The U.S. government's "war on terror" and its companion "surveillance state" have become troubling issues not only for the civil liberties of Americans but even more so for the rest of the world where popular movements are arising to challenge the electronic penetration of people's information and violation of their privacy.
Iceland Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir of the Pirate Party was in Berkeley, California, recently to speak at a forum with Daniel Ellsberg on "Disappearing Civil Liberties in The United States." Jonsdottir is also Director of the International Modern Media Institute and co-producer of WikiLeaks' "Collateral Murder" video, which revealed the slaughter of Iraqis in 2007 by a U.S. aerial weapons team.
Jonsdottir, who has worked closely with WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, discussed the status of this emerging international struggle against government secrecy and surveillance in an interview with Dennis J Bernstein.
DB: How did you get involved in "Collateral Murder"?
BJ: I was working with spokespersons for WikiLeaks in 2009. They came to Iceland and spoke at a Freedom Society event where I was speaking as well. They were talking about an idea that originated in this area of the world, from John Perry Barlow, who a year earlier, in the wake of our financial collapse, said that Iceland could become a safe haven for freedom of information, expression and speech. Julian [Assange] and Daniel [Ellsberg] talked about the same concept, and it was ripe.
I was elected to Parliament, the only geek in Parliament at the time. I approached them after the conference and we began to work on this project, which is to look at the best functioning laws in the Twenty-first Century that protect freedom of information, expression and speech. The reason I chose to work with WikiLeaks was they had hands-on experience in keeping things up no matter what. They had released some documents from the Church of Scientology, and anybody who knows anything about the Church of Scientology knows that it's very difficult to keep things up because they have very good lawyers. They managed to keep their bible up and you can still access their bible through the Internet because they have archive versions of the WikiLeaks website before the big leak, which came a few months later.
As I was working with them and some other people, we came up with what politicians and people who want to increase civil liberties can do, and that is to get experts from all over the world to cherry pick the best laws that have proven to function. We wrote it on an "ether pad" in English, then translated it into Icelandic. For some mysterious reason that I can't comprehend, maybe because there is such a need for it not only in Iceland, but everywhere, I got unanimous acceptance for it in Parliament. That is equivalent to both the Senate and [House of Representatives] voting yes on something.
The government of Iceland has been working on creating these laws. We have the best source protection in the world, and a very good freedom of information act for the Twenty-first Century, with transparency about media ownership, etc. We are working on something very important in the context of what has been happening in this country in the last week, which is we want to have the best whistleblower laws in the world put into place, and that is being processed currently in the ministry.
DB: Tell me about your response to the content of the "Collateral Murder" video shown on WikiLeaks. What did that mean to you? What did it tell you about what was going on?
BJ: I was one of the millions of people around the world who tried to stop the war in Iraq before it began and were nearly successful. We coordinated through the Internet. I was one of the few who kept protesting after the war, such as against such atrocities as Fallujah. One man posted the horrible things that were happening there. I was following the Iraq body count and knew what was happening. But you can't express it enough to get people to feel the compassion or empathy that is needed to act.
When I saw the video that Jullian Assange showed me at a cafe opposite the Icelandic Parliament, I wept. I wept many times over this video. It is painful not only to see the war crimes that happen in this video. Particularly troubling for me was when I looked at the wounded man who was trying to get up, and good samaritans came to help, just ordinary citizens. Imagine there was an accident on the road here, and someone would come and try to take the wounded to the hospital -- just like in this video. They had kids in their car and they were killed, slaughtered. It was a murder of innocent people who were trying to do a decent thing, by saving somebody who was dying, and they way the soldiers spoke about it was horrifying.
DB: There was almost a gleeful hysteria.
BJ: It was, "Look at the dead bastards. Line them up, nice. It's their fault to bring their kids to war." I mean, who brought the war to Iraq? It certainly wasn't these people. It was from a country far, far away. I knew when I helped release this video that my life would never be the same afterwards. I knew that I was participating in making world history and I never thought twice about doing it. If I would be in the same situation tomorrow, I would do it without thinking about it.
DB: How did it change your life?
BJ: It changed in both positive and more disturbing ways. I felt I had done something that would make me feel I had done something important with my life, because it had a tremendous impact on so many people, all over the world. It helped bring voices to the voiceless. People in Iraq are trying to tell how it is and what is happening there every day, and nobody pays attention to it.