June 18, 2013
Truthdigger of the Week: Daniel Ellsberg
Posted on Jan 6, 2012
People write about this as though it’s very obscure what his motives were. He’s really very explicit in the chat logs as to what his concern was. He saw torture, atrocities, corruption at all levels, and he felt the public should have this information. You need this information to make decisions. And he was prepared to pay the price. I see the same motives I had, and I admire him—he’s a hero of mine. And I certainly haven’t heard anything since then that diminishes my feeling about it.
Anderson: What would you say in response to the argument that leaking this kind of classified information puts people, particularly our troops abroad, in danger?
Ellsberg: Oh look, they will always say that, of course, for virtually every leak that occurs. But it’s very, very hard to find an example of any leak that actually had this dangerous effect. It does have some plausibility—one can’t say it’s impossible. There is always a risk of putting information like this out, that it could be harmful. This was said about the Pentagon Papers, and nothing did emerge. Certainly they were warning that it was very dangerous to be putting out information that included names of informants in Afghanistan, and I would say that was a risk. Fortunately, it does not seem to have resulted in any harm whatsoever, but that isn’t to say that it was impossible.
The other side to that is that keeping all this information secret didn’t just have a risk—that kind of secrecy led us into war and to enormous loss of life and has prolonged it since. You have to balance, I think, the dangers of concealing this information and the possible risks of revealing some of it. So far we haven’t seen any examples of actual harm as a result of [Manning] releasing it, and on the other hand, in at least two ways there have been enormous benefits: First, the contribution of the cables revealing our knowledge of Tunisian corruption, in the Tunisian dictatorship that we were supporting for years of [Zine el-Abidine] Ben Ali. That revelation led to weeks of controversy and debate, and in Tunisia there was even an underground website, TuniLeaks, that preceded the immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, who was protesting corruption, and that of course led to the uprisings and the ouster of Ben Ali.
Then there’s yet another effect here. There was understandable criticism—which I shared, actually—of the release of all the State Department cables, which were more than any one person could have read. They were called an “indiscriminate dump” of information that looked potentially harmful. I probably wouldn’t have done that, and I can understand that it’s reasonable to criticize that. Nevertheless, there’s been no evidence of harm, but on the other hand, one of the cables that came out in that so-called “dump” that hadn’t come out earlier was the revelation that the U.S. was aware of an atrocity by American troops in 2006 in Iraq which had led to no prosecutions and which the government had lied about. Well, it was that cable that led [President Nouri al-Maliki] in Iraq to say he could not afford to give immunity to U.S. troops, and that meant we had to get the troops out by the end of last year. Our troops would not be out without that “indiscriminate dump” from that cable.
So, here’s a case that led to a very similar action [as mine] with a similar motivation, but in his case we can point to direct effects from that action which I would hope would be an inspiration to try to do the same. Of course, they’re going to do their best to make sure that people don’t imitate him by piling on the charges and by outrageously accusing him of the offense of aiding the enemy, which carries a possible death sentence. Well, the people who aided al-Qaida are the people who invaded Iraq. Nothing could have done so much for al-Qaida, literally nothing, than that occupation, and by that standard it’s Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld [who aided al-Qaida]. I’m not saying they’re traitors—they didn’t intend to aid al-Qaida—but I think they were stupid enough to ignore that end result. But to accuse Manning of doing that as if he were a traitor is, I think, outrageous.
What they’re mainly trying to do is intimidate him into cooperating and incriminating Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and they haven’t so far succeeded in doing that. I wouldn’t criticize him if he did cooperate in order to get less than a life sentence, but he hasn’t chosen to do that, and that’s one more reason to admire him, I’d say. It seems to me he could easily lower his sentence if he cooperated with the government, and even if he gave them exactly what they wanted, whether it’s true or not—it’s what they’ve been trying to do by putting him in isolation, torturing him and with threatening him. I can only infer that he thinks he knows what he did was right for him to do and that he thinks Assange and WikiLeaks, if he cooperated with them, were doing the right thing, and he’s unwilling to cooperate in subjecting WikiLeaks and Assange to the kind of punlishment that he’s facing. That’s what I infer—they won’t let me ask that question! But that’s the way I make sense out of it.
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