Joe Biden v. Joe Biden on WikiLeaks

An endless stream of false fear-mongering claims are spouted by government and media figures

Published December 18, 2010 10:19AM (EST)

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2010 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington. For an early idea of how the Democratic White House and emboldened House Republicans will get along next year, keep an eye on Biden and California congressman Darrell Issa. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)  (AP)
FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2010 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington. For an early idea of how the Democratic White House and emboldened House Republicans will get along next year, keep an eye on Biden and California congressman Darrell Issa. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (AP)

(updated below - Update II - Update III [Manning's lawyer])

It's really not an overstatement to say that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are the new Iraqi WMDs because the government and establishment media are jointly manufacturing and disseminating an endless stream of fear-mongering falsehoods designed to depict them as scary villains threatening the security of The American People and who must therefore be stopped at any cost.  So often, the government/media claims made in service of this goal are outright false, which is why I have focused so much on the un-killable, outright lie that WikiLeaks indiscriminately dumped 250,000 diplomatic cables without regard to the consequences (on Thursday, The New York Times, in its article on Assange's release from prison, re-printed the lie by referencing "Mr. Assange's role in the publication of some 250,000 American diplomatic documents" only to delete it without any indication of a correction in the final version of the article, while the always-conventional-wisdom-spouting Dana Milbank in The Washington Post -- in the course of condemning "the absurd secrecy of the Obama administration, in some ways worse than that of George W. Bush" -- today wrote of "Assange's indiscriminate dump of American government secrets over the last several months - with hardly a care for who might be hurt or what public good was served").

But this new example from Joe Biden is extraordinary, and reveals how government officials are willing to say absolutely anything -- even things they know are false -- to demonize WikiLeaks.  First, here's Biden with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell -- on Thursday, December 16 -- happily insisting that the leak of the diplomatic cables has done no damage to U.S. relations (video below):

MITCHELL:  This is Vice President Joe Biden, who told me that the leaked cables created no substantive damage -- only embarrassment . . . .

BIDEN:  And I came in [to the U.N.] almost all to embraces - it wasn't just shaking hands - I know these guys, I know these women - they still trust the United States - there's all kinds of --

MITCHELL:  So there's no damage?

BIDEN:  I don't think there's any damage.  I don't think there's any substantive damage, no.  Look, some of the cables are embarrassing . . . but nothing that I'm aware of that goes to the essence of the relationship that would allow another nation to say:  "they lied to me, we don't trust them, they really are not dealing fairly with us."

But here's the very same Joe Biden, in a preview of an interview with David Gregory -- taped the following day, Thursday, December 17 -- to air this Sunday on Meet the Press, gravely lamenting that Julian Assange has harmed American foreign relations (video below):

This guy has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of other parts of the world.  He's made it more difficult for us to conduct our business with our allies and our friends.  For example, in my meetings -- you know I meet with most of these world leaders -- there is a desire to meet with me alone, rather than have staff in the room:  it makes things more cumbersome -- so it has done damage.

In one day, Biden went from giddily declaring that "I don't think there's any damage" to gravely warning that "it has done damage."  I have no idea whether Biden was told that his Thursday no-damage admission would severely harm the Government's efforts to prosecute Assange, but what is clear is that he was perfectly willing to march into Meet the Press the following day and say things that he knew were false in order to depict the WikiLeaks diplomatic cable disclosures as harming U.S. national security.  It's true that in the first clip, he was asked specifically about diplomatic cables, while the second interview may have encompassed all the releases, but in that second interview, he clearly claimed that the disclosures harmed relations with other countries:  exactly the opposite of what he said the day before.  Even his demeanor completely changed, from breezy, fun dismissiveness into serious, concerned leader talking about a True Threat.

And, of course, the establishment media leads the way in disseminating these falsehoods.  I was on an MSNBC program yesterday discussing my article on the conditions of Bradley Manning's detention, and the host, Chris Jansing, suggested that these repressive conditions might be justified by the "grave national security harm" Manning has caused.  What grave national security harm has he caused?  None.  Even Robert Gates, in a moment of real candor, mocked those making this claim about the diplomatic cables release as "seriously overwrought."  But no matter.  There are menacing demons which all of official Washington agrees are pure, unadulterated Evil who have damaged us all and who must be stopped with the full force of the United States -- Julian Assange and WikiLeaks -- and thus anything must and will be said to sustain that fiction.

Here's the MSNBC clip of Biden, December 16:


Here's the Meet the Press clip of Biden, December 17:


UPDATE:  Speaking of government falsehoods:  military officials have predictably begun attacking my article reporting on the conditions of Manning's detention  -- they also sent a statement during my MSNBC interview yesterday claiming there were "inaccuracies" in what I wrote -- but they do not, and cannot, identify any inaccuracies, because there were none.  Yesterday, The Guardian described in its headline:  "Bradley Manning's health deteriorating in jail, supporters say," while The Daily Beast yesterday published an article containing an interview with Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, which confirms every key fact I reported:

Since his arrest in May, Manning has spent most of his 200-plus days in solitary confinement. Other than receiving a card and some books from his family, his birthday will be no different . . . . Manning is being held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 hours a day alone in a standard-sized cell, with a sink, a toilet, and a bed.  He isn’t allowed sheets or a pillow, though First Lieutenant Brian Villiard, an officer at Quantico, said he is allowed bedding of "non-shreddable" material. "I've held it, I've felt it, it's soft, I'd sleep under it," he told The Daily Beast.

The conditions under which Bradley Manning is being held would traumatize anyone (see Salon's Glenn Greenwald for a rundown of the legal and psychological issues associated with extended solitary confinement). He lives alone in a small cell, denied human contact. He is forced to wear shackles when outside of his cell, and when he meets with the few people allowed to visit him, they sit with a glass partition between them. The only person other than prison officials and a psychologist who has spoken to Manning face to face is his attorney, who says the extended isolation -- now more than seven months of solitary confinement -- is weighing on his client's psyche. . . .

His treatment is harsh, punitive and taking its toll, says Coombs. . . .What is clear today is that he’s being held in extraordinarily harsh conditions -- notably harsher than Bryan Minkyu Martin, the naval intelligence specialist who allegedly tried to sell military secrets to an undercover FBI agent, and is currently being held awaiting trial, though not in solitary confinement.  Manning, who has been convicted of nothing, has spent the better part of a year incommunicado, living the life of a man convicted of a heinous crime. Coombs challenges the legality of what he says is "unlawful pretrial punishment."  He is working to lift the POI restrictions placed on his client.

Indeed, shortly after my article was published, Lt. Villiard spoke with me by telephone to say that while he was concerned that (what he viewed as) my overly negative depiction of brig conditions would cause military officials to refuse in the future to talk to the media about Manning, there were no factual inaccuracies in what I wrote other than the one small dispute I immediately noted in an update about whether Manning is able to watch news programs during his television time (visitors to Manning, including David House, continue to insist that Manning emphatically complains about that news restriction).  That Manning is kept 23 hours a day in a cell alone -- and has been for seven months -- is indisputable fact, as is the fact that he's barred even from exercising in his own cell (as Lt. Villiard expressly confirmed by email to me).

Beyond the obvious desire to make an example of Manning and Assange -- in order to bolster the climate of intimidation and fear to deter future whistle-blowers who would expose government corruption, deceit and illegality -- The Independent yesterday shed further light on one of the motives for the repressive conditions imposed on Manning:  namely, that U.S. officials believe it is "crucial" to "persuade" Manning to testify against WikiLeaks if they are to convict Assange, i.e., to "persuade" Manning to say that WikiLeaks did not merely passively receive classified information, but actively provided Manning technical and other assistance in advance to access and disseminate classified information.  The more inhumane the conditions are of Manning's detention, the greater pressure the Government can apply to induce him -- "persuade" him -- to testify how they need him to testify in order to prosecute Assange.


UPDATE II:  For more on the repressive conditions of Manning's detention, the toll it is taking on him, and its connection to the U.S. Government's attempt to induce his testimony against Assange, see this article from The Independent today.


UPDATE III:  Manning's lawyer, David Coombs -- an Army Major who served in Iraq -- has just written about the conditions of Manning's detention, confirming all of the facts I reported, and some worse ones that I did not.  The whole thing should be read, but here are some relevant excerpts:

PFC Manning is currently being held in maximum custody. Since arriving at the Quantico Confinement Facility in July of 2010, he has been held under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch.

His cell is approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length.

The cell has a bed, a drinking fountain, and a toilet. . . .

At 5:00 a.m. he is woken up (on weekends, he is allowed to sleep until 7:00 a.m.). Under the rules for the confinement facility, he is not allowed to sleep at anytime between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. If he attempts to sleep during those hours, he will be made to sit up or stand by the guards . . . .

He cannot see other inmates from his cell. He can occasionally hear other inmates talk. Due to being a pretrial confinement facility, inmates rarely stay at the facility for any length of time. Currently, there are no other inmates near his cell. . . .

PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day.

The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay.

He receives each of his meals in his cell.

He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets. However, he is given access to two blankets and has recently been given a new mattress that has a built-in pillow.

He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell.

He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read in his cell. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep.

He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.

He does receive one hour of ""exercise” outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.

Coombs says that a television is placed in front of Manning's cell for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours during weekdays and up to 6 hours on the weekend days (Manning's visitors told me he has 1 hour of TV time per day), but he also said "the television stations are limited to the basic local stations."  But the key fact is the virtually complete 23-hour-per-day isolation and solitary confinement, which is precisely what all of the empirical data and other evidence I compiled earlier in the week indicates produces long-term psychological damage and even insanity.


By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------