Donald Trump, Iran, and the Gulf of Tonkin Redux

Rep. Ro Khanna, reporter Negar Mortazavi, and journalist Amy Goodman are this week’s guests.

At left, an oil tanker is on fire in the Gulf of Oman on June 13, 2019. At right, the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, August 1964. Photo Illustration: Elise Swain/The Intercept; Images: AP (2), NSA

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Powerful forces within the Trump administration appear intent on war against Iran. This week on Intercepted: As the U.S. accuses Iran of attacking civilian ships while offering scant evidence, grave historical parallels are emerging with the Gulf of Tonkin incidents in 1964 that were manipulated to justify Lyndon Johnson’s dramatic escalation of the war in Vietnam. California Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna is preparing legislation aimed at stopping an attack on Iran, and he says he would not put it past national security adviser John Bolton to manipulate evidence. Journalist Negar Mortazavi of The Independent analyzes what war with Iran would look like and exposes the State Department’s funding of propaganda operations against Iran. Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman talks about the parallels with the build up to the Iraq invasion of 2003 and shares stories from her early life as a journalist.


Newscaster: The interview that’s already causing a Twitter storm. President Trump, 30 hours. Here’s George Stephanopoulos.

Announcer: The hypochondriac.

Donald J. Trump: Let’s do that over. He’s coughing in the middle of my answer.

George Stephanopoulos: Yeah, okay.

DJT: I don’t like that. If you’re going to cough, please leave the room.

Announcer: No wonder his wife kicked him out.

DJT: I watched Richard Nixon go around firing everybody and that didn’t work out too well. Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. There’s never been a time in the history of our country where somebody was so mistreated as I have been. I never suggested firing Mueller.

GS: That’s not what he says.

DJT: I don’t care what he says. It doesn’t matter.

Announcer: Another guy whose wife left him.

GS: Are you a big breakfast guy? Do you actually do work in here or is it all for meetings?

Announcer: They’re together.

DJT: There is no collusion.

GS: He didn’t say —

DJT: He said no collusion.

GS: But even your own polls show you’re behind right now, don’t they?

DJT: No.

GS: Did you read the report?

DJT: Yes, I did and you should read it too. Come on, let’s go. Anyway, George —

Announcer: The Odd Couple will continue in a moment.

[Music interlude.]

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

[Music interlude.]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 98 of Intercepted.

Ed Herlihy (Universal Newsreel Archive): This is the Maddox, one of the two destroyers that were attacked while patrolling international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin near North Vietnam.

JS: Fifty-five years ago, in 1964, the seventh fleet sent two lethal destroyers to the waters around North Vietnam. At this point in the war, the U.S. had not yet deployed its masses of ground troops. There were U.S. personnel on the ground fighting covertly and directing South Vietnamese forces and operations, but they were categorized simply as “advisers.” The all out war that powerful hawks and warmongers had been agitating for years had not yet materialized. They needed an inciting incident, a justification.

In late July, 1964, South Vietnamese forces began attacking North Vietnamese bridges, communication posts, and other sites along North Vietnam’s coastal waters and islands in what was known as the Gulf of Tonkin. On August 2nd, the U.S. warships off the coast reportedly detected North Vietnamese ships responding to the attacks and claimed that they thought that those vessels were actually coming to attack the U.S. ships. There are conflicting versions of what happened next, but declassified NSA documents reveal that the USS Maddox fired warning shots at the North Vietnamese ships. A firefight broke out with the U.S. launching nearly 300 projectiles at the North Vietnamese. In all, at least four of North Vietnam’s sailors were killed, others were wounded, ships were destroyed. The USS Maddox, we now know, suffered a single bullet hole of damage.

EH: The lights burned all night in the White House as President Johnson conferred with his advisers and he went before the nation to report on the crisis.

JS: Back in Washington D.C., the Johnson administration saw opportunity. Here is then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara calling Lyndon Johnson on the phone to discuss the alleged attacks on U.S. warships.

Robert McNamara: Mr. President, we just had word by telephone from Admiral Sharp that the destroyer is under torpedo attack. I think I might get Dean Rusk and Mac Bundy and have them come over here and we’ll go over these retaliatory actions. And then we ought to —

Lyndon B. Johnson: I sure think you ought to agree with that, yeah.

RM: And I’ve got a [unintelligible] here. I’ll call the two of them.

LBJ: Now where are these torpedoes coming from?

RM: Well, we don’t know. Presumably from these unidentified craft that I mentioned to you a moment ago.

JS: On the evening of August 4, Lyndon Johnson broke into regularly scheduled TV programming. He told the American people that two U.S. warships, the Maddox and the Turner Joy had been attacked, unprovoked in international waters off the coast of Vietnam.

LBJ: My fellow Americans, as president and commander-in-chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply. The initial attack on the destroyer Maddox, on August 2, was repeated today by a number of hostile vessels attacking two U.S. destroyers with torpedoes.

JS: At the time President Johnson delivered that speech, U.S. intelligence had not yet confirmed any second incident with North Vietnamese ships, but Johnson left that out of his speech. Instead, he presented these alleged attacks as established fact.

LBJ: The determination of all Americans to carry out our full commitment to the people and to the government of South Vietnam will be redoubled by this outrage. Yet our response, for the present, will be limited and fitting. We Americans know, although others appear to forget, the risks of spreading conflict. We still seek no wider war.

JS: But the whole thing was a false flag, a fabricated crisis. History is now clear: the first so-called attack was actually instigated by the U.S. against North Vietnamese vessels that were responding to attacks by South Vietnamese forces. And the second one — well, it really seems to have never happened.

David A. Burchinal: You’re pretty sure there was a torpedo attack, though?

U.S. Grant Sharp Jr.: Oh, no doubt about that, I think. No doubt about that.

JS: Decades later, Robert McNamara spoke about this in the film “The Fog of War,” directed by Errol Morris.

RM: It was just confusion. And events afterwards showed that our judgement that we’d been attacked that day was wrong. It didn’t happen.

JS: This incendiary fraud about two unprovoked attacks on U.S. warships was swiftly weaponized by the Johnson administration on Capitol Hill. Lyndon Johnson ordered retaliation strikes against North Vietnam.

Newscaster: The U.S. sorties were launched for one purpose as a warning to the communists that unprovoked attacks will bring prompt response.

JS: Shortly after Johnson’s speech, Congress passed a joint resolution, known as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. It gave Johnson sweeping powers to wage war in the name of protecting U.S. allies.

Narrator: Johnson never asked Congress to declare war. Instead, he used the incident to cut himself loose from Congressional control. He requested a resolution that would give him the power to expand the war without further authorization. After deliberating just 40 minutes, the House approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Not a single representative voted no. Over in the Senate, there were just two dissenting votes. On August 7th, Johnson signed the resolution. The language was broad. The authority sweeping. Johnson was heard to say “It’s like grandmother’s nightshirt. It covers everything.

JS: It was the Gulf of Tonkin incident that escalated the mass slaughter in Vietnam by the U.S., the scorched earth, the burning of villages, the rapes, the torture, the deaths of upwards of three million Vietnamese and some 58,000 American GIs. And it was all based on lies. Lethal lies. History’s verdict seems clear: the purpose of deploying the U.S. warships to Vietnam was to provoke an attack, perhaps to even encourage it.

Newscaster: Before this new Southeast Asia crisis, the United States had announced that 5,000 more military advisers were being sent to South Vietnam to bring our forces there to 21,000. Now, this number will be increased even further. At sea, on land, and in the air, the awesome United States military machine is mounting a force that can face up to any threat.

JS: Today, right now, we face some grave historical parallels with the Trump administration and Iran. It is obvious that, for some in the White House, Iran is a war seeking a justification. It all feels eerily reminiscent of the Gulf of Tonkin and the Vietnam War.

LBJ: It is a solemn responsibility to have to order even limited military action by forces whose overall strength is as vast and as awesome as those of the United States of America, but it is my considered conviction, shared throughout your government, that firmness, in the right, is indispensable today for peace.

JS: Last month, we discussed an attack on four tankers in the Strait of Hormuz that the U.S. and its allies in the region claimed Iran was behind, though the administration failed to produce any actual evidence. And then, like déjà vu there was another attack last week and once again, Iran was blamed.

Mike Pompeo: This is only the latest in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests.

JS: On Monday, the Pentagon released photos that it claims implicate Iran and announced that it’s sending another 1,000 troops to the Middle East for “defensive purposes.” Newsweek, citing a Pentagon official, reported that, “if anything is likely to happen involving the preliminary Iran options, it would involve a heavy guided missile strike campaign in an attempt to lead Tehran to the negotiation table with Washington.”

And the White House has had help in pushing its case from a top Democrat. I’m talking about Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He is one of the most visible, always on cable news, Democrats who is constantly telling us not to trust anything this administration says. And yet, here is Schiff out there stanning for Trump on Iran.

Adam Schiff: There’s no question that Iran is behind the attacks. I think the evidence is very strong and compelling. In fact, I think this was a class-A screw-up by Iran to insert a mine on the ship. It didn’t detonate. They had to go back and retrieve it. I can imagine there were some Iranian heads rolling for that botched operation.

JS: On Monday, the progressive California Congressman Ro Khanna announced that he was working on a Congressional resolution to try to stop the Trump administration from using the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to justify an attack on Iran. And Ro Khanna has a somewhat surprising partner in this effort, the extreme — I guess you could say — the extreme, right-wing Florida representative Matt Gaetz, who is a major supporter of President Trump.

Rep. Ro Khanna on His Effort in Congress to Prevent War With Iran

[Phone rings.]

Ro Khanna: This is Ro.

JS: Hey Ro, it’s Jeremy Scahill.

RK: Hi, Jeremy.

JS: I saw that you tweeted “No task is more urgent than preventing an unconstitutional war with Iran. I’m working with Matt Gaetz on a bipartisan resolution to clarify that the 2001 AUMF does not authorize force against Iran, and that the administration must come to Congress before getting us into another endless war.” Before getting to your Republican colleague and the unusual nature of the partnership that the two of you have on this issue, lay out what you think the issue is here regarding around?

RK: Well, we cannot afford another war in the Middle East. There is no reason to think that Iran poses any threat to the American homeland. This is a crisis that has been caused by this administration. Their gratuitous labeling of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, their pulling out of the JCPOA, their sending an aircraft carrier down to the Iranian gulf — all of those things have created more tension and has led to an Iranian response in the region.

What we need is de-escalation. What we need is a reversal of some of the administration’s policies. Iran was not a threat in any way to our even regional troops during the Obama administration. So this is all a consequence of the administration’s maximum pressure campaign.

JS: Now, on the issue of these claims from the Trump administration, there’s been a number of them —

MP: It is the assessment of the United States government, that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today.

JS: That Iran is attacking vessels in the region and now the United States moving, slowly moving more troops, more U.S. warships to the region. Are you concerned that we may be in the midst, potentially, somewhat of a repeat of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution under President Johnson, where it seems like hawkish figures want to provoke Iran into attacking the United States to justify the extreme policies of people like John Bolton or Mike Pompeo?

RK: Yes, I am, in fact, I think the president’s instincts of not getting us into war are better than his advisers when it comes to Bolton and Pompeo. That’s not a high bar. But I think his interest is not in getting us into another war.

MP: President Trump has done everything he can to avoid war. We don’t want war. We’ve done what we can to deter this.

RK: What I worry about is that he has people in his administration who are trying to create the conditions that could lead to an escalation, that could lead to a conflict that spirals out of control and that, in some sense, forces the president’s hand. I think that’s exactly their strategy, to push the envelope as far as they can, knowing that this president campaigned on and doesn’t want to get into another war in the Middle East.

JS: From what you know about this administration, and particularly the people running national security policy, would you put it past them to fabricate incidents about an Iranian provocation?

RK: I certainly wouldn’t put it past John Bolton or people who work for him or his colleagues to engage in that kind of misrepresentation. I do think the difference is that there is a far more skeptical Congress than there was during the Vietnam War of partly the skepticism born of the Vietnam experience, partly the skepticism born of the blunder in Iraq. So, you now do have both on the Democratic side and some Republicans, more people wary of these wars, and willing to question the intelligence presented — or certainly the administration’s spin on the intelligence.

JS: The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff is carrying a lot of water for the Trump administration on this and openly saying on international television that he believes the intelligence that this administration is citing — saying that Iran definitively was behind at least one of these attacks.

RK: Well, I haven’t seen the intelligence personally. So I can’t characterize whether that is true or not. What I can say is regardless of what the intelligence may say, that is no reason or justification for war. First of all, we don’t have even a treaty with Oman. So there’s no treaty obligation in the thinking of some of the ships. Secondly, that doesn’t mean that the response should be a full-out United States engagement. So I think they’re two separate questions. First, whether the intelligence is true and I do think that that has to be dealt with, with scrutiny and second, what the U.S. response should be.

JS: Now, Representative Matt Gaetz is your partner in this. How was it that you ended up with Matt Gaetz of all people as your partner on this initiative to try to stop the AUMF from being used to justify any attack on Iran?

RK: Matt and I have deep philosophical differences, but we were in an all-night, armed services hearing. Literally, the hearing went until seven in the morning, and I had introduced an amendment saying that we should not authorize any funds into a conflict in Iran, and that the Congress should make it clear that the president doesn’t have any authorization to do that. And there were, frankly, Democrats expressing skepticism about my resolution, people like John Garamendi, and others weren’t willing to back a clean resolution to get us committed to the idea that we can’t go to war in Iran.

And of course, the Republicans were making ridiculous arguments. Some Republicans were saying that this would mean we can’t come to the defense of Israel, which is clearly not the case. I mean, the War Powers Resolution gives the commander-in-chief the right for 60 days to take defensive action against an imminent threat to the United States or our allies, but they were misinterpreting the resolution. And there was a single Republican who spoke up and that was Matt Gaetz. And he said, “Well look, I don’t think there is any Congressional authorization for a war in Iran.” He actually got Mac Thornberry, the ranking member, to admit that there was no authorization based on 2001.

Until Chairman Adam Smith, who did a good job in the hearing said “Ro, why don’t you withdraw your amendment and see if you can work on something with Gaetz and maybe we could actually get some bipartisan support?” I was happy to do that. And I’m working with Gaetz this week to see if we can come to a consensus. On issues of foreign intervention, Matt Gaetz, part of the Freedom Caucus has actually been fairly decent.

JS: Alright, well, we’ll see how this unfolds. Ro Khanna, as always, thank you for your public advocacy and the agitation there on Capitol Hill.

RK: Thank you, Jeremy.

JS: Representative Ro Khanna represents California’s 17th congressional district. He’s also a national campaign co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

[Music interlude.]

Journalist Negar Mortazavi on U.S.-Iran Relations, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and Her Recent Reporting

JS: For more on this developing story, I am joined now by Negar Mortazavi. She is a consultant editor at the British newspaper, The Independent, based in Washington D.C. She’s been reporting on Iran and U.S.-Iran relations for more than a decade. She’s also a frequent commentator on the BBC, NPR, and Aljazeera. Negar, welcome to Intercepted.

Negar Mortazavi: Thanks for having me.

JS: Let’s just begin [with] your assessment of the allegations that the United States — and it’s not just Trump administration officials, it’s also Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee — saying there is absolutely no doubt that Iran was behind this attack.

NM: Well, I haven’t seen the evidence. Adam Schiff seems to be a more credible source than the administration as far as what we’ve seen in the past two years. But I think more evidence still needs to be presented to the public and also to U.S. allies, because we also have U.S. allies like Germany, even Japan, who are asking for more evidence and are saying that they’re not convinced enough. So as far as the evidence, I haven’t seen it. I’m not an intelligence expert. I don’t really trust this administration, but at the same time, I also don’t trust the Iranians. So, their rejection or this administration’s accusation doesn’t mean much. The evidence is what we need to see and we have to always remember the episode with Iraq, 2003 the build-up to the Iraq War and to be careful to not repeat the same mistakes.

George W. Bush: I take the threat very seriously. I take the fact that he develops weapons of mass destruction very seriously.

NM: Some people back then were also convinced that the evidence is correct and it’s enough and then it turned out to be not.

JS: Right, and you mentioned the 2003 invasion and the beginning of the occupation of Iraq. And, of course, when the Bush administration took power in the 2000 elections, many people, including Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld had Iraq in their target sites, they wanted regime change. And when 9/11 happened, the first country that Rumsfeld and others start proposing [was] to attack Iraq. Now, we have the Trump administration coming into power with Trump campaigning on tearing up the Iran nuclear deal —

DJT: One of the worst deals ever made. One of the worst contracts ever signed, ever in anything. We made one of the worst deals in the history of our world. We’re getting nothing for that deal, except you’re going to have nuclear proliferation.

JS: What are the parallels that you see with this pre-existing agenda coming into office. And it seems to me like a war in search of a justification.

NM: John Bolton has been on the record saying that Iran should be bombed, Iran should be attacked. He’s been saying multiple times in public that the regime in Iran should change.

John Bolton: There’s a lot we can do and we should do it. Our goal should be regime change in Iran.

NM: He’s had his eye, basically been laser-focused, on this idea of regime change, even with an attack or a war with Iran. He even sided with groups like the MEK, the Iranian opposition, and basically suggested that they should be an alternative. So, he even has plans for after regime change. He wants the regime to be gone and he wants other groups to replace the regime. So as far as someone like John Bolton’s motives, none of that as a secret. Even Mike Pompeo before joining the administration, when he was in Congress, he’s had very similar rhetoric on Iran. He was very hawkish, completely anti-deal negotiations with Iran.

MP: The Iranian regime clearly intends to test our will here in Congress, our willingness to defend America’s interest by pushing to the limits of the JCPOA and beyond. Iran also intends to intensify its conflict with the West. It has new legitimacy.

NM: And we just need to take a step back and watch the events of the past year. President Trump, what did he do? There was a deal that was already working with the reports of the UN nuclear war shock. Even with the reports from the U.S. State Department, President Trump pulled out of that deal with no alternative in place. It’s been a year. He’s been talking about this better newer deal, which none of us know what it is, what it means and if there are any chances for it. I doubt that there’s a chance for a better deal.

And then within the past year, all we’ve seen is just escalation and increased intention. He reimposed the sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, on petrochemicals, basically all of the Iranian economy. And the Iranians have been waiting for the Europeans to make-up for the economic loss that the U.S. withdrawal from the deal was causing and they haven’t seen much of it. So, they’ve also joined this escalation and this increase in tension. And now both sides are now on a path to even more escalation as opposed to a better deal, more negotiations. That’s how I see it.

JS: We understand that the Pentagon has drawn up a list of options for the administration. And they could range from continuing to use this hostile rhetoric, and tighten the sanctions, and try to continue crippling the Iranian economy, all the way to 150,000 plus troops. And you had a Pentagon source telling Newsweek that if anything is likely to happen regarding the preliminary Iran options, it would involve a heavy guided missile strike campaign in an attempt to lead Tehran to the negotiation table with Washington. What would the consequences be — I mean, there [are] many but lay some of them out — if the United States were to launch a missile strike campaign against Iran?

NM: Basically, look at whatever happened in Iraq, it’s been a disaster and that Iran will be at least 10 times worse. It’s a larger country. It’s more populated. The central government is stronger, has more legitimacy. It’s nothing like the position that Saddam was in, [in] 2003. So, if we think Iraq was a devastating war, Iran is going to be much worse. And also, let’s not forget Iran’s proxies. Iran has, specifically having this day in mind, has spread all of these proxies across the region, from Yemen to all corners, around Israel borders, and all these other areas. They have proxy groups that can basically make life very difficult for different actors in their region, U.S. allies and even U.S. forces.

So it’s not just going to be inside Iran. If anything like that were to happen, it will escalate, it will spread to the region. The Iranians will not just sit still. They will retaliate. And it will not just be attacks or strikes. The Iranians will try to bring this on the ground, which is where they have the upper hand. It will be a very devastating situation for the U.S., of course, for the Iranians, for the Iranian population and also for everyone else in the region.

JS: This administration, of course, has numerous people within it, including the current attorney general William Barr, who are very passionate believers to put it mildly, in the theory of the unitary executive, which basically boils down to believing that the executive branch of the United States government has a dictatorship over anything impacting national security policy. And they cite Article Two of the U.S. Constitution, the so-called commander-in-chief clause.

But also administration officials have suggested that they could use the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. This was the blank check that was signed by all members of the U.S. Congress except representative Barbara Lee in the days following 9/11 that was used to justify war against al Qaeda and its affiliates around the world. Iran, of course, is not an ally of al Qaeda. Iran, no one in their right mind has suggested Iran had anything to do with 9/11. So, what do you think about that justification for attacking Iran saying that actually the 2001 post-9/11 authorization for war would apply to Iran today?

NM: Well, the very Congress that gave that authorization has been pretty vocal, Democrats and Republicans, that the administration is not to use that authorization against Iran. And they’ve been arguing that that basically wouldn’t apply to the situation, especially if it’s a pre-emptive strike or a war of choice, as some are calling. It seems to be someone like Mike Pompeo, as you mentioned, the record of him trying very, very hard on the record and in public to associate Iran with al Qaeda, apparently for the same reason. Even when he was director of the CIA, it seems like he was trying to declassify documents related to al Qaeda to try to make that link for the public and that understanding that Iran is somehow connected to al Qaeda, probably having this day in mind.

And it seems like the administration is trying to build that up and also trying to package this as not a war of choice, as not a pre-emptive strike, but more of as a response or defense to Iranian aggression, which is not really the case. I mean, the provocations have been happening on both sides, but basically, the secretary’s comments saying that there has been 40 years of unprovoked aggression from the Iranians —

MP: Forty years of unprovoked aggression against freedom loving nations.

NM: That’s not the case. Iranians have a very long list of grievances against the United States and some of their allies. And the situation is not a complete one sided provocation.

JS: Now this month, Iran is expected to surpass its low-enriched uranium stockpiles limit according to a spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy. Ali Vaez is the director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group told The New York Times, “This was an entirely predictable consequence of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and maximum pressure strategy. In practice, maximum pressure has produced maximum peril and minimum strategic results.”

At the same time you have, for instance, there was a banner on CNN the other day reporting on this. The banner headline was “Iran to break low-grade uranium limit set by nuclear deal.” It’s incredible to me that that’s how CNN is framing it because Trump canceled the deal. And yet it’s being painted as though “Oh, Iran is going back on its word when in reality, Iran was trying to preserve that deal that Trump ripped up.”

NM: The way we have to look at it from the viewpoint of the Iranians and not just the Iranians, even Europeans, the United States violated this multilateral deal a year ago. President Trump violated it out of nowhere. Everyone else, including the Iranians, the main party, were abiding by the deal. There was no reason to leave the deal. He basically violated it. And now a year after Iranians still abided by the deal, the U.S. is requesting Iran to not violate a deal that’s already been violated by the U.S. That’s how the Iranians see it. That’s even how U.S. allies in Europe and other signatories to the deal.

Let’s not forget, this was the United States, multiple European powers, the European Union who oversaw Russia, China, and also Iran. So, the United States basically isolated itself. President Trump’s aides have been trying to make that isolation the case for Iran, to make Iran the isolated party and the Iranians have abided by the deal even for a year after the U.S. pulled out. Now, the situation on the ground is that Iranians with the U.S. violation have not been getting the kind of economic benefits that was promised to them under the deal.

The whole premise of the deal was that they would limit their nuclear program in exchange for lifting of sanctions and economic benefits and because of the exit of the U.S., that’s not something they saw. And they’ve been waiting around for Europeans, as the Iranians call it, the Europeans have been doing statement therapy basically coming out with very strong political statements to be fair, but as far as economic benefits, that’s not something the Iranians are seeing.

And now they are taking the next step. They’re giving this deadline to Europeans and basically giving them signal that if you can’t make it up for us, there’s no reason for us to stay in this deal, one-sided anymore.

JS: Related to all of this, you recently co-reported a story for The Independent about the State Department funding counter-Iranian propaganda that went after critics of the Trump administration’s policy on Iran. What did your reporting uncover?

NM: So, the Iran Disinformation Project which is under the Global Engagement Program of the State Department was a project, as State Department officials told Congress that was funded for $1.5 million over two years, and the goal of the project was to counter and expose Iranian government propaganda and misinformation — and there’s a lot of that. The Iranian government is putting a lot of propaganda and misinformation out there on media and social media, different state and non-state actors.

But what the implementer of this grant, of this public fund of taxpayers money, did just a little bit after the beginning of the project, is they started going after whoever [was] considered a moderate or even a nuanced voice of Iran. Anyone, and this includes U.S. people, U.S. journalists, someone like Jason Rezaian at the Washington Post, who spent almost two years in an Iranian prison because they called him a spy. These people went after him.

They went after journalists at BBC, BBC Persian journalists who report nuanced views on Iran, either on their social media or in their reporting. They went after someone like me, I work at The Independent and I’m a U.S. citizen. I’ve been working in this country for years. And they also went after activists and academics, people who they didn’t see [as] in line with the sanctions and war policy of President Trump’s administration, professors at Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, at Florida University, and activists at Human Rights Watch, probably the most prominent human rights organization who has been documenting violations of human rights by the Iranian government.

And there was this one time that the researcher tried to research the impact of U.S. sanctions on the Iranian population, the human impact of U.S. sanctions, the potential impact on shortage of medicine in Iran, and this group went after that researcher for trying to do that research. So, they clearly have used this public fund, as the State Department also accepted, to get back at domestic critics of the Trump administration. So, the funds have been suspended by the State Department and the State Department says they’re doing an investigation.

They’ve been going out of line, but suspension doesn’t mean that the funds can’t be unlocked. So, they can be unlocked and go back to the same grantee maybe under a different name or a different brand. Republicans and Democrats at the House Foreign Relations Committee were pretty angry about this at the meeting, as my sources told me. So we just have to wait and see for the result of the State Department investigation, and then the next step they will take after that.

JS: My colleague Murtaza Hussein recently wrote a piece for The Intercept that was titled “An Iranian Activist Wrote Dozens of Articles for Right-Wing Outlets. But Is He a Real Person?” And this article is about a character named Heshmat Alavi and Murtaza’s reporting says that he appears to not exist but rather is “A persona, a propaganda operation run by the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e-Khalq which is known by the initials MEK.” What more can you tell us about this persona that Murtaza’s reporting indicates is a creation of the MEK, Heshmat Alavi?

NM: Murtaza actually talked to me and a few other Iran watchers. For us who observed Heshmat Alavi and who are the targets of Heshmat Alavi’s smear attacks for quite long time, it was obvious that this doesn’t seem like a real person. There was no photo of him. There was no video of him. There was all these murky articles. And also this clear line, if you look through his work, it wasn’t subtle, this clear, pro-MEK, as you said Mojahedin-e-Khalq line throughout his work. His articles, also his tweets, and also the way he attacks so many of us on Twitter. But it was a complete failure on the part of some credible media organizations.

So, Heshmat Alavi had this persona, had this Twitter account, which was prompted and basically amplified with the help of a lot of inauthentic accounts on Twitter and then it submitted articles to media outlets like Forbes, The Hill, The Federalist, and other organizations who took them and they published his pieces. I believe there’ve been dozens of pieces by him published just by Forbes and these other outlets, and also, of course, Al Arabiya English, which is close to the Saudi government. And then those pieces were even picked up by Voice of America’s Persian service. This is another government-funded organization, media outlet that is supposed to bring credible and accurate news to the Iranian public who doesn’t have access to it.

So, they picked up these fake articles by this person from Forbes from Al Arabiya and translated them into Persian, published them on their website. And it seems like none of these editors along the way or people who translate them pause for a second and ask themselves, does this person even exist? Have I met this person? No. Have I seen a video or a photo, another photo of this person? No, this is just a pure Twitter account that wasn’t even verified by Twitter.

So, after the revelation came by Murtaza, Twitter suspended the account for a period. It’s been reinstated now. I don’t know what’s going on with Twitter but it’s still not verified by Twitter. But the good thing that happened is that finally those media outlets retracted their articles, at least I believe, Forbes and Voice of America did. Voice of America even came out with a statement saying that they have removed these articles and they are trying to stay a credible and accurate source of news.

JS: Just one other detail on this, a high ranking defector from within the MEK told Murtaza that this fake persona was managed by a team of MEK operatives in Albania, where the group has one of its bases and that there were articles published under Alavi’s name, as well as the social media appearance were managed by three separate MEK members. The reason that I’m bringing this up with you is that this is not just kind of a small scale operation. The writings of this team of MEK people has had an impact on U.S. policymakers or think tankers because it’s been spread and cited by pretty widely in the, particularly in the hawkish, let’s go to war with Iran community.

NM: Yes, exactly. So, there are some hawkish think tanks and organizations who seem to have collaborations that online, either promoting his articles or him using some of their content or the Heshmat Alavi group basically using some of this content from these hawkish organizations, in their articles to basically create that collaboration. The White House even gave one of these Heshmat Alavi articles as proof or as source for one of their claims one time. So, they were making a claim about the Iranian military spending, I believe, or the IRGC and the Washington Post reporter asked them for the source of this claim, and they send them a report by Heshmat Alavi.

So, this Heshamt Alavi persona, I mean, for us Iran watchers, as I said, it wasn’t a surprise that MEK would do something like this and I don’t think Heshmat Alavi is the first one or the last one. It’s not the only one. There are probably so many out there. But the fact that this operation was able to spread so much into credible media outlets all the way into the White House and into the Washington think tank world, that’s very troubling. And it shows basically a lack of responsibility or oversight on the part of these people who work at these real and credible organizations, regardless of whatever political position they have.

JS: You’ve been reporting on U.S.-Iran relations, negotiations, history for the past decade plus, what do you find striking about the situation that we’re in today with the posture from this administration in the United States and the way that Iran is handling the insanity of the way that Trump sets or implements national security policy?

NM: What we need to understand about Iran is that this is not the only bad actor. This is a country that’s not a U.S. ally that [has] been at odds with Iran. Yes, this is a country where they chant “Death to America” as part of the revolutionary slogan, but this doesn’t make everyone else in the region a good ally. All of these events are interconnected. None of this is unprovoked aggression that everyone else is sitting and watching only by the Iranians.

And it’s also important to understand that the Iranian population also is another part of this formula. It’s not just the regime. It’s a big population, one of the most pro-American populations in the region, in the Middle East, and it’s a population that is very young, the majority is under 40, and they want to reconnect to the world. They want to re-engage with the West. And that’s what the nuclear negotiations were. That’s what the majority of the Iranian public wanted and it brought results.

There was a deal made and what President Trump could do is just to take that deal, continue it, use the same mechanism everyone was at the table with the European, Chinese, Russians, and just build up on that, move on to other topics that even the Europeans wanted to discuss like the missile program, like Iran’s presence in the region, and just build up on top of something that was diplomatic, that was nonviolent to come up with more deals and basically utilize diplomacy. But instead what he did was to rip up the only diplomatic avenue that existed and now look at where we are. We’re at this escalation juncture and it’s very easy, I think, to fall back into the path that brought us basically Iraq in 2003.

JS: Alright, we’re going to leave it there. Negar Mortazavi, thank you very much for joining us.

NM: Thanks for having me.

JS: Negar Mortazavi is a Consultant Editor at the British newspaper, The Independent. She’s based in Washington DC. You can also find her on Twitter @NegarMortazavi

[Music interlude.]

Democracy Now! Host Amy Goodman Reflects on the Build Up to the Iraq War, the Role of Media, and Her Early Reporting

JS: As many listeners to this show know, I owe my life as a journalist to Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now!. I like to say that her show was my university and it was where I learned the trade of journalism. Amy Goodman is one of the finest journalists this country has ever produced.

[Democracy Now! intro music plays.]

Amy Goodman: Welcome to Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

JS: With the Trump administration attempting to drive the U.S. into war against Iran, it’s impossible to ignore the historical record of how the U.S. lies its way into war, the role of powerful corporate journalists in those campaigns and the lessons we must embrace if we want to stop this insanity.

AG: There is a reason why our profession is the only one explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution because we’re supposed to be the check and balance on government, essential to the functioning of a democratic society. We all became so familiar with those images on the front pages of newspapers and all of the networks and I’m not just talking about Fox, all the networks that continually showed us that bullseye on the forehead of Saddam Hussein. That is not the most accurate image of what happens in war. It would’ve been more accurate to show that bullseye on the forehead of a little Iraqi girl because that’s who dies in war.

JS: I also wanted to talk to Amy and get her to share some stories of her early reporting and how she came to be the journalist she is today, hosting the most important daily independent radio and TV program in this country. Amy Goodman joins us now. Amy, thanks for coming back on Intercepted.

AG: It’s great to be with you, Jeremy.

JS: So, the latest news out of Iran, it really does seem like there’s a major push to go to war against Iran. How do you see this current situation and what we all lived through and reported on in 2003, and the build up to the invasion occupation of Iraq?

AG: I mean, it’s horrifying and the deja vu element of this is so serious. It’s absolutely critical people understand the history. I mean, the key players involved talk about how they were misled. You have Secretary of State Colin Powell, right, who gives this speech February 5, 2003.

U.N. President: The purpose of this meeting is to hear a presentation by the United States. I call now on the distinguished Secretary of State of the United States of America, his excellency Mr. Colin Powell.

Colin Powell: Thank you, Mr. President.

AG: He had a lot of credability because he was dragging his feet on war. And so President Bush, Vice President Cheney wanted him to be the deliverer of the final message. So, he goes and gives his speech at the United Nations.

CP: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

AG: And says he’s convinced by the evidence. He’s showing video and photos of mobile WMD units. He is holding up a vial of something. And in the end, since so many people were convinced by this, because this was the person who was wary of going to war. He said, this was a blot on his career. It’s like the worst mistake he had made.

CP: Some of the information I presented which was multi-sourced was wrong. And it is a blot on my record. But you know, there’s nothing I can do to change that blot.

AG: He presented these images, and we move forward to today. And what do we see? These undefined, fuzzy images. This is the rock solid evidence that Iran is interfering with commerce in the Gulf of Oman. It is absolutely incumbent on every journalist and on everyone to question what is being presented. And so they just keep on trying. But just the repetition every day, I think for the American people, it exhausts them. And it’s you know, that repetition of the big lie after a while you think, well, there must be something to it, even if any one little bit of evidence isn’t enough.

I mean, this is a catastrophic situation. But as President Trump announces his re-election campaign, there’s nothing he thinks, I believe, that draws a country more together and away from the issues he doesn’t want us to pay attention to, than a foreign adversary, and this has been going on for decades, and it’s just being ramped up again.

JS: You know, it’s kind of fascinating to analyze the evolution or devolution, however you want to view it, of the way journalists and large news organizations handle these situations. Because you will have on any given day on cable news, many, many Democrats, politicians, pundits, whatever Democratic strategists, and they’re all talking about how we can’t trust anything that the Trump administration says. And then you have when it comes to Israel policy, or certain issues around Saudi Arabia, or now Iran, where you have very prominent Democrats who claim to believe that Trump is the greatest threat ever to American democracy, who are actively promoting this administration’s case for war. And you do see some news organizations picking up on that and saying, “Well, yes, you know, Trump is, he’s dangerous, but on this issue, it’s about our national security.”

AG: I mean, the media, obviously, is extremely critical of Trump on a number of issues. And I think you should be critical of those in power, holding those in power accountable. The reason they found their backbone is because he’s directly attacking them. And he has from the beginning of his presidency. “The media is the enemy of the American people,” he keeps intoning and he names the news organizations. He names journalists, and he targets them and so they’re standing up as they should, except when it comes to foreign policy.

When President Trump bombed Syria, you know, you had the networks, CNN and MSNBC when he dropped that MOAB, the mother of all bombs — in Afghanistan that was developed by Bush, that was not dropped by Bush or Obama — within a few weeks, President Trump is dropping this in Afghanistan with no clear reason why. And you have both Brian Williams on MSNBC and Fareed Zakaria on CNN and these cases saying that’s when he became president.

Fareed Zakaria: I think Donald Trump became president of the United States. I think this was actually a big moment.

Brian WIlliams: We see these beautiful pictures at night, from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen, “I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

AG: They cannot diverge from the president even as they try to protect themselves from him attacking them.

JS: Well, and I would add another issue to that — the issue of the targeting of journalists and journalistic sources. I mean, it was like a national scandal when Jim Acosta had his valuable press pass taken away for you know, some days. And it was just drumbeat coverage of this on CNN. And yet, you have had record numbers of prosecution’s now of journalistic sources beginning with Reality Winner. This administration has gone after The Intercept. And you have Daniel Hale, the alleged drone whistleblower facing 50 years in prison. Julian Assange, 18 criminal counts alleging espionage, could spend more than a century and a half in prison if he ends up being extradited to the United States. And you see no solidarity there.

If Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers today, many, many news organizations, journalists, media figures, politicians would all be talking about the crime that he committed, and he needs to pay the price for what he’s done. And yes, I understand this but there are official channels to go through. I mean, it’s remarkable. I don’t care how many movies Tom Hanks is in about the Pentagon Papers. The fact of the matter remains that largely in this country, there is absolutely no journalistic solidarity when it’s happening in real time.

AG: It is a critical issue that there is press solidarity. I mean, that makes the difference because how do people learn about the world? If they don’t know something personally about a country or a better person, they learn about it through the media. And that’s why it’s so critical. It can’t just happen once. It’s the drumbeat, front page coverage that matters. And in this case, this matters enormously. Whether it’s Julian Assange, or whether it’s Chelsea Manning, who remains in jail — I mean, we’re talking about a whistleblower, we’re talking about a publisher, and everyone has to take a stand because it isn’t even only about them, it’s about everyone.

The media is essential to the functioning of a democratic society. The media releasing information is about people’s right to know. When the media releases information, people can, when they know something, do something about it. And that’s why it’s so critical. Yes, it is absolutely critical the media not act as a conveyor belt for the lies of an administration. The lies so often take lives, but exposés mean that people live.

JS: I think it’s important to remind people that under both Clinton and Bush, you had fabrication of so-called evidence to either go to war, or to justify war crimes. I’m thinking specifically in 1999, during the bombing of Yugoslavia, the so-called Kosovo War, there was an incident where the United States bombed a passenger train. And the video that was presented at the NATO press conference appeared to show that it was a split second decision, that the missiles were released and blew up this train. But it was fog of war and it happened instantly. [That] the United States doesn’t target civilians — this was an accident, essentially.

Wesley Clark: As the pilot stared intently at the desired aim point on the bridge, and worked it and worked it and worked it and all of a sudden, at the very last instant, with less than a second to go, he caught a flash of movement. He came into the screen, and it was a train coming in. And unfortunately, he couldn’t dump the bomb at that point. It was locked. It was going into the target. And it was an unfortunate incident, which he and the crew and all of us very much regret.

JS: And CNN broadcast it. It was all over the world. And it turns out that they had played that video at multiple times the speed to justify the bombing of a passenger train in Serbia. But then under Bush, you had the creation of what was called the Office of Special Plans in Rumsfeld’s Pentagon run by Stephen Cambone. And what were the special plans? Well, the special plans were to pluck, cherry-pick intelligence reports, present that as solid U.S. intelligence, even if they hadn’t been verified, raw intelligence reports, and use that to circumvent the people that Cheney and Rumsfeld viewed as the liberals in the CIA to make their case for war. But it’s so important right now, to remember that history as you watch the president unfold.

AG: That’s right. I mean, when you talk about Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush and you talk about the rollout to war in Iraq, remember Andrew Card, who was the former GM executive lobbyist who was the Chief of Staff of President Bush.

JS: He was the guy who came in and whispered in Bush’s ear on 9/11 when he was reading “My Pet Goat.”

AG: That’s right. That’s right, in Florida. Well in 2002, he was the one, in the summer of 2002, when they’re beginning to build up the push for war. And people said, why aren’t you pushing harder? He said, “You don’t roll out a new product in August.” And then they started to roll it out. Remember, when Cheney told The New York Times weapons of mass destruction, then he goes on the Sunday talk shows and he says, “Don’t believe me? Look.” And he holds up The New York Times.

Dick Cheney: There’s a story in The New York Times this morning. This is — and I want to attribute it to The Times. I don’t want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources. But it’s now public that in fact, he has been seeking to acquire and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge and the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly-enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb.

AG: And you’ve got that feedback loop between all of them, and they’re all repeating the same thing. I mean, this was just a build-up to war that ultimately led to those attacks in March of 2003, even when you had people all over the world, millions of people, you know, rocking the globe for peace. And we are now seeing the same thing. Any one little argument, Pompeo or Bolton make, they don’t care if you believe that. It’s just the daily repetition, the feeling people have, well, maybe there is some kind of threat out there.

JS: When did you first have a sense in life that you wanted to be a journalist?

AG: I don’t know about being a journalist, but it was in junior high school, in high school that I definitely saw the route to taking on those in power — at the time, it was the principal — was to work on our newspaper and raise questions about what was going on in school. And then it was just moving to a larger stage. We started in college. We revived a newspaper called Seventh Sister. It was a feminist newspaper, and we took on the issue. My first article in that was on sexual harassment. And I mean, sadly, the numbers haven’t changed: That one in four people at our university, whether they were undergraduates, graduates, assistant professors, or professors, that women were being — one in four — were being either sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped. And it’s astounding and those numbers continue through to today.

JS: You also early on did some investigative work on Depo-Provera and birth control and the dangers to women.

AG: Right. When I was graduating from college, I did my thesis on a drug called Depo-Provera, which was an injectable progesterone injected into a woman’s arm once every three months or so. It wasn’t approved in the United States. But I saw that the small, Michigan-based company in Kalamazoo, called Upjohn, was sending it out to oh, some 86 countries around the world. And here, it was a U.S. company. Most women did not know that it wasn’t approved in the United States. It caused cancer in beagles and monkeys. And I wanted to investigate how is this possible?

I couldn’t afford to go to other countries. But I did learn that in Grady Hospital, a charity hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, 10,000 African-American women had been injected with Depo-Provera. They didn’t know that it wasn’t approved in the United States. It was called the shot. So, I went to Atlanta, investigated it there, did this thesis on how the scientific medical establishment works in this country. When I presented it to the professors who would decide whether I would graduate in anthropology, they said, “This is more like sociology, because you were looking at your own culture. Anthropology is looking at someone else’s culture. And you could retain your objectivity because you are a participant observer in someone else’s culture.” And I said, no, I agreed with them. And this was anthropology because I was looking at the practice of medicine and science in the United States which I considered a white male corporate culture. I said, I didn’t consider myself a part of that. I was looking at them. And so I passed.

But I thought, why would I write this thesis for these three white professors at an elite university? This needs to be seen by women all over the world. And so after I graduated, I turned the series of articles into an issue of Ralph Nader’s Multinational Monitor that was actually started by Ralph Nader and journalist Allan Nairn. And it was an issue of the magazine called “The Case Against Depo-Provera” so it would get out to a wider audience to people who would be affected. And that’s our role — is to ensure that information gets out to people who can use that information.

JS: I think a lot of people don’t know this story. It is so rooted in the bipartisan nature of empire. And that is the story of how you ended up reporting on and witnessing and surviving a horrible massacre in East Timor, which at the time was under the brutal occupation of Indonesia. Maybe you can give people an overview of the reporting that you and Allan Nairn were doing, and what happened the day that you survived that massacre?

AG: Indonesia invaded East Timor, December 7, 1975.

Newscaster: Then in December 1975, with the knowledge of the United States, Indonesia invaded East Timor.

AG: Ninety percent of the weapons used were from the United States. The day before the invasion, President Ford and then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were in Indonesia meeting with the long reigning dictator Suharto. He was nervous. He wanted to invade East Timor, but he was afraid the U.S. would cut off weapons sales, and basically they assured him that he could do what he wanted. And the Indonesian military invaded East Timor, by land, by air, and by sea.

The army was trained and financed by the United States. And they closed East Timor, the small island nation about 300 miles above Australia to the outside world and the slaughter began — and it would go on for about a quarter of a century. My colleague journalist Allan Nairn and I decided to go to East Timor. We got there at the end of October in ’91. We went to the main Catholic church there in Dili, the Motael church. People were wailing. They were weeping. I didn’t know if it was the standard sorrow of Timor, or if something had just happened.

And in fact, the day before, the Indonesian military had surrounded the church and shot dead a young man named Sebastiao Gomez and you could see his blood fresh on the steps. And the next day there was a procession to honor him. His family led it and the people marched from the church in Dili to the Santa Cruz cemetery. And there were a thousand people that marched and we covered this march.

[Crowd singing.]

AG: And then we went around the country and we heard that the Indonesian military was threatening everyone because a UN delegation for the first time would be coming. The people of Timor would want to speak to them, and they didn’t want them to speak. And so they warned, in village after village, they warned them we will kill your family to the seventh generation. And then two weeks later, there was a commemoration procession for Sebastiao and they marched from the church to the cemetery. I mean, old women in traditional Timorese garb, girls, boys, and they held up their hands in the V sign. They chanted “Viva East Timor. Viva Sebastiao. Viva independence.”

[Crowd chanting.]

AG: They’d been occupied by Indonesia, at that point, it was like 17 years. They got to the cemetery. We were interviewing people, why are you risking your life in this march? Because the soldiers had lined the route and they would say for my mother, for my father who was killed, my village was wiped out. And then we saw from the direction the Timorese had come, the Indonesian military marching up, 10 to 12 abreast, their U.S. weapons, their M16s at the ready position.

So Allan Nairn and I walked to the front of the crowd. You know, we had hidden our equipment before, so no one would be caught talking to a journalist. But now we wanted the soldiers to know who we were. I held the microphone above my head. Allan took out a camera and was holding it, and the soldiers marched up and they swept past us. And without any hesitation, without any provocation, without any warning, they opened fire on the crowd gunning people down from right to left.

[Shots firing.]

AG: I was still holding my microphone. They threatened me with it. And then they kicked me to the ground. Allan had gotten a photograph of them opening fire on the crowd. And then he jumped on top of me to protect me from further injury. And they took their M16s like baseball bats and they slammed them against his skull until they fractured it. So, we’re laying on the ground. Allan is covered in blood. They line up in firing squad fashion. They put the guns to our heads and they’re shouting. They wanted to know where we were from. And we knew what had happened to the Australian journalists who were covering the lead up to the invasion 17 years before.

There were five of them that worked for companies like Australian Broadcasting, and they were five covering the lead up to the invasion. They had lined them up against a house and they executed them. So, it was very important, we felt, that they understand as we were laying there on the ground with the guns at their heads we were from America, no, not Australia. We were from America. We were from the country their weapons were from.

Ultimately, they decided not to kill us. We believe because they would have to pay a price for killing us that they never had to pay for killing the Timorese and they moved on. And a Red Cross Jeep pulled up. We were able to get into this Jeep. You know, they had fractured Allan’s skull when they beat him with the U.S. M16s. Timorese jumped on top of us, jumped on top of the Jeep and then we drove like that as a human mass to the hospital. When we got there, it was pretty clear to us the Indonesian military would come to the site.

We went into hiding as so many thousands of Timorese did at the bishops house, Bishop Belo at the time, who would later win the Nobel Peace Prize. And the only way we could stop the killing which was continuing throughout Dili was to get word to the outside world. We would have to get out of Timor and so Bishop Belo helped me clean up Allan’s head. It was, his skull was fractured. He was bleeding profusely, gave him a new shirt and we made our way to the airport where we ultimately flew out of East Timor, went on to West Timor on to Bali. And it was there that we were able to get into a U.S. plane and fly out onto Guam, knew there was a military base there, thought that they would stop us from getting word out. So, we went to the small hospital in Guam, where they sewed Allan’s head up and we went to a cable studio where CNN interviewed us. We had had photographs taken of us because we knew they would deny the massacre took place.

AG [on CNN]: The Indonesian army converged in two places. When they came, they opened fire.

AG: They killed over 250 Timorese on that day. It was November 12, 1991, using U.S. weapons and that was not one of the larger massacres. So, we flew on to the United States, went on to Washington. They were sewed up Allan’s head and we held a news conference in the National Press Club and made clear the connection. These were U.S.-armed Indonesian soldiers.

JS: I often think about you and about this when I watch Pentagon correspondents on TV, people like Barbara Starr, you know, who often it’s hard to tell if she’s the Pentagon correspondent for CNN or the Pentagon spokesperson. And I wonder what they would sound like if they had lived through something like that. And they understood that it was the U.S. weapons, that it was a U.S. policy of genocide, and that the U.S. continued to fund, arm, support, Indonesia in this mass slaughter.

But if these people who are constantly, as you say, serving as conveyor belts for whatever the Pentagon says, if they had lived through something like that, watch 250 of their fellow humans slaughtered for what? For standing up non-violently and saying “We are people. We want our freedom,” how it would all alter their view of the world. And I wonder how that incident, that massacre, that reporting that you did and all that you learned about the nature of power in that reporting, how that affected your course in life as a journalist?

AG: I mean, what Timor taught me from very early on is that policy in this case, foreign policy is not theoretical. It’s real. It’s people’s lives. And we have to ensure that we can reflect back what’s happening in places where people can’t often go. It’s just, it’s an awesome responsibility.

JS: Amy Goodman, thank you very much.

AG: Thank you, Jeremy.

JS: Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of the daily radio and TV program Democracy Now! She isn’t personally on Twitter that we know of, but you can follow her work through the DN Twitter feed. It’s simply @democracynow.

[Music interlude.]

And that does it for this week’s show. You can follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @intercepted. If you like what we do, you can support our show by going to to become a sustaining member. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro, our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Our executive producer is Leital Molad. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.

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