Tag Archive: Iraq War


In Memoriam

It is a sad day for American intellectualism. The political writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens has died of pneumonia. His views on most topics ranged from literally communist (human rights – he would often address audiences as “comrades”) to neoconservative (the War in Iraq), and his well-formed arguments skewered and crushed many opponents live on TV. His exposés on Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa beamed bright, sharply focused sunlight on two forms of power that are infected with corruption. One challenged him to a debate at one’s peril.

His views on the Iraq War were motivated by freedom of speech and the need to protect the intellectual gains humans have made since the Enlightenment. I disagreed heavily with his views on this topic, but he was the only pro-war person whose argument was sound enough that it made me really think hard about my own anti-war views. That is a stark contrast to the apish, crayon-scrawled views that propagated through the neoconservative movement at the time.

Always challenging authority, as he aged he began expressing his views on atheism, or as he called it: Anti-theism. There is a significant difference and it highlights the way in which he often charged headlong into a debate. His esophageal cancer was not helped by his penchant for smoking and his replacement of alcohol for water. As he famously said himself, “I drink enough in the average day to kill or stun the average mule.” Yet even as he neared death, he redoubled his efforts to promote anti-theism, along with the other “Four Horsemen” (Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins). His performance along with Stephen Fry at an Intelligence Squared debate on the question of whether the Catholic Church is a source for good in the world is not to be missed. They argued that it was not and won the debate by a very large margin, convincing even initial supporters of the motion.

There are very few public voices in the US that are capable of simultaneously maintaining two or more thoughts in their head, and even fewer who can mold those thoughts into elegant prose. In these days of journalistic yes-men and corporatized intellectual poverty, the country is going to miss this sharp and articulate firebrand. He had a lot more to say.

Julian Assange (The News Update)

Terrorist, really?

Few people in the past year have sparked debate in the manner that Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has. His organization has become well-known for publishing material that is leaked by anonymous whistleblowers that often show wrongdoing on the parts of governments and corporations around the world, though a good deal of its notoriety stems from the publication of the Iraq War Logs and its bringing to light actual U.S. military footage of a helicopter crew shooting reporters and civilians in Baghdad, a video that the group entitled “Collateral Murder”.

The release of documents pertaining to the U.S. military and the U.S. Department of State resulted in an outcry by conservatives across the country who claimed that Assange had hurt the national security of the United States and that he had exposed a number of U.S. military informants in Afghanistan, claims that Assange strongly denies. Fox News Correspondents and familiar Republican faces such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin called Julian Assange a traitor, though he is actually Australian and therefore can not commit treason against the U.S., and they even went so far as to call for his assassination within days of the shooting of Gabriel Giffords in Arizona.

While calls for assassination rang out at Fox News, the rest of the American media played up the angle that WikiLeaks had damaged American national interests because it had published diplomatic cables that contained confidential and embarrassing information about foreign dignitaries and diplomats. The cables did certainly create a good deal of awkwardness at the State Department, but rather than focus on any specifics, the general treatment among the major networks was downright tabloid. For example, in this piece, ABC News focused on non-substantive comments in the cables that essentially resort to the level of name calling. And far from being hard hitting, ABC did not make a terribly strong case. From the piece, we find out that Libya’s Ghadafi is considered “wierd”. This could hardly be of any surprise, but we learn nothing of the real nuggets of information found in the documents from the ABC piece – a trend that you will see is quite prominent in American media.

The Administration’s Response – and from Corporate America

The reaction from the Obama Administration was rather strong. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the release of the diplomatic cables. Their release certainly made her job difficult. But did the release of the cables truly affect the relations between the U.S. and other countries to the degree that she has claimed? For her part, Julian Assange did suggest that Secretarty Clinton should resign, “if it can be shown that she was responsible ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations.” (Go to 2:20 in the video for the quote.) Unfortunately, most of the American press reported that with the headline to the effect: Assange: Clinton Should Resign, ignoring a rather important subjunctive clause, but also skillfully avoiding the reasoning behind Assange’s statement. Mr. Assange made that statement with the revelation from his group that the U.S. State Department had begun a program to try to gain information about foreign dignitaries by the use of biometrics and espionage. If the State Department is trying to spy on other leaders, suddenly the peaceful and “candid discussions” that Secretary Clinton mentioned in the ABC News video would certainly take a very different tone, but once again, there is no information in the ABC report about these potentially unethical clandestine actions by the State Department.

Presidential Candidate Obama discusses open government in 2008 (Glass Booth.org, via YouTube)

President Obama campaigned in part on the notion of openness in the Federal Government. Obama had also signed whistleblower protections early during his presidency. One bill strengthened whistleblower protections for the employees of companies contracting with the Federal Government and he strengthened whistleblower rights in the recently-passed Food Safety Act. Yet, despite this early support for openness in government, President Obama was now in the rather uncomfortable position that he was in charge of the organization losing leaked information.

Despite the discomfort, the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, challenged Fox News by saying that the White House is not afraid of one guy with a laptop. He also went on to say that those who leaked information are subject to a Department of Justice criminal investigation as well. But while president Obama claimed to be in support of an open, censorship-free internet after the Diplomatic Cables release, it was quite clear that his Justice Department was in fact strongly pursuing an investigation into the the potential for ties between Julian Assange and the alleged leaker, Private Bradley Manning.

President Obama discusses open internet in December, 2010 (Stop the War Coalitino, via YouTube)

It was around that time in early December, 2010, that Swedish allegations of “sex by surprise”, not rape as reported by the American media, forced Assange to remain in place in Britain, even serving some time in solitary confinement until his bond was secured. He remains without charge from Sweden, though he has been fighting his extradition to Sweden out of concern that he would be extradited again to the United States. It was also made public that one of the women who had accused Assange of rape was actually tied to the CIA. WikiLeaks also found it difficult to receive donations because companies like PayPal, Visa and Mastercard cut off services to WikiLeaks, though the latter two do allow donations to the KKK! It is strongly suspected that the Obama Administration was partially responsible for convincing those companies to cut their financial ties to WikiLeaks.

One company, VISA, did hire a firm to investigate WikiLeaks to determine whether it could find any wrongdoing by the group and found none. VISA has yet to allow donations to flow back to WikiLeaks, despite the findings having come out roughly three months ago.

Assange in his own words

So who is this Julian Assange? Is he the terrorist described by Fox News? The guy who is hurting American national security like the U.S. mainstream press argues? Is he a supporter of free speech and open government?

To this point we have heard from virtually everyone but Julian Assange himself. But to fully understand his comments, we can not confine ourselves to the American mass media. First, let us take a look at a speech that he gave to the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010.

Julian Assange speaks at the Oslo Freedom Forum, April 2010 (Oslo Freedom Forum, via YouTube)

In that speech, Assange describes how his organization tries not to know the names of the whistleblowers in order to protect itself as well as the whistleblowers. WikiLeaks tries to protect whistleblowers as much as possible, while using freedom of speech laws around the world to their maximum extent to ensure that the leaked information remains public and protected from attempts to shut websites down.

The stakes are quite high. After minute 5:15 in the Oslo Speech, Assange mentions the salient point that with today’s electronic media, the information repositories of the West are becoming concentrated in fewer hands. While it was once true that people could see missing pages in book in Soviet Libraries, it is now possible to remove websites without a trace. This is a very well-thought out position on transparency of information in the electronic era. There have already been examples, as Assange continues, in which stories of scandals have slipped into the Orwellian “memory hole”. The protection of information against consolidated control is to make it public and to ensure that thousands of copies of that information can be found across the internet. By making information public, WikiLeaks says that it provides the tools that the public needs in order to hold its leaders accountable for their actions.

Julian Assange speaks at TED, July 2010 (TED, via YouTube)

In another speech at TED, Assange discusses some of the types of documents that WikiLeaks has released to the public, including the release of Collateral Murder (around 5:30). At one point, Assange makes a very intriguing statement, “Capable and generous men do not create victims, they nurture people.” This is hardly a statement by the vindictive radical of Fox News’ imaginings.

Listen to Assange discuss his own reaction to the video in the following video from an interview conducted by Al Jazeera. At not point does Assange attempt to hyperbolize what can be seen on the video screen.

Julian Assange discusses 'Collateral Murder' (Al Jazeera, via YouTube)

The Al Jazeera interview also includes commentary by Ivan Eland, a national security analyst from the Cato Institute (hardly an anti-military institution). Eland describes the actions from the lens of the military while Assange describes the situation from the perspective of the victims. Al Jazeera does a great job of showing similarities and dissonances between the two perspectives to give the viewer a rather impressive perspective of the incident in which American helicopter pilots gunned down a number of innocent bystanders. This is not the type of portrayal of the U.S. military that one sees in the United States. Rather, a better example of American portayal can be seen here:

Wolf Blitzer reports on 'Collateral Murder' (CNN, via YouTube)

CNN did not show the entire video. They did not mention that the “weapons” described by the helicopter pilots were actually cameras, but they did stop just before the helicopter opened fire and just after the letters “RPG” appear on the screen. The net effect of this editing is to give the viewer the impression that the helicopter pilots were in the right by defending themselves against a potential rocket propelled grenade attack. Wolf then cuts to Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, who touts the Pentagon’s line without question: That the people had been investigated and that no fault was found. Yet Starr never describes the extent of the investigation, nor does she comment on the rest of the video. She also propagates the lie that other troops were attacked nearby that day. Finally, the journalist Starr rather callously mentions that the deaths of these journalists can simply be added to the death toll of 129 to that point in the Iraq War.

So CNN all but asks the viewer not to worry, nothing to see here people… just journalists dying despite the fact that journalists are given legal protections even in war zones – protections that are never mentioned despite the large number of deaths of journalists by the U.S. military. That is the American mainstream media in a nutshell. When the need for information and transparency is palpable, CNN obscured the facts in order to provide the Pentagon a blanket of plausible deniability. Later, CNN posted an article online entitled “Secretive website WikiLeaks may be posting more U.S. military video”, a clear effort to discredit WikiLeaks without bringing any new information to the fore.

This is not to say that high-ranking officials should necessarily be charged with corruption because of the actions of much lower-ranking pilots. Nor does Assange make that case. However, the incident may certainly warrant a review of the specific ways in which loose rules of engagement may have resulted in the deaths of a number of innocent people that way. Perhaps there is a way to address civilian deaths that will heighten the safety for troops and civilians alike – neither we nor the Pentagon will know unless the matter is investigated and that will not happen unless there is public pressure to do so.

The added benefit for political leaders may be that after having encountered a number of incidents in which mistakes were made, the public may develop a more nuanced view regarding the myriad ways in which such unfortunate instances could happen. That may mean that the public could better differentiate between instances in which an undesirable outcome resulted from good-faith efforts, versus cases of corruption. The public would likely be more forgiving in the former cases, which could give politicians more latitude in their efforts to improve conditions at home as well. That is why there is a need to bring details about events like these to light.

More on the media perception of Assange

After the release of Collateral Murder and the release of Iraq and Afghanistan War documents, the line in the media became the accusation that Julian Assange and WIkiLeaks were attempting to attack U.S. national security. That is a charge that Julian Assange deftly handles here in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Anderson Cooper interviews Julian Assange (CNN, via YouTube)

After the release of the American diplomatic cables, Julian Assange was of course charged with sex crimes in Sweden and the timing is clearly suspicious. The American press wasted no time in ensuring that future interviews with Assange were about him rather than the information that he was attempting to present.

Increasingly, the theme in American media was about Julian Assange himself. For example, an October, 2010 interview with CNN avoided the contents of WikiLeaks releases, but rather focussed on Julian Assange’s personality and the early reports of allegations of rape. This led to Assange walking out of the interview while he was attempting to steer the interview back toward the contents of WikiLeaks’ latest document release.

A short time later, Assange related to Larry King why he had walked out of the interview, namely to ensure that media attention remains on the deaths of innocent victims during a time of war. When Daniel Ellsberg (the leaker of the Pentagon Papers) calls for an investigation over the matters that WikiLeaks released, Larry King called an end to the segment:

Larry King interviews Julian Assange and Daniel Ellsberg (CNN, via YouTube)

In January, CBS’ 60 Minutes did an interview with Assange in Britain at the location of his house arrest. You will find the entire interview is chock full of references to the “mysterious” “strange” or “enigmatic” Assange – but you will hear very few details regarding the actual contents of WikiLeaks releases. Interviewer Steve Kroft asks questions that essentially carry water for the Pentagon throughout the interview. Assange actually instructs Kroft on a number of points regarding the practice of journalism in Part I, as well as reminding Kroft of the importance of America’s First Amendment in his own work. Part II of the interview covers Assange’s past, with descriptions of his “frequently uprooted” childhood and his hacking activities. There are a number of great exchanges where Assange is able to directly respond to Pentagon and State Department accusations and he does it quite well.

60 Part I: Minutes interviews Julian Assange (CBS News)

Part II: 60 Minutes interviews Julian Assange (CBS News)

Unfortunately, 60 Minutes played the “enigmatic” angle heavily during its normal showtime, but Steve Kroft and the production staff do discuss (in rather surprising contrast) how they perceived Assange to be rather genuine in his beliefs and actions during their own reflections on 60 Minutes Overtime. And the disappointing dearth of information regarding WikiLeaks’ revelations is described in detail in an article by David Swanson.

How stark is the American media portrayal of Julian Assange? Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, it is possible to directly compare American interviews such as those by CBS and CNN with interviews by reporters from the Netherlands and Australia. Viewing the last two sample videos and the Al Jazeera interview earlier shows American just what they have been missing: A press that seeks to inform the public rather than to cover up excesses by the U.S. Government.

Without such transparency as that displayed by international news sources, it is unlikely that citizens of the United states will be able to ensure the safety of their own family members who are sent into harm’s way from the excesses of a national security state that creates an environment in which otherwise well-intentioned soldiers can become excited for the next kill. How much less violence might there have been in Iraq and how many fewer people – Iraqis and Americans alike – if the people in Iraq were not subject to such unfair rules of operation that ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ should be the rule of the day? That is, after all, what WikiLeaks claims to do: To provide the transparency required for citizens to make informed decisions on their own.

Now that you have finally seen the major players give their cases in their own words, you can finally decide for yourself: Is Julian Assange truly an ideological terrorist acting to destroy the United States, or is he facing attacks by the same people who profit from unceasing wars whose current estates are now jeopardized by WikiLeaks, or is there some other combination of factors taking place? How would one even be able to consider all of the possibilities, given American mainstream reporting alone? Now that you have seen actual details and reporting, you have the ability to decide for yourself.

Demonstrations under the Rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol (AP Photo)

Labor rights are coming to the fore in the United States as the Tea Party begins the work that Conservative corporations paid for in the November election to dismantle labor rights and privatize public services across the country. Nothing is to be left untouched, not even the children as Tea Partier and Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-of course) seeks to end her state’s prohibition on the employment of children under the age of 14. The full text of her bill can be found on the Missouri State Senate website but here is the Summary:

SB 222 – This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.

That’s right, underage children can work in hotels and motels – and they can be asked to work hours as late and long as the management deems fit – sounds like a great idea, right? Hey, when push comes to shove these are Republican family values. This kind of hypocrisy is not new. Find out how Republicans Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff supported the sex trade in the Northern Marianas Islands on NPR and at Tom Paine.com.

In Washington, the GOP is planning to limit the new Federal Consumer Protection Agency that is intended to protect people against predation by credit card companies, bad mortgages and other types of corporate fraud. Now why would anyone want to prevent the prevention of fraud? Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress estimates that Republican spending cuts will cost about 1 million jobs in 2011. “So be it,” says John Boehner. And Jon Stewart catches Republican Jeff Sessions in a little bit of budgetary hypocriscy.

Despite some small cuts to it, both Obama and the Republicans plan to significantly cut spending on social programs rather than the bloated military. Though some legislators are beginning to consider cuts to the roughly 1,000 military bases that the U.S. runs overseas. Yet the national security state is very…well…secure. Just ask Bradley Manning who has been kept in solitary confinement for months, without being allowed to exercise. The U.S. military is trying to get him to admit a connection to Julian Assange – if only Bradley would just say the words…

There is a political war on labor and public and regulatory institutions in the country. It is being financed by the Koch Brothers, who own Koch Industries. The Koch Brothers fund the Tea Party and they run astroturf campaigns to repeal the Clean Air Act, ending labor rights, and being rather heavy polluters, they are aiming to defund the EPA. They are a big reason why we have politicians like Michele Bachmann, who is currently at war with Michele Obama over breastfeeding. The Koch Brothers also make the claims of socialistic fascism through people like Glenn Beck. Are you a Commie-Nazi? And it is all possible because the Republicans already live rich fantasy lives.

Wrecking Democracy is big business. Learn more about the right-wing corporate groups who hire crazy people to talk about “death panels” and deny climate change while we should be discussing relevant issues.

By contrast: In Minnesota, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, a rather wealthy individual, has decided to balance the state budget by taxing wealthy Minnesotans. He is also planning to increase funding for K-12 education and to repay the loans the state took from schools under Republican Governor Pawlenty. Mark Dayton is also increasing the state’s Medicaid program by tapping federal money that Republican Pawlenty rejected. This will allow the state to save some money in health and human services.

But Minnesota has it’s share of kooks. Michele Bachmann refuses to acknowledge that President Obama is a U.S. Citizen and a Christian, even when asked directly by George Stephanopoulos. And Republican State Representative Mike Beard claims that Minnesota should resume coal mining because as he mentioned to MinnPost, “God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything.” That is right, Earth – a planet of finite size – has infinite resources because Mike Beard says that God says so. Mike Beard, another Tea Partier, has an opinion on the issue that is diametrically opposed to many who actually study the nature of the Universe, like Stephen Hawking.

In Uganda, where American Republican and Christian Conservative Operatives are funding and assisting the passage of that nation’s “Kill the gays” bill, the government is banning the use of words such as “Egypt”, “bullet”, “people power”, “teargas”, “army”, “Ben Ali”, “Tunisia”, “Mubarak” and several others ahead of the upcoming election. Meanwhile, clashes with police are increasing as protests continue in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. The U.S. State Department has called for restraint in the now violent Bahraini response to protests the the small island nation and home of a major U.S. naval base.

In health news, bad food makes you dumber according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Ancient Britons, hailing from an island not always renowned for its food, may have drunk from human skulls.

Oh, and on one final note: ‘Curveball’, the Iraqi informant used by the Bush Administration to sell the War in Iraq now claims that he lied to the Bush Administration about Weapons of Mass Destruction so that they would take out Saddam Hussein.