The ability of the U.S. government to jail people without charge or trial is now back in court. A group of reporters, scholars and activists are suing the Obama administration over the controversial provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it could allow for the indefinite detention of journalists and others who interact with certain groups. On Wednesday, the Justice Department asked an appeals court to reverse a judge’s earlier decision blocking indefinite detention, saying the ruling would hamper its ability to fight terrorism. On the same day, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker and activist Michael Moore and the case’s lead plaintiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, took part in a panel featuring some of those who were in the courtroom opposing the NDAA. We air excerpts of their remarks. [includes rush transcript]
Chris Hedges, senior fellow at The Nation Institute. A former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, he was part of a team of reporters awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of the new book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, with illustrator Joe Sacco.
Michael Moore, acclaimed Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker.
Amy Goodman: Last week, the ability of the U.S. government to jail people without charge or trial was back in court. A group of reporters, scholars and activists, including Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges, are suing the Obama administration over the controversial provision in the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it could allow for the indefinite detention of journalists and others who interact with certain groups. Well, last Wednesday, the Justice Department asked an appeals court to reverse a judge’s earlier decision blocking indefinite detention, saying the ruling would hamper its ability to fight terrorism. The Obama administration has already won an emergency freeze of the ruling while the case is appealed.
Well, on the same day, Wednesday, an event, just after the court hearing, was held in New York featuring a panel of some of those who were in the courtroom to oppose the NDAA. Joining them was the Academy Award-winning filmmaker and activist Michael Moore and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. We end today’s show with their remarks. The case is known as Hedges v. Obama. Michael Moore began by responding to a question about how he got involved.
Michael Moore: How did I get involved in it? Well, I mean—I mean, I’ve been involved in this sort of thing for a very long time, in general, in terms of these issues. I was the chair of the American Civil Liberties Union in Flint when I was 19 or 20 years old. And what Chris said in the last panel here about the corporate coup d’état, that’s something I’ve been talking about, trying to talk about, for a couple of decades, since Roger & Me_, that something was afoot here and that we were going to have our democratic way absconded with. And I agree with him that—that it has been successful. But I remain an optimist because I know history, and I know that coup d’états that were successful at first were eventually overthrown. And I just want to use that word “overthrown” here publicly tonight, so this can be replayed at my trial. I — [phone ringing] should we get that? Or—
Matt Sledge: Yeah.
Michael Moore: Who ordered the pizza?
Matt Sledge: Silence your phones, please, if you can.
Natasha Lennard: Really, really. Let’s ignore it.
Michael Moore: Well, I—you know, I’ve had to deal with the issue of the police trying to suppress information or to cause harm or—on any of a number of different levels to those who try to bring out the truth. I had a small alternative newspaper in Flint, Michigan, back in the 1970s. Our printer was raided by the police, and they took the printing plates of our newspaper right off the press and searched and seized everything. And it was because we had done an article on the mayor using federal moneys for his campaign, re-election, and so he went to a local judge, and the judge approved the search warrant, and they grabbed all of our stuff. So, that was, you know, one of my first experiences. Now, that particular incident, along that same year with—a CBS affiliate in Boise, Idaho, was also raided by the police, that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press asked me to work with them. And a law was passed, a shield law was passed, the following year to essentially prohibit police raids of newsrooms, unless there’s an actual crime, like a murder or robbery or something, going on.
So, I know. I mean, I could talk about this all night in terms of my own—what my own personal experience has been, you know, what I have learned since, in terms—within the Bush administration and what they did or were doing or how they tried to deal with Fahrenheit 9/11, all the way from official government things to just the sort of propaganda that they put out on me in order to, you know, I think, stir the pot of the unhinged. And so, I’ve—I wrote about this in my last book and the number of—not threats, but actual assaults or attempted assaults that I’ve had to go through, up to and including an individual planning to blow up our house in Michigan, and was only caught because one of his weapons went off at his home, and a neighbor heard it and called the cops, and came in and they found all the fertilizer bomb stuff and a list of—a small list, actually, of, well, liberal, left people that he’d like to assassinate, with me at the top of the list, and then there was Rosie O’Donnell, Janet Reno and Hillary Clinton. So, I don’t know how I ended up on the lesbian list, but I’m happy and proud to be there. That’s a joke. Just trying to—well, any time I talk about this, it’s obviously not a pleasant thing to talk about.
So, I was very happy to hear about this lawsuit that these guys initiated. And Chris, of course, I’ve been a huge fan of his for a long time. Please read his books. Pass his books around. This man is our—he’s our 21st century Noam Chomsky, not that Noam isn’t still in the 21st century.
So—and, of course, an honor to sit here with Daniel Ellsberg, who I was thinking about the other day, Daniel. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the documentary Hearts and Minds about the Vietnam War. It’s a great documentary, if you have a chance to see it. And they won the Oscar for best documentary that year. And when they went up on the stage to collect it, they read from a telegram from the North Vietnamese, thanking Americans to, you know—which, of course, as we—in these days, we’d never even think of such a thing. It would be like, you know, in the way that things are conflated now, that you would be reading something from al-Qaeda or whatever. But in this movie, Daniel appears in this movie and provides some very important lessons about Vietnam, not only just what he went through personally, but what—what this country was led through in terms of the lies that were told. And by not having a press that was active at first to expose the lies, we lost a lot of lives, and we participated in the slaughter of anywhere from two to three million Southeast Asians. But he said—he said something, and I was thinking about this, because they’re—watching the news on Egypt today, and talking about whether the United States—you know, we were for Mubarak, then we were against Mubarak. You know, we were—and it’s like—and somebody asks, you know, “Which side is right? You know, are we on the right side?” And the same question was asked during Vietnam. You know, were we on the right side? Because this was a people’s uprising in South Vietnam. And Daniel said, “The question is not whether we’re on the right side. The only question or point is, is that we are the wrong side. That’s it.” We are behind a lot of this madness. Our corporations are benefiting from it greatly. And people who live in the Flint, Michigans of this world are suffering considerably.
So, I’m proud to be part of this and be supportive of it. And I’m very—of course I’ve been very supportive of Bradley Manning, from the beginning, helping to fund the fight. And I put up some of Julian Assange’s bail money.
Audience Member: Thank you, Michael!
Matt Sledge: I think—we’ll get to, you know, WikiLeaks and whistleblowing in a minute, of course. Before we do that, I wanted to re-ask my question from the last panel about this drones memo. You know, what’s the end game with this—with the lawsuit here? You know, if you win the lawsuit and the administration retains the power to assassinate American citizens, you know, how—is that Pyrrhic victory?
Chris Hedges: The memo is fascinating to read. It looks like it’s written—
Matt Sledge: Well, they won’t release the memos yet.
Chris Hedges: Yes, well, the free white paper.
Matt Sledge: It’s a white paper, the pre-memo white paper.
Chris Hedges: The white paper. Right, the pre-memo white paper. What is—because it’s so amateurish. It looks like it’s written by a first-year law student. I mean, you know, whatever you think of John Yoo—and I hope he burns in hell—he actually had a much more sophisticated legal argument to torture human beings. Look, the drone wars—this is—it’s not an example of—and I think this is true with the NDAA, I think it’s true with the FISA Amendment Act, I think—go all the way back. What they’re attempting to do is legally justify what they’re already doing. They have argued that under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act they have a right to assassinate American citizens. I have read that act innumerable times, and Bruce and Carl did, and none of us find that in the act. That is, to be generous, a radical interpretation of the AUMF. And so, what they’re seeking to do is legally justify, in the same way that Yoo was attempting to legally justify torture. They’re essentially looking for kind of legal cover.
And so, I think it’s all connected. It’s all a part of this very rapid descent into a frightening form of corporate totalitarianism. And that is just writ large across the landscape. And as we go down—and they know we’re going down. Look, I mean, you know, they—these forces are cannibalistic. Forty percent of the summer Arctic sea ice melts, and here we’re literally watching the death throes of the planet, and these corporations, like Shell, look at it as a business opportunity. They know only one word, and that’s “more.” They have commodified everything. Human beings are commodities, disposable commodities. The ecosystem is a disposable commodity. And they will—now with no impediments, they will push and push and push. It makes Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, which I’m just re-reading, the most prescient study of the American character, because we’re all on the Pequod, and Ahab’s running the ship. And as Ahab said, “My means and my methods are sane, and my object is mad.” And they’re not going to stop themselves. The formal mechanisms of power are not going to stop them. It’s up to us.
And literally, you know, I have a five-year-old, and his favorite book is Out of the Blue. He’ll sit on the floor and look at narwhals and porpoises, and every time I see him do it, it rips my heart out, because I know that if there is not a radical change in our relationship to each other and to the planet, every single one of those sea creatures will be dead within his lifetime. In theological terms, as a seminary graduate, these are forces of death, literally.
Matt Sledge: Well—
Chris Hedges: And it is all—
Matt Sledge: Which is the corporation arguing, you know, or lobbying for Section 1021 of the NDAA?
Chris Hedges: All of them. All of them. Who writes our legislation but corporate lobbyists? The security and surveillance state is the mechanism. Look, we have, not far from here, a few blocks from here, a joint command center with the NYPD and Goldman Sachs. I was arrested in front of Goldman Sachs with the Occupy movement. And let me tell you that when they—when the security came out, it was a mixed security of Goldman Sachs security and NYPD security. These corporations have created 70 percent of our—we have 16 intelligence agencies, and as Jeremy Scahill has pointed out, 70 percent of their work are outsourced corporations. We have handed the capacity for the security and surveillance state to private corporations.
Amy Goodman: Chris Hedges is the Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times correspondent who has sued President Obama over the National Defense Authorization Act, the NDAA. Others involved in that suit are Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg. The suit is known as Hedges v. Obama. Before that, you were listening to the Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore.