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U.S. Officials Privately Admit They Overstated Damage Inflicted By WikiLeaks

by on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 10:12 pm EDT in Politics, WikiLeaks

Reuters is reporting that Internal U.S. government reviews confirm what many of us had cynically assumed all along: that the US government was intentionally embellishing the damage done to US interests abroad by WikiLeaks documents:

A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.

“I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster,” the official said.

But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.

Ironically, it is precisely attempts like these — by government officials to mislead the American public — that has made whistleblower groups like WikiLeaks all the more essential to the viability of our democracy.

I suspect this Administration is most concerned about the leaks exposing its own, or its predecessor’s, wrongdoings.  This Administration has gone to great lengths to cover-up and to squash any investigation — any judicial proceeding — against the Bush Administration for its alleged criminal activities.

They have got to be worried that the leaked documents could end up incriminating government officials in such a way as to push the entire topic of government accountability back into the public discourse.

For instance, it has been long reported that WikiLeaks is holding potentially incriminating military documents on Guantanamo Bay, where detainees were allegedly subjected to torture.  What if these documents were to provide an iron-clad case against the highest-levels of the Bush Administration?

The US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture — a binding agreement ratified under President Ronald Reagan.  The Obama Administration therefore has very clear legal obligations that it has long been evading.  Whenever there are indications or allegations of torture, it is incumbent on the Administration to investigate.  It is NOT merely an option to mull over for its potential political ramifications.  It is the RULE-OF-LAW.

Here are those legal obligations:

A State Party’s Undertakings

Most of the provisions of the Torture Convention deal with the obligations of the States parties. These obligations may be summarized as follows:

(i) Each State party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture. The prohibition against torture shall be absolute and shall be upheld also in a state of war and in other exceptional circumstances (article 2);

(ii) No State party may expel or extradite a person to a State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture (article 3);

(iii) Each State party shall ensure that acts of torture are serious criminal offences within its legal system (article 4);

(iv) Each State party shall, on certain conditions, take a person suspected of the offence of torture into custody and make a preliminary inquiry into the facts (article 6);

(v) Each State party shall either extradite a person suspected of the offence of torture or submit the case to its own authorities for prosecution (article 7);

(vi) Each State party shall ensure that its authorities make investigations when there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed (article 12);

(vii) Each State party shall ensure that an individual who alleges that he has been subjected to torture will have his case examined by the competent authorities (article 13);

(viii) Each State party shall ensure to victims of torture an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation (article 14).

By not only evading their required responsibility to investigate torture, but by aggressively threatening other nations to end their investigations and criminal proceedings, President Obama and his Attorney General are themselves violating international law.

After George W. Bush boasted, during his recent memoir tour, that he authorized water boarding, Amnesty International’s Senior Director Claudio Cordone issued a pointed statement saying:

“Under international law, the former President’s admission to having authorized acts that amount to torture are enough to trigger the USA’s obligations to investigate his admissions and if substantiated, to prosecute him,”

“His admissions also highlight once again the absence of accountability for the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance committed by the USA.” […]

“Under international law, anyone involved in torture must be brought to justice, and that does not exclude former President George W Bush.  In the absence of a US investigation, other states must step in and carry out such an investigation themselves.”

The Obama Administration and the DOJ would obviously prefer to aid and abet the Bush Administration in evading justice in complete secrecy — hidden away from all public scrutiny.

The last thing they want is for WikiLeaks to publish documents that so undeniably incriminate upper level administration officials — either Bush’s, or Obama’s — that they in turn feel public pressure to actually do the unthinkable: to hold the political class accountable to the rule-of-law.

MSNBC Pundits Push False Narrative On WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange

by on Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 6:39 pm EDT in Politics, WikiLeaks, World

On MSNBC’s Jansing & Co, host Chris Jansing, The Washington Post Editorial Page’s Jonathan Capehart, and former GOP Congresswoman Susan Molinari attempt to create a fictitious narrative for WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.  They claim he’s anti-American, anti-Capitalist, and a hypocrite on his transparency agenda, seeing as how he’s ‘on the run’ from his own personal transparency.  They appear with Salon’s Glenn Greenwald — the only one there to contest their allegations — who incidentally gets dropped for most of the discussion.

Capehart begins with this bizarre statement on Julian Assange’s motives:

“Clearly this is a person who has a beef with the United States.  Apparently there’s some reports he’s got some information on a major American bank that he’s threatening to drop at the beginning of the year.  Why he’s doing these things, exactly, I don’t know.” […]

“Beef with the United States”?  “Why he’s doing these things“? — Are we to infer that publishing leaks by whistle blowers runs counter to Capehart’s journalistic integrity?  I could understand a statement like this coming from a White House Press Secretary, but a journalist?

Capehart should be WikiLeaks’ biggest cheerleader.  How are WikiLeaks’ document dumps any different than what the New York Times, the Washington Post, and 17 other newspapers did when they published the Pentagon Papers — secretly leaked to them by whistle blower Daniel Ellsberg nearly 30 years ago?

You can see the ‘anti-American’ narrative slowly developing here, and it only gets worse.  Next Chris Jansing turns the discussion to the fact Julian Assange’s whereabouts are presently unknown, and why that’s relevant:

… The whole point of WikiLeaks, at least in some of the interviews that Julian Assange has given in the past, is that they want to create transparency.  And yet most of the time we don’t know where this guy is.  At one point, during the eruption of the volcano, he was ‘holed up’ in a house apparently in Reykjavík, Iceland.  […]

Malanari adds to the pile-on, weaving it all together:

Well, obviously he doesn’t think he himself fits into the whole question of transparency.  I think one can only conclude, based on what we’ve seen that he is hugely anti-American, somewhat anti-Capitalistic, although obviously WikiLeaks enjoys the benefits of an open Capitalistic society where the media is allowed to engage in accessing these leaks and putting them on the front page and then disseminating them.  […]

Here’s a man who is destructive, and who sets guidelines for the United States government, and clearly only the United States, by rules and regulations that he feels he himself doesn’t have to live by, particularly when he’s being looked at as a potential rapist.

At this point, Glenn Greenwald is FINALLY back on the show, and allowed to speak (albeit briefly, since Jansing cuts him off in mid-sentence).

Jansing asks Glenn whether Assange has an anti-American, anti-corporate agenda, and if he is ‘on the run’, to which Glenn unloads on her and the other two:

Well, I think it’s amazing to listen to someone — like journalists — use McCarthyite techniques to say he’s anti-American, when in reality what he’s actually devoted to is what’s called ‘transparency’, and shining light on what the world’s most powerful factions are doing, which of course is supposed to be the role of journalists.

But Mr. Capehart’s editorial page was one of the leading advocates and still is, for example, for the war in Iraq; which used this vast wall of secrecy to deceive the American people into believing something that wasn’t true.

Mrs. Malanari’s political party did the same.  And so what you have is basically people who are in the political and media class in Washington, who have been exploiting this great wall of secrecy, where the government basically hides everything that it’s doing of any significance so it can manipulate the American public.

And Julian Assange is one of the very few people who is actually fulfilling the role that journalists and members of Congress are supposed to fulfill, but haven’t, which is bringing transparency … [Jansing, with a mortified look on her face, quickly cuts Glenn off]

Jansing switches back to Capehart to rekindle the narrative she’s so clearly intent on pushing forward.  Capehart then makes the astonishing claim that nothing has actually been revealed by WikiLeaks.  Again, here’s a guy who writes for the Washington Post, telling viewers that all the information provided by WikiLeaks, in each of their dumps, was already known, and had already been reported.  Jansing cuts Glenn off from rebutting Capehart’s untruthful statement, and ensures Capehart gets this final word in:

To continue with Susan Malinari’s point in terms of transparency, you notice that in the report on Julian Assange, it said that he gave an interview calling on Secretary Clinton to resign … from a secret location!  Not terribly transparent.

In response to Capehart’s ridiculous claim that WikiLeaks hasn’t provided any new information, Greenwald listed on Salon just a small sample of the MAJOR revelations yielded by WikiLeaks:

(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA’s kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA’s torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch today about this: “The day Barack Obama Lied to me”);

(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War “investigation”;

(5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;

(6) “American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world” about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post’s own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(7) the U.S.’s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal — a coup — but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(9) Hillary Clinton’s State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say we’ve learned more about the true workings of our government from a couple WikiLeaks dumps than we did from The Washington Post, Capehart’s employer, over the entire last decade.  Which could explain Capehart’s apparent ‘beef’ with WikiLeaks.

As for Julian Assange’s unknown whereabouts and accessibility — which seemed to be the entire basis of Jensing, Capehart, and Molinari’s attack on Assange’s credibility as a champion for transparency — his UK attorney Jennifer Robinson addressed the issue yesterday on DemocracyNow!:

The authorities certainly know how to contact [Assange] via his lawyers.  And, I must — I’m sorry — correct you, that he’s not in hiding, evading any Interpol arrest warrant.  He has genuine concerns for his personal safety as a result of numerous very public calls for his assassination.  And he’s obviously incredibly busy with WikiLeaks current works, and the attacks on their systems.  […]

… An Interpol red notice is not actually an arrest warrant.  It is considered by states who are member states of Interpol as a valid provisional arrest notice.  So the authorities can take action.  Though what we do know and has been reported today is that if a European arrest warrant was issued the authorities would be obliged to arrest my client.

Reports today have suggested that a European arrest warrant was communicated to the authorities here in the UK, but that was returned on the grounds of an administrative error, and we’re seeking confirmation at the moment of what that problem was.  In our view, the Interpol arrest warrant — there are serious issues with it on grounds of due process concerns arising in the Swedish proceedings, and also indeed for the need for it, given our client’s voluntary offers of cooperation that were rejected by the Swedish prosecuting authorities.

[…]

It’s important to note that Mr. Assange remained in Sweden for almost a month, in order to clear his name.  While he was in Sweden, after the allegations came out, he was in touch with the prosecuting authorities and offered on numerous occasions to provide an interview in order to clear his name.  Those offers were not taken up by the police.

He obviously has had to travel for work, and had meetings to attend, and in order to leave Sweden he sought specific permission of the prosecutor to leave on the grounds that there was an outstanding investigation, and she gave that permission.  So he left Sweden lawfully, and without objection by the prosecuting authorities.

Since that time we have communicated through his Swedish counsel, on numerous occasions, offers to provide answers to the questions that she may have through other means — through teleconference, through video link, by attending an embassy here in the UK to provide that information, and all those offers were rejected.

It’s also important to remember that the prosecutor has not once issued a formal summons for his interrogation.  So all of these communications have been informally, and in our view it’s disproportionate to seek an arrest warrant when voluntary cooperation has been offered.

Chris Jansing, Jonathan Capehart, and Susan Molinari were blatantly pushing a false narrative in an attempt to malign the messenger, and based entirely on conjecture:  “How could his underlying motivation for WikiLeaks be about creating transparency, when he is clearly ‘on the run’ from his own personal transparency?  Clearly he’s just anti-American.”

What an embarrassingly pathetic excuse for ‘news’ punditry — most definitely on par with Fox News propagandizing.

It has been well-documented that the United States government routinely intervenes in other countries’ criminal investigations and legal proceedings when its own leaders’ interests hang in the balance.  The Obama Administration actually threatened the British government not to allow its High Courts to reveal Bush Administration crimes.  And as WikiLeaks recently disclosed, the US also intervened in Germany and Spain’s legal proceedings, thereby squashing criminal investigations of the CIA, who kidnapped and tortured their citizens.

Any credible journalist would have to at least consider — due to the timing of the warrants coinciding with the latest WikiLeaks dump — the plausibility that Sweden is being pressured by the US to issue warrants for Assange’s arrests, only to then extradite him to the US, where he could be detained indefinitely without trial.

And not a single mention by these three pundits on the rather obvious point made by Assange’s attorney: His life has been threatened repeatedly in the public arena — both in the United States and in Canada — with calls for his assassination.  Considering that these calls have been made by many of these pundits’ very own political and media cronies, it’s hard to believe they weren’t aware of them.

WATCH:

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UPDATE:

Julian Assange just completed a LIVE Q&A session at the Guardian.  You can view the transcript HERE.

From the Q&A on ‘Free Press’:

Q. tburgi:

Western governments lay claim to moral authority in part from having legal guarantees for a free press.  Threats of legal sanction against Wikileaks and yourself seem to weaken this claim.

(What press needs to be protected except that which is unpopular to the State? If being state-sanctioned is the test for being a media organization, and therefore able to claim rights to press freedom, the situation appears to be the same in authoritarian regimes and the west.)

Do you agree that western governments risk losing moral authority by attacking Wikileaks?  Do you believe western goverments have any moral authority to begin with?

A. Julian Assange:

The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be “free” because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free.

In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech Incites Neo-Con Cartwheels

by on Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 9:38 am EDT in Afghanistan, Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Iraq, Middle East, Politics, World

President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech, in my opinion, was an attempt to somehow mesh Candidate Obama — the principled, compassionate, mindful leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize — to President Obama — torch bearer of the neo-con commitment to open-ended warring.

He started off on a semi-defensive tone, giving something of a broad justification for embarking on an indefinite commitment to more killing and dying in occupied Afghanistan.  He then transformed into the more thoughtful, sensible, Candidate Obama persona — the one that artfully taps into secular humanistic sensibilities.  A little something for everyone, I guess …

In all fairness to Obama, he never should have been awarded this honor, and he somewhat acknowledged that fact.  So it was by no fault of his own that he had to somehow overcome this uncomfortable, somewhat vicarious predicament.  And from the favorable reception this speech has been getting from both the Left and Right, it’s safe to conclude he pulled it off — politically-speaking.  You know you are the rhetorical master when you deliver a speech that:

has Karl Rove waving pom poms and doing cartwheels, …

It was as if Obama was saying: even THIS president doesn’t do canapés and champagne with European peaceniks! Hoo-ah! After the speech, Karl Rove was crowing, if you can crow by Twitter. “Tweeted that Gerson and Thiessen had gone to work at the Obama White House,” he e-mailed me—Gerson and Thiessen being the two neo-con wordsmiths in the Bush shop.

and also garners support from left-of-center columnists like Joe Klein of Time:

“How does a rookie President, having been granted the Nobel Peace Prize, go about earning it? Well, he can start by giving the sort of Nobel lecture that Barack Obama just did, an intellectually rigorous and morally lucid speech that balanced the rationale for going to war against the need to build a more peaceful and equitable world.”

Here are a couple things from the speech that managed to exorcise my ire:

1. The beginning of Obama’s speech, where he resorted to exaggerated, simplistic notions — i.e. ‘neo-con speak’ — to try to justify his Afghanistan decision:

“For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.”

This part really disappointed me — that he would resort to this kind of charged-up demagoguery.  He has never been one to shy away from complexity in making his case to the American people.  His sudden fallback on words like “evil,” and conjuring up images of Adolph Hitler to justify his decision in Afghanistan, will lead many discerning viewers to question his underlying sincerity; especially after eight years of George W. Bush misleading us into wars, committing war crimes, and trampling upon our Constitutional rights — all under the guise of that same simplistic imagery.  It’s as if Obama himself has come to recognize that his own substantive case for war is somehow unconvincing on its own merits.

Yes, we are all keenly aware that there’s a small band of loosely connected thugs (al Qaeda), which poses a threat — on some level — to American security.  But don’t even try and muddy that threat with Adolph Hitler imagery — a dictator of an industrial nation that had one of the most powerful militaries in the world; one who bombed and invaded country after country, committing genocide against Jews and other innocents, and who ultimately left over 65 million dead in his wake.  It’s a disingenuous comparison.  The world faces no equivalent threat to Nazi Germany, and this kind of demagoguery has been used far too often — as of late — by disingenuous leaders seeking to justify unnecessary wars.

World War II was a necessary war, but Iraq was not — something he acknowledged, if only by its omission from his speech.  But a continued military escalation in Afghanistan is also unnecessary.  The tragic consequences of neo-con warmongering has all but ensured that exaggerated threats leveled as a run-up to military escalation is only going to fall on deaf ears, and his doing so only undermines America’s ‘new and improved’ image abroad.

2. Obama’s speech then pivoted to a more idealistic discussion on world responsibility — one where all countries are subjected to the same standards:

To begin with, I believe that all nations — strong and weak alike — must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t. […]

Furthermore, America — in fact, no nation — can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don’t, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified. […]

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.) And we honor — we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard. […]

Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted.

This one almost made me laugh.  Mr. President, clearly this rings hollow to anyone who’s been following your continued cover up of Bush Administration war crimes and your continuation of indefinite detention.  Hell — let’s put your predecessor’s illegalities (and your cover up and perpetuation of them) aside for a second.  You extend this same “exceptionalism” — this same exemption from international law — to another country: Israel.  Richard Goldstone’s UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict produced a credible, scathing report documenting Israeli and Hamas war crimes.  You, your administration, and the U.S. Congress immediately discarded it outright using flimsy, ridiculous, unsupportable excuses, as if international laws shouldn’t apply to Israel either.

It appears that much of his speech’s positive feedback from the Left has been directed at his placing recognition on the historic role of war in helping to actually foster peace.  He brought up the Balkans as an example.  It’s a legitimate point; there are times when war is absolutely necessary in preserving or restoring peace.  And yes, the U.S. has willfully assumed a great deal of the world’s burden on this front, paying dearly in American lives and treasure.

There are very few who would look back on history and contend that the U.S. should have stayed out of the 2nd World War, or shouldn’t have intervened — the embarrassingly few times we actually did — to stop genocide.  The problem I have is he’s obviously attempting to conflate these noble causes of war with something unrelated: Afghanistan.

Obama is not sending 30,000 additional troops to Darfur or to the Congo to save millions of civilian lives.  We’re sending young Americans to prop up a corrupt and illegitimate regime in Afghanistan that has its hands deep into the world’s heroin industry.  And this is supposedly vital to U.S. security interests, only because there are fewer than 100 cave-dwelling al Qaeda operatives somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Obama is a master orator — I give him that.

Having said all this, the entirety of Obama’s speech was not utterly deplorable — in fact, he’s incapable of delivering a bad speech.  But overall, it rang hollow to me, leaving me with the following impressions:

  1. He knew, as we all did, that he had NO BUSINESS being in Oslo, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.  (He cannot be blamed for this.)
  2. In using neo-con, war-mongering rhetoric overseas, he slightly diminished America’s ‘new’ standing in the world, as well as his own image, while simultaneously giving the now-ridiculed neo-cons a HUGE moral victory; a big ‘told you so’.  It felt like he somehow substantiated their despicable and dishonest methods by exhibiting lines from their very own playbook, word for word, to reach a similar ends.  How appalling, after all the calamity they inflicted upon this country and this world.

Have we finally seen the real Obama?