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Is America still a democracy? Who cares? It’s DANGEROUS!

20 March 2013 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in activism, politics, war | 1 Comment »

On 6 March 2013 I participated in a panel discussion in Bratislava on the Bradley Manning case and on the question, “Is the United States still a democracy?” The event took place at the office of the Open Society Foundation – Bratislava and was hosted by Slovakia’s Inštitút ľudských práv – Human Rights Institute. The other guest was Michal Havran, Editor-in-Chief of Slovak politico-economic news and commentary website jeToTak.sk. The discussion was moderated by the Institute’s Director, Peter Weisenbacher, and English-Slovak interpreting support was provided by Institute Program Director and Media Spokesperson Alena Krempaská.

My (sometimes glossed and possibly faulty) transcript of my statements follows the video. I would welcome a transcript of the Slovak portion.

“Do you think Bradley Manning should have done something other than what he did?”

According to Bradley’s testimony in the court, I picked out a few things that motivated him, first of all. One of them was the cruelty, the callousness and the criminality displayed by the soldiers who were captured in the video that was released called “Collateral Murder” shooting people in the streets of Baghdad. Also there was one experience he detailed where he pointed to a pattern where people were being killed and captured simply to kind of “make the numbers”, and the people in command were just focused on eliminating names from a list rather than seeking justice. He also mentioned the treatment of detainees in Guantánamo and elsewhere, and that in many cases there was no good reason for holding them. He talked about the financial crisis as it affected Iceland and how the US and the EU were trying to pressure Iceland into accepting an IMF-style bailout which would have been disastrous for the citizens. And he also mentioned what’s come to be called the Garani massacre in Afghanistan, where 150 people were killed, most of them women and children.

Bradley did try to do several different things before he released the information to WikiLeaks. First he attempted to raise some of these issues with his chain of command, and also tried to get the attention of his member of Congress to investigate. Those requests were ignored, essentially, “go back to work,” so he decided he had to do something else. He also attempted to make contact with the Washington Post and the New York Times and the website politico.com and was also ignored in those cases. So, finally he went and gave the information to WikiLeaks and later he told his correspondent and “confidante” online — in testimony that later became ground for his arrest — “well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] – and god knows what happens now – hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, then we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens […] I want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” So, Bradley for himself determined that somethign had to be done with the information he was in possession of, no other avenue was available to him, so he did what he thought justice demanded.

“Why did you, as an American, decide to start the support network for Manning?”

Well, first I’d like to point out that I’m an ex-American since 2008. In 2010 the news came out through Wired magazine’s online website that Bradley Manning had been arrested. I looked at the story and said “Oh my god. Here’s the guy who released this shocking and awful video of the helicopter murders in Baghdad.” My first reaction was less about Bradley than it was about Adrian Lamo, the person he had been chatting to about what he had done, and who would be his “confidante”. Lamo betrayed Manning by turning him in to the police and the military authorities, and my reaction and really the reason that I got into this was saying: “Adrian Lamo, you dirty motherfucker!” So, over the next three days, as I read more about the story, as it was starting to come out, and thought more about it I became angrier and angrier about the situation and realized that Manning was facing the full weight of the American “justice” system, so I registered bradleymanning.org. Over the next couple of months, by operating that website myself as a blog, I attracted the attention of other people who were interested in the case and eventually the Support Network was born.

(responding to a comment from Michal Havran, where he points out that it’s unfair to say the Post and the Times “ignored” Manning)

Because of the way the traditional media operate, Manning wasn’t able to develop the kind of relationship that “Deep Throat” developed with Bob Woodward, back in the day. Manning was a guy who hung out on the internet. He met WikiLeaks by hanging out in IRC chat rooms. The technological landscape of journalism is changing to some degree, and whereas the Post and the Times weren’t able to respond to someone used to communicating in the way that Manning does, an organization like WikiLeaks and now other organizations like that are developing the technology and the culture to support a new kind of journalism.

The other point related to this charge of “aiding the enemy”. “Nepriateľ” neexistuje. There is no “enemy”. In order for the term “enemy” to be properly applied under American constitutional law, as I understand it, if there is no Congressional declaration of war, there can be no “enemy”, and the United States hasn’t had a Congressionally-declared war since World War II. […] In short, the situation with the United States being at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, in Yemen, Somalia, god knows where else, constitutionally, under the Constitution, all of it is criminal behavior for the last 60 years. So, even by its own declared standards, it’s not justified in putting this “aiding the enemy” charge against Manning. However, the United States administration has, for a long time, simply ignored the sections of the law that it doesn’t find convenient.

“Why did you renounce your American citizenship?”

I have a little thing here that I wrote back in 2008, which I’ll just read. “I renounced my American citizenship in protest of what has become an American Empire, a nation that I see riding an express train to police state dictatorship with flags flying, anthems blaring and deluded, complicit masses cheering it along the track.” And this was not a new phenomenon I suddenly saw in 2008. I’d wanted to leave the US since around 1998, until I finally did in 2004, but I had seen already this trend toward greater and greater control — fascism — in America as early as 1990. My good friend Vinay Gupta wrote something a few days ago which I think is very powerful: “America is raising a generation for whom America has always been the world’s great fascist power.

“What do you, as an ex-American citizen, given this case, think about the US justice system?”

The American “justice” system is critically broken, and it’s not going to be fixed. That’s something that’s been building for quite a long time. The constitutional guarantees to a fair, public, speedy trial obviously are being pushed aside in this case. In fact, we’ve even got notification in the last few days that four of the government’s witnesses against Manning are going to be anonymous, which at least on the face of it goes against the rule that you have the right to know who your accuser is. One of those four, in fact, is so classified and so secret — because, it’s believed, he’s the person who actually shot Osama bin Laden — that the defense will not be allowed to interview him prior to trial.

In my opinion, all of the treatment of Bradley Manning, fundamentally, from the side of the United States government, is not about Bradley Manning. It’s about the demonstration of the naked exercise unlimited, unaccountable power. In my mind, there is a very strong motivation that goes all the way up beyond the president to the people who actually own America and who the president works for, and what they’re thinking is: “Let’s do everything we can to make Bradley Manning the poster child, the great example, for why you don’t leak information from inside the government. And, when we have the chance, we’ll make the process go as slowly as possible. In fact, we’ll screw up the prosecution at the first instance and at the appeals level so that it eventually goes to the Supreme Court, and then Manning’s been in prison for 15 years before the case is finally disposed of. And we can always point to this, to people inside the government, as an example of what you don’t do.” So, American justice? Sure, if you’re privileged, and if you can afford it. I could go on…

“Would the 1000 days detention be different if this were before the USA-PATRIOT Act came into effect?”

I’m not a legal expert but I believe that in this case the PATRIOT Act does not apply to the length of time that he’s been imprisoned before trial. My understanding is that some portion — some smaller portion — of the 1000 days is due to the defense requesting additional time for preparation of the case. However, the bulk of the 1000 days is claimed by the defense as being foot-dragging and delay on the part of the government. This goes to the kind of thing I was saying before, where, “hey, we can screw up the prosecution so much as we like so long as it draws things out and continues hanging Bradley out there as a counterexample.”

“What do you think Manning’s actions will mean, for further releases of information via WikiLeaks, for the US and for democracy?”

Julian Assange came up with a great quotation after WikiLeaks began publishing the Bradley Manning material, which was “courage is contagious.” The only reason why Manning was caught and why Manning has now been in prison for a thousand days and faces a life sentence is that he trusted somebody who betrayed him. It was not necessary that the state would ever find him, because the means that he employed, with the assistance of WikiLeaks, and allegedly of some other people, were technologically secure. So, I hope that Manning’s example serves as an inspiration to other people who might leak governmental, corporate or church secrets that those organizations would rather keep hidden, because they point to bad behavior. The modern state, the modern corporation — the big corporation, particularly — can’t function without some level of legally-privileged secrecy. I’d be very happy to see that disappear.

“Is the US still a democracy?”

I must qualify my answer first. In one sense, I don’t care. I’m an anarchist. I think democracy is a terrible way to organize society. As H.L. Mencken wrote: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” (laughter)

America is not a democracy. The American political system maintains the forms of a republican democracy, it maintains the institutions of a republican democracy, but this is much like putting perfume on a pig. It’s window-dressing. While it’s true that anybody can run for the legislature and get elected, in order to actually wield power in the legislature and retain it one must placate the corporate and other interests that actually own the country. And, in the case of the highest reaches of the administration, in particular the presidency, one does not — by virtue of good character, charisma and great plans for the country — get elected to the presidency. One gets elected to the presidency because the people who own America allow you to be, and because you’ve already sold your soul to the devil.

There are many other things that could be said about this, but one of them worth mentioning is that in the American electoral system there are really only two parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. It’s been said more than once that the Republicans and the Democrats are just like two wings of the same evil bird. So in fact there is no real choice between Democrats and Republicans in the US, they’re both two faces of the same entity, whereas in Slovakia, you actually do have a choice: you get to vote for Penta, or J&T.[1] (laughter)

And further, if you look at the visible signs of how the country has been developing for the last 25 years, the signs of the emergence of a police state are obvious and everywhere. The Department of Homeland Security recently purchased something like one billion rounds of high-powered rifle ammunition. These are not to be used in wars. The US government has just purchased three bullets for every man, woman and child inside the country. When you add to these things the endless American wars that have been going on since “peace” after World War II, the question becomes: “Is America a democracy? Who cares? It’s DANGEROUS!”

[1]: Two large Slovak investment banks

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