America’s Debt to Bradley Manning

Exclusive: The cables and videos allegedly leaked by Pvt. Bradley Manning offer the American people gritty “ground truth” about what the U.S. government has done in their names, such as the slaughter in Iraq, but the information also sheds light on a possible future war with Iran, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

One criticism about the value of the information that Pvt. Bradley Manning allegedly gave to WikiLeaks is that most of it was known in some form and thus didn’t justify the risks to sources who might be identified from the diplomatic and military cables. However, that complaint misses the importance of detailed “ground truth” in assessing issues of war and peace.

For instance, the prospects of war with Iran escalated last month because of a toughly worded report by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, which compiled some old and new evidence to argue that Iran continues to make progress toward a nuclear bomb. Immediately, the U.S. news media accepted the IAEA’s report as the unquestioned truth and as further repudiation of the 2007 U.S. intelligence estimate that Iran had ceased work on a nuclear weapon in 2003.

One might note the irony in this flip on Iran. In the run-up to war with Iraq, the U.S. media embraced CIA reports of secret Iraqi WMD programs while mocking the IAEA’s doubts. Regarding Iran, the CIA and IAEA have traded places, with U.S. intelligence analysts chagrined over swallowing the bogus Iraq-WMD evidence being more skeptical of the Iran-nuke allegations, while the IAEA has taken the role as chief WMD exaggerator.

So, it was useful to examine the WikiLeaks documents regarding the election of the new IAEA leader in 2009 to understand why this flip may have occurred. What those classified State Department cables show is that the IAEA’s new director general, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, credited his victory largely to U.S. government support and promptly stuck his hand out for U.S. money.

Further, Amano left little doubt that he would side with the United States in its confrontation with Iran and that he would even meet secretly with Israeli officials regarding their purported evidence on Iran’s nuclear program, despite the fact that Israel is arguably the world’s preeminent rogue nuclear state and rejects IAEA inspections of its own nuclear sites.

According to U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA’s headquarters, American diplomats in 2009 were cheering the prospect that Amano would advance U.S. interests in ways that outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei wouldn’t.

Cable Revelations

In a July 9, 2009, cable, American chargé Geoffrey Pyatt said Amano was thankful for U.S. support of his election. “Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive,” the cable said.

The appreciative Amano informed Pyatt that as IAEA director general, he would take a different “approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei” and he “saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council]/Board resolutions,” i.e. U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.

Amano also discussed how to restructure the senior ranks of the IAEA, including elimination of one top official and the retention of another. “We wholly agree with Amano’s assessment of these two advisors and see these decisions as positive first signs,” Pyatt commented.

In return, Pyatt made clear that Amano could expect strong U.S. financial support, stating that “the United States would do everything possible to support his successful tenure as Director General and, to that end, anticipated that continued U.S. voluntary contributions to the IAEA would be forthcoming. Amano offered that a ‘reasonable increase’ in the regular budget would be helpful.”

Pyatt learned, too, that Amano had consulted with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli “immediately after his appointment” and that Michaeli “was fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues.”

Michaeli added that he discounted some of Amano’s public remarks about there being “no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability” as just words that Amano felt he had to say “to persuade those who did not support him about his ‘impartiality.’”

In private, Amano agreed to “consultations” with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Pyatt reported. (It is ironic indeed that Amano would have secret contacts with Israeli officials about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, which has yet to yield a single bomb, when Israel possesses a large and undeclared nuclear arsenal.)

In a subsequent cable dated Oct. 16, 2009, the U.S. mission in Vienna said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

“More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain ‘constructive ambiguity’ about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December” 2009.

In other words, the emerging picture of Amano is of a bureaucrat eager to bend in directions favored by the United States and Israel, especially regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Amano’s behavior surely contrasts with how the more independent-minded ElBaradei resisted some of Bush’s key claims about Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapons program, denouncing some documents as forgeries.

Today, with some Republican presidential contenders falling over themselves to bond with Israel over its desire to attack Iran, this sort of detail puts the IAEA report into a fuller context that can help American voters judge whether another war is necessary or whether they’re being misled again by hyped allegations.

These cables, which Manning allegedly gave to WikiLeaks, were first  spotlighted by the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. in 2010. However, because the full cables were posted on the Internet, I could dig through them to find additional details, such as Amano asking for more U.S. money.

Without this level of “ground truth,” Americans would be at the mercy of the major U.S. news media, which seems as much on board for a war with Iran as it was for war with Iraq. [For more on this topic, see’s “Déjà vu Over Iran Nuke Charges” and “Big Media’s Double Standards on Iran.”]

Slaughtering Iraqis

Another example of how the material allegedly leaked by Manning helped educate the American people was the infamous gun-barrel video of U.S. attack helicopters mowing down seemingly defenseless Iraqi men, including two Reuters journalists, as they walked down a Baghdad street.

Not only did a U.S. military helicopter gunship slaughter the men amid macho jokes and chuckling apparently after mistaking a couple of cameras for weapons but the American attackers then blew away several Iraqis who arrived in a van and tried to take one of the wounded newsmen to a hospital. Two children in the van were badly wounded.

“Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” one American remarked.

The videotaped incident entitled “Collateral Murder” by Wikileaks occurred on July 12, 2007, in the midst of President George W. Bush’s much-heralded troop “surge,” which the U.S. news media has widely credited for reducing violence in Iraq and bringing something close to victory for the United States.

But the U.S. press corps rarely mentions that the “surge” represented one of the bloodiest periods of the war. Beyond the horrific and untallied death toll of Iraqis, about 1,000 U.S. soldiers died during Bush’s “surge” of an additional 30,000 troops into Iraq.

It’s also unclear that the “surge” deserves much if any credit for the gradual decline in Iraqi violence, which had already reached turning points in 2006 before the “surge” with the death of al-Qaeda leader Musab al-Zarqawi, the U.S.-funded Sunni Awakening against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the de facto ethnic cleansing of Iraqi cities with Sunnis and Shiites moving into separate neighborhoods.

Further putting the sectarian killing on a downward path was the Iran-brokered agreement with militant Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr to have his militia stand down in exchange for an Iraqi government commitment to insist on a firm timetable for total U.S. military withdrawal, a process that has just been completed.

However, the U.S. news media continues to repeat the conventional wisdom about how U.S. troops protected Iraqis from violence through the “successful surge.” The “Collateral Murder” video puts the lie to that smug consensus, showing the “ground truth” of how the “surge” and indeed the entire Iraq War truly operated.

Many Americans may want to put the unpleasant memories of the Iraq War behind them from “shock and awe” and the illegal invasion, to the leveling of Fallujah and the Abu Ghraib atrocities, to the incompetent U.S. occupation, the Haditha murders and the sectarian slaughters but a failure to face the reality honestly will only encourage future war crimes of similar or even greater magnitude.

Already, Republicans such as Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney are speaking as casually about going to war with Iran as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did about war with Iraq.

As Bradley Manning wrote as he struggled over his decision to leak evidence of war crimes and other machinations by the U.S. government, “God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.  I want people to see the truth because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

The 24-year-old Manning now faces the prospect of a court martial that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. But his gift to America may be that he provided the nation the “ground truth” that could give meaning to debates about past and possibly future wars.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Bradley Manning: Traitor or Hero?

In announcing the end of the Iraq War, President Obama ignored its horrors, so as not to further upset its still-powerful supporters. But his silence removed the context for Pvt. Bradley Manning’s moral decision to expose these crimes of war, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

The end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq coincided with Pvt. Bradley Manning’s military hearing to determine whether he will face court-martial for exposing U.S. war crimes by leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks. In fact, there is a connection between the leaks and U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

When he announced that the last U.S. troops would leave Iraq by year’s end, President Barack Obama declared the nine-year war a “success” and “an extraordinary achievement.” He failed to mention why he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. He didn’t say that it was built on lies about mushroom clouds and non-existent ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Obama didn’t cite the Bush administration’s “Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq,” drawn up months before 9/11, about which former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill reported that actual plans “were already being discussed to take over Iraq and occupy it complete with disposition of oil fields, peacekeeping forces, and war crimes tribunals carrying forward an unspoken doctrine of preemptive war.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also defended the war in Iraq, making the preposterous claim that, “As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” including the loss of American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world.”

The price that Panetta claims is worth it includes the deaths of nearly 4,500 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It includes untold numbers wounded – with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicides, as well as nearly $1 trillion that could have prevented the economic disaster at home.

The price of the Iraq war also includes thousands of men who have been subjected to torture and abuse in places like Abu Ghraib prison. It includes the 2005 Haditha Massacre, in which U.S. Marines killed 24 unarmed civilians execution-style.

It includes the Fallujah Massacre, in which U.S. forces killed 736 people, at least 60 percent of them women and children. It includes other war crimes committed by American troops in Qaim, Taal Al Jal, Mukaradeeb, Mahmudiya, Hamdaniyah, Samarra, Salahuddin, and Ishaqi.

The price of that war includes two men killed by the Army’s Lethal Warriors in Al Doura, Iraq, with no evidence that they were insurgents or posed a threat. One man’s brains were removed from his head and another man’s face was skinned after he was killed by Lethal Warriors.

U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, who was awarded two purple hearts and three medals for heroism, wrote to military authorities in 2007 reporting war crimes that he witnessed being committed by his own command and fellow Lethal Warriors in Al Doura. His charges were supported by atrocity photos which have been released by Pulse TV and Maverick Media in the new video by Cindy Piester, “On the Dark Side in Al Doura A Soldier in the Shadows.” [].

CBS reported obtaining an Army document from the Criminal Investigation Command suggestive of an investigation into these war crimes allegations. The Army’s conclusion was that the “offense of War Crimes did not occur.”

One of the things Manning is alleged to have leaked is the “Collateral Murder” video which depicts U.S. forces in an Apache helicopter killing 12 unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and wounding two children. People trying to rescue the wounded were fired upon and killed. A U.S. tank drove over one body, cutting the man in half.

The actions of American soldiers shown in that video amount to war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit targeting civilians, preventing the rescue of the wounded, and defacing dead bodies.

Obama proudly took credit for ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq. But he had tried for months to extend it beyond the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline his predecessor negotiated with the Iraqi government. Negotiations between Obama and the Iraqi government broke down when Iraq refused to grant criminal and civil immunity to U.S. troops.

It was after seeing evidence of war crimes such as those depicted in “Collateral Murder” and the “Iraq War Logs,” also allegedly leaked by Manning, that the Iraqis refused to immunize U.S. forces from prosecution for their future crimes.

When I spoke with Tariq Aqrawi, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, at a recent international human rights film festival in Vienna, he told me that if they granted immunity to Americans, they would have to do the same for other countries as well.

Manning faces more than 30 charges, including violations of the Espionage Act and “aiding the enemy” which could carry the death penalty (though prosecutors say they won’t seek it). After a seven-day hearing, during which the prosecution presented evidence that Manning leaked cables and documents, there was no evidence that leaked information imperiled national security or that Manning intended to aid the enemy with his actions.

On the contrary, in an online chat attributed to Manning, he wrote, If you had free reign over classified networks and you saw incredible things, awful things things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC what would you do?”

He went on to say, God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.  I want people to see the truth because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Manning has been held for 19 months in military custody. During the first nine months, he was kept in solitary confinement, which is considered torture as it can lead to hallucinations, catatonia and suicide. He was humiliated by being stripped naked and paraded before other inmates.

The U.S. government considers Manning one of America’s most dangerous traitors. Months ago, Obama spoke of Manning as if he had been proved guilty, saying, “he broke the law.” But Manning has not been tried, and is presumed innocent in the eyes of the law.

If Manning had committed war crimes instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today. If he had murdered civilians and skinned them alive, he would not be facing a charge that carries the potential of the death penalty.

Besides helping to end the Iraq war, the leaked cables helped spark the Arab Spring. When people in Tunisia read cables revealing corruption by the ruling family there, they took to the streets.

If Manning did what he is accused of doing, he should not be tried as a criminal. He should be hailed as a national hero, much like Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers helped to expose the government’s lies and end the Vietnam War.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her books include Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent and The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse. See

The Bush/Obama War Against Truth

The harsh treatment of alleged leaker Bradley Manning is part of a broader campaign to silence government whistleblowers, a pattern that began with Vice President Dick Cheney’s outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame but has expanded under President Obama, says ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.

By Melvin A. Goodman

When Pvt. Bradley Manning appeared in a military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland, last week, it was his first public appearance in more than 19 months. Manning has been held without trial for the past year and a half; only now is a hearing being conducted to determine if there is sufficient evidence to refer his case to a general court martial.

During this period, Manning, who is charged with transferring classified information to an unauthorized source, has been treated as an “enemy combatant,” subjected to solitary confinement in a maximum-security cell as well as harassment day and night.

Manning’s inhuman and degrading treatment clearly is designed as a warning to other individuals who might be considering the unauthorized release of classified information. There were periods in his pre-trial confinement when he was forced to stand naked, which conjures up images of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, not U.S. justice.

At the current hearings, the government has even been allowed to exclude journalists from portions of the proceedings. The norms of the legal system, including military justice, have been observed in the breach, particularly the right to a speedy trial.

The documents leaked by Manning were an embarrassment to the United States, but not a threat to U.S. security. The overwhelming majority of the documents were governmental boilerplate.

The campaign to intimidate potential whistleblowers or dissidents within the government is consistent with the national security state that the Bush and Obama administrations have created over the past decade.

A new policy of domestic intelligence gathering has permitted not only law enforcement agencies, but intelligence agencies and the Pentagon to collect, store and analyze vast amounts of digital data on law-abiding U.S. citizens. Lawsuits that challenge improper eavesdropping have been met with challenges from the Department of Justice concerning “state secrecy” in order to prevent trials.

The Obama administration has resorted to the Espionage Act of 1917 and to state secrecy defense even more often than the Bush administration did.

The increase in domestic surveillance has often been illegal; the practice of warrantless eavesdropping has been unconstitutional. The FBI has wiretapped conversations between lawyers and defendants, challenging the legal principle that attorney-client communication is inviolate.

The FBI has been given the authority to issue secret National Security Letters without the review or approval of a judge or prosecutor. The letters are a form of administrative subpoena used to obtain records from “third parties,” such as hotels, banks, phone companies, Internet providers and even libraries. Any transaction in digital data is subject to government collection.

The Plamegate Scandal

The government’s campaign, including the treatment of Manning, to deter others from exposing sensitive and embarrassing information began with the outing of a clandestine intelligence operative, Valerie Plame.

This effort was led by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003 and was designed to establish the precedent of discipline of the national security bureaucracy as well as to exercise total control over the release of information embarrassing to the Bush administration.

Plame’s husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, had traveled to Africa for the Central Intelligence Agency in February 2002 to investigate clandestine reports of a possible Iraqi effort to purchase uranium yellowcake. Also in early 2002, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State sent high-level representatives to Africa to conduct similar investigations.

All three emissaries determined that there was no substance to intelligence reporting that Iraq was trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger. The intelligence community was not surprised because they knew the reports were part of a not-so-sophisticated forgery by members of the Italian military intelligence service.

However, since so-called Iraqi efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction was the key to the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Cheney was livid when Ambassador Wilson began to leak details of his Niger trip to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times as well as to the Washington Post and the New Republic.

The details first appeared in May 2003, and in July, Wilson went public with a signed op-ed in the New York Times, making the case that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence to justify the invasion.

Bush administration officials, including Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, began to tell reporters that Plame worked for the CIA’s clandestine service and that she supposedly had been involved in dispatching her husband to Niger. However, only syndicated columnist Robert Novak published the information concerning Plame’s clandestine affiliation with CIA.

The Office of the Vice President took a huge risk in outing Plame because it was a violation of the Intelligence Identification Act of 1983, which made it a felony to disclose an undercover agent’s name.  Cheney and Libby were willing to take the risk because they wanted to intimidate Wilson as well as other members of the policy and intelligence communities who had sensitive information that would put the lie to the White House justification for the use of force against Iraq.

And the intimidation seemed to work. No CIA or State Department whistleblower stepped forward either to corroborate Wilson’s op-ed or to dispute the chicanery of the White House in the run-up to war. The fact that no one from CIA exposed the deceit of the White House is particularly egregious, because the Agency had provided credibility to the charge that Iraq was trying to purchase uranium.

In October 2002, the CIA had published both a highly classified national intelligence estimate, which was managed by Robert Walpole, and an unclassified White Paper managed by Paul Pillar, indicating that Iraq was “shifting from domestic mining and milling of uranium to foreign acquisition.” Both the estimate and the White Paper were passed to the Congress only days before the vote on the use of force resolution in October 2002.

However, internally, there were deep divisions regarding these claims. In October 2002, the CIA blocked White House efforts to use the information linking Saddam Hussein to purchases of uranium ore for a presidential speech in Cincinnati.

Then, three months later in January 2003, the CIA made no attempt to block the President from making the accusation in his State of the Union address. However, in February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell did not use the information in his otherwise regrettable speech to the UN Security Council.

Though Wilson’s rejection of the Niger allegations would ultimately be proved correct, Plame’s career as a clandestine services officer was nevertheless ruined.

Punishing Whistleblowers

The unconscionable treatment of Manning and the reckless handling of the Plame-Wilson affair are two of the most dramatic examples of the Obama and Bush administration’s creation of a national security state, but they are not alone.

The campaign against a whistleblower from the National Security Agency, Thomas Drake, similarly threatens American access to important information. Drake passed unclassified information about fraud, waste and abuse at NSA, only after failing to get action from his own agency’s inspector general, the Pentagon’s inspector general, and congressional intelligence committees.

Every key ruling in the case went against the prosecution, and Drake eventually pleaded guilty to one charge of misuse of an authorized government computer; he received a sentence of one-year probation and community service. However, like Plame, Drake will never again be able to work in his chosen field. [For details, see’s “What Country Do We Want to Keep?”]

Earlier this year, William Welch II, the federal prosecutor who had overreached in pressing espionage charges against Drake, issued a subpoena against James Risen, a reporter for the New York Times.  The Justice Department wanted Risen to testify against a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, who is facing felony charges for leaks of classified information.

Risen has been a target of federal leak prosecutions since he exposed the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program in 2005. The shot across Risen’s bow is aimed at all national security reporters who receive classified information.

As a result of the treatment of Manning, Drake and Risen, potential whistleblowers will certainly think twice before going to the press. And it is possible that journalists, less courageous than Risen, will think twice before accepting and using such information.

A double standard is at work here. Officials at the highest levels of government can pass sensitive information to anointed journalists such as Bob Woodward, who typically receives sensitive and classified information for his books. However, lower-level officers must keep their mouths shut about government perfidy.

This trend is particularly regrettable because government oversight processes have been severely weakened during the Bush and Obama administrations. The Offices of Inspector General, particularly at the CIA and the Department of Defense, have been downgraded and significantly weakened. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are unwilling to investigate illegal conduct in the intelligence community.

President Obama, who endorsed protection for courageous whistleblowers during his campaign, has been both unwilling to investigate crimes of the Bush administration and most willing to invoke the Espionage Act of 1917 to harass genuine whistleblowers.

We expected a Bush/Cheney administration to bend the law in their direction. But who would have expected Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer and a teacher of constitutional law, to follow suit?

Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA whistleblower, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  He is the author of the forthcoming “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism” (City Lights Publisher).  Goodman’s email address is

Pvt. Manning and Imperative of Truth

Exclusive: The prosecution of Pvt. Bradley Manning for inconvenient truth-telling is more proof of how hypocritical Official Washington is, especially when Manning’s case is compared to how Bush administration officials walked despite clear evidence that they sanctioned torture and other war crimes, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

When I was asked to speak at Saturday’s rally at Fort Meade in support of Pvt. Bradley Manning, I wondered how I might provide some context around what Manning is alleged to have done.

(In my talk, so as not to think I had to insert the word “alleged” into every sentence, I asked for unanimous consent to using the indicative rather than the subjunctive mood.)

What jumped into my mind was the letter Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from the Birmingham City jail in April 1963, from which I remembered this:

“Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up, but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

I suggested that this is precisely what Bradley Manning did when he saw the need to uncover war crimes like the indiscriminate murder of civilians and torture he witnessed in Baghdad and read about in cables.

What he had become witness to was the inevitable result of aggressive war, which the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime,” differing from other war crimes only inasmuch as it contains within itself the “accumulated evil of the whole.” Was he to obey orders to keep his mouth shut? Or was he to follow his conscience and lance this ugly boil of accumulated evil?

What I especially admire in Bradley Manning is this: his ability, at the age of 22, to discern that there can be a hierarchy of, sometimes conflicting, values, and that from a moral standpoint some values dwarf others in importance.

Apparently, Manning saw in ending the mindless slaughter of aggressive war, with its accumulated evil, its torture and other pus-flowing ugliness, what ethicists define as a “supervening value,” one that outweighs lesser values like keeping a secrecy promise required as a condition of employment.

Manning chose to break that promise. And Dr. King, in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, addressed something analogous. King insisted “an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust,” and risks jail in order “to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”

When Generals Lie

Bradley Manning’s courage hits a personal nerve in me. At age 28, I had an opportunity to blow the whistle on the lies of the senior U.S. military in Saigon. The evidence was documentary (a SECRET/EYES ONLY cable from Saigon); indeed, it was hard for me to believe the generals would put their deceit so explicitly in writing, but they did.

Younger readers need to be reminded that, at the time (August 1967) there was no WikiLeaks, but The New York Times was an independent newspaper prone to publishing documentary evidence critical of the government. The Times had not yet gotten into the habit of seeking prior approval from the White House.

Six years older than Bradley Manning was when he summoned the courage to do the right thing, and with college courses in ethics in my moral quiver, I nonetheless, well, quivered.

I blew a unique opportunity to let Americans know that, duty, honor, country be damned, unconscionable corruption at senior levels in Saigon and in Washington had badly misled us on the war and that our GIs and the Vietnamese were being chewed up in a March of Folly.

And that opportunity came months before so many got chewed up in the January-February 1968 Communist countrywide offensive, ushering in the second half of the bloody war in Vietnam. I discussed this last year, in connection with the WikiLeaks disclosures. [See’s “How the Truth Can Save Lives.”]

As for Bradley Manning, he would not sequester himself in a moral vacuum. He had the insight and summoned the moral courage to follow his conscience and act with integrity.

Manning’s Motive

In his correspondence with Adrian Lamo, the man who betrayed him, Manning said he wanted people “to see the truth, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” He wrote that he hoped his disclosures would lead to “world-wide discussion, debate, and reform.”

Manning’s first disclosure that came to light was the Apache helicopter gun-barrel video, with sound, showing the indiscriminate murder of a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists and the wounding of two little children. The incident was duly “investigated” by the Army, and the shooting was deemed to be consistent with what is permitted by the Army’s Rules of Engagement.

Whoa! Official Washington cannot tolerate such disclosures if it remains intent on waging aggressive war, with its accumulated evil, in secret. So the Obama administration set out to make Bradley Manning an object lesson about what will happen to anyone tempted to divulge these sorts of secrets.

For such truth-telling, this is what you can expect: solitary confinement, cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment; and a very long wait before being brought to the military pre-trial charade that I watched with others at Fort Meade, Maryland, last weekend.

President Barack Obama, commander-in-chief of Bradley Manning, and those trying him have already said Manning “broke the law” and be damned with the countervailing moral imperative of truth-telling when faced with clear evidence of unpunished war crimes.

Command influence, anyone? What’s wrong with this picture? Quick. Someone explain to me how those subordinate to the commander-in-chief can be expected to hold an impartial inquiry, since they already know Manning “broke the law.” The top boss said so.

What About the Damage?

Still, whatever the measure of Manning’s technical “guilt,” the government’s hand-wringing over the alleged damage from the disclosures of diplomatic cables has been “significantly overwrought.” How do we know? Defense Secretary Robert Gates said so, in those words. And this time he was telling the truth.

Gates mocked the professional alarums sounded by officialdom and dismissed the negative impact of the disclosed cables as “fairly modest.” He had learned a lesson from the earlier WikiLeaks disclosures of documents about Afghanistan and Iraq, when normally sober folks like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen were accusing Manning of having “blood on his hands.”

When Sen. Carl Levin, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, asked Gates to provide proof in writing of such claims, Gates could adduce no evidence that actual people, as opposed to reputations, had been harmed.

It’s also instructive to see how selective prosecutions work in Official Washington. Manning may face life imprisonment for exposing the slaughter of civilians and other serious crimes (as well as revealing the absurd over-classification of U.S. government documents).

However, when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney confess that they ordered waterboarding and other acts that have long been regarded as illegal torture, they and their subordinates are spared prosecution, presumably because to do otherwise would stir up a political mess.

Suddenly, clear violations of the law must be set aside as being outweighed by larger national considerations, i.e. political comity in Washington. But no such balancing act is available to spare Pvt. Manning possible life imprisonment for truth-telling, even when many experts believe much good has come from the disclosures, including inspiration for the Arab Spring’s ouster of dictators whose brutality and corruption were frankly described in the WikiLeaks cables.

Daniel Ellsberg has called Bradley Manning a hero, and that’s what he is. We need to find ways to tell the American people the full story. These days, they are not going to get the whole truth (or anything close to it) from The New York Times.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A 30-year veteran of intelligence work in the Army and the CIA, he now serves on the Standing Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Pvt. Manning Finally Appears in Court

The long-delayed court martial proceedings against alleged WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning finally got under way with supporters of the Army private filling a hearing room at Fort Meade, Maryland. But questions about the fairness of his treatment continue, retired Col. Ann Wright reports.

By Ann Wright

On Friday, 40 supporters of Bradley Manning saw him in person in the military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland, and another 60 watched the video feed from the court, the first time the Army private has been seen by the public in 19 months. Over 100 other supporters, including 50 from Occupy Wall Street who had bused down from New York City, were at the front gates of Fort Meade in solidarity with Manning.

Hundreds of supporters will gather for a rally and march on Saturday, which is Manning’s 24th birthday. (To see comments made by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, click here.)

For his first court appearance, Bradley was in what looked to be a new military uniform and had received a fresh military-style haircut. He was not in shackles in the courtroom, but it appeared in a photo that he was shackled in the van that brought him to the court. Manning talked freely with his civilian defense counsel and his two military legal counsels.

He did not turn around and look at the people in the court, but as he was brought in and taken out during the various recesses of the court, he no doubt noticed supporters in Bradley Manning t-shirts.

Bradley Manning has been imprisoned for 19 months, since May 2010, without a trial. On Friday, an Article 32 hearing began at Fort Meade, Maryland, in which an investigating officer will determine whether there is sufficient evidence of the crimes with which the military has charged him for the case to be referred to a General court-martial.

In July 2010, Manning was charged with transferring classified information onto his personal computer and communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source. Twenty-two more crimes were charged in March 2011, including “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense, though Defense Department prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty. In April, Manning was found fit to face a court martial.

Defense Challenges

At Friday’s hearing, Manning’s civilian lawyer, David Coombs, challenged the impartiality of the investigating officer U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, citing Almanza’s civilian employment as a lawyer in the Department of Justice, which has conducted investigations of Manning, Julian Assange, and WikiLeaks, the Web that received the information allegedly leaked by Manning.

Noting that the defense team had requested that 38 witnesses be allowed to testify in the Article 32 hearing, Coombs said the decision of Almanza to allow only two defense witnesses other than the 10 the prosecution already wanted demonstrated a bias by Almanza. (Some of the disallowed witnesses were expected to challenge the government’s assertion that the leaks damaged U.S. national security, when some experts believe the published cables spurred the Arab Spring and other events praised by the Obama administration.)

Coombs told Almanza, “That simple fact alone, without anything else, would cause a reasonable person to say, ‘I question your impartiality.’ ” Almanza rejected the recusal request, stating that his office of child exploitation in the Department of Justice had nothing to do with the WikiLeaks investigation or with national security issues.

Almanza told Coombs and Manning, “I do not believe a reasonable person, knowing all the circumstances, would be led to the conclusion that my impartiality would be reasonably questioned.  I thus deny the defense request to recuse myself.”

After that, Coombs filed a writ with the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to stay the proceedings until a decision can be made on whether Almanza should continue to preside. According to military law experts, the hearing can proceed while the appeals court makes its determination.

Harsh Imprisonment

The military’s treatment of Manning has reeked of intimidation and retaliation. Until citizen activists protested in March, 2011, bringing attention to the harsh conditions of Manning’s pre-trial confinement, the U.S. military treated him as if he were beyond the scrutiny of the law, as if he were an “enemy combatant” in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.

Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture expressed great concern about the conditions under which Manning was being held, in a maximum-security, single-occupancy cell, placed on a prevention-of-injury order and allowed to wear only a suicide-proof smock at night.

On July 12, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, said it was “vital for him to have unmonitored access to Bradley Manning,” adding:

“I am assured by the U.S. Government that Mr. Manning’s prison regime and confinement is markedly better than it was when he was in Quantico, however, in addition to obtaining firsthand information on my own about his new conditions of confinement,

“I need to ascertain whether the conditions he was subjected to for several months in Quantico amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For that, it is imperative that I talk to Mr. Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid.”

At the request of Mendez and after several meetings, the U.S. Defense Department said it would allow him to visit Manning, but warned that the conversation would be monitored. Mendez said such a condition violated long-standing rules that the UN applies for prison visits and for interviews with inmates everywhere in the world.

On humanitarian grounds and under protest, Mendez, through Manning’s counsel, offered to visit him under these restrictive conditions, an offer Manning declined.

Mendez said, “The question of my unfettered access to a detainee goes beyond my request to meet with Mr. Manning — it touches on whether I will be able to conduct private and unmonitored interviews with detainees if I were to conduct a country visit to the United States.”

Additionally, Mendez has requested several times since his appointment in November 2010, that the U.S. Government allow him to visit the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, the U.S. government has not responded to his requests.

Despite the military’s mantra of having the best military legal system in the world, the past treatment of Manning keeping him in solitary confinement, forcing him to stand naked while in pre-trial confinement and the lack of compliance with the norms of the military legal system of a “speedy” trial have added to the low points of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in the history of U.S. military “justice.”

The federal courts have long established mechanism of dealing with classified information in national security cases. The military’s contention that it took 19 months to figure out how to try Manning while protecting classified materials reeks of intimidation, retribution and retaliation.

Ann Wright is a retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel and a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. She is a member of Veterans for Peace and is on the Advisory Board of the Bradley Manning Support Network. (This story previously appeared at


Robin Hood of the Information Age

The war on WikiLeaks continues with the U.S. government clamping down on the Web site’s funding sources and with its founder, Julian Assange, still in England battling extradition to Sweden. Sadly, the larger problem of a credulous news media parroting government propaganda also remains unchanged, as Lawrence Davidson notes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Julian Assange, perhaps one of the men most hated by the U.S. government, was given Australia’s Walkley Foundation Award for outstanding journalism last week. He accepted it from a distance, using Skype, because he is under house arrest in England pending extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning on sexual misconduct allegations.

Assange is a kind of Robin Hood of the Information Age purloining vital information from often criminal governments and distributing it to the information-poor citizenry. As a result he has become the hero of all those who would defy a media environment of government-warped news.

And rightly so, for he and alleged leaker, Army Private Bradley Manning (currently awaiting court martial on charges of releasing classified information and “aiding the enemy”), represent the highest profile case of leaking U.S. government secrets since 1971 (when Daniel Ellsberg and Neil Sheehan made public the Pentagon Papers).

Assange accomplished this feat last year when his WikiLeaks Web site began the release of over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables. Ever since then the U.S. government has been searching for ways to silence him and his Web-based operation. To date, two approaches have proved effective:

1. The use of official pressure to shut down the avenues through which Wikileaks gets its financial contributions. These have been coming mostly through Paypal and other Web-based sources.

2. And tying Assange up with the sexual allegations lodged by two women in Sweden, which has strict laws regarding sexual behavior toward women.

On Nov. 28, just days after receiving the Walkley Award, Assange addressed, again by Skype, the News World Summit in Hong Kong. Here he was blunt, and quite accurate, in his description of U.S. government behavior in relation to open access to information.

“It is not an age of transparency at all,” he said, perhaps alluding to President Obama’s unfulfilled pledge to promote “an unprecedented level of openness in government.” Assanged added, “the amount of secret information is more than ever before.”

For this Assange blames not just governments, but also the profession of journalism. In his opinion journalism has become “corrupted” by editors and reporters who value the prestige of being associated with important centers of power more than the uncensored practice of their craft. Such ambition does not allow the profession to hold those in power to account, he said.

“There is a crisis of legitimacy within the mainstream press, a rightful crisis of legitimacy,” Assange said, warning that the consequences of this crisis are potentially catastrophic. “If the press doesn’t hold powerful corporations and governments to account then how can a democratic process work?”

Assange has a point. Yet historically, journalism’s record of keeping the powerful honest, and itself uncorrupted, is mediocre at best.

In the United States, modern mainstream journalism has its roots in the shady reporting known as “yellow journalism.” That refers to the exaggerations and outright lies that passed for news at the end of the 19th Century.

Unfortunately, such “journalism” did build up the distribution numbers, and thus the profitability, of the papers that practiced it. And often the consequences have been catastrophic. One of yellow journalism’s most notable achievements was whipping up support for the Spanish American War.

Warmongering is a role the press, and now the news media in general, has played over and again. At least at a national level, the muckraking alternative of honest expository journalism (think of the Watergate reporting of the Washington Post back in 1972) is the exception and not the rule.

Complicity of Public Taste

Why is that the case? Well, just ask yourself how regional U.S. newspapers which run into financial difficulties reorganize the presentation of their papers. They put in more pictures, up the amount of entertainment “news,” gossip and especially sports (lots of sports), favor local happenings and downsize national and international events.

This is not really a conspiracy to keep us all stupid, though it might contribute to that end. It is a business decision based on market surveys that tell owners and editors what the customer prefers in his or her paper.

It you want to see a recent example of such a maneuver take a look at the comparison of TIME magazine covers at the website Common Dreams. Buy TIME’s Dec. 5, 2011 issue in Asia, Europe or even in the South Pacific, and you will see an Egyptian protester on the cover with the title “Revolution Redux.”

Buy the U.S. version of the same magazine and you will see a silly little cartoon guy with the title, “Why Anxiety Is Good For You.” That not only says something about how the editors and owners of TIME see their American readership, it also says a whole lot about the apparent tastes and interests of that readership.

The fact is that Julian Assange, and the rest of us who are interested in a truly free press, have run smack up against the fact that as long as we have a capitalist news media, we will also have an easily corruptible news media.

Just like any other capitalist enterprise, what such a press or media aims at is profit, and not factual accuracy. It also will follow the lead of its corporate owners and board of directors because that is what private enterprise prescribes. Just take a look at every media enterprise Rupert Murdoch owns.

Given this situation you will have a range of news organizations that fall out on something like a bell curve. Most of them will be middle of the road nonentities while on the extremes you will have right-wing and left-wing offerings. It is a sign of our times here in the U.S. that the right-wing media has taken a jump in popularity (witness Fox News).

That is not to say that what passes for press and media in the non-capitalist world is any sort of worthy alternative. It certainly is not. What is needed is a formula to create endowed, and therefore truly independent, news media. As Assange suggests, this is a sine qua non of a free society.

Most of the world’s population has only a minimal interest in what is happening beyond their local environment. That is why the market surveys noted above deliver the message they do.

Occasionally something comes over the hill and hits the locals in the head. That something thereby becomes both part of the local scene and demands explaining. The 9/11 attacks qualify as such an event. Originating from afar, how are the locals to understand it? They have no ready context in which to do so.

So they listen to so-called “experts” from the government and media who they assume will give them the “truth.” That is the only explanation most people ever get.

We have all seen where this leads us right off a cliff. When Julian Assange dumped those hundreds of thousands of documents onto the Web he was saying “Here: you want the truth? It is somewhere in here. Let’s all take a look.” Some did. Most did not.

But the precedent he set sent shivers through the U.S. government as if it had caught an institutional flu. For this Assange is persecuted. That is the sort of world we live in. A world that will always need the whistleblower, will always need a Julian Assange.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

Ellsberg on Pentagon Papers Release

On the 40th anniversary of Daniel Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon presidential library is touting its release of the entire set, including a section on Vietnam peace talks that Ellsberg withheld to avoid disrupting the negotiations. The misimpression that much of Monday’s release will be new prompted questions from CNN producer Jay Kernis, which Ellsberg answered and requested that we republish.

By Daniel Ellsberg

June 9, 2011

Question: Until now, the public has been able to read only the small portions of the report that you leaked. What do you think the impact of releasing all 7,000 pages might be?

Ellsberg: The “declassification” of the Pentagon Papers exactly 40 years late is basically a non-event. The notion that “only small portions” of the report were released 40 years ago is pure hype by the Nixon Library. 

Nearly all of the study except for the negotiations volumes, which were mostly declassified over 20 years ago became available in 1971,  between the redacted (censored) Government Printing Office edition and the Senator Gravel edition put out by Beacon Press.

It would be helpful if the publishers indicated, by brackets or different type, what was withheld earlier. But that would be very embarrassing to the Library and the government; I’ll be surprised if they do it. 

Most of the omissions in the GPO edition “for security” a ridiculous claim, since their substance was nearly all available to the world in the simultaneous Gravel/Beacon Press edition will appear arbitrary and unjustified. 

I’d really like to see someone a journalist or an anti-secrecy NGO compare this version in detail with the redacted white space in the 1971 GPO edition, for a measure of what the government has regarded as necessarily classified for the last forty years.

And then ask: just why was most of what was released by the GPO, covering 1945 to1968, kept secret as late as 1971? Hint: it wasn’t for “national security.” 

What that comparison would newly reveal is the blatant violation of the spirit and letter of the FOIA declassification process by successive administrations (including the present one), in rejecting frequent requests by historians and journalists for complete declassification of the Papers over the years.

But if the hype around this belated release got a new generation to read the Pentagon Papers  or at least the summaries to the various volumes (my highest hope, pretty unlikely), they’d get from them as good an understanding as they could find anywhere today of our war in Afghanistan. 

The Pentagon Papers didn’t explicitly present that last alternative, but their release contributed to that result, eventually. Is it too much to hope that their re-release could do the same? 

Yes, it is. But fortunately there are a few Congresspersons, like Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee, Walter Jones and Ron Paul who got that message the first time, even if the Republican and Democratic leadership hasn’t, yet. (Click here to see a essay pointing to the only way out of Afghanistan, as it was the only way out of Vietnam). 

Question: On June 23, 1971, in an interview with CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, you said, “I think the lesson is that the people of this country can’t afford to let the President run the country by himself, even foreign affairs, without the help of Congress, without the help of the public. I think we cannot let the officials of the Executive Branch determine for us what it is that the public needs to know about how well and how they are discharging their functions.” How concerned are you that elected officials haven’t learned those lessons?

Ellsberg: I still stand by my cited conclusions, both for 1971 and for every single year since, including this one. But I never expected elected officials in the Executive branch (of which there are exactly two in each administration) or their myriad subordinates to “learn those lessons” or to accept them as warnings.  

Leaders in the Executive branch in every country know what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it, and they always want to stay in office and keep on running things with as little interference from Congress, the public and the courts as possible: which means, with as much secrecy as they can manage. 

So I’m not exactly concerned that they’re still at it (which is why I’m still at what I do), since that is so predictable, in every government, tyrannical or “democratic.”

 Our Founders sought to prevent this. Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, for the first time in constitutional history, put the decision to go to war (beyond repelling sudden attacks) exclusively in the hands of Congress, not the president. 

But every president since Harry Truman in Korea as the Pentagon Papers demonstrated up through LBJ, but beyond them to George W. Bush and Barack Obama has violated the spirit and even the letter of that section of the Constitution (along with some others) they each swore to preserve, protect and defend.   

However, as has been pointed out repeatedly by Glenn Greenwald (click here) and Bruce Ackerman, David Swanson and others, no president has so blatantly violated the constitutional division of war powers as President Obama in his ongoing attack on Libya, without a nod even to the statutory War Powers Act, that post-Pentagon Papers effort by Congress to recapture something of the role assigned exclusively to it by the Constitution.

This open disregard of a ruling statute (regardless of his supposed feelings about its constitutionality, which Obama has not even bothered to express) is clearly an impeachable offense, though it will certainly not lead to impeachment given the current complicity of the leaders of both parties any more than President George W. Bush’s misleading Congress into his crime against the peace, aggression, in Iraq, or President Johnson’s lies to obtain the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

Yet the most important point, as I see it, is not the secrecy and the lying, or even the blatant disregard of the Constitution, the Presidential oath and the rule of law.

As the Pentagon Papers documented for the much of the Vietnam era (we still lack, and we still need, the corresponding Papers for the Nixon policy-making, that added over twenty thousand names unnecessarily to the Vietnam Memorial and over a million deaths in Vietnam) and the last decade confirms: the point is that the Founders had it right the first time.

As Abraham Lincoln explained their intention (in defending to his former law partner William Herndon his opposition to President Polk’s deliberately provoked Mexican War):

“The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object.

“This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.” (Click here to read the whole letter, which I keep pinned to the wall of my office).

As Lincoln put it, the alternative approach (which we have actually followed in the last 60 years) “places our President where kings have always stood.” And the upshot of that undue, unquestioning trust in the president and his Executive branch is: smart people get us into stupid (and wrongful) wars, and their equally smart successors won’t get us out of them.
Either we the people will press elected officials in Congress on pain of losing their jobs to take up their Constitutional responsibilities once again and to end by defunding our illegal, unjustifiable (and now, financially insupportable) military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and air attacks on Pakistan, Libya and Yemen: or those bloody stalemates will continue indefinitely.

Question: In March at the age of 79 you were arrested in front of the White House and then again outside of Quantico military prison while protesting in support of Army private Bradley Manning, accused of being the WikiLeaks leaker. Manning, charged with 34 counts including “aiding the enemy,” faces life in prison and possibly, execution. Have you been able to communicate with Bradley?

Ellsberg: It was then almost impossible to communicate with Bradley Manning, and I have so far done so only through his few visitors. In front of the White House and at Quantico, I was attempting to communicate with those holding him prisoner, to protest the abusive and illegal conditions of his detention, amounting not only to punishment of someone not tried, convicted or sentenced but to torture forbidden by domestic and international law and the Constitution even as punishment.

Question: Do you believe what Bradley did was necessary and heroic?

Ellsberg: Yes.

Question: Do you still have all 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers?

Ellsberg: I don’t really know. Hundreds of boxes of files have gone from storage into my basement, and my old copies of the Papers may or may not be somewhere in there. I’m not going to go searching among them for the still-classified eleven words.  

Question: These days, when you find yourself thinking about Richard Nixon, what comes to mind?

Ellsberg: Richard Nixon, if he were alive today, might take bittersweet satisfaction to know that he was not the last smart president to prolong unjustifiably a senseless, unwinnable war, at great cost in human life. (And his aide Henry Kissinger was not the last American official to win an undeserved Nobel Peace Prize.)
He would probably also feel vindicated (and envious) that ALL the crimes he committed against me which forced his resignation facing impeachment are now legal.  

That includes burglarizing my former psychoanalyst’s office (for material to blackmail me into silence), warrantless wiretapping, using the CIA against an American citizen in the U.S., and authorizing a White House hit squad to “incapacitate me totally” (on the steps of the Capitol on May 3, 1971).

All the above were to prevent me from exposing guilty secrets of his own administration that went beyond the Pentagon Papers. But under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, with the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendment Act, and (for the hit squad) President Obama’s executive orders, they have all become legal.

There is no further need for present or future presidents to commit obstructions of justice (like Nixon’s bribes to potential witnesses) to conceal such acts.  Under the new laws, Nixon would have stayed in office, and the Vietnam War would have continued at least several more years.

Likewise, where Nixon was the first president in history to use the 54-year-old Espionage Act to indict an American (me) for unauthorized disclosures to the American people (it had previously been used, as intended, exclusively against spies), he would be impressed to see that President Obama has now brought five such indictments against leaks, almost twice as many as all previous presidents put together (three). 

He could only admire Obama’s boldness in using the same Espionage Act provisions used against me almost surely unconstitutional used against disclosures to the American press and public in my day, less surely under the current Supreme Court to indict Thomas Drake, a classic whistleblower who exposed illegality and waste in the NSA. 

Drake’s trial begins on June 13, the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers.  If Nixon were alive, he might well choose to attend. 

Daniel Ellsberg was a senior Pentagon official during the early stages of the Vietnam War and an analyst at the Rand Corp. where he worked on the secret history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers. After failing to spark interest in the classified history inside Congress, Ellsberg leaked the documents to the New York Times and other news organizations which then defied the Nixon administration in publishing stories about the secret history in 1971. Ellsberg was indicted under the Espionage Act, but the case collapsed amid disclosures that President Richard Nixon and other senior government officials had engaged in illegal acts, including a break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office seeking information to discredit him.

Obama Comes for the Journalists

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has sought to assure the national security establishment that he can be trusted with the government’s secrets and thus has been even more aggressive in going after leakers than his predecessors. Now, as Rory O’Connor notes, Obama’s prosecutors are raising the prospect of jailing a prominent journalist unless he cooperates.

By Rory O’Connor

May 29, 2011

German theologian Martin Niemoller was a staunch anti-Communist who supported Hitler’s rise to power — at first. He later became disillusioned, however, and led a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler.

In 1937 Niemoller was arrested for the crime of “not being enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement” and later was sent to concentration camps. Rescued in 1945 by the Allies, he became a leading post-war voice of reconciliation for the German people.

Niemoller is most famous for his well-known and frequently quoted statement detailing the dangers of political apathy in the face of repression.

Although it described the inactivity of Germans following Hitler’s rise to power and his violent purging of group after group of German citizens, his statement lives on as a universal description of the dangers of not standing up against tyranny.

The text of the Niemoller’s statement is usually presented as follows:

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I was reminded of Niemoller recently when federal prosecutors issued a subpoena intended to force New York Times reporter James Risen, the author of a book on the Central Intelligence Agency, to testify at the criminal trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer.

Sterling was charged as part of a wide-ranging Obama administration crackdown on officials accused of disclosing restricted information to journalists.

Now the Obama Justice Department is threatening to jail a journalist as well   — unless Risen tells them if Sterling or someone else leaked information about the CIA’s efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.

The subpoena, as Charlie Savage reported recently in the Times, ”tells Mr. Risen that ‘you are commanded’ to appear at federal district court in Alexandria, Va., on Sept. 12 to testify in the case. A federal district judge, Leonie M. Brinkema, quashed a similar subpoena to Mr. Risen last year, when prosecutors were trying to persuade a grand jury to indict Mr. Sterling.”

Risen rightly says he will ask the judge to quash the new subpoena as well, stating forthrightly, “I will always protect my sources,” and rightly that, “this is a fight about the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.”

It’s bad enough that ever since President Obama took office, he has repeatedly gone after whistleblowers like Sterling with a cold vengeance, charging more people in cases involving leaking information than “all previous presidents combined,” as Savage noted.

But Obama administration officials are no longer content just with targeting whistleblowers like Sterling, former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, (who goes on trial soon on charges of providing classified information to The Baltimore Sun). and of course Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused and already pronounced guilty by the President — of passing classified documents to

Now they are coming for the journalists as well just as Bush administration officials did before them.

And if Risen’s subpoena is not quashed and he still refuses to testify, he risks being held in contempt and imprisoned, just as Times reporter Judy Miller was for 85 days for her refusal to testify in connection with the Valerie Plame Wilson leak in 2005.

Obama’s prosecutors argue that the First Amendment doesn’t give Risen any right to avoid testifying about his confidential sources in a criminal proceeding, and that the Pulitzer Prize winner should be compelled to provide information to a jury “like any other citizen.”

Citizens as well as journalists need to stand up for Risen and against the sleazy, Bush-like tactics of the Obamacrats and the burgeoning national security state.

Otherwise, if you don’t speak out when they come, first for the whistleblowers, and then for the journalists, when they come for you, there will be no one left to speak out…