May 17, 2013
Truthdigger of the Week: Daniel Ellsberg
Posted on Jan 6, 2012
And how bad is that? I would say that it’s very bad, if he succeeds. I’ve felt for a long time now that we need much more whistle-blowing. Much more unauthorized disclosure of a classified nature of a sort that reveals government wrongdoing than we’ve ever had. I obviously do feel that I did the right thing in putting out the Pentagon Papers. That’s more widely acknowledged now. It certainly didn’t hurt the U.S. in any way, and it contributed to shortening the [Vietnam] war. The question is: How often do you need a disclosure like that—every 40 years? I would say once a year would be better.
I would say that Bradley Manning took the same attitude I did, which was the willingness to take a personal risk in order to inform the public, in order to affect events and save lives. We’ve had a number of wars that would have been averted if we’d had a Bradley Manning, and preferably at a higher level, with access to this information. I think there wouldn’t have been an invasion and an aggression against Iraq; if people knew that this was a disastrous course, that would have averted the war if it was done before the war. Likewise, the escalation in Afghanistan was done in opposition of most of the president’s military and civilian advisers, and I think if they had brought out their own opinions to the public, preferably wtih documents, we wouldn’t have put out this extra 40,000 troops, and lives would have been saved on both sides. In both cases, we’ve benefited from memoirs and investigative journalism, such as from Bob Woodward and Sy Hersh, that shows how many people knew we were heading off a cliff, but they didn’t tell us at the time. They told Woodward or Hersh or otherwise years after it was too late to stop them. I think in almost every catastrophe you can think of—even natural ones like Hurricane Katrina—there were warnings beforehand about how inadequate the preparations were. People knew what would happen. In almost every case you look at—Fukushima in Japan would be another case—there were plenty of people able to give the warning but just didn’t do it loud enough. They may have given warnings internally, but when people were ignored, as they were in both those cases, they didn’t risk their jobs to go public.
I read Bradley Manning say, in the chat logs, that he was willing to go to prison for life or even be executed. He is facing life in prison or even the possiblility of death—it’s a capital offense that he’s charged with, and the judge in the end could give him the death sentence. I thought, here’s a guy who was in the same state of mind that I was in 40 years ago, and I think it’s absolutely appropriate. You should be willing to take this risk when there are this many lives at stake.
My main point is we need more such decision-making, not less, and Obama’s efforts to assure we’ll have less truth-telling than before is frankly a death sentence to a lot of people in the world, Americans and others, because it’s a recipe for more disastrous policies like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—and I would say what are you doing in Pakistan with the drone attacks?—that are disastrous and could be averted by more truth-telling. Frankly, it will always take courage to do that, to tell a truth against the wishes of a boss—which is the essence of whistle-blowing and is always going to be risky. It doesn’t always involve imprisonment, but just the prospect of losing your clearance, your career, very often your marriage or your children’s education, your standing and your peers is enough to keep people quiet about dangers and crimes.
Ellsberg: Did you read that I was expelled? People didn’t know why. It was very simple. I of course didn’t have a chance to talk to Bradley—essentially nobody but his family and his lawyer had. So, I did want to let him know that I was supporting him. And he was looking straight ahead, as he always did, and the lawyers were out of the room in a conference with the judge. So he was just sitting there with one military lawyer next to him, and I went up to him and tapped his chair and said, “Hi, Bradley, I’m Dan Ellsberg.” Well, before he could even turn around, I was jerked out of the room by two hefty military police. And I said, “What’s this about?” They said. “It’s against the rules.” I said, “It didn’t occur to me there was such a rule,” and they showed me a run-down, which said, “Don’t chew gum, [etc.]. ...” I said, “I don’t see anything here that says ‘Don’t talk to a defendant.’ ” One of them said, “Well, it’s a norm.” I told them I was a defendant in a case like this for five months and nobody protected me from conversing. It’s a general rule—they want to have as much control over [Manning] as possible. His lawyer said he was sure I wouldn’t be able to talk to him.
So, I questioned whether there was such a rule. A guy in charge of security said, “Well, now you’ve been warned, so you can go back in.”
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