Harry Belafonte & Wolf Blitzer / The Situation Room – 2006-01-25 23:54:49
(January 23, 2006) — Wolf Blitzer: Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM.
Belafonte: Thank you, Mr. Blitzer.
Blitzer: The new Gestapo. You know, those are powerful words, calling an agency of the US government, the Department of Homeland Security with, what, about 300,000 federal employees, the new Gestapo. Do you want to take that back?
Belafonte: No, not really. I stand by my remarks. I am very much aware of what this has provoked in our national community. And I welcome the opportunity for us to begin to have a dialogue that goes other than where we’ve been having one up until now. People feel that I talk in extremes. But if you look at what’s happening to American citizens, a lot is going on in the extreme.
We’ve taken citizens from this country without the right to be charged, without being told what they’re taken for, we’ve spirited them out of this country, taken them to far away places and reports come back with some consistency that they are being tortured, that they’re not being told what they’ve done. And even some who have been released have come back and testified to this fact.
Blitzer: But let me interrupt for a second. Are you familiar — and I’m sure you are, because you’re an intelligent man — what the Gestapo did to the Jews in World War II?
Blitzer: And you think that what the Department of Homeland Security is doing to, you know, some U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism is similar to what the Nazis did to the Jew?
Belafonte: Well, if you’re taking people out of a country and spiriting them someplace else, and they’re being tortured, and they’re being charged without — or not being charged, so they don’t know what it is they’ve done.
It may not have been directly inside the Department of Homeland Security, but the pattern, the system, it’s what the system does. It’s what all these different divisions have begun to reveal in their collective.
My phones are tapped. OK? My mail can be opened. They don’t even need a court warrant to come and do that as we once were required to do.
Blitzer: But no one has taken you or anyone else, as far as I can tell, to an extermination camp and by the tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, even millions decided to kill them, which is what the Nazis did.
Belafonte: Well, Mr. Blitzer, let me say this to you, perhaps, just perhaps had the Jews of Germany and people spoken out much earlier and had resisted the tyranny that was on the horizon, perhaps we would never have had…
Blitzer: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, are you blaming the Jews of Germany for what Hitler did to them?
Belafonte: No, no. What I’m saying is that if it an awakened citizenry, begins to oppose the first inkling of the subversion of government, of the subversion of our democracy, then perhaps an early warning would have saved the world a lot of what we all experienced. I’m not accusing the Jews at all.
Blitzer: Well, I just heard you say perhaps if the Jews of Germany had done something earlier then that might not have happened. That’s what I thought you were getting at.
Belafonte: Well, what I was getting at really is that if all citizens, the Jewish community, the Christian community and all else had taken a very early aggressive stand rather than somehow suggesting or thinking or feeling that this would have gone away, we might have found that Germany would have been in a far different place than it wound up in.
Blitzer: Let me get through some of these other points, because we don’t have a whole lot of time.
Blitzer: When you were in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez, you said that Bush is the greatest terrorist, the greatest tyrant. Are you saying that President Bush is worse than Osama bin Laden?
Belafonte: I’m saying that he’s no better. You know, it’s hard to make a hyperbole stick. I obviously haven’t had a chance to meet all the terrorists in the world, so I have no reason to throw around the words like the greatest or make some qualitative statement. I do believe he is a terrorist.
I do believe that what our government does has terror in the center of its agenda. When you lie to the American people, when you’ve misled them and you’ve taken our sons and daughters to foreign lands to be destroyed, and you look at tens of thousands of Arab women and children and innocent people being destroyed each day, under the title of collateral damage, I think there’s something very wrong with the leadership.
Blitzer: What you did say in Venezuela was that President Bush was, and I’m quoting now, the greatest tyrant in the world and the greatest terrorist in the world.
Belafonte: Yes, I did say that.
Blitzer: So you did use the word, the greatest.
Here’s what you were quoted as saying in “The Raleigh News and Observer” on January 16th. And I’ll let you amend or clarify your remarks.
“When you have a president that has led us into a dishonorable war, who has killed tens of thousands, many of them our own sons and daughters, what is the difference between those who would fly airplanes into buildings killing 3,000 innocent Americans? What is the difference between that terror and other terrors?”
Now that raises the issue of moral equivalency. Are you saying what the Bush administration, what the president is doing is the moral equivalent of what al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden ordered on 9/11?
Belafonte: I think President George W. Bush, I think Cheney, I think Rumsfeld, I think all of these people have lost any moral integrity. I find what we are doing is hugely immoral to the American people and to others in the world.
Blitzer: And the same, or if not worse than al Qaeda? Is that what you’re saying?
Belafonte: Well, I don’t want to make those kind of comparisons. I’m not too sure all of what al Qaeda has done. Al Qaeda tortures. We torture. Al Qaeda’s killed innocent people. We kill innocent people. Where do the lines get blurred here?
Blitzer: Well, I think the argument is, and correct me if I’m wrong, that al Qaeda deliberately wanted to kill as many people as possible in the World Trade Center and those two buildings. They didn’t care if they were executives or janitors or crooks or anybody else. They just wanted to kill as many Americans as possible.
The US, when it goes after terrorists, there may be what’s called collateral damage, but they’re trying to kill enemies of the United States, those who have engaged in terror or similar actions. Do you understand the difference?
Belafonte: I understand the difference. What I don’t want to get stuck with, or be guided by, is what you call collateral damage. That does not cleanse us morally. All of a sudden, it’s beyond our capacity or our means to have made a difference in what we’ve done to thousands and thousands of Arabs.
I’m quite sure if you went through each and every body, you would find that somebody was a baker, somebody was a store keeper, somebody was a cab driver, somebody was a student. I don’t know, you know, murder is murder. And just because you may do it under different guises does not remove the moral imperative.
We are in this war immorally and illegally. And we have no business doing what we do.
Blitzer:What about — and these were very, very damning words that you said a few years ago, and I wonder if you still stick by them. When you call Colin Powell, the secretary of state at that time, or Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser now the secretary of state, plantation slaves.
It’s one thing to disagree with them, but when you get involved in name calling with all the history of our country, plantation slaves, isn’t that crossing the line?
Belafonte: Not at all. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of plantations in America where people are slaving away their lives. You know, one of the big problems that we have in this country is the inability to be honest and to be straightforward.
We’ve never had a dialogue in this country on the real issues of slavery. I don’t even want to get stuck there. But what I said about Colin Powell is that he serves his master well. And in that context, I was asked to describe what that meant. And I used the metaphor of slavery and the plantation. And I stand by it.
So Colin Powell was viewed to be this rather moderate, honest human being. He stood before the United Nations and lied and knew he was lying. I mean, where do we draw these lines here?
Blitzer: How do you know Colin Powell knew he was lying? He says, and he’s said as many times, he says he thought he was giving accurate information, although he subsequently learned that it was not accurate. But there’s a difference between misspeaking and lying.
Belafonte: Mr. Blitzer, you have access to a lot of information. More than once we’ve discussed the fact that Colin Powell went before his president, went before others and said, “I can’t say this. It is not correct. There are things about it that touch me deeply and disturb me.”
And all of a sudden there he was in front of the U.N., despite this disclaimer, doing what he did. The world’s at war. People are dying every day. These are human lives. Where do you draw this line of distinction?
Is it because they’re over there and we’re here? Is it because we sit on some righteous place saying that we’re the finest nation in the world and that all else is less than we are? That’s unacceptable in 21st century society.
Blitzer: Harry Belafonte, unfortunately we have to leave it there, we’re out of time. But it was kind of you to spend a few moments with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I see you’re not backing away from one word of what you said.
Belafonte: No, I can’t. Dr. King is my mentor and I believe in truth, and that’s what I’m doing.
Blitzer: Harry Belafonte, joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM, thank you very much.
Belafonte: Thank you, Mr. Blitzer.