Our feeling is that while the State may remove any material artifacts that speak in defiance against incumbent authoritarianism, the acts of resistance remain in the public consciousness. And it is in sharing that act of defiance that hope resides. — The Illuminator Art Collective
I had the opportunity to appear on Democracy Now this morning and speak about the desertion and misbehavior charges being brought against Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
From yesterday’s Huffington Post:
“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
— Aeschylus 525-456 BC
As reported by the BBC this month, the Taliban have rejected an offer by the newly installed President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, of Cabinet positions and governorships in three Afghan provinces. The provinces include Helmand and Kandahar, where thousands of American and Western troops have been killed and wounded, particularly since 2009 when President Obama chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan rather than seeking a political solution to end the war.
Five years on and Afghan civilian and security force casualties are at record highs, the Taliban is larger and stronger than it has been at any point since 2001, government and police corruption is massively untamed, and Afghans last year were subjected to their third incredibly fraudulent national election in five years. In fact, the only thing going well for anyone in Afghanistan, besides the Taliban and those on the take of Western foreign aid, are the bumper narcotics crops, which each year produce historic yields.
The Taliban, having been offered power in their home region, have spurned any opportunities for reconciliation and compromise. “Moderates” within the Taliban, whom we could have negotiated with in 2008 and 2009 prior to President Obama’s escalation of the war, have been proven wrong and largely eliminated. The hard-line elements of the Taliban, having seen the Taliban weather the full force of the United States of America, see history as repeating itself or, at the very least, rhyming. Like the departure of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, it is now just a question of time before the foreign backed regime in Kabul collapses. Time, among many other factors, was always on the side of the Afghan insurgents.
A panel I took part on while I was in Oslo last month. Daniel Ellsberg skyped in and I joined Coleen Rowley, Kirk Wiebe and Norman Solomon, as well as Arne Ruth, a very preeminent Swedish journalist. Only the first few moments are in Norwegian 🙂
I took part in a fantastic panel at University of London on Journalism, Whistleblowing and the Security State. My fellow panelists were Norman Solomon, Katherine Gun, Kirk Wiebe and Coleen Rowley (Time‘s 2002 Person of the Year).
The audio podcast of the panel can be found here:
Also, while in London we did a host of media interviews including with The Guardian. Here’s an editorial The Guardian published on our efforts:
A diverse quartet of characters share a platform at the Foreign Press Association in London on Friday 21 November. They are a mix of effusive and reserved, leftist, conservative libertarian and politically unaffiliated. But all four have worked for US or UK security agencies, and all four have blown the whistle on misconduct as they saw it. They’ve won accolades for their integrity, yet none was in the end able to remain in post with his or her employer after airing inconvenient truths.
Matthew Hoh, Colleen Rowley and Kirk Wiebe are, like Edward Snowden, all one-time servants of the American security state. The former GCHQ translator, Katharine Gun, exposed an NSA plan to bug the UN offices of countries that George W Bush and Tony Blair regarded as potential swing votes in their doomed quest for a security council rubber-stamp for an invasion of Iraq, on which they were already set. She was, until the prosecution proved unwilling or unable to muster any evidence, pursued under the Official Secrets Acts, legislation that has rendered the British state a notorious shadowland for a century. The US is traditionally seen as blessed with more open government, but the immediate backdrop to today’s event is the increasingly ruthless pursuit of American whistleblowers.
For all Barack Obama’s background in civil rights law, his administration has charged more people under the Espionage Act, a 97-year old law rushed through in the first world war, than all previous administrations combined. Phone records covering journalists and, presumably, their sources have been subpoenaed. The trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with revealing details of a botched US plan to feed Iran false nuclear leads, is pending. While British journalists are, as we report, resorting to legal action against Scotland Yard for monitoring their activities as part of a “domestic extremism” programme, US government directives and information campaigns are being trained on the “insider threat”, the new parlance for employees who are not to be trusted with classified information.
The whistleblowers taking to the London stage have been concerned with security threats and international relations, including matters of war and peace. There are of course some secrets in these fields that it is in the public interest to protect. Very often, however, embassies and spy agencies will wish to keep things hushed up for exactly the same sort of reasons that affect less exotic institutions – concealing cock-ups, and avoiding daylight falling on things that ought not be happening at all.
A banker with a conscience, Paul Moore of HBOS, lost his job after asking awkward questions about loans and sales practices. The daughter of a mis-treated patient, Julie Bailey, saw her mother’s grave vandalised after she began telling the truth about the NHS disgrace at Mid Staffs. Nobody, however, would today deny that both were on the right side. And from Iraq to waterboarding and mass surveillance, whistleblowers within the security state, too, have more often than not ended up being vindicated.
From November 25, 2014:
Chuck Hagel’s disagreement with Obama’s position on the Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan wars is most likely behind his resignation. The administration didn’t expect him to speak against the White House, former State Department official Matthew Hoh told RT.
RT: You’ve seen this machine at work from the inside. What do you think is behind Chuck Hagel’s resignation?
Matthew Hoh:I think, of course, there is much more to this story than simply “Chuck Hagel no longer worked well with the administration.” I think you could tell by how quickly and how viciously the White House anonymously attacked Chuck Hagel as soon he announced his resignation. There were a lot of personal attacks against Hagel: he didn’t have leadership, he couldn’t do the job, he wasn’t up to the task, and I think any time you see the administration or the White House so quickly denouncing somebody, you know automatically there is another story to this. And what I believe to be case is that Chuck Hagel does not agree with the Obama Administration involving American troops in the middle of the Iraqi and the Syrian civil wars. And he is in disagreement with the American re-escalation of the war in Afghanistan that was just announced this past weekend.
RT: Judging by yesterday’s warm hugs between Obama and Hagel, the personal relationship between the two is quite friendly. How sincere were those smiles and handshakes?
MH: It’s Washington DC; it’s the Hollywood of politics. So, absolutely. I think may be in earlier time it could be described there is how cordial relations were among politicians, among elected leaders, among our senior people. But now it’s just as you described – it was a show.
RT: Recently Chuck Hagel became quite critical of the administration’s policy in Syria and Iraq. Do you think this made him an outcast in the White House?
MH: I think for the administration not to expect Secretary Hagel to be vocal or to speak up would have been be a very big mistake for them in their understanding of Secretary Chuck Hagel. Chuck Hagel earned the national reputation in the United States about 10 years ago or so for going against the Iraqi war. Chuck Hagel is a republican and member of President George Bush’s party and he very famously went against the Iraq war. So for the Obama Administration to have thought that Chuck Hagel was pliable, someone who was just going to go along with whatever decision they made and not to offer disagreements whether in private or in public, I think that was a huge mistake on their part. And so I think as I said as the story unfolds and as we get more perspectives on it, we’ll see the level of disagreement that was within the administration, within Obama’s Cabinet between Secretary Hagel and more hawkish members.
RT: Chuck Hagel is known for his anti-militaristic approach to U.S. foreign policy. Now that he’s going does it mean the Pentagon will become more aggressive?
MH: I think, unfortunately, the administration has bowed to pressure from both within the administration, from those in the administration who are beholding to a pro-intervention or a “military-first” policy as well as to very hawkish or warmongering senators on Capitol Hill. So I think the Obama Administration has made a commitment to expand America’s role in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars. I think that is a cycle that will only worsen and deepen. Case in point – Afghanistan – where the United States escalated the war in 2009.Five years later, there is no end in sight for the war, the Afghan people continue to suffer, the government remains incredibly corrupt, the Taliban are stronger and the drug trade is the only industry in the country. I think what’s happening with American re-escalation of the war – sending American troops back into combat – is that President Obama is bowing to pressure, feeling stoned by abusing criticism that he is not tough enough. He is recommitting American troops to the war in Afghanistan, so that he cannot be criticized for ending the war prematurely. [But] they have been there for 13 years and that war, according to polls it has an 83 percent unfavorability rating in the United States, and is most unpopular war in American history, even more unpopular than the wars in Iraq or Vietnam.
A very kind stranger inquired about my faith and my loss of it. My response to her was something I wanted to share, as that is the intent of this blog and it contains far too little of that kind of discussion. Please feel free to share your thoughts, your experiences or where you are with your faith.
I lost my faith a long time ago. In college, over twenty years ago. It was winter time. I think 1993. Of course it was complicated why I lost my faith, but I think if I had to summarize it, it was because what I saw of the world, of institutions and of people, did not measure up to what I believed my faith encompassed and required.
I saw the hypocrisy of organized religion and the hypocrisy of the actions of the religious. I saw that hypocrisy in myself too. I viewed and experienced my faith primarily through the structures of organized religion and found such a relationship to be restrictive and negative. Organized religion ran hard against the realities of life, both the joys and the sorrows, and so I rejected religion and chose life. I have to admit James Joyce had quite an influence on me :).
But now, after living nearly two decades without faith, living a full life, with many joys and much suffering, particularly witnessing the suffering of others, I am finding that my rejection of my faith was wrong. I am certainly anti-institution and I see quite clearly the hypocrisy of the religious, but I am now understanding the teachings of Jesus and Buddha to be individual teachings and through that I am discovering and enjoying an intimate and personal relationship with the Father, as well as an appreciation and desire for the path to Enlightenment.
The wars had nothing to do with the loss of my faith, as I had lost it over a decade before. The wars did further strangle my soul and they ensured the impossibility within my mind of any connection to or any thought of the spiritual or to Truth (big “T” truth). With healing and with recovery, through the help of many: friends, family and strangers; professional health care providers, fellow veterans and kind strangers; I have come back to faith.
Or maybe, I haven’t. Maybe I have come to understand something I never did, something I never truly understood or experienced. That faith, that understanding and acceptance of something greater than you and this world, exists as a personal relationship not bound or ruled by man-made dictates or organizations.
What I do know is that my life is better with faith and that I have a purpose in my life as a result of my suffering, as a result of these wars, rather than in spite of them.
Thank you to Angela for her question and for prompting me to reflect.