Exclusive: the first reaction of Daniel Ellsberg, author ofÂ Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, to Bradley Manning’s acquittal on charges of “aiding the enemy,” but conviction under the espionage act, why journalism is still threatened, Manning’s motives, the positive consequences of his leaks — for instance ending America’s occupation of Iraq once and for all, and the importance of whistleblowers to a free society.
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Scott Horton interviews Daniel Ellsberg
July 30, 2013
Scott Horton:Â All right, y’all. Welcome back. I’m Scott Horton, and we are joined on the phone live by Daniel Ellsberg, The Most Dangerous Man in America, the heroic liberator of the Pentagon Papers. Welcome back to the show, Dan, how are you doing?
Daniel Ellsberg:Â I’m doing okay. We’ll tell your listeners that you just informed me 30 seconds ago that Bradley Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy. That’s very, very important, and good news, because the alternative would have been extremely bad news. It would have been very close to being a death knell over time to investigative journalism in this country, which means a free press, which means ultimately democracy or any possibility of democratic control of our foreign policy, our defense policy, totally, if the prosecutor’s argument that his simply giving information to the internet and thereby making it available to the world, including whatever enemies we had, if that is enough to earn a death sentence or life in prison, without any attempt even to prove or indicate intent to harm the United States or to help an enemy — that’s the argument the prosecutor was making and the charges they’ve pursued ever since Bradley Manning pled guilty to 10 military offenses, which could still keep him in prison for 20 years, and I haven’t seen the full verdict here so it may well be that she has added some other offenses to that which may add up to a life sentence.
In my case, I didn’t face a single, one single count that carried a death sentence, such as the aiding the enemy charge in this case did, but I had 12 felony counts which added up to 115 years in prison, so the effect was much the same. That could still be the case here.
The truth is that he did not deserve a day in prison for informing the public here as he did. He certainly does not deserve an additional day after the abusive treatment he’s received here of three years awaiting trial, 10Â½ months in solitary confinement, part of that nude, a treatment which was described by the UN Rapporteur for Torture as, if not being torture — and he didn’t have all the facts there because he hadn’t been allowed to speak to Manning alone — but he said at the very least it was cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment, which is the definition of a crime under the Geneva Conventions we’ve signed and under domestic law. So he should have been released on the grounds of governmental misconduct, as was the case in my trial, but wasn’t.
And this charge of aiding the enemy should have been dropped earlier. It was absurd and ominous and had the most ominous implications for journalism in general in this country and for our learning what our government is doing. I might also mention that that charge is one of two charges in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that is not confined to military personnel but says ‘any person’ who does this, and so it’s even more ominous than it might be. So, given that that’s taken out, which frankly I’ve been saying yesterday was 50-50 in my mind, looking at the judge’s behavior and others who follow the trial have said they thought the odds were greater than that, this is good.
Scott Horton:Â Yeah. Well, you know, the way that the judge had helped the prosecution redefine the charges at the last minute there, some of the charges, not the aiding the enemy charge — that made me, you know — you’re a hell of an optimist, Dan, if you were giving it 50-50. I was worried it was a much smaller chance than that. So this is really great news. Now —
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Oh, it is. It is. I was refusing to be interviewed the day before the trial. I had a number of offers or proposals to be interviewed the day before the verdict and I said, ‘What’s the use of that?’ You know, wait for the verdict. But in my own mind I did not want to rehearse beforehand how bad I was going to feel, and foresee, if he was found guilty of aiding the enemy. So I (laughs) — ‘sufficient under the day is the evil thereof,’ my father used to quote the Bible, and I thought, okay, I’ll wait for the verdict.
I’m glad that I did now, and in this respect it’s very good. And we’ll see what the rest — there are several other stages to this now. I presume it’s already available and I haven’t seen it yet, what else she’s finding him guilty of other than the 10 charges that he pled guilty to. There were the remaining 12 charges including the aiding enemy. You don’t know offhand, Scott?
Scott Horton:Â Yes, sir. I’m looking at Alexa O’Brien’sÂ twitter feedÂ now, Dan, and she has found him guilty of espionage for the Iraq war logs, for the Afghan war diaries, and the Gitmo files. Those are three different espionage charges at least.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â But not guilty — now, having been the first person who was prosecuted for a leak under the Espionage Act, let me correct you, Scott, and a lot of other people who describe this as espionage. The way it’s described legally is it is a non-espionage charge under the so-called Espionage Act. It’s 18 USC 793, paragraphs D and E. It’s known as the Espionage Act because before my prosecution it was used only against spying, only against espionage, giving information to an enemy with intent to help that enemy, or a foreign power if not an enemy, a foreign power, intent to help them and/or to harm the United States. In my case, they did not charge espionage. In fact, the prosecutor made a motion which was accepted by the judge that the word ‘espionage’ should not be used in the courtroom lest it give the jury the impression that an absurd charge was being made, since it was obvious that neither my intent nor my actions were espionage. So, even so, I’ve often been described as having been charged with espionage.
In this case, he’s charged with — and convicted, it seems, at this stage, and I’m afraid later — of violations of 18 USC 793. Actually this is a military trial, but he is the second person ever to be convicted by a jury — in this case, a judge — of that charge. The only other person was Samuel Loring Morison, a dozen years after my case was dismissedÂ for governmental misconduct, was found by a jury guilty of that violation, which Bradley is now the second person. There have been seven prosecutions, indictments, brought by Obama under that act, of which Bradley Manning was one. And there were only three by prior presidents, no president more than one. So Obama has now brought more than twice as many indictments under that law as any other, and to call it espionage in a way makes it sound absurd, because it obviously isn’t espionage, and as I say, that is actually incorrect.
But to use that law in that fashion is to use it as if it were a British Official Secrets Act which criminalizes any and all release of classified information, and that is in fact a very ominous development itself for investigative journalism because if any release of classified information, which after all occurs, usually anonymously, every day — in other words, there are thousands of cases and not seven, and not 700; it would be closer to 7,000 over a long period, of which Obama has prosecuted just seven. But if this is upheld, it will be one more precedent that will encourage Obama to bring even more cases, and even though then leakers, people who give unauthorized disclosure of information that the public needs to know and for which there will be no authorization because the government doesn’t want the public to know it, because it’s criminal, deceptive, reckless, irresponsible, whatever, it would be embarrassing, so they will not authorize information on that. An unauthorized disclosure will now not carry a death sentence or in itself a life sentence, but a multiplication of those could be a life sentence and even one can be 10 years, so that’s more than enough disincentive to keep us from having the information we need and to avert wars like Vietnam and Iraq. So this is bad news, but it could have been a lot worse. That’s all I’m going to have to say.
Scott Horton:Â Mmhmm. Well, now, there’s been a lot of smears, and, you know, TV hardly covers this subject of Bradley Manning and what he did and the trial and everything else at all, and when they do mention it, it’s always with a sneer and always taking the government’s side. I was wondering if you could remark about what you understand about Bradley Manning’s motives for leaking the Iraq and Afghan war logs.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Oh, when I hear Bradley Manning and when I read what he said in the chat logs and whatever, I’m hearing myself when I was twice his age 40 years ago, and I know my motives and I perceive the same motives in his case, in each case actually, to save lives, to shorten a wrongful, hopeless, stalemated war, and to do so by informing the public and challenging them to live up to the Constitution in an unconstitutional war, to live up to ideals of democracy and of nonaggression, rather than fighting an aggressive war, as Iraq, the war that Manning was involved in, was an aggressive war from start to finish. Moreover — so I see his motives as admirable, and indeed in his case I think that without the revelation that he made of American atrocities over there, which have been covered up by Americans, we would still have 10 to 20,000 American troops in harm’s way in Iraq because Prime Minister Maliki there would have allowed immunity for our troops, which was the condition for their remaining. Given the revelations that Manning made through WikiLeaks, the immunity was impossible for Maliki to give, since it was obvious that we would not prosecute American atrocities and would cover them up and lie about them instead, and therefore weÂ couldn’t keep the troops there although Obama wanted to do it. So he has taken at least 10,000 troops out of harm’s way in Iraq, even though many of them were, in our general imperial mode here, switched to Afghanistan, where they are subject to dying and killing hopelessly and wrongfully as well.
So it’s a long process here. He did the right thing. I did the right thing then. I haven’t always done the right thing, the best thing, in my life, but doing what Bradley Manning did at a younger age was right for me then and it’s right for him now. So he remains, he will always be, a hero of mine.
Scott Horton:Â All right, now, Dan, before you leaked from the Rand Corporation all that, you were a Marine. You know all of this, the matter of — and obviously charged as you were by the Nixon goons, clearly you’re very familiar with the legalities of all of this. So what I wonder is if you could answer, according to Manning, the situation that he was put in of helping the Iraqi police arrest and then presumably torture people for writing articles — never mind morality and what’s just the right thing, but what was his legal obligation at that point when his commanding officer ordered him to continue?
Daniel Ellsberg:Â First to reveal to his commanding officer — well, to a superior officer — what he had discovered. And he was very excited by that. And he ran,Â as everybody has agreed, he ran to the officer to tell him that he had discovered that these people were wrongfully convicted, wrongfully held, and were going to be tortured and should be released. The first point was that his superior officer told him that he should forget that, don’t worry about that; his job was collecting more suspects, on the same basis as before, and handing them over to the Iraqis — we got points for that, giving them prisoners to torture — and that’s what he should do.
Now that was an illegal response. The legal response would have been investigate this further and do what we can to stop it. We are legally obligated to do that. So the order not to investigate and not to act was an illegal order. Under Nuremberg it’s blatantly illegal, and he I think knew that. Certainly if you recognize it as such, it’s your Nuremberg obligation to disobey an illegal order.
Well, there was testimony during this trial by other members there that he came back and was very upset, quote, ‘very concerned,’ quote, that nobody was concerned about this situation, that people, other people, weren’t worrying about it and that we were torturing innocent people and that that bothered him a lot. So since there was obviously a cover-up going on, he couldn’t really go higher in the chain of command with any prospect of doing it, he ended up doing exactly what he should have done, and that was exposing this situation to the American people in the hope, which his own defense attorney suggests may have been, quote, ‘naÃ¯ve.’ I would like to think that it was not totally naÃ¯ve. If he’d thought that it was certain we would stop that practice if he only exposed it, that would be naÃ¯ve, inexperienced. But he didn’t. He hoped that the American people would respond to this and be concerned, as he was, and stop it.
Well, the hope hasn’t been particularly satisfied, I have to say. I am very reluctant to say that it was an absurd, naÃ¯ve hope, that there’s no hope that Americans will rise to this sort of thing, but there is an interesting contrast. I’m sure Snowden, when he released stuff to the American people, was thought to be, could be described as naÃ¯ve, but again he thought his, his greatest fear he said was that nothing would change. Well, that’s likely. The probabilities are that nothing will change. But there really is a kickback on this one, and 205 people in Congress voted to rein in the NSA as a result of Snowden’s revelations, a very big effect.
Now that’s quite in contrast to what happened with Manning, and as I see it, and I’m not happy to say this as an American, or as human, let’s say, but it is the case that what Manning revealed was what we were doing to other people. Not our enemies — civilians, babies, infants, children, women, old people and whatnot, but not Americans. Others. They were over there. Collateral damage. And the American people, some of whom got very concerned, and Manning has gotten a number of awards, as you know, from minority factions in this county, and he does have support, but the majority aren’t very concerned about it.
In the Snowden case, he showed that every one of us in America is having our conversations recorded and stored for later retrieval, tivoed in effect, even though not listened to in real time, and the American people are concerned about that, a lot of them, not all of them, but more than half are concerned and there may really be a change. So that is a promising development here, that there will be a revolt against these abuses by the government. And if the Bradley Manning case were happening in a vacuum, it would be almost nothing but bad news. As it is, it could have been worse. The aiding the enemy charge was dismissed, properly, by the judge, and that wasn’t entirely foreseeable, and Bradley Manning inspired Snowden.
Snowden has said he admired Bradley Manning, he said he admired me also, that’s a long time ago, and he was directly influenced by Manning, and he learned from Manning’s example not to release the stuff and stay in the country. Snowden would be in a cell like Manning right now, incommunicado, not able to take part in the debate over these issues, which is in this case a real debate had he made his releases while he was in the country.
So he learned from Manning’s case, Manning contributed to that and for what happens if we do manage to get the National Security Agency under some kind of democratic oversight and control, which it does not suffer at this moment — it’s out of control, it’s responsible to the president but the president and NSA are at this moment out of informed control by the public or Congress or the court, and if that changes, which may happen, and I hope it will happen, Bradley Manning will deserve some direct credit for that. And I’m going to leave it at that, if you will, Scott.
Scott Horton:Â Okay. Thank you very much, Dan. I sure appreciate your time on the show again as always.
Daniel Ellsberg:Â Thanks for calling. Bye.
Scott Horton:Â All right, everybody. That is the American hero, Daniel Ellsberg. He’s the liberator of the Pentagon Papers, and he’s the author of the book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. He’s the subject of the documentary film The Most Dangerous Man in America. His website is Ellsberg.net, and his twitter handle is @DanielEllsberg. And did I leave anything out? He’s the American hero who ended the Vietnam war. We’d probably still be at war in Vietnam right now if it wasn’t for him. That’s what I think. All right.