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Stephen Colbert interviews Alex Gibney, directory of the new WikiLeaks documentary

Published by marco on

Gibney has quite a good string of documentaries behind him, but We Steal Secrets seems to be a good deal shakier. I have not seen it, but it’s a documentary about WikiLeaks that focuses on the personal weaknesses and personality characteristics of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange without having interviewed either one of them, indeed without having interviewed anyone in the WikiLeaks organization. I reserve final judgment until I’ve seen it, but it doesn’t bode well.

Given that background, Gibney’s interview seemed spun a good deal more positively toward Manning and whistleblowing than I expected.

Stephen, though, took his typically roundabout, chess-master/debate-master approach to trapping Gibney into an equivalence that he probably wasn’t comfortable making (or at least agreeing with). It takes a while to get there, but it’s totally worth it.

Interview with Alex Gibney by Stephen Colbert (Comedy Central)

Stephen: Are you making an equivalency [sic] between the CIA, the official intelligence agency of the United States…and some clown like Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning—a known criminal—who stole these State secrets and leaked them to the world and possibly to our enemies and endangered American lives.
Alex Gibney: Bradley Manning is now being charged with aiding the enemy, which is equivalent to treason. He’s pled guilty to leaking the secrets. And, frankly, the secrets he leaked did a lot of good…
Stephen: (interrupting) Explain to the people, before we get ahead of ourselves, explain to the people who Bradley Manning is and what he did for Julian Assange.
Alex Gibney: Bradley Manning was a [sic] Army private. He was in Iraq, deployed in Iraq, and at some point in 2010, he leaked a video about the Apache gunship that killed …uh…some Reuter’s journalists[1] and also some war logs from Afghanistan and about 250,000 State Department cables.[2] These were leaked to WikiLeaks partnered with the New York Times and the Guardian and…der Spiegel, a German magazine, to publish these all over the world.
Stephen: Are you arguing that he should not be on trial for what he did?
Alex Gibney: He pled guilty to leaking these secrets in what I would call an act of civil disobedience. He may have been somewhat naïve about the extent to which these secrets would be leaked all over the world, but I do think that he had a sense that some very bad stuff was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan that the American public needed to know about and he felt that somebody should publish them.[3]
Stephen: So, he thought he was doing the right thing.
Alex Gibney: Indeed.
Stephen: Oh, Ok, and even though it might be … uh … uh … against the law for him to do it, he had to do that thing because it was the right thing to do.
Alex Gibney: That’s right.
Stephen: And he should pay a price for that.
Alex Gibney: Indeed. And he said … he’s going to pay a price …
Stephen: (interrupting) Ok, so if you think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s against the law, you can still do it and then just pay the price afterward and say that’s the price that I give for my country. The same way the Bush administration knew it was the right thing to do torture people…and now they’ve all gone to jail. (Emphasis added.)
Alex Gibney: No. (grins)
Stephen: No, I’m pretty sure, a fair amount of them…
Alex Gibney: I’m pretty sure that nobody went to jail for that, I’m afraid.
Stephen: Yeah, well, maybe do a documentary about that one. (Emphasis added.)

Boom! Headshot!

Stephen elegantly managed to chastise Gibney for making a take-down documentary of people that they both just agreed are actually heroes, while ignoring the far greater evil of torture in the Bush administration. Gibney’s other documentary Taxi to the Dark Side follows the story of a taxi driver kidnapped in Afghanistan and taken to Guantánamo prison.[4] I have not yet seen it, so again I must reserve judgment as to how well he treated the subject.


Not only were Reuter’s journalists killed—the only reason many in the West cared about the video—but Iraqi civilians were also killed. The worst part of the video was actually that the gunners in the helicopter waited until a civilian truck showed up to pick up the wounded, then killed those civilians as well, laughing and joking the whole time. There were two small children clearly visible in the rescue truck.

In U.S. military parlance, cleaning up the rescue team after an attack is called executing a “double-tap”.

If you watch the video, the fact that two of the victims were Reuter’s journalists is far down the list of things that are offensive and morally repugnant about the movie. Unless you don’t really care about Iraqi civilians.

[2] The logs and cabled were leaked, not killed. The grammar was a bit unclear there.
[3] When the U.S. was forced to turn to the “dark side” in order to defend itself, a statement attributed to Dick Cheney.
[4] This is, by definition, exactly the reason for such an act that is explicitly covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act in the U.S. Instead, the Obama administration and justice department are prosecuting him under the Foreign Espionage Act, in order to charge him with aiding the enemy.