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2005-05-03

Pentagon Papers Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg Blasts U.S. Nuclear Proliferation Policies

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It’s been 60 years since the dawn of the nuclear age. Thirty years since the end of the Vietnam War. We speak with a man who helped end that war–Vietnam whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg. [includes rush transcript]

Representatives from nearly all the governments in the world convened at the United Nations Monday for the start of a month-long conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It’s been 60 years since the dawn of the nuclear age. Thirty years since the end of the Vietnam War.

On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon–marking the end of the Vietnam War. Today we are joined by a man who helped end that war. Daniel Ellsberg.

He was once described by Henry Kissinger as "the world’s most dangerous man." During the Cold War, Daniel Ellsberg was a U.S. Marine company commander, a Pentagon official and an analyst at the Rand Corporation.

In October of 1969 he began smuggling out of his office and xeroxing the 7,000 page top-secret study of U.S. decision making in Vietnam, known as the Pentagon Papers.

He did so with the intent of revealing these secrets to Congress and the American public and in so doing, he set in motion actions that would eventually topple the Nixon presidency and end the Vietnam War.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re joined by a man who helped end that war, Daniel Ellsberg. once described by Henry Kissinger as, "the world’s most dangerous man." During the Cold War, Daniel Ellsberg was U.S. Marine company commander, a Pentagon official, and analyst at the Rand Corporation. In October ’69, he began smuggling out of his office and xeroxing the 7,000-page top secret study of U.S. decision making in Vietnam known as the Pentagon Papers. He did so with the intent of revealing these secrets to Congress and the American public; and in so doing he set in motion actions that would eventually topple the Nixon presidency and end the Vietnam War. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Thanks for having me here.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So how do you relate Vietnam, the secrets, and anti-nuclear activism today, what’s going on at the United Nations, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? You sort of link them all as you take those as your mission.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: There really are — There’s a number of causes in the world that justify an individual or group of people committing their lives to change the world, to change the situation. I think there’s — Vietnam — ending the war in Vietnam was one of those. Ending the nuclear arms race, ending the threat of nuclear war is certainly another. There’s a man I’m sure we’ll be discussing, Mordechai Vanunu in Israel, who spent 18 years in prison for revealing that Israel was a nuclear state. In doing so he hoped to change the understanding of our nuclear dangers in the world and to change that status for Israel. That was worth his life, he figured, and he hasn’t regretted it. I faced 115 years in prison for trying to end the Vietnam War with a revelation of truth. I didn’t have to spend that, because crimes of the government against me were revealed in time. So, unlike Vanunu, I didn’t spend eleven and a half years in solitary, which he did; and yet I would have been willing to do that, just as Vanunu regrets nothing now.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you recently went to Israel.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Originally, no. I —

AMY GOODMAN: You recently.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Recently? Sorry, yes. Just a month ago to — hoping to speak for Vanunu at a meeting of the Knesset, hearing his restrictions, which were laid on him after he got out of 18 years in prison. He was told that he couldn’t talk to foreigners like me or you. He couldn’t talk to foreign journalists, like you, on pain of going back to prison. And he went ahead and did that. He exercised his human rights to speak freely. And as a result he’s been newly indicted on the day that I left. The Knesset hearing was canceled, and we realized why the day after, when he was indicted just for talking to people like us. And he’s continuing to do that; he spoke just yesterday via the telephone and tape to a meeting here in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to play an excerpt of the tape that was sent from Israel. This is Mordechai Vanunu.

MORDECAI VANUNU: Now, in this year 2005 in United Nations NPT treaty, I am asking you again: If you really want to make the Middle East free from nuclear menace, it is here, Israel, have the nuclear weapons, not Iraq, not Iran. Here with all the proofs in your hand. So time come for you to make a decision demanding from Israel to open Dimona nuclear reactor for inspection and to sign the NPT Treaty. Also you, Council, can remember that this reactor, Dimona reactor, working beyond its time. It was built to work for twenty-five years to thirty years; but this reactor now working more than forty years. There is no justification for any state to have nuclear weapons. There is no justification to use atomic bomb.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Mordechai Vanunu speaking in Israel. Where is he now? I understand that the latest —

DANIEL ELLSBERG: He’s where that clip shows him, at St. George Cathedral, where he rings the bells, by the way, for the cathedral at noon every day over Jerusalem. I went up and helped him one day. Neither of us like the word whistleblower too much. Bell ringer is one that I like. I was happy to be able to do that with Mordechai. But he’s likely to go back to prison just for saying things — this may be a new count in his indictment, the clip that you just showed. He won’t stop talking about the need for a nuclear-free world.

AMY GOODMAN: I understand Democracy Now! is named in the indictment.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: That’s right. You were named personally in it as having spoken to him, along with a lot of others who — He was charged with speaking to twenty-five interviews, and he said at his indictment hearing, "No, it was over fifty-one."

AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue of the Dimona nuclear plant that he raises, of it being in operation beyond its time?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: An aspect of Israel’s policy of, (quote), "ambiguity," that is simply denying or not acknowledging that it’s a nuclear state, which the United States has known, by the way, for — since 1970 when it was announced. They knew it long before that, but it was announced in 1970 that we knew nuclear — Israel was a nuclear state. But an aspect then of their continuing this hoax of pretending that they’re not is that they can’t — the citizens of Israel can’t address or investigate at all the safety conditions of Dimona, where they make the nuclear weapons and which, as usual, as at Hanford and other places in this country, as at the test site, there are, of course, radiation accidents. People have died from radiation there, as at most such places; and it represents a particular danger because it’s been used so long.

AMY GOODMAN: Why focus on Israel when we’re talking about North Korea that just sent a missile into the Bay of Japan? Of course, Iran, the whole issue of the nuclear politics around Iran.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Actually, Israel has no less right or more right to have nuclear weapons than the other nuclear states. And that is to say essentially, from a human point of view, zero. But to single them out doesn’t make a lot of sense, except that, of course, as the nuclear monopoly in the Middle East they’re a constant provocation to other countries in the Middle East for proliferation. But also it’s revealing the hypocrisy of the U.S. stance from the very beginning. The U.S. has pretended from the start of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was first signed in '68 and ratified in ’70, just thirty-five years ago, has pretended that it's U.S. policy to oppose all proliferation beyond the five nuclear states named there. In fact, that has always been a fraud, and the countries of the world have essentially known that. Israel, with our toleration, if not encouragement, was a nuclear state at the point that treaty was signed, 1968 and 1970. And we knew that. That was the fraud that Mordechai Vanunu exposed. But the effect of the world’s knowing that the U.S. position that we opposed all proliferation was false is that there’s no possibility of nonproliferation being a real norm. The United States, the world’s richest power, has made it clear that we’re quite in favor of proliferation to our friends, if you’re friendly with us. Iran under the Shah got our, not only toleration, but encouragement for the nuclear activities we’re now denouncing. Iraq, where we just went to war to prevent them from getting WMDs, was encouraged and helped in its nuclear program while it was fighting Iran. And so forth. India, Pakistan have all benefited from U.S. toleration or encouragement. So, we don’t have a nonproliferation policy. If that’s to happen, our policy will have to change; and above all, it will have to change in favor of our, at last, committing — taking account of our commitment under Article VI to move toward disarmament. No American president has had any intention of carrying out the supposedly solemn commitment under Article VI to undertake negotiations toward total elimination of nuclear weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Ellsberg, you have often credited anti-war protesters with turning you around, looking out the window of the Pentagon and seeing them outside. I wanted to turn now to a group of students who are currently occupying the University of Hawaii administration building to protest the building of a Military Research Center on their campus. This is the same campus where the deadly chemical Agent Orange was developed in the 1960s using classified military research similar to what’s being proposed. We are joined on the phone now by Ikaika Hussey, one of the students who is currently occupying at University of Hawaii. Welcome to Democracy Now!

IKAIKA HUSSEY: Thank you very much. Aloha.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you’re doing right now, as Daniel Ellsberg is listening in?

IKAIKA HUSSEY: Well, right now, actually, we’re all sleeping, except for me. But we’re engaged in a civil disobedience action. We’ve occupied Bachman Hall, which we’ve called Bachman Hall Demilitarized Zone for the last five days. And we will continue to do so until the administration decides to stop the creation of this classified Military Research Center.

AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly would this do, and the history of the Agent Orange on your campus?

IKAIKA HUSSEY: Well, Agent Orange is a real blight on the history of our university and on Hawaii. It led to untold destruction in Southeast Asia. Also, of course, the U.S veterans who have been affected by it. And also even here in Hawaii there are areas which are still defoliated and contaminated by Agent Orange. There are also researchers involved in the creation of Agent Orange who — they were just employees of the State University, they didn’t know what they were being exposed to, and they have since died from exposure to Agent Orange. And so, it’s a real sore point in the history of the University of Hawaii, and it’s something that we keep in mind when the university talks about more military research.

AMY GOODMAN: And the building of the Navy Military Research Center, what would it do on campus?

IKAIKA HUSSEY: It would be tied into the existing large military infrastructure in Hawaii. Hawaii is one of the most militarized places in the United States and it has been since the invasion of Hawaii by U.S. military forces in 1893. Right now the island of Oahu, which is the most urban island, it’s 25% controlled by the military. There’s about 20% of all of Hawaii, all the eight major islands, which is controlled by the military. And what happened with this Military Research Facility is it would tie into the existing military installations and also civilian installations, which would then be able to be used for classified purposes. From all the points in the island chain, it would tie into Star Wars ballistic missile defense work that’s being done here at the Pacific Missile Range Facility. It would tie into underwater kind of work with sea mines and so forth. And most importantly it would make Hawaii a part of the American war machine, which is not something that we want.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Ellsberg, as you listen to this political science graduate student at the University of Hawaii, occupying the administration offices, your final comment from your history?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, everyone has to sleep regularly, and I’m glad that those students are sleeping where they are, obstructing by their bodies a process that shouldn’t be going on at all. I don’t think we’ll ever be out of Iraq. We will not avoid the war in Iran. We will not change our relations to dictatorial tyrannist governments as in the Sudan without the kinds of opposition that we saw in the Vietnam War against the Vietnam War, consciencious, truthful, nonviolent civil disobedience. And that is more than symbolic. People actually showing that they’re willing to do everything they can, nonviolently and truthfully, to bring these processes to the attention of the fellow voters, but also to stop them, to obstruct them. And that can have a great personal cost as Mordechai Vanunu found, has suffered. And it can be very worthwhile. It can save very many lives. So I want to say my appreciation to the people in Hawaii and hope that they’ll have — inspire much similar activity over here.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Ellsberg, I want to thank you for being with us, as well as Ikaika Hussey, speaking to us from the University of Hawaii. And a shout out to our listeners and viewers in Hawaii. Democracy Now! airs in Hawaii on KKCR Community Radio and community TV stations, AKAKU and Olelo.

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