass numbers.