Jeremy Scahill: "Blowers go to Yale and whistleblowers go to jail" — David Petraeus vs. Chelsea Manning

The journalist blasted U.S. hypocrisy on whistleblowers, while Democrats have "eyes wide shut" on terror watchlist

By Ben Norton

Published June 24, 2016 2:30PM (EDT)

Jeremy Scahill speaking in Washington, D.C. in 2014  (Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore)
Jeremy Scahill speaking in Washington, D.C. in 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore)

Award-winning journalist Jeremy Scahill excoriated the U.S. double standards on whistleblowers and journalists at an event in support of WikiLeaks on Wednesday. Those who leak classified documents for the public good face bitter repression, he stressed, while those who do so for personal reasons are barely slapped on the wrist.

He also lambasted Democratic congresspeople for holding a dramatic sit-in in support of an undemocratic, discriminatory so-called terrorist watchlist that has been proven to be ineffective, in lieu of actual gun control legislation.

WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange surpassed his fourth year trapped in the Ecuadoran embassy in London this week. At an event in New York City on June 22, journalists and activists called for support for Assange and WikiLeaks.

Scahill spoke at the event of his work with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who featured one of his just two published pieces in the introduction to “The Assassination Complex,” a book Scahill recently published with The Intercept, the publication he founded with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Snowden distinguished leakers from whistleblowers, Scahill explained. "The act of whistleblowing increasingly has become an act of political resistance," Snowden wrote.

“There are two basic families of leakers and whistleblowers in our society today,” Scahill continued. On one side are the whistleblowers like Assange, Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake and more. These are the ones who are motivated by conscience — and who face brutal backlash by the U.S. government.

On the other side are the leakers. At the WikiLeaks event, both Assange's attorney, Carey Shenkman, and Scahill pointed out that Gen. David Petraeus leaked classified information, but faced almost no consequences.

Assange is being punished for publishing classified documents for the public good, whereas Petraeus "apparently viewed the classified documents as a way to get laid," Scahill said, referencing the affair Petraeus had with his biographer.

Yet today, while Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence, Snowden is in exile and Assange is trapped in a foreign embassy, Petraeus is teaching at Ivy League schools.

"The blowers go to Yale and the whistleblowers go to jail in this society," Scahill quipped.

Since retiring, Gen. Petraeus has worked at Harvard University, the University of Exeter, the City University of New York and more.

"The U.S. has never welcomed internal dissent"

Scahill also emphasized that critics, along with politicians like President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who insist that Snowden could have worked within the system are absolutely wrong.

Thomas Drake, who worked for 27 years in U.S. national security and served as a senior executive in the NSA, worked within the system and tried to be a whistleblower. He was viciously punished for speaking out.

Now, Drake works at an Apple store in Virginia, Scahill noted. "And he’s working there because the national security state turned on him," making it difficult for him to have any semblance of a career after speaking up.

Snowden made his incredibly difficult decision to work with journalists with this in mind, with the understanding that there had been a history of whistleblowers who faced serious consequences.

The idea that Snowden could have gone through official channels is a “bankrupt argument, both morally and practically,” Scahill stressed.

"It likely would have gone nowhere," he added. "The United States has never welcomed internal dissent, and has always responded with force, in the face of that."

Snowden helped precipitate a public debate that led to real change, Scahill argued, just like Assange and WikiLeaks.

Eyes wide shut

At the WikiLeaks event, Scahill was joined by Democracy Now founder Amy Goodman and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore also shared a video message, and Assange himself spoke via live video stream.

The left-wing speakers were staunchly critical of the Democratic Party. Chris Hedges emphasized that "we no longer live in a functioning democratic system," and Assange warned that a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean "endless war."

Scahill forcefully criticized Democratic lawmakers for holding a sit-in in Congress that completely misses the point.

He noted that the bill they held a demonstration in support of has little to do with gun control; it would actually strengthen the U.S. surveillance state with the secretive terrorist watchlist system.

The U.S. terrorist watchlist "has been systematically proven to be ineffective in weeding out any terrorists," Scahill pointed out.

It includes dead people, children and people who have names similar to actual suspected terrorists, and is not subjected to any judicial overview.

Moreover, dissidents around the world, heads of state and even South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela have been on the U.S. so-called terrorist watchlist.

The CIA helped the South African apartheid regime arrest Mandela for 27 years. He remained on the U.S. terrorist watchlist until 2008. Mandela seems to be the only person who was on that list that the U.S. did anything against, Scahill quipped.

“This is yet another case when the Democrats operate with eyes wide shut,” he declared.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement criticizing the congresspeople trying to push through the law, calling it a "broken watchlist system" that is "applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner."

"Our nation’s watchlisting system is error-prone and unreliable because it uses vague and overbroad criteria and secret evidence to place individuals on blacklists without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names," the ACLU wrote.

Government impunity

Scahill went on to criticize the impunity guaranteed for the military officers behind the U.S. bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October.

The U.S. refused numerous attempts an independent, international investigation. The Pentagon did an internal inquiry and determined that those deemed responsible would be punished merely by not being promoted. No one faced any serious punishment, yet alone jail time.

Scahill noted that this kind of impunity is common in the U.S. government. He recalled a recent article he released detailing a night raid in Afghanistan where U.S. soldiers massacred seven members of an Afghan family, including two pregnant women.

The U.S. soldiers later dug the bullets out of the women's dead bodies with a knife, and blamed the attack on an Afghan "honor killing."

Afghan survivors called the U.S. soldiers the “American Taliban” after the attack.

Scahill obtained the government report on the incident through a Freedom of Information Act request. The report had a section on whether or not the U.S. tampered with the scene after the crime. The entire answer is redacted.

Attempts at the international level to hold U.S. officials accountable have made little progress.

Assange later noted that they have been trying to do an independent prosecution of the NSA, for its activities in Italy. He said they have an investigative prosecutor working on the case.

Scahill drew attention to another “very, very important case” that could challenge the U.S. rendition program, in which the CIA abducts non-U.S. citizens in other countries.

He pointed out, however, that the only person who is currently being held in custody in the case is the one CIA agent who has come out publicly to speak about it.

“The killers got away and the whistleblowers went to prison”

Detailing just how bad the situation is, Scahill again stressed: "We live in a world where Chelsea Manning is in prison, where Edward Snowden is in exile, where Thomas Drake is helping people at the Genius bar at an Apple store, where Julian Assange is inside of a very small area inside of the Ecuadoran embassy and all of the people that commit and order and conduct these war crimes are either walking around with metals on their chests or [working at] endowed chairs at Ivy League universities, or they're in government."

"Or they’re working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign right now," he added.

Scahill criticized all of the mainstream presidential candidates for not challenging extreme U.S. militarism. Even Bernie Sanders, he argued, has not been sufficiently critical of destructive U.S. imperialism.

“When you go up to the edge of the sensitive issues of the empire, there’s a limit for anyone who runs for office on the Democratic or Republican ticket,” he said.

Scahill stressed, “My job is to hold my government accountable.”

Journalists should be devoting themselves to answering what it is that our government is doing and for what reasons, he said.

Right now journalists and activists aren't doing enough. Scahill added: “The killers got away and the whistleblowers went to prison.”

Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Chelsea Manning David Petraeus Jeremy Scahill Julian Assange