Salon Radio: Amrit Singh of ACLU and Dennis Perrin

Is the CIA on the verge of being held in contempt of court for destroying interrogation videos? Do Democrats love war as much as the GOP?


Glenn Greenwald
August 22, 2008 3:22PM (UTC)

(updated below)

I'm traveling to Denver later today and so posting may be erratic over the next 24 hours or so. As a result, I have two guests today on Salon Radio:

(1) Attorney Amrit Singh of the ACLU (and, incidentally, the daughter of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) -- Singh, an expert in torture and FOIA proceedings, among other things, is working on a proceeding in a New York federal court, before Judge Alvin Hellerstein, seeking to hold the CIA in contempt of court for its 2005 destruction of videotapes they made of at least two interrogations of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, despite the fact that (a) there were multiple legal proceedings and investigations to which those videotapes were relevant; and (b) Judge Hellerstein had ordered the CIA back in 2003 to identify to the ACLU any such evidence they possessed.

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There are so many instances of extreme criminality on the part of the Bush administration that one tends to forget about even clear-cut crimes such as the CIA's destruction of these videos. The NYT's Mark Mazzetti first reported this story here, and I wrote about the likelihood that the destruction constituted obstruction of justice, and that top-level White House officials were involved, here. Singh details several developments that suggest that Judge Hellerstein is finally about to compel the CIA to disclose what happened here, as well as the impact this case may have on Bush officials.

A copy of the Order which Judge Hellerstein issued after my interview with Singh can be seen here (.pdf). The interview is roughly 15 minutes and the transcript is here.

(2) Blogger and comedy writer Dennis Perrin, who has written a book critiquing the Democratic Party's support for war and militarism, entitled Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War. Dennis supported Ralph Nader in 2000, but worked for Kerry-Edwards in 2004, and I discuss (and debate) with him the reasons why, notwithstanding one's dissatisfaction with Democrats, it is important that Barack Obama win in 2008, and we also debate the best ways for addressing the flaws that are now fundamental to both parties (during my lost interview with Noam Chomsky, Chomsky stressed that, in light of how radical and war-loving McCain is, even he viewed it as essential that Obama win). My discussion with Perrin is roughly 30 minutes and a transcript will be posted shortly.

Several aspects of the podcast system have now been improved and the sound quality is substantially better. I'll have the opportunity in Denver this week to finalize the system so that, from this point forward, the recordings will be the highest quality. To hear the Singh interview, click PLAY on the first recorder below. To hear the Perrin interview, click PLAY on the second recorder below.

UPDATE: The transcript for the Perrin interview is here.

This interview can be heard here.

Glenn Greenwald: I'm speaking today to Amrit Singh, who is a staff attorney with the ACLU in New York, and we're speaking regarding some potentially significant developments in this scandal that arose out of the CIA's destruction of at least 2 video tapes, which it made and then destroyed, of its interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda suspects. Thanks very much for joining me today.

Amrit Singh: You're welcome.

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GG: Now, I just want to begin by reminding everyone - because there's so many scandals over the last seven years that involve serious criminality, and the attention span of the media seems to be so short that these scandals explode onto the scene for about 48 hours, and then disappear unresolved, so - this arose, just very briefly, out of reporting by The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti in December 2007, where he reported that in 2005 the CIA destroyed at least 2 videotapes of interrogations that it had conducted of various al-Qaeda members, despite there being all sorts of civil and criminal and investigative proceedings relevant to those videotapes, and there was some suggestion in that article and since that the CIA's actions in that regard might have constituted obstruction of justice, as it was the destruction of evidence relevant to some of these investigations.

So can you talk about the background of what has led the ACLU to be involved in a court proceeding involving this scandal, and where things are right now?

AS: Certainly. In October of 2003 the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA and other agencies requesting the disclosure of records relating to the treatment of prisoners found in US custody abroad. Subsequently, in court proceedings, a federal judge in September of 2004 ordered the CIA and other agencies to turn over all responsive documents.

GG: Let me just interrupt you for a second. So, the FOIA request that the CIA filed would have included, had it been responded to, obviously, videotapes of interrogations, since the whole point of the FOIA request was to get all information relevant to how the government was treating its detainees. Is that right?

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AS: Exactly. So that the videotapes were exactly what we were requesting. And instead of turning them over to us, or identifying the records as being in their possession, the CIA destroyed these records. And in doing so, basically violated a court order requiring them to produce or identify these documents.

GG: Now, you say the court order required them to produce or identify the documents. Was there actually a ruling that the CIA, had they possessed videotapes, would have had to turn them over to the ACLU, or was the ruling that, if they did possess them, they either had to turn them over or identify the ones they possessed and give some good reason why they shouldn't have to turn them over?

AS: The ruling was framed generally in terms of all of the defendants in the lawsuit, the CIA and other defendant agencies including the Defense Department. Basically, the judge ordered them to either turn over all responsive records, or to identify these records and explain which exemption under the Freedom of Information Act would allow them to withhold them from the ACLU and the broader public at large.

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GG: And so, what did the CIA do in response to that order from the court?

AS: Well, it essentially flouted that order - it destroyed these videotapes. It did not identify the videotapes and did not turn them over, and destroyed them. That's the reason the ACLU walked into court and filed a contempt motion in December of 2007 right after we heard that the tapes had been destroyed. In fact, we didn't know the tapes had been destroyed. Had it not been for the New York Times article, we would not even have known. The point of the contempt motion is to hold CIA accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law.

GG: So, and just to be clear, what typically happens with these Freedom of Information Act requests, at least in theory, is, you request that the government disclose some information, on the theory that we have an open government in this country, and they're required either to give it to you, to let you see it, or to tell you what it is that they have and the reason why they can legitimately withhold it. And if they don't do that, you can go to a court and get a court order compelling them to comply with their obligations, in essence.

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And you got a court order compelling them to identify what it is that they possess, that was responsive to your request, which you allege is a court order that they violated by destroying these videotapes instead, and never identifying them.

So, what happened this week that is potentially significant in terms of holding the CIA accountable?

AS: Well, we had a hearing before Judge Hellerstein in the Southern District of New York on Monday, and the judge indicated his impatience with the CIA's request for a stay of the contempt proceedings. The CIA's arguing that the contempt proceeding should be stayed pending the Justice Department's criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes. But the ACLU argued that there was no reason for the court to stay the proceedings because what is before the court is a pure legal issue, whether or not the CIA complied with its orders, and that the judge is perfectly entitled to rule against the CIA and to move for the ACLU and uphold the right under the Freedom of Information Act to the public, at least know whether these records exist.

The judge also said that the CIA had to identify at a minimum, within approximately 30 days, what documents it had destroyed, along with lists of witnesses who could potentially testify as to the destruction and the content of the tapes, and transcripts, summaries, and other records reflecting the contents of the tapes would also have to be identified.

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GG: So, just to be clear, the Justice Department, and Attorney General Mukasey, after the disclosure by The New York Times that the CIA destroyed these video tapes, announced that they, the Justice Department, in essence, would investigate to see if crimes had been committed here. They didn't appoint an outsider, an independent investigator; they took a career prosecutor with the Justice Department and assigned him the task of determining whether there was a crime committed here that the Justice Department ought to prosecute. That was eight months ago or so. Has anything happened in terms of that investigation, that you know of?

AS: Not that I know of, and in fact, the judge himself said, how long is this investigation going to continue? and how long does justice have to be delayed until this investigation is going to go on? He says that he's already stayed his hand for about eight months, and expressed a great deal of impatience with the thought that he would have to stay his hand for at least another couple months, which is what the government is asking for. The point is that this is just a ruse to delay holding the CIA accountable for what was clearly a flagrant disregard for the rule of law.

GG: What is interesting, and I began by alluding to this in the beginning, is that there's so many different episodes of what appears to be clear criminality - not just corruption, or wrong-doing, but actual crimes - in the Bush presidency, that you actually forget about all the different ones that arise and they sort of fade away. And this is probably one of the clearest, in that, there was even an op-ed from Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean, the co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, who said that the CIA's failure to give them these videotapes, or to identify the existence of these videotapes, almost certainly constituted - and they used this word twice - obstruction, which is a crime, to obstruct the investigation of the 9/11 Commission.

And so here you have the Justice Department claiming to investigate, and yet not doing anything, and then the same Justice Department, or I guess here the CIA, government lawyers going in to court, and arguing that, because the Justice Department is supposedly investigating, even though nothing's happening, everything else should be put on hold, including the courts, here the federal courts' interests in vindicating its own order.

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Was the original order that was issued, that you argue the CIA violated, an order that was issued by Judge Hellerstein or is was that a different -- ?

AS: Yes. That was Judge Hellerstein, yes.

GG: So, the argument is that the CIA essentially flouted his order to comply with the Freedom of Information Act?

AS: Right.

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GG: And, what possible remedies does Judge Hellerstein have if he finds that the CIA did that?

AS: Well, he can order them to, at a minimum, identify everything that was destroyed. He can order discovery into the question of why these tapes were destroyed. He can ask them to pay attorneys' fees to the plaintiffs. He can ask them to reconstruct what was on the tapes. He can order the disclosure of any transcripts that reflect the content of the tapes or any other documents that reflect the contents of the tapes.

GG: Now one of the aspects of this controversy that did did generate some subsequent attention was the question of who exactly it was within the government responsible for the destruction of these videotapes. There was an effort originally to scapegoat a mid-level CIA official, Jose Rodriguez, and yet subsequent evidence or reporting seemed to suggest, at the very least, that there were very high-level discussions at the White House about whether these tapes ought to be destroyed, and at least some White House officials, such as David Addington, Dick Cheney's top lawyer and advisor, vehemently arguing that the tapes ought not to be preserved, that they ought to be destroyed. Has there been any further information or evidence that you're aware of as to who it was that actually ordered or approved of the destruction of these videos, and would your procedure, your contempt hearing entail some discovery into that question?

AS: Well, that's certainly seems what Judge Hellerstein wants to do. As of now, we haven't received any information about who specifically ordered the destruction of the tapes, but the judge seemed keen on finding out more about why these tapes were destroyed, and under whose authority.

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GG: Okay. Last question is: Has there been an actually ruling from the judge as far as what the CIA is now required to do, or was it more just a general sense that he's getting close to the point where he's frustrated and therefore might action?

AS: Well the judge did indicate that he wanted the CIA at a minimum to start identifying all records that were destroyed and also whether there were any transcripts, summaries or other records that reflected the contents of the tapes. He wanted those records to be identified as well. So at a minimum that's what he wants done, approximately within 30 days.

GG: So they have a deadline of 30 days from Monday?

AS: From the entry of the order. So, we've submitted a proposed order. That order hasn't been formally entered, but at the conference the judge indicated a desire to enter such an order. So once he actually signs such an order, then the clock will start ticking on the CIA to produce these lists.

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GG: And the list will have to include, at least if they comply with the court's order this time, a declaration as to how many videotapes it was that were destroyed, and whether transcripts of what was on the videotapes exists somewhere?

AS: Yes.

GG: Well, that seems like a significant step, at least, and it seems like a reflection that Judge Hellerstein is at least intent on moving forward, at least incrementally in compelling some answers from the CIA that we actually don't have right now.

AS: Yes. We certainly hope that he will hold the CIA accountable, and I think there's a larger issue here, is not only the destruction of the tapes, what was reflected on the tapes. That these tapes reflected the abusive interrogation methods and waterboarding, and it is essential that the CIA be held accountable not only for destroying the tapes, but for the conduct that was depicted on the tapes.

GG: That's an interesting point, actually, because there is some controversy over Attorney General Mukasey's decision to exclude from the Justice Department investigation, any question about whether or not the interrogation methods depicted on the tapes themselves violated the law. Is it true that the Justice Department investigation is confined solely to the question as to whether the destruction of those videotapes were a crime, but excludes the question of whether what was depicted on the videotapes was a crime?

AS: That is my impression from reading the news, yes. And also I would add that the Attorney General was very clear in hearings before Congress that he would not feel comfortable prosecuting anyone at the CIA for the use of methods that had specifically been cleared by the Office of Legal Counsel. And there was an August of 2002 memorandum issued by the Office of Legal Counsel to the CIA that specifically, we think, authorized waterboarding, and it would appear from the Attorney General's statement that, to the extent that these tapes reflected methods that had specifically been cleared by the Office of Legal Counsel, he thought that there was no basis for prosecution.

GG: My last question is, has the CIA confirmed, or are you aware of confirmation otherwise, that there are no copies of those videotapes anywhere that weren't destroyed? Were those the only copies, and are there other copies in some other form? Or is that part of what you'll learn if Judge Hellerstein's order is complied with?

AS: There have been no confirmations of the existence or non-existence of those copies.

GG: If there were other copies, in some partial form, or some other format, like transcripts or something, or summaries, is that something that the CIA would be required to disclose as part of its compliance with the order?

AS: Yes, and that's what we've asked for. We require if it decides to withhold them, then it needs to provide a good reason for why they should be withheld.

GG: Right. Well, it's very interesting and we'll certainly follow the proceedings, it sounds as though it could be the thread that if it's pulled hard enough, can unravel at least this discrete act of high-level criminality. I appreciate your taking the time to describe what the latest developments are and I hope to talk to you again as there's more.

AS: You're welcome.

GG: Thanks very much.
[Transcript courtesy of Thames Valley Transcribe]

Glenn Greenwald: My guest today is Dennis Perrin, who is a former writer for numerous comedians such as Bill Maher. Dennis has his own blog where he writes about political and lots of cultural issues at dennisperrin.blogspot.com, and he's also the author of a new book, entitled Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War, which, just as Dennis does on his blog, rather aggressively criticizes the Democratic Party, I guess one could say, criticizes them from the left; and specifically what Dennis believes is their excessive advocacy of war and militarism and imperialism. And we're going to talk about his book and his beliefs. Dennis, thanks joining me today.

Dennis Perrin: Glenn, I never would have believed it if I hadn't read it on my own blog. Thanks for having me.

GG: No problem. I'm glad to have you. Now, one of the reasons I read your blog, is because you do offer, I think, very incisive criticisms of the Democratic Party, even when, as is often the case, I don't agree with you, and you're quite critical of not just the Democratic Party, but liberal advocacy groups and even liberal blogs. One of the things you do in your book, is you set forth the history of Democrats in the 20th century, and their involvement in a whole variety of what you believe are unjust wars, beginning with Woodrow Wilson, and going through Franklin Roosevelt, and the internment of Japanese-Americans, and Truman's use of nuclear weapons, and even Jimmy Carter, who you criticize for supporting a variety of dictators including in Indonesia and South Korea, and you even call him, quote, "America's most underrated imperialist."

Now, I don't think there's any doubt the Democrats throughout the 20th century have advocated all sorts of wars, and of course I even skipped over Kennedy and Johnson's escalation in Vietnam. So, let's take that as a given, and for the moment let's assume that your critiques are true. Let me ask you this question to begin with: Are there difference that are meaningful in your eyes between the Democrats' views on militarism and war, and the Republicans views on those questions? And let's confine ourselves for the moment to the modern day Republican Party and the modern day Democratic Party.

DP: Well, yeah, of course there are differences. I'm not one of these 'not a darn's worth of difference' types. I mean, the Democrats and the Republicans are two wings of the corporate ownership party, the people who run the country, the people who own the country, who own the economy, are part of the global system, are a major part of the global economic and political military system. So they do represent different approaches to essentially the same thing, which is primarily American hegemony globally, not just militarily, but financially, although the latter part is not quite as fluid as the former, obviously. But I focus more on the military aspects of it because it's the most destructive in a lot of ways, and it's the most profound, it's the most dramatic, it's the thing that people really - it's the kind of argument that can at least get people's attention, 'cause they know about what war is which. You mentioned Vietnam, the First or Second World War, Korea, what have you. You don't have to explain what those things are to people to get into the criticisms.

So, yes, there are differences; like I said it's for the same thing, essentially. Now, sometimes the differences are larger than other times. I would definitely say in the last eight years George Bush' neo-con regime definitely was much more radical and destructive than previous Republican administrations, with the exception perhaps of Ronald Reagan, especially Central America and Southern Africa. But that was more - especially in the Central America case with Reagan, that was more of a regional issue, however bloody. With Bush and his gang, and Cheney and the rest of them, it was much more global.

Now the Democrats obviously have been critical of the Bush regime from the beginning, but they haven't really tried to undermine it. As we both know they've essentially - especially after 9/11 - gave Bush pretty much everything he wanted with very little dissent. And that's been the case ever since, especially since the celebrated 2006 mid-terms, which were going to change everything, according to liberal bloggers at the time. And of course it changed nothing. In fact, the Democrats gave more money to the Bush administration than they asked for, to continue the global wars that are going on.

So, yeah, there are differences, and you see differences between Obama and McCain, obviously, and differences in approaches. It's a managerial style, it's a difference in managerial styles, a difference in tactics, but ultimately whoever becomes president this year, or whoever is president really in recent times, basically their main job is to be an imperial manager, and that's essentially what the president of the United States is in present day....

GG: Okay, let me interrupt you there and ask you this, because what I was really trying to get at was, and I think everybody, even as comprehensive establishment critics as people like Noam Chomsky, will say that there are differences, and he's one who actually believes the differences are meaningful. But what I was trying to get from you is, whether or not those differences that you call managerial differences or other differences are meaningful enough, to take the position that it actually matters whether the Democrats or the Republicans control the levers of power. So let me ask you that question directly. In 2008, do you care who the winner of the presidential election is?

DP: Well, I've been saying on my blog recently that... up to about a week or so ago, I really didn't care, because ultimately what the president does is out of our hands, so once he's in, he's in, and he serves a whole different set of interests, than what bloggers want him to do. But recently I've become a support of Obama just because I can't take another four years of liberal self-pity online too much. The reactionaries have had their fun for the last eight years, and I'd like to see how liberals react to having a president in wartime, especially with the global terror wars that are going on, and see if they can apply the criticism that they've thrown at the Bush administration for the past eight years, if they can expand that to someone that they like. Or that they feel represents their interests.

So, on this front, my interest is more personal entertainment than anything else, 'cause ultimately...

GG: Okay, okay, but, let's leave that aside then. So, other than the issue of your personal entertainment, trying to see what you think will be the conundrum that liberals will be in, of trying to decide if they'll criticize Obama. I don't really see that as much of a conundrum. I think you've seen a great deal of criticism at Obama over things like the FISA situation...

DP: Oh, sure, and you're one of those people who've done this, especially on the FISA stuff, and...

GG: But let's...

DP: But I didn't get to finish my point, the point that I'm making is that, are you taking about are there significant difference, are their differences that matter to people's lives. Well, domestically, yeah, there are differences, definitely, I mean, you're always talking about who's going to appoint the next Supreme court justice - that's always an issue. The issue of reproductive freedom is another issue, although that's been whittled away under both Democrats and Republicans in the last 20 or so years, especially in the last decade.

So, there are differences there, and of course there might be a few more crumbs for the poor under a Democrat than there would be under a Republican. Yeah, there are differences domestically. But I really don't know what the differences are going to be for an Afghan or an Iraqi or a Pakistani, or for that matter anybody living in the third World, say someone in Colombia under a US-backed terror regime that you have in Colombia fighting the narco wars down there. I'm not quite sure what the differences are between Democrats and Republicans and frankly, under Bill Clinton, who's a liberal favorite, I mean Clinton expanded a lot of these war and pumped millions of dollars into these militaries that are slaughtering peasants, and....

GG: Right. But this is the part that I'm having a little trouble with, and I was trying to figure out, having read your book, what your view on this was, because, on the one hand, you talked about how in 2004... Well, let me go back a little. You actually talked about originally how, during the Iran-Contra hearings, when you were very disappointed by what the committee led by Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii was willing to do, and more importantly what he wasn't willing to do. You said, quote, "As a result of watching those hearings, I swore never again to vote for a Democrat." But then in 2004, you ended up working for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, employed by the Kerry-Edwards campaign, because you felt like Bush radicalism had gone so far that, as you sort of said about a little while ago, you didn't think that it was possible to, that you didn't want to see a continuation of that.

And yet, in 2000, you were a support of Ralph Nader, and worked to try and elect Ralph Nader. So let me ask you this question: If you could go back and undo the 2000 election, and make George Bush have lost, which I know he did on the basis of votes, but actually the outcome, if you could make him have lost, and make Al Gore have won, is that something, taking into account the interests of Iraqis or Americans or the poor in the United States, is that something that you think would be worth doing?

DP: Well, I mean, if I had those kinds of magical powers, I don't know if that's the first thing I would do, but yeah, I mean you're offering me a fantasy scenario. I could say the right thing and say, oh, yes, I'd much rather have Al Gore as president than George Bush, and actually a Gore presidency would obviously be different. Now, as far as how Gore would have responded to 9/11, I don't know, he probably would have been baited into Afghanistan just like Bush did, and as far as Iraq are concerned, a lot of people who seem to think that Gore would never have invaded Iraq, but there's no proof of that. I mean, he was certainly critical of how the Bush-ites went into Iraq, as there was across the American elite spectrum - there was a huge split among American elites about whether to invade Iraq or not, including some of George W. Bush's family and friends.

And Gore was part of that debate. To say that he wouldn't have invaded Iraq if he were president - I don't think anybody can say. He was part of an administration that strangled Iraq for eight years, that bombed Iraq on a regular basis, sending cruise missiles into cities, and was a backer of the neo-con agenda in Iraq, the the Democracy Act that Bill Clinton signed into law. So, Al Gore was certainly not outside of the elite consensus about containing, or ultimately overthrowing Saddam Hussein. It's just he had a tactical difference from the Bush administration. The Bush administration went at it from a completely different, and I've used the term radical, I think they used a much more radical means to go about a foreign policy decision that had already been made, in terms of containing Iraq, what was going to happen. And that goes all the way back to August 1990 when Saddam invaded Kuwait, and then lost his client membership status. He became a pariah.

So, from that point on, both Republicans and Democrats were trying to trying to find ways to either contain Iraq or eliminate Saddam and bring Iraq back into the Western orbit. And there were tactical differences in how that was going to be done.

Al Gore would have done it, I'm sure, may have gone along with the sanctions policy that worked under Clinton and Gore, but nobody knows, because it didn't happen.

GG: Right.

DP: Now, whether I'd prefer a Gore administration to the Bush administration, that's really nonsensical question, it's a fantasy question, it's like saying, do the wish the Detroit Tigers could make the World Series? They're not going to, I'd like to see them, but it's not going to happened.

GG: You're arguing for a position that says that the difference between the two parties - I'm not really sure what your position is, even though I've asked it a couple times - may or may not be big enough to care about the outcome of who wins, and you talked about how there might be a few more crumbs for the poor under Democrats, and there might be a little less war-making but maybe it would be strategically different. So I do think the question, and you defend your support for Ralph Nader in your book, and you rail against your liberal friends who were angry with you at the time for it, and are still angry with you, presumably you think you did the right thing, in supporting Ralph Nader.

DP: Well, yeah,

GG: And you think --

DP: I exercised my right of free vote.

GG: Absolutely, no one's suggesting you ought to be put in prison for it, the question is, whether or not, and I agree that there's a real dispute, we'll never know as to whether or not Ralph Nader's candidacy is what cost Al Gore the election and elected George Bush, but assuming, let's suppose that that's the case - it certainly didn't help - then there is a very real question, as to whether or not pursuit of third party candidates or support for third party candidates based on dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party is a morally responsible thing to do.

And one of the ways that we can ask that question, is to go back in time and to ask, whether or not it would have mattered had the Democrat in 2000 won, rather than the Republican, and to look at it from the perspective of someone in Iraq. Of course, we can't know for certain that Al Gore wouldn't have invaded Iraq. What we know is that he was critical of the invasion. Not fundamentally - you're right, he was more critical of the unilateralism involved, the timing involved. But there's a good chance, at least, that he wouldn't have, and isn't that, even if everything were the same between Bush and Gore, isn't that enough to have worked in favor of the Democratic candidate, notwithstanding one's significant dissatisfaction with how the Democratic Party behaves?

DP: Well, I mean, that's a matter of faith. It's not a matter of reason. I mean, it's just a matter of faith. It's trying to go back in time, and trying to recast the play. It can' be done. We can sit here and talk all day about, you know, proposed alternatives or better scenarios for the country or what have you, or the world. But the fact is we got what we got and that's what we got to deal with.

Now, as far as my support for Ralph Nader - you see, I don't go willy-nilly to supporting third party candidates because I'm pissed off, and I don't like the Democrats or the Republicans; that isn't the case. 2000 was a very unique situation. In 2000, Ralph Nader was polling at 8 or 9 %, he was - I went to one of his rallies here in Michigan; it was a huge rally, it was very democratized, I write about it in my book. It really swayed me, it actually knocked the cynicism out of me that I felt about electoral politics.

And the main reason I supported Ralph Nader in 2000 was there was a very real chance that the Green Party was going to get 5% nationally. And if that had happened, they would have got federal matching funds. And that would have at least kick-started somewhat of an alternative to the corporate status quo. Probably something that may have, you know, cannibalized itself a few years later like, say, something like what happened with the Reform Party. But I thought it was worth taking a chance, and it was certainly helped by the total disdain that the DLC and DNC had for its voters by promoting Al Gore and Joe Lieberman as the nation ticket, probably one of the most right-wing Democratic tickets in modern history.

And it's interesting to me because, you see - and I've written about this a lot, and I've never really gotten an answer from liberal supporters of Gore, or people who hate Nader. People who thought Gore would be a better president or think that he should have won or could have done, were it not for Ralph Nader, or whatever their argument is. If their arguments came true, if their desires were realized, then Joe Lieberman, whom they despise, would be the sitting vice president right this very minute. So, at least I'm consistent in my anti-Lieberman...

GG: No, I mean, and I don't that's difficult to answer. I think that the answer is pretty clear, which is, yeah, Joe Lieberman would be occupying the office of the vice-presidency, instead of Dick Cheney, which isn't exactly a great harm, given that Dick Cheney is the current occupant, but Al Gore would be occupying the Oval Office instead of George Bush, and no matter how critical one wants to be about Gore and his support for a whole bunch of militaristic policies in the past, I think most liberals, and I don't want to speak for them, but I'm sure that's the answer, believe that that would be an important and worthwhile trade-off, to have removed George Bush from office, and have Al Gore in instead.

DP: So, you're telling me then, that, the liberal hatred, the online liberal hatred for Joe Lieberman would still exist, if he were a two term vice president and that was running for president and probably even the nominee in 2008, as a two term vice president.

GG: Well, I mean, the online liberal hatred for Joe Lieberman existed when he was the senior Democratic senator from Connecticut. It existed when he was the leading Democratic presidential nominee in the 2004 primary. You're sort of asking me for the kind of counter-factual that earlier on you said, you thought was, worthless --

DP: Well, no, you're...

GG: No, because I don't know, under a Gore presidency...

DP: ...this line of questioning...

GG: What ended up making Joe Lieberman so despised by the liberal base was that he essentially became the principal spokesman, defender for the radical agenda of the Bush regime.

DP: But Joe Lieberman wasn't any different in 2000 - it was the exact same Joe Lieberman, and liberals had no problem having his name on their bumper stickers.

GG: Well, I mean... (unintelligible) People decided elections based on who the president is.

DP: The point I'm making is that people who attack me, liberals who attack me, call me cynical, say that I'm a cynic. And I'm not a cynic. I like to think of myself as a realist. I like to think that I see things as they actually are as opposed to what I hope they might be, or could have been in the past if I could get into a time machine and change everything.

GG: Alright, let me ask you that, then. This idea that it's unfair to call you a cynic. Here's a sentence that appears in your book after you talk about, your criticizing online liberals and other activists who criticize the Democratic Party yet continue to vote for it. And you essentially say, unlike them, then you say, quote, "I am not looking to belong to or redeem the Mule Party," which is your word for the Democratic Party. So, if you have this whole book criticizing the Democratic Party, and then you proclaim proudly, that you're not looking to belong to it, or redeem it. What is your...

DP: I'm not proud of that, I'm just saying that's how I feel.

GG: Okay, you openly declared that in your book. So, if that isn't your goal, or your objective, what either in general or in writing this book that page after page is critical of the Democratic Party - quite fairly in most cases, I think - but if your goal isn't to belong to or redeem the party, what is your goal?

DP: My goal primarily is to express my opinion and hopefully people will see what I have to say, and perhaps it will provoke critical thought, and maybe they'll think outside the dominant paradigm that we're saddled with.

Ultimately, any real change in this country is going have to happen outside the two party system, ultimately. It's just going to be impossible given who controls the money, given who controls the parties, given who controls the country, to go in to these major corporate funded parties, and expect to change them from within. It's nearly impossible.

Not only that, you don't have the kind of civic or social groups that you had, say, when the New Deal was brought out. I mean, you had major labor militancy, when unions were strong, and you had all sorts of grassroots activism that was going on, and this goes up into the 1960s obviously. Today you really don't see that; I mean, yeah, we got liberal blogs, and we got people, we got phone bank campaigns, and we got fundraisers for, primary challenges and all that jazz, but I mean, ultimately there is no strong social movement to really push the Democrats in a more progressive direction.

And the reason for that is, because of both the Republicans and the Democrats, over the past several decades, have done everything they can to make sure that kind of social activism doesn't exist, or if it does exist, that it's essentially channeled into less powerful or perhaps meaningless avenues. And that's been a bipartisan goal.

GG: Clearly, but then, you sort of, we crystallized with I think the ultimate tactical question is, in terms of people who believe in the fundamental corruption of both parties, even among those who, such as myself, who believe that one of the parties is clearly preferable, at least at the moment, to the other. Which is, as true as it is, that there all the impediments that you've just described, to meaningfully changing the Democratic Party, isn't it a lot more likely that that can be done, than it is that some brand new third party can be created that will serve as a meaningful threat to the two parties? I mean, I could spend the rest of the day listing for you all of the institutional and legal and financial impediments to a successful third party run....

DP: Oh, yeah, I mean, I agree with you there...

GG: And so, isn't that really just the tactical question is, as unlikely or as difficult it is to reform the Democratic Party, isn't it even harder to pursue third party change, change through a third party?

DP: Well, again, I'm not a real advocate for third parties under this system, because as you just pointed out, it's next to impossible to get any kind of political traction. I mean, and you're talking also in a very narrow area - you're talking about elections, as opposed to the day today living and political choices that people have to make, and the ways in which people have to live under this system.

When I talk about change outside the two party system, I'm not necessarily talking about the Green Party or the Socialist Workers Party, or any of these third parties you can throw up there, whether from the right or the left. Those parties exist as essentially, tiny megaphones for people who feel totally alienated from the process - which millions of people in this country feel, I think the vast majority of which don't say or do anything about it, they basically don't vote, and they don't participate in the process, which is a form of activism in its own way. But aside from that, third parties under the present corporate American system are jokes. They're just - absolutely, I agree with you. There's no way, 'cause the way the system is set up, it's impossible to have that.

I mean, I detail how the bipartisan attack on Ralph Nader in 2000 to deny him a place in the debates with Gore and Bush, where he would have doubtless had gained a lot of votes, had his anti-corporate, anti-corrupt, anti- two party system argument be given the same space. You certainly had enough in the polls to justify him being there if we go by people like Ross Perot, in 1992, who ended up, who place in debates ended up giving him, I believe, 19% of the votes, which he didn't have, he didn't have those kinds of numbers going in, but it put him up there with Clinton and the elder Bush, and man, a lot of people see him and hear arguments that connect to them.

And I'm not a fan of Ross Perot or a Reform Party. I thought it was sort of a quasi-fascist party in many ways. But he was using the terms reform and change and he was not a member of Republicans and the Democrats, and he had a tremendous - and when he was put on the same stage with the major candidates- the membership in his party, or the people who support him shot up, went through the roof.

Now, Ralph Nader was....

GG: Right. But, he...

DP: Ralph Nader was denied that in 2000, and it was both the Republicans and the Democrats who did that, and it's because the system is not open for challenge, at least through elections. When I talk about outside the two party system, I'm talking about in the grassroots, I'm talking about people who are not looking, well, we need better Democrats, we need truer Democrats. Well, what you're going to do eventually by going that route is electing more Democrats, and strengthening the Democratic Party. And I know, I read your stuff all the time, Glenn, so I know what you're going to say, you'll say, well, no there are Democrats and then there are Democrats. There's Blue Dogs and there's Yellow Dogs. There's DINOs. I know the argument. Believe me, I have enough Democratic friends - I'm well aware of it.

The difference between you and me, ultimately, is that, you know what I'm saying is true, for the most part - you may not agree with all of it, but I read your stuff enough to know that you know a lot of it is true, and you've done a lot of great work on this front. I'll give you your prompts for that. But I think the difference between you and me is that you really do think the Democrats can be redeemed on some level, at least they're more redeemable perhaps, than the Republicans are, I think that's your argument, whereas I think that both are so far gone that we have to start thinking of other means to change things.

And there's no pre-designed way to do that. That happens when people get together, they share interests, they talk about their lives, they get involved politically at the grass roots level, and then things take shape. Things begin to evolve, and that's when change really occurs.

GG: Right, and like you said, I think that is the debate, as to whether or not that sort of change is most likely by using the existing Democratic Party structure as a vehicle for that change, or working outside the structure...

DP: I'll put it this way,

GG: ...is easier.

DP: I'll put it this way, it's like, trying to the Democratic Party is like trying to redeem the Mafia from within it. I mean, you could find better Dons and better Godfathers, and people who are maybe not as crazy or violent as other Mafia Dons, but you still got the Mafia.

GG: Right. It's just that maybe the best, as difficult as that is, that maybe the most viable option. You need to compare it to the other choices.

DP: That could be, but you wouldn't criticize, or at least denigrate or dismiss people who wanted to work outside of the Mafia to eliminate its influence, or perhaps eliminate it altogether.

GG: It depends on how viable that option really was.

DP: It would be...

GG: You have to make the assessment in advance, as to whether or not it's a plausible course of action, or whether or not your resources and energies are better....

DP: Anything is plausible outside of the two party system, because it hasn't been bought and sold yet. Where you're going in - you're trying to change an area of life that is completely bought and sold. And you're trying to, like, change its nature. You're not going to change its nature. Its nature is going to remain the same, 'cause it's a very powerful institution. And it's a very powerful global interest.

GG: Lots of powerful institutions have been, have been not only radically changed in the past, but have been brought down and replaced by others as well. It's certainly it's true that there are powerful interests that one has to work against, but that's not the same as saying it's impossible.

In any event, this is the sort of debate that prompts me to read Dennis's blog, and to have read his book, which is Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War. As I said at the beginning, I don't always agree with Dennis, I frequently disagree, although I think a lot of the fundamental critiques are true. But even when I disagree and I even when I find him sort of irritating, which I do at times, it's a good form of irritating, because it's a thought-provoking irritation, and that's infinitely preferable to things that don't provoke thought.

So, hopefully people will get a sense of that from this discussion, and I appreciate your taking the time today and talking to me.

DP: Oh, thank you, Glenn, I really appreciate the time. Thank you very much.

GG: Alright, Dennis, thanks.

[Transcript courtesy of Thames Valley Transcribe]


Glenn Greenwald

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