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Noam Chomsky: “Bradley Manning Should Be Regarded as a Hero”


Bradley Manning.(Photo: Peg Hunter / Flickr)Bradley Manning has just been acquitted of “aiding the enemy” but convicted of numerous violations of the Espionage Act in a verdict that could set dangerous new precedents for whistle-blowers and journalism.

When Laura Flanders spoke to Noam Chomsky last month, he had only praise for Manning. Here’s what he said:

“Bradley Manning should be regarded as a hero. He is doing what an honest, decent citizen should be doing: letting your population know what the government, the people who rule you are doing. They want to keep it secret of course.”

And that’s not all the renowned author and scholar had to say. Among other topics: what we can glean about the secretive new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (it’s not about trade, says Chomsky); “tiny robots” (Chomsky’s “least favorite, favorite” development); and terrorism: “Obama is running the biggest terrorist operation that exists, maybe in history,” says Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT.

Below is an edited transcript. You can watch the interview in full (and in parts) at Truthout contributor and GRITtv host Laura Flanders caught up with Chomsky at the Left Forum in New York in June, immediately after Chomsky delivered a keynote address and held a short private meeting with a representative of the Bolivian government.

Laura Flanders: You just came from an interesting meeting with the vice president of Bolivia. What did you talk about?

Noam Chomsky: Mostly I was interested in developments in Bolivia. It’s a very exciting place. As you know, it has a complicated history, but in the year 2000 there was an indigenous uprising over water. The international corporations and the international financial institutions were trying to do to Bolivia what they are doing to Europe successfully now . . . They wanted to privatize water as part of the general view that privatization improves efficiency. It’s kind of a footnote that people can’t afford it.

There was an uprising in Cochabamba that succeeded in interesting ways, partly because of international solidarity. Something to think about; they threw out the major multinationals, Bechtel and a French company . . . There had happened to be a demonstration in Washington at the same time against the World Trade Organization (or maybe the World Bank), and they communicated. And the protests in Washington were able to reinforce the public attention to Cochabamba – otherwise it might as well have been crushed. That succeeded, and since then, Bolivia has an indigenous majority. The indigenous population succeeded in taking over the reins of government. They have an indigenous president. They’ve been carrying out programs that are important both for the Bolivians themselves and for the world.

Bolivia is in the lead internationally in talking about the threat of environmental catastrophe. [It’s generally true] where there are indigenous populations, there are important things happening; where the indigenous populations have been marginalized or exterminated, things go to a disaster. This is [true] worldwide, and Bolivia is striking because it’s a majority population and in the lead.

That’s going to be kind of interesting [in] contrast with Europe. Europe is being subjected to the kinds of programs that devastated Latin America for many years. Latin America has thrown them out and is pulling out: It’s successful; it’s democratizing; it’s economically developing; and it’s free from the shrapnel of US imperialism for 25 years. Meanwhile, Western Europe is destroying itself systematically, destroying itself going in the opposite direction.

LF: The Bolivian government just a few months ago ejected USAID. (The US government’s international aid agency.)

NC: They had already ejected the American Ambassador. I can’t evaluate [the Bolivians’ claims] that USAID, as in many parts of the world, in various ways, is supporting the opposition groups that try to overthrow the government. That’s the usual US policy. It’s kind of interesting that the US has lost its power. Years ago, they would have just overthrown the government, which, in fact, it has done a couple of times. Now they can’t do it anymore. Now they are using devious means to try to block or terminate progressive developments that are taking place, and one of the main tools they use is USAID. So the claims are at least credible because it has been happening.

LF: In other regional news, there is what we can glean about something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What can you tell us about this trade deal that’s being described as NAFTA (the North American Trade Agreement) on steroids?

NC: Well, actually I can’t tell you very much because it’s being kept secret. Not entirely secret. Major corporations are part of the process; they know what’s going on. The public is kept entirely out, and probably there are some selected elements of Congress that are allowed to know a bit, but it’s essentially an executive agreement jointly with multinational corporations.

We can imagine what’s it’s like. There are leaks here and there. There appears to be basically the kind of framework of the World Trade Organization, and NAFTA rules. These things are called free-trade agreements. They’re not. For one thing a lot of what they’re involved with isn’t even trade. It’s called trade to sneak it into these agreements. A good deal of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization rules are investor rights, provisions. It has nothing to do with trade. It’s called “trade-related investment mechanisms” or something. A lot of it is pure protectionism. Very high protection barriers undermine free trade for the benefit of pharmaceutical corporations and Disney and others. It’s just to try and protect their exorbitant profits and harm the population.

These are patent rules so high that if they had existed in the 19th century and had been enforced, the US would be an agricultural producer today. It could never have developed and nor could any other country. In fact, England could not have developed because it was engaged in what we now call piracy – it’s the way the rich countries developed.

There is a phrase for it in trade theory; it’s called “kicking away the ladder.” First you violate the rules – the market rules – and then by the time you succeed in developing, you kick away the ladders so others can’t do it too, and you preach about “free trade.”

The pharmaceutical corporations claim that they need these exorbitant profits for research and development, but it has been shown pretty well, particularly by economists Dean Baker and a couple of others, that most of their serious research, the hard research, is done in the public sector anyway. If it was all done in the public sector, and they were forced onto the market, there would be a huge saving to consumers, but of course a reduction in profits. So that’s the kind of thing that’s going on.

LF: So this deal, if it had included India, say, would have made it impossible for the Indians to defy Pfizer the way they did, not long ago, denying them a patent (on a kidney drug in the third strike against a big pharmaceutical firm’s patent this year).

NC: Yeah, that’s the point. India is kind of not observing. They have a successful drug industry, and they’re producing drugs at a fraction of the cost of western pharmaceuticals. For a while they were under the constraints of the trade agreements, but they are slowly breaking off.

LF: What happens to US labor rights and environment protections (such as there are) in deals like the TPP? What do we know from NAFTA about whether the standards of all the countries involved rise up or trickle down? (In the case of the TPP, we’re talking about 17 countries around the Pacific Rim, including Vietnam.)

NC: Labor rights don’t exist. In fact, NAFTA is a good case. It’s been studied quite well . . . There is supposedly an immigration “crisis” in the United States. Why? Why are people fleeing to the United States? Well, some are actually still fleeing from the ravages of Reagan’s war in the 1980s, and the Guatemalan war and so on, but plenty are coming from Mexico. The Mexican-US border used to be a pretty open border, pretty much the same people lived on both sides. Like most borders it was established by conquest, in fact; in a very aggressive war, the US conquered half of Mexico. In 1994, when Clinton started militarizing the border – 1994 is the year when NAFTA was pushed through – we don’t have internal documents, but I think it’s likely that the Clinton administration understood that NAFTA was going to undermine Mexican farming. Mexican campesinos are pretty efficient, but they can’t compete with highly subsidized US agribusiness.

The US does not observe the free-trade principles. Those are for the weak. So agribusiness is highly subsidized and pours product into Mexico and drives out Mexican farmers. Maybe they have to go into the cities, and they don’t have jobs to support them, so they flee across the border.

LF: If that’s what happened under NAFTA, what can we expect if the Trans-Pacific Partnership goes forward?

NC: Probably on steroids like the critics are saying, but we really can’t be sure because it is kept secret from the population, though not from the corporate sector – from which we can draw some plausible conclusions. This is being rammed down the throats of the populations of the world by state and corporate power acting in tandem, and so we can make guesses to what it’s likely to be, quite apart from the record we’ve seen [before].

LF: On another a topic, security, we meet as the Obama administration is defending having secured FISA Court requests from internet corporations essentially to seize not only telephone records, but email records of possibly millions of Americans. They say it was important for fighting terrorism.

NC: If we had anything like a free press, there would be headlines saying this is a bad joke. The Obama administration is dedicated to increasing terrorism. In fact, he is doing it all over the world. Obama is running the biggest terrorist operation that exists, maybe in history. The drone assassination campaigns – which are just part of the special forces operations and so on – all of these operations are terror operations.

LF: How so?

NC: Well suppose you’re walking down the street, you don’t know whether two minutes from now the guy across the street and everything around him is going to be blown away by a sudden explosion run by somebody a couple of thousand miles away: You’re terrorized. And in fact, in villages, regions, countries, [people] are terrorized by these operations and have a reaction. People just don’t say “Fine, I don’t mind if my cousin is murdered.” They do mind. And they become what we call terrorists. This is completely understood from the highest level, that as you carry out these operations, you’re generating terrorism. First of all, they are terrorist operations, and they are generating more terrorist operations. Sometimes it’s almost surreal.

Take the [Boston] marathon bombing that’s supposed to be the excuse for all of this stuff. A couple of days after the marathon bombing in Boston, there was a drone strike in Yemen. Usually we don’t know anything about these things, but this happens to be known because a young man from the village that was attacked was in the United States, and by fortunate accident, he was testifying before a Senate committee, and he had described what had happened in his village. He said for years the Jihadi groups in Yemen have been trying to get the villagers to be anti-American, and they had failed because the only thing they knew about America is what he was telling them, and [he kind of liked to hear himself] talk, so they we very pro-American.

One drone attack turned them all into fanatic anti-Americans – what we call “anti-American.” People who hate the country that’s just terrorizing them; it’s not surprising. Just consider the way we react to acts of terror. That’s the way other people react to acts of terror. The Osama bin Laden case was quite traumatic. It almost lead to a nuclear war.

The way they tracked bin Laden was by a fake vaccination campaign. The US and the CIA were carrying out a pretend vaccination campaign about town, about Abbottabad, where they thought he was, in poorer areas. That is a violation of principles that go back to the Hippocratic oath. In the middle, they stopped it, which is another grotesque violation, because they thought they had found him somewhere else.

Well . . . throughout much of the third world there is a lot of fear and concern when rich, white people come around and start sticking things into your arms. What are they up to? Sensible fear. They have a history after all. This showed that this fear was correct.

One of the consequences right away was . . . There is a polio vaccination campaign underway in Pakistan. It’s one of the last places in the world which has polio. It could be eradicated if it weren’t for this kind of thing. There were attacks on polio vaccination workers. Right now the charges are credible, that these rich white guys are just trying to get intelligence and undermine you and maybe send more drones to attack you. It was so severe that the UN had to pull out their vaccination team. There are some estimates, one epidemiologist at Columbia, Les Roberts, estimated that it may lead to maybe a hundred thousand polio cases in Pakistan, and he made an interesting comment. He said, “One of these days somebody in Pakistan is going to point to this child sitting in a wheelchair and say [to the US], ‘You did it to him.’ And they’ll react.” And so we’re generating more of what we call terrorists.

Meanwhile, in the course of this terrorist-generation campaign, Obama claims that, “You know I’m really worried about terrorists, so I have to read,” (they claim that they don’t read) “I have to get information about you, your email, where you are, who you’re talking to, what you have on Facebook. I’ve got to put that in my big database.”

We are moving into a world which was described, pretty accurately, I think by one of the founders of Google [Eric Schmidt].

I don’t know if you followed the stories about Google Glass. Google has this new ridiculous thing that they are marketing – glasses which have a computer on them so you can be on the Internet 24 hours a day, just what you want. It’s a way of destroying people, but quite apart from that, this little device has a camera and presumably, if it doesn’t have it already, it will have a recorder which means that everything that goes on around you goes up on the internet. Some reporter asked [Schmidt] if he thinks it was an invasion of privacy. His answer comes right out of the Obama administration: “If you are doing anything that you don’t want to be on the internet, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

This is a dream that Orwell couldn’t have concocted. We’re moving into it, and it’s not the only case. If you read the technical journals, there is more stuff coming along. For example, right now, our corporations are concerned about computers using components made in China because it’s technically possible to build into the hardware, devices which would record what the computer is doing and send it to those bad guys. What the articles don’t point out is that if the Chinese can do it, we can do it better – and probably are – so it may end up in Obama’s database the next time you hit the computer.

One of my favorite, least favorite, horror stories is about the robotics being developed extensively. One of the projects they’ve been working on for years [is] trying to develop robots the size of a fly: tiny robots, which can be controlled like drones. They finally managed to get them to the point where they could get them to fly. Pretty soon, they will have them. The military has been interested in them for years and the intelligence services. The idea is to be able to place a tiny drone in your living room ­- and you won’t see it because it looks like a fly on the wall. The one saving grace it that there is probably not much you can do with all this information. I mean, if there is somebody they want to go after, they can probably find ways of going after him. But if you’ve followed FBI actions, it’s been incredibly incompetent even when they didn’t have big databases.

LF: The bigger the haystack, the harder it is to find the needle.

NC: I could tell you some stories.

LF: So what do we do?

NC:. . . Globally we are destroying the commons; the environment, the atmosphere; what’s held in common is being destroyed by the same wrecking ball. Here we’re back to Bolivia.

The rich and powerful countries are trying to wreck as much as possible. You know, go off the cliff as soon as you can. Extract every drop of hydrocarbons off the ground and destroy the environment. At the opposite extreme are countries like Bolivia and Ecuador, indigenous people around the world, and first nations in Canada and tribal people in India, campesinos in Colombia . . . They’re trying to save the commons. And I think you can look at Taksim Square [in Turkey] as a kind of a microcosm of that too . . .

LF: I learned from you that “the commons” are enshrined in an 800-year-old piece of law, the Magna Carta.

NC: Half of the Magna Carta was protecting the commons from the king. The Robin Hood myths kind of reflect that. You know, Robin Hood is protecting the forest from the predator. The commons were the source of food, of wood, of sustenance or welfare. You know the image of a widow gleaming from the forest, that’s the traditional image. That’s the welfare system. It was nurtured. It was a common possession, so that people took care of it. That half of Magna Carta is an effort to protect it from predatory state power.

Well, over the next couple of centuries, Britain began to move towards capitalism – capitalism is based on the principle that everything has to be privately owned; it can’t be held in common. There is even a dogma, which is today called, the “tragedy of the commons” which holds that if things are held in common they are going to be destroyed. If they’re privatized, like you give them to Bechtel or Monsanto or ExxonMobil, then they’ll be preserved because that’s the capitalist’s religion.

[The truth is] exactly the opposite. In England, enclosure programs kind of destroyed the commons. In the United States, it happened later. But, ah, now it’s happening in the world. The last remnant of the commons is the environment, which the indigenous people are still trying to preserve and we sophisticated rich people are trying to destroy.

LF: So what can we do to celebrate the 800 years?

NC: We can try to gain some of the sensibility of some of the indigenous populations of the world or our predecessors 800 years ago. We can laugh at them as being naive and unsophisticated, but unless we can gain that sensibility that there has to be rights of nature as Bolivians and others put it, then we’re going to be destroyed.

LF: Finally, do you have a message for Bradley Manning?

NC: Bradley Manning should be regarded as a hero. He is doing what an honest, decent citizen should be doing: letting your population know what the government, the people who rule you, are doing. They want to keep it secret of course. Just like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or like Obama’s programs. They don’t want what they’re doing known – for good reasons. The public has a right to know what’s being done to them by their so-called “elected representatives” for all kind of reasons – Bradley Manning is helping them know it.

There is a principle he is violating, namely, that power has to be protected from scrutiny. That’s the principle of every dictatorship, of every autocracy. You hear it from high priests at Harvard and every government department, that power has to be kept secret otherwise it will fade and it won’t work. But Bradley Manning is violating that principle.

LF: Noam Chomsky, thanks for all you do to violate that principle and for sitting in with us here again, at GRITtv.

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