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Between The Lines Interview with Daniel Ellsberg

Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 24, 2004

Former CIA, State Department and Pentagon Officials Call on Current Government Employees to Blow Whistle on Bush's Iraq War Deceptions

- Interview with Daniel Ellsberg, former government employee who released the "Pentagon Papers," conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, as deepening chaos and violence claim tens of thousands of Iraqi victims. Now, a group of former FBI, CIA, State Department and Pentagon officials are calling on current government employees to come forward and reveal classified information regarding the Bush administration's Iraq war plans and the estimated costs of the conflict that contradict public statements made by the White House.

The group, which includes FBI special agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, retired U.S. Army colonel and foreign service officer Ann Wright and Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst for 27 years, warns that like during the Vietnam war, the failure to publicly disclose government deceptions and cover-ups about the projected costs of the Iraq war carries with it a significant price in human life and national security. The signatories state that truth-telling is a patriotic duty and an effective way to serve the nation.

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Daniel Ellsberg was a career U.S. government political analyst when, in 1971, he leaked the now-famous "Pentagon Papers" to the press, which bolstered public opposition to the Vietnam War. The 47-volume Defense Department internal study of the U.S. role in Southeast Asian conflicts over 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. 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. Between The Lines Scott Harris spoke with Daniel Ellsberg about his group's call for whistleblowers to come forward to reveal how the Bush administration has misled the nation on the war in Iraq.

Daniel Ellsberg: Some of us signed a call for patriotic truth-telling. What we were asking people to do was to put out to the public information on government lies, crimes, manipulation, violations of the Constitution for the war powers, Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which was flagrantly abused or ignored by the Congress as well as the president getting us into Iraq. The Congress delegated their powers in a way that the Constitution does not provide -- for which there was one very clear precedent -- and that was the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of just 40 years ago, this year. Not a very good precedent, and the results are very similar now that we've been lied into a wrongful, unnecessary, hopeless war. And people who see it in those terms in the government -- and I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of them -- we're urging to consider going with what I wish I'd done much earlier than I did. I did put out thousands of pages of truthful, classified top secret documents, the history of the Vietnam War, so-called "Pentagon Papers." I did that in the U.S. Senate in 1969, and they really sat on it, and did nothing with it. Then I eventually, I gave it to the newspapers. And what we're saying now is "Don't wait as long as I did. Don't wait till until bombs are falling, don't wait till the next war has started before telling the truth."

Between The Lines: As you look at the current conflict in Iraq -- with, it seems, the accelerating number of attacks against U.S. forces and allies -- what is the urgency, and what is the comparison to the Vietnam War in your mind?

Daniel Ellsberg: The urgency right now is twofold: First, there's the day-to-day fact of lives being lost and wasted. Lives that Americans are giving -- their own lives -- and are taking wrongly of innocent civilians in many cases. And even the people they're fighting, are fighting an illegal occupation, and it's hard to call what they're doing illegitimate, even when the means they use are atrocities, often, atrocious, terrorist. And I don't accept the idea that there's any justification for the deliberate killing of innocent civilians or non-combatants. And certainly the resistance there to our presence is doing that just as the Viet Cong did do it in Vietnam.

But that terrorism did not justify our occupation of their country and it didn't justify the killing that we're doing. So, there's a first great similarity that in both cases, we were in a country that we had no business killing people in; (a) country that had not attacked us and that we had no right to occupy or to govern. That's true now in Iraq.

The difference now is that our occupation of Iraq threatens Americans at home in a way that was not true during Vietnam, because the (National Liberation Front) NLF did not undertake terrorism in the United States in response to our presence there. Now Iraq, had not been in any way a terrorist threat to the United States before our invasion; but I would say that recruits to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden can be expected to flow from Iraq, now as well as from Saudi Arabia and from other countries, where our armed presence was resented, which was a major factor in Osama's unjustified terrorist response. Murder can have explanations even where it does not have justification. And our policies in the Middle East and elsewhere certainly have resulted in a violent response. We will not pacify Iraq any more than we ever had a chance of pacifying Vietnam, and by that term I mean we will not succeed in achieving a nonviolent acceptance of our presence there and of our armed troops and of our bases and of our running the country essentially, or determining who the country is. I don't think that will be accepted. The meaning of that is that Americans will be dying and killing in Iraq just so long as they are there occupying, just as that was true in Vietnam.

Between The Lines: Daniel Ellsberg tell us a little bit about the risks that employees inside the government are taking in revealing certain of these documents that you're suggesting they do. You were prosecuted…

Daniel Ellsberg: It's worth mentioning that I was the first person ever prosecuted for giving information to the American public. There's been exactly one since for leaking classified documents -- that was Samuel Loring Morrison in 1985. So there is a danger of prosecution, and even of conviction and prison time. You are risking the loss of your job, your access, your image, your career, your livelihood -- and these are very serious costs. But we're talking now about issues of war and peace and when one considers the courage that we're asking of young men and women -- 140,000 of them every hour of the day, every day -- then, I think that the government officials who understand that, and understand their own complicity in it, should be willing to take some risk.

Between The Lines: Daniel Ellsberg, is one of the goals here to have this material, the documents and proof of government malfeasance released before the November election, is that one of your goals?

Daniel Ellsberg: Yes, that's another reason for urgency. I mentioned two reasons earlier and one is of course -- the fact that from day to day there is an urgency about saving lives and trying to tell the truth about this war and change the environment. I do think that the public deserves this information before they go to the polls this time.

So the fact that people can release information that is highly relevant to voters -- it puts on them I think a responsibility and a challenge to act now and tell the truth now and not wait four to six months before they do it.

Get more information on the call for government whistleblowers by visiting Ellsberg's website at http://www.truthtellingproject.org

Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl092404.html#1hed:

• "Cracks in the Empire: Compilation of insiders who have taken aim at Bush's Iraq Policy," by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris, Toward Freedom, Summer 2004


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org) for the week ending Sept. 24, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email betweenthelines@snet.net.

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