In a recent episode of "On Contact," Chris Hedges spoke with historian and Truthdig contributor Vijay Prashad about the arrest of Julian Assange and its possible ramifications. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the interview at the bottom of the post.
Chris Hedges: Welcome to "On Contact." Today we discuss the arrest of Julian Assange with the historian Vijay Prashad.
Vijay Prashad: You know if Chelsea Manning hadn't decided to download that material, if Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks organization hadn't decided to put that material out there, you and I who know these things to be true because we've seen them, would never have been able to talk about these things in such an open way. And yet that's not the conversation. The conversation became about Assange's personality, about what he'd done in Sweden and so on.
CH: The arrest of Julian Assange eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and U.S. governments, in the seizure of Assange, are ominous. They presage a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes, especially war crimes, carried out by the corporate states and the global ruling elite, will be masked from the public. They presage a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presage an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment. The arrest of Assange, I fear, marks the official beginning of the corporate totalitarianism that will define our lives.
Under what law did Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno capriciously terminate Julian Assange's rights of asylum as a political refugee? Under what law did Moreno authorize British police to enter the Ecuadorian Embassydiplomatically sanctioned sovereign territoryto arrest a nationalized citizen of Ecuador? Under what law did Prime Minister Theresa May order the British police to grab Assange, who has never committed a crime? Under what law did Donald Trump demand the extradition of Assange, who is not a U.S. citizen and whose news organization is not based in the United States? Joining me to discuss the arrest and pending extradition of Assange is the historian Vijay Prashad. What have we just seen?
VP: You know it's a very interesting situation we're in. You and I have been [in] and reported directly from very ugly situations, and over the course of our careers we've tried to tell stories about atrocities, we've tried to tell stories about what are tantamount to war crimes -- editors don't believe you. Editors don't want to publish those stories, the ownership of newspapers and of course televisions don't want to run those stories, because they say 'You don't have the smoking gun,' 'You don't have the evidence.' And what both Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange and the entire team at WikiLeaks did when they provided the raw materials of war crimes, was they allowed us to tell the stories that we had seen with our own eyes. And I think that rather than have the conversation about the war crimes, rather than for the Reuters organization for instance, to concentrate on the fact that an employee of Reuters was killed, you know, in cold blood by the United States.
CH: Two -- two of them.
VP: Two of them, one of them on contract, yes exactly. Two of them were killed by the United States military in cold blood. There was no reason. And the people in those helicopters in the video that was released as "Collateral Murder " were almost relishing the murder of ordinary people. If Chelsea Manning hadn't decided to download that material, if Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks organization hadn't decided to put that material out there, you and I -- who know these things to be true because we've seen them -- would never have been able to talk about these things in such an open way. And yet that's not the conversation. The conversation became about Assange's personality, about what he had done in Sweden and so on. We know very well, Chris, that the arrest, the violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty on display in London, we know that that has nothing to do with what Julian Assange is purported to have done in Sweden. This is entirely to put the genie of American war crimes back inside the bottle.
CH: And yet the press has -- and I read every article on Assange, including the editorial and Michelle Goldberg's horrible column -- has just bought into this narrative without seeing that this is an assault on the ability of a press to shine a light into the inner workings of power and in particular, empire. That they, they are going after Assange. They've found a kind of legal trick. They'll charge [Assange with] attempting to assist Manning to change a password, which even they admit he wasn't able to do. But that's not why they're lynching him. They're lynching him because he embarrassed them. He exposed their crimes. It was a bipartisan effort because later we got the Podesta emails that showed the mendacity of the Clinton campaign on many levels: her $650,000 to speak in front of Goldman Sachs, a sum so large that it can only be considered a bribe; the millions of dollars that Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- the chief supporters of the Islamic State -- gave to the Clinton Foundation; the fact that the Clinton campaign worked to ensure Trump was the nominee; the kinds of statements she would make to the financial elites about how they were the best people to run the economy, which contradicted everything she was saying in the campaign; how she got the debate questions leaked to her in advance. And you [anyone] can argue, I suppose, that the public doesn't have a right to know this or to know about the crimes of empire, but I don't know how you can then call yourself a journalist.
VP: Well, let's be frank. We know what has happened to the journalist profession. I prefer to call many of my colleagues stenographers of the state, people [who] take press releases from the government or they accept what an official says. You just need to read the story, what is the sourcing of the story? An official said, another official said, a third official said, a fourth official said. Have you tried to verify the information? What is your moral standard? The moral standard of what appears in corporate media is largely the morality of the state and of the national security system -- they take that as ipso facto the truth. That's a problem for me. I understand the profession, the tribe of journalists to be people who are constantly asking questions, not accepting a press release as the finished project. But what we see is so many times people rewrite the press release. They rewrite the statement made by the president, some national security official, and they put that out as the news. I want to say something very important. Julian Assange was already in the Ecuadorian Embassy when the Podesta emails were leaked.
VP: What they are really going after him for was the leaks that came through Chelsea Manning. Because what Chelsea Manning -- who is in fact an international hero and should not be right now in prison -- what Chelsea Manning showed us was, of course as I said, the "Collateral Murder" video, but much more than that; she deeply embarrassed the United States government for the way its diplomatic corps was operating during, for instance, the Arab Spring where they were colluding with Mubarak in Egypt to try to maintain his power, despite the fact that there were huge numbers of people not only in Tahrir Square but across Egypt. It also showed you -- and this is very important -- for a keen reader of the State Department cables, it showed you how the ambassadors were no longer actually running policy. So, you saw the ambassadors in Yemen, the ambassadors in Egypt, write letters back to Washington, D.C., saying that the Defense Department officials are coming here, national security officials [are coming here] and they are just sidelining us.
And what's interesting is the ambassador in Egypt is a woman and she says in one of the cables essentially "I'm becoming like a secretary; I'm taking notes in these meetings. These are MY meetings." That's not only embarrassing; for an American citizen that should be very chilling. Diplomacy, as we see from these cables, is no longer being run in a political way by the State Department. Diplomacy is being run by the Defense Department and even more dangerously, by the anonymous national security state. That's something that the U.S. government doesn't want out there in the public. It's OK for you and me to make those allegations, but to have the evidence for that is, I think, very significant.
CH: That's an important point. You have ambassadors who admit that they don't know what the CIA station chief is up to or doing, who they're contacting and what they're orchestrating. They're not even informed.