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October 28, 2013

Interview Transcript: Glenn Greenwald-- Liberty and Justice for Some

By Rob Kall

This is a transcript of an interview with Glenn Greenwald done in 2011, broadcast on November 2, 2011. We started off talking about his book, With Liberty and Justice for Some. unfortunately, we tried a new transcriptionist and the transcript was rife with errors. I finally got around to correcting it this past weekend. Unfortunately, most of the things we discussed are still relevant, two years later.

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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/22007612@N05/8102081968/: Glenn Greenwald
Glenn Greenwald by Gage Skidmore


This is a transcript of an interview with Glenn Greenwald done in 2011, broadcast on November 2, 2011. We started off talking about his book, With Liberty and Justice for Some.  unfortunately, we tried a new transcriptionist and the transcript was rife with errors. I finally got around to correcting it this past weekend.  Unfortunately, most of the things we discussed are still relevant, two years later. 

Rob Kall: Hey, welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM, sponsored by  Opednews.com, and tonight, I'm very excited to have as my guest, Glenn Greenwald.  He is the author of a new book that is just skyrocketing.  It is just amazing how well it is doing and for good reason, it is the awesome book.  The book is With Liberty and Justice for Some. 

Glenn is a blogger and a columnist for Salon.  He's been a constitutional attorney.  Bill Moyers has described him as the most important voice to have entered the political discourse in years.  

Welcome to the show, Glenn.

Glenn Greenwald: Great to be here.  Thanks for having me. . 

Rob Kall: Yeah.  The last time we spoke, you were in Brazil.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah.  Exactly.  I remember that.

Rob Kall: So, you've got this book that basically,  is describing a lot of what  people are occupying all across America about.  Give us a brief synopsis of what the book is about. 

Glenn Greenwald: Well essentially, if we look at the last decade, what we see is very serious and egregious crimes committed by the most powerful political and financial elites in the country, from the creation of  a worldwide torture regime, to spying on American citizens without the warrants required by law, to an  aggressive attack on Iraq and multiple episodes of obstruction of justice and in the private sector  of course, the systematic fraud that precipitated the 2008 Financial Crisis. And yet none of these crimes have provoked meaningful investigations of any kind, let alone prosecutions. And yet at the very same time that we've created this kind of  shield of immunity for elites, we have built up the world's largest prison system and one of the harshest and most merciless systems of punishment for ordinary Americans and this kind of two-tiered justice system where you receive total immunity if you are an elite and commit crimes but extremely harsh and merciless punishment If you are an ordinary American, is really the antithesis of what the rule law was intended to be.

Rob Kall: So, this - your book, it describes how this started with Watergate and Gerald Ford was the first to make the excuse.  Can you talk a little bit how this evolved?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, the idea really isn't that we've always, throughout history of course, he failed to completely adhere to equality under the law. .  In fact, we have violated it rather violently and severely throughout our history.  But at least for the first term of years, we, at least, affirmed the principle of equality under law so that - even when we're violating if we've still held it out as the principle that should be your aspirational guiding principle.  Well, really started happening with the  pardon of Nixon is that the protocol class began promulgating these arguments, this rational, to justify shielding elites from the rule of law.  Things that - like, like we need to look forward and not backward on that, it would be too disruptive to hold the political elites accountable on the same terms as ,ordinary Americans that it was more important that ,we get political harmony and that would be good for the nation.  And it was this template that was created during the attempt to justify the Ford pardon of Nixon that really became the justifying rational going forward for how political and then financial elites are shielded from consequence when they break the law. 

Rob Kall: Now, is this something that is a partisan issue or is it a bipartisan phenomena?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, I mean, well, all you have to do it.  You know the answer to that is to look at, hear with is that is protecting the Bush era, some prosecution and accountability and that of course, that the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party.  So, it isn't just that, the Obama Administration has shielded Bush officials from domestic prosecution but also had to work very hard diplomatically to make sure that other countries like Spain and Germany not investigate.  They've gone into court and prevented the victims of the war on terror and all the crimes and abuses committed under from having their day in court. Sisano it is very much of a by-part mentality that shields, political elites. It is,  of course the Obama administration that has failed to hold accountable any of the banking executives or Wall Street elites as well.  And you see this over and over throughout the years from  both political parties.

Rob Kall:  Now, you've written that when the law is wielded only against the powerless, it ceases to be a safeguard against injustice and becomes the primary tool of oppression.  This sounds like some Banana Republic.

Glenn Greenwald: Well, interestingly, if you used to use terms like Banana Republic to apply to the United States, people would think you are being sort of fringe and marginal and yet if you look now at even the most mainstream establishment discourse you see people making that observation all the time some necklace or stuff, or example, the comments to the New York Times as well in semi-columns compare in the United States to a Banana Republic or third world country.  Simon Johnson who used to be the Head of the International Monetary Fund. wrote an article in the May 2009 issue of the Atlantic entitled The Quiet Coup, the coup being the takeover of American Democracy by its oligarchs.  And he described how the political process functions very similar to how  it did in emerging markets in Russia and Argentina and some of the Eastern Block countries when they had financial collapse as well.  And you are exactly right,  The United States has been sermonizing to the world that countries in which the elites are able to exempt themselves from the dictates of the law are essentially counties that don't  live under of law and cannot become first world nations until they correct that problem and yet we are the ones who do that as much as anybody now.

Rob Kall: You've written this book  and you are getting an incredible amount of coverage-- well- deserved.  What do you want to have this book accomplish?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, for one thing.  I think that any kind of meaningful social change, a pre-requisite to it is persuading one's fellow citizens to appreciate the depth of the problem and the severity of it and then the need to act and you know, the only reason to write a book, I think, is to draw attention to things that you think need more attention and yet aren't getting it.

That is definitely how I think about the issue about the way the Rule of Law has been so clearly repudiated.  And I think Americans already know on an intuitive level that this is true.  I think it is the sentiment driving lots of the anger over our political class and certainly the Protest Movement that is rapidly growing, the Occupy Protest Movement.  And so, you know, I think sometimes, things just need a little push. And the discourse, and attention in light shined on it in order to really light a spark and hopefully that is what the book will achieve.

Rob Kall: Are you seeing any signs of that anywhere that lights a spark in your heart, that things you are wakening people up, waking the right people up?

Glenn Greenwald: Really.  One of the more most exciting and inspirational development in American Politics is the emergence of this Occupy Movement and I have been in contacted since the release of the book by a dozen or so ciities where the organizers have asked me to come and speak to - at their protest movement because the book resonates so completely with the protest.  It is really describing the motivating force behind the movement itself.  You know, and so it's gotten  a lot of exposure in media outlets and venues. The book has sold a lot and done well.  So, you know, hopefully, the cumulative effect to all of this will be to force this more into the discourse and shine more light on it.

Rob Kall: I have to tell you that I'm in Washington.  I arrived this evening and I walked from the bus stop, first to Freedom Plaza and then to McPherson Square to revisit them. I was there back in early October.  I asked at both places if they had any questions for you and  the uniform one was, "Will he come and speak."

Glenn Greenwald: Right.  Yeah.  Well, I'm actually scheduled to speak in Washington to Occupy on NOvember 6. .  I don't know Occupy said  for me, I've had a lot of media appearances as part of this book  trip, with big radio interviews and speeches, and  easily, the thing that I'm looking forward to and that I find the most exciting  I think, is to spend time at the protests and talking to protesters.

Rob Kall: Okay.  I know.  About the questions and I want to hear, well, you know, let's just talk about that.  What - talk to me more about Occupy, the movement, the occupied territories and where you see that sitting into how any changes going to happen?

Glenn Greenwald: I think in general there are two ways that societal and political change can be effectuated.  One is by word within the political system to elect leaders and change political factions and agitate for reform, legislative reform.  

The problem is that one, the perception is ossified that the political culture and political institutions are no longer legitimate and are fundamentally warped and rotted.  Then the only means for change becomes marching in the street and engaging in social disruption and social unrest.  

It is precisely because there is a perception that our political system, not one of the two parties but the political system itself  is illegitimate and does not permit that kind of change-- that no matter who you vote for, no matter which candidate you will elect, things pretty much continue as is- that there is this growing sense that the only kind of change that makes any sense or that matters is going out into the street and being socially disruptive and signaling that the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable and I think that is what you are seeing with these movements and that is why I find them so exciting.

Rob Kall: So, we're seeing from the police a lot of violence, in Oakland, in Atlanta, in Denver.  do you see things staying peaceful?

Glenn Greenwald: I mean, the protesters have been very committed to peaceful assembly and non-violence.

Rob Kall: I'm losing you again a little " 

Glenn Greenwald: But you know, if everyone " 

Rob Kall: I'm losing your sounds.  Can you get the mic to " 

Glenn Greenwald: It is okay.  So, is that better?

Rob Kall: Much better.  Yeah.

Glenn Greenwald: So, you know, I think that the protesters themselves have been very committed to peaceful assembly and to non-violence, but you know it is just a fact in political life that when you challenge or try (garbled)

Rob Kall: I'm losing your voice again.  Now, it just turned back better.  Yeah.  Something may be a problem.

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah.  So, I think - I think what you're going to see is increasing use of violence on the part of Police forces, on the part of even federal authorities, if the protest movement grows enough, and it is going to be designed to intimidate and deter people from participating.

Rob Kall: The federal forces are going to get violent?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, I think if the protest movement continues to grow and sustain then yeah, I think you are definitely going to see more state violence in response.

Rob Kall: As an attorney, what's your suggestion for the movement to do?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, with my - well, with my suggest - I'm sorry.  I do not understand the question.

Rob Kall: Well, you are a Constitutional attorney and if the State becomes more, more violent, what do the people do?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, I think, I think they've been doing exactly the right thing ,which is continuing to insist on the right of the assembly being very aggressive and persistent in their demands , but at the same time maintaining the posture of non-violence.  I think that's the best success to the Movement and at the same time they can take legal action to ask Federal Courts to protect their right to assemble as they've done in Cleveland and in other areas, but I think the movement is doing exactly the right thing.  I think, they should continue to grow and demand its right to assemble and its way to free speech but in the right to petition the government but not engage in the kinds of actions that will justify police abuse.

Rob Kall: Now, who are bad guys?  This is all about treating the elites totally differently,  better than the 99 Percent.  Who are the bad guys who are perpetuating this and making it worse?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, I mean, certainly the people in political power are abdicating their responsibility to limit one another through the force of law and to limit those who are most in power and if the people here who are - have financial power who decided that they can completely disregard the constraints of law without any consequence, so of course Wall Street tycoons in investment banks that engage in systematic fraud that precipitated the 2008 Financial crisis are " 

Rob Kall: Wait, wait.  There are the bad guys who should be prosecuted.  I met the bad guys who were not prosecuted.  Who are the people who are - you know " 

Glenn Greenwald: Well, the responsibility to prosecute lies with the Executive branch in Article II of the Constitution.  It said, "The President shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed,"and it's the  Department of Justice is responsible for prosecuting people who violate the Criminal Law, the Federal Criminal Law.  They're the ones who add the jurisdictions to prosecute Bush torturers and eavesdroppers and to prosecute Wall Street criminals as well and they've abdicated that responsibility. 

Rob Kall: So, I'm looking for names.  Are you talking about Obama?  His aides? Is it Eric Holder?

Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, of course.  And Obama is the President and Eric Holder is the Attorney General and they run the Justice Department and they're the ones with responsibility.

Rob Kall: So, would you have a conversation with them?  Have you talked to them?

Glenn Greenwald: I mean, I talked to people in the Justice Department.  I've never talked to either President Obama or Attorney General Holder but, you know, I think for a while, there was a desire on the part of the Justice Department, including Holder, to investigate Bush crimes, to be more aggressive about Wall Street investigations and there was pressure, quite openly, and publicly placed on them from the White House not to do so.  Rahm Emanuel went on ABC News and  said the desire of the President is they asked Holder not to investigate, and  Robert Gibbs said the same thing from the podium of White House when he was the Press Secretary.  And so, there was clear pressure of all privately and publicly exerted by the White House on the Justice Department to refrain from engaging in these kinds of Investigations.

Rob Kall: Now, you've talked about how they use this idea of looking forward and justice and criminal prosecution is all about looking backward.  Could you talk a little bit about that?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, the   cliche that has been invented to justify shielding Bush criminals from accountabilities is that we should look forward and not backward and as you said, the whole idea is preposterous because all crime is by definition are committed in the past, not the future.  There is no such thing as a crime committed in the future, and you know, if  itwere the case that we were to decide that we wanted to be a lenient society and adopt this mentality of look forward not backwards, you know, you could argue it but at least it would be legitimate if it were applied across the board.  

So, if you are somebody who, you know, rob the bank and you get caught by the Police and the Police come arrest you and you say, "Look, officer.  You know, you got me.  I did what you claimed I did," but you know, that was in the past , that was  three months ago.  Why go digging in the past?  Isn't it more important to look in the future?  If you got away with the crimes you committed based on the plea, then I think that, you know, you can have all, you know, now under your community but at least to rule of law would be equally applied, But of course, of course, this whole idea of look forward not backward applies only to political and financial elites. Ordinary Americans can't avail themselves of this kind of defense.  

At the same time, the Obama Administration has been very aggressive of that during things like investigating and prosecuting Whistle Blowers who, back in 2002-2003 disclosed high level law-breaking and criminality and so, they are very willing to look backward and prosecute when it suits them. 

Rob Kall: Opednews, the site I publish is very involved with the whistle Blower community.  We're the  go-to place for their articles?  And the Whistle Blowers, say that the Obama Administration is worse than all the previous presidents combined when it comes to the way they treat whistle blowers.  How does that jibe with your book and what you have to say?

Glenn Greenwald: Well " 

Rob Kall: I mean, if your book in your episode.

Glenn Greenwald: Well, it is just fascinating that the Obama Administration has been so aggressively protecting high-level criminals and yet they've been punishing those who expose criminality.  So, if you work for example at the NSA warrantless eavesdropping scandal, what is amazing there is that not a single one of the people responsible for spying an American about Lauren for then how accountable or punished anyway.  The only person to be punished in anyway from that episode is someone named Thomas Tam.  He was a mid-level Justice Department lawyer who found out that the Bush administration was flying without the warrants of cry bygone when they pick up the phone and call their [inaudible 0:18:54] the New York Times to tell him that this was taking place.  The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting that, but the Bush and Obama DOJ assembled the Grand Jury and issued subpoenas and aimed at investigating not the law-breaking but who disclosed the law-breaking, Thomas Tam lost his job and he could not really even afford lawyers and ended up in bankruptcy trying to defend himself from these investigations, so that's very - a sort of a personification of how this two tiered system of justice works. The law-breakers at the highest level of government were shielded while the whistleblower was prosecuted. 

Rob Kall: When this happens again and again, are precedents set? Is this something that once it happens, it kind of gets embellished into the law?

Glenn Greenwald: Sure.  I mean, everything with the law is a precedent, so you know, if something happens and the certain outcome takes place, the next time that same thing happened, people will point to that outcome as a - as how the law functions and justify doing it again.  

So, you know, absolutely  that's what happened with the Ford pardon of Nixon.  All the people believed that it was important to protect Richard Nixon as  this one-time aberration and that set a precedent, that whenever political leaders break the law and disharmony would result from prosecution, it is better that they just simply protect them, pardon them, shield them and  move on. And that became a precedent and every time that we've done that since, with Iran contra, now with the Bush crimes, with Wall street criminals--  and that creates more precedents normalizing this idea that elites should be shielded by the rule of law.

Rob Kall: Yuck.  So, what about corporate personhood?  It is almost like these elites are getting the same kind of treatment as corporations.  It is like an overlap 'cause corporations get specie treatment, too.

Glenn Greenwald: Well, I mean, corporation requires a really nothing more than a reflection of typically wealthy individuals who are their share holders.  And so the law has been exploited lots of different ways to make sure that the interest of elites are protected.  

Now, I'm not somebody who believes that this issue is so clear-cut.  If you look at, for example,  at the ACLU or labor unions and the like, most people think that they should have some constitutional protection that the government should not be able to see the, I think, account-to-be COU without due process that it shouldn't be able to invade their offices without a Search Warrant.  That it shouldn't be able to punish the unions for their first enrollment free speech.  So, we do believe that entities are protected under the Constitution and in ways that the Constitution describes as being the rights of persons.  But I think it is really more of a systemic problem that the courts are basically very pre-disposed to deciding in favor of corporations even when they get caught breaking the law and  I think that is really the problem.

Rob Kall: Okay.  This is getting worse and worse?  How much worse could it get?  What are ways that it could get even worse than it is now?

Glenn Greenwald: Well, I mean, there is no reason why it could not continue get worse.  I mean, we've seen nations of the world that have severe amounts of income inequality and wealth inquality and that is one of the problems-- the more the rich are able to consolidate their wealth and then use that wealth to exert influence over the political process, the more they're going to continue to try and entrench their power, to increase it, to expand it. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle with the rich-poor gap just creates its own momentum to continue to grow. And we're already at the point.  We've seen riots and unrest and disruptions in other societies that have less problem with economic anxiety and suffering and inequality than the United States has. And  it just stands to reason that we're going to have a lot of that unrest and disruption and potentially even rioting as well if things continue on their current path. 

Rob Kall: Wow.  You talk about outcome inequality.  What is that about? 

Glenn Greenwald: Well, the way I look at outcome and equality and then a sort of analogize the issue to say a running race where in a fair and legitimate running race, everyone starts at the same point-- the starting line--and can only run when the starting gun is shot and has to abide by the same rules.  You can't invade the lanes of the other runners. You can't knock them down with your elbows.  Everyone has to maintain an arms-length relationship with the Judge.  You can't pay the Judge to decide on your favor.  

As long as those basic rules are abided by to assure a fair playing field then we accept inequality and outcome as legitimate.  So, someone is going to cross the finish line first and be declared the winner and the fastest runner.  They're going to get some cash prize for having won.  There is going to be a second place finisher and then a last place finisher.  And that is all I mean by all come in equality.  Somebody wins and gets more.  

That's what I mean by outcome inequality. Somebody wins and gets more and somebody loses and gets less.  And we generally accept that in the United States if we believe that it is legitimate.  So, for example, Steve Jobs died with eight billion dollars. Nobody really begrudged him having eight billion dollars, even though there was mass joblessness and homelessness and mortgage foreclosures and massive inequality because there was a perception that he had earned that money and earned those winnings.  The problem comes when the outcome inequality seems illegitimate because it is the byproduct not of merit and achievement but of cheating, of rule breaking on an uneven playing field and I think that is clearly the position we are in. 

Rob Kall: Yeah.  Now, I was reading in the Wall Street Journal today there was an article about prisons.  So, there are more and more private prisons and private prisons are trying to prevent prisoners from being able to have the same access to lawsuits that they have in Federal Prisons.  Where does that fit into this picture.

Glenn Greenwald: Well, the existence of the Private Prison Industry is definitely one of the main problems. Private prison incorporations profit by having more and more prisoners in their system.  They are basically customers and so it is in their interest to do things like work against the loosening of sentencing requirements or reforming of the drug laws or things 

that would enable people to get out of prison more quickly and they lobbied against these changes. 

And the other part of it is that the State has a responsibility to ensure basic conditions within the prison but these prison industries have an interest to minimize cost in order to maximize profit and so, conditions within the prisons worsen and the liberties and freedoms that prisoners have continue to constrict and so we already have one of the most merciless and harshest prison systems in the world and the way we're privatizing the present system has only made that worse on many levels.

Rob Kall: So, you've got this book.  You are going around promoting these ideas and so hopefully people will wake up.  Are there any legislators that have sample legislation?  Is there sample legislation on how to fix this? "

Glenn Greenwald: Well, I think the problem, you know, I think - I think, the problem is more cultural and systemic in legislative.  I mean, you can pass some good bills that if you put into the same corrupted system; it is not going to make much of a difference.  

Having said that, there are a couple of senators and members who have spoken out on this  The problem is that there is not really a benefit to doing it. There is not a huge constituency demanding a liberalization  of our punishment schemes. But people like Jim Ladd have talked about how the United States imprisons more citizens and many country in the world and how we put people in prison for things that are trivial and minor and even for drug possession that are really matters of health and how the impact is racist and discriminatory and we need fundamental reform in the justice system, it is really no political gain to be had by pursuing those things 'cause there few politicians who do.  

Rob Kall: Last question-- You're going to talk to Occupy people living in the tents.  What are you going to tell them?

Glenn Greenwald: I want to tell them that since I began running about politics, the main question that I've had presented to me is what can we do about all this, and what makes them so inspiring and compelling is that they basically, have found the answer.  I mean, there are people who are sacrificing their own interest in order to create this space of dissent and to signal to the elites that  this is no longer acceptable and they've inspired huge numbers of people to do the same and to support them and I hope that they will continue doing  because it is really doing all the good.

Rob Kall: All right.  Thank you so much.  Glenn Greenwald, great to have you on the show.  Great success with your book.

Glenn Greenwald: I appreciate it.  Bye-

[END]






Submitters Bio:

Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and website architect of OpEdNews.com, Host of the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show (WNJC 1360 AM), and publisher of Storycon.org, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and an inventor . He is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

Listen to over 200 of Rob's Podcast interviews here.

Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.


With his experience as architect and founder of a technorati top 100 blog, he is also a new media / social media consultant and trainer for corporations, non-profits, entrepreneurs and authors.

Rob is a frequent Speaker on the bottom-up revolution, politics, The art, science and power of story, heroes and the hero's journey and Positive Psychology. He is a campaign consultant specializing in tapping the power of stories for issue positioning, stump speeches and debates, and optimizing tapping the power of new media. Watch me speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.

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