Glenn Greenwald on Afghanistan, State Secrets, Healthcare and the Media

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Dandelion Salad

Democracy Now!
Oct. 30, 2009

Leading Political, Legal Blogger Glenn Greenwald on Afghanistan, State Secrets, Healthcare and the Media

One of the leading political and legal bloggers in the country, Glenn Greenwald, joins us to talk about about the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s use of state secrets, the healthcare debate, the renewed military commissions at Guantanamo, and the coverage of it all by the corporate media. Greenwald is a constitutional law attorney who writes for and is the author of three books. [includes rush transcript]

Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for He is the author of three books. His most recent is Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s use of state secrets, the healthcare debate, and the coverage of it all by the corporate media. For a discussion of these issues and more, we’re joined by one of the leading political and legal bloggers in the country, Glenn Greenwald. He is a constitutional law attorney, writes for, is the author of three books, his most recent Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics. He joins us in our firehouse studio before he heads back to Brazil. Interestingly—

JUAN GONZALEZ: So he’s one of the leading bloggers in the country from outside the country.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. And interestingly, the resumption and negotiations Thursday in Honduras came a day after the coup regime, which is not recognized internationally, launched legal proceedings against your adopted country, Brazil, at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.


AMY GOODMAN: But that’s not why we’re having you here.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re having you here to talk about, among other things—talk about Matthew Hoh in Afghanistan and his resignation, who he is, his significance, and what it means for the war.

GLENN GREENWALD: I think there are times, events, that tend to be highly significant in a symbolic way when it comes to debates over war. I think, for example, when John—Jack Murtha stood up and announced that he had abandoned hope in Iraq, although he was a hawk and a supporter of the war for a long time, that had a very profound effect on the debates. Cindy Sheehan’s protest did the same. And I think that this event has the potential to be that in Afghanistan.

Matthew Hoh was a former captain in the Marines who had served in combat in Iraq, and he then was appointed as part of the Foreign Service as the top civilian in the State Department overseeing various administrative matters in a southern province in Afghanistan. And he recently resigned from his position last month. And when he did so, he wrote a four-page, very passionate and highly persuasive explanation as to why he believed that the war was not only futile, but had lost any moral point to it and had become counterproductive, that the more that we fought, the more we fueled the insurgency, the more we fueled the insurgency, the more instability and violence we brought to that region, and that there was no longer any justification for telling the family members of troops who are dying there that their family members were dying for a good cause. And he felt, in good conscience, that he needed to resign. And I thought it was particularly poignant, not just because who it was, but what he said and how he said it.

AMY GOODMAN: You had an interesting piece on the New York Times editorial page and a new position it’s taking on the Obama administration.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, well, one of the interesting aspects of the New York Times editorial page is that they had been one of the most vociferous critics of the Bush administration, at least for the last few years, when it became easier to do so. But that’s better than nothing. And their particular focal point of their criticism was the Bush administration’s horrific record on the rule of law and civil liberties. And despite that fact, they were very supportive of President Obama, not just during the campaign, when he had vowed repeatedly to overturn the fundamental abuses of the Bush administration, but even for the first several months, when it became clear that not only would Obama be very slow and would take his time in uprooting those abuses, but would do the opposite, that he would actually defend many of those abuses and vigorously attempt to institutionalize them even further than they were during the Bush-Cheney administration. It was very odd watching the editorial page of the New York Times, that had wrapped itself in this civil libertarian flag as a means of bashing the Bush administration, maintain their very solid pro-Obama credentials, even as he affirmed the very policies that they claimed to find so offensive.

I guess they’ve reached a tipping point or a breaking point, because earlier in the week they published a very scathing editorial, finally, that recognized what has been transparently clear for quite some time, which is that it’s not really that the Obama administration is failing to fulfill its promises to undo these abuses, it’s that they have become principal advocates of them and are actually taking extraordinary steps to entrench them further in a way that even Bush and Cheney didn’t manage to accomplish. And as a result, the New York Times editorial page accused the Obama administration, to which they had been extremely friendly for the first nine months, of complicity in the cover-up of the war crimes of the Bush administration, which is an extraordinarily serious charge to make. In fact, it’s one of the most serious charges you can make about a president. The word “cover-up” has lots of rhetorical significance and packs a big punch. And when you combine that with “war crimes,” even in our political discourse, that’s a serious accusation. And to see the New York Times making it so unapologetically and forcefully, I thought, given their pro-Obama sympathies, was something really worth highlighting.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You also weighed in on the editorial pages of the Washington Post and, by extension, I think, many other publications, in terms of how these companies are always calling in the healthcare debate to make sure that any healthcare reform does not increase the federal deficit. Meanwhile, no one ever questions how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are spiraling, are causing the federal deficit to spiral to unimaginable levels.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. I mean, I think the only reason to discuss things like the New York Times editorial page and the Washington Post editorial page is because they’re so illustrative of the predominant mentality that governs the ruling class in Washington. I mean, what Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, thinks personally isn’t particularly interesting or significant, but to the extent that it reflects how our political class reasons, I think it’s worth examining.

And I thought that editorial was one of the most illustrative and significant that I had read in quite some time, because it really did address this fundamental disparity, which is, the Washington Post editorial page has been insisting the entire year that we cannot do anything to deliver healthcare coverage to our citizens if it means that we’re going to increase the deficit even by a penny or incur any debt in order to do it. And yet, at the same time, they have been the biggest cheerleaders for the endless war in Iraq. They not only supported the initial invasion, but opposed every effort to impose timetables. They supported the surge. They even now are against any efforts to withdraw. They support not just ongoing war in Afghanistan, but the escalation, as well. And, of course, we have no ability whatsoever to pay for all of our various bombing campaigns and efforts to invade and occupy other countries and to fuel and fund Israel, which is doing the same. The money that we use to do that is money that we’re borrowing from China and Japan and Saudi Arabia and the rest and going into enormous debt. And so, the disparity between why are you willing to fund endless wars to destroy other countries and invade other countries, but not provide healthcare to your own citizens, is a very glaring one.

And the way they answered that was by saying, well, healthcare for Americans is not a necessity; that’s something that we can wait to do until we can afford it. Presumably, a couple decades from now maybe we’ll get around to that. Whereas the war in Afghanistan is an urgent necessity that can’t wait. And what I found particularly ironic about it is, if you look at counterinsurgency doctrine, the strategy we’re allegedly going to undertake, the whole purpose of it is to not just continue to bomb Afghanistan, but rebuild it, provide services, basic services of education and the like. So what they’re essentially saying is that it’s an urgent national imperative to provide services to Afghanistan, but it is simply a luxury, a secondary consideration, something that we can wait to provide basic services to Americans who lack healthcare. And obviously, the fact that the Washington Post editors have healthcare is the principal—and the fact that they don’t fight the wars—is a principal reason why they have their priorities that way.

AMY GOODMAN: And members of Congress, of course, have healthcare.


AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us to the independent senator from Connecticut, Lieberman, who in the last years, when he was running as an independent, told the Connecticut voting public that he wants them to have what he has, what senators and Congress members have, in terms of coverage. He talked about “MediKids,” he talked about different programs, but now has announced he not only will not support a public option, he would join in a Republican filibuster against it. He comes from the insurance state, from Connecticut. Talk about Lieberman.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, he comes from the insurance state. He has received over a million dollars in contributions from the insurance industry, from the healthcare industry, over $500 thousand from the pharmaceutical industry. So that’s two-and-a-half million dollars right there, just from those industries alone, that he’s obviously now serving.

Beyond that, his wife, Hadassah, in early 2005, was hired by the pharmaceutical division of Hill & Knowlton, the large PR firm, at a time when they had just obtained as one of their principal clients the healthcare giant Glaxo. And several months later, Joe Lieberman was on the floor of the Senate sponsoring legislation to steer a huge amount of incentive money to develop vaccines—of course, he exploited the terrorism threat, as he always does, to justify that—in one of the most transparent quid pro quos imaginable. They hire his wife, pay her lots of money as a, quote-unquote, “senior consultant,” and there he is offering legislation to serve the healthcare industry. So that’s the industry that he now serves. And, of course, polls have shown that in Connecticut, by a 35- to 40-point margin, the citizens, whom he’s ostensibly representing, actually favor the public option, the public option that he is now vowing to filibuster. So it’s clear who he’s serving and who he’s not serving.

I think the real question, though, is, the White House claims in public now that the President favors a public option. There have been lots of reports that, in private, they’ve been working against a public option, urging the senators not to include it in the package, that their deals with the healthcare industry is that there would be no public option. So, now one can only speculate about what the reality is, but I think now the question is, you know, they’ve proven in the past that they’re willing to apply heavy pressure tactics on members of Congress. They applied all kinds of threats against House progressives who didn’t want to vote for the war supplemental bill to force them to do so and support the President.


GLENN GREENWALD: Well, according to Lynn Woolsey, who is the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, Rahm Emanuel and other White House political officials were calling House freshmen and saying, “If you don’t vote for the war supplemental bill,” that included the IMF money that the President had promised and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq funding, “you will never hear from us again,” meaning you will have to run for reelection without any support from the President or the Democratic Party infrastructure, which is an enormous threat to make for any member of Congress.

So, you know, and the Republicans found a way, in 2004, when Arlen Specter had threatened, as Senate Judiciary Committee chair, to block the President’s Supreme Court nominees, if they thought—if he thought they were going to overturn Roe v. Wade, to humiliate him by saying, “You will not have this chairmanship unless you vow in advance to allow these nominations to go forward.” So parties can apply all sorts of pressure on members of Congress who are being recalcitrant, if they’re actually serious about doing so.

And so, now the question is, will they apply that kind of pressure to Joe Lieberman and prove that they—that this talk about the President favoring a public option isn’t just lip service to placate the progressive base? Or will they use the senatorial courtesy to say, well, look, there’s nothing we can do about Joe Lieberman, just like they did during the Bush years when it came time to oppose the war in Iraq and other issues?

JUAN GONZALEZ: And speaking of that lip service to placate the progressive base, you’ve also shown a light on the debate among the progressive publications over this issue of how serious the Obama administration is about the public option, in the battles between Daily Kos, on the one hand, and the Huffington Post and The Nation. Could you talk about how this is affecting the progressive media?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think one of the most significant issues of the Obama administration has been what role progressives—the progressive infrastructure has played in applying pressure on the Obama administration. One of the very first things that the Obama administration did—and Rahm Emanuel has specialized in trying to control and silence the left; I mean, that’s how he built his power base—in the House of Representatives was, they created these weekly meetings called Unity ’09 and Common Purpose, where members of all of the allegedly progressive groups devoted to progressive causes meet every week on Tuesday, often with members of the White House communications team, including oftentimes Rahm Emanuel, and they coordinate their messaging. So, instead of being devoted to, for example, pressuring the administration on issues relating to labor or to choice or to gay issues or to war, instead they’re coordinating their messaging to insure that their real allegiance is to serve the interest and the agenda of the Obama administration. And it’s really enabled the Obama administration to annex large aspects of the progressive infrastructure and to remove what ought to be an important pressure point.

I think they’ve done the same with lots of progressive pundits, who aren’t necessarily attending these meetings, but who have voluntarily ceded their role in the progressive world and in progressive opinion making and activism. And you see this conflict more and more, I think. For example, the Huffington Post had an article critical of the Obama administration, reporting, for example, that they were working behind the scenes, in contrast to what Obama was saying, to sabotage the public option. And you saw in various places, on Daily Kos and others, suddenly declarations that the Huffington Post was suspect, and they were right wing, and they were the enemy, because anyone who reflects negatively on Obama has to be discredited. And I think you see that conflict, and I hope it will continue to grow, because it’s healthier than having progressives devote themselves to cheerleading for the President.

AMY GOODMAN: But explain why they’re against the public option, the Obama administration. The Obama administration, who—well, Obama was for single payer for years, and we have all the video that we keep playing of him endorsing it.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one of the interesting—most interesting aspects of what has happened here—and I think it illustrates the point I was just making—is, when Obama was running for president, he not only vowed, in general, to have the most transparent administration ever, talked about how secrecy was the toxin of Washington, but specifically with regard to the healthcare debate, he said the problem has always been in the past, that all the stakeholders get in the meetings, and they get accommodated, and nobody knows what’s actually happening, because it’s all done in secret. And he vowed that healthcare negotiations that he’s involved in, not only wouldn’t they be conducted in secret, they would be put on C-SPAN. Instead, as it turned out, the White House, early on in this process, beginning in March and April, were meeting with pharmaceutical and healthcare industry representatives and reaching secret deals with them to insure that they would not sabotage the healthcare plan.

And they made two deals, one with the pharmaceutical industry, not to negotiate for bulk prices, to pay full prices, even though they’re going to be the largest purchaser of pharmaceutical products; and one with the healthcare industry, not to have a public option to compete with what it was that they would be able to charge. So, essentially, they would force and mandate healthy, young Americans to buy the products of the insurance company without providing a public option to keep costs low. It was a huge gift to the healthcare industry. And I think one reason was they were afraid that the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry would advertise against the program. But I think the more important concern is, right now, most healthcare money and pharmaceutical money goes to the Democrats—it went to the Obama campaign, it went to help Democrats take over control of the Congress—and they want that to continue. They don’t want that money to go to Republican coffers to take over the Congress in 2010. And so, one of their principal priorities was to make sure that whatever happened was not a threat to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. And that’s why, I think, that early on they bargained the public option away.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And yet, there was no big furor among—in the progressive circles, as there was, for instance, when Dick Cheney had all his private meetings to develop energy policy at the beginning of the Bush administration, over the failure of Obama to come through with his promise of a more open and public process on healthcare reform.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. And, in fact, one of the principal controversies of the Bush-Cheney administration prior to 9/11, as you just alluded to, was the fact that they refused to disclose the energy executives with whom they were meeting to formulate energy policy. And they invoked all kinds of claims about how White House visitor logs were not part of presidential records. They were outside of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, and therefore not disclosable or obtainable. And that created a huge furor among progressives that this was a horribly secret administration.

And yet, when it came time to obtain those lists from the Obama White House of the healthcare executives with whom they were meeting, they originally invoked that same theory and said, “We’re not going to disclose it.” And eventually they disclosed part of it. But I think you’re right. This is a case where there was a specific promise to have these healthcare negotiations out in the open; there was an exact opposite of that occurring, and very little furor.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, but when we come back, Glenn, I want to ask you about your choice to live in Brazil and what the whole issue of gay rights, of gay marriage in this country looks like from down south. Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger at, author of three books. His latest is Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger at

OK, Glenn, so you’re here in New York, but you’re flying home to Brazil tonight, very relieved to be doing that. And you’ve written about your choice to live in Brazil with your partner. Talk about that choice and what the whole battle over gay rights looks like to you from Brazil.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. I mean, actually, it’s not—and people who are in my position—it’s not so much a choice as a forced situation. And the reason is, is because we have a law in this country that was enacted with the virtually unanimous support of the Senate, signed by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, called the Defense of Marriage Act, that not only allows states to refuse to recognize the same-sex marriage, even if it’s legal in other states, but, even worse, it explicitly bars the federal government from according any rights whatsoever to same-sex couples based upon a recognition of their relationship, which means that people who are in my situation, namely American citizens who end up with a partner who is a citizen of another country, are unable to live together in the United States.

They have two choices: they can either live in the country of their foreign spouse, if they’re able to do that, or they can be in the horrific position where they’re forced to live thousands of miles apart on a different continent, in different countries, from the person with whom they want to spend their entire lives. And so, gay couples in the United States don’t have any immigration rights whatsoever; heterosexual couples who are bi-national can be here. Whereas in Brazil, a country that has the largest Catholic population in the world and was a military dictatorship until 1985, they do recognize same-sex couples, like most of the civilized world, and I’m therefore able to live with my partner there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Glenn, and bon voyage for your trip tonight back to Brazil.

GLENN GREENWALD: Thanks very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald blogs at

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