The US military shooting of Reuters employees Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh as shown on a graphic video (below) circulating on the internet and entitled, Collateral Murder, seems by any standard, stark and inhumane. Armed military men in flying machines shooting unarmed civilians; two of the wounded were children. It has been confirmed as authentic by the US Military. It shows repeated shooting by a number of US Apache helicopters on a group of men, including two unarmed Reuters employees. The group the US helicopter shot-on showed no hostile action and seemed to be armed with only cameras and filming equipment. The US Apache crew in the helicopters assumes they are insurgents and mistakes photographer Noor-Eldeen's camera bag with its large lens slung over his shoulder for an AK-47. This seems reminiscent of unarmed black youths shot on sight by the police in the US while they reached for their wallets.
Afterwards, the video shows a lone wounded man among the dead - likely Saeed Chmagh - crawling away from the scene. The helicopter crew appear eager to shoot him again, then a large dark van arrives and two unarmed men get out, pick up the wounded man and bring him back to the van. The Apache crew fire again, blasting multiple times and destroying the van. Two children were in the van and when the ground troops arrive, a tank runs over a body to background laughter in the helicopter.
A US military report included statements from the Apache crews which professed that there were machine guns and grenades near the bodies. It reported that the Reuters employees had made no attempt to display their status as media. During the shooting, one soldier says with glee, "Look at those dead bastards!"
This isn't a mindless video game where some North American kid gets to kill all the faceless Arabs and Persians he can find, yet, it sounds and looks exactly like that. Long photo lens equipment are mistook for rocket-propelled grenades and a camera bag is falsely identified as an AK-47. They're shooting children in a van, which shows they have no idea what's really in the vehicle. It could have been the President for all they knew. But they shoot anyway. The rest is as real and gruesome as the dead Iraqis in the street.
On that date in the summer of 2007, a terrible crime was committed, yet like all iniquities in combat it is investigated by the military and buried; except this time some whistle-blower in the Pentagon released the video to Wikileaks from an undisclosed source in 2009. Many might doubt the moral outrage for reporters killed in this manner in a war zone, and perhaps when viewed in the context of the rules of engagement, one might even think it serves them right. Reuters sent two of its employees out with the Mahdi Army to get video of the fighting against American troops. That's, at the least, exceedingly dangerous work and Reuters perhaps weren't careful enough in selecting the two reporters’ assignments.
Nonetheless, the real outrage here is revealed by watching the long version video. The pleading in the crew's voice to kill the men even after they are wounded, their amusement at the massacre, the background laughter and overall cheerfulness and the absolute astonishing lack of solemnity as the executioners of other (evidently unarmed) human beings: they reduce the meaning of life to the thrill of a combat-like video game. To see the video clip: http://collateralmurder.com. (This site is often down).
Given Wikileaks’ scandals, especially the Swedish sex assault charges against Julian Assange the main spokesperson and editor-in-chief for WikiLeaks, one might distance themselves from the organization. That I think would be a mistake. Assange's crime was committed with two women; he didn’t wear a condom after being requested. I’m not saying that it should be a simple misdemeanor with accompanying fine, but does it rate with pedophilia or terrorism enough to get Interpol involved? Don't you feel the CIA behind it? Hillary Clinton issued this warning to Wikileaks, after they disclosed top secret—diplomatic cables from 274 US embassies around the world, dated from 28 December 1966 to 28 February 2010: “We are taking aggressive steps to hold those responsible for this situation,” she said. “The Wikileaks disclosure tear at the fabric of responsible government . . . every country including the USA must be able to have candid conversations . . . there is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people.” This last part, I gather was aimed at the release of names of Afghanis and Iraqis cooperating with the Americans inside their borders. I think this part of the disclosure by Wikileaks wasn’t right and I understand there was dissension about it from within, and that Julian Assange has stated with some regret that that part was an error, but what is important to realize is that many of the national security issues of the Western World are not meant to deceive the enemy, but to keep the people in the dark about what their governments are doing in the name of democracy.
The ideal of exposing state and corporate secrets to increase transparency while supporting freedom of the press and enhancing democratic discourse sounds pretty good to me, and I don’t think I’m alone. I am a huge fan of Edward Snowden. Challenging powerful institutions is no fun and being at the root of instability in any society is nothing to brag about. I hope Julian Assange’s ego doesn’t get the better of him. I hope the New Ancien Régime doesn’t kill him. I remember when Christopher Hitchens published The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Kissinger and his old cold war conservative cronies accused Hitchens of being a Holocaust denier, a complete and utter lie. The religious conservative right in America simply has no shame and like the Left will use bareface argumentum ad hominem. Many U.S. government officials have criticized WikiLeaks for exposing classified information and claimed that the leaks harm national security. Well it certainly hurt Tunisia's and Egypt’s autocracies. In May 2010, a 22-year-old American Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning was arrested after telling Adrian Lamo he had leaked the airstrike video, along with a video of another airstrike and around 260,000 diplomatic cables, to WikiLeaks. The chats between Manning and Lamo were revealed to the public by Wired
Sarah Palin has said Julian Assange should be hunted down in the way armed forces are targeting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. On CBC News, University of Calgary political-scientist Tom Flanagan, a former key adviser to Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, said that he wished Julian Assange would be assassinated and ‘disappeared’. Eric Holder, the USA Attorney General: “The U.S. attorney general is not ruling out going after the WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, even though he is not an American citizen.” Rush Limbaugh, a conservative shock jock suggested that if men were men: “this guy would die of lead poisoning from a bullet to the brain and nobody would know who put it there.”
Townhall's John Hawkins has a column entitled, “Five Reasons The CIA Should Have Already Killed Julian Assange.” Marc Thiessen, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush said, “Assange is a non-U S person operating outside the territory of the United States. This means the government has a wide range of options for dealing with him. It can employ not only law enforcement, but also intelligence and military assets, to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business.” Seth Lipsky, founder of the New York Sun and contributing editor for the Journal has remarked, “We only wonder whether Washington, Lincoln, Grant, and Roosevelt would have taken the wholesale violation of our military secrets sitting down.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, a staff writer for The Atlantic, having previously worked for The New Yorker, accused Julian Assange of treason although he’s not even an American citizen. Jeffrey Goldberg while pretending to be a journalist, spreads fake news and is a CIA, NSA and FBI spokesperson, nothing more, nothing less. Representative Pete King—always eager to execute without trial more dissidents than the Soviets ever did—urged Attorney General Eric Holder to designate WikiLeaks a “foreign terrorist organization,” saying it “posed a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.” And further, “To prosecute founder Julian Assange for espionage.” Jonah Goldberg, an American conservative syndicated columnist and author, has asked, “Why is Assange still alive?” (“I'd like to ask a simple question: Why isn't Julian Assange dead? . . . WikiLeaks is easily among the most significant and well-publicized breaches of American national security since the Rosenbergs gave the Soviets the bomb. . . . So again, I ask: Why wasn't Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?”) The Wall Street Journal had this remark: “One alternative would be for Congress and the Administration to collaborate on writing a new statute aimed more precisely at provocateurs like Mr. Assange. At a minimum, the Administration should throw the book at those who do the leaking, including the option of the death penalty. That would probably give second thoughts to the casual spy or to leakers who fancy themselves as idealists.” The New Ancien Régime's hatred of liberty, transparency in government, people power and democracy has never been clearer than now, and if outspoken libertarians like Julian Assange think they are safe from their wrath due to Western jurisprudence, they are deluding themselves. The current political class are shameless.
The reach of the United States to get the Australian journalist Julian Assange, this modern libertarian dissident, civil digital reporter and iconic WikiLeaks founder, is both inevitable and disconcerting. He was held up in the Embassy of Ecuador in London for seven years. The reason for seeking asylum in the first place is that he told truthful embarrassing facts about how the US and the West in general behave and thanks to Chelsea Manning gave the world proof; one which was the video above: Collateral Murder, but also many other state lies from governments all over the globe. Was it treasonous? Hardly. Now they have him, those NSA and CIA S O B's. Edward Snowden was well to be weary of the growing bloated fascist states of the West, especially America. Libertarians, a romantic bunch to begin with, grow leery of hoping for reason in politics as the light fades further and further on liberty.
Those who do not seek to meaningfully dissent or subvert power will usually deny — because they do not perceive — that such dissent and subversion are, in fact, rigorously prohibited. They will continue to believe blissfully that the society in which they live guarantees core civic freedoms — of speech, of press, of assembly, of due process — because they have rendered their own speech and activism, if it exists at all, so innocuous that nobody with the capacity to do so would bother to try to curtail it. The observation apocryphally attributed to socialist activist Rosa Luxemburg, imprisoned for her opposition to German involvement in World War I and then summarily executed by the state, expresses it best: 'Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.'
The metric to determine whether a society is free is not how its orthodoxy-spouting, well-behaved, deferential-to-authority citizens are treated. Such people are treated well, or at least usually left alone, by every sovereign and every power center in every era, all over the world. You will not feel the sting of Silicon Valley or other institutional censorship as long as you affirm the latest COVID pronouncements of the World Health Organization and Dr. Anthony Fauci (even as those decrees contradict the ones they issued only a few months earlier), but you will if you question, refute or deviate from them. You will not have your Facebook page deleted if you defend Israeli occupation of Palestine but will be banished from that platform if you live in the West Bank and Gaza and urge resistance to Israeli occupying troops. If you call Trump an orange fascist clown, you can stay on YouTube for eternity, but not if you defend his most controversial policies and claims. You can vocally insist that the 2000, 2004 and 2016 U.S. presidential elections were all stolen without the slightest concern of being banned, but the same claims about the 2020 election will result in the summary denial of your ability to use online tech monopolies to be heard.
Censorship, like most repression, is reserved for those who dissent from majoritarian orthodoxies, not for those who express views comfortably within the mainstream. Establishment Democrats and Republicans — adherents to the prevailing neoliberal order — have no need for free speech protections since nobody with power would care enough to silence them. It is only the disaffected, those who reside on the fringes and the margins, who need those rights. And those are precisely the people who, by definition, are most often denied them.
Similarly: powerful officials in Washington can illegally leak the most sensitive government secrets and will suffer no punishment, or will get the lightest tap on the wrist, provided their aim is to advance mainstream narratives. But low-level leakers whose aim is to expose wrongdoing by the powerful or reveal their systemic lying will have the full weight of the criminal justice system and the intelligence community come crashing down on them, to destroy them with vengeance and also to put their heads on a pike to terrorize future dissidents out of similarly stepping forward.
Journalists like Bob Woodward, who spend decades spilling the most sensitive secrets at the behest of the ruling class D.C. elites, will be lavished with awards and immense wealth. But those like Julian Assange who publish similar secrets but against the will of those elites, with the goal and outcome of exposing (rather than obscuring) ruling class lies and impeding (rather than advancing) their agenda, will suffer the opposite fate as Woodward: they will endure every imaginable punishment, including indefinite imprisonment in maximum-security cells. That is because Woodward is a servant of power while Assange is a dissident against it.
All of this illustrates a vital truth. The real measure of how free is a society — from China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to France, Britain and the U.S. — is not how its mainstream, well-behaved ruling class servants are treated. Royal court vassals always end up fine: rewarded for their subservience and thus, convinced that freedoms abound, they redouble their fealty to prevailing status quo power structures.
Whether a society is truly free is determined by how it treats its dissidents, those who live and speak and think outside of permissible lines, those who effectively subvert ruling class aims. If you want to know whether free speech is genuine or illusory, look not to the treatment of those who loyally serve establishment factions and vocally affirm their most sacred pieties, but to the fate of those who reside outside of those factions and work in opposition to them. If you want to know whether a free press is authentically guaranteed, look at the plight of those who publish secrets designed not to propagandize the population to venerate elites but, instead, those whose publications result in generating mass discontent against them.
That is what makes the ongoing imprisonment of Julian Assange not only a grotesque injustice but also a vital, crystal-clear prism for seeing the fundamental fraud of U.S. narratives about who is free and who is not, about where tyranny reigns and where it does not.
Assange has been imprisoned for almost two years. He was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by British police on April 11, 2019. That was possible only because the U.S., U.K. and Spanish governments coerced Ecuador’s meek President, Lenin Moreno, to withdraw the asylum extended to Assange seven years earlier by his staunch sovereignty-defending predecessor, Rafael Correa.
© 2023 - E. A. St. Amant