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How does war impact people who believe in it?
What does it do to people who live through it?
How does it feel to begin to doubt it?
This play is a flood of sensations streaming out of the madness of militarism half-aware of itself.
"I'm going to create a Sanctuary, a place inside myself first where I tell the truth," says a character toward the end, as if telling the truth to others openly would be a difficult, second step to someday follow telling the truth to oneself.
For how many people is that true?
How many of them might it help to hear someone else tell the truth in a room of someone elses listening and appreciating?
Kevin Gosztola is a journalist for Firedoglake.com and co-host of the weekly podcast radio show, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He regularly covers whistleblowing, secrecy and WikiLeaks. He extensively covered the court martial of Chelsea Manning and co-authored Truth and Consequences: The US v. Private Manning with The Nation's Greg Mitchell. He discusses recent FBI arrests of alleged supporters of ISIS, the imprisonment of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, and the harassment of WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum.
If you'd like to write to Jeffrey Sterling, write to
Jeffrey Sterling, 38338-044
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
9595 WEST QUINCY
AVELITTLETON, CO 80123
He can receive letters and cards only. Anything else is considered contraband and will be confiscated. All incoming correspondence is reviewed. It is important that all content be of an uplifting nature as any disparaging comments about the government, the trial or any peoples involved will have negative consequences for Jeffrey.
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Vincent Bugliosi, generally noted as the prosecutor of Charles Manson and author of Helter Skelter, is dead.
Vince had a remarkable skill as a prosecutor and a public speaker. He could be very persuasive. He could set aside everything but the most critical piece of information and then hammer at that piece like a sculptor. In doing so he could reach a wide audience in a persuasive manner without unnecessarily putting anyone off.
Bugliosi fit the profile of a whistleblower. He had long been part of the establishment. He prosecuted criminals. He wrote best-selling books defending insider opinion, claiming Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, O.J. Simpson was guilty, etc. He believed that before George W. Bush no president had ever lied about a war. He believed the U.S. government generally meant well. He considered agnosticism wiser than atheism, because who knows, there could be a god, how can you prove there isn't? He considered revenge an enlightened emotion. In other words, Bugliosi was a reluctant radical.
He had written a condemnation of the Supreme Court's selection of George W. Bush for the White House. How was he to know that speaking further truth about that same individual would meet a brick wall of bipartisan contempt? He didn't know. He was used to being on television when he published a new book. He was used to glowing reviews, or at least reviews, in major newspapers. But most major newspapers didn't mention Bugliosi's book on prosecuting Bush for the war on Iraq until Bugliosi died this week. The New York Times had run an article on the lack of coverage, but not provided any coverage.
Bugliosi was shut out by corporate power when he suggested prosecuting a president for launching a war (and laid out a powerful legal argument for doing so). It was, in his view, a very mainstream American argument against a brand new horror never seen on the face of the earth before. He said not a word about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who had been murdered; it wasn't part of his legal case on which he focused like a laser. He argued for the prosecution of Bush for the murder of U.S. troops sent to Iraq and killed there. Bugliosi explained:
"A robber, for instance, was convicted of first degree murder under the felony-murder rule where, as he was leaving the store in which he had robbed the owner, he told the owner not to say a word or he'd be harmed, and fired into the ceiling to scare the owner. The shot, after two or three ricochets, pierced the head of the owner, killing him. In fact, the felony-murder rule applies even where the defendant is not the killer! There have been cases where the proprietor of the store fired at a robber, missed him and hit and killed a customer. And the robber was convicted of first degree murder of the customer."
Legally, it's unusual. Morally, it's grotesque. Effectively, it would have ended U.S. wars, prevented the creation of ISIS, left Honduras and Ukraine with their elected governments, kept new bases out of the Philippines, Japan, Guam, Australia, and two dozen African Nations, allowed Libya to live, allowed recovery to begin in Afghanistan, prevented the drone wars that President Obama created in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, and the subsequent Saudi destruction of Yemen, halted shipments of U.S. weapons to Israel, Egypt, and countless Clinton-donor nations, quite possibly spared Gaza two serious attacks, and conceivably have created the momentum to prosecute torture and other lesser crimes rather than continuing the charade of re-banning it over and over.
But none of that was to be. Bugliosi was abandoned by the Democrats who didn't want Bush prosecuted. Bugliosi was forsaken by the corporate media that didn't want war questioned. Bugliosi was ostracized by his own people: prosecutors. He asked for one prosecutor in any place in the U.S. from which a U.S. troop had been sent to Iraq to die. He volunteered to assist that prosecutor for free. Not a single one could be found willing to even try.
But Vince made new friends, used alternative media, spoke to peace groups, created a best-seller without any help from corporate media, and produced an independent film about the process. He was a man who had, no doubt, long found anger useful in his work, and I think he began to grow a little more angry all the time. I don't think he stopped believing in the founding fathers, the American way, or the value of the "good" wars. But he acquired a little bitterness. He lashed out at people who protested torture, when war was what needed protesting.
And he had a point there. He always had a point. He was perhaps the most skilled person alive at having a point, and now he's gone. And now his powerful voice is only in that film and that book and the amateur videos filmed at countless events. He has our gratitude and respect. He will be deeply missed in a way that thousands of authors and prosecutors sitting right now on their plump posteriors will never be.
Exposing Lies of Empire by Andre Vltchek is an 800-page tour of the world between 2012 and 2015 without a Western tour guide. It ought to make you spitting-mad furious, then grateful for the enlightenment, and then ready to get to work.
The 4% of us humans who have grown up in the United States are taught that our government means well and does good. As we begin to grasp that this isn't always so, we're duly admonished that all governments do evil -- as if we were being simplistic and self-centered to blame Washington for too much.
But take this tour of the world with out nationless friend Andre. We see U.S. medical troops operating on Haitian civilians in the most unsafe conditions, while proper facilities nearby sit unused; these troops are practicing for battlefield surgeries. We see millions slaughtered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at U.S. instigation and with U.S. support. We see U.S. militarism inflicting immeasurable suffering in Somalia. We witness the U.S. training and arming in Turkey of troops from around the Middle East to be sent into Syria to attempt to overthrow another government. We follow the horrors that U.S.-driven militarism, capitalism, and racism have brought to Indonesia, as well as Colombia, the Philippines, and locations around the globe. We investigate the ongoing state of disaster in Iraq and Libya, even the everlasting crisis created by the long-forgotten U.S. war on Panama, and for that matter the ongoing injustice of the century-old German genocide in today's Namibia. We meet the people of occupied Okinawa, and the people of the rest of Asia who view theirs as an evil island hosting threatening U.S. troops. We examine the crushing of popular movements in Egypt, the corruption of four "anchor nations" in four U.S.-created regions of Africa, and the imposition of violent coups in Central America and Ukraine.
Some of us occasionally hear about polls such as Gallup's at the end of 2013 which found that most nations surveyed believed the United States to be the greatest threat to peace on earth. But many Americans must believe such results are mistakes, and must not find any cause for concern when Gallup chooses never again to ask that question.
Do other nations do evil as well, including nations not put up to it by the United States? Of course, but the blaming of other governments for their human rights abuses is both odd for Americans and beside the point. It's odd because the United States imprisons more people than any other country. Its police kill more people. It tortures. It executes. And it funds, arms, trains, and legally supports numerous dictators who engage in every outrage yet conceived. It's beside the point because the greatest evil underway is U.S. imperialism, as imposed by the U.S. military, State Department, banks, corporations, bribes, spies, propaganda, movies, and television shows. It kills directly and indirectly, it impoverishes, disempowers, humiliates, and impedes inconceivable potential for progress.
We can stand with the resisters and victims of injustice in any nation. But that shouldn't stop us from appreciating the handful of nations that resist U.S. domination. And it certainly can't justify accepting as enemies those nations that are resisting the greatest evil on earth. Nor should it excuse inaction. We live in a society of selfish inaction, of self-indulgence, of self-centeredness, of criminally negligent cruelty toward the majority of people on earth. Many Americans don't think so, of course, don't mean so, don't wish it so. Wars are imagined as philanthropy for their victims. But their victims don't see it that way. Only a small number of collaborators adapt that perspective. When I give speeches in person or through media in the U.S., I'm not asked "How can we support resisters in South Korea?" or for that matter North Korea, nearly so often as I'm asked "How did you become an activist?" as if it were a bizarre decision, or "How do you keep optimistic?" as if I have time for giving a fuck whether I ought to be optimistic or not, as if there weren't a crisis calling for all hands on deck.
What has been done to our minds?
"If in thousands of brainless Hollywood films," Vltchek writes, "millions of people continuously vanish, victims of mutants, robots, terrorists, giant insects or microorganisms invading the earth, then the public becomes hardened, and 'well prepared for the worst.' Compared to those horrors of pseudo-reality, the real agony of millions of men, women, and children in places like Iraq, Libya, or Afghanistan appear to be quite insignificant."
". . . No other system has spilled more blood; no other system plundered more resources and enslaved more people, than the one we are told to describe in lofty and benign terms like 'Western parliamentary democracy.'"
It's a system that has built in acceptance of whatever it produces. "'Politics is boring' is one of the main messages we are encouraged to spread around. Because people are not expected to mingle in 'what is not their business'. Ruling the world is reserved for corporations and a few gangsters with excellent PR. The voters are there only to give legitimacy to the entire charade."
At one point, Vltchek remarks that at best Westerners demand higher wages for themselves. Are we to understand the labor movement and liberalism to be selfish? Wouldn't a better distribution of wealth mean a better distribution of power and consequently perhaps a less evil foreign policy? Is the politics of Bernie Sanders who wants the wealthy taxed but hardly acknowledges the existence of the Pentagon just incomplete, or is it viciously self-indulgent? And when Americans do notice wars and make noise about how many schools or roads they could have had in their town instead of a particular war, is that enlightened or blinkered?
Well, the main thing the United States does as a society, its largest public project, is the mass killing of foreigners, the preparation for more of it, and the manufacture and sale of weapons with which they can kill each other. Millions of lives could be spared by ending this project, and tens of millions saved by redirecting even a bit of the money into useful areas. Permitting others to proceed on their own could work further miracles. We can't continue to survive U.S. militarism economically, governmentally, morally, environmentally, or in terms of the growing risk of widespread and nuclear war. We are, most of us, well off compared with much of the world, even as the concentration of wealth in the hands of our billionaires disgusts us. And a lot of our wealth is stripped out of the natural and human resources of the other 96%. How dare we talk about solidarity and justice while confining our morality and our politics within arbitrary political and militarized borders!
Europe comes in for criticism as severe as that Vltchek bestows on the United States. And he faults U.S. Europhiles for misplacing their affections: "That famed 'social system' is built on the enslavement of colonized peoples; it is built on the unimaginable horrors visited on those hundreds of millions of men, women, and children who were slaughtered mercilessly by colonial European powers. . . . To admire it is like admiring some brutish thuggish oligarch who has amassed huge wealth by extortion and open plunder, built a gigantic palace and provided his family or his village with free medical care, education, some theaters, libraries, and parks. . . . How many Asian and African families have to starve, in order to have some early-retired, still strong, German man or woman farting deep holes into his or her sofa, immobilized in front of the television set?"
Now it is possible to admire Europe's healthcare system over the U.S. sickcare system, as the former provides more for less by cutting out the corrupt for-profit insurance companies. But the larger point remains: much of the world lacks good healthcare and could easily have it for what the West spends on inventing new ways to murder.
One element of Western culture that comes in for particular blame is Christianity: "Were Christianity to be a political party or a movement, it would be condemned, banned and declared to be the most brutal creation of humanity." Does that mean that someone who actively resists imperialism does harm in being Christian? Not in a simple way, I think. But it does mean that they are supporting a religion that has managed over the centuries to align itself with racism and militarism with incredible consistency, as Vltchek documents.
On this global voyage we encounter Western writers who claim to have nothing to write about, and artists who paint abstract frivolity for lack of any political inspiration. Vltchek points us in several directions for where inspiration ought to be found and whom we ought to be joining with and supporting. He finds resistance alive and well in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, China, Russia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Iran -- as well as in the BRICS alignment of nations (Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa, and less-so: India; Vltchek hopes that Indonesia and Turkey can be kept out of BRICS). He finds a burst of possibility in the development of Russia's RT, Venezuela's TeleSur, and Iran's Press TV. He doesn't discuss how well these new media outlets cover their own nations, but that's not the point. They cover U.S. politics without bowing down before it.
"Entire modern and ecological neighborhoods are growing up all over China; entire cities are being built, with enormous parks and public exercise grounds, with childcare centers and all the modern sanitation facilities, as well as wide sidewalks and incredibly cheap and super modern public transportation. In Latin America, former slums are being converted into cultural centers." This and nothing else makes China, like Venezuela, a "threat" to U.S. "national security."
Does that begin to sound insane?
Vltchek translates a statement from U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, as an example of how insane U.S. propaganda is: "Bashar al-Assad, we helped to create ISIS in order to overthrow you . . . . Now we hold you responsible for not managing to destroy our offspring . . . . Therefore we are going to bomb your country, kill thousands of your people, and possibly overthrow you in the process."
Vltchek quite reasonably traces the creation of violent Islam to British support for Wahhabis and U.S. support for what would become Al Qaeda in the 1980s, followed up by U.S.-led wars and the arming and training of fighters to attack Syria. Of course, U.S. wars against U.S. creations are nothing new (Saddam Hussein and Muamar Gadaffi being recent examples from a long list of pet dictators fallen from grace).
One complaint with Vltchek (other than the need for a native-English editor for the book's preface) is his lack of explicit advocacy for the powerful tools of nonviolence that Erica Chenoweth's study found more likely to succeed than violence. Vltchek throws in a few vague romanticized references to "force" as what's needed: "Fascism will be fought. Humanity will be defended! By reason or by force. . . ." And: "Let us do it by reason and by force!" And: "The West is increasingly acting as a Nazi entity, and one does not do 'peaceful protests' in front of the Reichstag, when flames are consuming the world, when millions are being murdered!" Actually 1933 would have been an excellent time for nonviolent noncompliance with Nazism, which would have displayed its then-little-known powers even more powerfully than did the women in Rosenstrasse 10 years later.
Vltchek also urges us to be less "fussy" about picking our allies in resistance to U.S. empire. I think that's good advice when not combined with the previous references to "force," as the combination would seem to support the idiocy of running off and joining ISIS. That's not a way to resist the war machine, which created the conditions for ISIS, armed and trained fighters knowing something like ISIS was likely to emerge, and attacked knowing what its attacks would do for ISIS recruitment. The war machine is hell-bent on World War III, thriving on a culture in absolute love with World War II.
As decent Israelis should support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against their horrible government, decent Americans should support the same against theirs, and join the nonviolent and creative global resistance from within the brain of the beast.
We would know much less about what our governments do were it not for those who are part of our governments until something becomes too horrible for their moral threshold, and who see a means available to inform the public. What this fact says about the proportion of governmental activity that is shameful is worth considering.
Whistleblowers in general have the broad support of the public. Even their biggest enemies got into office by falsely promising to defend and honor them. But individual whistleblowers are often effectively demonized by the corporate media while being persecuted and prosecuted by the government they have assisted.
There may be something of a trend toward recognizing that Edward Snowden and Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning have done us all a service, but they remain in prison or exile or effectively under house arrest. Jeffrey Sterling followed the steps through proper channels that whistleblowers are advised they should take, and now he's in prison, and what he informed Congress of (information critical to U.S. self-governance) remains largely unknown to the public.
Sterling's conviction on the basis of metadata (whom he called, for how many minutes, but not what was said) also sends a message to potential whistleblowers that even the appearance of acting on their moral and legal responsibility to uphold the law could land them in prison. And of course Congress's failure to act on Sterling's information sends the message that "proper channels" lead nowhere.
What's needed is a global movement that tells whistleblowers and potential whistleblowers that we've got their backs, that we will spread awareness far and wide of what they have risked their necks to reveal, that we will celebrate and honor their courage, and that we will do everything in our power to defend them against government retribution and misguided public condemnation.
So, here's the plan. During the week of June 1-7, all over the world, we stand up for truth by joining in the events and using the resources created at StandUpForTruth.org. The organizations and individuals behind this plan include ExposeFacts, Freedom of the Press Foundation, International Modern Media Institute, Networkers SouthNorth, RootsAction.org, and Daniel Ellsberg.
People around the world are being invited, individually or as a group, to participate in any of a series of public webcasts / phone calls with whistleblowers and their supporters. (Click the names for full biographies.)
The webcasts will each last 60 minutes. To listen and type in questions, just point your web browser to http://cast.teletownhall.us/web_client/?id=roots_action_org and turn up your volume. Everyone is encouraged to use the webcast and to type in questions there. If you can't use a web browser, you can phone in. Just call 1-844-472-8237 (toll-free in U.S.) You can also ask these whistleblowers and truth tellers questions beforehand or during the webcasts by tweeting them to @Roots_Action -- You can even start asking questions right now.
Also check out the events planned for Europe with Thomas Drake, Dan Ellsberg, Jesselyn Radack, Coleen Rowley, and Norman Solomon. They will deliver this petition in Berlin. If you sign it now your name and comment will be part of the presentation.
StandUpForTruth is encouraging everyone to plan your own events, during the first week of June or any other time. Here are some resources, some ideas for what to do:
- Watch and discuss Shadows of Liberty.
- Watch and discuss Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Government Surveillance.
- Watch and discuss this video profile of William Binney.
- Watch and discuss Invisible Man about CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling.
- Set up a photo booth and add a photo of every person at the event to this FaceBook page while they're each holding a piece of paper reading "Stand Up For Truth."
- Hold a public forum to discuss issues of whistleblowing, surveillance, civil liberties and truth-telling.
- Consider rallies, picket lines, vigils and other nonviolent protests at appropriate government buildings and corporate offices.
- Try to out-do the magnificent giant chalk drawing they're making in Los Angeles.
Here are some ways to get started. Like this FaceBook page. Then add your photo to it holding a piece of paper reading "Stand Up For Truth." Or retweet this tweet. It all helps to spread the word, which seems like the least we can do.
Some weeks back I got a call from Al Jazeera wanting me to be on a show, but insisting that I couldn't do it from a local studio via satellite or from my computer via Skype. No, I would have to fly to New York and back, and they would pay for the flight and pay a "per diem" as well (they didn't specify how much). I was not eager to take a whole day out of my life to fly to New York and back, but they sold me on it. This, they told me, would be the premier edition of a new Sunday morning news program to compete with the existing ones. And it would include different perspectives.
"This week, we are producing a debate on whether or not the 'American empire is on decline', and I would love to have you on the show to share your thoughts on the issue on this very exciting debate," wrote a woman who turned out to be one of many producers, in an initial email. We exchanged emails and spoke by phone. I provided brief responses on several subtopics. I even wrote and published a column on the topic and sent it to them. Various Al Jazeera staff got in on the email thread. I also spoke by phone with executive producer Robert Lilly.
At the studio in New York, I found out just before the taping who I would be debating. She had apparently known about me as her debate opponent for some time. Her name was Tara Maller and she worked at the Aspen Institute with General Stanley McChrystal. She and some of the producers sitting in the waiting room seemed to compete with each other in dropping the names of horribly blood-soaked and ridiculously over-wealthy people they knew. It reminded me of waiting to go on Fox News more than, say, theRealNews.com.
The debate turned out to be something like 15 minutes. Host Imran Garda veered away from the declining empire topic to focus on the question of war. I found that shift welcome. I was delighted to explain my views on war in general and various specific wars, to the extent that one can do so in a few teeny sound bytes. Garda seemed surprised, however, that someone could actually oppose all wars. There may have been a memo he missed on that. Maller, for her part, did fine, but told me afterwards that I talked faster than she did, and remarked to one of the gaggle of producers how absurd it was for her to have played the role of war supporter. Of course, her views were her own and I would have welcomed it had she chosen to oppose war, but she was clearly more comfortable debating someone to her right who wanted more war than she did.
I thought the taping went well, such as it was. There were no glaring problems, and all sorts of executives and bigwigs shook our hands and thanked us. I thanked one of them for airing (I thought that the show would in fact be airing) something that the other networks would never air, and the look I got back disturbed me. I wondered whether they actually found that idea unpleasant. I flew back home on their dime. I started telling people that Al Jazeera was going to air something different from the norm of Sunday political TV.
I heard little from the Al Jazeera folks for some weeks. They'd been eager to know when I'd be back in New York, but when I told them they didn't seem so interested anymore. I asked them about paying my "per diem" and they weaseled out of it with a claim that they would only pay for food and cabs with receipts. I'd given them a receipt for a cab when their car hadn't shown up at La Guardia. They'd never hinted that I needed to get receipts for food or that that was what they meant by "per diem." In the same email that included that weaseling, the out-of-the-loop producer who'd first contacted me said "I hope you got to watch the premier this past Sunday!"
That was odd. Nobody had told me it was going to be on or that they'd seen it. What good was this show if nobody saw it? I asked where the clip was online and got no response. Some days later I found a website for the show. Here it is: http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/third-rail.html The show is called The Third Rail, but it's not exactly electrifying. It's the same old, same old, with Judith Miller and Alan Dershowitz and such types. The guests fit with the attitude I picked up on in the studio of wanting to be CNN. These videos don't make for something worth announcing to the world as new and different from the usual gang of corporate hacks regurgitating talking points. The show I taped is not there.
I emailed the original producer who had been my main contact and CC'd a colleague she had been CCing. "I see you now have the show here http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/third-rail.html with no sign of any debate that might question war," I emailed. "On the contrary Judith Miller's smiling face front and center. What's up? I took an entire day out of my life to debate a war-proponent in teeny little sound bites and then you killed it? Your plan is to compete with Meet the Depressed and such shows by imitating them?"
The CC'd colleague, Senior Interview Producer Katy Ramirez Karp, wrote back saying let's talk tomorrow.
"Sure," I replied. "Why did you kill a program supposedly aimed at being different and including an anti-war point of view in order to air the same old slop from Alan Dershowitz and Judith Miller and all your typical Meet The Depressed style warmongering hacks? Was the other guest happy or upset to have the show killed? Did you tell her? Were you planning on telling me? Do you intend to ape the lousy existing shows but just have fewer viewers, or are you hoping to create something different?"
Wait sixty seconds.
The phone rang. It was Katy. "If you have something to say . . . !" She quickly accused me of "badgering" and "threatening." Whom was I threatening with what, how, and when? I asked her four or five times before she said "I'm not accusing you of threatening. I'm objecting to your tone." (Picture someone screaming "I'm objecting to your screaming!"). Ignoring her tone, I asked her why they had killed the program and if they had intended to tell me. Her response: "It was a practice run, my dear. We thought we might use part of it." She went on to say something about how they fully planned to include points of view from "your kind of advocates and causes." You got the sense she was holding something at arm's length with her nose pinched.
When I pointed out that I never would have come to New York for a practice run and had, needless to say, never been fed that line prior to this moment, she said she would have to speak with her colleagues about that. She ranted for a while about how she was a professional, and when I tried to say something she hung up.
Now, I don't seriously think they flew people in for a practice run and lied to them about it. I think quite obviously they decided after filming the program, for whatever reason, that they preferred to air the stuff you'll see on their website.
Was my performance or
Muller's Maller's unsatisfactory in some sort of technical way? I doubt it. I was just like I was in the clips of me they'd seen before inviting me on.
Did I say the wrong things about Syria or the weapons industry or something else in particular? I doubt it.
My best guess is they didn't want to be the show that premiers by doing something as laughable as opposing mass murder -- you can't touch such a third rail when you've already got the name Third Rail! But of course I'm just guessing. They won't tell me. They would rather claim that they lied to me for weeks and couldn't find anyone in the entire city of New York who could sit in for a "practice run."