Assange Arrested for Exposing U.S. War Crimes – Paul Jay
Friday, April 12, 2019
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us once again.
As we all know by now, Julian Assange was kicked out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and then arrested, and has been indicted by the U.S. government for allegedly helping Chelsea Manning to crack a password code on a Defense Department computer to unearth restricted classified documents. That took place in 2010.
As Assange was being hauled out of the Ecuadorian Embassy he was holding in his hand a book, a copy of Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State. That’s a collection of interviews he did with Paul Jay, CEO and editor-in-chief here at The Real News Network. And there really is a critical juncture between the book and Assange’s arrest that involves the role of the national security state in our country. So, Paul Jay, welcome to your own network.
PAUL JAY: Well, it’s not my network. I work for this network.
MARC STEINER: I couldn’t resist. Anyhow.
Obviously the first question here is we were all looking at this and saying, “We know that book. Why is he holding that book? What is he trying to tell the world and us holding this book by Gore Vidal on the national security state?” What were your first thoughts, and what do you think that meant, if anything?
PAUL JAY: Well, I think it was deliberate, obviously. He’s known that he was going to be arrested for quite some time, and certainly in the last couple of days it was just a question of when. So I mean, I’ve never met or talked to Julian. But I’m assuming he did it with some intent. And I think it’s to send the message that this is the national security state that has come for him, and that the national security state is a dangerous thing for people and they should be aware of it.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind here is just what he’s been arrested for; this alleged collusion, if you want to use the word, with Chelsea Manning to leak the various reams of information that Chelsea Manning leaked. They’re claiming he crossed the line in helping to create a password–crack a password–which a journalist is only supposed to receive the information, not in any way collaborate. I have no idea whether Julian did or didn’t do what they’re alleging. But I think a far more important thing is being lost in, so far, most of the media coverage I’ve seen of this arrest, which is they exposed war crimes; they being Julian, Chelsea Manning. They exposed American war crimes in Iraq. And of course there’s this famous footage of a helicopter essentially murdering people as they walk across a square in–I guess it’s Baghdad. But we know in that story that not only did they kill the people in the original video, but they go ahead and strafe a van where there were children in it. And that was just a tip of the iceberg of the kind of war crimes being committed by the United States in Iraq.
And most importantly, what should be discussed again at this moment is that the war itself was a war crime. It was an illegal war. It was not sanctioned by the United Nations. The United States did not face a threat of imminent attack by Iraq, which is the only justification for war. These types of wars of aggression–and it’s clear it was a war of aggression. There was no weapons of mass destruction, and the UN inspectors were all saying so. The Nuremberg trials, they put the Nazis on trial. And it was said at the time and it’s been said since it’s the highest form of war crime, an aggressive war.
So what did WikiLeaks, what did Julian Assange, what did Chelsea Manning do? They exposed war crimes. So whether it may have technically broken an American law or not, if there’s ever going to be democracy, there better be whistleblowers. And the fact that the Obama administration and now the Trump administration, the deep state is going after whistleblowers–and particularly the most well known other than Snowden, Assange–is to send a message. And it comes at a very critical time when I think the Trump administration is planning for some kind of attack on Iran; certainly massive economic destabilization. And who knows what other nefarious things they are planning.
So it’s not just an attack on press freedom, which it is. It’s not just a way to intimidate journalists and news organizations from accepting leaked material, which it is. But it’s saying even if you’re exposing war crimes, we’re coming after you. And the corporate media is ignoring the whole substance of what was done by Chelsea and Julian.
MARC STEINER: So as we talk about the corporate media–let’s for a moment play this clip from MSNBC that kind of, I think, will describe the tenor of how the corporate media is going to follow this particular case, and some of the things they may be saying. Let’s take a look at it and kind of figure out what they’re saying here and how this fits into the whole thing.
SPEAKER: Yes. WikiLeaks began as a transparency organization. And at the time WikiLeaks was viewed as sort of an independent organization basically holding governments accountable. But over the years it became clear that WikiLeaks was growing ever closer to Russia and that all the leaks seemed to go in one direction. There were, there were never leaks that criticized authoritarian governments; only the West and the United States. And at some point the U.S. government, even during the Obama administration, began concluding that WikiLeaks was essentially acting as an arm of Russian intelligence. And then you get to the election. WikiLeaks was the recipient of leaked, hacked Democratic emails. And we’ll all remember that Donald Trump cited WikiLeaks more than 130 times during the campaign because they were publishing DNC emails that were embarrassing to the Democrats. They were clearly helping with this Russian election interference effort. And then the U.S. intelligence community weighed in and said that was not by accident.
MARC STEINER: So this is, I think, how part of the establishment media is going to play this and the Russian connection, that they’re going to push very hard in all of this with Assange. And it’s–and that will muddy the waters. Well, let me just stop there, before I get to the next question.
So I think–so what becomes incumbent on the rest of the media to talk about in light of this, this mass media push?
PAUL JAY: Well, it’s a complete and utter distraction. The whole Russia thing is a complete and utter distraction from the real crimes of the Trump administration. We’ve been saying this over and over again. The Russiagate–this whole raising as a significant issue some perhaps minor meddling in the 2016 elections as a distraction, because it plays into the hands of certain Democrats, Democratic Party, corporate Democrats people call them, the media, to kind of dredge up the demons and ghosts of the Cold War, and actually run to the right of Trump. Like, oh, we’re bigger Cold Warriors than you are; we’re more militarist than you are. In fact it’s not true. Trump is very much a militarist.
But the–but it’s a complete distraction from the specific case as well, because as I just said, this isn’t about Russia. It’s not about hacking Clinton emails. If that’s what it’s about, charge him with that. But he’s not charged with anything to do with the current controversies. He’s charged with working with Chelsea Manning, I’ll say it again, to expose war crimes. So, you know, everything else is just a complete rhetorical, partisan, hysterical response. Russia, no Russia, it’s irrelevant. Do you have the right to expose war crimes as a journalist? Do you have a responsibility? That’s the only issue here.
MARC STEINER: So what he’s being charged with, clearly it has nothing to do with Russia or what people think he did or did not do when it comes to working with Russia in terms of WikiLeaks and the exposure of of Hillary Clinton’s emails. But the issue is that he’s being charged with hacking, which is–that in itself is a crime, if they go after him for that, A. B, so the question is there’s that, and there’s also what might have been at work here we’re not seeing, and why this happened now. I mean, because what he was really hiding from in the Ecuadorian Embassy was not showing up in court for being–to be put on trial in Sweden on rape charges. So he now faces 12 months in English prison, and be extradited to Sweden, too, if they go after him, as well as being extradited to the United States. So what’s at work here?
PAUL JAY: The timing, one can speculate. I think it’s a few things. Recently WikiLeaks exposed the president of Ecuador having some shady bank accounts and involved in some corruption. Moreno. And clearly Moreno is not the same kind of politics as Correa, the previous president, who was willing to stand up to the Americans on various things. This new president is not. And he’s joined in on the attack on isolation of Venezuela, and he’s trying to cozy up to the Trump administration. So he has his own motives. Why should I protect Julian Assange when Wikileaks is exposing some of the corruption in Ecuador? As well as to curry favor with the Americans. Why not? He’s got no love for Assange. So that’s the–there may be more to the Ecuadorian side of the story. But as far as what’s in the public domain, that makes some certain amount of sense.
Why the Americans are pushing it now is partly, I would guess, part of a process. They’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time, and now Ecuador is willing to, for its own reasons. Now, there is some speculation that they want to try to get hold of Assange and push him on the narrative of Trump collaborating with Russia. Politico had a story about that today, that the–you know, the deep state, or the state, Mueller kind of forced this, they want to see if they can still make this collusion case. It’s possible. This whole idea that WikiLeaks is an arm of Russia I think is nonsense. The fact that the accusation that they never publish stuff against authoritarian regimes is not true. They’ve published stuff about Saudi Arabia. They’ve published stuff about Russia, exposing various things in Russia.
But if they expose more about the United States, duh, you think it’s possible because the United States commits more crimes than anywhere else? I mean, maybe because the United States is the global hegemon, and tries to dominate the world with what is it, 800, 900 military bases? A military budget more than the rest of the world put together. So yeah, you know, if you’re going to be in this exposé business it’s not hard a big stretch of the imagination that the United States is going to get most of it. And it’s also funny they say WikiLeaks doesn’t go after authoritarian regimes. Well, most of the authoritarian regimes–not all, but most in the world–are supported by the United States. So the hypocrisy here is too rich.
MARC STEINER: So I mean, if and when he gets extradited to the United States, what he’ll be charged with, clearly, is this hacking, if that happens. I mean, to me I think one of the biggest dangers here–and I’m curious your thoughts on this–and he may have to go to Sweden before he gets the United States, because they clearly want him there, before the statute of limitations runs out in Sweden on rape, and that will take place in 2020. So there’s gonna be a battle taking place over who gets Assange first.
PAUL JAY: It’s not clear that–first of all, let’s be clear about the Swedish case. There are allegations he has denied. The Swedish authorities wanted to interview him and made a big stink about wanting to interview him. But he offered to be interviewed in the Ecuadorian Embassy. And over and over again the Swedes refused to do it. They made the issue he has to come to Sweden, he has to leave the safety of the Ecuadorian Embassy. And there’s absolutely no reason they couldn’t have gone to the embassy and interviewed him. So as far as where the Swedish case is right now, the latest I saw, it’s unclear whether they are going to try to reassert themselves.
MARC STEINER: Well, we don’t know if they’re going to do that or not. But they could very well do that. But the question is that it seems to be the biggest issue here is the United States is using this this alleged hacking and in collusion with–for want of a better term–with Chelsea Manning is one more way to silence the press, one more way to stop journalists doing their investigative work in a democracy, or in a democratic situation. And so it seems to me this is the clearest danger here of what a national security state is doing, to silence people who are whistleblowers as well as those who would expose atrocities that take place by our government. That to me that is one of the biggest dangers.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think that that is the biggest issue of the whole arrest. As I said, we’re heading into an extremely dangerous period, the lead up to the 2020 elections. Massive investment in the military budget. But most recently, the Trump administration naming the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, calling them terrorists.
MARC STEINER: Right.
PAUL JAY: This is something that was tried in 2007 with something called the Kyl Lieberman amendment. aAnd a lot of Democrats voted for it. Although some significant ones didn’t vote for it, including Biden and Obama. Hillary Clinton did. But it was said at the time that that is a step–in fact, it was a Democratic senator who said this–it’s a step towards the military option with Iran. Because once you say the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are terrorists, well, they’re part of the armed forces of the government of Iran. So you’re, you know, one micro hair away from saying that the government of Iran is a terrorist organization. Which means not only can nobody in the world do any business with Iran, but you can’t even negotiate. You know, you’re almost left with only a military option.
And people like John Bolton, the national security adviser for Trump, and others, Pompeo and other people around Trump, and Trump himself, and certainly Steve Bannon, they wanted to go after Iran from day one of this presidency. And a lot of crap is going to come out. Look at the lies that we’re told in the lead up to the war in Iraq. We are going to see the same kind of lies unfold at a super scale towards as they try to destabilize and bring down the government of Iran.
And this is a shot across the bow there, as well. You journalists, you leakers, you better be careful. Because if we can get Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy we can get anybody. And that’s no doubt part one of the reason is to create a real chill. And not just in a generalized way, but as we head into a very dangerous period in history.
MARC STEINER: That makes our job here at The Real News and other places, and places like Real News, all the more important to not let this happen.
PAUL JAY: Let me just add one other thing about why he’s carrying that book. Just to give a little background. Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State is, as you said, a series of interviews I did with him back in 2007. And at the core of the formation of the national security state–and this is done under Truman, a Democrat–is the underlying narrative that the Soviet Union was an existential military threat to the United States. Now, Soviet Union a lot of people thought was some form of socialism. And you can debate, you know, what you think of that form of socialism. But certainly in 1945-1946 and into the ’50s the Soviet Union was very popular in the world. The Soviet Union had broken the back of Hitler. The Soviet Union was recovering from terrible destruction. There seemed to be full employment and healthcare and so on and so on.
So you know, the sort of viciousness of the Soviet state domestically, it was known. It came to be better known after 1956 in what was called the Khrushchev revelations, and so on. The terror of the Stalin government, and so on. So yeah, ideologically the Soviet Union was a threat. Because socialism versus capitalism. But it was not a military threat. And that was bullshit that the American intelligence agencies, the governments, knew. You watch my series of interviews with Daniel Ellsberg, and it became clear to him–and he had access to a high level intelligence–that the Soviet Union had zero plans to invade Western Europe, the justification for NATO. The Soviet Union had zero plans to use nuclear weapons as blackmail or a threat to assert some kind of global presence. Global domination. The Soviet Union was in a defensive posture.
And the same is true today. Whatever you make of Putin domestically, whatever you make of Russia domestically, you can argue that, you could debate it. There is zero evidence that Russia is trying to project global power in a way that threatens the people of the United States. Yes, is Russia projecting regional power? Sure. So is China. And what mid to big capitalist size country wouldn’t? Only the United States is projecting global power. But it’s not a military threat. And this whole underlying thesis of Russiagate, the Russians are destroying democracy and all of this, this minor meddling is raised to such a level because the military industrial complex and sections of the corporate Democratic Party that have been hawkish, militarist and hawkish from the days of Truman, they need this narrative. It justifies their whole outlook on the global affairs.
MARC STEINER: We don’t have time to get into it today, obviously, in this conversation. I agree, I mean, Russia was never a military threat to the United States in that sense of starting a war and going after Western Europe. And that clearly was not going to happen. But the United States and world capital, period, saw the Soviet Union as a threat because they were supporting revolutionary movements across the globe.
PAUL JAY: That’s what it was really about.
MARC STEINER: That was the real threat. And you had 1.3 billion people from Addis Ababa to Shanghai that were living in communist nations. That was the threat they saw. And they played it off as a threat about a major world war, which allowed the U.S. to build their military. But I mean, I think it’s–anyway.
PAUL JAY: I mean, I agree with that. But just–the point here is that you blame the Russians no matter what the heck is going on. And now, as I say, the real issue of this current arrest of Assange, this is the national security state asserting itself, which is why I think he’s carrying the book around, and it’s a coverup for more crime.
MARC STEINER: Well, I’m glad he was carrying the book around. Maybe people will read it. So, Paul Jay, this has been a pleasure. See you back in Baltimore. Thanks so much for taking the time out in New York.
PAUL JAY: All right, thanks for doing it.
MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here at The Real News Network in Baltimore. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.