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Pentagon Papers Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg: Bradley Manning, One Person Who Acted on Crimes He Uncovered

Daniel Ellsberg, speaking at a KPFA-sponsored event in Berkeley in January

Following Pfc. Bradley Manning’s statement in court, Daniel Ellsberg, who blew the whistle on the Pentagon Papers, shares his reaction to the statement and thoughts on his case. He draws comparisons between his case forty years ago and Manning’s today. 


KEVIN GOSZTOLA: What was your initial reaction to hearing Bradley Manning’s statement read in court?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: There were differences in our circumstances, which made for differences in what we did, but the basic situation was simply identical. Bradley and I were both involved in ongoing wars, which we’d entered by a virtue of government executive deception and was continuing deception. In his case, he was looking at field level material, which revealed a great pattern of war crimes, domestic crimes, international crimes, torture, primarily, assassination and coercion of other states, which is not necessarily criminal but as he put it great power behavior toward other states, which was through almost every page of the Pentagon Papers in terms of our relations with the so-called government of South Vietnam, which we regarded contemptuously as a corrupt puppet of ours.

And it was information that would prolong the war if it remained secret. It was information that clearly the government intended to remain covered up. It was not secret by mistake or inadvertence. It was information that revealed crimes, lies, dereliction of duty in many ways. It would at the very least be embarrassing to the party in power if it didn’t lead to impeachment or prosecution.

So, it was information that called for investigation by Congress and the public and change. But change was not possible without information and information which resided in desks or in his case computer networks was being carefully protected by them and there was no way for Congress to do its function or the public to be the sovereign public in influencing policy unless someone took the personal risks of violating administrative regulations and putting out truths the administration didn’t want told.

Now, in this administration, it’s unusually clear that there is a campaign going on against whistleblowing, which is to say a campaign against truth-telling. It’s a war on truth-telling or a war on truth. Specifically, the truth that the government doesn’t want told because it’s embarrassing or incriminating and undermines the policies, which are being carried out, which policies are greatly invalid at best, ruthless and hopeless. So, we faced exactly the same situation together, as did thousands and thousands of others.

When Bradley says in his statement I was actively participating in something I was totally against, he was in the position I’m sure of thousands if not tens of thousands of others. There were even more millions perhaps who didn’t think of what they were doing and didn’t ask the question of whether it was right or wrong or legal or illegal. They just did what they were told. But there were tens of thousands at least who would recognize as did Bradley and as did I that they were looking at documentation of wrongful behavior that they should not be part of and specifically that they should really expose and resist and no resistance by anyone was possible unless someone exposed it. And, from experience, if I didn’t do it or if he didn’t do it, it was clear it wasn’t going to be done.

It was up to us to do it and the reason that so many would withdraw from it were the very obvious risks. In his case, not in his statement but in his earlier three years ago statements, he said I am ready to go to prison or even being executed for putting these out and that I recognize as the same mood I was in in 1969 and 1971. In his case, he came to that realization at 22. I was twice his age, forty, when I really realized that and I am giving credit for being more experienced. Well, I give him credit for coming to the same right judgment at such an early age. But, in both cases, it took a war to make us see the light and to see that our duty was not primarily to our boss or even to the president but rather to the Constitution and to the country.

We had not just in concept but in our very oaths, highest oath was to the Constitution of the United States. Both of us, and everybody else, had been violating that, day after day. After all, all the people who watched with him the video in his SCIF [intelligence facility where he worked] – the video that was later called “Collateral Murder” – knew that there was something wrong there. That was the burden of their discussion with his boss and everybody else. He was the one person, who investigated it, and acted on what he saw.

I was not only an infantry officer, but I had been the battalion training officer of the 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines in peacetime, 1956, so I was in charge of training. I knew about the laws of war. I knew what I trained my own Marines at that time. WikiLeaks was criticized for calling the video “Collateral Murder” rather than simply the euphemistic “collateral damage.” What he reports in his statement is that he thought clearly as a specialist what I knew well as an infantry commander; that what we were looking at in that video was not only horrible as most things are in combat but was illegal. He particularly noted the wounded man unarmed in civilian clothes crawling to find help at a time when the people in the helicopter knew there was a ground squad very close on its way to take prisoners or help the wounded. Instead, they first joked, “Pick up the gun so I can kill you,” but since there was no gun around, they killed him anyways. He was a Reuters journalist who was killed. A wounded unarmed man. Wounded, no threat to anyone. I knew looking at that I was looking at murder. Not all killing in war is murder. In fact, not all killing of civilians in war inadvertently is murder. But a lot of it killing is murder and deliberate killing of a man under those circumstances is simply murder. [cont’d.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."