Editor's Note: Some corrections have been made to this transcript.
After the rights advocacy group RootsAction collected more than 100,000 signatures urging the Norwegian Nobel committee to give this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Pfc. Bradley Manning, RootsAction founder and regular Truthout contributor, Norman Solomon, flew to Norway to deliver the petitions to the research director of the Nobel committee.
Manning has been found not guilty of “aiding the enemy” by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified national security documents, which implicate the United States in war crimes, to WikiLeaks in a verdict announced last month by Judge Col. Denise Lind at a military base in Fort Meade, Maryland. He has been found guilty of 19 other counts, including five of violating the Espionage Act. Manning is now in the sentencing phase of his court-martial, facing more than 100 years in prison.
Truthout caught up with Solomon just after his plane touched down into Washington, DC, from Norway.
Candice Bernd: So you just got back from Oslo. What happened while you were there? How was everything received in terms of the delivering of the petitions?
Norman Solomon: I kept hearing that with our presentation of the petitions, the media coverage inside Norway was unprecedented. We had major coverage in the biggest media in the country. There are two national TV channels there, and we were widely covered on not only the evening news, but also on a live broadcast as I pulled the wagon of the petitions to the entrance of the Nobel committee office. We were in the largest daily paper in the country, this morning, Tuesday morning, and just extensive coverage. So given that the politics of the Nobel committee are largely rooted in Norway itself, I think that’s significant. Underneath that is, I think, a disquiet that exists in Norway as in many other parts of the world, but perhaps most acutely in Norway, that there’s concern the Nobel Peace Prize has lost its way and that the organization with the formal name Norwegian Nobel Committee is without a moral compass.
The initial coverage in Norway I think was a factor in the extensive coverage that we got in media outlets in Europe and really around the world. When I spoke at a news conference Monday afternoon, just before pulling the wagon over to the Nobel committee, the largest TV network in Norway was live-streaming it; Eurovision, that’s the name of it, Eurovision. This network across the continent or the biggest TV station, this outlet was obviously tough to get, and of course you’ve probably seen the, I think the very accurate stories in the Agence France Presse, or Reuters and the AP. I go to that because a few days ago the critique of the Nobel committee and its use of the Peace Prize has really not been widely publicized in Norway or around the world. And I think because of the more than 100,000 people who signed the RootsAction.org petition and because it speaks to deeply felt, growing concern and anger, it all resonates. People are fed up with war being labeled peace.
CB: You had mentioned that the Nobel Committee, that many feel like it has lost its moral compass. I was hoping you could sort of expand on that and talk about President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, and this action with the Manning petitions sort of following on that.
NS: Yeah, I spoke for more than half-an-hour, mostly answering questions at the news conference, AFP and AP and Reuters has reporters there, and I think it’s significant what the Reuters and AFP reporters quoted. They quoted me accurately, and they chose those themes. I talked about a lot of different aspects of what was involved, and they focused on the fundamental contradiction between a Peace Prize going to a president who was in the midst of escalating a war in Afghanistan. And whatever it says, Nobel Committee is actually a political creature. The five committee members are largely former Norwegian government officials and politicians. They have moved rightward, and in my conversation with the research director Asle Toje, I elaborated on what I said at the news conference, that to its credit, the Nobel Peace Prize went to a Chinese dissident in 2010 [Liu Xiaobo]. It went to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991. Neither of them were able to go to Oslo to accept the prize because they were in detention.
What’s in question is whether the Nobel committee can function as an independent entity, rather than one that is unwilling to give any Nobel Peace Prize that would upset the US government, and that’s the reality. We have perpetual war from the most powerful government in the world, and the Nobel Peace Prize keeps going around that fact even though, as in the knowable instance of Bradley Manning, we have a courageous individual who has directly challenged the surveillance-warfare state and the secrecy of the warfare state. It’s really unclear that the Nobel committee can change its ways, but I do think it’s clear that the perception of the Nobel Peace Prize and the institution of the Norwegian Nobel Committee is changing. I would say that in Norway and worldwide there’s been a shift in the last few days giving credit to the 100,000 people who signed the petition. It’s a bit of an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ story. You remember that story right? It’s a bit of people saying openly, and who knows how many millions of people read the wire service story from the last 48 hours, that openly people are saying, ‘Well the Nobel Peace Prize is no longer a Peace Prize.’ We know the formulation in George Orwell’s 1984 novel, ‘war is peace,’ well that fundamental doublethink seems to have taken up residence in the headquarters of the Nobel committee. And there’s been a lot of sort of in the air disquiet and anger in many parts of the world for people who are paying attention. I think more and more it’s reaching a kind of critical mass.
That’s why I said that in the press conference, and it was picked up by at least one of the wire services, and it has gotten a lot of feedback. Of everything I said at the news conference this is the one statement that got by far the most response; as a matter of fact, someone just told me that WikiLeaks tweeted it out on Monday, taking it out of the wire service story. The statement was ‘the Nobel Peace Prize needs Bradley Manning much more than Bradley Manning needs the Nobel Peace Prize.’ And I said that as well in my meeting with the research director of the Nobel committee. There’s no question that Bradley Manning has the commitment to human rights and peace. He’s shown that. What is a major question now is whether the Nobel committee with its Peace Prize has the commitment to human rights and peace. On the face of it in recent years, it does not. And many people, when they look at it - these are people who are intelligent people, who have values and are compassionate with deep concerns about potential war - would be met with such an Orwellian approach from the Nobel committee.
I think a keyword here is ‘independence’ for a Peace Prize, and certainly what is the most prestigious Peace Prize on the planet to have relevance it needs to function on the basis of independence, not being afraid of a superpower or a government. After Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize three years ago, the Chinese government was furious and held the Norwegian government accountable so that the Norwegian ambassador in Beijing has trouble getting any respect at all from the Chinese government. Well, if you’re going to have an independent Nobel Peace Prize, you have to be willing to anger a government facing dissenters within that country. The Nobel committee has shown it is willing to anger the Chinese government. It has shown it’s willing to anger the Myanmar government. But it hasn’t shown it’s willing to anger the US government. And that’s absurd because the most powerful force on the planet for perpetual war is clearly the US government. And I talked about that in Oslo, both at the press conference and in my meeting with the Nobel committee’s research director, the impunity of sending these drones across borders, asserting the prerogative to intervene militarily, and for military purposes, subject everyone on the planet to electronic surveillance. To be silent about war agenda is consent. It’s very sad that the Nobel committee, with its silence, has conveyed consent for US perpetual war.
I wouldn’t want to put too fine a point on this fact, but there is a symbolism that if you’re on Henrik Ibsen Street in Oslo and you walk out of the Nobel committee building, in which it has been housed for more than 100 years, just across the street on the other side of the small traffic circle is the US embassy. The proximity is a big point, not just geographically, but it seems to be psychological as well.
CB: That’s an interesting metaphor. I was hoping you could talk more about the meeting with the research director, and his reaction to the petitions and the case you were making for Bradley Manning. How did the research director seem to receive your argument?
NS: Yes, the research director was very polite and a bit chilly. A former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mairead Maguire, or I should say Mairead Corrigan Maguire, has been very clear in her nomination of Bradley Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize, and my quote from her is from a Guardian article, you might want to link to that, that says she can’t think of anybody more deserving in the world for the Nobel Peace Prize than Bradley Manning. That statement by Corrigan Maguire put a bit of pressure on the Nobel committee to at least not dismiss the Bradley Manning nomination out-of-hand. And when we contacted, by we I mean RootsAction, contacted and requested a meeting with Mr. Toje, it was partly in that context and that we had amassed more than 100,000 signatures.
And so when I was pulling the wagon with several thousand pages of petitions with the signers and comments printed out up to the door of the Nobel committee building, there were both national Norwegian TV networks there doing a live feed right there at three in the afternoon. They were broadcasting live that the petitions were arriving to the front door. Mr. Toje is there, and he’s smiling, and I’m smiling, and he greeted me affably, and both TV networks interviewed him and me for a few minutes. And then Mr. Toje and I and a scholar activist named John Jones went through the very ornate Nobel building to the conference room. And I would say we had a meeting for about 10 or 12 minutes, and I laid out our petition’s concerns, and went into the crucial importance of the independence of the Nobel committee giving the Peace Prize. Mr. Toje replied that he had heard that sort of critique before, but he heard other critiques in the contrary direction. His demeanor was like he needed to go to this meeting, and his politeness was a little bit in ice form, a little icy.
At one point, when I was very explicit about the concern that the Nobel Peace Prize had not gone to any of the activists or empowering figures who have challenged US military installations in recent years, he replied ‘Well, we gave the Peace Prize to Martin Luther King.’ Yeah, well he sort of had a point there. King really upset the Johnson White House after 1964, after he spoke out against the Vietnam War. But if you think about it, the example is contrary to my point that the research director brought up; [it] is 49 years old. So he maybe was unwittingly acknowledging that we have now five full decades where Nobel Peace Prize winners have been selected to detour around offending the powerful in the White House, and I think that’s significant.
Just to set the scene for you a little bit, so we’re at the conference table, and there is a pile on the table of several thousand petitions, and I had seven thumb drives with the entire PDF of the petition, one for each of the five members of the Nobel committee as well as for the director and the research director. I made a request that they read not only the petition, but the tens of thousands of individual personal comments that were made on the petition by the signers. I also added that I was simply conveying the reality that many of those signers of their own volition made comments about how the credibility of the Nobel Peace Prize has been so damaged by the award of the Peace Prize to President Obama that giving the Peace Prize to Bradley Manning would be sort of a step toward rehabilitation of the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s part of the context for why I say that the Nobel Peace Prize needs Bradley Manning much more than the other way around.
CB: I was hoping we could spend some time talking about Manning himself. I was hoping to get you to respond to his ongoing court-martial. Manning is in the sentencing phase of his court-martial, and I think many of us might have expected an ‘Aiding the Enemy’ guilty verdict, and while it was great that he was found not guilty on that charge, I was wondering if you could just speak broadly about the fact that he was found guilty on espionage and the significance of that.
NS: Well the espionage law is about 95 years old. It’s absurd to use it against a whistle-blower, and it conveys a government attitude that the “enemy” is first and foremost the people of the United States. That is a tacit approach that embraces secrecy as a way of continuing to perpetrate policies that can’t stand the light of day. So they’re kept hidden in the dark. A basic precept of democracy is consent of the governed, and it’s only meaningful if you have informed consent of the governed. And when you see what Bradley Manning has said not only in the courtroom, but also in his online chats, when he never had any thought they would go public, he had an acute sense that the public needs to know what is being done, that that’s an absolute prerequisite for a meaningful democratic process. Most people don’t want war, and so the manipulation of information and filtration of it and the twisting of it, all that is a prerequisite for a warfare state. Bradley Manning was aiding the enemy only if the enemy is truth. Bradley Manning was committing espionage only if the beneficiaries of the alleged espionage are understood to be the citizens of United States, and for that matter people of the world, who are so much at risk from aggressive military action.
CB: Is there anything you just want to add about your experience or how you feel coming back, since you just landed?
NS: Yeah, I woke this morning, Tuesday morning, in Oslo. To me it’s just very moving. I think it was President Eisenhower who said, in one of his more lucid moments, that the people of the world want peace so badly that one day the governments are going to have to get out of the way and let them have it. And I felt from so many people I met in Norway, a hunger to break out of the old paradigm. So many countries are under intimidating duress from the United States government. Those of us who live in the USA, it’s a particular challenge and responsibility to insist that human decency prevail over the mendacity and cruelty that is so implicit in the US government’s priorities. It’s really not that different for people in different parts of the world. We want some candor. We want some honesty. We want a process that can elevate government actions so that they respond to what’s best in human beings instead of what’s worst.