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State Dep’t reporters ask why US diplomats aren’t showing compassion to Snowden

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This week, Matt Lee, State Department correspondent for the Associated Press, has repeatedly had prickly exchanges with State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.

Here are three entertaining and inspiring moments.

First, on Monday (the video is here), Lee picked up on reports that former Clinton envoy Martin Indyk is Secretary of State John Kerry’s choice to be the negotiator for the renewed peace process. Lee describes Indyk as a “recycled” failure at negotiations in the past.

Lee: The Secretary said – and others have said – in fact, the President as well has said that in order for this to work, all sides have to be courageous and be creative, and I’m just wondering… I mean, they have to show – they have to demonstrate courage and creativity.
MS. PSAKI: That’s true.

Lee: So can I ask what would be – what is so courageous, or what would be so courageous or creative about appointing a recycled – more recycled Clinton Administration officials to shepherd these talks? It would seem to a lot of people, I think, that people like George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, they’ve had – they’ve done this before and not been successful. Martin Indyk was involved in that. What – it seems to me that there’s very little courageous or creative about an appointment like this. Can you address that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, given a decision hasn’t been made and we haven’t announced any personnel decisions, I can just broadly say that obviously, there are a number of factors that go into a decision, and that includes individuals who will abide by the agreement that we’ve discussed here today, but also having a background and having the credibility on these issues are also important factors. But beyond that, we can discuss more when we have an actual —

Lee: Okay. And —

MS. PSAKI: — announcement of who will be a part of this exciting process going forward.

Lee: Okay. And when we do, you’ll be able to talk about the credibility that this person or these people will bring to this, including their past experience? Yes?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m happy to speak about any personnel that has been announced.

Then yesterday, Lee picked up on another reporter’s question about whether American diplomats are seeking to visit Edward Snowden in the Russian airport. 

[Unidentified reporter] QUESTION: Just a quick one on Mr. Snowden. As far as this drama, airport drama, is concerned, have any U.S. diplomats allowed to see him or meet with him?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. Obviously, there’s been – we talked a little about the event he held, but beyond that I don’t have any updates for you on it.

QUESTION: So why you have not tried? Maybe he will have changed his mind.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re working through the proper channels to have Mr. Snowden returned.

QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am.

Matt Lee: [at minute 10 in the video] Do you know – has there been a request made to the Russians to see him?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt.

Lee: Well, why not?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re working through the proper channels to have him returned.

Lee: Well, I understand that, but why wouldn’t you want to see him? Why wouldn’t you want to send – I mean, he might not want to see them and he might say no, but I mean, why wouldn’t you at least ask? I mean, you might – do you not have any interest in talking to him –except in a trial?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he’s been –accused of three federal felonies. We’d like to see him returned.

Lee: I know. But as you’re fond of saying, he is an American citizen and he has rights —

MS. PSAKI: That is true.

Lee: — as an American citizen, and protecting the welfare of American citizens abroad is apparently, according to the little sign downstairs, it’s one of your primary missions of the State Department. So you know, if you haven’t seen him, I’m just wondering – have you asked to see him?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt. I’m happy to check if there’s more to update you on.

Lee: Okay. Can you find out why you wouldn’t want to or why you —

MS. PSAKI: If there’s more to report, I’m happy to share it with all of you.

Also yesterday, Lee kept pressing Psaki to learn more about reports that the peace talks that were supposed to begin by this Friday are foundering on one obstacle or another, and negotiators have postponed their trips. Psaki said:

Well, I know there have been a lot of reports out there, some accurate, some inaccurate. But I can assure you that we’re continuing – nothing has changed since last Friday, and we’re continuing to talk with both sides about setting a date for them to come to Washington.

Lee took her up on the matter and once again mentioned Edward Snowden:

Lee: In the interest of seeking clarity on this — can you tell us which reports are accurate that you just mentioned?

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your question, Matt. I am not going to get into behind-the-scenes discussions and negotiations. It would require me doing that in order to refute or confirm any of these reports, so hence the challenge.

Lee: Okay. So when the Russians give you that same explanation for why they won’t you give you clarity on Snowden, I hope you’ll be as accepting of their answer as we are of yours.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I would caution you that those are apples and oranges. This is a —

Lee: No, no. Well, it’s all in the greater quest for clarity.

MS. PSAKI: I know you do like to make sweeping assertions.

Lee: I just like to know – (laughter) – I just like to know what’s going on.

P.S. The other day Muhammad Idrees Ahmad praised Lee as the only reporter carrying on the prickly tradition of Helen Thomas in the US press corps. Lee reminds people of what real journalists did before they aspired to be media stars: he aggressively questions government officials because he doesn’t really trust them, and doesn’t mind seemly curmudgeonly or losing dinner invitations in his effort to determine the facts.

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15 Responses

  1. piotr
    piotr on July 25, 2013, 3:24 pm

    “working with proper channels to have Mr. Snowden returned”

    Obama behaves with Snowden like Charles XII of Sweden with Johan Reingold Patkul. One difference is that Charles XII got his hands on Patkul by offering something of genuine value to the King of Saxony (withdrawal of his troops from Germany), and I am not aware what Obama is promising.

    I would think that “royal wrath” in cases like that was already somewhat out of date in XVIII century (check gruesome details in Wiki:Patkul).

  2. Blaine Coleman
    Blaine Coleman on July 25, 2013, 3:39 pm

    Oh, come on. Matt only needs to ask one question, every day – “Why don’t you cut off the billions in annual aid to Israel — and cut off all trade and diplomatic relations with Israel?”

    Anything else is just dancing around the real issue: the United States government would not have Israel any other way than you see it now. The more Arabs that Israel massacres, the more ovations Netanyahu can expect in Congress. Those massacres only make it easier for the U.S. to massacre Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Those massacres accelerate the normalization of genocide against Muslims.

    Israel has bombed and shot tens of thousands of Arabs to death. At various times, “Israel” has imprisoned virtually every male Palestinian or their immediate family members. That is what your Congress is paying Israel to do.

    That is why “peace” talks have continued since the 1970’s with zero positive results for the Palestinian people. The purpose of these talks is simply to stall until every last Nakba survivor is dead.

    A Hitlerian state like Israel deserves the same outrage and total boycott that was aimed at Apartheid South Africa, until that state is abolished.

    • just
      just on July 25, 2013, 8:09 pm

      hmmm. I think you may have hit the nail on the head.

    • piotr
      piotr on July 26, 2013, 9:21 am

      Goodwin law strikes: Hitler’s name invoked without necessity.

      The original fascist, at least the person who created the name, is Mussolini. Zionist scholars sometimes differentiate between “good Mussolini”, before he entered the pact with Hitler, and “bad Mussolini” afterwards. The good Mussolini had very good relationship with Zhabotynsky and Betar who had a training camp in Italy.

      After WWII, “moderate fascists” were important American allies. The list is pretty long (and actually Apartheid South Africa is on that list).

      • Citizen
        Citizen on July 27, 2013, 10:15 am

        @ piotr
        Figures. Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) to Zionists was done by the “good Mussolini.” The Pact of Steel came about five years later, when by signing it, Mussolini morphed in Zionist eyes into “bad Mussolini.” Zionists have tunnel vision.

  3. just
    just on July 25, 2013, 4:50 pm

    Matt Lee is amazing. Glenn Greenwald is amazing. Mondoweiss is amazing.

    That is all.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on July 26, 2013, 6:12 am

      @ just
      I would add Snowden as amazing too. Maybe Manning too.

      • Kathleen
        Kathleen on July 26, 2013, 12:40 pm

        All of the above as well as Jeremy Scahill. Dylan Ratigan too when he was on

    • just
      just on July 27, 2013, 8:42 am

      You are both right, of course. I was fascinated to see Mr. Ratigan on television not too long ago, in jeans and talking about this:

      “Since leaving as host of his MSNBC talk show, Ratigan has become involved with hydroponic farming.[21] On May 21, 2013, he appeared on The Daily Show and discussed his association with a high tech hydroponic farming project employing military veterans.[22] [23] He appeared on the Charlie Rose show on May 23, 2013 to discuss his work with military veterans.” (wiki)

      Sad to lose his voice, but the best of luck to him. I also miss Phil Donahue who got canned because of his views and his honesty.

      “Soon after the show’s cancellation, an internal MSNBC memo was leaked to the press stating that Donahue should be fired because he opposed the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq and that he would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.”[17] Donahue commented in 2007 that the management of MSNBC, owned by military contractors General Electric and Microsoft, required that “we have two conservative (guests) for every liberal. I was counted as two liberals.”[18]”

      “In June 2013, Donahue and numerous other celebrities appeared in a video showing support for Bradley Manning.[27][28]”

  4. German Lefty
    German Lefty on July 25, 2013, 4:59 pm

    Interview with Edward Snowden Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena
    SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is [Snowden] afraid of?
    Kucherena: Not a single day passes without Washington threatening yet another country with sanctions if it provides Snowden with assistance. And hardly a day passes without some kind of statement from the State Department. Of course that troubles him. In the event of an extradition to the US, he fears torture or the death penalty. That’s why he is seeking asylum in Russia.
    SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have the Americans made contact with him?
    Kucherena: The embassy called me; they want to have a meeting. But what surprises me is that the US still hasn’t made an appeal for extradition. I repeat: America has not filed a request for extradition. And America also hasn’t said that Snowden’s claims are false. Snowden has opened the world’s eyes.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on July 26, 2013, 6:27 am

      @ German Lefty
      Thanks for sharing the Spiegel article.
      In response to a question, how can Russia be critical of US spying on its citizens when Russia has such a huge spy program, including monitoring the opposition’s phone calls:

      “Kucherena: I am for honesty. The Americans preach from the pulpit that they protect their constitution, that people come first, and that their rights and freedoms are inviolable. Of course, the laws allow special operations and limitations for things like the fight against terrorists, but not on such a scale as this!”

      Latest revelations are that the US government can, and likely does record Dick and Jane’s telephone conversations, and keeps that data in storage for at least five years. (From O’Reilly factor, last night.) And that the US government has asked Facebook, Google, etc for everybody’s passwords. (From Fox & Friends news show, this morning.) Not sure which, if any social engine has turned the requested passwords over so far.

  5. radkelt
    radkelt on July 26, 2013, 3:08 pm

    There is something like a UN passport accepted by some 83 countries, Ecuador and
    Cuba included. Anybody have any idea if this presents any possibilities for Snowden?

    • piotr
      piotr on July 26, 2013, 10:56 pm

      Snowden’s passport is now invalid, so to travel he needs some type of alternative document. I actually have some experience of traveling with an invalid passport and a document about “humanitarian grounds” to be admitted to Canada.

      There is also a consideration that Snowden can be assasinated. His current lodging is not particularly convenient, but by all reports it is very safe.

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