Free Julian Assange

Exposing official lies: that is Julian Assange’s “crime”

Chris Hedges

Today I saw this speech by Chris Hedges and decided to share it here for all my readers. Julian Assange is being punished for truth-telling; punished as an example to others who might also seek to tell the truth; punished in a way that exposes the repression of a justice system that offers injustice to those who dare to challenge the powerful. “Tyranny imposed on others is now imposed on us,” Chris Hedges says in this speech. I urge you to read it, listen to it, and ponder his words. W.J. Astore

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Merrick Garland and those who work in the Department of Justice are the puppets, not the puppet masters. They are the façade, the fiction, that the longstanding persecution of Julian Assange has something to do with justice. Like the High Court in London, they carry out an elaborate judicial pantomime. They debate arcane legal nuances to distract from the Dickensian farce where a man who has not committed a crime, who is not a U.S. citizen, can be extradited under the Espionage Act and sentenced to life in prison for the most courageous and consequential journalism of our generation.

The engine driving the lynching of Julian is not here on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is in Langley, Virginia, located at a complex we will never be allowed to surround – the Central Intelligence Agency. It is driven by a secretive inner state, one where we do not count in the mad pursuit of empire and ruthless exploitation. Because the machine of this modern leviathan was exposed by Julian and WikiLeaks, the machine demands revenge. 

The United States has undergone a corporate coup d’etat in slow motion. It is no longer a functioning democracy. The real centers of power, in the corporate, military and national security sectors, were humiliated and embarrassed by WikiLeaks. Their war crimes, lies, conspiracies to crush the democratic aspirations of the vulnerable and the poor, and rampant corruption, here and around the globe, were laid bare in troves of leaked documents.  

We cannot fight on behalf of Julian unless we are clear about whom we are fighting against. It is far worse than a corrupt judiciary. The global billionaire class, who have orchestrated a social inequality rivaled by pharaonic Egypt, has internally seized all of the levers of power and made us the most spied upon, monitored, watched and photographed population in human history. When the government watches you 24-hours a day, you cannot use the word liberty. This is the relationship between a master and a slave. Julian was long a target, of course, but when WikiLeaks published the documents known as Vault 7, which exposed the hacking tools the CIA uses to monitor our phones, televisions and even cars, he — and journalism itself — was condemned to crucifixion. The object is to shut down any investigations into the inner workings of power that might hold the ruling class accountable for its crimes, eradicate public opinion and replace it with the cant fed to the mob.

I spent two decades as a foreign correspondent on the outer reaches of empire in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. I am acutely aware of the savagery of empire, how the brutal tools of repression are first tested on those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” Wholesale surveillance. Torture. Coups. Black sites. Black propaganda. Militarized police. Militarized drones. Assassinations. Wars. Once perfected on people of color overseas, these tools migrate back to the homeland. By hollowing out our country from the inside through deindustrialization, austerity, deregulation, wage stagnation, the abolition of unions, massive expenditures on war and intelligence, a refusal to address the climate emergency and a virtual tax boycott for the richest individuals and corporations, these predators intend to keep us in bondage, victims of a corporate neo-feudalism. And they have perfected their instruments of Orwellian control. The tyranny imposed on others is imposed on us.

From its inception, the CIA carried out assassinations, coups, torture, and illegal spying and abuse, including that of U.S. citizens, activities exposed in 1975 by the Church Committee hearings in the Senate and the Pike Committee hearings in the House. All these crimes, especially after the attacks of 9/11, have returned with a vengeance. The CIA is a rogue and unaccountable paramilitary organization with its own armed units and drone program, death squads and a vast archipelago of global black sites where kidnapped victims are tortured and disappeared. 

The U.S. allocates a secret black budget of about $50 billion a year to hide multiple types of clandestine projects carried out by the National Security Agency, the CIA and other intelligence agencies, usually beyond the scrutiny of Congress. The CIA has a well-oiled apparatus to kidnap, torture and assassinate targets around the globe, which is why, since it had already set up a system of 24-hour video surveillance of Julian in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, it quite naturally discussed kidnapping and assassinating him. That is its business. Senator Frank Church — after examining the heavily redacted CIA documents released to his committee — defined the CIA’s “covert activity” as “a semantic disguise for murder, coercion, blackmail, bribery, the spreading of lies and consorting with known torturers and international terrorists.”

All despotisms mask state persecution with sham court proceedings. The show trials and troikas in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The raving Nazi judges in fascist Germany. The Denunciation rallies in Mao’s China. State crime is cloaked in a faux legality, a judicial farce.

If Julian is extradited and sentenced and, given the Lubyanka-like proclivities of the Eastern District of Virginia, this is a near certainty, it means that those of us who have published classified material, as I did when I worked for The New York Times, will become criminals. It means that an iron curtain will be pulled down to mask abuses of power. It means that the state, which, through Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, anti-terrorism laws and the Espionage Act that have created our homegrown version of Stalin’s Article 58, can imprison anyone anywhere in the world who dares commit the crime of telling the truth.

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to fight against powerful subterranean forces that, in demanding Julian’s extradition and life imprisonment, have declared war on journalism. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to fight for the restoration of the rule of law and democracy. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to dismantle the wholesale Stasi-like state surveillance erected across the West. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to overthrow — and let me repeat that word for the benefit of those in the FBI and Homeland Security who have come here to monitor us — overthrow the corporate state and create a government of the people, by the people and for the people, that will cherish, rather than persecute, the best among us.

Hypocrisy and “Tactical” Nukes

Don’t worry, it’s just a “little” tactical nuke!

W.J. Astore

With Russia issuing warnings about using all weapons at its disposal to protect its position in Ukraine, it’s a good time to talk about the distinction between “tactical” and “strategic” nuclear weapons.

Put bluntly, there’s no real distinction. All nuclear weapons, regardless of size and yield, are devastating and potentially escalatory to a full-scale nuclear war. Were Russia to use “tactical” nuclear weapons, the U.S. and NATO would likely respond in kind.  Even if a major nuclear war could be avoided, resulting political disruptions would likely aggravate ongoing economic dislocation, triggering a serious global recession, even a Great Depression, further feeding the growth of fascism and authoritarianism.

When you build weapons, there’s a temptation to use them. Weapons don’t exist in a vacuum. Within the military, people are trained to use them. Doctrine is developed along with contingency plans. Exercises are run to prepare for deployment and use in wartime, “just in case.” In short, we can’t count on sane heads to prevail here, not when some people seem to think you can use a “little” nuke to send a message.

Fortunately for the world, nuclear weapons haven’t been used in war since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. But they are used daily in the sense of intimidating other countries.  Currently, Russia is using its nuclear forces to try to contain US/NATO aid to Ukraine and involvement in the Russia-Ukraine War. Russia is drawing a nuclear red line, and I doubt it’s a bluff.

It’s hypocritical of both the US and Russia to accuse the other of nuclear brinksmanship since both countries have contingency plans to use nukes. Hopefully, it’s obvious to both countries how devastating it would be if a nuclear exchange, even a “limited” or “tactical” one, were to occur.

Even as bluffs, nuclear threats are reckless, since there’s always some fool who may seek to call the bluff. Let’s hope the US/NATO collective doesn’t play the fool. We have enough problems in the world without tossing nuclear warheads of whatever size or yield at each other.

How to Fix the U.S. Military’s Lying Problem

W.J. Astore

In my last article, I noted the U.S. military’s pursuit and prosecution of wars based on lies. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq are the most prominent and costly of these wars, though there were and are others. I argued that dishonorable wars were wasting the courage of U.S. troops even as they greatly weakened the U.S. military as an institution. And not just the U.S. military but the Constitution itself, to which all military members swear a sacred oath to support and defend.

I shared my article with a friend who teaches at a senior U.S. military school, and his one comment to me was a question: “How would you fix these problems?”

I’m flattered when my readers think I have the answers to fix major systemic problems that have existed and persisted since the Korean War, if not before. My colleague’s question was sincere, I am sure, and I assume he agreed with much of my analysis since he didn’t question or challenge my fundamental thesis.

Of course, I’m not the only person to have noticed the U.S. military has a serious issue with honor and integrity. Vox Populi posted my last article today with the following photo caption:

Leaders lie “in the routine performance of their duties,” and “ethical and moral transgressions [occur] across all levels” of the organization [Army]. Leaders have also become “ethically numb,” using “justifications and rationalizations” to overcome any ethical doubts, according to a 2015 study by Leonard Wong and Stephen Gerras, who are both professors at the U.S. Army War College.

The title of the Wong/Gerras study is “Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession,” published in 2019. Another powerful book is Tim Bakken’s “The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris, and Failure in the U.S. Military,” published in 2020. Bakken teaches at West Point.

So, what is to be done?

I wrote to my colleague that he should put his question to his own students. Since he teaches at a senior military school, his students are mostly Army and Air Force colonels and Navy captains on the fast track to flag rank and stars. Many of them are America’s future generals and admirals. Surely they are the ones who have to come up with solutions, not me. I retired from the military almost two decades ago. I’m no longer part of the clan. Today’s officers are the ones who must challenge the lies, who must seek honor instead of dishonor, who must have the moral courage as public servants to speak up, to change things, and especially to tell the truth to the American people.

Are we as a nation challenging our public servants, including senior military officers, to be men and women of integrity? Are we insisting that they tell the truth when they testify to Congress? When they talk about wars, are they being frank and honest? Or are they evasive and dishonest? If the latter, are they being held accountable for their lies, both within the military and without it, by Congress and by people like us?

I didn’t attend a senior service school, but I did attend Squadron Officer School (for company-grade officers, which I did in-residence) and Air Command and Staff College (for field-grade officers, which I did by correspondence). From what I recall, there was some emphasis on history, on strategy and tactics, and on leadership but not much emphasis, if any, on moral courage, honesty, truth-telling, and integrity.

Fundamental to any military member is the need to honor one’s oath to the U.S. Constitution. We as a nation need to demand that military leaders serve with honor and integrity; this is far more important to the future of our military and our country than gargantuan military budgets and loads of exotic and expensive weaponry.

I remember exactly one discussion at the Air Force Academy when a roomful of officers started debating about which value was most important, the honor code or loyalty (with loyalty here construed in personal terms as support for one’s superiors, equals, and subordinates). The discussion grew heated in a matter of minutes before it was shut down by the senior officer in the room.

That’s exactly one time in six years that I recall a serious, if abbreviated, discussion of honor and truth-telling versus loyalty and the officer’s duty to both, and the challenge one faces when honor conflicts (or seems to conflict) with loyalty.

The failure to address such tensions is not confined to the military. Think of other hierarchical organizations such as the Catholic Church. As a priest, do you honor God’s commandments and the moral teachings of Christ or should you be loyal to your local bishop and the church? When your conscience tells you one thing and the church tells you something else, which one takes priority?

Readers here know I was raised Catholic. I am no longer a practicing Catholic due to the church’s betrayal of children at the hands of predatory priests and the coverups that followed, done in the name of protecting the church and its reputation. In protecting itself, the church betrayed the people. The church lied. The church lacked moral courage and brought dishonor upon itself. Worst of all, it allowed innocent children to suffer.

Whether we’re talking about military officers or ministers and priests, we must demand integrity and honesty, we must seek to inculcate virtue, and we must not tolerate lying, cheating, stealing, and similar crimes and sins.

It’s a very high standard indeed, and perhaps few will live up to it, but I’m not demanding perfection. Just honesty and accountability. A willingness to do the right thing and the courage to admit when the wrong thing is being done and to act to put a stop to it.

So, that’s my “fix” for the U.S. military: a commitment to righteous service where integrity and truth-telling is the priority, even when it hurts one’s career. Because you didn’t take an oath to your career or to your service or to your commanding officer: you took it to the U.S. Constitution, and your officer’s commission is granted by Congress in the name of the people. Serve the people, serve the truth, and remember that moral courage is rarer even than physical courage.

Update (10/3): Clearly, one way to incentivize truth-telling is to reward those who come forward with promotions. The military, however, tends to do the opposite, punishing those who tell “embarrassing” truths to the American people. Two cases in the U.S. Army are LTC Daniel Davis and LTC Paul Yingling. Davis wrote powerfully and honestly about the folly of the Afghan War, based upon his extensive in-country experiences there. Yingling wrote “A Failure in Generalship,” where he noted a private who loses a rifle suffers more repercussions than generals who lose wars. For their courage and honesty, both were ostracized and not promoted.

All service branches usually promote “the true believers,” those who conform, those who who bleed Army green, or Air Force blue, and so on. One gets promoted for doing a good job within the system, and especially for making one’s superiors look good. Davis and Yingling questioned the Army’s performance in the Iraq and Afghan Wars, based on their direct experience with those wars, and for that they were punished.

Other Army officers took note.

Something Is Rotten in the U.S. Military

W.J. Astore

Winning a war based on lies is truly a fool’s errand, which is why the U.S. military’s record since World War II is so poor. Yet no one is ever held responsible for these lies, which suggests something worse than a losing military: one that is without honor, especially among the brass. That’s the theme of my latest article for TomDispatch, which is appended below in its entirety.

As a military professor for six years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the 1990s, I often walked past the honor code prominently displayed for all cadets to see. Its message was simple and clear: they were not to tolerate lying, cheating, stealing, or similar dishonorable acts. Yet that’s exactly what the U.S. military and many of America’s senior civilian leaders have been doing from the Vietnam War era to this very day: lying and cooking the books, while cheating and stealing from the American people. And yet the most remarkable thing may be that no honor code turns out to apply to them, so they’ve suffered no consequences for their mendacity and malfeasance.

Where’s the “honor” in that?

It may surprise you to learn that “integrity first” is the primary core value of my former service, the U.S. Air Force.  Considering the revelations of the Pentagon Papers, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971; the Afghan War papers, first revealed by the Washington Post in 2019; and the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, among other evidence of the lying and deception that led to the invasion and occupation of that country, you’ll excuse me for assuming that, for decades now when it comes to war, “integrity optional” has been the true core value of our senior military leaders and top government officials.

As a retired Air Force officer, let me tell you this: honor code or not, you can’t win a war with lies — America proved that in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq — nor can you build an honorable military with them. How could our high command not have reached such a conclusion themselves after all this time?

So Many Defeats, So Little Honesty

Like many other institutions, the U.S. military carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. After all, despite being funded in a fashion beyond compare and spreading its peculiar brand of destruction around the globe, its system of war hasn’t triumphed in a significant conflict since World War II (with the war in Korea remaining, almost three-quarters of a century later, in a painful and festering stalemate).  Even the ending of the Cold War, allegedly won when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, only led to further wanton military adventurism and, finally, defeat at an unsustainable cost — more than $8 trillion — in Washington’s ill-fated Global War on Terror. And yet, years later, that military still has a stranglehold on the national budget.

So many defeats, so little honesty: that’s the catchphrase I’d use to characterize this country’s military record since 1945. Keeping the money flowing and the wars going proved far more important than integrity or, certainly, the truth. Yet when you sacrifice integrity and the truth in the cause of concealing defeat, you lose much more than a war or two. You lose honor — in the long run, an unsustainable price for any military to pay.

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Or rather it should be unsustainable, yet the American people have continued to “support” their military, both by funding it astronomically and expressing seemingly eternal confidence in it — though, after all these years, trust in the military has dipped somewhat recently. Still, in all this time, no one in the senior ranks, civilian or military, has ever truly been called to account for losing wars prolonged by self-serving lies. In fact, too many of our losing generals have gone right through that infamous “revolving door” into the industrial part of the military-industrial complex — only to sometimes return to take top government positions.

Our military has, in fact, developed a narrative that’s proven remarkably effective in insulating it from accountability. It goes something like this: U.S. troops fought hard in [put the name of the country here], so don’t blame us. Indeed, you must support us, especially given all the casualties of our wars. They and the generals did their best, under the usual political constraints. On occasion, mistakes were made, but the military and the government had good and honorable intentions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. 

Besides, were you there, Charlie? If you weren’t, then STFU, as the acronym goes, and be grateful for the security you take for granted, earned by America’s heroes while you were sitting on your fat ass safe at home.

It’s a narrative I’ve heard time and time again and it’s proven persuasive, partially because it requires the rest of us, in a conscription-free country, to do nothing and think nothing about that. Ignorance is strength, after all.

War Is Brutal

The reality of it all, however, is so much harsher than that. Senior military leaders have performed poorly.  War crimes have been covered up. Wars fought in the name of helping others have produced horrendous civilian casualties and stunning numbers of refugees. Even as those wars were being lost, what President Dwight D. Eisenhowerfirst labeled the military-industrial complex has enjoyed windfall profits and expanding power. Again, there’s been no accountability for failure. In fact, only whistleblowing truth-tellers like Chelsea Manning and Daniel Hale have been punished and jailed.

Ready for an even harsher reality? America is a nation being unmade by war, the very opposite of what most Americans are taught. Allow me to explain.  As a country, we typically celebrate the lofty ideals and brave citizen-soldiers of the American Revolution. We similarly celebrate the Second American Revolution, otherwise known as the Civil War, for the elimination of slavery and reunification of the country; after which, we celebrate World War II, including the rise of the Greatest Generation, America as the arsenal of democracy, and our emergence as the global superpower.

By celebrating those three wars and essentially ignoring much of the rest of our history, we tend to view war itself as a positive and creative act. We see it as making America, as part of our unique exceptionalism. Not surprisingly, then, militarism in this country is impossible to imagine. We tend to see ourselves, in fact, as uniquely immune to it, even as war and military expenditures have come to dominate our foreign policy, bleeding into domestic policy as well.

If we as Americans continue to imagine war as a creative, positive, essential part of who we are, we’ll also continue to pursue it. Or rather, if we continue to lie to ourselves about war, it will persist. 

It’s time for us to begin seeing it not as our making but our unmaking, potentially even our breaking — as democracy’s undoing as well as the brutal thing it truly is.

A retired U.S. military officer, educated by the system, I freely admit to having shared some of its flaws. When I was an Air Force engineer, for instance, I focused more on analysis and quantification than on synthesis and qualification. Reducing everything to numbers, I realize now, helps provide an illusion of clarity, even mastery.  It becomes another form of lying, encouraging us to meddle in things we don’t understand.

This was certainly true of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, his “whiz kids,” and General William Westmoreland during the Vietnam War; nor had much changed when it came to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General David Petraeus, among others, in the Afghan and Iraq War years. In both eras, our military leaders wielded metrics and swore they were winning even as those wars circled the drain. 

And worse yet, they were never held accountable for those disasters or the blunders and lies that went with them (though the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era certainly tried). All these years later, with the Pentagon still ascendant in Washington, it should be obvious that something has truly gone rotten in our system.

Here’s the rub: as the military and one administration after another lied to the American people about those wars, they also lied to themselves, even though such conflicts produced plenty of internal “papers” that raised serious concerns about lack of progress. Robert McNamara typically knew that the situation in Vietnam was dire and the war essentially unwinnable. Yet he continued to issue rosy public reports of progress, while calling for more troops to pursue that illusive “light at the end of the tunnel.” Similarly, the Afghan War papers released by the Washington Post show that senior military and civilian leaders realized that war, too, was going poorly almost from the beginning, yet they reported the very opposite to the American people. So many corners were being “turned,” so much “progress” being made in official reports even as the military was building its own rhetorical coffin in that Afghan graveyard of empires.

Too bad wars aren’t won by “spin.” If they were, the U.S. military would be undefeated.

Two Books to Help Us See the Lies

Two recent books help us see that spin for what it was. In Because Our Fathers Lied, Craig McNamara, Robert’s son, reflects on his father’s dishonesty about the Vietnam War and the reasons for it. Loyalty was perhaps the lead one, he writes. McNamara suppressed his own serious misgivings out of misplaced loyalty to two presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, while simultaneously preserving his own position of power in the government. 

Robert McNamara would, in fact, later pen his own mea culpa, admitting how “terribly wrong” he’d been in urging the prosecution of that war. Yet Craig finds his father’s late confession of regret significantly less than forthright and fully honest. Robert McNamara fell back on historical ignorance about Vietnam as the key contributing factor in his unwise decision-making, but his son is blunt in accusing his dad of unalloyed dishonesty. Hence the title of his book, citing Rudyard Kipling’s pained confession of his own complicity in sending his son to die in the trenches of World War I: “If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

The second book is Paths of Dissent: Soldiers Speak Out Against America’s Misguided Wars, edited by Andrew Bacevich and Danny Sjursen. In my view, the word “misguided” doesn’t quite capture the book’s powerful essence, since it gathers 15 remarkable essays by Americans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and witnessed the patent dishonesty and folly of those wars. None dare speak of failure might be a subtheme of these essays, as initially highly motivated and well-trained troops became disillusioned by wars that went nowhere, even as their comrades often paid the ultimate price, being horribly wounded or dying in those conflicts driven by lies.

This is more than a work of dissent by disillusioned troops, however. It’s a call for the rest of us to act.  Dissent, as West Point graduate and Army Captain Erik Edstrom reminds us, “is nothing short of a moral obligation” when immoral wars are driven by systemic dishonesty. Army Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, who blew an early whistle on how poorly the Afghan War was going, writes of his “seething” anger “at the absurdity and unconcern for the lives of my fellow soldiers displayed by so many” of the Army’s senior leaders. 

Former Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from the State Department in opposition to the Afghan “surge” ordered by President Barack Obama, speaks movingly of his own “guilt, regret, and shame” at having served in Afghanistan as a troop commander and wonders whether he can ever atone for it. Like Craig McNamara, Hoh warns of the dangers of misplaced loyalty. He remembers telling himself that he was best suited to lead his fellow Marines in war, no matter how misbegotten and dishonorable that conflict was.  Yet he confesses that falling back on duty and being loyal to “his” Marines, while suppressing the infamies of the war itself, became “a washing of the hands, a self-absolution that ignores one’s complicity” in furthering a brutal conflict fed by lies.    

As I read those essays, I came to see anew how this country’s senior leaders, military and civilian, consistently underestimated the brutalizing impact of war, which, in turn, leads me to the ultimate lie of war: that it is somehow good, or at least necessary — making all the lying (and killing) worth it, whether in the name of a victory to come or of duty, honor, and country. Yet there is no honor in lying, in keeping the truth hidden from the American people. Indeed, there is something distinctly dishonorable about waging wars kept viable only by lies, obfuscation, and propaganda.

An Epigram from Goethe

John Keegan, the esteemed military historian, cites an epigram from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as being essential to thinking about militaries and their wars. “Goods gone, something gone; honor gone, much gone; courage gone, all gone.” 

The U.S. military has no shortage of goods, given its whopping expenditures on weaponry and equipment of all sorts; among the troops, it doesn’t lack for courage or fighting spirit, not yet, anyway. But it does lack honor, especially at the top. Much is gone when a military ceases to tell the truth to itself and especially to the people from whom its forces are drawn. And courage is wasted when in the service of lies.

Courage wasted: Is there a worst fate for a military establishment that prides itself on its members being all volunteers and is now having trouble filling its ranks?

Copyright 2022 William J. Astore