Chris Hedges: Why I Resigned from PEN
Chris Hedges: Suzanne Nossel, new head of PEN – which is supposed to defend human rights – supported war in Iraq and advocates use of military force in the name of democracy, lock step with Obama admin. wars in Afghanistan, drone attacks and more
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
In May, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges was supposed to be speaking at an event for PEN. Instead, he told them he would not be speaking there and actually resigned from the organization.
Now joining us to talk about why he took these steps is Chris Hedges. As I said, he’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He’s a senior fellow at The Nation. He was, previously to that, bureau chief of The New York Times in the Middle East. He’s also author of a New York Times bestseller, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.
Thanks very much for joining us, Chris.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: So what happened?
HEDGES: Well, it was over the appointment of a former State Department official named Suzanne Nossel, who had been one of the most fervent cheerleaders for the Iraq War, indeed had written in support of the war in Foreign Affairs, had embraced the administration’s policy, whether that’s drone attacks, the assassination of U.S. citizens, the curtailment of civil liberties, had not spoken out against torture. She had left the State Department. She had worked for Hillary Clinton and then gone on to Amnesty International, where she used the resources of Amnesty International to mount a campaign in support of NATO’s continued occupation of Afghanistan. She held a kind of a shadow summit when NATO met in Chicago, and invited Madeleine Albright with a bunch of other former officials to speak, and locked out antiwar dissidents like Colonel Ann Wright, Coleen Rowley, and others.
And then she moves on to PEN. And PEN is a global organization like Amnesty International that purports to speak on behalf of dissidents. PEN has refused to raise their voice against the draconian incarceration methods used against Bradley Manning. Indeed, they don’t even mention Bradley Manning.
And that was just, for me, too much. I couldn’t be part of this festival in May, nor finally could I continue as a member of PEN if they were going to appoint somebody who in my mind has amply demonstrated utter disdain for all the core values that a group like PEN says it defends.
JAY: And was there a fight in PEN about her appointment?
HEDGES: I’m not in the, you know, upper echelon of PEN to be able to answer that. One would hope there was. This was a long track record of and embrace of preemptive war, which of course under international law is illegal, and utter failure to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, including on the Palestinians. She’s been nothing but a cheerleader for the right-wing Israeli onslaught against the Palestinians. But I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe the board is that checked out that there wasn’t a fight.
JAY: Talk a little bit about what this ideology is. And what I mean by that, and some people call it humanitarian imperialism, but this whole outlook that it’s almost like any means is okay if you get to some theoretical end, which is supposedly democracy, although I’m not sure where they would point to where such means ever led to that end. But they seem to believe it.
HEDGES: Well, it’s the white man’s burden. You know, it comes with a healthy or a hefty dose of racism, a belief that we can impose our values, which are of course deemed to be superior to the values of all other cultures, by using the 101st Airborne to cement those values in place. I mean, I speak as somebody who spent 20 years as a war correspondent. And the whole idea that you can begin to even use the word human rights when you are employing the kinds of weapons systems–and I think if you haven’t been around these weapons systems, it’s very hard to convey the utterly destructive power. I mean, Hellfire missiles not only throw out fragments that kill, you know, everyone in a radius upwards of half a mile, but they suck the oxygen out of the air. I mean, oftentimes people are just–there’s no actual marks on their body. They’ve suffocated to death. And cruise missiles, 90 millimeter tank rounds, I mean, these are massive ordinances. And at that point, you know, you can’t use industrial military power to impose human rights. And Afghanistan and Iraq are perfect examples of that.
But this kind of beknighted imperialism, that’s not particularly new. King Leopold did it in the Congo. You know, we have done it around the globe in the name of democracy and freedom and liberty, all these abstract terms that when you’re actually on the ground in places like El Salvador, Nicaragua–I covered both of those wars–it’s absurd if not finally obscene.
And she’s part of this long tradition, believes that we have a right to use our overwhelming military force to occupy, control, invade other countries in the name of our values. And as someone, of course, who’s spent many years, two decades, on the outer regions of empire, you know, Conrad got it in Heart of Darkness: it’s the horror, the horror. These people do not want to be occupied. This–you know, Muslims in the Middle East do not want to be occupied, and they are resisting that occupation. And the methods by which that occupation is cemented into place and that resistance is crushed are extremely brutal and violent and cruel and unjust. And she offers a kind of moral veneer for, in my mind, you know, a deeply immoral project. And the idea–I mean, she has no right or no business running any human rights organization. [crosstalk] into these organizations is just a sign of how corrosive this neoliberal ideology has become.
JAY: What reaction have you had from PEN?
HEDGES: They haven’t reacted. I don’t think they’ll lose too much sleep over my resignation.
JAY: They seem to have someone who agrees more or less with this outlook sitting as president of the United States right now. He seems to have made several appointments of people who share this kind of outlook, Susan Rice and others. Do you see any distinction between what this new PEN leader thinks with the leader of America?
HEDGES: No. She’s completely in lockstep with this entire project. And that’s why she was working for the administration. And again it’s this kind of odd revolving door. I mean, we see it in the military and the quote-unquote defense industry. But now we’re seeing it from government officials, who push through these policies and refuse to stand up against or to protect the most basic of human rights, including right to trial, freedom from torture, moving into human rights organizations, the hijacking of human rights organizations to promote imperial projects. And, again, that’s not new. The misuse of humanitarian agencies is not new. But what’s disturbing is that these people are now–are running them.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Chris.
HEDGES: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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