I didn’t want to spend my life in prison, but when it came to risking that to have a chance to shorten a war that was killing hundreds of thousands, ultimately several million people, then the price for one person of losing his freedom or even dying seemed a very natural step to take. I had been trained after all in the military, essentially during peacetime, as a marine, but then in Vietnam I used that training to walk with troops, and see the war up close. You see physical courage on all hands, it’s routine. But in peacetime, civilians aim not to take any risk at all, to their career, to their access, to their livelihood. Often the same people who risked their lives and bodies in combat. The example of young Americans who were going to prison to make the strongest protest they could against the war, and spent years in prison to say that the war was wrong – without their example, I must say, I probably would not have thought of doing what I did, which did expose me to prison. But with their example, it was easy.
The people who went to prison were not, on the whole, total pacifists, in the sense that they objected to all wars. They objected to this wrongful, imperial war.
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In general, in foreign policy, he [Biden] has not shown anything progressive or favorable. In domestic policy, in many ways he has acted better than almost anyone expected, but on foreign policy, there is nothing to be said for him: it’s the same as Obama’s, which was not good, and pretty much the same as Trump’s.
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So these governments are extremely vindictive about the idea of their guilty secrets [coming out], evidence of their crimes, their lies, their breaking treaties. They don’t want those to come out, because the public might make a fuss about it. Actually when it does get out, very unhappily, I have to say, nothing much does usually happen. I can’t say that it does have the effect that I wish it did, revealing the truth. People kind of accept it and go along. Nevertheless, there is a chance that it will help, and where enormous numbers of lives are involved, it’s worth the price, and the risk.
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This is a government that we know conducts aggressive wars, criminal aggressive wars, as in Iraq, absolutely, clear-cut aggression, and has very, very little concern for the people of those areas, as they are showing in Afghanistan, right now. It’s shocking that they are subjecting the Afghans now, punitively, to a regime of hunger and cold, in keeping their funds frozen, showing how little concern they have ever had for the Afghan people, as they showed for 20 years, bombing them, with drones and raids and all that. In short: it’s a government that needs to be exposed, and it won’t be very much if…if Julian’s case is a real turning point here, then we will essentially have a press like that of Stalin’s Russia.
Ellsberg is quoted here saying the Biden administration’s prosecution of Julian Assange is “outrageous”, a word which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as meaning “shocking and morally unacceptable”.
I have been reading and admiring Ellsberg since the Pentagon Papers were first being excerpted, and appreciated this interview with il Fatto Quotidiano.
Given his experience and observations of government treatment of whistleblowers like himself, Assange, Vanunu, and others, however, “outrageous” is not an appropriate word to use. As Ellsberg says, “these governments are extremely vindictive about the idea of their guilty secrets [coming out], evidence of their crimes”. US and other government treatment of whistleblowers has been consistent through the five decades since the Pentagon Papers. Katharine Gun, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden were all prosecuted, neither the US nor UK ever in any remote fashion apologized for government crimes. As Ellsberg says in this interview about leaked evidence of government crimes “when it does get out, very unhappily, I have to say, nothing much does usually happen. I can’t say that it does have the effect that I wish it did, revealing the truth. People kind of accept it and go along.” The Biden administration’s current actions are not “shocking” – they are the morally unacceptable norm.