Defending Manning and Assange
Interview recorded December 29, 2010. Listen to the interview.
Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio, I’m Scott Horton, and joining me on the line is Daniel Ellsberg, famous liberator of the Pentagon Papers and author of the book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, and he writes for – I’m sorry, Dan, I didn’t have time to google it – was it Truthout or Truthdig where people can find all your stuff?
Daniel Ellsberg: Actually on my website, Ellsberg.net.
Horton: Ah, that’s even better, because you do write for all kinds of different things. But I was telling the audience earlier actually about your great series about nuclear weapons, and I couldn’t remember –
Ellsberg: That was on Truthdig.
Horton: That was Truthdig.com, right.
Horton: Okay, good. So, welcome to the show. Tell me, there’s a lot of talk in the media saying that, “Yeah, well, we all give Dan Ellsberg respect for leaking the Pentagon Papers” – now at least there’s somewhat of a consensus that maybe that was the right thing to do – “but WikiLeaks is a totally different thing. This guy Assange has a terrible agenda to hurt America,” not help it like you wanted to do, and I think that’s at least part of it. What do you think about that?
Ellsberg: Well, Floyd Abrams, who defended the New York Times in front of the Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case, where the question was injunction, prior restraint against the New York Times, just had a Wall Street Journal article in which he quoted me, critically I could say, and he says, “Daniel Ellsberg says that there is a myth that Pentagon Papers good, WikiLeaks bad.” And that’s true, I did say that and I do say that and it is a myth.
And then he went on to say, “But the real myth is not that one, but the real myth is that they’re the same.” Well, nobody said they’re the same. Obviously there are all kinds of differences which certainly I can identify as well as anybody. But there are some fundamental similarities, both in the motive and the kind of war there and the need for the revelations that they’re presenting.
And in terms of the charges that are made against them, including by Abrams, but especially by others, again there’s a very great similarity in the situation. People are implying that everyone could see that the Pentagon Papers – which was a history of a single conflict over a period of time; it was focused on one thing and it revealed deception by a succession of administrations – everybody could see that that was a worthy thing to do, or at least, you know, conscientious, and my motives were good, etc. etc. etc. Not everybody saw that at the time. Not the administration, the White House, which called it treason, with a little [laughs] a little more basis – how to say this: I am a citizen. I do owe allegiance to the United States. To say that Julian Assange is guilty of treason has some problems since he’s an Australian citizen.
But anyway, I was called a traitor, which was no more true of me than it is to say Bradley Manning, who is accused now of leaking, sitting in a jail in Quantico – he’s no more a traitor than I am, and I’m not. Neither of them are terrorists any more than I am, and I’m not.
So I did get these comments. I didn’t get the “terrorist” at the time, because that wasn’t in vogue as a demonizing label then 40 years ago, but I would be called a terrorist now. I have no doubt at all, if I put out the same documents now, they would call me a terrorist, because that’s the bad thing now.
Now, more than that, of course, I was – they’re searching now for a law with which to indict Assange for what he did, and of course Assange’s role is that essentially of the New York Times in the case of the Pentagon Papers or of WikiLeaks. There really is no basis in law that they’re going to find that can nail or can entrap or indict Assange that doesn’t apply to the New York Times exactly as well, since they have put out these clearly classified documents to the public.
In fact, they’ve made the choice, along with the other four newspapers, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and El Pais in Spain – they made the choice so far which documents in this Cablegate series to put out. Assange has put out on his own website essentially only those, with a few exceptions, but almost entirely those that have been chosen to be referred to or put out by these mainstream newspapers.
So there is no judicial basis, no legal basis, for charging Assange with anything that doesn’t apply equally well to the New York Times, and it’s clear that the administration is not anxious to get in a legal fight with the New York Times. So they’re trying to distinguish Assange not only from me and the Pentagon Papers, but from the New York Times, and that’s really pretty impossible to do.
But finally, to get back to the initial point that I was making, in fact all the charges that were made against Assange now – he’s interfering with diplomatic relationships, he’s disrupting diplomacy, he’s producing embarrassing things that make our relations with other countries harder, and he’s endangering the lives of troops – all of those were said about the Pentagon Papers, and that was the basis, after all, for the attempt at prior restraint, which they didn’t do in this occasion, presumably because they just couldn’t. You know, with the electronic means, there was no way of stopping it. But they could have tried to restrain the Times very well from putting out any more, but in the clear recognition that the information would get out anyway from other newspapers and from the Internet.
So, they said at the time, for instance, that the Pentagon Papers were disrupting our relations with Australia because it embarrassed the measures we took to encourage or coerce Australians into sending troops to Vietnam. Actually that’s something they certainly deserved to embarrassed about. They actually started the draft in order to send Australians to Vietnam, which is a scandal, really.
So, as I say, these accusations were made. They were all found to be unfounded in the end, although it was indeed embarrassing to relations. The idea that in these documents there are criticisms by American diplomats of their counterparts [laughs] – and that was not true of the Pentagon Papers? Almost any – most pages at random would find extreme criticisms of the government of Saigon, our puppets in Saigon, for example, and in complaints about our allies, whether they were doing enough in their relationship, one way or the other.
So I come to the point: Condemn this, and you do condemn the Pentagon Papers, and the question is then, was it a good thing or not for the Pentagon Papers to come out? Was it legitimate in a democracy? Did we need it or not? And there were plenty of people who said not, at the time, that it shouldn’t have happened. And those have basically the same point of view that is condemning Assange now.
Horton: Well, Manning as well. I was wondering if you could comment on what you’ve learned, what’s been reported recently by Glenn Greenwald and others, about the treatment of Bradley Manning as he’s awaiting his military court martial.
Ellsberg: Yes, that is – Greenwald has been very good on this whole subject. I read him every day, in Salon.com, and he particularly has brought out the what amounts to enhanced– They’re not interrogating him exactly. I don’t know what they’re doing. But they’re certainly softening him up, as we read about in all the enhanced interrogation that was started by, or expanded by George W. Bush, to make people willing, basically – the aim of this kind of “enhanced interrogation,” otherwise known as torture, is above all to achieve what those methods can achieve, and that is false confessions, false assertions, false charges against other people. That’s what you mainly get with torture, and it’s what they mainly aim at. We now realize that the torture of some of the people in 2001 and 2002 was particularly to get them to assert that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11.
Ellsberg: Yeah, the people who we were talking about, the people who attack Assange or for that matter the Pentagon Papers earlier on, 40 years ago, including a surprising number of journalists –
Ellsberg: – if you’ve noticed, unlike this show, or unlike Glenn Greenwald, who’s sort of a David fighting against the Goliath of the media on this one and the government in opposing that view.
The question it really raises is, do the mainstream media get just about enough leaks as they need, as the public needs – as much as they need, I think, might be the case – but as much as the public needs? Do we get as much news as we really need from the mainstream media, given the leaks that they do occasionally present, or do we need a lot more?
And I thought, of course, for 40 years, that you needed a lot more, and that when a WikiLeaks comes along to facilitate whistle blowing and to make it a little less risky, or maybe a lot less risky, to reveal guilty secrets, I think that’s a good thing. But clearly that’s one point of view that is widely opposed. …
Bradley Manning, of course, there is somebody who took advantage of this facilitation, and for reasons that as Greenwald has very carefully laid out in detail in his argument with Wired magazine over their refusal so far to release the whole chat logs between their source, Adrian Lamo, and Bradley Manning, there’s a very big question as to just how that revelation of Manning came about. What led Manning to reveal so much about what he was doing to this person that he didn’t know, who just happened to be working with a group that was kind of a vigilante service for the intelligence agencies and who on pressure from his boss, among others, turned Manning in? How did that get started? And there’s no indication of it really in the excerpts that have been released, and Lamo himself has given contradictory explanations of how it started.
So that is an important thing to know, I think, as to why WikiLeaks was not in this case able to protect Manning. It wasn’t their software or their processes that led to his exposure, however it came about, it was Manning’s willingness to tell his whole story, or a lot of it, to Adrian Lamo. And that’s something we don’t yet understand.
Horton: Well, and you know part of that, though, that they did publish is he explained that he was ordered to help arrest innocent people in Iraq, and that was when he thought that, “Wait a minute, if we’re the good guys, how come we’re doing bad guy things?,” and whatever, and that was the beginning of him waking up. He said that what he’d read – and you know he’d seen the Collateral Murder video and read these State Department logs that he said described “almost criminal back dealings” and that kind of thing, so it seems like he has pure whistleblower motives there, at least in the chat logs that we’ve seen so far.
But so then that leads to my question, which is, you know, I know that, you know, if you’re a Marine, for example, Dan Ellsberg, and you’re ordered by your commander to commit an unlawful act, you have the right to refuse that order, an unlawful order. But what I wonder, is there anything in the law that gives you the right to expose unlawful deeds? Could Bradley Manning put up a legal defense that, “Yes, of course, I did sign a secrecy agreement, but this stuff is terrible and the people had a right to know,” and somehow by any legal gymnastics be able to fight these charges on that basis?
Ellsberg: Well, certainly the odds are stacked against him in a military court. I was in the Marines a defense counsel in close to 100 special court martials, actually, and your chance of actually getting an acquittal, as opposed to perhaps getting your sentence reduced, is pretty low in those courts. Now, this would be a general court martial, I’m sure, not a special court martial, although he hasn’t been actually – that hasn’t been decided yet.
But, yes, first of all you have not only the right to oppose a blatantly illegal order, you have the obligation to oppose it if you’re under Nuremberg principles, which were the order itself is not an excuse for carrying out a blatantly illegal order.
Now, in the military, many military, the burden of proof – or the burden of doubt, let’s say – is put on the person who challenges that order. You pretty much give the doubt in general to your superior officers. But there are cases, and they’ve arisen in this war – for example, where men have reported that they were ordered by a sergeant to shoot somebody who was clearly a randomly selected innocent person in Iraq, a very blatantly illegal order, and they carried it out because they were afraid they’d be killed otherwise.
But generally, even often when faced with a fear of death, that’s not always an excuse against carrying out a murder, certainly in civilian life and even in military life, though it’s understandable that people do do that. “We’re shooting people all the time, he wants me to shoot this guy who clearly is not an enemy combatant, but if I don’t do it, he’ll off me, he’ll get me some way otherwise,” puts people in a very intolerable situation, as Robert Lifton called it, “an atrocity-generating situation.”
But what could Manning have done now? He saw not only that illegal acts were being carried out, people were being arrested for no legitimate reason, for dissent, actually, and he also knew of torture, and he saw the murder of the people from the Apache helicopter.
He also saw, and this is another dimension of it, coverup. In the case of the helicopter case, he saw that that was being kept secret and kept away, I believe, from lawyers, Freedom of Information Act requests. And in the case of the other risks, he complained to his superior officer, who told him just to forget it. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” in a sense in effect cover up.
So he knew it was up to him. If anybody was going to do anything about these things, it wasn’t his superiors and it wasn’t somebody else. In that case, he actually said, this is a pretty close quote, “I was actively participating in something that I was entirely against.”
And really that’s not an unusual situation. It’s unusual for people to come to see it, but it’s not at all unique that, I’m sure in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan there are a lot of people who understand what they’re doing in exactly those terms. And the question is, what do you do about it?
In his case, another thing he said to Adrian Lamo, as reported in the chat log, “I am ready to go to prison for life or even be executed in order to get this material out.” And that was the mood I was in 40 years ago. It’s pretty rare, but the idea of WikiLeaks, by the way, is to make that risk less, when you find yourself in a situation that you’re participating in something you know is wrong, illegal, reckless, dangerous, harmful, and make it easier for them to expose that.
So he’d have trouble convincing military officers and men – men and women now – on a court martial that he had a right to expose that, but he certainly can raise it as the necessity of what he had to do. That’s especially true with the Apache helicopter, and, let’s say, with the Iraq war logs, which revealed a massive pattern of war crimes by the United States in the form of turning prisoners over to Iraqis who the Americans knew would torture them, which was illegal.
And also ordering coverup, ordering that there be no further investigation. There is a blatantly illegal order if you knew the law, namely that we’re obliged legally to investigate such a possibility. And apparently no one that reported it disobeyed that order, or even questioned it. Manning is the one who exposed it.
Ellsberg: I said earlier that the treatment of Manning now, which is what they call prevention of injury, just short of suicide watch, which calls for them to look in on him and ask him to respond every five minutes in his cell, and which for reasons that are really inscrutable forbid him to exercise, do any pushups, situps, do anything in his cell for exercise in addition to the one hour a day that he’s given to do figure eights walking in another room – in other words, a regime that has led, as a visitor has said, to a marked deterioration in his physical condition over the months that he’s been confined.
And then the restriction on the information that he can get, and the fact that he’s not allowed to sleep during the day at all but is awakened very early in the morning generally – all of this is clearly, as I say, a softening up process to get him willing to say anything. And in this case a false confession, or the confession that they want – which may or may not be false but it probably is and would be fine in their eyes if it were false – is the assertion that Julian Assange in some discreet way conspired with him to get this material – in other words, that Assange didn’t just receive it or work with him at getting it, but actually encouraged him to, in the eyes of the military, violate the regulations and violate the law, and too perhaps instructed him on just how to do it.
Keeping in mind, by the way, that in general in relation between a journalist and a source, the idea that there’s no encouragement by the journalist in general is absurd. I’ve personally been asked, you know, whether I didn’t have documents to back up things that I was saying, classified documents, and a lot of encouragement was going on. As a matter of fact, I offered the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan, but to say that he didn’t encourage me to give him more documents and to let him copy the documents and so forth would be ridiculous. Of course he did.
And so, to use that as the basis for an unprecedented charge, literally unprecedented charge, that Assange conspired in order to bring about this breach, is what they want to get, anyway, even though it’s never been held before. Otherwise they have difficulty in charging him at all.
Horton: Well wasn’t it, Dan, the Supreme Court cases about the Pentagon Papers that really solidified this in the law, that no, Nixon cannot stop the New York Times from publishing this stuff, and he cannot prosecute them for doing it, right?
Ellsberg: Can’t stop them? Yes.
Ellsberg: No. The last part is mistaken.
Ellsberg: What the Supreme Court – on the contrary. What the Supreme Court decided was that only under very extraordinary circumstances, which they judged did not apply in the case of the Pentagon Papers, could the government stop publication by prior restraint – you know, enjoin the publication.
However, the question arose, could they prosecute either the Times or the source, the government source, and on this five of the justices actually did indicate that they thought prosecution would be perfectly in order and even desirable.
Now, they said that, these Supreme Court justices, on a very hasty convening of this case, in total ignorance of the jurisprudence on this issue, because there had never been any cases. Probably not one of them knew, just as almost no judges know now, or lawyers know now, that there had never been a prosecution for a leak, a criminal prosecution for a leak, prior to my case. And in effect by their saying that, they were virtually inviting the prosecution in my case.
And something, I might say, that I didn’t feel very warmly about was that Floyd Abrams’ senior associate in this, Alexander Bickel, who was arguing in front of the Supreme Court, virtually invited prosecutions of me, saying, “Of course, prosecuting criminally the person who actually provided these documents would be very straightforward.”
Again, I’m sure that he had no awareness even that there had never been such a prosecution, and the reason for that was that it was very far from clear that there was a legal basis for it in the Espionage Act of 1917, and that if it were interpreted that way, as it was in my case, it would be held unconstitutional if it went to the Supreme Court.
Now they’re still facing that problem: Would an official secrets act, or would that interpretation of the Espionage Act that makes it an official secrets act which criminalizes all release of classified documents – anything classified, stamped Secret or Confidential or Top Secret is protected by criminal sanctions if it were revealed. That’s the way it is in England. And it has not been the way that it is in our law since the Revolution and since the First Amendment. But the next question is, should it be? Do we want the Supreme Court, which might well decide in that direction, would that be something we should encourage?
Horton: Well it seems like kind of a sneaky way around the First Amendment to say that, well in this case that, well, maybe it’s conspiracy that –
Ellsberg: That’s right.
Horton: – that with WikiLeaks in the place of the New York Times in your story here, with Bradley Manning as Dan Ellsberg and WikiLeaks as the New York Times, they’re saying, you know, perhaps, that “Well it was a conspiracy to leak the documents, so we can prosecute him for that,” rather than it’s a crime to be a journalist and publish documents.
Ellsberg: That’s right. And one thing that would encourage them to do that in this case and get that ruling, which would then be a precedent for use against all kinds of journalists and even nonjournalists –
Horton: Did they threaten to do that to the New York Times then, to treat it not as a crime to publish classified information but to say that maybe they were conspiring with you –
Ellsberg: Of course.
Horton: – to leak the stuff?
Ellsberg: Of course. They could easily have done that. They chose at that time, for political reasons, not to go against the New York Times. Their basis for prosecuting the New York Times would have been the same basis, just as good a basis, in the wording of the law, as going against me, but they decided, Nixon decided – Nixon’s legal judgments really weren’t worth very much, nor the legal judgments of his attorney general, who was basically a bond lawyer, Mitchell, who gave him the wonderful advice, when Nixon asked, “Have we ever restrained anybody before, have we ever had an injunction before?,” Mitchell said, “Sure, lots of times.” Which had never happened. Which is what you get when you make your campaign manager your attorney general.
Horton: [laughs] Yeah.
Ellsberg: Who happened to have been a bond lawyer.
Well anyway, they’ve never wanted to go against the New York Times. For one reason, as Assange has put it, it’s old and big, unlike WikiLeaks, which is new and small. But also because they use the New York Times so much.
In what should be the famous piece by Carl Bernstein in Rolling Stone about the cooperation of the CIA and the newspapers which he wrote back in the late ’70s, he quoted top CIA officials as saying that the New York Times was their major asset. Not meaning, I think, that they controlled everything that the New York Times said or that the New York Times didn’t embarrass them from time to time, as it does – did then and does now – but that when it came to the pinch, they had a crucial influence over the New York Times.
As appeared, for example, when the Times withheld the evidence they had of the NSA wiretaps for a whole year at the request of George Bush’s White House. Not in that case the CIA, but the White House.
So that, in other words, this was something they don’t want to antagonize. They use it. They need it. Just as they need the rest of the press. And in the case of the Times it has the special asset of its credibility.
Horton: Yeah, well and I guess it’s been that way since your days, but now, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, when it comes to Nixonian henchmen, you need to look no further than the New York Times itself.
Ellsberg: Right, right. And it’s not a black and white thing, entirely. But in other words, the Times has put out things that the administration certainly didn’t want put out, and I think that’s an essential part of the credibility that makes it so valuable to any administration, when they can influence it and do influence it. It has the credibility of being a supposedly totally independent place, which in fact it isn’t really; it really is subject to a lot of influence.
Horton: What do you make of the – I almost would rather just ask about what do you make of the WikiLeaks themselves and all that, but that may be a whole other interview, Dan. What do you make of the charges against Julian Assange? Is this whole rape thing, or molestation/abuse thing or whatever they’re calling it, just a big setup from the beginning, or is it just he makes for such a good Saddam Hussein character for the Two Minutes Hate on TV, or what is it?
Ellsberg: Well I think certainly those charges serve to demonize him, basically, and if they were true, if they were true indeed, they would discredit him significantly and make him a more vulnerable figure to use as a precedent for later repression of the press – in other words, to get a case against him that you might win precisely because so few people would want to associate with him or support him, and less controversial to a prosecutor in the first place than it would be, say, to prosecute the editors of the New York Times.
But aside from that I would say that, as I understand the charges, they’re serious. I disagree with people who’ve taken the position that, “Okay, even if all this were true, it wouldn’t amount to anything, or it wouldn’t justify the extreme efforts they’re going to extradite him” – that probably is true, by the way – it would be hard to justify that, even at worst. But that the charges themselves are not all that serious and shouldn’t be part of our judgment of the credibility or the motives of Julian Assange – well, I would disagree with that. If I thought the charges were true, I would not be associating with him and supporting him as energetically as I am at all, quite apart from the free speech issues that are involved here.
In fact, I have spoken to Julian Assange at length about this, because when I did meet with him in London, I wanted to get straight what the story was from his point of view and see how convincing it was, and I got very detailed answers. I’m not going to go into those, that’s for him to tell, but I will tell my conclusions, and they’re based on really probing him and going in some detail as to what actually happened in his relations with these two women.
And I’ll give you the bottom line of my conclusions on them, which do not stem, by the way, just from the assumption that he’s doing good work in revealing these things, he’s good politically, or even that I like him, therefore I can’t believe that he could have done anything wrong. You know, I’m 79 here, I’ve – [laughs] you don’t have to be that old to have seen through that. People who do very good political work can act very badly in their personal life or in other respects, and certainly vice versa, by the way, people who are blameless in their personal lives can be murderers in their political lives.
So in this case, here’s what I think: I think that the charges that have been reported by these women contain many assertions that are either false, in some cases, or highly misleading, in the absence of further explanation or, you know, leaving out a lot of the rest of the context, or are very ambiguous, deliberately ambiguous, and meant to be misleading.
In other words, I think that the specific charges that lead to the legal charges of rape or of sexual coercion or of sexual molestation, serious charges, are unfounded and based in, to a large extent, on false statements.
And I think that without – and I’m not at all assuming that accusers, his female accusers, are less credible in themselves just as such by being accusers and by being women, and I even understand and sympathize with the point of view of a lot of feminists in particular who say that the full benefit of the doubt is to be given to the accuser here, and that you should assume in the absence of other evidence that what they’re saying is true and what the alleged perpetrator is saying is false. I understand that point of view.
The fact remains that even women can make false charges in this situation. That has happened in the past, and I believe it’s happening now. That’s not my final conclusion, obviously. I’ve heard his side of the story in detail and I found it very convincing and coherent, and I believe him. I tend to believe him, from everything that I’ve seen from him, and I haven’t heard in any detail theirs.
But I do think that people who address this then should at least take seriously the hypothesis, which I believe to be true, that these two women have concerted on false charges, false statements of fact, as to what actually happened.
Which isn’t to say, by the way, that his behavior toward them was entirely blameless or, you know, irreproachable. I believe him when he says that he did not and would not undertake or persist in intercourse in the face of a “No” or a “Stop” or physical indications of rejection, and that this just did not happen.
Horton: All right, now, that’s interesting, I guess we’ll see if he gets his day in court on those charges or not. I guess so far they’re not even charges, right? He’s only wanted for questioning at this point.
Ellsberg: They’re asking him to question him.
Horton: If you google, Dan, google “‘Assange’ ‘rapist,'” you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results.
Ellsberg: Oh yeah, I’ve seen –
Horton: The surge worked already.
Ellsberg: Assange is a rapist, period. I think that’s absolutely false, that even in the broadest extended Swedish interpretation of three classes of rape and the broadest way you can do that, I believe that he is in no way guilty of rape, and if I believed that he were, or if I were to come to believe that from new evidence, I would condemn that and would really not support him in general.
Horton: Yeah, well, and it really would be too bad, because in the power of the TV narrative, if Julian Assange can, if it’s not already done, if he can be made a James Bond villain that we all agree we hate, then that delegitimizes the entire project in so many ways in the minds of so many people.
Ellsberg: Yeah, it does. And it, as I said earlier, it makes him a more attractive target for the Justice Department for an unprecedented prosecution. It would be unprecedented, which people don’t realize. And if they can make him look as bad as possible, then it would really encourage them to have a prosecution. It would make things worse for all.
You know, one other aspect of this I think that’s subject to an establishment myth on this, in terms of the establishment media, and it was repeated by Floyd Abrams in his Wall Street Journal article, and that is that nothing of importance has really been revealed, that there’s been no news here. Now, here’s a point that I think is refuted directly by the fact that the Times devoted – I don’t know exactly how many, but it must be, let’s seen, nine installments to – more than 20 full pages of newsprint to what they found of news story and news interest in those cables.
Now one can argue with, and I do argue with their choice of material in some cases, of what they chose to find, but it’s hard to argue that something is not newsworthy if the New York Times chooses to devote a page or two of newsprint to it.
Beyond that, if you were to ask, “Well, what have we really learned?” Abrams again says – and others have said – “It reveals no deception by the U.S. government; it reveals no wrongdoing by the U.S. government.” I don’t – that’s not the way I read it.
When I read, on the one hand, of course, in the Afghan logs, I mentioned that earlier, about the pattern of illegality by the U.S. in connection with torture by our Iraqi allies and our refusal to investigate it, but even coming to these latest State cables, the revelation that we are engaged in offensive ground operations in Pakistan at this point, against the clear desires both of the great majority of the Pakistani people and of the Pakistani military, where it’s extremely controversial and could lead to the downfall of the government that is cooperating with the U.S. and its replacement by one that would in fact be more dangerous for the world.
That, I would say, is it’s not an issue of wrongdoing so much as an issue of behavior that the American public needs to know to debate to change, I would say, but certainly to consider changing in Congress.
Likewise the secret drone attacks that we’re carrying out in Yemen, and by the way the revelation in the same cable, from a State cable, that we were pressing for offensive ground operations in Yemen, and the Yemeni president, who I think is just trying to get himself made president for life, Saleh there, was cool on that subject, he didn’t want ground operations there.
What we’re saying is, what we’re seeing here from these cables is a pressure and tendency by the Obama administration to expand the war beyond the borders of Afghanistan into neighboring countries, both Pakistan and into Yemen, which is, I would say, very, very much against the interests of the United States, as I would see it, and certainly that’s a matter that should be debated.
So the idea that this disclosed neither wrongdoing nor important material, I think, and thus needs to be prosecuted and stopped, is simply wrong.
Horton: Well, it’s amazing the cognitive dissonance there, that this is the worst, as Joe Biden put it, “electronic terrorism against America.” This is the worst thing ever to happen and at the same time it’s the exposure of a lot of nothing, don’t even bother going to WikiLeaks.ch and clicking on the State cables there, because there’s really nothing to see here.
Ellsberg: Yeah, well, of course they have been led to a level of absurd behavior in the sense of trying to keep people in the government from reading in their home computers information that their families can read in the New York Times.
Horton: Did you know that even TomDispatch has been blocked by the State Department because they’re doing journalism about the WikiLeaks?
Ellsberg: Which one has been?
Horton: TomDispatch, Tom Englehardt’s site.
Ellsberg: Oh, really?
Horton: Yeah! Blocked by the State Department. There’s a blog entry all about it at Antiwar.com/Blog right now.
Ellsberg: Did they block Antiwar.com, I hope, too?
Horton: Uh, not yet, I don’t think, or not that I know of, but you never know.
Ellsberg: Kind of an insult if they didn’t.
Ellsberg: I mean, Antiwar deserves that at least as much as Tom Englehardt.
Horton: Well, thank you, Dan. That’s going in our next fundraising letter: “‘Antiwar.com deserves to be shut down’ – Dan Ellsberg.” I like that.
Ellsberg: Antiwar.com deserves to be feared by the State Department. I’m sure that the State Department has wanted, and the Pentagon has wanted, to block, have an excuse for blocking Antiwar.com and Tom Englehardt for years. And now they’re taking advantage of it. But my dream for years was to somehow hack my memoir Secrets, which revealed how one person who’d had a lot of clearances decided to start telling the truth – I wanted to see that somehow hacked into computers, leaked into computers in the Pentagon.
Horton: [laughs] A little reverse Pentagon Papers leaking there for them, huh?
Ellsberg: Same way! Leak it inside. And there’s nobody I would rather have those people read than Tom Englehardt’s TomDispatches, or Antiwar.com. And by the same token, I think they’ve long wanted to stop that, and now maybe they’ll use this as an excuse.
You might say that when we were talking about at the beginning of people who were called traitor here, that was extremely shocking for me to hear 40 years ago, when I was being called a traitor by the then Vice President – not Joe Biden, but –
Horton: Was it Spiro Agnew?
Ellsberg: Yes, Spiro Agnew! [laughs] I had a senior moment there for a minute. A good name to repress, in a way, but –
Ellsberg: Yeah, it didn’t leap to my lips. Spiro Agnew, who of course – some of your listeners are too young to remember Spiro Agnew, who left office on charges of having received bribes while he was Vice President, cash bribes, stemming from his period as Governor of Maryland, and who also denounced “the nattering nabobs of negativism.”
Ellsberg: Surely Antiwar.com has deserved that epithet.
Horton: [laughs] Indeed. Well, you know, I share your dream about leaking the Pentagon Papers, or, pardon me, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, to the Pentagon. And, you know, I can tell the audience of this show at least, I don’t know how many people in the Pentagon that includes, that if they google “Secrets Ellsberg Chapter One,” there is at the website of your publisher a link for “Read a sample chapter,” and there currently – I’ve checked this link very recently – is the first chapter, which is about your first day on your new post in the Defense Department the day of the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident. Talk about compelling reading. That sounds like a great idea. Maybe we can just get some boxes full and pass them out out there near the Pentagon or something.
Ellsberg: I’ll tell you why that’s on the Internet. The book was scheduled for publication on October 15, 2001 – I’m sorry, 2002, 2002, very important. Had it come out a year earlier, just after 9/11, it would have sunk pretty clearly. I wouldn’t have gotten any attention on it at all. Now a year later I could see us doing the same thing in moving toward war with Iraq that we’d done in terms of giving the President a blank check in the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. And so I was very anxious to have some people in Congress see that before they voted on it. And I asked my publisher – really, there were several chapters I wanted on. And since it was just going into the bookstores, they weren’t eager to put a chapter on the Internet, put anything on the Internet. But finally they bargained me down to one. And I slipped in another half too. But they wouldn’t let me put three or four in.
But, nevertheless, of course, Congress, which I’m afraid didn’t read those chapters, went ahead, despite the pleas of the two Senators in the Congress who still were there, who had voted for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution back in 1964 – that was Senator Byrd and Senator Kennedy – they begged Congress not to make the same mistake, which they had regretted and which Byrd said he was ashamed of for the last 40 years, and he said, “Don’t do it.” But of course, except for 23 Senators, most of them did go ahead and do it again.
Horton: Well and you know you’ve said time and again, in every media appearance and virtually every article you write as well as many times on this show, that what you really want is to see more people following your own example and that of Bradley Manning now to go ahead and liberate more documents. And I think we can agree – I know you and I see eye to eye pretty much on the American empire and the garrison of bases around the world and how criminal it all is – and the American people have a right to know.
And you’re always so eloquent in calling for new whistleblowers to be as brave as you, as brave as Bradley Manning. After all, Dan, these are people who are risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, on a regular basis – if they’re the kinds of people like you said, it’s not just Manning. Many people probably feel a lot like him. They’re willing to risk their lives for things that they don’t believe in, then maybe they ought to be brave enough to bring us the information that we need to put an end to these conflicts.
Ellsberg: Well, it’s very interesting you make that point. It’s true that I have often made that appeal, and that people should be willing to go to jail, to give up their careers and their clearances and what not in order to save lives.
But I’ll tell you that I have a new understanding of that, it’s kind of a sad one, but it points to the need for WikiLeaks. And the fact that if WikiLeaks did not exist, it would need to be invented. And if they do manage to destroy it, it will need to be replaced.
And the reason for that is this: My dream for 40 years has been that someone would be in a position and would choose to do what I could not do at my position, which was, somebody in a fairly senior position with authority would go before Congress in testimony, open testimony, while in office, against the wishes of the President – and then be fired – or actually do it after being fired – and testify truthfully about what he or she was actually saying inside, and then also accompany that with the kind of documents that I did provide in the Pentagon Papers. In other words, a combination of testimony and actual campaigning against the policy, with documents. Now, nobody has ever really done that. And [laughs] I’d still love to see it, but I’m not expecting it any time soon.
Now, short of that, just to release large rafts of documents, enough so that you probably would be identified as the source and punished, but at the same time enough to really make a difference. That is what I’ve been calling for. And there, as I say again, there just hasn’t been very much. Strictly speaking, I’d have to say that Bradley Manning is the only person in 40 years that I’ve seen actually do that. And when he said he was willing to go to prison for life, that seemed to me very reasonable.
And it sounds dramatic and extreme, and yet appropriate in the circumstances. We’re talking about two deadly, hopeless, wrongful wars that we’re conducting right now in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the likelihood that they are going to expand into wars in Pakistan and Yemen, if not elsewhere, and the possibility of an attack on Iran.
So, under those circumstances, it does seem to me very appropriate to be willing to risk your life or even give your life, but it turns out to be very rare in civilian life – or I should say, outside the battlefield. Bradley Manning was a military person, but he was willing to do something that many military people do in combat but not outside combat.
So, what I’ve come to think is more practical and more important, in that sense, is to hope that many people will do it anonymously. And WikiLeaks offers the chance to put out large amounts of material electronically, digitally, with the chance, even the likelihood, of not being identified. And that is at least part of what I’ve hoped for – as I said, I’ve hoped that that would be accompanied by testimony. And the reason why that’s so important is that an awful lot that needs to be said to the public has never been written down. One doesn’t have access to see motivations and the attitudes and the perspective of your colleagues and your superiors and the President. And it’s not in writing. And you need to be able to speak to that along with the documents that support it, such as they are.
Okay. The latter seems very hard to get. Nobody’s really done that. Although there have been some memoirs like Richard Clarke’s that come out belatedly after the war has started but while it’s still going on, that do go very far on that. Notice that in that case, Clarke did not accompany that with documents, which would have served his cause I think very much better, and I wish he had. So you need that combination.
But at least WikiLeaks gives the opportunity for putting out the documents with a good chance of not being identified, not going to prison for life, not losing your career and your clearance and everything else. And that seems to be much more promising as a way of getting us the information we need.
So we need WikiLeaks. The mainstream media have not been adequate in what they manage to investigate and get out, and I just hope there will be – I hope there will be more Bradley Mannings, but I hope there will be Bradley Mannings at higher levels who actually don’t talk to people like Adrian Lamo, and get away with it.
Horton: All right. Thank you very much, Dan, for all your efforts, from the Pentagon Papers all the way through today.
Ellsberg: Okay. Bye.
Horton: Everybody, that is Daniel Ellsberg, the liberator of the Pentagon Papers, advocate for human rights worldwide. His website is Ellsberg.net. His book is Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.
Read more by Scott Horton
- They Are Lying to You About the Oklahoma City Bombing – April 18th, 2010
- Witness: I Saw a Second Man Arrested in Detroit – January 5th, 2010
- FBI Whistleblower Names Names – November 1st, 2009
- Is Medea Benjamin Naive or Just Confused? – October 7th, 2009
- Gigantic Scandal!: The Sibel Edmonds Story – October 1st, 2009