Internal Dissent Against Iraq War In State Dept.
Between The Lines
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 17, 2003
Resignations and Leaks in U.S. State Department Signal Growing Internal Dissent Against Iraq War
former U.S. government military analyst
who released the "Pentagon Papers,"
conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio:
Daniel Ellsberg was a career U.S. government military analyst when, in 1971, he leaked the now-famous "Pentagon Papers" to the press, which bolstered opposition to the Vietnam War. The 47-volume Defense Department internal study of the U.S. role in Southeast Asian conflicts for more than three decades was classified top secret. The documents chronicled the lies and deceit employed by government officials to justify U.S. military intervention in the region's wars. Mr. Ellsberg, originally a strong supporter of the Vietnam War, became a committed opponent, risking his career and freedom when he released these documents to the New York Times.
He was indicted by the Nixon administration for the unauthorized release of state secrets and faced a possible 115-year prison term. But the charges were dismissed in 1973 after it was revealed that President Nixon had authorized White House aides to burglarize Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in an attempt to discredit him.
In an indication of growing internal opposition to the Bush administration's plans for a "pre-emptive" war in Iraq, several career State Department diplomats have recently resigned in protest. In Britain, an intelligence agency operative leaked a document from the U.S. National Security Agency outlining Washington's plans to spy on United Nations delegates from nations whose votes are being sought by the U.S. to pass a resolution authorizing war in the Security Council. British authorities recently arrested an employee at the government Communications Headquarters for violating that nation's Official Secrets Act. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Daniel Ellsberg, who reflects on the current White House drive for war with Iraq and growing dissent now bubbling to the surface within the government bureaucracy.
Daniel Ellsberg: I think we are in a situation right now in which we're being lied into a reckless, unnecessary wrongful war, just as happened in Vietnam. This time, there is a difference, we know we're going into a war -- the public was misled even as to that 35 years ago.
But this time we know, but why are we going into the war? Why Iraq? Why at this particular time? What is the urgency of it?
I think the reasons being given by the president and his subordinates, his Cabinet officials and sub-Cabinet officials are as misleading as ever were uttered during Vietnam. I think there is a time right now for the people inside the government to be telling the truth to us, -- right now before the bombs are dropping. They shouldn't wait as long as I did before they decide to risk their careers or even give up their careers and tell what they know to the public because there's a chance now of actually averting that war. It's a very small chance, but any chance is worth a great personal risk.
Between The Lines: Daniel Ellsberg, there are people now within the State Department and other branches of civil service who are resigning and leaking information. John Brady Kiesling, a long time U.S. diplomat in Greece recently resigned in opposition to the Bush policy on war with Iraq. What can you tell us about what drives people inside the bureaucracy to take such a step?
Daniel Ellsberg: To take the step it's not in a way, so hard to explain. What's harder to explain is the way in which so many of them, like myself, spent years when they do know that the policy is wrong, they know that the president is misleading the people and they keep their mouths shut. Looking back on it after the tragedies one asks I think, very reasonably, "What took you so long?"
The people used to ask me, "You know, what gave you the right to put out these secrets?" I did feel, in addressing that question very often, that I should be asked the question, "What made you think you had the right to keep your mouth shut all those years even though, granted, your job depended on it?" Was that a good enough reason?
There are other reasons. I think why more people don't do what Kiesling very credibly just did -- resign and not only resign -- but tell the public why he had resigned. (He gave) a letter to the president, which he then shared with the public on his very frank reasons about the policy which he thinks is extremely misguided and will endanger us. I really admire him for doing that.
One other thing that he could do, actually, I imagine as a long-term diplomat, is actually testify to Congress with the help of documents or certainly describe the documents he's seen. I hope he sees fit to do that, whether other people do it.
There hasn't been so many resignations yet although I understand there's a number that are being threatened in Britain right now.
Between The Lines: Daniel Ellsberg, after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York City and Washington, the Bush administration has certainly used that to its advantage to attempt to gain public and international support for its war with Iraq, saying that they have weapons of mass destruction that could fall in the hands of terrorists. Do you want to address that rationale for this war that the White House is now planning?
Daniel Ellsberg: Well, of course, anybody who possesses those weapons can let them loose, or give them or lose control of them somehow to the hands of other people and that's why these weapons are extremely dangerous in anyone's hands, including our own. By the way, we have enormous stockpiles of nerve gas, probably 10,000 tons or more and we have stockpiles of biological weapons, it turns out. Is it good for Saddam Hussein to have that, as he probably does? Certainly not. The question is whether the risks are greater attacking him or less. I think that attacking him makes it far more likely that he will in fact give that material in the short run to Osama bin Laden or, I should say to his forces, al Qaeda. That's the judgment of CIA Director George Tenet last fall, who said that he was very unlikely to share that material with anybody that he couldn't control, which includes al Qaeda, if he wasn't attacked. But that if he was attacked, it was a different matter -- he probab! ly would share it. That's what we're facing right now.
Between The Lines: Daniel Ellsberg, we have seen an incredibly powerful protest movement organized across borders over the last six months and international coordination of this movement that is kind of unprecedented. You want to comment on how that came together and the future of such a movement?
Daniel Ellsberg: I'm very happy to see that it has come. This is a unique period in a way, in which the entire world is rising up -- and I don't mean everybody -- but I mean all over the world, we do see tens and hundreds of thousands of people, daily and weekly almost, protesting this foolish and wrongful policy by one of their number, namely the United States, our government. That's true of many Americans as well. The protest is much larger than we ever had in this country before a war. It's larger than any country has ever faced before a war and no country has ever faced the international protest of an aggressive war that this one is right now. Possibly six million people who marched around the world and perhaps more than that on Feb. 15 -- there's nothing corresponding to that anywhere.
Now, I'm very glad to see it. I hope it will restrain us from this war, although it's unlikely to do that. I must say my first reaction is that everybody can see what this handful of people in the White House seem to have such trouble seeing, that this is a very mistaken and wrongful occasion for killing other people in Iraq which we're on the verge of doing.
Ellsberg's book, "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers" is published by Viking. Visit Daniel Ellsberg's website at http://www.ellsberg.net
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