Blind compassion is killing the asylum seeker debate. While Tony Abbott entangles his new government in megaphone diplomacy with Indonesia,upsetting our biggest neighbour in the process, refugees are struggling to survive closer to home.
Vast swaths of the Australian public remain hostile towards asylum seekers, and the advocacy groups supporting them need to ask if the strategy they employed over the last decade is partly responsible for it. Accusing the bulk of Australians of racism and discrimination, a common catch-cry of the left, has done nothing except harden hearts and allow media and political elites to ramp up cruel policies towards the most vulnerable souls landing on our shores.
The previous Labor government instituted a harsh regime of dumping asylum seekers out of detention without work rights, and the Coalition is set to deepen the problem. As a result of these policies, asylum seekers require community support. But according to Sri Lanka-born Ramesh Fernandez, CEO and founder of NGO Rise: refugee survivors and ex-detainees, this is not happening nearly enough. I met him last week at his organisation’s office, a small, bustling space in the heart of Melbourne.
Ramesh Fernandez and Nazeem Hussain. Photograph: Antony Loewenstein
As new arrivals visit Rise for legal advice on their refugee status, mass persecution continues in Fernandez’s birth country – despite the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, claiming otherwise. The Australian ran a fawning profile of Bishop last week. In it, she stated that on a trip to Sri Lanka this year she neither saw nor heard any evidence of persecution against Tamils, although statements by human rights group around the world proves the fallacy of this allegation.
Fernandez was released from mandatory detention in 2004 after spending time on Christmas Island and at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia. He says that he’s proud of the fact that Rise is the first asylum seeker organisation to be run by ex-detainees and people of non-white background. Rise is not funded by the federal government, and routinely refuses offers by the department of immigration to apply for grants.
Fernandez is outspoken and unforgiving towards the vast bulk of asylum seeker support services. Just this week, he sent out a press release damning the Uniting Church and human rights lawyer Julian Burnside for pushing for temporary mandatory detention. “Will the Uniting Church or any other organisations or community groups ever have the courage,” he wrote, “to call for humanitarian reception centres and hostels used in the past in Australia that assist in the rehabilitation of a group of people who are fleeing from situations of extreme trauma and cruelty, rather than advocating for the detention and security industry and stop compromising the lives and wellbeing of the refugee community for the sake of PR?”
The group has released a list of the companies making a fortune from privatised detention, and also didn’t spare community groups receiving federal government money, such as Anglicare, Wesley Mission and the Salvation Army.
“All human rights groups in Australia use unhealthy emotional attachment to refugees,” Fernandez tells me. “I’m against the stereotyping of refugees with sad and crying faces. White guilt is rampant, which often causes people to act to make themselves feel better rather than empowering asylum seekers. I want refugees to have a voice in this debate. I hate how refugees are often told at refugee rallies, by asylum seeker groups, “thanks for coming”, which is patronising and crazy when it’s white people saying that to brown and black people. Australia is one of the most racist nations in the world. Australia has never accepted that it has a racist past.”
Rise hosts a food bank, hip-hop concerts by asylum seekers, English classes, legal advice, publishes art and writing by refugee survivors, has a library featuring books by primarily non-white authors and a drop-in centre for children and adults. There are now 1,060 registered refugees with the group, and the need for such services has never been higher.
One of Rise’s volunteers is Nazeem Hussain, a Muslim comedian with a Sri Lankan background who performs with the group Fear of a Brown Planet and is the star of the SBS skit-show Legally Brown. Hussain tells me, “I grew up in a community of refugees and Rise is the only group I know that has the understanding of what they’re going through. Too many people are involved in the asylum seeker movement to feel good about themselves instead of helping refugees. Australia has a huge problem with racism, affirmed by both major sides of politics. The intervention against Indigenous people in the Northern Territory is mostly ignored because the racism is accepted.”
Over in west Melbourne, I visit the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre(ASRC). Community team leader Jana Favero shows me around the three story office building. She fears the coming three to six months under the Abbott government will tighten the noose around refugee rights and reduce their ability to source legal and community care. ASRC’s funding is mostly from private donations and philanthropy, with only 5% from the Victorian government, which ensures they’re not at Canberra’s mercy.
Favero worries that the “Abbott government could put pressure on the immigration department to discontinue our mostly good relationship between us and them, helping individual refugee cases.” ASRC never has enough money for the daily assistance in food, legal advice, housing, english and children’s classes and job hunting (for refugees allowed to work). Thousands of asylum seekers remain in limbo, on visas that don’t allow them full rights and unsure when that status will change, if ever.
Every day, volunteers cook up a lunch meal for up to 150 asylum seekers with donated food. Refugees have access to a large storage room for food, soap and healthcare products thanks to a needs-based points system. Refugee families are also given assistance in cooking healthy meals. During my visit, I meet Hazara men and women, African asylum seekers and, since it was during school holidays, a few rampaging kids. ASRC becomes an unofficial child care centre at various times during the day, and its office now opens into the night a few times a week to cope with the huge demand for services.
The ASRC’s Pamela Curr worries that the new federal government will only increase the secrecy around asylum seekers, a policy ably challenged by the Australian’s Mark Day this week. “I know of government-backed contractors signing confidentiality agreements and NGOs forcing staff with poor english to sign agreements with no legal standing”, Curr says. “They claim that speaking out in the media is not the way forward, private engagement with the immigration department is better, but it’s not born out by the facts.” One year after the re-introduction of off-shore processing, she despairs as she still hears stories of young men being raped and abused on Manus Island.
Resistance to the Coalition’s policies, coupled with outlining viable alternatives, is surely the best way to reform Australia’s dysfunctional relationship with asylum seekers.
Far too many reporters see themselves as extensions of power instead of checks on it. One of the finest journalists in the world, Seymour Hersh, unloads on this trend. I couldn’t have put it better myself (via Guardian):
Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.
It doesn’t take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist”.
He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.
Don’t even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.
Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an “independent” Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. “The Pakistanis put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report,” he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.
The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.
“It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],” he declares in an interview with the Guardian.
“It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn’t happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.
He isn’t even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.
He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden ”changed the whole nature of the debate” about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government’s policy.
“Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we’ve all written the notion there’s constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it’s real now,” Hersh says.
“Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn’t touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game,” he adds, before qualifying his remarks.
“But I don’t know if it’s going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters ‘al-Qaida, al-Qaida’ and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic,” he says.
Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London’s summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.
Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption.
“I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it’s not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity.”
His story of how he uncovered the My Lai atrocity is one of old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism and doggedness. Back in 1969, he got a tip about a 26-year-old platoon leader, William Calley, who had been charged by the army with alleged mass murder.
Instead of picking up the phone to a press officer, he got into his car and started looking for him in the army camp of Fort Benning in Georgia, where he heard he had been detained. From door to door he searched the vast compound, sometimes blagging his way, marching up to the reception, slamming his fist on the table and shouting: “Sergeant, I want Calley out now.”
Eventually his efforts paid off with his first story appearing in the St Louis Post-Despatch, which was then syndicated across America and eventually earned him the Pulitzer Prize. “I did five stories. I charged $100 for the first, by the end the [New York] Times were paying $5,000.”
He was hired by the New York Times to follow up the Watergate scandal and ended up hounding Nixon over Cambodia. Almost 30 years later, Hersh made global headlines all over again with his exposure of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
For students of journalism his message is put the miles and the hours in. He knew about Abu Ghraib five months before he could write about it, having been tipped off by a senior Iraqi army officer who risked his own life by coming out of Baghdad to Damascus to tell him how prisoners had been writing to their families asking them to come and kill them because they had been “despoiled”.
“I went five months looking for a document, because without a document, there’s nothing there, it doesn’t go anywhere.”
Hersh returns to US president Barack Obama. He has said before that the confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11, but he is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush.
“Do you think Obama’s been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What’s going on [with journalists]?” he asks.
He says investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails.
“Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It’s journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize,” he adds. “It’s a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don’t mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that’s a serious issue but there are other issues too.
“Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren’t we doing more? How does he justify it? What’s the intelligence? Why don’t we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don’t we do our own work?
“Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate’ our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues. That doesn’t happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it’s like you don’t dare be an outsider any more.”
He says in some ways President George Bush‘s administration was easier to write about. “The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama. Much more difficult in the Obama era,” he said.
Asked what the solution is Hersh warms to his theme that most editors are pusillanimous and should be fired.
“I’ll tell you the solution, get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can’t control,” he says. I saw it in the New York Times, I see people who get promoted are the ones on the desk who are more amenable to the publisher and what the senior editors want and the trouble makers don’t get promoted. Start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say ‘I don’t care what you say’.
Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.
If Hersh was in charge of US Media Inc, his scorched earth policy wouldn’t stop with newspapers.
“I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let’s start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won’t like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” he says.
Hersh is currently on a break from reporting, working on a book which undoubtedly will make for uncomfortable reading for both Bush and Obama.
“The republic’s in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.” And he implores journalists to do something about it.
A sad state of affairs that a serious media (which most of the corporate press is not, too keen to wine and dine with the powerful) would vehemently oppose (via the Guardian):
Speaking in the wake of a series of revelations in the Guardian about the extent of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, Rusbridger said: “Orwell could never have imagined anything as complete as this, this concept of scooping up everything all the time.
“This is something potentially astonishing about how life could be lived and the limitations on human freedom,” he said.
Rusbridger said the NSA stories were “clearly” not a story about totalitarianism, but that an infrastructure had been created that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.
“Obama is a nice guy. David Cameron is a nice social Democrat. About three hours from London in Greece there are some very nasty political parties. What there is is the infrastructure for total surveillance. In history, all the precedents are unhappy,” said Rusbridger, speaking at the Advertising Week conference.
He said that whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked the documents, had been saying: “Look, wake up. You are building something that is potentially quite alarming.”
Rusbridger said that people bring their own perspectives to the NSA revelations. People who have read Kafka or Orwell found the level of surveillance scary, he said, and that those who had lived or worked in the communist eastern bloc were also concerned.
“If you are Mark Zuckerberg and you are trying to build an international business, this is dismaying to you,” Rusbridger said.
Zuckerberg recently criticised the Obama administration’s surveillance apparatus. “Frankly I think the government blew it,” he told TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.
The Facebook founder was particularly damning of government claims that they were only spying on “foreigners”.
“Oh, wonderful: that’s really helpful to companies trying to serve people around the world, and that’s really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies,” said Zuckerberg.
Here’s Rusbridger speaking to Democracy Now! this week:
I spoke to her at a public event in Sydney about her coverage of the Chelsea Manning trial, dissent in America, Barack Obama’s war on whistle-blowers and threats to democracy. The video was recorded by Cathy Vogan:
The Guardian recently published a stunning story, via Edward Snowden, of overly close intelligence sharing between America and Israel.
The New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan reveals a shocking lack of news judgement by the paper and a sense that unless big stories are found and broken by them, well, don’t bother looking to them to cover it:
Many Times readers have been writing to me for several days about a story The Guardian broke last week, describing how the United States routinely shares with Israel intelligence information that the National Security Agency gathers on American citizens.
The story was published five days ago, and by late last week I was already hearing from dozens of readers. One of them was Phyllida Paterson, of Silver Spring, Md., who wrote:
“48 hours and there is still nothing in The Times about how the N.S.A. shares U.S. citizens’ raw communications data with Israel. This explosive story ought to be front-page news. Word is spreading and The Times is losing credibility by the hour. Friends of mine who never before believed that newspapers suppressed news are shocked by the evidence before them. Do you really want to push more readers into the arms of The Guardian?”
After a weekend in which no mention was made in The Times of the article, I asked the managing editor, Dean Baquet, about it on Monday morning.
He told me that The Times had chosen not to follow the story because its level of significance did not demand it.
“I didn’t think it was a significant or surprising story,” he said. “I think the more energy we put into chasing the small ones, the less time we have to break our own. Not to mention cover the turmoil in Syria.”
So, I asked him, by e-mail, was this essentially a question of reporting resources? After all, The Times could have published an article written by a wire service, like Reuters or The Associated Press.
“I’d say resources and news judgment,” he responded.
In a world with many news outlets, he said: “We can spend all our time matching stories, and not actually covering the news. This one was modest and didn’t feel worth taking someone off greater enterprise.”
The Times has been working on “enterprise” – that is, journalism that it produces itself, usually through investigative digging or other deep reporting – with The Guardian and ProPublica based on leaked information from the N.S.A. Many of the articles in recent months have been broken by The Guardian and The Washington Post, after the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden’s leaking of the information.
The Times published the first of the articles in that collaboration this month, and there is more to come.I’ve written about this several times, most recently saying that it was good to see The Times getting more fully involved in developing these extraordinary revelations and resisting government requests to withhold the story.
I disagree, however, with Mr. Baquet’s conclusion on this one. I find it to be a significant development and something that Times readers should not have to chase around the Web to find out about. They should be able to read it in The Times.
My following column appears in the Guardian today:
Treating voters with contempt is the perfect way for the left to guarantee itself permanent exile from the political scene.
On election night, Melbourne writer Catherine Deveny tweeted: “This is win for racists, morons, homophobes, fuckheads, jumped up bogans, misogynists, billionaires, haters, comedians.” Such sentiments might momentarily make you feel good and superior to your fellow voters, but in the end you’re merely speaking to the converted; succumbing to rage is the wrong response to an outcome you’re unhappy with. Overland editor Jeff Sparrow perfectly articulated the issues the day after Tony Abbott’s victory:
“The left can easily fall prey to bitterness, a disdain for the public who voted in such a deeply reactionary figure. That would be a terrible mistake. Denouncing ordinary Australians as fools and halfwits, as slackjawed dupes of Murdoch too dim to grasp the obvious, might make us feel better but hurling abuse at those you want to convince has never been a successful strategy, particularly in a context in which the left is all too often portrayed as a clique of self-satisfied elitists.”
So let us look forward instead, and analyse what the left should (and shouldn’t) do.
Blaming Rupert Murdoch for Labor’s loss only highlights the lack of viable media alternatives; the Australian Financial Review’s Neil Chenoweth rightly argues that News Limited’s influence is inflated by its own bluster. Finding new and original ways to cover elections is vital, including resourced, ethical and accountable independent coverage from every seat in the country via print, online and social media sources. This could be be financed through ingenuity and a desire for local news to grow (America shows us the way).
A plethora of minor parties thrived this election. One in particular, the Wikileaks party, should have been a far more effective advocate for free speech but was let down by internal mismanagement and lack of transparency (something highlighted by strong Wikileaks backer, Gary Lord, on the day of the election). It’s simply not good enough to claim that libertarianism is opposed by the left and right in Australia, which might explain why Wikileaks polled so poorly. A raft of high-profile departures during the campaign tainted the Wikileaks party’s oft-stated claims of accountability. I write this with sadness, after being a Wikileaks supporter since 2006.
By all means, let’s not ignore the consistent campaign by Murdoch’s minions dressed up as journalists and editors to destroy Labor and the Greens. The “absolutist tendencies” of the Greens, condemned by The Australian this week, is nothing more than corporate frustration over the Greens surviving and maintaining much of its parliamentary numbers; its national influence, likely reduced, will continue.
Already much has been written about the decline of the Greens vote and why this signals confusion amongst the public about the role of the party: are they left-wing agitators, permanent opponents of government, or simply paying the price for sleeping and working with a neo-liberal Labor party? I’d argue the last option. The Greens’ humane policy on asylum seekers was arguably one of the key factors lifting its falling support. NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon is already frankly assessing what her party needs to do under a Coalition government to clearly differentiate itself from the Labor party on key issues such as tackling rising temperatures and Denticare.
Leaving Australian politics to the two major, pro-war parties is not a rational option so a vibrant Greens, and/or alternative left-wing force, is vital. The Greens need a thorough examination of the kind of party they want to be in the 21st century after unsuccessfully joining elite Canberra politics in 2010. For a party so committed to tackling serious climate change, it’s hard to celebrate then leader Bob Brown’s “win” over a climate package that locked in notoriously corrupt international “offsets”, especially from Europe.
The future viability of a party that wants to obtain far more than 9% of the national vote requires a serious investigation into what went wrong. History records very few examples globally of a left, green party succeeding by moving closer to the centre. The German Greens arecurrently suffering this fate.
The Greens candidate for the inner Sydney seat of Grayndler, Hall Greenland, wrote this week that “without a positive and convincing model of an alternative society, voters are going to be generally conservative and defensive.” This should involve explaining why a larger and more accountable public sector, better public transport, more independent foreign policy, open borders, serious action on climate change and more regulation on energy companies must all be part of any long-term strategy.
But this isn’t the 1960s or 1970s. Lives and the world have changed, so the left must adapt to different circumstances and explain why a bigger, publicly funded safety net – unlike the increasingly privatised network of failures in Western Australia under Liberal premier Colin Barnett – is the best way to ensure long-term prosperity.
A serious left will look both inwardly and globally for answers, and they may not like what they see. Canadian journalist Naomi Klein condemns mainstream green groups for foolishly jumping into bed with corporations to reduce carbon emissions. In a clear message to the Greens and other green groups, she explains that such partnerships have been a spectacular failure. She recently told Earth Island Journal that handouts to polluting corporations – a key part of Labor policy, backed by the Greens – has shown “the way in which neo-liberal economic orthodoxy has infiltrated the scientific establishment”. The scale of the climate crisis, due to the likely ongoing burning of dirty fossil fuels, requires sober consideration.
A period of reflection, anger and despondency is expected. But calmer heads will soon realise that a strong left must do more than just resist the onslaught of cultural, economic, climate and covert wars. Whether it’s the Greens or other political forces, a palatable and popular left shouldn’t just wait until the stock market crashes before expecting a rise in support. The global financial crisis in 2008 should have been a golden age for the left, a rare opportunity to show the failures of the Wall Street corruption. The Occupy movement was a brief and glorious moment.
Never underestimate the resilience of vulture capitalism. The challenges faced by the left remain great.
One of the finest reporters in the world, co-host of Democracy Now!, in a long chat about media, democracy, challenging corporate elites and listening to the silences:
Is this the future of investigative reporting? How far would a US government (or London?) go to stop information they believed was sensitive?
On Saturday night, Michael Grunwald, aTime correspondent, deleted a tweet that he said was “dumb”; a spokesperson for the magazine noted in an e-mailed statement that it had been on Grunwald’s “personal twitter account” and “is in no way representative of Time’s views,” and called it “offensive”: “he regrets having tweeted it.” Those responses are apt. This is what Grunwald said:
“I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange.”
People say reckless things on Twitter, as Grunwald’s defenders pointed out and as some of his more extreme critics, who posted that they couldn’t wait to write a similar defense regarding the drone strike that hit him and other gruesome things, demonstrated. If dumbness were the only issue we’d be done. But this one deserves being talked about a bit more, less because Grunwald still seems a bit oblivious as to what was wrong with what he said (though there’s that) than because it encapsulated something hazardous about the current moment, for journalists, for anyone who cares about civil liberties, and for the political culture more generally. And there’s the issue of the lack of civility on Twitter—but we already knew that one.
Still, let’s start with the tweets. Many people read it as a call to kill Assange, a founder of WIkiLeaks; that isn’t quite right, but “can’t wait to write a defense” implies a certain eager anticipation. And “takes out” is one of those terms—like “ice,” which Grunwald used, with regard to Anwar al-Awlaki, in a post he cited Saturday to explain his position as a “statist”—that makes its user feel blunt while serving as a distancing euphemism. (The Timespokesperson said that he wouldn’t be saying anything more on this for now.) Killing is killing; and this isn’t just Grunwald’s problem. The language reflects one of the problems with drone strikes—they seem like the clap of a hand, tough and sharp, but they are so much uglier and more complicated than that.
It was troubling, too, to read Grunwald’s tweet on a day when journalists were being threatened, detained, and set upon in Cairo, accused of being terrorist sympathizers or spies, underminers of public safety, for reporting on the violence of the government’s assault on the Muslim Brotherhood. Would words like those have appeared in Grunwald’s defense of a drone strike? This is a dangerous time for journalists; Time itself sends people places where missile strikes and bombs are not just rhetorical ammunition.
Journalists are in legal danger, too. The Obama Administration has, in its practices, embraced the position that the leaking of classified information to reporters is a problem properly addressed with the Espionage Act. Bradley Manning was convicted under it even though the government failed on a charge of aiding the enemy. Edward Snowden, the N.S.A. leaker, has been charged with two violations of the Espionage Act, for starters. Snowden’s leaks made a crucial discussion about the N.S.A.’s overreach possible. President Obama said in a press conference last week that he didn’t consider him a “patriot”; others have openly called him a traitor. And the Administration has come close to calling reporters who work with leakers members of spy rings.
Peter Maass, in a profile of Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker to whom Snowden turned with his files, describes how she was stopped and harassed at border crossings for years before even meeting him, perhaps because of filming she did in Iraq—but who knows why. [Update: David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, was detained for nine hours Sunday while transiting Heathrow under a section of the U.K.’s Terrorism Act, apparently because he is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, who also worked with Snowden, and had just visited Poitras; British authorities questioned him about the N.S.A. leaks, according to theGuardian.]
The other part of the equation is our drone regimen and the legal rationales the Obama Administration has constructed for targeted killings—including the killings of Americans. Ina post a few months ago, I asked whether an Administration white paper explaining why it thought it could extra-judicially kill Americans abroad—ones whom it had decided were a threat and involved with Al Qaeda or “associated forces”—could be used to justify, say, a drone strike against a journalist who was about to reveal classified information. Despite the Administration’s denial that this is its intention, it appears that it could; it is too easy to imagine a future President pointing to the language of the white paper as a precedent. And that is for Americans: foreigners have less protection.
The rate of incarceration of Indigenous Australians is higher per capita than it was for blacks living in apartheid South Africa.
The Australian Institute of Criminology released figures this year that confirm the problem. One in four are behind bars and the over-representation of Indigenous people in West Australian jails is the highest of any indigenous group in the OECD.
It’s a national shame that barely registers in the mainstream media, even though many are warehoused by Serco, the British multinational, in places such as Acadia prison outside Perth. Michael Stutchbury, the former Economics Editor of The Australian and now editor of The Financial Review, wrote in 2011 that this facility should be a “potential model for public prisons”. Privatise the lot was the mantra and screw the human cost.
Australia is following the failed American model. Although 2012 figures found that the prison population decreased there for the third year in a row, African-Americans remained disproportionately affected. On current trends, one in three black males born today can expect to spend some time in jail during their lifetimes.
This is akin to modern slavery, writes US writer Michelle Alexander in her incendiary book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness. It is “the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement”.
This is no accident and is fueled by the private firms running the countless prisons across America. Private prisons lobby state and federal politicians to ensure a set number of immigrants and other “illegals” are kept behind bars and profits are guaranteed at an agreed rate.
This is vulture capitalism of the crudest kind.
One of the key reasons I’ve spent the last three years writing my new book (and forthcoming documentary) Profits of Doom is to document how the corporation has become more powerful than the state. I’ve visited Afghanistan and Pakistan to reveal the ways in which the US and its allies have privatised war-making since 9/11 and caused abuses on a massive scale.
Papua New Guinea, despite receiving more than half a billion dollars of Australian aid annually, remains mired in corruption and a desperate resource curse. Australian firms such as Rio Tinto are keen to return to mining in Bougainville despite causing environmental and human carnage in the 1980s and 90s.
US neighbour Haiti, more than three years after a devastating earthquake, is refused true independence from Washington and forced to agree to building South Korean run sweatshops making clothes for Kmart and Walmart.
In Australia, successive governments have outsourced the management of asylum seekers to corporations such as G4S and Serco (the latter now has more than $1.86 billion worth of contracts with Canberra). A senior Serco whistle-blower gave me internal documents that revealed endemic under-staffing and under-training of guards in remote facilities. The source detailed the culture of a firm whose record in Britain is routinely condemned by government reports and yet this has little or no effect on receiving further contracts.
This is neo-liberal ideology without consideration of the human factor.
On the face of it this may all sound hopeless and I routinely receive (including during an online conversation with the Guardian last week) questions about any possible solutions. I believe there are ways to both re-establish political trust with the voting public and improve services for the population.
- Politicians should be forced to explain how privatising essential services benefits the general public and not just corporations with the most effective connections.
- The media should not accept overly restrictive access to detention centres and simply refuse to play along with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship when they don’t humanise the lives of asylum seekers.
- There must be greater investment in publicly funded health and education as we should not follow the British push towards for-profit schools.
- We should not outsource water, natural resources, war, aid and detention centres to the cheapest bidder. It rarely if ever delivers anything other than a shoddy job.
Our politicians should stop taking lobbying trips to Britain – yes, Western Australian Treasurer,Troy Buswell, lover of Serco in the UK, I’m looking at you – and acknowledge that “efficiency” isn’t best served by selling key assets to foreign or local, private interests.
An insightful feature in the New York Times magazine by Peter Maass on the role played by film-maker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald when discovering Edward Snowden and reporting his invaluable NSA revelations:
Poitras and Greenwald are an especially dramatic example of what outsider reporting looks like in 2013. They do not work in a newsroom, and they personally want to be in control of what gets published and when. When The Guardian didn’t move as quickly as they wanted with the first article on Verizon, Greenwald discussed taking it elsewhere, sending an encrypted draft to a colleague at another publication. He also considered creating a Web site on which they would publish everything, which he planned to call NSADisclosures. In the end, The Guardian moved ahead with their articles. But Poitras and Greenwald have created their own publishing network as well, placing articles with other outlets in Germany and Brazil and planning more for the future. They have not shared the full set of documents with anyone.
“We are in partnership with news organizations, but we feel our primary responsibility is to the risk the source took and to the public interest of the information he has provided,” Poitras said. “Further down on the list would be any particular news organization.”
Unlike many reporters at major news outlets, they do not attempt to maintain a facade of political indifference. Greenwald has been outspoken for years; on Twitter, he recently replied to one critic by writing: “You are a complete idiot. You know that, right?” His left political views, combined with his cutting style, have made him unloved among many in the political establishment. His work with Poitras has been castigated as advocacy that harms national security. “I read intelligence carefully,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, shortly after the first Snowden articles appeared. “I know that people are trying to get us. . . . This is the reason the F.B.I. now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counterterrorism. . . . It’s to ferret this out before it happens. It’s called protecting America.”
Poitras, while not nearly as confrontational as Greenwald, disagrees with the suggestion that their work amounts to advocacy by partisan reporters. “Yes, I have opinions,” she told me. “Do I think the surveillance state is out of control? Yes, I do. This is scary, and people should be scared. A shadow and secret government has grown and grown, all in the name of national security and without the oversight or national debate that one would think a democracy would have. It’s not advocacy. We have documents that substantiate it.”
Poitras possesses a new skill set that is particularly vital — and far from the journalistic norm — in an era of pervasive government spying: she knows, as well as any computer-security expert, how to protect against surveillance. As Snowden mentioned, “In the wake of this year’s disclosure, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless.” A new generation of sources, like Snowden or Pfc. Bradley Manning, has access to not just a few secrets but thousands of them, because of their ability to scrape classified networks. They do not necessarily live in and operate through the established Washington networks — Snowden was in Hawaii, and Manning sent hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks from a base in Iraq. And they share their secrets not with the largest media outlets or reporters but with the ones who share their political outlook and have the know-how to receive the leaks undetected.
In our encrypted chat, Snowden explained why he went to Poitras with his secrets: “Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, [which] resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures. She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious choice.”
Here’s the interview, conducted via encryption, between Maass and Snowden.