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Michael Ratner: Anniversary of King’s “Beyond Vietnam Speech” and release of Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who now joins us from New York City.

Michael is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He’s chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He’s also a board member of The Real News.

Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So what are you focusing on this week?

RATNER: Well, there’s a lot going on, everything from the hunger strike at Guantanamo. There are lots else to talk about.

But what was really meaningful for me this week was the anniversary of two events. One is the 46th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech at Riverside Church called “Beyond Vietnam”, in which he came out against the Vietnam War, and really much broader than that, a very important speech.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read vietnam.


And the third anniversary, on April 5, of the “Collateral Murder” video–that’s the release by WikiLeaks of a video that was given to them by Bradley Manning. It was then decrypted, or encryption was broken through, apparently, by WikiLeaks. And it’s a devastating video.

And those two documents really, even though they’re some 40-some years apart, are for me two of the most important documents of our time.

The King speech, again, given up at Riverside 46 years ago, a year to the day, April 4, before he was murdered, talks about Vietnam as a symptom of a far deeper malady. And King talks about the triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism. And he basically says, until we get rid of those, we will be marching against wars the rest of our lives, and our children will be marching against those wars as well. And it goes on in that vein. And it’s one of the most moving speeches that I know. It’s one that I recommend to everybody to listen to.

So when you think about that King speech and you think about the “Collateral Murder” video some 40 years later, 42 years when it was released, 43 years later, you say to yourself, not only has nothing changed, but conceivably it’s gotten worse. So here we are this week, April 5, the third anniversary of the “Collateral Murder” video.

Now, how that came about is important and what it says is important. It came about because a young private first class, Bradley Manning, serving in Iraq as an intelligence analyst hears talk about this video. He goes and looks at the video, and he sees this incredible–what he calls incredible blood lust by American soldiers killing civilians. And there’s some argument or discussion about it within his unit. And he sees that Reuters, who had two journalists killed, murdered in that video, has asked for a copy of the video, and the military has gotten back to Reuters and said, well, we can’t find it, etc. Yet this video is just floating around through this intelligent analyst unit in Iraq. So after viewing the video, Bradley Manning decides to upload it to WikiLeaks.

Like the King speech, it’s one that every single one of your viewers ought to look at, because it’s absolutely devastating. The story is there’s a open square in Baghdad, nothing much going on. You can see from the video it’s very clearly shot from the helicopter, people walking around, doing their business, no military by any appearance, just a calm scene. These two American helicopters, what Manning calls aerial gunships, with 30 millimeter cannons come across the scene, and they see these people walking around.

And two of the people walking around are Reuters journalists. Obviously, they don’t know that, but they think that they might be carrying guns or explosive devices. One, if you look at the video closely, clearly he has a camera around his shoulder. The other journalist, I don’t think he had anything particularly, maybe another camera or something.

And they ask for–and there are some other people around. And they ask for permission to engage. They get permission to engage. And then you see a video in which people are just slaughtered. It’s really–the best expression that I know is shooting ducks in a barrel. They’re sitting up there with clear vision, and they’re just firing these 30 millimeter cannons, devastating the whole place. When you see the picture afterwards, there’s this pool of blood that’s got to be 50 feet across and 20 feet wide.

And one thing we should mention is the two people killed. One is named Saeed Chmagh. He’s 40 years old. He had four children. One of the best journalists in Iraq. And there’s a picture that you see on the one that WikiLeaks prepared of this video of his son screaming, holding his father’s picture. The other journalist is a photographer, Namir Eldeen. Namir is a 22-year-old man, a war photographer, also slaughtered, slaughtered in this.

As I said, WikiLeaks obtained the video from Bradley Manning.

As I said, like shooting ducks in a barrel. And they keep shooting.

And after they kill at least eight of them, according to their own admission, from this helicopter, the language is what got Bradley Manning to say, I’m giving this video to WikiLeaks, because of what he said was blood lust. And here’s what he heard. The soldiers say, or the people, the shooters say, ha-ha, I hit him,–


U.S. SOLDIER: Oh, yeah. Look at that. Right through the windshield.


RATNER: –or, look at these dead bastards,–


U.S. SOLDIER: Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.


RATNER: –or good shooting. And they see a guy crawling, and they know they can’t just kill a guy crawling, so they just say, please, pick up a weapon so we can kill you, pick up a weapon.

Then, after they kill these eight, a van comes along, a big van, like a moving van, and they admit in the helicopter that’s watching them that they’ve gone to pick up the bodies. They say that to each other in these helicopters. And despite that, despite that, they ask permission to engage and shoot the van. And what happens? Can I shoot? Can I shoot, they keep saying. Let me shoot. Let us shoot.


U.S. SOLDIER: –to engage.

U.S. SOLDIER: [incompr.] pick up the wounded. Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage.

U.S. SOLDIER: Come on, let us shoot.


RATNER: And finally they get the order, engage. And they engage, and they fire at the van.

They then say–they look at the van afterwards. It stopped moving, obviously. They say, look at that, right through the windshield. And then, after they do that, the van is out there, all the dead people, the blood. And then they send one of the U.S. tanks or some kind of a U.S. vehicle there. And it’s so strewn with bodies that the vehicle can’t get through, so it drives over a body. And then the soldiers or the helicopter guys say, ha, look it, it drove over a body, and they all start to laugh.

That’s the video that people ought to see that Bradley Manning uploaded to WikiLeaks on this, the third anniversary of really the first major piece of what he would call the Bradley Manning set of documents that were released.

What Manning said in his guilty plea, quote: the most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful blood lust they appeared to have. And then he goes on. The dehumanized individuals were engaging. They seem not to value human life, by referring to them as, quote, “dead bastards” and congratulating each other.

So, in addition to the Reuters journalists killed, another eight are killed, and then the father of two children in the van is killed. He was going to pick up the bodies to help rescue people. The two children are wounded. They’re taken to a hospital. They aren’t taken to an American hospital where they might have received better care; they’re taken to an Iraqi hospital. They survive.

I talk about this really because here you have on one hand an amazing antiwar speech and an antiwar [incompr.] not just about a particular war, with Martin Luther King, but all wars.


KING: I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.


And here you have, 43 years later, war carried out at its worst in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and of course now by our president, also a Nobel Prize winner like Martin Luther King, but wars all over Somalia, Yemen, and the rest of the Middle East with drones. And really we have a very, very long way to go. But if I recommend two pieces for people to read on this week or hear and listen to, it’s Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and it’s the third anniversary of the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video.

JAY: It’s kind of a statement about the state of hypocrisy in American culture that you can have–I can’t remember the number, but I think it’s in the hundreds of cities that have streets named after Martin Luther King. You can have a statue erected to him in Washington. You can have volunteer days named, you know, that take place on the day commemorating him. But the same media and culture can simply accept these kinds of shootings that took place from these gunships.

RATNER: When Manning talked about it, he said, you know, you see a lot of what he calls video porn. And that’s right. They accept this, what has happened as a result of this, very little other than people being appalled. And it is an appalling video. And it is an incredible hypocrisy, that we can honor King in every city in America, including probably half the cities in Europe and otherwise, and yet so go against the fundamental things he stood for, not just about Jim Crow and ending segregation in the South, but about really ending militarism, ending racism, and ending what he calls, you know, exaggerated materialism [crosstalk]

JAY: And include in that now what will be the jailing of Manning for revealing all of this.

RATNER: Well, that’s what I was going to say. The people who revealed this are at the end of the gun of the United States. Bradley Manning is facing life in prison. He’s in a prison now. Julian Assange is in the Ecuadorian embassy. Jeremy Hammond, who also allegedly uploaded documents to WikiLeaks, he’s in prison a few blocks from my house, a metropolitan correctional center. And many others of these truth-tellers have been sent to prison. These truth-tellers in my view and the publishers are heroes, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at any of our media. Martin Luther King is correctly a hero, but they certainly don’t listen to his message.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Michael.

RATNER: Good to be with you again, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America, and Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.

NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.