To discuss Bradley Manning’s recorded court statement that was recently leaked to the press, we’re joined by perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. “What we’ve heard are people like The New York Times who have consistently slandered him … that he was vague and couldn’t think of specific instances that had led him to inform the American people of injustices,” Ellsberg says. “The American people can now, for the first time, hear Bradley in his own words, emotionally and in the greatest specific detail, tell what it was that he felt that needed revelation.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest in studio at the University of California, Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Dan, can you talk about the significance of the release of this surreptitiously recorded audio of Bradley Manning’s statement in court?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Hello, hello, hello. They’re working on—
AMY GOODMAN: Hi, Dan. Can you talk about the significance of the audiotape?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yes, this is the first time in three years that the American public has had a chance to have an unfiltered impression of Private Bradley Manning himself, in his own words, in his own voice. For three years, he has been virtually incommunicado except for his lawyers, and we’ve heard only third-hand hearsay, often by people who aren’t at all sympathetic to him, about his nature and why he did.
By pleading guilty to these military—violating these military regulations, which he almost surely did, he’s freed himself to speak out now as to what exactly he did do and why he did it. If he can, of course, explain why he did what he did while he was still pleading not guilty and putting the burden of the proof on his actions on the government, that was his right to do, but it prevented him from saying that he had done the things, the acts, they were charging. In other words, he’s in exactly the same position I was in at the beginning of my trial, when I took full responsibility and I stipulated to all the facts that were presented in the trial. There was nothing to argue about, about what I had done.
The issue in my case was whether any law had been broken. Apparently, The New York Times never got to understand how I was pleading not guilty when I had indeed admitted to exactly what I had done. Bill Keller, obviously, the later executive editor of the Times, has never come to understand the problematic nature of the charges I was faced with and that Bradley Manning is faced with. I know them by heart: 18 U.S.C. 793 paragraphs (d) and (e). The best legal advisers at the time, like Mel Nimmer, said that those acts were unconstitutional, those portions, as applied to a leaker, instead of being applied to someone who had secretly given information to a foreign government or an enemy, the espionage that the Espionage Act was named for. To use them against someone like Manning or me who gave information for the benefit of the American people was not at all the intention of Congress, never was the intention of Congress. And so, whereas I did what I did, essentially, in my era, the comparable acts to what Manning did, the argument is very strong, legally, that we had not broken any law that could hold up as constitutional.
AARON MATÉ: Well, Dan Ellsberg—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: I was—moreover, he was also free now, by having admitted these acts, as I was at the beginning of my trial, to take full responsibility, not only morally, but to say specifically: No one else in the government had helped me, no one had taken any part of it, no one knew anything of it. So they were off the hook, even though President Nixon continued to suspect, wrongly, that the FBI was wrong and that I had not acted alone.
In Manning’s case, he’s now able to say, in his own voice, for the public to hear for the first time, that he acted before he had had any contact with Assange. He had made his decision. They did not encourage him or press him. They did nothing more than any journalist would do in course of allowing him to get his information to them. In short, The New York Times, which should not be subject to these charges, surely, is, in the eyes of the government, just as guilty as WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. And if there’s going to be continued, after this acknowledgment, a grand jury investigating Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, there should be a grand jury investigating The New York Times — there won’t be — because they did exactly the same thing.
AARON MATÉ: Well, Dan Ellsberg, speaking of The New York Times —
DANIEL ELLSBERG: So he was able to then—yes.
AARON MATÉ: —you referenced this op-ed piece by Bill Keller, the _Times_’ former executive editor. At his pretrial hearing, Bradley Manning revealed he first approached The Washington Post and then The New York Times to discuss leaking the classified files, but got no response. Now, in his column for The New York Times on Sunday, Bill Keller responded to Manning’s claim, and he wrote, quote, “If Manning had connected with The Times, we would have found ourselves in a relationship with a nervous, troubled, angry young Army private who was offering not so much documentation of a particular government outrage as a chance to fish in a sea of secrets.” And Keller goes on to reference you, Dan Ellsberg. He says, “We’d have made sure Manning knew upfront that he was on his own, as we did with the last leaker of this magnitude, Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.” Your response, Dan Ellsberg?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: There’s a combination there of candor and of self-revelation of the Times and of Bill Keller himself in that statement. Part of that is undoubtedly his true and his sincere best impression. It shows him as an arrogant, ignorant, condescending person, very smart person who manages to be stupid in certain ways, like virtually everyone.
Yes, it is true that they assured me that I—and they did in fact show me no support during the trial. I remember the then-executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, the one conversation I had with him. I took occasion to ask him, “What is your policy about supporting a source who is being prosecuted for leaking information to you?” He said to me, after a pause, “Well, I don’t know that we do have a policy.” I said, “Let me tell you, I’m sure you don’t have a policy, because I am the first of your sources ever to be prosecuted, the first of any newspaper source in this country to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act or any other act.” So I said, “I think you had better give some attention to developing a policy on that, because if I lose this case,” which I didn’t because of governmental misconduct, but “if I lose this case, you’re going to have a lot more prosecutions to deal with.”
Now, actually, in the 40 years since, we have had, under Obama, not just six, but seven, people prosecuted under the Espionage Act now. Six would be twice as many as all previous presidents, and he’s actually added a seventh, of which, I would say, the Times seems to be ignorant. I don’t think they’ve made any mention of James Hitselberger, who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act four months ago and got new charges under it today. So there have been seven.
Now, Hitselberger’s lawyers are arguing exactly what we argued at the beginning of our case 40 years ago, that the passages of the so-called Espionage Act, U.S. 18 793 (d) and (e) are unconstitutionally broad and vague when applied to leaking to the American public. They chill speech. They stop, they censor free speech and free thought and free press in exactly the way the founders wanted to prevent. And that argument was made by our judges, and I was just recently—by our lawyers. I was just recently told by the law clerk to Judge Matthew Byrne in my case, in the district court case, that his recommendation, on studying this first case, was that he should accept that brief and ruled that part of the Espionage Act unconstitutional, and that his impression was that Byrne pretty much agreed with his argument, but didn’t want to start his very first case on the federal bench by calling a major law unconstitutional. So he deferred judgment on that, to the disappointment of the prosecutor. If he had judged it right away, they would have appealed it. But as it was, he deferred it ’til he had heard the facts of the case. And it did become clear to us that that first case did demonstrate that this law was not at all suitable in a democracy with a First Amendment.
AMY GOODMAN: Dan Ellsberg, we want to—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: And it should have been [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: Dan, we want to play more clips of Bradley Manning. In this one, near the end of his remarks in the courtroom at Fort Meade, Bradley Manning says he decided to leak secret U.S. cables because he believed transparency would encourage better diplomacy. Manning appears to cite the—President Woodrow Wilson’s famous “14 points” during World War I. Wilson called for “no private international understandings” and for “diplomacy in the public view.” Although acknowledging he knew they would embarrass individual officials, Manning said he did not believe the cables would harm the U.S. as a country. The more he read the cables, Manning said, the more he came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public.
BRADLEY MANNING: The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should be—that this type of information should become public. I once read and used in a quote on open diplomacy, written after the First World War, in how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other. I thought these cables were a prime example about the need for a more open diplomacy.
Given all the Department of State information I read, the fact that most of the cables were unclassified and that all the cables had a SIPDIS caption, I believed the public release of these cables would not damage the United States; however, I did believe that the cables might be embarrassing, since they represented very honest opinions and assessments—or statements behind the backs of other nations and organizations.
AARON MATÉ: That was Bradley Manning speaking in the secret audio at his pretrial hearing. In this clip, Bradley Manning discusses the alienation he felt in the U.S. military, lacking close friends and feeling hostility from his roommate over his sexual orientation. Manning says, after he came into contact with WikiLeaks, he initially felt support through his online conversations with a WikiLeaks member he dubs “Nathaniel Frank.” As Manning discusses his struggles in the military, he appears to choke back tears. He began by saying the anonymity provided to him by online chatting with WikiLeaks allowed him to feel he could just be himself, free of the concerns of social labeling and perceptions that are often placed upon him in real life.
BRADLEY MANNING: The anonymity that was provided by TOR and the Jabber client and the WLO’s policy allowed me to feel I could just be myself, free of the concerns of social labeling and perceptions that are often placed upon me in real life.
In real life, I lacked a close friendship with the people I worked with in my section, the S2 section—in my section, the S2 section that supported battalions and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team as a whole. For instance, I lacked close ties with my roommate due to his discomfort regarding my perceived sexual orientation.
Over the next few months, I stayed in frequent contact with Nathaniel. We conversed on nearly a daily basis, and I felt that we were developing a friendship. Conversations covered many topics, and I enjoyed the ability to talk about pretty much anything, and not just the publications that the WLO was working on. In retrospect, I realize that these dynamics were artificial and were valued more by myself than Nathaniel. For me, these conversations represented an opportunity to escape from the immense pressures and anxiety that I experienced and built up throughout the deployment. It seems that as I tried harder to fit in at work, the more I seemed to alienate my peers, lose respect, trust and the support I needed.
AMY GOODMAN: Bradley Manning also discovered video of another deadly U.S. air strike on civilians, this time in Afghanistan. Around 100 Afghan civilians were reportedly killed in May 2009 when U.S. warplanes bombed the village of Garani. WikiLeaks apparently has the video but still hasn’t released it. Manning said the Garani bombing was even more disturbing than that July 12, 2007, incident in Iraq that killed 12, including the two Reuters employees. Manning began by recounting that the air strike occurred in the Garani village in the Farah province of northwestern Afghanistan.
BRADLEY MANNING: The air strike occurred in the Garani village in the Farah province, northwestern Afghanistan. It received worldwide press and got worldwide press coverage during the time, as it was reported that up to 100 to 150 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were accidentally killed during the air strike.
After going through the report and the [inaudible] annexes, I began to review the incident as being similar to the 12 July, 2007, aerial weapons team engagements in Iraq. However, this event was noticeably different in that it involved a significantly higher number of individuals, larger aircraft and much heavier munitions. Also, the conclusions of the report are even more disturbing than those of the 12 July, 2007, incident.
AARON MATÉ: That’s Bradley Manning. Now, he also discussed leaking documents on the U.S. detention of military prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Manning said he was shocked to discover, upon doing research, that many prisoners were still being held despite knowledge of their innocence. He began by saying each memo that he read gave basic and background information about a specific detainee held at some point by Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
BRADLEY MANNING: Each memorandum gave basic and background information about a specific detainee held at some point by Joint Task Force Guantanamo. And I’ve always been interested on the issue of the moral efficacy of our actions surrounding Joint Task Force Guantanamo. On the one hand, I have always understood the need to detain and interrogate individuals who might wish to harm the United States and our allies. However, I felt that that was—however, I felt that that’s what we were doing—what we were trying to do at Joint Task Force Guantanamo. However, the more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low-level foot support, low-level foot soldiers that we didn’t—that did not have useful intelligence and would be released if they were still in theater—if they were still held in theater.
I also recall that in early 2009 the then-newly elected president, Barack Obama, stated that he would close Joint Task Force Guantanamo and that the facility compromised our standing overall and diminished our, quote, “moral authority,” unquote. After familiarizing myself with the detainee assessment briefs, I agree.
AARON MATÉ: That was Bradley Manning talking about the Guantánamo files that he leaked to WikiLeaks. Dan Ellsberg, as we wrap up here, I’m wondering if you could share with us your impressions of Bradley Manning as you listened to him speak, and if you could compare: How does the treatment of him by the liberal press, by The New York Times, and Democratic lawmakers compare to how you were treated back in the ’70s?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Pretty much the same. The Times, I think, thinks of leakers, wrongly, as having clearly broken the law: Bill Keller, by saying that the other day, and Max Frankel, by calling what I did an act of civil disobedience. That’s what I thought when I did it. I thought I was breaking a law that would put me in jail for the rest of my life, and indeed I was made those charges. And yet, in fact, what my lawyers discovered was that such a law had never been used to criminalize the release of such information. To this day, 60 years—40 years later, the Supreme Court has never ruled on that opinion. And the best judgment is that we have not passed a law that criminalized release of all classified information. Congress did pass such a law in 2000, and President Clinton vetoed it. Obviously, President Obama would not veto it now. Bill Keller is under the mistaken, stupid impression that it exists right now, so that the law was broken.
As for the picture of Bradley Manning, what we’ve heard are people like The New York Times who have consistently slandered him, such as in the false statement on Sunday that he was vague and couldn’t think of specific instances that had led him to inform the American people of injustices. The American people can now, for the first time, hear Bradley in his own words, emotionally and in the greatest specific detail, tell what it was that he felt that needed revelation, and which the Times had not felt. So, in fact, the idea that he was just a boy who was indiscriminately dumping out everything he could, when in fact he personally had access to material higher than top secret, higher than Bill Keller has ever seen, in a war which Bill Keller has never served in, which revealed to him that information—people should have that information. He chose not to put out the top secret or communications intelligence to which he clearly had access, as stated in his—he put out only material that he felt would be embarrassing and which, three years later, we can say was only embarrassing, only important enough and newsworthy enough to topple two dictators in the Middle East—more effectively, I would say, than I managed to do. I helped topple one would-be dictator with minimal help from The New York Times, who covered my trial as, quote, “a happening” rather than the legal issues, which their reporter at the time never did grasp any more than Bill Keller did.
AMY GOODMAN: Dan Ellsberg—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: So it’s fortunate that—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to wrap it there, and I want to thank you very much for being with us, Pentagon Papers whistleblower, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and we’ll link to the foundation—their website is called PressFreedomFoundation.org—for the full audio of this surreptitious recording made in the Fort Meade military courtroom of Bradley Manning, being heard for the first time in a thousand days, as he continues to face military trial. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. You can also go to our website for all the transcripts of the audio that you have just heard. I know it was very difficult, and we made a calculation that because this is so critical, just to hear his voice was important. But for the transcripts of everything you heard, you can go to democracynow.org.
When we come back, we’re going to look at the increasing secrecy invoked by the Obama administration, at a new AP report, with the AP reporter who did the calculations. But first we’ll look at Afghanistan. Stay with us.