Frequently told lies (FTLs)
by Glenn Greenwald
January 26, 2013
Anyone who develops any sort of platform in US political debates becomes a target of hostility and attack. That's just the nature of politics everywhere. Those attacks often are advanced with falsehoods, fabrications and lies about the person. In general, the point of these falsehoods is to attack and discredit the messenger in lieu of engaging the substance of the critiques.
There are a series of common lies frequently told about me which I'm addressing here. During the Bush years, when I was criticizing George Bush and the GOP in my daily writing and books, there was a set of lies about me personally that came from the hardest-core Bush followers that I finally addressed. The new set comes largely from the hardest-core Obama followers.
I've ignored these for awhile, mostly because they have never appeared in any consequential venue, but rather are circulated only by anonymous commenters or obscure, hackish blogs. That is still the case, but they've become sufficiently circulated that it's now worthwhile to address and debunk them. Anyone wishing to do so can judge the facts for themselves. The following lies are addressed here:
1. I work/worked for the Cato Institute
2. I'm a right-wing libertarian
3. I supported the Iraq War and/or George Bush
4. I moved to Brazil to protest US laws on gay marriage
5. Because I live in Brazil, I have no "skin in the game" for US politics
6. I was sanctioned or otherwise punished for ethical violations in my law practice
I work/worked for the Cato Institute
I am not now, nor have I ever been, employed by the Cato Institute. Nor have I ever been affiliated with the Cato Institute in any way. The McCarthyite tone of the denials is appropriate given the McCarthyite nature of the lie.
In seven-plus years of political writing, I have written a grand total of twice for Cato: the first was a 2009 report on the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal, and the second was a 2010 online debate in which I argued against former Bush officials about the evils of the surveillance state.
I not only disclosed those writings but wrote about them and featured them multiple times on my blog as it happened: see here and here as but two examples. In 2008, I spoke at a Cato event on the radicalism and destructiveness of Bush/Cheney executive power theories.That's the grand total of all the work I ever did for or with Cato in my life. The fees for those two papers and that one speech were my standard writing and speaking fees. Those payments are a miniscule, microscopic fraction of my writing and speaking income over the last 7 years. I have done no paying work of any kind with them since that online surveillance debate in 2010 (I spoke three times at Cato for free: once to debate the theme of my 2007 book on the failure of the Bush administration, and twice when I presented my paper advocating drug decriminalization).
I have done far more work for, and received far greater payments from, the ACLU, with which I consulted for two years (see here). I spoke at the Socialism Conference twice - once in 2011 and once in 2012 - and will almost certainly do so again in 2013. I'll speak or write basically anywhere where I can have my ideas heard without any constraints. Moreover, I'll work with almost anyone - the ACLU, Cato or anyone else - to end the evils of the Drug War and the Surveillance State. And I'll criticize anyone I think merits it, as I did quite harshly with the Koch Brothers in 2011: here.
The very suggestion that there is something wrong with writing for or speaking at CATO is inane and childish. The claim that it means I "worked at CATO" is just an obvious lie. If writing for or speaking at CATO makes one a right-wing CATO-employed libertarian, then say hello to the following right-wing libertarian CATO employees, all of whom have been writers for or speakers at the CATO Institute in the past:
- Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas (Writing for CATO's Unbound: here and here);
- Democratic Rep. Jared Polis (defending CATO as "a leader in fighting to end the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and helping to end the War on Drugs").
Trying to judge someone for where they write or speak - rather than for the ideas they advocate - is about as anti-intellectual and McCarthyite as it gets. CATO has a far better record of advocacy than the mainstream Democratic Party on vital issues such as opposing the Drug War, secrecy abuses, the Surveillance State, marriage equality for LGBT citizens, anti-war activism, and reforming the excesses of America's penal state. They were attacking Bush and Cheney for power abuses (see here) and aggressive wars (see here) far earlier, and far more loudly, than most mainstream Democratic politicians
As is obvious, all sorts of liberals, progressives, and even leftists have written for or spoken at CATO. It's a think tank devoted to debate and discussion of public policy, and invites a wide range of speakers to participate.
I'm proud of all the advocacy work I've done against the evils of the Drug War and surveillance abuses -- whether it's at the ACLU, CATO, the Socialism Conference or anywhere else. That's why I write openly about all of that work. But the claim that I've ever worked at CATO or was in any way affiliated with them is just an outright lie.
I'm a right-wing libertarian
Ever since I began writing about politics back in 2005, people have tried to apply pretty much every political label to me. It's almost always a shorthand method to discredit someone without having to engage the substance of their arguments. It's the classic ad hominem fallacy: you don't need to listen to or deal with his arguments because he's an X.
Back then - when I was writing every day to criticize the Bush administration - Bush followers tried to apply the label "far leftist" to me. Now that I spend most of my energy writing critically about the Obama administration, Obama followers try to claim I'm a "right-wing libertarian".
These labels are hard to refute primarily because they've become impoverished of any meaning. They're just mindless slurs used to try to discredit one's political adversaries. Most of the people who hurl the "libertarian" label at me have no idea what the term even means. Ask anyone who makes this claim to identify the views I've expressed - with links and quotes - that constitute libertarianism.
I don't really care what labels get applied to me. But - beyond the anti-war and pro-civil-liberties writing I do on a daily basis - here are views I've publicly advocated. Decide for yourself if the "libertarian" label applies:
* opposing all cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (here and here);
* repeatedly calling for the prosecution of Wall Street (here, here and here);
* advocating for robust public financing to eliminate the domination by the rich in political campaigns, writing: "corporate influence over our political process is easily one of the top sicknesses afflicting our political culture" (here and here);
* condemning income and wealth inequality as the by-product of corruption (here and here);
* attacking oligarchs - led by the Koch Brothers - for self-pitying complaints about the government and criticizing policies that favor the rich at the expense of ordinary Americans (here);
* arguing in favor of a public option for health care reform (repeatedly);
* criticizing the appointment of too many Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street officials to positions of power (here, here and here);
* repeatedly condemning the influence of corporate factions in public policy making (here and here);
* using my blog to raise substantial money for the campaigns of Russ Feingold and left-wing/anti-war Democrats Normon Solomon, Franke Wilmer and Cecil Bothwell, and defending Dennis Kucinich from Democratic Party attacks;
* co-founding a new group along with Daniel Ellsberg, Laura Poitras, John Cusack, Xeni Jardim [sic], JP Barlow and others to protect press freedom and independent journalism (see the New York Times report on this here);
* co-founding and working extensively on a PAC to work with labor unions and liberal advocacy groups to recruit progressive primary challengers to conservative Democratic incumbents (see the New York Times report on this here);
To apply a "right-wing libertarian" label to someone with those views and that activism is patently idiotic. Just ask any actual libertarian whether those views are compatible with being a libertarian. Or just read this October, 2012 post - written on Volokh, a libertarian blog - entitled "Glenn Greenwald, Man of the Left", which claims I harbor "left-wing views on economic policy" and am "a run-of-the-mill left-winger of the sort who can be heard 24/7 on the likes of Pacifica radio" because of my opposition to cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
There is no doubt that I share many views with actual libertarians, including: opposition to a massive surveillance state, support for marriage equality for LGBT citizens, restraints on government power to imprison or kill people without due process, opposition to the death penalty and the generally oppressive US penal state, contempt for the sadistic and racist drug war, disgust toward corporatism and crony capitalism, and opposition to aggressive wars and the ability of presidents to wage them without Congressional authority. It's also true that I supported the Citizens United decision on free speech grounds: along with people like the ACLU and Eliot Spitzer (the only politician to put real fear in the heart of Wall Street executives in the last decade and probably the politician most hated by actual libertarians).
Liberals and libertarians share the same views on many issues, particularly involving war, civil liberties, penal policies, and government abuse of power. That is why people like Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich worked so closely with Ron Paul to Audit the Fed and restore civil liberties.
But "libertarianism" has an actual meaning: it's not just a slur to mean: anyone who criticizes President Obama but disagrees with Rush Limbaugh. Anyone who applies this label to me in light of my actual views and work is either very ignorant or very dishonest - or, most likely, both.
I supported the Iraq War and/or George Bush
These claim [sic] are absolutely false. They come from a complete distortion of the Preface I wrote to my own 2006 book, How Would a Patriot Act? That book - which was the first book devoted to denouncing the Bush/Cheney executive power theories as radical and lawless - was published a mere six months after I began blogging, so the the purpose of the Preface was to explain where I had come from, why I left my law practice to begin writing about politics, and what my political evolution had been..
The whole point of the Preface was that, before 2004, I had been politically apathetic and indifferent - except for the work I was doing on constitutional law. That's because, while I had no interest in the fights between Democrats and Republicans, I had a basic trust in the American political system and its institutions, such that I devoted my attention and energies to preventing constitutional violations rather than political debates. From the first two paragraphs:
I never voted for George W. Bush — or for any of his political opponents. I believed that voting was not particularly important. Our country, it seemed to me, was essentially on the right track. Whether Democrats or Republicans held the White House or the majorities in Congress made only the most marginal difference. . . .
I firmly believed that our democratic system of government was sufficiently insulated from any real abuse, by our Constitution and by the checks and balances afforded by having three separate but equal branches of government. My primary political belief was that both parties were plagued by extremists who were equally dangerous and destructive, but that as long as neither extreme acquired real political power, our system would function smoothly and more or less tolerably. For that reason, although I always paid attention to political debates, I was never sufficiently moved to become engaged in the electoral process. I had great faith in the stability and resilience of the constitutional republic that the founders created.
When the Iraq War was debated and then commenced, I was not a writer. I was not a journalist. I was not politically engaged or active. I never played any role in political debates or controversies. Unlike the countless beloved Democrats who actually did support the war - including Obama's Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - I had no platform or role in politics of any kind.
I never once wrote in favor of the Iraq War or argued for it in any way, shape or form. Ask anyone who claims that I "supported" the Iraq War to point to a single instance where I ever supported or defended it in any way. There is no such instance. It's a pure fabrication.
At the time, I was basically a standard passive consumer of political news: I read The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic: the journals that I thought high-end consumers of news would read and which I assumed were generally reliable for getting the basic truth.What I explained in the Preface was that I had major objections to the Iraq war when it was being debated:
During the lead-up to the invasion, I was concerned that the hell-bent focus on invading Iraq was being driven by agendas and strategic objectives that had nothing to do with terrorism or the 9/11 attacks. The overt rationale for the invasion was exceedingly weak, particularly given that it would lead to an open-ended, incalculably costly, and intensely risky preemptive war. Around the same time, it was revealed that an invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein had been high on the agenda of various senior administration officials long before September 11.
Nonetheless, because of the general faith I had in political and media institutions, I assumed - since both political parties and media outlets and journalists from across the ideological spectrum were united in support of the war - that there must be some valid basis to the claim that Saddam posed a threat. My basic trust in these institutions neutralized the objections I had and led me to passively acquiesce to what was being done ("I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.").
Like many people, I became radicalized by those early years of the Bush administration. The Preface recounts that it was the 2002 due-process-free imprisonment of US citizen Jose Padilla and the 2003 Iraq War that caused me to realize the full extent of the government's radicalism and the media's malfeasance: "I developed, for the first time in my life, a sense of urgency about the need to take a stand for our country and its defining principles."
As I recount in the Preface, I stopped practicing law and pursued political writing precisely because those people who had an obligation to act as adversarial checks on the Bush administration during the start of the war on civil liberties and the run-up to the Iraq War - namely, Congress, courts, and the media - were profoundly failing to fulfill that obligation.
I wasn't a journalist or government official during these radical power abuses and the run-up to the Iraq War, and wasn't working in a profession supposedly devoted to serving as watchdog over government claims and abuses. I relied on those people to learn what was going on and to prevent extremism. But I quickly concluded that those who held those positions in politics and journalism were failing in their duties. Read the last six paragraphs of the Preface: I started writing about politics to bring light to these issues and to try to contribute to a real adversarial force against the Bush administration and its blind followers.
It is true that, like 90% of Americans, I did support the war in Afghanistan and, living in New York, believed the rhetoric about the threat of Islamic extremism: those were obvious mistakes. It's also true that one can legitimately criticize me for not having actively opposed the Iraq War at a time when many people were doing so. Martin Luther King, in his 1967 speech explaining why his activism against the Vietnam War was indispensable to his civil rights work, acknowledged that he had been too slow to pay attention to or oppose the war and that he thus felt obligated to work with particular vigor against it once he realized the need ("Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam").
I've often spoken about the prime benefit of writing about political matters full-time: namely, it enables you to examine first-hand sources and not have to rely upon media or political mediators when forming beliefs. That process has been and continues to be very eye-opening for me.
Like most people who do not work on politics or journalism full-time, I had to rely back then on standard political and media venues to form my political impressions of the world. When I first began writing about politics, I had a whole slew of conventional political beliefs that came from lazy ingestion of the false and misleading claims of these conventional political and media sources. Having the time to examine political realities first-hand has led me to realize how many of those former beliefs I held were based on myth or worse, and I've radically changed how I think about a whole slew of issues as a result of that re-examination.
The purpose of the Preface was to publicly explain that evolution. Indeed, the first sentence of this Preface was this quote from Abraham Lincoln: "I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday." When I still trusted and relied upon the claims of the political and media class - when I was basically apolitical and passive - I tacitly accepted all sorts of views which I've come to see are warped and misleading. I've talked often about this process and am proud of this evolution. I have zero interest in hiding it or concealing it. Quite the contrary: I want readers to know about it. That's why I wrote the Preface.
But anyone using this Preface to claim I was a "supporter" of the Iraq War is simply fabricating. At worst, I was guilty of apathy and passivity. I did nothing for or against it because I assumed that those in positions to exercise adversarial scrutiny - in journalism and politics - were doing that. It's precisely my realization of how profoundly deceitful and failed are American political and media institutions that motivated me to begin working on politics, and it's those realizations which continue to motivate me now.
I moved to Brazil to protest US laws on gay marriage
The reason I live in Brazil is very simple. It is not because I voluntarily left the US to protest any laws.
The reason is that my spouse of eight years is a Brazilian national. The Defense of Marriage Act bars the issuance by the US government of any and all spousal benefits to same-sex couples, even ones who are legally married. The benefits that are not permitted to be issued to same-sex couples include immigration rights. That means that - unlike for US citizens who marry a foreign national of the opposite sex - I am unable to obtain a visa for my own spouse to live or work in the US. For this reason, we are unable, due to discriminatory laws, to live together in the US. Living in the US would mean living on a different continent than the person with whom I intend to spend the rest of my life.
Unlike the US, Brazil - like most civilized countries in the world - provides permanent visas to the same-sex spouses of their gay citizens. That means that I can obtain - and have obtained - a permanent visa to live and work in Brazil because of my marriage to my Brazilian spouse. Therefore - at least as long as DOMA is still the law of the land - Brazil is the only country in which we are able to live together.
Thousands of other bi-national same-sex couples are similarly affected by these discriminatory and unjust laws: unable to live together in the US or, worse, when unable to live in either spouse's country, forced to live together illegally or to live apart. I've written and spoken on television many times about this fact.
It's particularly revolting to watch self-proclaimed "progressives" - who parade around as champions of anti-discrimination - try to exploit this discriminatory legal framework to discredit the work of gay Americans who are forced to live outside their own country because the US government won't recognize their marriage.
Because I live in Brazil, I have no "skin in the game" for US politics
The view that US citizens on foreign soil should not be permitted to participate in US political debates - or should have their views discounted - is nothing more than ugly jingoism. It's also grounded in factually false claims.
US citizens who live in a foreign country are required to pay income taxes to the US government. They bear every other obligation and right of citizenship, including voting. The view that US citizens on foreign soil should be obligated to pay income taxes and have the right to vote, but not be allowed to participate in debates over US government policy, is ludicrous on its face.
Beyond that, in my own case: virtually my entire family resides in the US (parents, sibling, nieces, etc). Most of my life-long friends do. My work is based in the US. I'm in the US very frequently - at least once every four to six weeks - and always fly into, out of, and within it.
Most of all, I'm barred from living in my own country with my spouse because of a discriminatory legal framework enacted by both political parties. I have at least as much personal interest in US political debates as any other US citizen. Combine that with the fact that the actions of the US Government, as the world's sole superpower, have profound effects on all parts of the world, and the claim that I should be barred from participating in US political debates or should have my views discounted - because I'm on foreign soil - is as intellectually corrupt as it is an expression of toxic uber-nationalism.
I was sanctioned or otherwise punished for ethical violations in my law practice
To call this claim a total falsehood is to be generous. Put simply, I have never been sanctioned or disciplined by any court, judge, bar association or anyone else for any work I've ever done as a lawyer. Indeed, in more than 10 years of practice in the very acrimonious world of Manhattan litigation, I never even had a disciplinary complaint filed against me with any bar association.
I allowed my New York law license to lapse in 2007 when I ceased practicing simply because - due to my full-time work writing about politics - I no longer intended to practice and thus did not continue to renew it. But the law license is fully valid, and I can easily reinstate it at any time simply by paying the requisite fees and completing whatever continuing legal education requirements apply.
The only specific example I've ever seen raised in support of this innuendo was a 2001 ruling on the propriety of my tape recording of a witness which arose in a First Amendment free speech case I litigated in defense of a white supremacist church. When I was in my office in New York (where tape recording witnesses was permitted), I interviewed a witness by telephone who was in Illinois (where tape recording witnesses was not permitted). There was a split in legal authority on which rule applied: the rule of the jurisdiction where the recorder was physically located, or where the witness was physically located. The American Bar Association had expressly ruled that surreptitious tape recordings of witnesses by lawyers was permitted.
I took the position that New York rules should apply and the other side took the position that the Illinois rules should apply. The district court judge - 12 years ago - ultimately ruled that Illinois rules applied, but made expressly clear in his written opinion that this was a mere standard legal dispute with reasonable views on both sides, not a question of whether anything unethical had been done:
Given the rhetoric in the papers filed with respect to this difficult ethical question, we wish to clarify one last matter. We are applying rules here, not judging character. As the magistrate judge noted, although ultimately unsuccessful, defendants' arguments were reasonable. Defense counsel could have reasonably believed that his conduct was permissible. Although we find that his conduct did violate the rules, our rejection of his position does not equate to an indictment as an unethical person.
There was zero sanction, penalty, or any other form of disciplinary action proposed or taken as the result of that. As the district court judge said, it was a "difficult" question on which there was conflicting precedent and the arguments for the legality of the tape recording were "reasonable". Anyone claiming that this was a finding of unethical behavior or that I was sanctioned in any way is either lying or ignorant. I continued to practice law for six years after that.
It is true that I defended the First Amendment free speech rights of white supremacists and other people with heinous views - in exactly the way the ACLU has defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. I'm immensely proud of that work: I would do it again in an instance. Indeed, since I've began political writing, I've defended the free speech rights of all sorts of people whose views I find pernicious. Defending free speech rights typically means defending people with marginalized views because that's where free speech abridgments are typically aimed.
People are free to debate that if they wish. But they shouldn't be free to claim that I was ever sanctioned or disciplined as a lawyer or barred from practicing law because - like the above-referenced falsehoods - that is an outright fabrication.
As Glenn says, anyone can judge the facts for themselves on the aforementioned claims. I think he does a great job demonstrating why they're false and, in some cases, pernicious - for the reasons he states above, I've always cringed whenever anyone would argue that his views on American politics should be dismissed because he lives in Brazil. But I want to call particular attention to one important point about the idea that he somehow supported the Iraq War, mainly because that's the one that fascinates me the most.
It's true that in the preface to his first book, he states that despite his misgivings during the run-up to the Iraq War, he "accepted [President Bush's] judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country." Perhaps one can fault Glenn for being politically apathetic and failing to publicly oppose the Bush Administration back then, but that's not the same thing as "supporting" the Iraq War. If anything, it seems like he was ambivalent about it along with many other issues, and in any case, that says nothing about whether his judgment on political matters today, including the Iraq War, is correct.
But to me, the key point is that in 2003, Glenn wasn't blogging at all. He didn't have a public readership. He had no public platform for writing and speaking about politics that he does now. Essentially, he was a completely private citizen - a mostly apolitical one at that. To the extent that he was naive and mistaken to accept in the Bush Administration's judgment on Iraq and the media's reporting on it in early 2003, he still never attempted to persuade any readers about the supposed wisdom of the invasion, like plenty of writers for The New York Times and The New Republic (not to mention far too many members of Congress) did.
I've often read Glenn's detractors denounce him as an ideological "purist," and yet, to use whatever naivete he may have had in 2003 as a cudgel against him strikes me as the perfect expression of "purist" sentiment. It's condemning him not for his actions, but for his thoughts alone - it doesn't matter if you never wrote anything in favor of invading Iraq; if you harbored even a single thought of trusting the Bush Administration's wisdom in early 2003, well, then you just don't deserve to be taken seriously at all, at any time, on any issue. That Glenn became wiser and took a strong stand because of the Bush Administration's extremism is besides the point, because after all, whatever he blogs about issue X now should be dismissed since he once thought Y before he even became a blogger. Imagine how many of us would be completely discredited if we held ourselves to the same unreasonable standard - if all it took to disqualify us as valuable contributors was that we once held as true something that we no longer believe today, even if we never acted on that original belief.
I, for one, would have loved to have seen Glenn blogging back in early 2003, writing scathing critiques of the Bush Administration's Iraq War propaganda and the mainstream media for mindlessly repeating it before the invasion. Unfortunately he didn't, but that was a time in his life before he became galvanized into political writing. Everyone who becomes heavily involved in politics starts from somewhere less involved. Some are initially apathetic about an issue; some become passionate about it later than others. It's a credit to Glenn that he's candid about how his own political views evolved and how he became as engaged with the issues as he did.
As with any political columnist, one should feel free to disagree with Glenn's opinions on the issues that he writes about each day. Have at it. But one should not spread the innuendo described herein. If you're someone who is familiar with Glenn's writing and has heard these six particular lies about him, then the linked post should be sufficient to address them. You can now refer to it (or this diary) in case they should arise again. And if you're someone who continues to believe and spread them, then stop - because there is no truth to them.