Hitchens's memorial: a reader

Another chance to read extracts from the writer's final interview with Richard Dawkins.

Four months on from Christopher Hitchens's untimely death, Vanity Fair is hosting a memorial service in his honour in New York. The line-up of speakers is predictably dazzling: Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Stephen Fry, Christopher Buckley, Francis Collins, the former director of the Human Genome Project, and physicist Lawrence Krauss.

A few weeks before Hitchens's death, Richard Dawkins, the New Statesman's Christmas guest-editor, travelled to Texas to interview him for the magazine. It was to be his final interview.

We will shortly be publishing their conversation online in full but for now here are some exclusive extracts from that interview as well as the best Hitchens-related content from the NS archive.

1. Preview: Richard Dawkins interviews Christopher Hitchens

Exclusive extracts from the writer's final interview.

2.Christopher Hitchens, the enemy of the totalitarian

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley reflects on Hitchens's place in Anglo-American letters.

3. The state of Spain

Hitchens reports from Madrid in 1976, following the death of Franco.

4. Being Christopher Hitchens

George Eaton's interview with Hitchens from May 2010 in which he remarked of David Cameron: "He seems content-free to me. Never had a job, except in PR, and it shows. People ask, 'What do you think of him?' and my answer is: 'He doesn't make me think."

5. Please, let's not do God

In 2009, Hitchens attacked Tony Blair's Faith Foundation, writing that Blair’s "new banality" rises "almost to Queen’s Christmas broadcast level".

6. Arguably, reviewed by John Gray

The NS's lead book reviewer writes of Hitchens's final collection of essays: "Coming from one of the greatest living writers of English prose, Arguably is the testament of a prodigiously gifted mind. To say that, during the past three decades, the world would have been poorer, duller and altogether a smaller place without Hitchens and his writings would be to utter a cliché of the kind he despises. It would also be true."

7. Christopher Hitchens: the New Statesman years

George Eaton talks to Hitchens's former New Statesman colleagues about his time at the magazine.

8. Iraq Flexes Arab Muscle

In 1976, Hitchens visited Iraq and wrote that Saddam Hussain had "sprung from being an underground revolutionary gunman to perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser."

9. Am I a dwarf or a horseman?

In a 2007 diary, Hitchens wrote of his fellow athiests Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins: "it's an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as these men. If there were seven of us, the clever press would call us dwarves. As we are a quartet, we are doomed to be called the Gang of Four or the Four Musketeers. My own nomination - the Four Horsemen of the Counter-Apocalypse - is a bit cumbersome and I'd welcome suggestions."

10. Hitch’s Rolls-Royce mind is still purring

In November 2011, just a few weeks before his death, Hitchens's comrades and friends, including Martin Amis, James Fenton, Salman Rushdie and Sean Penn, paid tribute to him at the Royal Festival Hall in London. George Eaton reviewed the evening for the NS.

A young Christopher Hitchens outside the offices of the New Statesman, where he was hired in 1973. Photograph: Rex Features.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.