by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
April 19, 2012
A BUDGET FOR ALL: AN ALTERNATIVE VISION FOR AMERICA
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- It has not been extensively reported, but the Obama Administration has retained and expanded upon many of the national security abuses that were initiated during the Bush Administration.
The same acts that got liberals angry at President George W, Bush - warrantless wiretapping, the use of drones, indefinite detention of terror suspects without trial - continue under President Obama.
Daniel Ellsberg, the man who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers - 7,000 pages of top secret information regarding U.S. military planning and strategy in Vietnam - to the press, has said if he tried to release them today, he would end up like Army Cpl. Bradley Manning, who could face life in prison for providing top secret material on U.S. military planning and policy in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks.
That's because the Justice Department under President Obama has been aggressive in seeking prosecutions against suspected leakers, and the rising hostility of those in power toward anyone who challenges the status quo.
Ellsberg has joined Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky in filing a lawsuit that challenges the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). They argue that the law, signed on Dec. 31 by President Obama, authorizes the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world, without charge or trial.
Despite assurances that this law only applies to U.S. members of alleged terrorist organizations overseas, there is enough ambiguity in the law that the definition of "supporter of terrorism" also includes peaceful activists, authors, academics and journalists.
That's how much the world has changed since Ellsberg decided to risk his career, and perhaps his life, to show the world the lies and wishful thinking that were behind U.S. intervention in Vietnam.
The 81-year-old Ellsberg was recently in Brattleboro, Vt., to talk about whistleblowing, and the perils it can bring to those brave enough to do it.
Ellsberg avoided prison when the charges against him were dismissed due to government misconduct (White House burglars had broken into his psychiatrist's office to steal his Ellsberg notes), misconduct that played a role in President Nixon resigning from office in disgrace in 1974, rather than face impeachment.
Manning, a 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst, might not be as lucky.
Ellsberg said he would willingly trade places with Manning, saying when he first heard about his case, his first thought was "that was me 40 years ago.'"
Ellsberg said Manning could decrease his sentence if he provides information about WikiLeaks, but he believes Manning probably won't do that.
"My guess will be, if from other experience, I know that Bradley, if he spends his life in prison, will not regret what he did, which was to try to reveal a pattern of crimes, of atrocities, corruption, a hopeless war and wrongful war, to do everything he could nonviolently and truthfully to shorten that," he said.
Ellsberg said he still regrets not coming forward with the information sooner.
"Don't do what I did. Don't wait until the bombs are falling," he said "Go to the press, go to Congress, put it on the Net if the press won't take it, go to WikiLeaks and put it up."
As for the personal and professional price, he said that "I can't tell any one individual, 'you sacrifice yourself, put this ahead of your children's education,' but I can say consider it. Consider what difference it could make if you told what you knew.
"Each of you here will have choices, at some group that you are involved with during the course of your life where you know what's being done is not merely misguided or not best, not optimal, not what you would have chosen; but really bad, really bad.
"And the question is, do you say that? Do you tell the facts, do you tell it to people who may take a different view, try to organize other people to do it together or do you protect your career? And you'll make that choice more than once, and some of you will act to save a lot of lives and I thank you for that."
As Federal Judge Damon J. Keith wrote in a 2002 ruling, "Democracies die behind closed doors." Judge Keith declared that the Bush Administration acted unlawfully in holding deportation hearings in secret,
"When government begins closing doors," he continued, "it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation. The Framers of the First Amendment 'did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us.' ... They protected the people against secret government."
And that's what whistleblowers do. They throw open the doors and windows, and let the light in. It is why Daniel Ellsberg remains a despised figure among conservatives, and why so many conservatives have called for Bradley Manning's execution as a traitor to America.
The powerful who don't want the bright light of openness, democracy and truth shining upon their schemes always want to kill the whistleblowers.
To President Obama's shame, he'd rather continue the Bush Administration's national security policies than accept the checks and balances of the judicial and legislative branches. And, to this nation's shame, too many would rather tolerate oppression in the name of security than accept freedom of information as our due in a democracy.
AR Chief of Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.