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Nearly half a century ago a majority of Americans were concerned over whether their country would go to war. It was a time when national debates and public discussions engaged America’s political consciousness. That’s not the case so much these days, says our guest, author and attorney Scott Horton. His recently published book Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare examines how secrecy within the United States government has corrupted fundamental systems of democracy. Scott Horton also surveys the legal authority on which the current national security elite have based decisions to torture, wage war and subcontract private soldiers. When operating in secret, mistakes, excesses and crimes committed in the process are often kept quiet.
Attorney Scott Horton:
- Dick Cheney was one of the longest serving secretaries of defense, because he had a peculiar attitude about secrecy. He manipulated the news all the time to give cover to claims and statements he made that turned out not to be true. These claims were very frequently matters of the highest consequence.
- The entire case to go to war in Iraq, which was in fact led by Dick Cheney, rested on claims that they had weapons of mass destruction and that they had aligned themselves and were operating with Al-Qaeda; that’s how we got the connection to 9/11. Those claims were very aggressively put forward by Dick Cheney. They turned out to be completely false. He parried any attempts to challenge them by saying all the intelligence we have on that is secret, so I can’t share it with you.
- Of course, in good time we learned there wasn’t any intelligence or information that supported these claims.
- The “lords of secrecy” consist of the higher echelon officers of the national intelligence and security bureaucracy and they’re the people who have, under American law, the power to create secrets using the classification authority.
- I make the case that they use that power very aggressively, very effectively to make themselves the ultimate decision-makers on key national security issues and to remove those matters from the democratic, political process.
- It’s the lords of secrecy who really influence the final decision when its made by the executive.
- The lords of secrecy, the people who wield the classification power also are part of a revolving door in Washington. They’re in government service, they leave that, they go to work as directors and senior officers of major contractors.
- Those contractors hold a half trillion dollars in contract business every year, paid for by taxpayers, and they also make enormous campaign donations.
- Washington D.C. has emerged as the wealthiest standard metropolitan statistical area in the United States and that’s on the strength of the position of contractors and their ability to suck our treasury dry.
- What the American people don’t know about, they don’t form opinions about, they don’t become engaged with. That shows how secrecy is a very potent narcotic against democracy, causing democracy to fade away while the national security elites are at the driver’s wheel making all the key decisions.
I think it allows us to make war without going through the constitutional process.
- It’s really vague on how this go-to-war decision is supposed to be made. There’s the appropriation authority of Congress, there’s the Commander in Chief, power of the executive, there’s the power to declare war, and exactly how those rights and powers play out in any given situation really isn’t clear.
- The bottom line is the US waging war overseas without the people of the United States having taken a decision to do so.
- My book has gotten much stronger attention in Europe than it has in the United States.
- A big part of the problem we have is the way national security and particularly intelligence community matters are reported in the United States.
- One thing I looked at the coverage of the drone war in Pakistan and I found very clearly, Americans are actually the most poorly informed community globally on this issue.
- The media can’t really act without the whistleblower. It really comes down to the whistleblower being the last and best hope.
- The problem is national security whistleblowers don’t get a fair trial. They wind up being abused, mistreated.
- Let the Justice Department explain why they decided that gets Petraeus a slap on the fingers, nothing too serious, while they want to throw the book at Snowden.
- Let them give the rationale for the distinction between these cases. They’ve never done that.
Guest – Scott Horton, human rights lawyer and contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine. He graduated Texas Law School in Austin with a JD and was a partner in a large New York law firm, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler. His new book is Lords of Secrecy The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy.
US Sanctions Against Maduro Government Officials
In its continuation of a decades-long attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government, the United States issued new sanctions against Venezuelan government officials who the United States claims are involved in violating human rights guarantees. President Barack Obama issued an order declaring a national emergency with respect to Venezuela. The order lists certain key Venezuelan officials and said that any financial transactions with those officials are barred. This is typical of what the United States does to officials of government it doesn’t like, whether it was Nicaragua in the ’80s or Cuba since 1959 or 1960. These sanctions must also be seen the light of short-lived 2002 military coup in Venezuela in which the United States was deeply involved. Today we want to talk about the broader context of these actions and why the U.S. is continually trying to destabilize Venezuela.
- It is pretty crazy that they have to declare Venezuela as an extraordinary threat.
- You don’t see any of the reporters asking the White House, “what are you talking about?”
- If you look at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States for example, that is the alternative to the OAS, that was created a few years ago in response to US unpleasant actions in the hemisphere.
- Between 2000-2010 the Columbian military killed over 5,700 innocent civilians, murdered them, and the United States just gave them more military aid.
- I was there during the protest a year ago, and of course it was very different from what I saw…I was actually kinda shocked. I walked all over and took the metro all over Caracas and the only demonstration you saw were little uprisings in the richest neighborhoods.
- The people most affected the shortages, the ones that go and have to wait in line, can’t afford to buy anything in the black market.
- The poor and the working people, they haven’t protested because they mostly support the government.
- That’s a little bit of a disconnect from what you see in the press.
- This idea that the protests are related to the shortages doesn’t hold up when you see who’s actually protesting. These people have servants who do their shopping, wait in the lines.
- These sanctions are probably illegal under international law.
- Again, there are things that are questionable, things that I wouldn’t try to defend, but to create this picture, a very exaggerated picture that’s created here in the media because the U.S. wants to overthrow the government there I think is very unfortunate.
- Venezuela has been a target by the United States for a regime change for at least 13 years.
- A lot of people know if the opposition gets power, it’s just going to get worse for them.
- Venezuela is not facing a real balance of payment crisis, where they can’t pay for their imports. They just have a dysfunctional exchange rate system and they have a fair amount of sabotage too.
Guest – Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and a regular column on economic and policy issues that is distributed to over 550 newspapers by the Tribune Content Agency.