Independent News Sources

Shummy's Surrender: Democratic Governor of Vermont Goes South On Single Payer

Portside - 37 min 53 sec ago
Shummy's Surrender: Democratic Governor of Vermont Goes South On Single Payer

December 18, 2014
By Steve Early
Portside Exclusive (December 18, 2014)

Yesterday Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin declared "now is not the right time" to proceed with any fundamental overhaul of health care financing and delivery in Vermont. He claimed the latest cost estimates for what's known locally as Green Mountain Care (GMC) were higher than originally projected, in a period when "slower recovery from the great recession has tightened the state budget. [...]

Tidbits - December 18, 2014

Portside - 51 min 45 sec ago
Tidbits - December 18, 2014

December 18, 2014
Portside (December 18, 2014)

Reader Comments: Congress Plots to Undermine Retiree Pensions; Is It Bad Enough Yet?; Angela Davis: the unbroken line of police violence; James Baldwin on Racism; LAWCHA's Teacher/Public Sector Initiative; #BlackLivesMatter Takes the Field; They Fear and The Kill; Thousands March to Protest Police Brutality; Torture - Senate Report, Lessons from Latin America; Trade; Chanukah 2014;
CELEBRATING CHARLIE HADEN memorial and celebration of his life - New York - Jan. 13 [...]

Message from the Portside Moderators

Portside - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:18pm
Message from the Portside Moderators

December 18, 2014
Portside (December 18, 2014)

Last chance! This is your last chance to respond to Portside's 2014 fund appeal. We won't ask again this year, and we won't ask again for another year. During that time we'll be working hard to keep you informed and to empower you with the most insightful, entertaining and challenging news, analyses and debates that we can find. Please do help us to keep it coming. [...]

Democracy Now! 2014-12-18 jueves en español

Democracy Now! Podcast en Español - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 12:00pm
Democracy Now! 18 de Diciembre de 2014
  • Obama anuncia histórica restauración de relaciones diplomáticas con Cuba\r\n\r\n
  • ", "
  • “Los Cinco Cubanos” y el contratista estadounidense Alan Gross fueron liberados\r\n
  • ", "
  • Casi 7.000 muertos por ébola; informe critica respuesta de la OMS \r\n
  • ", "
  • Estado de Nueva York prohibirá el “fracking” por preocupaciones sanitarias\r\n
  • ", "
  • Gobernador de Vermont no cumple con el sistema de salud de pagador único\r\n\r\n
  • ", "
  • Arizona: Elecciones finales de Cámara de Representantes culminan en la mayoría republicana más grande en más de 80 años\r\n\r\n
  • ", "
  • Sony Pictures suspende comedia de Corea del Norte tras amenazas y hackeo\r\n\r\n
  • ", "
  • Colombia: rebeldes de las FARC anuncian cese al fuego unilateral\r\n
  • ", "
  • Abogados de Nueva York realizan simulacro de muerte por asesinatos de Eric Garner y Akai Gurley\r\n
  • ", "
  • Policía de cárcel de Rikers condenado por muerte de prisionero que comió barra de jabón\r\n
  • ", "
  • FBI investiga posible linchamiento de adolescente afroestadounidense en Carolina del Norte\r\n
  • ", "
  • Carolina del Sur: Joven afroestadounidense fue exonerado 70 años después de su ejecución\r\n
  • "]

Baje el archivo audio

Democracy Now! 2014-12-18 Thursday

Democracy Now! Daily Podcast - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 8:00am
Democracy Now! 2014-12-18 Thursday
  • Headlines for December 18, 2014
  • ", "
  • \"Cut Loose the Shackles of the Past\": U.S. and Cuba Announce a New Dawn in Diplomatic Relations
  • ", "
  • Does the Release of the Cuban Five Prove the U.S. Failed to Destroy Cuba After Decades of Trying?
  • ", "
  • Can Obama Lift the Embargo on Cuba Without Congress in Effort to Normalize U.S.-Cuba Relations?
  • "]

Download this show

Call for Teach-Ins on the American War in Vietnam in March, 2015

Portside - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:50pm
Call for Teach-Ins on the American War in Vietnam in March, 2015

December 17, 2014
By Vietnam Full Disclosure (December 17, 2014)

As the Pentagon pursues its program to commemorate the “valor” of US troops in Vietnam which “upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces” –as proclaimed by President Obama — we think it is crucial for Americans, and especially young people, to be reminded of the realities of that brutal and unnecessary war. [...]

Ferguson Protest Leaders Get Engaged at City Hall

Portside - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:42pm
Ferguson Protest Leaders Get Engaged at City Hall

December 17, 2014
St. Louis American (December 17, 2014)

Both are Ferguson residents and University of Missouri – St. Louis students who chose to put school on hold after Michael Brown Jr.’s death and devote themselves to organizing against police brutality. They founded Millennial Activists United with Ashley Yates – all black women in their 20s – and have since become some of the most prominent faces and voices of the Ferguson movement. [...]

Don't Tread on Me: A Short Primer on the History of Washington DC

Portside - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:08pm
Don't Tread on Me: A Short Primer on the History of Washington DC

December 17, 2014
By By Kathleen Frydl
Huffington Post (December 15, 2014)

After the collapse of Reconstruction, DC followed the country in its corrosive and violent plunge into Jim Crow segregation and Gilded Age politics. From that point forward, and until . . . the late 1960s, the retrograde system of three commissioners, appointed by the President, administered the affairs of the city & the Congress, and in particular the southern oligarchs determined to use DC as a platform for their racist agenda, made its laws. [...]

70 Years Later, Judge Rules 14-Year-Old Boy was Wrongly Executed

Portside - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 9:56pm
70 Years Later, Judge Rules 14-Year-Old Boy was Wrongly Executed

December 17, 2014
By By Jeffrey Collins
Atlanta Journal Constitution (December 17, 2014)

On Wednesday, a judge threw out the conviction of George Stinney, who at 14, was the youngest person to be executed in the United States in 1944. In the span of three months he was arrested, convicted of murdering two young girls, and sent to the electric chair. [...]

Message from the Portside Moderators

Portside - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 9:44pm
Message from the Portside Moderators

December 17, 2014
Portside (December 17, 2014)

As you know the response to police violence is going mass. Portside has been faithfully keeping up with the fast-breaking events. If you meant to make a contribution but got caught up in the flurry of action - as we all have - here's a reminder about Portside's purpose and work. We need your help to keep going. We don't intend to stand still. In the next year, we will improve and expand Portside... [...]

From Michael Brown to Assata Shakur, the Racist State of America Persists

Portside - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 9:27pm
From Michael Brown to Assata Shakur, the Racist State of America Persists

December 17, 2014
By Angela Davis
The Guardian (November 1, 2014)

The sheer persistence of police killings of black youth contradicts the assumption that these are isolated aberrations. . . And they, in turn, represent an unbroken stream of racist violence, both official and extra-legal, from slave patrols and the Ku Klux Klan, to contemporary profiling practices and present-day vigilantes. [...]

WATCH: Saul Landau on U.S.-Aided Anti-Castro Militants, the Cuban 5 and the “Real Terrorists”

Democracy Now! Daily Podcast - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 1:01pm

Watch our interview with award-winning journalist, filmmaker, author and professor Saul Landau, who made more than 45 films and wrote 14 books, many about Cuba. He died in 2013 at the age of 77. Scroll down to read the complete transcript of the conversation.

In June 2012, we spoke to him about his most recent film "Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?" about U.S. support for violent anti-Castro militants. He also discussed the history of the Cuban Five and U.S. support for a group of anti-Castro militants who have been behind the bombing of airplanes, the blowing up of hotels and assassinations. Today they are allowed to live freely in the United States. "What did Cuba do to us?" Landau asks. "Well, the answer, I think, is that they were disobedient, in our hemisphere. And they did not ask permission to take away property. They took it away. They nationalized property. And the United States ... has never forgiven them."

See all of our coverage of Cuba and the Cuban Five.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the Cuban Five, we turn now to the award-winning filmmaker, author, professor Saul Landau. He has made more than 45 films and written 14 books, many about Cuba. His latest film is called Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, about U.S. support for violent anti-Castro militants. I interviewed Saul Landau last week when he came to New York. I started by asking him why he made the film.

SAUL LANDAU: Well, I went to Cuba in 1960 when I was a student, because I was curious. I was curious to see how a guy who was so disobedient, Fidel Castro, and his other revolutionaries were going to last. I didn't think they could, and I went out to—I went down to Cuba to check it out. And I met people my age who were running government ministries and sleeping three hours a night and using a lot more of their brains than I was using. And I was impressed by watching people making history. And I think, like many other people who went down there at the time, this place seemed really different, that they were going to make a different kind of a revolution, and it was going to have its impact. And I think it did have its impact on the world. But that's how I got there in the first place. And pretty soon, I was working to stop the United States from invading Cuba, like a lot of people who had gone down there.

And the first—one of the first talks I gave was in New York City at Town Hall. And as I came out, a guy tried to cut me on the back with a razor, a Cuban exile. I guess he took freedom of speech more seriously than I did. And subsequently, I made a film with Fidel Castro in 1968 for public television. It went on '69. And then the theatrical release was supposed to happen in New York in 1970 at the Fifth Avenue Cinema. And I think it would have happened if somebody hadn't put two bombs in the theater. So, that ended the opening in New York. So we were going to open it in Los Angeles, and the day before it was screened, the theater was burned down. The police determined it was arson. Nobody was caught in either case. Then Sandra Levinson, who was at that time a new director at the Center for Cuban Studies, was going to show it there. And the Center for Cuban Studies was bombed. This would have been 1973.


SAUL LANDAU: In New York City. My next encounter with the Cuban terrorists was when my two colleagues, Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt were assassinated in Washington, D.C., by Cuban exiles working for the Chilean secret police now. So—and over the years, I've had—how should I say it—my share of credible death threats.

AMY GOODMAN: Orlando Letelier was a Chilean diplomat under Salvador Allende.

SAUL LANDAU: Yes, he had been the Chilean ambassador in Washington. That's where I first met him. And I had invited him to come to the Institute for Policy Studies, where I was working. And he did. And he wasn't even there a year, and he was blown up in his car on Sheridan Circle, three-quarters of a mile from the White House—very audacious act of terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: And you had been with him very close to the time he was killed.

SAUL LANDAU: I had dinner with him on Sunday night. He was killed on Tuesday morning. And on that Sunday night, we had come out—my wife and I had come out of his house, and I remember talking outside with our elbows on his car, which was parked in the driveway, not knowing, of course, there was a bomb underneath the car.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it was there at that point, Sunday night?

SAUL LANDAU: Well, according to the witnesses who later testified, they had put the car on late Saturday night—actually, early Sunday morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Had put the bomb...

SAUL LANDAU: They had placed the bomb on the car then.

AMY GOODMAN: And they hadn't used it until Tuesday.

SAUL LANDAU: Yeah, they missed him Monday somehow, and so they got him on Tuesday.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet this relates to Cuba, because the assassins...

SAUL LANDAU: The assassins came from a Cuban group in northern New Jersey, in Weehawken, called the Cuban Nationalist Movement. Sometimes they went under the name of Omega 7. And the FBI had infiltrated them and knew from early on in their investigation that they had been the actual perps who did the thing, under the auspices of the Chilean secret police, who had ordered the assassination.

AMY GOODMAN: If the FBI had infiltrated them, did they know before that Orlando Letelier was under such threat?

SAUL LANDAU: No, they—well, according to what we know from the FBI agents and from the FOIA stuff, they found out afterwards. The assassination was on a Tuesday. I think Friday or Saturday their informant called up and said that it was the Cuban Nationalist Movement who did the job, and then he named the people who did it: Guillermo Novo Sampol and his brother Ignacio and Alvin Ross and José Dionisio Suárez. They were all arrested by the FBI very quickly and held in contempt for refusing to testify. Then they were tried and convicted, three of them. And two later were caught and convicted. But then the Novos got out, because the prosecutor made a procedural error. And in the second trial, their lawyers apparently learned more than the prosecutors, and they got off. And it was at that point Guillermo Novo, in the hall, just right after the trial, looked at me and then, in Spanish, he said, "And now we're going to get the rest of those commie SOBs." And I, you know, thought—very modestly, I responded by holding my finger up. And he advanced toward me very threateningly, and the FBI came between us. And then, very shortly afterwards, I was told I was on his target list, that I was—he had put a hit on me.

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning filmmaker, author Saul Landau. His latest film is called Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. We'll come back to the conversation in 30 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to Saul Landau, director of the new film Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, which has been praised by, among others, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of Secretary of State General Colin Powell. I asked Saul Landau to talk about relations between the United States and Cuba.

SAUL LANDAU: Well, I think that Cuba, in a sense, belongs in The Guiness Book of Records for disobedience, because—let me go back to a little story. There was a—in 2006, I was in Cuba with Gore Vidal and John Burton, who was the president of the California Senate, had just retired. He was termed out of office, actually. And we were meeting with a person from the United States interest section in Cuba, which is the equivalent of an embassy, but it isn't an embassy because we don't have formal relations with Cuba. And Burton asked the man from the interest section, the U.S. diplomat, "So, like, what did Cuba do to us, again?" And the man says, "Well, they violate human rights." And Burton says, "Aw, come on." He says, "The Chinese killed thousands of Americans in Korea. The Vietnamese killed thousands of Americans in Vietnam. They've both got single-party commie governments with stinking human rights records. So what did Cuba do to us, again?" And the man went on and on about Cuba violating human rights. Burton stormed out of the house.

But there it is. What did Cuba do to us? Well, the answer, I think, is that they were disobedient, in our hemisphere. And they did not ask permission to take away property. They took it away. They nationalized property. And the United States, on the one hand, has never forgiven them. And on the other hand, it has hosted a strange kind of lobby. Maybe after 1981, we had an anti-Castro lobby in this country, that was formed in part through the intervention of AIPAC, the American Israel Political Action Committee, who sort of taught them how to do it. And this is another—

AMY GOODMAN: Why did AIPAC care? In fact, Israel has relations with Cuba.

SAUL LANDAU: Well, they don't have—they have economic relations with Cuba. Israeli investment is obvious in Cuba, especially in citrus. They don't have diplomatic relations. But I think in the—the Reagan White House asked the AIPAC people to help the Cubans do this. I don't think it was their own initiative.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet it's fascinating that it was anti-Castro Cubans who attempted to assassinate President Reagan, as you show in your film.

SAUL LANDAU: Yes. They have used violence consistently over 50 years, even though it hasn't worked. I mean, if anything, the violence has helped consolidate Fidel Castro's rule and then the subsequent government. But they continue to use it. And if you ask them why they use it, they really can't tell you. I mean, if you ask Orlando Bosch why he was violent, he says in the movie, well, he's crazy. Another guy, Basulto, takes credit for all kinds of things. And Luis Posada Carriles simply denies that he did anything.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who these men are.


AMY GOODMAN: José Basulto.

SAUL LANDAU: José Basulto formed—well, he had been a CIA agent in—from 1959 on. He was recruited by a fellow named David Atlee Phillips, who recruited quite a few people in that time. He also recruited Antonio Veciana. Veciana was the CIA's top pick to kill Castro over the years.

AMY GOODMAN: Who you feature in the film, as well.

SAUL LANDAU: He's in the film, as well. Anyway, Basulto, also working for the CIA and sometimes working for himself, fired some cannon at a hotel in 1962, so that he could prove there were Russians in Cuba, because the Russians then complained that their people had been fired at. José Basulto then formed an organization called Brothers to the Rescue, which was originally to save the lives of rafters who were leaving Cuba after the Soviet Union disappeared. He would radio—he and his pilots would radio their positions to nearby ships. But when the U.S. and Cuba signed a migration accord, he lost his mission, because there were no more rafters. They were being picked up by the Coast Guard and returned to Cuba. So he took a new mission. He was overflying Cuba.

The Cubans got word that he was going to fire a weapon or drop a weapon on them. And they notified the United States that future overflights would meet the gravest of consequences, meaning they would get shot down. And Basulto was told by the U.S. government that future flights would be very dangerous. In fact, the U.S. government sent a note to the Federal Aviation Agency saying, "Take their licenses away." And the head of the FAA sent a note to the FAA chief in Miami, saying, "Take their licenses away. Don't let them fly." But the FAA chief in Miami did not follow orders. And they flew, February 24th, 1996, and two of their—of the three planes were shot down, pilots and co-pilots killed. And this brought about—

AMY GOODMAN: Basulto escaped and flew back to Florida.

SAUL LANDAU: Basulto miraculously escaped. Clinton responded by signing the Helms-Burton bill, which drastically tightened the embargo and also codified it. That is, he transferred power from the executive to Congress, something that was very rarely done in the 20th century.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was José Basulto.


AMY GOODMAN: And then you mentioned Luis Posada Carriles.

SAUL LANDAU: Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch had teamed up in 1976 in October to knock down a Cuban airliner in the air, a passenger plane, which their agents successfully did over the island of Barbados. The agents were caught, and they ratted on Posada Carriles and on Orlando Bosch. They were both arrested in Venezuela. And then there was a long, complicated judicial process in which very little really happened. And then one of them was freed and came to the United States. President Bush, the first, brought him in, despite the complaints by the FBI and the Justice Department saying, "Don't let this guy in. He's a dangerous terrorist." Bush ignored them and let him in.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip of your film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. And this is that moment that the Cubana Airlines, with 73 passengers on board, is hit.


AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, [inaudible].

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: We have had explosion. We are descending immediately. We have a fire on board.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, are you returning to the field?

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: This is Cubana 455. We are requesting immediately, immediately landing. Close the door! Close the door! It's getting worse! Crash landing into the sea!

CBS EVENING NEWS: This is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

WALTER CRONKITE: Good evening. Nine days ago, a Cuban passenger jet en route from Barbados to Havana crashed into the sea following an onboard explosion. Seventy-three persons, 57 of them Cuban, were killed.

AMY GOODMAN: You're listening to and watching an excerpt of Saul Landau's film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. So, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles blow up this airliner, and they ultimately live freely in Miami.

SAUL LANDAU: Yes, and the United States had—and we know this now from declassified documents from the CIA and the FBI, that they had nailed them, that Posada had told a CIA official there that "Orlando has all the information. We're going to get an airplane." It's there, right in the—and I think we put it on the screen. And the first thing they did was try to raise money off this event. And it occurred to me that this might have been, down deep, the real motivation for all this terrorism, because it didn't really—I mean, how is blowing up an airplane going to change the government of Cuba? Or how does even placing a few bombs in hotels? Or trying to assassinate? The real fact is that after all of these terrorist acts, these guys go door to door and saying, "Hey, you know, you heard what we did lately, huh? And you, you got a nice store here." And they raise money. So this is how they ended up making a living. Otherwise, it makes no sense doing any of the things they did.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, going on with Lawrence Wilkerson's review of your film, the man who was the chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell, worked with him for years, Colonel Wilkerson. He talks about Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. He says, "Clearly shown and vividly documented was the fact that the United States sponsors terrorism. In Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch alone, there are overtones of Osama bin Laden and Aman al-Zawahiri, the nefarious leadership of al-Qa’ida. In the film, Carriles and Bosch as much as tell us this in their own words. Moreover, they seem to rejoice in it."

SAUL LANDAU: Yes. Yeah, that's who they were. That's their vocation. And they ultimately got proud of it. You know, as—Osama bin Laden's objective wasn't to take power in the United States. He had another motive for bombing the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And I think these guys didn't hope to take power in Cuba. They had another motive. And that is, to make a living.

AMY GOODMAN: There were over 600 assassination attempts on Fidel Castro's life that the U.S. was involved with?

SAUL LANDAU: Well, they were—the United States government—or, the CIA was involved in lots—I don't know how many, but according to a British film—they had pretty good documentation from the Cubans—there were 628 attempts on Castro's life. The CIA was involved in more than half of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did they want Fidel Castro dead?

SAUL LANDAU: Well, I think, in the U.S. government, it was thought that as soon as Fidel was gone, the Cuban Revolution was gone, and they would get Cuba back. It would be back in their pocket as they had it before. I mean, if you look at Cuba before the revolution, it was an economic colony of the United States. And I think the U.S. government felt a sense of loss, a sense of humiliation almost. Who lost Cuba? I mean, this was a discussion way back in the 1960s. Who was it responsible for losing Cuba? And Eisenhower was blamed, and Kennedy was blamed. But the thought was, look at all those corporations that used to own the island—the sugar companies, King Ranch and other huge American corporations who had huge assets there. And they were all expropriated. Oil companies, Texaco.

AMY GOODMAN: They all worked with Batista, the former dictator.

SAUL LANDAU: Oh, Batista was a brutal dictator. He killed, according to the Cuban figures, 20,000 people over a period of five years and practiced routine torture. And he was supported by the U.S. government until quite late in the game.

AMY GOODMAN: So how did this scrappy group of insurgents—Fidel Castro, Che Guevara—how did they overthrow Batista?

SAUL LANDAU: Well, I think they—Castro and his group used a combination of guerrilla war which they fought from several mountains—that is, the Sierra Maestra and the Sierra Cristal, the two mountain ranges in the eastern province, in Oriente, in Cuba, and then there was another group fighting from the Escambray Mountains—and they tried to coordinate their activities with an urban guerrilla or urban, if you like, revolutionary group that was also causing the repressive forces to put a lot of attention and men into them. They were creating sabotage, propaganda. And Batista, by 1958, was an extremely unpopular leader. Having—because he had been a sergeant and not one of the old guard army people, he really wasn't in bed with the old Cuban aristocrats and didn't owe them any loyalty. He was in bed with the mafia. He was on good terms with them, for their gambling and the prostitution and all their stuff. So he didn't feel any kinship with the upper middle class or the aristocracy, many of whose kids were being picked up by the cops and tortured or even killed. So he lost a lot of popularity. And when the revolutionaries won, they won with overwhelming popular support—that didn't last, of course. As soon as the revolution showed that it was serious about class things and distributing wealth, the upper class moved out, and they moved to Miami. And this was pretty well completed by late 1960. The richest people in Cuba had left the island.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us who the Cuban Five are.

SAUL LANDAU: The Cuban Five were intelligence agents who were part of a larger web of intelligence group called Wasp. And 12 of them either got pleas or fled, and got away.

AMY GOODMAN: And they were charged with things like what?

SAUL LANDAU: They were charged with failing to register as foreign agents and false identity.

AMY GOODMAN: Has the U.S. ever done that?

SAUL LANDAU: The United States has never tried anybody for failing to register as a foreign agent, because Americans are doing that all over the world. And they don't want to get arrested. They don't want to set a precedent for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Generally, they'd deport people like that?

SAUL LANDAU: They deport people. They arrest them and say, "Go home." And they expect that to happen if Americans are caught, let's say, in a foreign country, in eastern Europe, say, having infiltrated some terrorist cell in Chechnya or wherever. This is what the—this is what this kind of intelligence is all about, and everybody understands it. False identification? Of course you have false ID, or else you're going to get known. So these aren't really serious charges. I mean, they do have, you know, legally, penalties that are associated with. But these guys were charged with heavier crimes. They were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder. And, you know, really—and these carried heavy sentences. And the judge—the judge went overboard. I mean, she gave Gerardo two life sentences plus 15 years—almost unheard of. And some of the sentences, by the way, were reversed by an appeals court, which said these sentences are ridiculous, and they lessened them. They forced the judge to resentence. And one of the Cuban Five, by the way, is now on parole in South Florida, but he is not allowed to travel outside of South Florida. Anybody else would simply be deported and sent back home.

AMY GOODMAN: The other three, outside of Gerardo, how many years do they still have to serve?

SAUL LANDAU: One of them has a life sentence. One will be out in about four, five years, and another in about eight or 10.

AMY GOODMAN: So, murderers and rapists get far more lenient sentences.

SAUL LANDAU: Yes. Yeah, these guys have gotten maximum—super-maximum sentences.

AMY GOODMAN: Saul Landau, is there any deal being made behind the scenes to free the Cuban Five in exchange for—who is Cuba holding that the U.S. would be interested in releasing?

SAUL LANDAU: Well, the Cubans caught a man named Alan Gross, who was working as a contractor for a company that was contracted with AID, the State Department. And their job, essentially, was to promote regime change in Cuba. And it says so in the legislation, and they got the money to do this. Alan's job was to set up dissidents with super-sophisticated satellite communication systems that would work through satellite phones and laptops that were untrackable and impenetrable. And I really don't think that he was trying to keep the Cubans from learning our secret matzo ball recipe. The excuse is, he's innocent; all he was trying to do was help the Jewish community get better internet access. This is total nonsense.

AMY GOODMAN: That was being alleged.

SAUL LANDAU: Yes, and they're still—I mean, Hillary Clinton is still saying this, that he's innocent. Even his wife says now he was guilty.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

SAUL LANDAU: Well, Hillary says all he was trying to do was help the Jewish community get internet access. This is nonsense.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is the wife saying he's guilty? Did he have an affair in prison?

SAUL LANDAU: No. His wife's saying he's guilty because, I think, she's changing strategy. Alan Gross's defense has been he's innocent. Then came an article in the Associated Press by Desmond Butler, mid-February of this year. Somebody leaked to him his trip reports. That is, Alan had made—this was his fifth trip to Cuba. In each one, he details how he smuggled in illicit equipment using other Jews who were going down on religious missions. He had asked them to put little pieces of the equipment in their backpacks to get it through customs in Cuba, which he then reassembled. And he bought a SIM card, which made the system untrackable. In other words, these people could communicate with each other without Cuban counterintelligence finding out where they were. That's why I said I don't think it was just to protect our matzo ball recipe. This was something deeper. Alan had done this in Iraq, and he had done it in Afghanistan. So, he had a track record. Did he know what he was doing in terms of what the ultimate goal was? Who knows? I don't know, and I don't think it's relevant. But he knew he was violating Cuban law. The Cubans got his laptop. They got his hard drive. They got his flash drive. Then they got all his equipment.

AMY GOODMAN: But then they follow him all through Cuba, so that they could track all the people he was talking to, before ultimately they arrested him when he was leaving at the airport.

SAUL LANDAU: Alan was picked up after the first agent he talked to. The first Cuban he talked to was a state security agent masquerading as a religious person. And that was it. He was picked up. He was picked up. And the Jewish community that he went to once immediately calls the cops on him. So Alan was identified, and the Cubans followed him everywhere he went and got a list of all the people he visited, and now will have all of his equipment to boot. So I think that something that's possible that—how should I say it—reciprocal humanitarian gestures are now possible. The Cubans could free Alan Gross, and President Obama could free the Cuban Five.

AMY GOODMAN: Saul Landau, director of the new documentary, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. He's made more than 45 films and written 14 books, many about Cuba.

WATCH: Exclusive Interview with Freed Cuban 5 Member René González in Havana

Democracy Now! Daily Podcast - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 12:09pm

As the United States opens talks with Cuba aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations and has released the remaining members of the Cuban Five, we feature a Democracy Now! exclusive interview with the first freed member of the group. In this October 2013 interview René González, speaks out after a 13-year imprisonment in the United States. Scroll down to read the complete transcript of the interview.

Today Cuba released Alan Gross, a subcontractor for U.S. Agency for International Development, after five years in prison, while the United States freed the three remaining members of the Cuban Five — Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labañino. See all of our coverage of the Cuban Five.

The five Cuban intelligence agents were arrested in the United States in 1998 and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. They say they were not spying on the United States, but rather trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups responsible for attacks inside Cuba. In Cuba, the five are seen as national heroes. González was released in October 2011 and returned to Cuba in April. Joining us from Havana, González discusses why he came to the United States to spy on Cuban exiles, his arrest, and the four other members of the Cuban Five who remain in jail.

Click here to watch our October 2013 interview with Ricardo Alarcón, Cuba’s former foreign minister and former president of the Cuban National Assembly. He joined us from Havana to discuss the meetings between Cuban authorities and the FBI in Cuba and the threat posed by militant exiles.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a Democracy Now! exclusive.

DANNY GLOVER: Excuse me, sir. Do you know who the Cuban Five are?

CALIFORNIA MAN 1: Weren't they those guys that—that played the U.S. in the semi-finals of the Pan American Games in the basketball tournament?

DANNY GLOVER: Do you know who the Cuban Five are? The Cuban Five are five men who were defending their country against terrorism.

CALIFORNIA MAN 2: Oh, yeah, the Cuban Five. Aren't they that salsa band?

CALIFORNIA MAN 3: Americans?

DANNY GLOVER: No, they're Cuban.


CALIFORNIA MAN 2: Why haven't I ever heard about that?

CALIFORNIA WOMAN 1: The Cuban Five? They're that rock band, right?



CALIFORNIA MAN 4: What are you doing out here, man?

DANNY GLOVER: I—man, you know who the Cuban Five are?

CALIFORNIA MAN 4: Not really.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, you want to find out?

CALIFORNIA MAN 4: No, no, no, no. Don't take a picture of me, please. OK.

DANNY GLOVER: Alright. The police looking for you?

What they did was they infiltrated terrorist groups in Miami, of exiles, which had been planning attacks on the Cuban people and foreign citizens inside Cuba. The Cuban Five have a right to defend the Cuban revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the acclaimed actor and activist, Danny Glover, in a clip from the documentary, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, by the late filmmaker Saul Landau. Danny Glover was asking people in California about the Cuban Five, the subject of our show today.

Fifteen years ago, five Cuban intelligence agents were arrested in the United States. Four remain locked up. The fifth will join us today from Havana. They say they were not spying on the United States but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups here responsible for attacks inside Cuba.

NELSON VALDÉS: The Berlin Wall comes to an end in the fall of 1989. The Soviet Union comes to an end in November 1991. The Cuban economy is going into a free fall. And the Cuban exiles decide that they have to enhance the attacks that they're going to carry out on Cuba.

FABIÁN ESCALANTE: [translated] We had to send our men in order to know what plots they were hatching. And where were they hatching those plots? In Miami.

SAUL LANDAU: In 1990, René González hijacked a plane in Cuba and flew it to Miami. Shortly afterwards, he joined Brothers to the Rescue. He was followed by Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández and Fernando González. Years later, these men would be known as the Cuban Five, Cuban intelligence agents whose job was to penetrate violent exile groups.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the late filmmaker Saul Landau narrating his film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. Today we'll be joined by René González from Havana in his first extended U.S. television interview since his release from jail. He returned to Cuba earlier this year after spending 13 years in U.S. prison.

In Cuba, the five are seen as national heroes. They were spying on a group of exiles in Florida that had carried out a string of deadly attacks, including the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455, killing all 73 people on board, and the 1997 hotel bombings in Havana.

One of the groups in Florida the men infiltrated was called Brothers to the Rescue, founded by a CIA-trained exile named José Basulto, who flew planes from Florida and Cuba to provoke the Cuban government. In 1996, Cuba shot down two of the group's planes after they flew into or near Cuban airspace. Four people died. The Cuban Five also infiltrated Alpha 66, the F4 Commandos and the Cuban American National Foundation.

In 1998, the five were arrested. Charges included conspiracy to commit espionage, acting as an agent of a foreign government and, in one case, conspiracy to commit murder. Instead of deporting the spies back to Cuba, the U.S. put them on trial in Miami, a move widely criticized. Robert Pastor, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser for Latin America, said, quote, "Holding a trial for five Cuban intelligence agents in Miami is about as fair as a trial for an Israeli intelligence agent in Tehran."

This is another clip from the documentary, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. It begins with retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Look at the draconian sentences that they got. Two life sentences plus 15 years? And this is supposed to be because of the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown and so forth, which I have absolutely no way of knowing the truth about, because our government, the Cuban-American community and others have so clouded the facts and so obfuscated all of the available material on it.

LOCAL 10 REPORTER: Speaking on his own behalf, Gerardo Hernández said, "It is necessary for some countries to send their sons and daughters to defend themselves, to carry out dangerous missions, be they in Afghanistan or in South Florida."

NINOSKA PÉREZ CASTELLÓN: It's not whether they were sent here because acts of terrorism were being—were happening in Cuba. You do not send people to spy in other countries because you think that they are committing or you say they're committing acts. Those five that are—you know, try to be painted as heroes, are murderers.

FOX NEWS REPORTER: All the men were given maximum sentences, kept in solitary confinement for more than a year, barred from seeing certain family members, and what they believe was the most prejudicial, they were not granted a change of venue out of Miami.

LEONARD WEINGLASS: Well, there was ample evidence of intimidation of the jury. And, in fact, some of the jurors, during the voir dire process, when they were being selected, specifically said that they were afraid for their families if they reached a verdict in this case that was not acceptable to the exile community in Miami.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I do not understand why the trial proceeded in Dade County, Florida. A change of venue, to me as a layman, is something that is demanded when there is absolutely no chance of the defendant or defendants getting a fair trial in the area where they're going to be tried.

REP. GEORGE MILLER: Not all terrorists are treated the same. Clearly, those that are favored by the administration can operate with impunity inside the United States. People who went to partake in violent acts against Cuba are protected. And yet you see individuals who were trying to stop those acts of terrorists, to try to make American law enforcement aware of these activities, are the people who end up being prosecuted—I mean, people who end up in jail. And those who blow up airliners, those who blow up hotels, those who conduct acts of violence are free—they're the toast of the town—because the administration is paralyzed by their own policy with respect to Cuba, with their own policy with respect to the war on terror. And what you see is a level of duplicity that is incredible.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Democratic Congressmember George Miller of California. Before him, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, as well as the late Cuban Five attorney Leonard Weinglass and Cuban exile Ninoska Pérez Castellón. That was all from an excerpt of the film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up.

When we come back, we go to Havana, Cuba, to speak with René González, the only freed member of the Cuban Five, about why he came to the United States to spy on Cuban militant exiles. He'll talk about his arrest and the four other members of the Cuban Five who remain in jail in this country. We'll also speak with Ricardo Alarcón. Up until earlier this year, he was the president of the Cuban National Assembly. He was also Cuba's former foreign minister. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Cuban singer Silvio Rodríguez during a concert in honor of the Cuban Five in Havana in September. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with a Democracy Now! exclusive. We turn now to René González, the only freed member of the Cuban Five. He was released in October of 2011. He returned to Cuba in April of this year after being jailed in the United States for 13 years. I recently spoke to him from Havana via Democracy Now! video stream. I began by asking him why he came to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, for my generation Cubans, it was part of our development or common experience to have seen people coming from Miami raiding our shores, shooting at hotels, killing people here in Cuba, blowing up airplanes. So, we were really familiar with the terrorist activities that the Cuban people had been suffering for almost four years back then. So it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission of going there and monitor the activities of some of those people, who had been trained by the CIA in the '60s. Some of them had participated in Bay of Pigs. Some of them had gone then—after that, had gone to South America as part of the Operation Condor. And if you look at the history of those people, you can see their link to the worst actions of the U.S. government, be they Iran-Contras—even the Kennedy assassination plot was linked to them. So, it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission and to go there to protect the Cuban people's lives, and that's what I did.

AMY GOODMAN: What were some of the groups that you and your colleagues came to infiltrate? What were their names, and what specifically did you know they were doing in Miami?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, if we are talking about that, we should start by Luis Posada Carriles, who's still in Miami. He's living there under the protection of the U.S. government. Posada Carriles has a long story of terrorism against not only Cuba, but also even in the United States. He was responsible for the blowing up of the Cubana airliner in 1976 in Venezuela. And later on, when we were in Miami, he was also organizing the bombs which were placed on the hotels in Havana. But it's not only him. I mean, he doesn't work alone. The sad part is that he was being paid for by the Cuban American National Foundation, which is a legal organization linked to the Washington establishment, an organization which has a lobby in Washington, which has paid for the election campaigns of guys like Ileana Ros or Lincoln Diaz-Balart. And those people were paying these terrorists—that terrorist to put bombs in Havana in 1997. So that's an example of the whole scheme that we were facing there.

And, of course, there were some other people, like José Basulto, who founded Brothers to the Rescue, but before that he had a long history of terrorism against Cuba. We had Orlando Bosch, who together with Luis Posada Carriles, was involved in the plot in Venezuela to blow up the Cubana airliner. And we have, for example, the Novo Sampoll brothers, who were linked to the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington with a car bomb. So the list is long, but those are the—those were the people we were watching on, and that was our mission there.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you make it from Cuba to Miami? Explain how you came up.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I was a pilot here in Cuba. So I was flying with the skydiving operations here for sports operations. And, well, I took a chance and stole a plane, and I landed in Key West. Of course, I had been born in the United States, so when I landed there, I showed my birth certificate, and then they allowed me to go back to my family's house. And then I ended up with Brothers to the Rescue, which was the first organization that I infiltrated there. And the rest was just linking up with all those people and, you know, going from one group to another to find out their plots against the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And what most surprised you about what you found in the linkages of these groups, from Brothers to the Rescue? Talk about what Brothers to the Rescue was doing and who was supporting them and what you were reporting back to Cuba.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, as I told you, Brothers to the Rescue was founded by—I mean, he's a main celebrity, I would say he was—José Basulto, was a young guy trained by the CIA during the Bay of Pigs invasion. But he was part of what was called back then the infiltration teams. So it wasn't only him, but a bunch of guys from the infiltration teams, they were the ones who created Brothers to the Rescue. Initially, it was—I would say it was more of a psych-op operation. They tried to incite people to leave Cuba by boats or rafts, and then they would pretend that—let's say, they would rescue some of them and, you know, make propaganda out of that rescue operations. It was a very intelligent operation, because, you know, it was premised on a—on a team that appeals to humanitarian feelings of the people—rescuing rafters, saving lives.

And at the beginning, they grew up, you know, out of the support from the people in Miami. But then, after 1995, when the immigration agreements were signed off between Cuba and the United States, they resorted to invading the Cuban airspace, going—or, flying Havana, launching things. And they started to develop some other plans, which even included the use of some explosive to plant in Cuba. So, they began really dangerous. By 1995, they were already trying to do some different things than the ones they had done at the beginning. And, you know, those were the activities I was reporting on.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Basulto talking about a weapon they had to test in the Everglades?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, that was presented as evidence on the trial. He devised a weapon which would be like a flare. Let's go back to the beginning, because even when he was saving lives, he—he called me once, and he asked for my advice to introduce some explosives in Cuba. It was in 1994—I mean, 1992, sorry. His idea back then was to blow up some power lines. You know, back then, in 1992, the economic situation in Cuba was really hard, and we had blackouts every day. So, maybe he decided that he could do something to make those blackouts more common. And he was already devising a scheme to introduce in Cuba with his airplanes some explosive to be planted on the power lines. But that was back in 1992.

Then, after that, he was involved in some plots to buy some leftover military Russian planes. I remember he was trying to buy an L-39, which was a Czechoslovakian military training plane. He was trying to buy a MiG-23, which was a Soviet-built plane.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how you came to be arrested in the United States?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, it's a long process, but I'm going to make it short. By the middle of 1998, there was an opportunity for the two governments, Cuba and the United States, to work together against terrorism. An FBI delegation had visited Havana for some days in June of that year. And before they left Cuba for the United States, they assured the Cuban government that they would do something about the voluminous information that had been given to them on terrorist activities against Cuba, based mainly in Florida. And three months after that meeting, all of a sudden things changed, and the FBI raided our homes, and we all were arrested on September 12th, 1998. They put us in solitary confinement for a year and a half. And then, the whole story started to develop.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your time in jail like, in prison for 15 years? How were you treated?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I would say there were two stages. In Miami, they did everything in their power to break us down. They put us in solitary confinement. They kept us in a hole for a year and a half. They used the conditions of confinement to prevent our access to the evidence of the trial, which is one of the grounds why the United Nations group on arbitrary detentions rejected the trial, by the way, and also Amnesty International. They used my family also to punish me. They didn't allow me to see my daughters, for some reason they came up with. And it applied only to me, because nobody else in that building had that limitation. So, I could say—I will like to say, but they were very brutal during our time in Miami.

But, well, after that, you go, you know, to the normal—when you go to Pennsylvania, you're not anymore. And that's one of the reasons that we say the trial couldn't be held in Miami, because once you leave Miami, then you are a normal person again.

AMY GOODMAN: And where are the other members of the Cuban Five, the four who are still in prison? One about to be released—is that right?—in February.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Fernando, he should finish his sentence in February next year. And I hope he comes right away to Cuba, because he's not a U.S. citizen, so he should be deported from the U.S. And then is Antonio, who is still four years away. Ramón is already—is still 11 years away, which is—it would be a crime to keep him in jail. And then Gerardo, who is still dealing with one life sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: And where are they all in prison?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, they're scattered all over the United States. Antonio, he went to the prison where I'm at now, Marianna. Fernando is in Arizona in a prison, in an immigration prison, I believe low-level prison. Ramón is in Ashland in Kentucky, I believe it is. And Fernando is in—Gerardo is in Victorville in California.

AMY GOODMAN: What gives you hope that they will be released before their term? I mean, for example, Gerardo is in prison—what is it—right now on two life sentences?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, my main hope is that the nature of the trial is too murky, is too perverse, to withstand the pressure of the best people in the world. I believe that this injustice, this trial, is going to go down in history as one of the worst example of what they call U.S. justice. And I hope that the U.S. government, little by little, is going to feel that the weight of this injustice is costing them more than the solving the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: You were already jailed, because it was in June of 2001 that you were convicted. You were in jail at the time of the 9/11 attacks, right? September 11, 2001. And I'm wondering about your thoughts at the time. I mean, before that, the deadliest airline terrorism in the hemisphere was 1976, was the downing of the Cubana airliner in Venezuela that took out the entire Cuban Olympic—that took out the Cuban Olympic fencing team, killed 73 people on board. Ultimately, Posada Carriles was convicted in absentia by Panama, who lives in Miami. Your thoughts on what happened then, that kind of what is called terrorism, and where you were, in prison?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, my first reaction was shock. Of course, nobody can forget that day. I was in my cell, and all of a sudden somebody called me: "Look at this!" And, you know, I just walked out of the cell, and there was a TV set, and the first plane had already hit the first tower. So I was—you know, I thought that it was an accident at first. So we were talking about that accident, how it happened, whatever. And then, all of a sudden I saw the second hit, and I just couldn't believe it. And, of course, it was—it was shocking. I was moved by all those—I can never forget those people having to jump from buildings. It's something that you don't wish would happen to anybody. And, you know, the first reaction was just the shock of—at something so horrible.

And then you have to think a little more about that. And, well, I believe—on my elocution to the judge, I talk about it a little bit. I believe that as long as somebody believe that there are some good terrorists and some bad terrorists, terrorism is going to be there. And it's a pity because, as I said to the judge, and you can be a capitalist, you can be Jew, you can be a Catholic or a Muslim, and be a good person. But a terrorist is a sick person; it's not a good person. And for me, the fact that some people, like my prosecutors, for example, believe that some terrorists deserve to be protected and some don't, I mean, is a—I can't believe that in the 21st century this is happening yet.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction to those who said that Cuba shooting down the Brothers to the Rescue plane, February 24th, 1996, killing four members of Brothers to the Rescue, was a terroristic act?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: I don't see—I mean, the definition of "terrorism" doesn't go that far. Terrorism, although I know—I acknowledge the definition is too politically sometimes, politically motivated, but my definition is that it is a—it's the imposition of violence indiscriminately to instill fear among the surviving people. And I don't see how it fits what happens on February 1996. We are talking about a guy who was trying to be a terrorist, who all of a sudden discovered that he's a humanitarian, and he creates an organization. He's flying for years in front of the Cuban coast without any incident at all, while he is saving rafters. Cuba doesn't interfere on his activities. And all of a sudden he decides that he can break into the Cuban airspace, do whatever he wants in Cuba, and he even starts devising plans to introduce explosives in Cuba and to introduce weapons in Cuba using those planes. And, I mean, anybody would accept that defending the country against those actions is an act of sovereignty.

AMY GOODMAN: René González, the only freed member of the Cuban Five. He was released October 2011, returned to Cuba last April after being jailed in the United States for 13 years. We were speaking to him in Havana. When we come back, Ricardo Alarcón, former president of the Cuban National Assembly, also Cuba's former foreign minister. We'll talk about his meetings with the FBI, why Cuba called the FBI to Havana to meet. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute.

Democracy Now! 2014-12-17 miércoles en español

Democracy Now! Podcast en Español - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 12:00pm
Democracy Now! 17 de Diciembre de 2014
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Democracy Now! 2014-12-17 Wednesday

Democracy Now! Daily Podcast - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 8:00am
Democracy Now! 2014-12-17 Wednesday
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  • Was Key Grand Jury Witness in Michael Brown Case a Racist, Mentally Ill, Lying Ex-Felon?
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  • Press Freedom Fight: Reporter James Risen Faces Subpoena in CIA Whistleblower Case
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Contraception Is Not Abortion, But Right Wing Has Plan to Convince You Otherwise

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The analysis suggests that a coordinated misinformation campaign, spearheaded by conservative groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Heritage Foundation, is part of an underlying right-wing attempt to chip away at access to commonly used contraceptives such as Plan B or IUDs. [...]

The Power of Political Athletes to Puncture Privilege

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The great Indian writer Arundhati Roy once said, “…in the midst of putative peace, you could, like me, be unfortunate enough to stumble on a silent war. The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.” [...]

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Exposing the FBI

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A review of The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, by Betty Medsger (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) by Lawrence S. Wittner. The Burglary tells the story of how, on March 8, 1971, in the midst of the Vietnam War, eight peace activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, in an effort to discover whether the FBI was working, illegally, to suppress American dissent. [...]

Former Senator Mike Gravel: I Put the Pentagon Papers into Congressional Record for Public Benefit

Democracy Now! Daily Podcast - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:55pm

Watch part 2 of our conversation with former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel. In 1971, he entered more than 4,000 pages of the 7,000-page Pentagon Papers into the Senate record, insisting the public had a right to know the truth behind the Vietnam War.

Watch Part 1 of the interview and also see our interview with famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.

AARON MATÉ: We continue our conversation with former Senator Mike Gravel. In 1971, he took advantage of congressional privilege to disclose the contents of the Pentagon Papers, that were then kept secret. Well, today, four decades later, former Senator Mike Gravel is among those calling on Senator Mark Udall to follow in his footsteps and enter the full Senate report on CIA torture into the Congressional Record.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Senator Mike Gravel joins us now from San Francisco. He represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate from '69 to '81, most well known for releasing the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record, which meant then that they could be published in book form, available for anyone to read—though it wasn't quite that easy, actually. It was Beacon Press that published the Pentagon Papers, but they were under enormous pressure. They were being surveilled and monitored and harassed by the FBI for years before they published the Pentagon Papers. In fact, it almost brought down not only the press, but the Unitarian Church that runs the press.

But, Mike Gravel, we're moving ahead here. We wanted to go back in time for you to tell the story of how you ended up reading or putting the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. It's an astounding story, starting with the editor at The Washington Post, Ben Bagdikian, pulling up his car at the Mayflower Hotel in the middle of the night to deliver the papers to you. That was part of the deal Dan Ellsberg had with Ben Bagdikian to give the Pentagon Papers to The Washington Post. He said, "You've got to get one copy to Mike Gravel, because he's agreed to read them into the Congressional Record." Can you take it from there, you and those Vietnam veterans that were protecting you and your staff, who couldn't touch the papers, because you were afraid they'd be arrested?

MIKE GRAVEL: Well, actually, I didn't really know what the legal consequences would be. This has never been done in American history. But we were resting on the speech and debate clause of the Constitution. And so, when Ellsberg asked me if I would use the papers, release the papers officially—and it was important for Ellsberg to have an official person release it; it would give him some legal umbrage. Now, so, I got the papers. We took them home after Ben Bagdikian had given them to me, and brought in staff, sequestered them in my home, so that we could read all of the papers to make sure that we weren't acting irresponsibly. Then, after we did that, then I wanted—I was in the middle of a filibuster. That's the reason why Ellsberg called me. And this filibuster—he asked me if I would read the papers as part of the filibuster.

Well, I was going to do that in the Senate, but unfortunately I made a mistake and put on a quorum call so that the staff of the Senate would be able to contact their homes and tell them they're going to be all night, because Gravel is going to be reading something as part of his debate—part of his filibuster. And so, when I tried to pull back on the quorum, Michigan Senator Griffin objected, and I was dead in the water. We had to have a quorum before we could proceed. And the Republicans were telling their members to stay away from the Senate. We were trying to get the Democratic members to come back. Very difficult. And by 9:00, 9:30, it was hopeless that I would be able to read them into—which was my intent—into the Senate record.

But the attorneys that were advising me said that plan B, since I was the chairman of the Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds, I could convene that subcommittee based upon the precedence of the House Un-American Activities Committee calling meetings on the fly as they went around the country to entrap people to testify. And so, we called a meeting, put the notice underneath the door. By this time, it was 11:00-ish. And we were able to get a congressman from New York, Dow, who came forward and testified. And so, I convened a hearing, and the congressman said he wanted a federal building in his district. And I said that, "Well, I can appreciate that, and I'd be happy to give—authorize building a federal building in your district, but we don't have the money. And the reason why we don't have the money is because we're squandering it in Southeast Asia, and let me read something about how we got into that mess." And so I proceeded to read the Pentagon Papers.

I had not slept, essentially, for three days. I really was scared stiff, because I didn't know the consequences on myself as to what I was doing. And so, I broke out emotionally and was sobbing, got control of myself and then did the obvious thing, which was to ask unanimous consent to put it into the record. And, of course, since there was no one there to object, I said, "It's done." And that put the documents into the record of the subcommittee, which is a record of the Senate.

Now, what we have with the torture report, this is something that is already in the record of the Senate, because it's in the record of the Intelligence Committee. And they did redactions, and they did research. And so, it's there. It doesn't have to be re-entered into the record—it's there. What it needs to do is to now be put out publicly so that the people in the media and the people can do the research that's necessary in these 6,000-plus documents. And the simplest way to do that is for a member of the Senate or the House to take their hands—take this document, put a press release explaining what they're doing and how important it is for a democracy for the people to know what their government is doing in their name, and then take this document to the press room of the Capitol and start handing it out to various members of the press.

But that's exactly what we did. After I turned around and put it in the committee record, we went back to our offices. We copied the Pentagon Papers and handed it to reporters, who created a pool and then distributed it. So the key was to be able to distribute it to the public, and so—and not just my release of putting the papers in the committee record, it was the physical act of releasing it to the public that counts. And so, now what applies with today is the simple act of taking this record that's there, explaining why you're doing this—to save our democracy—and hand it out to the public.

AARON MATÉ: So, Senator, the—

MIKE GRAVEL: It's that simple.

AARON MATÉ: So, Senator, the lawmaker who you're calling upon to do this is Senator Mark Udall. And your experience as chair of a subcommittee, a chair—as the chair of a subcommittee, is relevant to Udall, because he also chairs a subcommittee. Is that how you want to see him enter this report into the record?

MIKE GRAVEL: No, I think it's easier than that. He's chair on a subcommittee on, I think, the Armed Services Committee. But it's easier than that. Stop and think. We are resting on the words of the Constitution of the United States, which say that a member of Congress can release whatever he feels is necessary for the edification of the electorate. And he can't be questioned or prosecuted in any other domain after he's done that. And it's an absolute rule. And this was sustained by the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. Now, the majority of the court did not agree with my ability to publish it with Beacon Press, but they did agree, just easily, with the interpretation of the Constitution that speech and debate is the basic and most important activity of our government to the people. Otherwise, how are the people ever to react to what the government does, if it's all held in secret?

Now, with respect to Senator Udall, I'd be prepared to go to Washington and help him physically do this. I've got no problems with that. This is fundamental to a democracy. If the people are not informed as to what their government is doing, then you do not have an operational democracy. And that's the situation we find ourselves in today, in the expansion of secrecy, not only within the military, but secrecy within the Congress itself. They all buy into this and don't realize that their most important obligation under the Constitution, which they swear to when they swear—when they're sworn into office, is to defend this country and to defend this Constitution from inside the government and outside the government.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Gravel, have you spoken to Mark Udall?

MIKE GRAVEL: No, I haven't. I had a situation earlier this year where Senator Wyden was going to call me, and, of course, he didn't. And it was on this subject. And so, I felt—

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, it doesn't just have to be Udall. You're saying Udall, as he's the outgoing senator. But why not, for example, Senator Wyden?

MIKE GRAVEL: Yeah, there's no risk at all. There's not even political risk, because he's stated on the floor, and privately, that he would like to spend a major portion of his time out of office going after this secrecy problem and going after torture and revealing that. Well, the best way to do that right now is to reveal the entire study before January. In that way, he can mine that, and so can scholars and reporters mine it throughout. Keep in mind that Snowden made moot the issue of members of the Intelligence Committee releasing what the NSA was doing. But they knew it. They talked about it internally. But they never said anything about it publicly. And the only thing that binds them is peer pressure. Now, when the Republicans say they're going to stop them, they can't—unless you could physically assault them, they can't stop them.

But the key is to get the document and hand it out to the public. He's got the right to do this under the Constitution of the United States, which has been sustained. That action has been sustained by the unanimous agreement of the Supreme Court of the United States. And so, that's the Constitution, case law of the Supreme Court. There's no risk in doing this. But there's also much to be gained from it, because then we can begin to hold elements of our government accountable for the unbelievable debasement of our morality.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Mike Gravel, we want to thank you for being with us, former U.S. senator for Alaska from '69 to '81, best known for releasing the Pentagon Papers. As a junior senator in 1971, he insisted the public had the right to know the truth behind the Vietnam War. Though the Pentagon Papers had been written about by The New York Times and The Washington Post, he wanted to ensure people had access to the full secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and so he put thousands of pages of that report into the Congressional Record. They would eventually be released by Beacon Press. I'm Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.