Daniel Ellsberg, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, discusses Bradley Manning’s motivation for leaking US embassy cables and the Iraqi and Afghan War logs; the end of accountability for government crimes; why the NY Times’ Bill Keller is dead wrong on Manning; the US mainstream media’s terrible coverage of WikiLeaks stories; Obama’s criminal failure to investigate and prosecute Bush administration war crimes; and why the “aiding the enemy” charge against Manning is especially egregious (and also applies to court-historian Bob Woodward).
Scott Horton Interviews Daniel Ellsberg
March 20, 2013
Transcript (page all the way down for the audio)
Scott Horton:Â All right, y’all. You all know Daniel Ellsberg. He’s an American hero. If it wasn’t for him we’d probably still be fighting the Vietnam War right now. He heroically liberated the Pentagon Papers and delivered them to the people and, you know, changed the world.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â If not for the Pentagon Papers, etcetera, we wouldn’t still be fighting the Vietnam War. As you know, that’s a little exaggeration.
Scott Horton:Â Well, I was joking.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â But the interesting point is, if we were still fighting the Vietnam War, as futile and stalemated and as bloody as that war was, we would not have been fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan or sending drones elsewhere all over the world. That’s just a bit of reality here.
Unfortunately, when one futile, bloody, wrongful war ends, you’re inoculated only for a little while. We weren’t really quick, for example, to go into Honduras or El Salvador or Cuba as State Department head General Haig would have liked to do. The “Vietnam syndrome” did last for a while. And then it goes away. So I wasn’t so surprised when a new generation was ready to go through the same thing again in Iraq.Â 30 years had passed. What has dismayed me about this country and about humans in general is that after Iraq they’re so willing to be fooled again and manipulated into going into Iran, which would be an even greater disaster. That is a real dismaying reality that I face.
Scott Horton:Â Well, yeah, I mean, it’s amazing, really, even, that the lessons of Vietnam were forgotten when, you know, that war really touched the lives of a greater percentage of the American people in a big way. You know, when I was a kid — I was born in ’76, right, so when I was a kid all that had been past, but my parents and my friends’ parents had lost friends in that thing, and they hated it, Dan, they hated it. They didn’t just go, “Oh, I kinda wish we hadn’t fought the Vietnam War,” they hated it.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, keep in mind, we were losing hundreds a week. Ten thousand deaths in ’67. That’s more than in all these wars since then put together, right? Much more. Okay. Of direct killed. Fifteen thousand dead in 1968. Another 10,000 in ’69 under Nixon. About 7,000 in ’70. Etcetera. So, you know, 58,000 all together. What American presidents have discovered— they guessed it, and they were right– is that Americans would go along almost indefinitely, for a very long time, with a war with many fewer American deaths, and it didn’t matter how many foreign deaths. There was really no — there was no curiosity–there’s been really no interest in here as to how many Iraqis have really been killed over this 10-year span that we’re talking about. The highest figure that Bush ever said was 40,000, which is high — 40,000 civilians. That’s 10 times 9/11. But the real figure at that time, when he was talking about,Â in Lancet studies and Johns Hopkins studies, was more than 10 times that. It was more than 600,000. And that was in 2006, when years after that the probable total figure is well over a million deaths in Iraq. And that’s 10 times more than the figure that we’re now seeing in these retrospectives, which is like 120,000. Big figure, but it actually represents only the figures that have been reported in English-speaking journals, a tiny fraction [of the probable deaths], a tenth to be very specific.
Scott Horton:Â Well I think part of that discrepancy is between combat deaths and the excess death rate when you compare —
Daniel Ellsberg:Â I know, it’s partly that. But the 129,000 figure is not just combat deaths. It includes of course civilians killed — you don’t call that a combat death really. It’s a direct death. But no, the impression given is it’s between direct deaths and just people who died otherwise. I think that’s mistaken, actually. At least I’ll tell you that I did read a report on that just yesterday that the difference with the 1.2 million is a difference in method in estimating, and the latter, the larger figure, comes from sampling the entire population, what they call epidemiological studies, of the same character that has been recognized as the best method for discovering the real number of deaths due to war, and in those epidemiological studies they are not asking simply people who died of disease, they are asking people who were killed in one way or another. Anyway, I know your view is the way that has been said, and I believe it’s mistaken. I think the larger figure is of people who have actually been killed.
Scott Horton:Â I interviewed Allan Hyde from Opinion Business Research in Great Britain and they were the first ones to come up with the million number, and I’ve interviewed — I forget the guy’s name now [Les Roberts], but he was the guy that did the Lancet and Johns Hopkins studies of 2004 and 2006, and that’s what they were talking about was the excess death rate compared to before the war and after, so this includes somebody who bleeds on their way to the hospital because they’re stuck at a checkpoint, or somebody who gets cholera from drinking out of the now much more polluted river, or that kind of thing too. So it’s part of the people who starved to death because they’re just displaced and they have no method of getting food to eat, you know, in the worst part of the civil war, that kind of thing. They count too.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Yeah. Okay. Fair enough. For the larger figure, I still say I believe the figure we’re seeing now of 129,000, in a report that just came out, which is described as a very high figure, is in fact a very underrated figure based largely on reports and not on epidemiological studies.
Scott Horton:Â Right. Yes. Yes, absolutely. No no no. We absolutely agree about that. We absolutely agree about that. I think that’s — you know, iraqbodycount.org, they go with individual verifiable from multiple sources, you know, individual deaths, and count them name by name by name, but you can’t get a total that way.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Anyway, I’ll come back to my point. I doubt if you’ll disagree. Do you sense a great burning curiosity on the part of either Congress or the public or the media as to which of these estimates is closer to the truth? Or, how many people died? I’m afraid we’re living in a country and it’s not an unusual country, it’s an ordinary American country, this America, which doesn’t care very much how many people their military policies kill if they’re foreigners. Do you disagree with that?
Scott Horton:Â No, I’m sorry that I agree with you.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Now here’s where, I think you wanted to talk about Bradley Manning, if I’m right?
Scott Horton:Â Sure. Well, you know what? You’re Dan Ellsberg. Whatever you want to talk about is fine with me.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â When I hear Bradley Manning, when I read his 10,000 word-count statement there and the parts having to do with his motives, which are — the motives parts are almost exactly the same as he told in confidence (laughs) Adrian Lamo–who offered him the confidentiality of both a minister and a reporter as he was reporting to the FBI everything that he was told– so, what he told in confidence three years ago is pretty much the same motives. And what it comes down to is he cared about what was happening to Iraqis.
He looked at the video of the Iraqis being killed and the attitude of the Americans, which, as he put it, was like boys torturing ants with a magnifying glass, you know, sunlight in a magnifying glass. Or he talked about the Iraqis who he had participated in turning over to their Iraqi torturers illegally and being told that he should not care about that but just get more suspects.
He had just determined, by looking into it, that what they were charged with was simply, as he put it, an academic study of corruption in Iraq. Well, studies of corruption in the Iraqi government are hardly academic from the point of view of the Iraqi government or the American government. They undermine our efforts there, and they hide the fact that American money is buying mercenary corrupt collaboration from collaborators. So [such researchers], they’re just the sort of people who need to be tortured, right? And since it’s domestically [illegal], it raises some question when we do it directly, and especially, it diminishes the difference between the Obama administration and the Bush administration; better that the torture be done by our Iraqi collaborators.
So what I’m saying is, you’ve got a man here who actually turns out to care about the people who we’re torturing and killing, especially the civilians, the so-called innocents,: although in terms of international law I would have to say that people who shoot at occupiers are generally regarded as having a just cause, even if they’re not good people themselves. So in any case, he did care and he wanted to change it, and he saw the only way that he could change it was not from within the system — they wanted to cover that up–it was by, he hoped, provoking American debate, but he said world-wide debate, provoking world-wide debate and discussion and change of these criminal policies. And so if you ask why there are so few Bradley Mannings, if one were to ask that, which is often the case, the answer is, there aren’t that many people who have that degree of empathy for foreign bodies.
Scott Horton:Â Well, yeah. I mean that certainly is a big part of it. And, you know, also, I don’t know if this is deliberate or not, it may just be an effect of the process, Dan, but they dragged out the entire Bradley Manning thing forever. This audio you’re referring to is the first time we’ve even heard his voice this whole time. And so, you know, they smeared him and they said, “Well, he’s gay and he’s got blood on his hands and he’s — you can’t identify with that, and so forget him,” and then they locked him away, far away, threw away the key, didn’t even give him a trial, not yet, after three years, and so the American people have really gotten over the whole Manning thing. It’s not exciting news anymore. And I think that was, at least in effect, brilliant on the part of the government there in the way they’re treating him, because as you’re saying, once we hear what he actually has to say? My God, that’s the neighbor kid acting like a hero! And there’s just no doubt about that.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, that’s right. But you know there’s a young specialist, I think it was Darby, [Joseph] Darby I think it was , who revealed the Abu Ghraib photos, to a military investigator actually, and set in process a motion which did not end the torture as a whole and did not lead to a single prosecution of a higher up who had ordered this. The only people who were prosecuted or convicted were people who were foolish enough to have had pictures taken of them by their friends and to have those pictures circulated. But not one higher-level person prosecuted or convicted.
What happens to Darby, the whistleblower, the truth teller? His family has to move out of town. For a while he was under a witness protection program. And even now he can’t go home, because he told the truth about other people from the same town, who of course got the same benefit of the doubt, which is to say, you know, unquestioning support, as the rapists in Steubenville.
Scott Horton:Â Right.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Which got covered up. And with other people passing pictures around. Those pictures are not going to help them in the end. People have got to be a little more careful when they commit rape or crime, this sort of thing, try not to get it in the social media.
Scott Horton:Â Yeah, well. Twenty-first century digital lessons for us all, I guess. Now, it seems like part of this, you mentioned his motive being, you know, what finally drove him to do this. Because of course he leaked the Afghan and the State Department documents too and all this. But what finally drove him to it was the treatment of Iraqi civilians at the hands of the Iraqi government that was being installed, and it seems like that’s a big part of his persecution too.
Sea of atrocities, but Keller looks away
Daniel Ellsberg:Â He started looking into the State Department cables and seeing how much criminality there was there that we were supporting all around the world. But remember, before that he had given the video, and even before that — and he’d seen that after his initial transmission to WikiLeaks–was the Afghan and Iraq war logs.
And to say something on that, you know, Bill Keller’s account, the former editor-in-chief of the New York Times, is now a columnist for them and writes a column about Manning, and the Pentagon Papers actually, a week ago. He says he didn’t give us so much documents of a particular offense, such as I supposedly did, he just gave us an ability to “fish in a sea of secrets.”
Okay. Put aside the Pentagon Papers for a moment here. What he gave them the ability to do was to fish in a sea of criminality and deception and torture. The Iraq war logs, for example, revealed 15,000 civilian deaths which had been reported internally but were not included in the Iraq Body Count, the outside sources we were talking about earlier, which had I think at that point, if I remember, something like 90,000, 89,000 deaths based on actual reports in newspapers. So here were 15,000 civilians that the Americans had reported in their own official reporting secretly that had never been reported in the newspapers. That brought the Iraq Body Count up over 100,000. That wasn’t just a sea of secrets. That’s a sea of atrocities. It also gave hundreds of instances of torture by our Iraqi allies, to whom we were turning people over knowing they would be tortured. Illegal to do it and illegal not to investigate it. Illegal to give an order, “”do not investigate.” All of that is in the Iraq body counts.
In the Afghan [war logs], we have the fact of a huge system of assassinations going on which, in those days, when we first revealed those, the Afghan war logs, it wasn’t yet familiar to us that the American president himself, whether Bush or Obama, was choosing American civilians to be executed by the same type of special forces or by drones. But in this case, we were assassinating a lot of Iraqis with the admission by, as I recall, what was his name, General — pass that over, he was replaced by Petraeus. His name has slipped my mind.
Scott Horton:Â Oh, oh! McChrystal in Afghanistan.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Yeah, McChrystal.
Scott Horton:Â McChrystal.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Even McChrystal, who had been in charge of assassinations in Iraq earlier for special forces, when he was then in charge in Afghanistan, he said, most of the people — we were killing a lot of people, he said, who were innocent, I think he said.
Scott Horton:Â An “amazing number of people.”
Daniel Ellsberg:Â What?
Scott Horton:Â An “amazing number of people.”
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Good. You remember.
Scott Horton:Â I think in there he was referring to the checkpoints.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Amazing number, right. Okay. Well, that’s revealed to the New York Times and Keller. So the idea that what he was giving was something different from the Pentagon Papers that they were given is ridiculous. The Pentagon Papers, of course, were a record of 23 years, and it had lots of material in it that was not of particular news interest or criminality in those 7,000 pages. I gave them 4,000– all except for the negotiating volumes–to the newspapers, not because every page of that was extremely interesting or interesting at all to the public, but because I didn’t want to be accused of having censored them at all. So I put them all out so that they couldn’t say, “Dan Ellsberg has clipped out the one page that gives a good reason for us to be in Vietnam. He’s left out the justification for our war.” And I even left in a couple things, I won’t go into now, that I had a question in my own mind whether I should put in, but I did not want to be accused of censoring.
I think what Keller was talking about was clearly not the video, which obviously deserved to be out by itself and was the result, was clear evidence of a murder, of the kind of murder that can occur in wartime, [nor was it] the Afghan war logs showing enormous numbers of extralegal assassinations by a big system over in Afghanistan, and a number of other things. Or the Iraq war logs, which show, you know, enormous numbers of the torture incidents and related things. What he’s pointing to is the State Department cables, which don’t deal with simply one country or with crime. And of course there’s a lot of stuff in the 260,000 cables that a) is not of particular newsworthy interest, or b) is simply gossip.
Now, interestingly, it was the New York Times under Keller who chose to make their first issue on the State Department cables almost exclusively gossip, the fact that Gaddafi had a blond mistress, the fact that Angela Merkel was regarded as a mediocre thinker, various things like that. It was almost entirely Drudge-like gossip line entirely, which gave I think the American people a very misleading impression of what was in those papers. Der Spiegel, El PaÃs, Le Monde did not start with that stuff. They started with material from those papers that was far more incriminating, let’s say, of American policy and far more newsworthy and gave a much better impression of what that stuff was.
But, again, Keller was in no way confronting the misleading impression that most Americans have on the Manning case, Â that Manning had dumped out 260,000 cables to the world indiscriminately. Obviously more than he could have read by himself, so he was just dumping them out. And that I think has dominated the impression that Manning did not have a serious whistleblower motive and was just a troubled young man who was indiscriminately dumping everything he had had.
Manning the opposite of indiscriminate
In fact, he did not put anything on the web directly, as you or I could have done. You don’t need to be a techie like him to do that. He could have put everything on the worldwide web, on the Internet, initially, for everybody. He did not do that, which is what most people think of him as having done. He first tried the Times and the Post, and getting no encouragement there he went to WikiLeaks, which again was an organization that gave this stuff to mainstream press who used experienced staffs, editorial staffs, people who were used to dealing with leaked classified material, actually, and who selected out of that what they thought was newsworthy for the public to know. And I would say, by the way, that the selections by most of the other papers were much better than those of the Times. Not entirely. But the effect of that was that after about six months after he had given the 260,000 cables to WikiLeaks — I’m sorry, WikiLeaks had given them to the press — after they were being published, less than 2% had been published at all. So it’s the opposite of indiscriminate.
Aside from the fact that he was in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a SCIF, which in fact means something which mainly deals with material higher than Top Secret. That’s why it’s called “sensitive compartmented information.” It’s higher than Top Secret. It’s communications intelligence. It’s covert operations. It’s reconnaissance of various kinds. He had access to all of that, put none of it out. I could say I wish he had put some of it out, maybe, but anyway he didn’t.
Â And he put — after all, everything I put out was Top Secret, but not SCI. I did not put out compartmented information. Maybe I should have put out some. I wouldn’t have done it without reading that. But what he put out was mainly unclassified, and as he said in his statement, stuff that was only Secret, meaning it did not have an additional designator limiting its distribution like LIMDIS for limited distribution, NODIS, no distribution, meaning only the people who were addressees of it, or EXDIS, executive. He put out only stuff that was, as he knew, available to 400,000 people who had access to that net.
Scott Horton:Â Hasn’t the president of United States compared what Bradley Manning did to what you did, negatively, and said, “Yeah, but you know what Manning leaked was secret.”
Daniel Ellsberg:Â No, no, he didn’t say that! (laughs) For once I can correct you slightly on that quote. What he said was, “The information and material that Ellsberg put out was classified on a different basis.” He did not make clear that the different basis was that what I put out was Top Secret and what Manning put out was Secret. (laughs)
Scott Horton:Â It was completely ridiculous.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â He was right, technically. It was a different basis. Mine was higher.
Scott Horton:Â I got to give him credit for that. You know, Bill Clinton used to be able to rewrite his lies as he was talking. He was just brilliant at it, and you could tell that, you know, Obama’s gears were turning as the words were coming out of his mouth, he was realizing that, oops, what Ellsberg leaked was classified on a much higher level, so how am I going to get my way out of this, and then he just went for vaguery and it worked.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â I think he was smoother than that. I don’t think he realized. He just said “on a different basis.” I don’t think he knew what he was saying at that point (laughs), but he just wanted to distinguish between Manning and me somehow. He didn’t want to say that I had broken the law, although as a matter of fact he did want to say, prior to trial, that this suspect, this defendant, had broken the law. That’s what he did say. And he didn’t want to come right out and say that I had broken the law. Would he have prosecuted me? Oh, in a minute! No hesitation whatever.
And another difference in the situation is–Mort Halperin, who was involved in the trial, mentioned to me just the other day–this Supreme Court would have upheld the injunctions. They would have upheld the injunctions of all the papers and not allowed the Times to continue to publish. That’s how the situation has changed.
Revealing thousands of war crimes that go to the top
But in terms of the difference between the Pentagon Papers and Manning’s material, there is a difference. His stuff, a) was only Secret, but b) was field-level reporting. And mine was Top Secret, but it had to do with — and there is of course Top Secret field-level reporting too which Manning had access to but did not reveal — but in my case it was high-level decision-making documents. Well, that made them in some degree more historically and politically significant, what I was putting out.
But the Pentagon Papers at the decision-making level did not reveal clear-cut domestic or international war crimes, criminal acts. It revealed deception, recklessness, a very wrongful war altogether, deception of the American public, stealing of an election you might say in ’64, but it did not reveal war crimes at the level of the squad and the combat units. The Afghan and Iraq war logs reveal thousands of war crimes which are not only investigatable and prosecutable, but they lead up to the top. They actually are war crimes that point to a policy over which the president, who is the executive, supposed to enforce the law, is the chief law officer in the country, above the attorney general. The president swears to enforce the laws of the United States, see that they are enforced. And in this case, the case of the torture and the failure to investigate, these are crimes which deserve investigation and prosecution, and of course they lead up to the president, the commander in chief.
So Manning was actually, even though it was only at the Secret level, was revealing crimes that were more incriminating, literally incriminating, not just embarrassing, to the president than anything revealed in the Pentagon Papers. They were very significant from that point of view and obviously make him a very dangerous person for the president.
Scott Horton:Â Mmhmm. Well, and Secretary Gates conceded that no individual rat for the other side, or, you know, double agent or quisling in Afghanistan or any kind of informant, was actually hurt. There was no blood on Manning’s hands or Assange’s hands for these leaks, no real harm done, and they —
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Zero. Zero, as far as we know, or Assange, and that is the opposite of the truth, of course, on the hands, legs, waist, chin, neck of the people who use that charge, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, other officials involved in the aggression against Iraq, who said he has blood on his hands or he might already have blood on his hands. They’re steeped up to just below the breathing level, I would say, in the blood of innocent people. So there’s an irony there.
But one other thing occurs to me. This is kind of funny, from my own experience. Since he excluded secret stuff that was EXDIS, LIMDIS or NODIS, as I’ve just defined, and Top Secret, what Manning put out, assuming that it would at most be embarrassing, was a level of material that I didn’t have time to read when I was a GS-18 in the Pentagon working as special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense. Having first made the mistake of asking for everything having to do with Vietnam in the daily cables and reports and estimates, I find myself given, literally given, two stacks of paper that were about 5Â½ feet tall, each one just below the level of my head, behind my desk. And I spent a couple days trying to zip through that stuff every day, and, [concluded] “oh, well, this is impossible.”
So I said, “okay, only give me Top Secret or LIMDIS, EXDIS, NODIS Secret. Nothing that’s just Secret, nothing that’s Confidential, I just don’t have time to read it.” Well, it was my assumption that it wasn’t as important. I would have said”¦looking at the State Department cables that Manning was looking at, “there isn’t going to be much in that.” I was wrong. There’s a hell of a lot in that, and in the Secret Afghan and Iraq logs, which I wouldn’t even have had time to look at in the Pentagon.Â
Obviously I look back now, 40 years, 50 years, and say, wow, I was missing quite a bit after all. I didn’t have time. But there was stuff in that. I wouldn’t have thought there was as much criminality to be revealed in stuff that was only Secret as there is. I guess it’s gotten so routine to break domestic laws, which weren’t even as clear-cut domestic crimes in my day, in the Vietnam War 40 years ago, like torture, as they are now. In the ‘80s and ‘90s we passed laws and the Geneva Convention earlier which make that as clear-cut a domestic and international crime as there could be.
And what Manning revealed was, from material going up through 2010, or almost two years, a year and half, into Obama’s administration, was that Obama, like Bush, was clearly violating the law. His failure to investigate and to prosecute these activities clearly makes Obama as subject to prosecution in the Hague as Bush, And that’s as subject as you can be, except that you’re the head of a superpower that doesn’t recognize the International Criminal Court anyway,–jurisdiction over us–because America and above all its commander in chief is beyond any law.
Scott Horton:Â What do you make of the government charging Manning with aiding the enemy, Dan?
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, it’s outrageous. It’s a military charge. It’s akin to treason, which is defined in the Constitution as “waging war against the United States or, comma, adhering to its enemies, comma, giving them aid and comfort.” That is the definition of treason in the Constitution. When it’s quoted, that crucial phrase, “adhering to its enemies,” is almost always omitted or people are ignorant of it. Obviously neither Manning nor I adhered to the enemies of the United States, and they’re not even claiming that, and they wouldn’t have claimed it for either of us. So I didn’t get charged with treason under the Constitution.
Now, this military thing of aiding and comfort to the enemy, which doesn’t even involve any motive whatever, just of helping them — no motive, no element of motive in it, it’s just doing something which gives aid and comfort to the enemy. Well, that’s every person who criticizes any element of our wrongheaded criminal policies. Or for that matter our legal policies. Any kind of criticism is going to be of some interest, possibly, to an enemy in wartime, and they’ll read it in the paper. They’ll do what Osama bin Laden was said to do, “see what’s in the WikiLeaks cables that are published of interest to us,” and obviously anything that makes us look bad, like supporting corrupt dictatorships around the world, is going to be of interest to them.
Anybody who says that”¦by the way, the military clauses surprised me when I really saw an analysis of it. It says “any person” It doesn’t have to be military. I didn’t know there were military regulations that could be applied to a civilian. I thought I was free of that charge now, being a civilian. No. You don’t even have to be a veteran like me. Any person, anybody else, who writes a letter to the editor that would lead some enemy like Osama to say, “Hey! Right on! I like that!” (laughs) “Post that one on the wall, that’s good,” is subject to the death penalty.
Now, they’re not seeking the death penalty. They’re seeking only life imprisonment. And Floyd Abrams, who has to a considerable extent — I’m saying strong criticism here — in my view has to a large extent turned over to the dark side here, considerably, in recent years, but he used to be a good First Amendment lawyer, has now come out with a letter really criticizing that the death penalty should be applied to that charge for Bradley Manning. He thinks that he should be prosecuted only on the same basis as the Pentagon Papers. In other words, a life sentence is a good enough sentence for that. They want to knock out the capital charge and leave him only with the life sentence which I was facing and which Manning — to get him to a life sentence [without that charge] they’d have to add some more charges, which they could do overnight, by, you know, additional acts that they’re charging him with.
Scott Horton:Â Okay, now hold on one second, Dan. Let me just make sure that I understand you absolutely clearly here.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Yeah, right.
Scott Horton:Â What you’re saying is, when Osama bin Laden said, “You should read Michael Scheuer’s book, because he understands me better than any American.”
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, no, what he did say was that everybody should read Bob Woodward’s book. Now Bob Woodward’s books — by the way, most of which (laughs), most of which would not be of great interest to Osama because it’s pure court reporting–in the sense of a monarchical court– favoring Bush’s aggressions against Iraq. But he did write a later book, State of Denial, which was quite critical, and of course is nearly all based on Top Secret reporting of the kind of which is far, far more classified than anything put out by Manning, and subject to the same charge. Now, Osama did say, “Everybody should read State of Denial.” It’s a book that he actually did recommend. And for good reason in this case. That’s to the credit of Bob Woodward that he actually did some reporting that was very good, properly critical.
But it was Top Secret, and even if it hadn’t been, it certainly gave comfort to Osama bin Laden. Which is to say that Bob Woodward is subject to the same charge, even though he is a veteran, is no longer in the military services. Absolutely. And you mentioned Michael Scheuer. He was also a former official. But I am saying, definitely, people who were never in the government, never had a secrecy agreement, but who were publishing — do we even have to say they were publishing secrets? They’re just publishing criticisms.
Scott Horton:Â Well, I mean, and that’s why I picked Scheuer is because he’s a civilian and he doesn’t have, he doesn’t pretend to be a journalist breaking any classified stories at all. He can only say open source stuff. His book’s even reviewed by the CIA to keep anything that they want out. But then again, bin Laden said it comforted him, in a way that — or whatever. I mean, you could twist it — a prosecutor could twist his words that way anyway.
War on journalism
Daniel Ellsberg:Â That is a charge they could use against him. And, by the way, if they’d wanted, they could have said that everything that Scheuer says, allegedly from, well, from open sources, reflects his knowledge of classified information,. Which is the kind of charge they’re using right now against Stephen Kim, who is on trial under the Espionage Act, same charge I was faced with, for giving to a media, somebody, I forget who, Newsweek or somebody, it might have been television, giving an opinion, which they’re charging him with reflecting what he knew of from classified sources. Now, as he said, in his defense, the opinion he was giving was just that of somebody who was a specialist on Korea — it’s a perfectly straightforward opinion of what the Koreans would do under certain circumstances — he certainly would have given the same opinion if he hadn’t read those sources. But they are charging him with being aware and having his opinion framed by classified sources, and they’re charging him under the Espionage Act.
The Need for Leaks
In short, this is not just a war, Obama’s war, on whistleblowers. More widely it’s a war on truth-telling, which is what we’re talking about. It’s a war on journalism. I think it was James Goodale at the Times who said recently that to charge Assange with trying to get this information is charging him with conspiracy to commit journalism.
Scott Horton:Â Yeah. Well, that’s basically the case. All right, now, so that makes it hard, because for almost 10 years now we’ve been talking, Dan, and we’ve been ending this show with your call to action on the part of other government employees and maybe contractors with clearance that they too ought to find the most important documents they can and liberate them for the American people so that we can know the truth, but that’s going to be a pretty tough sell these days.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â I’ll be a little more specific than that. I don’t say simply [“important”]. I wouldn’t say (laughs) — Bradley Manning said, perhaps a little naively, that he had been influenced by the Woodrow Wilson statement of calling for open diplomacy, total transparency. I don’t know if Wilson really believed that, and I think that young Bradley Manning may actually have taken that seriously. But I wouldn’t say that I’m for totally open diplomacy, or no secrecy whatever, or total transparency. That’s another whole discussion, but that’s not my position.
But what I would say is that when people like Manning — and there are many like him — read evidence of clear criminality in American government that is being covered up systematically by the system and that is important enough for the country to know so as to change it–to bring forces to bear outside the executive branch, from Congress and from the public and from courts– that they should then very much consider taking great personal risk [to expose it.]
And in many cases they’ll say it’s not worth it. “The risks are too high for me. I’m not willing to do it.” That’s understandable, that’s human, and may be very appropriate in a given case. This particular lie, this particular crime, isn’t important enough to the public for me to go to prison for life for this. But there will be those, if they consider it, who will react like Manning and say, as he did, “I’m ready to go to prison for life or even be executed to get this out,” because there is material that’s that important.”
And when they see that, I think some of them who are in combat zones, who have taken risks of their lives and their bodies, will see that they can just as well take a risk of prison and losing their freedom. I know that’s possible because I was inspired to do that myself by other Americans who went to prison rather than go to Vietnam, draft resisters who chose to go to prison to make as strong a message as they could to people like me. Even though they didn’t have any secrets, they just knew what everyone but the president knew, namely, that we were in a wrongful, hopeless, bloody war that ought to end. And that was secret only to the president and to the people who worked for him.
If they see documents like that, they absolutely should consider giving them — I’m saying to WikiLeaks. It would be fine if there were some other channels right now that would be just as good. The New York Times, I would now say would be my second choice. I used to say that I would first give them to the Times and if they didn’t take them, give them to WikiLeaks. No, as I read Bill Keller and I reflect on the fact that it was Bill Keller who kept secret the criminal, unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping that NSA was doing under Bush–George W. Bush, who was saying publicly, “We do not wiretap without a warrant,” a direct lie, but the problem there was not the lie but the crime–and Keller sat on that information for more than a year, through an election, and gave us, I would say, –helped to give us, to be specific– helped give us another four years of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq and otherwise.
So a Keller type would not now — I don’t want to say that every Times person has the poor judgment of Keller, and Jill Abramson might very well use that material right away. I would hope that she would, would have used the material on the NSA right away. But they didn’t. So — and there was a lot of material from the Manning cables that the Times never did get around to putting out, and that was left to El PaÃs, and in particular Der Spiegel did a very good job, and the Guardian generally. If Le Monde had not put out in French the information about Tunisian corruption, Ben Ali, the dictator in Tunisia that we had supported up till that time, would still be there. If it had been left to the Times, I don’t think there’s any reason that they would have decided to put that out. It took Le Monde in their francophone area in Tunisia to put that out.
And I would have to say, I’m not sure I would have put out that cable myself, would have seen it important enough. I think that Manning did better than I would have done at that time. I’ve learned from his experience. He put out the 260,000 cables, not to the world but to WikiLeaks. It was used discriminatingly by the press sources that WikiLeaks shared that with, and I probably wouldn’t have done that. And now that I see that three years have passed, there have been no ill effects that have been reported from this. A few people may have had to, at government expense, shift their jobs from one country to another. This is not even worth mentioning as harm. And having had no harm, he made the right choice, at the Secret level.
I still wouldn’t say I would put out Top Secret or higher that I hadn’t read. I wouldn’t do that. I would put out Top Secret or compartmented information that I thought was wrongly withheld and that the public needed to know, but that would be based on my reading it. But at the Secret level, if I were now faced with that again in his position, I think he did just the right thing, put it all out and let people discover the multitude of crimes in it.
Scott Horton:Â Right, well see, now, that’s the thing. I mean, a lot of this Secret level stuff is not outright criminality, it’s just really bad policy. In fact, we talked before about how your father could have blown the whistle on the secret plan to develop the hydrogen bomb, and that wasn’t necessarily criminal but the American people should have known at the time.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Manning, by the way, was not only revealing wrongdoing by the US but by other countries. And he said, “I want to show the world how the” — I forget the phrase he used, First World, you could say, treats the Third World —
Scott Horton:Â Exploits.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â — oppresses the Third World. He was interested in corruption by other countries that were revealed in those cables and the way they all screwed countries like Haiti — we did in particular in that case, but others as well — and [also the nature of]Â “asymmetric warfare”, which means war of the strong against the weak. That’s a little expansion of the phrase “asymmetric warfare,” which is a little more esoteric. In other words, you spray bullets at civilians on the ground, as in the video, that’s asymmetric warfare. The other side doesn’t have helicopters to shoot from, so it’s asymmetric. Now, he wanted to show that corporations all over the world were dumping their toxic waste and what not in Third World countries and that we knew about it and didn’t do anything effective to oppose it. We did ourselves as well.
So he was concerned about enlightening the world. Now, that in the eyes of some Americans is practically treasonable behavior. It means caring about people outside this country. That is not, however, the definition of what it is to be a good patriotic American in terms of our Constitution. As a matter of fact, how does our Declaration of Independence begin? That we owed it to the world to give an accounting of our reasons for revolution and independence. And maybe — you’re good, what are the words that it starts with? A country —
[When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.]
Scott Horton:Â Yeah, it’s respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare their causes which impel them to their separation —
Daniel Ellsberg:Â “When in the course of human events “a country finds it necessary to separate from — they owe it to the world, isn’t that right?, to give them a good accounting.
Scott Horton:Â Yeah, respect to the opinion of mankind.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Well, Bradley Manning did give the world a good accounting of how our first world, the industrialized, corporatized, capitalist world, and “socialist”,whatever — I don’t know what, what shall we call China now? Capitalist, yes, but a particular form of capitalism, very close to fascism. Anyway, this is the way the Third World gets treated. He wanted the world to see that. So he is also a citizen of the world, otherwise known as a human being, as well as an American patriot.
Scott Horton:Â All right, we got to leave it there, Dan. We’re all out of time. Thank you so much for your time on the show today. Great to talk to you again.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Thanks for the chance. Bye.
Scott Horton:Â All right, everybody. That’s the great Daniel Ellsberg, liberator of the Pentagon Papers, author of the book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. Search around on the Internet at the publisher’s page. You can find the sample chapter one, which is great, it’s about the day of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, his first day on the job at the Pentagon there. And also check out the great documentary, it’s called The Most Dangerous Man in America. It’s really good, about the liberation of the Pentagon Papers and that entire controversy. I really hope you’ll take a look at that.
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