Above Photo: People protest in Piazza della Repubblica to demand the freedom of Julian Assange, with banners, placards and silhouettes depicting the journalists in prison, on April 11, 2023 in Rome, Italy. Simona Granati – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images.
The revival of the Espionage Act in the persecution of Assange is destroying the very foundation of democracy.
The US government has hounded Julian Assange since WikiLeaks first revealed the extent of US war crimes in 2010. In the process of persecuting Assange, the federal government has used every tool at its disposal and even pushed beyond the boundaries that supposedly restrict state power in defense of civil liberties. One of the most insidious tactics is the use of the Espionage Act, which had not been used for against whistleblowers and journalists for almost a century before Assange’s case. In the first part of a two-part conversation, lawyer and human rights defender Stella Assange, spouse of Julian Assange, joins Chris Hedges for a look at the vast and vicious campaign by the US to silence Julian Assange, and what it all portends for our democracy.
Chris Hedges: One of the things I want to talk about, and it’s something you know more intimately than I do, but it’s one of the things that is, aside from the fact that I’m a journalist, just published classified information. But one of the things that’s disturbed me from the start is how all of the international bodies and the legal entities that have gone after Julian, have broken their own rules and it’s so blatant. That’s what I find kind of incomprehensible because it’s public. It’s not a secret. I mean, there is many secret stuff they’ve done, too, of course. But, you know, revoking political asylum, allowing British police to go in on sovereign territory, charging him under the Espionage Act when he’s not an American citizen, recording his meeting with his attorneys. I mean, any one of these things in a normal legal procedure, would have seen the case dismissed and yet they keep doing it and doing it.
I sat in London, I can’t remember, it was with Baraitser when I was here and then watched and covered it online. But it’s in those details that the judicial farce is exposed and it’s not just one egregious violation, it’s repeated violations. Aside, of course, from what they’re doing to him personally. That, and the failure on the part of the public and in particular, the press, to react with a kind of outrage. Because if they eviscerate the rule of law, it’s not just going to be for Julian. They set those kinds of precedents and if they’re allowed to get away with it with anyone, it’s dangerous. That’s what, for me, is just so frustrating.
Stella Assange: But don’t you think they’re deliberately dismantling the system? They want to show that they are dismantling it.
Chris Hedges: Yes, of course, they are. But they’re dismantling it right in front of us and we’re just watching. I’m talking about the broader public and not reacting. Yes, of course, that is the goal.
And so in a way, that passivity makes us complicit in what is ultimately our own enslavement. I mean, this is all, of course, even beyond Julian as a person and as a journalist. And that’s what, you know, having followed this case for several years and as you know, I was very close friends with Michael Ratner, which is how I met Julian, because I would come to London with Michael. I’m just kind of mystified at how people can’t see where this is going to lead.
Stella Assange: I think they’re maybe afraid. I can’t explain it otherwise. Or maybe they don’t really want to believe that it’s happening.
Chris Hedges: I think it’s because they have a demon. So, after 911, because I speak Arabic and spent seven years in the Middle East, we demonised Muslims in the United States. I don’t know how it was here, but it was really awful and there were all sorts of cases like this case of Syed Fahad Hashmi. I don’t know if you know that case? So what happened after 911 is, and of course they were serving the interests of Israel, is they went after Muslim groups and individuals in the United States who were outspoken about Palestine. So the Holy Land Foundation, my good friend Sami Al-Arian, wonderful man, but these were articulate, effective and they charged them under terrorism laws. And again, with Sami, it was like Julian. It was a completely fabricated case. And of course, where did they…it was Kromberg, in the eastern district of Virginia. So I watched them do it and with Hashmi, he had been a really charismatic Palestinian activist. I don’t think he’s Palestinian. I think he’s Pakistani, but he was at Brooklyn College and then he, I think, was at the London School of Economics or University of London or something and they were just determined to get him, and his roommate had sent; you can’t make this stuff up, waterproofs socks, I didn’t even know though they existed, or something to Pakistan to give to Al-Qaeda. We’re not talking about AK-47s or anything. And had used his phone…and so they nailed him on that and they brought him back and they held him in the MCC in New York for, I think it was 23 months in isolation. And by the time he got under SAMS, under Special Administrative Measures, so no communication. I mean, they had secret evidence that they used against him that even his lawyers weren’t allowed to see. By the time he got in court, he was a zombie. And so I watched that happen and of course, I said, “they are doing exactly what they are doing. They’re setting legal precedents by which they can strip us of any legal protection.” And again, it was actually not just watched passively by the American public, but cheered on because they had demonised the Muslims. And I think they’ve done a pretty effective job of demonising Julian. And that’s how they always do it, because they will demonise a particular group, then strip all legal protections from that group. And now, of course, you see, I don’t know if you’ve been following Cops City in Atlanta, where the police are building this kind of paramilitary compound with shooting ranges and all sort of stuff, helicopter landing pads, I mean, this is urban domestic warfare and so there have been heavy protests in Atlanta, but they’re charging all these people with the terrorism laws.
Animal rights activists are getting charged now with the terrorism laws. Eco-activists are, so yeah.
So that’s the playbook that they mount, as they did with Julian, a very vicious black propaganda campaign, and then they’re allowed to create these mechanisms by which nobody has any rights at all. And by the time people wake up, it’s too late. I mean, you know, it’s that famous Niemoeller quote, “first they came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew.” I mean, but it is, it’s like that.
Stella Assange: Well, it also creates the mechanisms, as you said, and the energy that goes into creating, I don’t know, of a whole machinery behind going after the perceived threat.
Chris Hedges: Yes. Well, that’s right. It’s fear. Yes, that’s right.
Stella Assange: And then once that one threat is overcome, then that has to go somewhere. So it gets redirected to some other issue.
Chris Hedges: Yeah, that’s right. But although I think reading the CIA, which is a state within a state, it’s not even accountable within the Congress. And there was a few years ago, Feinstein, after the torture was exposed, tried to do a congressional report and there was this really revealing moment. I’m no fan of Feinstein, but she was, at that moment, trying to do the right thing. And she came out and she was just ashen. And I can’t remember the exact words, but it’s something like, “we can’t take on these people…”, because they had bugged all the computers in the congressional office, they destroyed information.
And I think it was that moment where she personally realised that we can’t control, there’s no regulation, there’s no oversight, there’s no control. And unlike the Church and the Pike committees that in the middle 70s, had exposed the crimes. That was it. That moment is gone. And I think that Vault 7, because of this kind of imperial attitude on the part of the CIA where they can do anything, because the CIA, we have 17 intelligence communities in the United States. I mean, the CIA as an intelligence organization is kind of redundant.
And what it has done is transformed itself into a paramilitary, especially after 9/11. And it’s completely in the dark. It has its own drones and special forces units. Having had friends who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, these people create more problems than they solve because they’ll go on extraction and night raids and anger an entire village and then the next day the Rangers will go through the village and they open fire on…I mean, they’re counterproductive. And I think that what happened with Vault 7 is that you now have an incredibly powerful organisation that is, in essence, a paramilitary organisation with huge resources and that exposure of Vault 7, they’re not used to being monitored, exposed in any way. I think the anger, I think it was more visceral. I think the anger within the CIA was ran really deep. And, you know, again, I haven’t spoken to anyone in the CIA, but my guess is that at that point, they laid down the law. We’re getting Julian. That’s my my guess.
I think it’s all being, because Biden, no matter who’s in the office, Obama, you can’t, at this point they talk about the Dark State. I mean, these are the, you know, figures like Biden are the puppets. In the military, you know, the US military has not been audited for a decade. I read somewhere we spend more on military bands than we do on the State Department. I mean, again, it’s like ancient Rome. I mean, it’s its own entity, almost severed from the government. But that’s how I read what happened after Vault 7.
Stella Assange: When did you first meet Julian?
Chris Hedges: So I was very close friends with Michael Ratner, who we lost sadly. We were really good friends for many years. And he, of course, after 2010 and the Iraq War Logs, came to London and asked for a meeting with Julian. And according to Michael, you know, they said, “We think they’re going to come for you,” and Julian said “Why?” and he said, “Because that’s how they work and we think they’re going to charge you under the Espionage Act.”
Stella Assange: Right. Because until that point, there had been no. Well, it was only on…this was 2010, right?
Obama came in, what, early 2009 he started. And it was under the Obama administration that the Espionage Act started being used.
Chris Hedges: He used it flagrantly against whistleblowers. And we have to draw a distinction because Julian is the first journalist charged under the Espionage Act. So you had Daniel Ellsberg and these kinds of figures. But going back to 1917, the Espionage Act was primarily an instrument to destroy the left. So, they shut down the socialist publications under the Espionage Act, ‘The Masses’, and I think ‘Appeal to Reason. They put [Eugene] Debs in prison, the socialist candidate. I think he was actually in prison under the Sedition Act, which was kind of a twin act. They did the deportations of Emma Goldman and it’s always been an instrument that’s been used to destroy the left. But it was, as I have this, I believe this is right, that between 1917 and the Obama administration, it was only used three times against whistleblowers, once against Ellsberg and that case collapsed because they invaded a psychiatrist’s office and all this kind of dirty tricks.
Stella Assange: But another case was afterwards pardoned. It was really not used until Obama.
Chris Hedges: Obama’s assault on civil liberties was worse than Bush. And he went after anyone who leaked Kiriakou and all sorts of others. And that, of course, is the lifeblood of journalism. So we need people on the inside with a conscience who are willing to share information about malfeasance, crimes, lies that the government is committing. That’s how we do our work.
And because of wholesale surveillance, and that’s why Snowden fled, they know immediately who’s connecting with journalists. And I’ve been visiting, I visited and I write letters to Daniel Hale. This is just a really sad story. This young Air Force officer with incredible integrity and courage and saw that in the drone attacks, it was up to 90% of the victims were civilians, including children. And then he was sitting in these rooms where the drone operators had this jocular contempt, you know, killing…they knew they were killing children and they were calling them “pint-sized terrorists.” I mean, it was just sickening. And he exposed that, and he’s now sitting in Marion, Illinois, in a high security, used to be the highest security prison in the country, now we have ADX Florence, Colorado. But they have him in one of these management control units, which replicates, I mean, he has no…and it’s in the middle of nowhere. So if I visit, I have to fly to St. Louis and drive 3 hours down to Illinois in literally these cornfields, I mean, because, of course, they don’t want you to visit.
So in order for us to do our work, we need people like Daniel Hale. And it was really Obama who shut down any of that connection. And I can’t remember, it was either nine or eleven times he used it. And so I still have friends with the New York Times who do investigative journalism, but they have told me repeatedly that there is no investigative journalism now within the government, with the inner workings of government, because everyone’s too frightened to talk, because they they’re they can immediately be traced.
So the last readout of any kind of exposure of the the the crimes, the criminal activity of power comes through people who are like Chelsea manning or Snowden, who have access to documents and will leak them, or hackers like Jeremy Hammond, who when and I sued Obama in 2012 over Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which he signed at midnight on the last day of 2011, hoping no one would notice, which overturn the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the government from using the military as a domestic police force.
And in Section 1021, it actually said that people are allowed to be held without ‘habeas corpus’, without due process, until, quote unquote, the end of hostilities, which is just in a more I mean, it’s really a terrifying kind of almost Orwellian. And I sued him in federal court and nobody thought we would win, including Michael Ratner. And we just got this judge with it and we won.
And then, of course, it was Obama. He freaked out. They freaked out. They had the NSA lawyers in her chambers an hour after the ruling and demanding she issued a temporary injunction, which meant that if American citizens were being held in Guantanamo like conditions anywhere in the black sites around the world, this was against the law.
And, you know, I and the lawyers were kind of curious. We wondered why were they so why did they respond with such alacrity? Well, because they were holding probably Afghan, you know, dual national, Iraqi, whatever. And she’s no longer on the on the southern district. She went back to private practice. She refused. So then they went to the appellate court. So in the American system, you have the federal court, then you have the appellate court, which is a panel of judges who review it.
And then your last chance is the Supreme Court. So they went to the appellate court. That was a Friday. They went to the court on Monday morning and they lifted the injunction in the name of national security. The problem with and this is gets back to Julian is the law was so black and white that this was such a clear violation.
They didn’t know how to rule and so they didn’t rule. They just waited and wait and wait months. And I had been one of the plaintiffs in Clapper versus Amnesty International, which did get to the Supreme Court, where journalists had challenged the government about surveillance, because we can’t work. Obviously, we can’t if we’re being surveilled, as well as people who are trying to reach out to us.
And there was a incredible line, because this was before Snowden, where the government lawyers assured the court that if any journalist was being surveilled, we would tell them.
I mean, it was patently absurd, but the court bought it. And then rather than hear the merit of the case, the appellate court said, I didn’t have standing. That’s the way they always get rid of you, right?
You don’t have a right to bring the case. They said Hedges doesn’t did not have standing to bring in Clapper versus Amnesty International. Therefore, he doesn’t have standing and Hedges versus Obama. And they threw it out. We filed a cert to go to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court didn’t take it. So it’s law. It’s law. But, you know, having been involved this kind of detail and having done the kind of work, albeit on a much smaller level than as Julian did, and having watched all of this process, it is really been the death of investigative journalism.
Now. Now they will leak you. You know, the other things about leaks, as you know, is that governments will leak all sorts of highly classified material that makes them look it. So it’s not that you don’t get leaks of highly classified, but it’s selective leaks that that they want out. And and so now it’s over. I mean the and that’s really frightening.
It means there is no power is in no way accountable. There’s no transparency, and we know history has taught us that when that kind of secrecy is imposed on autocratic power, it just in abuse grows upon abuse grows upon abuse. And that is why they’re just determined to crucify Julian.
That’s the crisis that we’re in.
We’ve lost the ability to know what power is doing.
Stella Assange: I have this feeling that in order to establish the baseline, you would have to give a history lesson.
Because, for example, the use of the Espionage Act, you have to understand that it wasn’t used for almost 100 years against whistleblowers and journalists. There was a shift with Obama that opened the doors to maybe one day the Espionage Act being used against publishers in the same way now being used against whistleblowers. And the way it was being used against whistleblowers was as if they were spies to begin with. So, there was a progressive shift. And that’s why Julian was surprised when Michael Ratner told him that he thought the US would try him under the Espionage Act after he had published. Because it was unprecedented, because the First Amendment is clear. And the First Amendment is really a revolutionary instrument, and it is the gold standard in the world.
And I think perhaps, culturally, we are used to there being this gold standard through American cultural projection which is what I grew up with, I was born in the 80s. You know, very clearly the idea of liberal democratic Western freedom is attached to this idea of freedom of expression, and a press that is courageous, and brave, and powerful, in the sense that it is able to expose power and so on.
And then, with what’s been done to Julian, because it’s been so protracted, we’re in a completely different information and security environment, as in the powers of the security state are far greater and have eroded all these other rights that came. I think they have on the one hand the US Constitution and then you have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and these things that were a strong underpinning to the Western democracies for a long time. That’s kind of how Wikileaks was born out of this kind of environment. But since the surveillance state has become so powerful, there’s been an ability to control communication in such an aggressive and invisible manner.
In the 12 or 13 years since WikiLeaks published this, we’re in a completely different environment. So people who knew the before, on the one hand, we have like an information gap with people who don’t follow things so quick, clear, so in such detail, but also a knowledge like a historical knowledge gap.
So although we can see this progression, this rapid progression into like a totalitarian, not just authoritarian, but like really aggressively accelerating, I think, into a totalitarian environment for for many people who are, you know, just a bit younger than me, they don’t see it. Yeah, because they don’t have that reference.
Chris Hedges: Well, and also because it’s hidden. I mean, so, you know, you’re never going to get it. Trying to do 4 minutes on CNN, which is or someone like me would get when I used to get on CNN. Well, when I work for the New York Times, they don’t, you know, I used to say the real motto of the New York Times is “Do not significantly alienate those on whom we depend for money and access”. So as a reporter for the Times, if you wrote stories that harmed your access to the powerful, you were harmed professionally.
Stella Assange: So, would that happen like before the article was published or after?
Chris Hedges: No, you would write articles that would…you could alienate the powerful occasionally. But if you made a habit of it, the powerful would…I can give an example. I covered the war in Yugoslavia, and then I covered the Dayton peace agreement. So I was on the ground, and I fully understood that the Dayton peace agreement had just frozen the conflict. It was just kind of, it was the absence of war. It wasn’t a peace agreement because all of the killers and the warlords were still in control, terrorizing their own people in towns throughout Bosnia. And I started to write that, and Clinton was running part of his reelection campaign was on how he brought peace to Bosnia. So Sandy Berger who was the head of the National Security Council, he, they went after me, big time. And the way they do it is have lunch with the publisher and they start bad mouthing you, and then the editors get, they see the editors and they get uncomfortable.
So, you become a kind of management problem.
I think the only thing that saved me and allowed me to spend as long as I did with the Times is that I would put myself in really extreme situations like Sarajevo that nobody else wanted to.
When I volunteered for Sarajevo, the executive editor said, “Well, I guess the line starts and ends with you,” because by the time I got there, 45 journalists had been killed.
And then I didn’t have to interview officials because I was on the street. I mean, like when I covered the First Gulf War, I didn’t go to press conferences with Schwarzkopf.
I hardly interviewed anybody the rank of sergeant.
You know, I hung out with Lance Corporals. I was in the Marine Corps. And so that kind of saved me. And the other thing about it is that the closer geographically you get to the centers of power, so I was overseas, but if you’re in Washington or New York, then the less tolerant they are about your confronting powers.
So that a journalist overseas that is trying to write a narrative, which is almost always in conflict with the official narrative, is not only at war with whatever administration is running the country, but their Washington bureau: that makes their journalism is contingent on them, you know, doing lunch.
So you’re battling… this has always been true. You take the great reporters on Vietnam, they were battling the Washington Bureau, their own bureau, as much as they were battling, you know, the people running.
So, an elite publication like The Times is very obsequious to power and will cater to power.
And, you know, I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I heard after the publication of the War Logs… why did these papers like The Guardian, which has been awful, or The Times, why did they turn on Julian?
Have I told you this story?
I said, “No, you don’t understand. They hated Julian from the moment he released that.
Because… and the only reason they ran it is because if they didn’t, they would have been exposed”.
He shamed them into doing their job. And they loathed him for that.
Stella Assange: But that doesn’t matter anymore, right? I think they don’t mind being shamed. They don’t have any shame because, for example, take the Twitter files.
Chris Hedges: Yeah, but the Twitter files were more nuanced and opaque, perhaps.
I think even to this day it would be pretty hard to ignore what Julian released. It was so cataclysmic, so huge, so important.
And people forget, not just in terms of exposing US lies and crimes, but around the world.
I mean, Haiti was convulsed by those revelations: there was traffic that showed how the US Embassy was working with the Haitian government because there are all these sweatshops to suppress the minimum wage. Stuff like that is part of the quid pro quo; let’s talk about the CIA, the quid pro quo is that you will do the dirty work to destroy journalists who expose, like Gary Webb, I don’t know if you know about Gary Webb.
Gary Webb, I think he was with the San Francisco Chronicle, one of those papers in California, and he exposed that whole, and I was in Central America at the time, that whole CIA relationship where they were supporting the Contras under the table and selling cocaine, and actually shipping cocaine to the states, flooding neighborhoods in Oakland and stuff with it.
Well, Gary Webb was destroyed by the press, because what happened was the CIA held briefings and I know the reporter from the New York Times who went to the briefing, and discredited the reporting.
A good reporter would go out and re-report it. He would go out, check the sources, go and try and find out, follow the trail that Webb followed. That’s a good reporter. That didn’t happen.
So, the Washington Post, they all piled on Webb and they didn’t actually report. They went down there. They went down to Langley, they got a background briefing and, of course, he killed himself. I mean papers like The Times consider themselves part of the elite power system and they don’t want to lose that perch. At the same time, they’re trying to position themselves as adversarial journalists.
But when I was overseas, you know, I used to work overseas but when I didn’t work for the New York Times, I’d have to call 30 times for somebody calling back. You call once on the Times, they’d call you back. And the funny part about it is that these Times reporters would come down and have all this access and they thought it was them.
It wasn’t them, it was the institution.
They weren’t particularly good reporters necessarily. I was good friends with Sydney Shanberg, I don’t if you saw The Killing Fields, that was the movie about Sidney and Dith Pran who I also knew.
Sydney, although he’d won the Pulitzer and came back, was pushed out of the Times because after he saw how the developers were driving the working class and middle class out of Manhattan and destroying rent control, he started writing about it and all the rich friends of the publisher got angry and the executive editor started calling him, ‘Sydney my little commie’, and eventually was pushed out of the paper and worked for ‘The Village Voice’. I thought Sidney gave me the best description of how the Times or papers like the Times work. He said: “Well, we may not make things better, but if we do our job to the best of our ability, we stop things from getting worse.”
I think that’s a good definition of the commercial press.
And this gets back to Julian, because all of the great advances in journalism have come from the non-commercial press that has, going back to that, shamed, the way Julian did, shamed the traditional press into doing their job. So I write for Scheer Post. This is Bob Scheer’s website, which he pretty much funds from a Social Security check. But, you know, he’s one of the legendary journalist. He was the editor of Ramparts magazine, which was the leftist magazine in the and he broke Cointelpro.
He, that iconic picture of the little girl in Vietnam running naked down the road, that was first in Ramparts. And if you look at the inception of the war in Vietnam the coverage was all cheerleading.
And it was publications like Ramparts, in the same way that we saw with Julian, that forced these people against their will. But Bob, at the time of the Iraq War, was a columnist at the LA Times. They fired him because of his opposition, and I also got pushed out of the Times for my opposition to the war.
I remember once working for the Times, some intern, you know, probably went to Harvard or something, said, “Well, who do you think the best reporters in the country are?”
I said, “Well, I could tell you, but you would have never heard of them.”
He said, “They don’t work for us?”
I said, “No, they don’t work for you. They don’t work for us.”
And so, I mean, this is, of course, why I admire Julian so much. I mean, that’s what great journalism is. And I worked on the inside of the beast, I mean, and, with all the limitations of that, I was finally willing to become a management problem and get pushed out.
But I know how the system works. And that without figures like Julian, the system is morally bankrupt.
Stella Assange: Well, it’s very interesting what you just explained because I kind of imagined it being a bit like this when the story broke about Mike Pompeo making plans asking for the CIA to outline how they would kidnap, rendition or even kill Julian in the Embassy, and the story broke in 2021.
This was after the initial extradition case, and it was three National Security reporters at the Yahoo News Investigations Unit. And it was really detailed. And you look at these reporters and they have a track record with sources inside the CIA and so on.
And Pompeo’s reaction to it was to effectively confirm it because he then went out and said that the sources, and there were well over 30 of them, should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. And of course you only get prosecuted under the Espionage Act if the information is authentic.
So, a huge story and you couldn’t imagine a more interesting, newsworthy story than this one, right?
Because a journalist inside an embassy with political asylum, CIA head planning and asking his staff to come up with sketches and options.
It was quite detailed. Eventually it was re-reported by The Guardian. But the New York Times didn’t touch it, The Washington Post didn’t touch it. And I was actually, I brought it up on the BBC, on a radio interview that was live.
And the interviewer said, “Oh, but the CIA has denied it.”
And I said, “No, they haven’t. They haven’t denied it. They haven’t commented and Pompeo effectively… He just confirmed it”.
It was just like they were given this talking point that they had nothing to base it on.
Then, after the interview, I went back and I verified that the CIA had not denied it. The one time the New York Times did report this Pompeo murder plot was after the defense filed the story in the evidence in the extradition case. So, that gave them an excuse to be able to report it.
But before that, it was incredible. There was no mention of it, but they needed this court document in order to reference it. So, this showed to me that they needed this excuse. Because it was clearly newsworthy.
Chris Hedges: That’s right. Well, they didn’t really want to go after reporting because they didn’t want to run and they want to shutter their sources with the CIA. I mean, it’s a very delicate dance that you play and there are reporters within institutions like the New York Times, all they do are fed, especially the Washington Bureau.They’re just fed crap. I mean they don’t actually report anything. And they’re held in very high regard by the institution.
So when I covered, after 9/11, I covered Al-Qaeda. I was based in Paris. And French intelligence did not want the Americans to invade Iraq. So, they had given me at the highest levels, I had complete carte blanche at the counter-terrorism office run by this crazy Corsican. But I could go in and just ask. I mean, I would, I covered Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and the Brits weren’t giving me anything, they were awful. And I would just go, “Okay, get the files.” And I’m looking at pictures of Richard Reid walking out of the [Brixton] mosque and all this kind of stuff. And the French knew that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. And the French, unlike the Americans, actually had human assets inside of Al Qaeda. The Americans didn’t have any. It was all electronic eavesdropping, a lot of which they couldn’t read, by the way. Yeah, it was interesting. So, they knew chatter. They could pick up chatter, but they couldn’t. As it was explained to me, they used to code it in pictures. I don’t understand any of this stuff. We’ll have to call Julian and ask him. But they would code the messages in pictures. So they knew something was happening, but they couldn’t read it, the Americans. And I would go back to New York. Now, remember, the New York Times at the time was a full partner in the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass… and all this kind of stuff.
So, I had really good actionable intelligence and I was just dismissed. Oh, that’s the French. No, literally. Louis Scooter Libby, who I actually went to prep school with him, He told us, Dick Cheney told us, and it was like their ears were full of wax. So they went after Judy Miller, who is loathsome, but it was an institutional failing. They didn’t want to hear it. And at a time of kind of national crisis, whether that’s real or manufactured, the press always falls into line, traditionally. It goes all the way back to the Crimean War. Every press has done it. And that’s the role the Times was playing. So even though I had better intelligence, it was dismissed in the name of racism because we didn’t eat French fries in America at that time. We ate freedom fries and stuff like this. I mean it was so childish and I just wanted to go back to Paris.
Stella Assange: Well you know part of the problem is that the US I’d say the Anglo-American press but mainly the US press drives a for European press at least. And so I was speaking to some European press and I was telling them this story about Pompeo having his whole CIA deployed to bring down Julian and WikiLeaks and even planned to rendition, an extraordinary rendition from the UK. There was mention of black sites and how the indictment had come after these plans because they then confronted with this problem that well what if we kidnap him and then there’s no indictment. So, that came, you know, that was a sequence. And this is the proof that this is a political…if you needed more evidence, but that this is a politically motivated prosecution. And the answer was…well, but the thing is the New York Times hasn’t reported it…the Washington Post and so on. And so their view from very mainstream newspapers was that, well, it may be true, but because the New York Times hasn’t reported it, then we’re not going to report it either.
Chris Hedges: It is worse than that. It’s because the New York Times hasn’t reported it, it didn’t happen. So when I worked for smaller papers, let’s say, and go back to the war in Salvador, when I was working for the Dallas Morning News, I would report stuff, I mean, pretty horrible stuff. And it made no impact because the Times…The Times had a horrible correspondent who never went out. She went to the embassy and what she was fed and published it which is not only criminal in and of itself, but it hurts real journalists because even my editors would say “Well, that’s not what The Times is reporting.” And I don’t know that The Times still has that kind of power. I know that when I worked for The Times, our power was, as you said, that we set the agenda. So for instance, I would write a story and then all the big networks CBS, ABC, NBC, the producers, who are the ones with the brains, would come find me and say “Well, what are you publishing tomorrow? Where did you go?” Because their editors would read it in the morning paper and then tell them to go do it. That’s how it worked. So the circulation of the Times when I was there, I don’t know, 800,000, a million, although you also have the wire service, which gets picked up, so papers around the country would be running my stories. But the real power was that it set the agenda. And so you’re right and if it wasn’t in the Times in a way it could be ignored or as I said it didn’t happen. And I felt that on the other end. It was very frustrating. There were even moments when we leaked, we gave stuff to New York Times, inept New York Times reporters because we were sick of not having any kind of an impact. You kind of would have to hold their hand.
Stella Assange: Who sets the agenda now?
Chris Hedges: The press has changed since…I mean, during my career, because at the time the New York Times, like the big networks, would try and reach a wide audience. Now they don’t make an effort. The press has become completely siloed, so they cater to a particular demographic, whether that’s Fox News, and you can see it in terms of the percentages of Republicans who watch Fox News of 94 percent, the percentage of Democrats…and the figure is maybe slightly off who watch MSNBC or like 90-something percent, I think it’s 87 percent of the Democrats read the New York Times.
Because the model of the press has changed, where you’re now feeding your readers or your viewers what they want, there’s no price anymore for stuff that turns out to be a lie. And in that way, as bad as the old model was, this new model is worse. Because accompanied with this feeding of your demographic what they want you’re demonizing the competing demographic. So the right media is demonizing liberals, liberals are demonizing the deplorables, and that gets to what I saw in Yugoslavia.
So you had the same thing in Yugoslavia when it broke up. You had ethnic entities, Serbs, Muslims, Croats, and they seized their own media outlets. The first people they persecute is not the opposing demographic, who in some ways they need in order to build there…but people within their own demographic who are actually still trying to report the truth.
Those are the most dangerous and they will destroy them first. And that’s what’s happening. So what’s happening in the United States is, and I don’t know about the UK, but it’s similar to that breakdown of Yugoslavia because neither side is rooted in any more verifiable fact.
I mean, at least in the old days the Times was rooted in selected verifiable fact, and I will concede that the lie of omission is still a lie. Now it’s not even rooted in verifiable fact. And I was walking through Montgomery, Alabama, with Bryan Stevenson, the great civil rights attorney, and half of Montgomery is black, and Bryan is showing me all the Confederate memorials that have been put up. And then he says most of these were put up in the last 10 years. And I said that’s exactly what happened in Yugoslavia. With the economic collapse and breakdown of Yugoslavia and that sense of disempowerment, dethronement, and people retreated into these mythic identities, in particular, kind of the white supremacy, white nationalism that’s gripped the states, and that’s what happened in Yugoslavia. But these are identities rooted in myth, they’re not rooted in truth. And I think we’re very far down that road, and the consequences of it are potentially, especially since the United States is awash in automatic weapons, is really frightening, whether that we already have of so many mass shootings, it’s not news. And it’s mass shootings of kids and schools. I mean It’s just the kind of nihilistic violence. And then, as the great sociologist Durkheim writes in his book on suicide, people who seek the annihilation of others are driven by desires for self-annihilation. So these killers go in, and it’s either suicide by cop or they shoot themselves. And that exposes a very dark pathology within the United States, which the press is now contributing to.
Stella Assange: Yes, I mean if they took mass shootings, preventing mass shootings, seriously, and not just as a, I mean, there’s a political debate about arms control, of course, but then there’s the fact the media, the way the media plays those mass shootings that seem to be…
Chris Hedges: It’s like climate change. It disconnects it. It’s always a one event that has no connection to anything else, you know. So there’s no water in Arizona… “Well, isn’t that an interesting story, and now Madonna is”… you know. I mean, so, that’s part of this disconnectedness, you know, and you spoke earlier about history, and there’s no context. And if you don’t have any context, it doesn’t matter what you report, you can’t understand it. And that’s what’s been completely erased from the media landscape, any context.