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Excerpt: "'I think it's everything from that to surveillance systems that will be of unimaginable scale and character. And of course now data can be collected endlessly. In fact Obama supposedly has a data storage system being constructed in Utah somewhere where all kinds of data are being poured in. Who knows what?' - Noam Chomsky"

America's leading intellectual, Professor Noam Chomsky. (photo: MIT)
America's leading intellectual, Professor Noam Chomsky. (photo: MIT)

Noam Chomsky: 'The Foundations of Liberty Are Ripped to Shreds'

By Steven Garbas, Satellite

28 September 13


oam Chomsky is the Institute Professor and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. The most cited living source in the world, his theories have been extremely influential in the fields of analytic philosophy, psychology, modern language, and computer science. He has written over 100 books examining the media, US foreign policy, social issues, Latin American and European history, and more.

We met with Professor Chomsky in Cambridge in May to discuss the development of the drone era under president Obama.

NC: Just driving in this morning I was listening to NPR news. The program opened by announcing, very excitedly, that the drone industry is exploding so fast that colleges are trying to catch up and opening new programs in the engineering schools and so on, and teaching drone technology because that's what students are dying to study because of the fantastic number of jobs going on.

And it's true. If you look at the public reports, you can imagine what the secret reports are. It's been known for a couple of years, but we learn more and more that drones, for one thing, are already being given to police departments for surveillance. And they are being designed for every possible purpose. I mean, theoretically, maybe practically, you could have a drone the size of a fly which could be buzzing around over there [points to window] listening to what we're talking about. And I'd suspect that it won't be too long before that becomes realistic.

And of course they are being used to assassinate. There's a global assassination campaign going on which is pretty interesting when you look into how it's done. I presume everyone's read the front page of the New York Times story, which is more or less a leak from the White House, because they are apparently proud of how the global assassination campaign works. Basically President Obama and his national security advisor, John Brennan, now head of the CIA, get together in the morning. And Brennan's apparently a former priest. They talk about St. Augustine and his theory of just war, and then they decide who is going to be killed today.

And the criteria are quite interesting. For example, if, say, in Yemen a group of men are spotted by a drone assembling near a truck, it's possible that they might be planning to do something that would harm us, so why don't we make sure and kill them? And there's other things like that.

And questions did come up about what happened to due process, which is supposedly the foundation of American law-it actually goes back to Magna Carta, 800 years ago-what about that? And the justice department responded. Attorney General Holder said that they are receiving due process because it's "discussed in the executive branch." King John in the 13th century, who was compelled to sign Magna Carta, would have loved that answer. But that's where we're moving. The foundations of civil law are simply being torn to shreds. This is not the only case, but it's the most striking one.

And the reactions are pretty interesting. It tells you a lot about the mentality of the country. So one column, I think it was Joe Klein, a bit of a liberal columnist for one of the journals, was asked about a case in which four little girls were killed by a drone strike. And his answer was something like, "Well, better that their little girls should be killed than ours." So in other words, maybe this stopped something that would ultimately harm us.

There is a reservation in the United Nations Charter that allows the use of force without Security Council authorization, a narrow exception in Article 51. But it specifically refers to "imminent attack" that's either underway or imminent so clearly that there is no time for reflection. It's a doctrine that goes back to Daniel Webster, the Caroline Doctrine, which specifies these conditions. That's been torn to shreds. Not just the drone attacks, but for a long time.

And so slowly the foundations of liberty are ripped to shreds, torn apart. Actually Scott Shane, one of the authors of the Times story, did write an article responding to the various criticisms that appeared. His ending was quite appropriate, I thought. He said something like, "Look, it's better than Dresden." Isn't it? Yeah. It's better than Dresden. So that's the bar: we don't want to just totally destroy everything. We'll just kill them because maybe someday they will harm us. Maybe. Meanwhile, well of course, what are we doing to them?

I think it's everything from that to surveillance systems that will be of unimaginable scale and character. And of course now data can be collected endlessly. In fact Obama supposedly has a data storage system being constructed in Utah somewhere where all kinds of data are being poured in. Who knows what? Probably all your emails, all your telephone conversations, someday what you're saying to people in the streets, where you've been lately, you know, who do you talk to, probably a ton of stuff like that will be there. Does it mean anything? Actually, probably not as much as many people fear. I don't think that that data is actually usable. In fact I think, I suspect it's usable only for one purpose: if the government for one reason or another is homing in on someone. They want to know something about this guy, well, then they can find data about him. But beyond that, history and experience suggest that there's not much that can be done about it.

Even 40 years ago, 50 years ago-I actually was involved at the time in trials of the resistance against the Vietnam War. I was an unindicted co-conspirator in one trial, coming up for trial myself, and following other trials. I got to look fairly carefully at what prosecutions were like based on FBI data about people. They were comical. I mean, there were cases where they picked the wrong people. They picked one person, they meant someone else. In one of the trials, I kept being confused with a guy named Hershel Cominsky; they could never get the Jewish names straight. Unbelievable. In fact, in the Spock trial they really angered two people: Mark Raskin, who they put on trial and he didn't want to be on trial, and Art Waskow, who did want to be put on trial and who they didn't put on trial. It's possible that Waskow was the person that they were looking for, but they couldn't distinguish him from Raskin. And they just couldn't put cases together.

The Spock trial is a very interesting case. I followed that one closely. That's the one where I was an unindicted co-conspirator, so I was sitting in with the defense team, talking to the lawyers and knew all the people. The prosecutor, being the FBI, put on such a rotten case in the prosecution that the defense decided just to rest. They didn't put on a defense, because the defense would have just tied together things that they hadn't found. It was a conspiracy trial; all they had to do was tie things together. And it was transparent because it was all happening totally publicly. That was the whole point. And the FBI apparently was simply ignoring everything that was public, not believing it, which is almost all there was. Almost all there was; not everything. And looking for some kind of secret connections to who-knows-what, North Korea or whatever was in their minds.

But here they have plenty of data, right in front of their eyes and they don't know how to use it. And I think that there is quite a lot of that.

SG: Getting back to that New York Times article that you mentioned: It outlines the process behind the "kill list" and the Pentagon-run meetings where they determine if a name can be added. Traditionally, presidents have kept a distance from legally murky CIA operations. But the Times article says that Obama is the final authority on a name being added to the list. Can you comment on the existence of the list and how close Obama is to the process?

NC: Well, any of these lists should be subjected to severe criticism. Including the terrorist list. Now there is a list of terrorists, you know, a State Department list of terrorists. Just take a look at it one day. Nelson Mandela was on the list until four years ago. There's a reason: Ronald Reagan was a strong supporter of apartheid, and one of the last, practically until the end. And certainly at the end of his term, he continued to support the apartheid regime. In 1988 the ANC, Mandela's African National Congress, was declared to be one of the more notorious terrorist groups in the world.

So that's justification for supporting the apartheid regime: It's part of Reagan's war on terror. He's the one that declared the war on terror, not Bush. Part of it was, "We have to defend the white regime against the terrorists of the ANC." Then Mandela stayed on the list. It's only in the last couple of years that he can travel to the United States without special authorization.

That's the terrorist list. There are other cases. So take, for example, Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein had been officially considered a terrorist. He was taken off the list by Ronald Reagan and his administration in 1982 because the United States wanted to provide aid and support to Saddam-which they incidentally did, and tried to cover up, for all sorts of things. But, ok, so he's taken off the list. They have an empty spot. So what do they do? They put Cuba on.

First of all, Cuba had been the target of more international terrorism than probably the rest of the world combined ever since Kennedy launched his terrorist war against Cuba. But it actually peaked in the late '70s. Shooting down an airliner and killing 70 people, blowing up embassies, all kinds of things. So here's the country that's the target of more terrorism than anyone else, and they are put on the terrorist list to replace Saddam Hussein, who we [later] have to eliminate because we don't want to support him.

What that tells you is quite incredible if you think it through. Of course, it's never discussed, which also tells you something. But that's the kind of question we should be asking about the terrorist list: Who is on it and why? Furthermore, what justification does it have?

It's a decision in the executive branch of the government, not subject to judicial or any other review. They say, "You're on the terrorist list!" Ok. You're targeted for anything.

And other lists are like that too. McCarthy's famous lists are minor examples. These are serious examples, these are official government lists. So to start with, we should put aside the idea that there is any sanctity, even authority, to the list. There isn't. These are just state decisions at the whim of the executive for whatever reasons they may have. Not the kind of thing you ever have any respect for. Certainly not in this case.

SG: Sometime in the distant future, could there be blame placed directly on Obama legally just because of his close association with the kill list?

NC: I'm sure he knows it. I suspect that's one of the reasons he's been very scrupulous about exculpating all previous administrations. So no prosecution of Dick Cheney or George Bush or Rumsfeld for torture, let alone for aggression. We can't even talk about that. Apparently the US is just exempt from any charges of aggression.

Actually, it's not too well known, but as far back as the '40s the US exempted itself. So the United States helped establish the modern World Court in 1946, but it added a reservation: That the United States cannot be charged with violation of international treaties. What they had in mind, of course, was the UN Charter, the foundation of modern international law. And the OAS Charter, charter of the Organization of American States. The OAS Charter has a very strong statement that they demand of any Latin American countries against any form of intervention. Clearly, the US wasn't going to be limited by that. And the UN Charter, along with the Nuremberg principle, which entered into it, had a very harsh condemnation of aggression, which is pretty well defined. And they understood that, of course. They could read the words of the US Special Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson, who spoke pretty eloquently to the tribunal and said when they handed the death penalty to the people, primarily for committing what they considered the "supreme international crime"-namely aggression, but lots of others-that they were "handing these people a poisoned chalice, and if we sip from it, we must be subject to the same judgment or else the whole proceedings are a farce." Not well said, but it should be obvious. But there's a reservation that excludes the US.

Actually, the US is excluded from other treaties too. Essentially all. If you take a look at the few international conventions that are signed and ratified, they almost always have an exception saying "not applicable to the United States." It's called non-self executing. Meaning, this needs specific legislation to exact it. This is true, for example, for the Genocide Convention. And it came up in the courts. After the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, Yugoslavia did bring a charge against NATO to the court, and the court accepted the charge. The rules of the court are that a state is only subject to charges if it accepts court jurisdiction. And the NATO countries all accepted court jurisdiction, with one exception. The US addressed the court and pointed out that the US is not subject to the Genocide Convention. One of the charges was genocide. So the US is not subject to the Genocide Convention because of our usual exemption.

So the immunity from prosecution is not just practiced, and of course the culture-it couldn't be even imagined in the culture, which is an interesting comment about the culture. But also even just legally.

In fact, the same question might be asked about torture. The Bush administration has been accused, widely and prominently, of implementing torture. But if it ever came to trial I think a defense lawyer might have a stand to take: The US never really signed the UN Torture Convention. It did sign and ratify it, but only after it was rewritten by the Senate. And it was rewritten specifically to exclude the forms of torture used by the CIA, which they had borrowed from the Russian KGB.

It's well studied by Alfred McCoy, one of the leading scholars that has dealt with torture. He points out that the KGB/CIA tortures, they apparently discovered that the best way to turn a person into a vegetable is what's called "mental torture." Not electrodes to the genitals, but the kinds of things that you see in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, which are called mental tortures. They don't leave marks on the body, essentially. That's the best way and we do them. In fact, we do it in supermax prisons all the time. And so the treaty was rewritten to exclude the kind of things that the CIA does and that we do and in fact are done routinely at home, although that didn't come up. And it was then signed into domestic legislation, I think under Clinton.

So is the Bush Administration even guilty of torture under international law? It's not entirely obvious. In fact it's not entirely obvious who would be. To get back to your original question, I think Obama has serious reasons for making sure that, as he puts it, "it's time to look forward, not backward." That's the standard position of a criminal.

SG: In some of the documents that were leaked and obtained in the last month, one of the things published in the Times and in McClatchy talked about how the CIA had reduced its use of black sites in part because of fear of prosecution, that their officials might be charged as war criminals. So considering what you've just described, why would the CIA be afraid enough to adjust its policies?

NC: Well, what they're afraid of, I would suspect, is the kind of things that Henry Kissinger is apparently afraid of when he travels abroad. There is a concept of "universal jurisdiction" which is pretty widely held. It means if a war criminal, a person who has carried out really serious war crimes, major crimes-doesn't have to be war crimes-arrives in your territory, that country has a right to bring him to judicial process. And it's called "universal jurisdiction." It's kind of a shady area of international affairs, but it has been applied. The Pinochet case in London was a famous case. The British court decided that yes, they had a right to send him back to Chile for trial.

And there are other cases. By now, for example, there are recent cases where Israeli high officials have been wary of coming to London, and in some cases their trips have been called off because they could be subject to universal jurisdiction. And it's been reported, at least, that the same is true of some of Kissinger's concerns. And I think that's probably what he's referring to. You can't be sure that . . . you know, power's getting more diversified in the world. The US is still overwhelmingly powerful, but nothing like it once was. There are many examples of that. And you can't be sure what others will do.

And a striking example of the restrictions of US power in this regard came out in a study that was reported, but I don't think that the really important part of it was reported-that's a study on globalizing torture put out by the Open Society Forum a couple of weeks ago. You'll find it in the press. It was a study of rendition. Rendition, incidentally, is a major crime that, again, goes back to Magna Carta, explicitly. Sending people across the seas for torture. But that's open policy now. And this was a study of which countries participated in it. And it turned out that it was over 50 countries, most of Europe, Middle East, which is where they were sent for torture. That's where the dictators were, Asia and Africa. One continent was totally missing. Not a single country was willing to participate in this major crime: Latin America. And one person did point this out, Greg Grandin, a Latin Americanist at NYU, but he's the only person I saw who pointed it out.

That's extremely important. Latin America used to be the "backyard." They did what we said or else we overthrew the governments. Well, furthermore, during these years it was one of the global centers of torture. But now US power has declined sufficiently so that the traditional, most reliable servants are simply saying no. It's striking. And it's not the only example. So, going back to universal jurisdiction, you can't really be sure what others will do.

You know, I have to say, I never expected much of Obama, to tell you the truth, but the one thing that surprised me is relentless assaults on civil liberties. I just don't understand them. your social media marketing partner


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-11 # brux 2013-09-28 14:33
>> I never expected much of Obama, to tell you the truth, but the one thing that surprised me is relentless assaults on civil liberties. I just don't understand them.

Then you should have written about "them" instead of repeating the same thing everyone else is writing about, and if you are going to quote Chomsky, you should have a few more of his words or distill something conclusive from them.
+22 # stanhode 2013-09-28 17:35
Read it again. The piece is almost entirely Noam Chomsky, and that includes the quote you mistakenly attribute to the interviewer.
-25 # brux 2013-09-28 19:17
It is not reflected who is saying what in the context of the prose, nor are there quotes in the "never expected much of Obama ..." section.
-28 # brux 2013-09-28 19:18
But I should have recognized Chomsky's style here too ... someone asks him a question and he goes on for half an hour. ;-)
+20 # Capn Canard 2013-09-29 08:03
Chomsky has a lot to say only because the issue is very interesting to him and sometimes he can be too long winded. But I find myself agreeing with him more strongly the more I learn.
-15 # brux 2013-09-29 15:58
It's easy to agree with Chomsky when he is talking factual history ... he is a great source. The problem I have with Chomsky is that he is painted as this great social activist, and he has never worked with anyone else, he creates a group of followers who cannot link up with anyone else's realities or goals ... in effect, in actuality - he is just another supporter of the status quo making money from being a high-paid lecturing celebrity.
+8 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-09-29 21:02
Well, he was enough of an activist to be arrested & tried - if you read that far....
-2 # brux 2013-09-30 12:31
Yeah ... what year was that again? I wish I could carry my achievements in life for so long that I never had to do anything else.
+15 # anyon 2013-09-28 23:36
Surely the "SG:" and "NC:" make it clear who is speaking -- quotation marks in that context are as irrelevant as they would be for each speaker's lines in the script of a play.
+63 # Kwelinyingi 2013-09-28 17:52
When college students enthusiasticall y flock to classes on drone technology and warfare and when virtually no peace courses are offered is a tragic reminder of the sick nature of our society. When young people blindly follow the temptations of making a quick buck with no regard for the lives of innocents turns our country's project into a criminal enterprise. It makes one sick to the stomach.
+57 # Dennyc 2013-09-28 18:18
This piece is a fine explanation of one facet of American "Exceptualism", i.e. the ability to murder and destroy whoever or whatever happens to be in the way. It's sorrowfully ironic that we have almost completely destroyed the birthplace of western civilization, Mesopotamia and have now gone on to micromanage our death dealing with 'precision' strikes on assembling groups of human beings. Uh-huh, improvement? The response of journalistic brutes and thugs like Shane and Klein is to be expected as the now prevalent and insidious sociopathy infecting the ruling class and their errand boys becomes almost commonplace and almost universally accepted by established institutions such as the NY Times and its ilk. That John Brennan is a former priest is an irony so fantastic that it's almost unbelievable. Is it really getting this crazy that the deaths of four children is almost celebrated publicly by these monsters and their minions? Oh, and far as "Saint" Augustine is concerned, wasn't he the one who locked a large group of supposed heretics up in their church and then burnt it to the ground? Brennan's simply carrying on old cherished church traditions and from the looks and odor of it I'd say, sadly, that there might not be any end in sight save our own.
+13 # WestWinds 2013-09-29 04:54
Well said, Dennyc, very well said.
+9 # jpena16 2013-09-29 08:37
Incredibly well said.I was about to mention American Exceptionalism in the same way, except that you said it much better then I ever could. Bravo !
+10 # jpena16 2013-09-29 08:46
Ah Drone technology. Where will it lead us. The Terminator movies come to mind.In The Terminator the machines become sentient and seek out the humans.The irony is that people don't realize that to have a similar outcome you don't need thee machines to become sentient. All you need is a few powerful people to lose their humanity and start to act like machines. It's just Skynet with a twist in the plot some people just never saw coming.
+9 # Activista 2013-09-28 23:35
Excellent INFORMATIVE article - Chomsky is genius - all facts are substantiated, NOT a propaganda - single exception in the Age of Propaganda?
Just imagine for a second that USA media use Chomsky standard/style.
CCCP collapsed because of censorship - lack of objective information. Think that United States are way down the same road.
+6 # tomtom 2013-09-29 00:30
Improving drone technology, With more countries Choosing to stay up on the methods of modern warfare Will put this weapon in the hands of more people, to use against us and other vulnerable innocent bystanders. No defending Any malls, anywhere.
+8 # Jerome 2013-09-29 01:34
Drones could someday soon become the undoing of those in the economic and political power structure that now rejoice in the 'efficiency' of drone assassination of those they fear. Already there are battery powered (read silent), gps enabled, drone and ipad controlled - miniture multi-rotor copters available online and at hobby stores, that are gyro stabilized camera platforms. It is only a matter of time until one is equipped with facial recognition software and lethal hardware.
+7 # Activista 2013-09-29 11:51
Drones are easy to make (using airplane models technology) and remote controlled..
What an ideal weapon for terrorists - and USA is leading the way.
+7 # larrypayne 2013-09-29 14:03
The USA has been creating terrorists for many decades. Why not supply them with the ideal weapon. The fake war on terror needs constant mayhem to continue to exist.
+7 # tedrey 2013-09-29 04:01
We're "exceptional," so we don't have to obey the rules.
+11 # ericlipps 2013-09-29 06:17
Chpmsky repeats the familiar charge that Kennedy "launched" the U.S. assault on Cuba. Actually, the first attacks occurred under Eisenhower, as did preparations for what became known as the Bay of Pigs. The latter, in fact, were placed under the supervision of then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon, which helps explain how Nixon came to know all those Cubans who ended up being arrested at the Watergate Hotel.
-19 # larrypayne 2013-09-29 07:38
Chomsky certainly made his contribution to the demise of justice in this country.

When he says, "Who cares who did it?" referring to the assassination of JFK and the 9/11 attacks, is he not saying that perpetrators of murder and mass murder should not be investigated and brought to justice?
+4 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-09-29 21:07
He is just as likely saying that, whoever did it, it was an intolerable outrage.
+17 # Capn Canard 2013-09-29 08:45
I am glad to hear that American power is starting to diminish with Latin America standing up to the American bully. Of course the overwhelming American political clout eventually has to come to an end, as we have rarely, if ever, lived up to our own standards. Hell, America barely bothers to honor the Magna Carta! If more countries followed Latin America's lead, perhaps we can look forward to actual justice for the innocent civilians. This torture shit has got to stop. The mental torture is insidious, perhaps even worse than the physical pain. Obama and the Assholes in charge fail to realize that all these techniques will become blow-back. Boy, I would love to see Kissinger arrested.
+6 # soularddave 2013-09-29 09:46
So consider the notion of OWS empowered with drone technology. How would CEOs react? What's the defense? And why couldn't "terrorists" employ the same?

Just pondering where all this is going...
+5 # reiverpacific 2013-09-29 10:49
I suppose it follows that if drone technology is such a shit-hot job creator, couldn't a counter-industr y be developed to come up wit a citizen's anti-drone detector and shoot-down apparatus.
It could be centered in Brazil, which is already pissed-off at being spied on and is too big for world's biggest bully to attack directly (it's the world's sixth-largest economy) and sold on the black market in the US.
I know I'm dreaming again but as the late Fats Waller once quipped "One never knows, do one"?!
Sheesh! What a bloody waste of resources and human potential -or should I say destructive potential!
And those who want to take these courses must be drones themselves, pursuing degrees in fink-hood against their own kind.
But nothing for job creating first-world infrastructure nor clean, sustainable energy development.
Self-destruction 'r us, as many of the native peoples saw from the beginning of the invasion/occupa tion and rape of the continent for greed, power and war, and predicted constantly!

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