I’m proud and honored to announce our new Freedom of the Press Foundation board member, Edward Snowden.

Here’s what I said in today’s press release:

[Snowden] is the quintessential American whistleblower, and a personal hero of mine, Leaks are the lifeblood of the republic and, for the first time, the American public has been given the chance to debate democratically the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. Accountability journalism can’t be done without the courageous acts exemplified by Snowden, and we need more like him. . . .

The secrecy system in this country is broken. No one is punished for using secrecy to conceal dangerous policies, lies, or crimes, yet concerned employees who wish to inform the American public about what the government is doing under their name are treated as spies. Our ‘accountability’ mechanisms are a one-sided secret court, which acts as a rubber stamp, and a Congressional ‘oversight’ committee, which has turned into the NSA’s public relations firm. Edward Snowden had no choice but to go to the press with information. Far from a crime, Snowden’s disclosures are a true constitutional moment, where the press has held the government to account using the First Amendment, when the other branches refused.

Edward Snowden said:

It is tremendously humbling to be called to serve the cause of our free press. . . on FPF’s Board of Directors. The unconstitutional gathering of the communications records of everyone in America threatens our most basic rights, and the public should have a say in whether or not that continues. Thanks to the work of our free press, today we do, and if the NSA won’t answer to Congress, they’ll have to answer to the newspapers, and ultimately, the people.

Here’s what I told the New York Times in their blog post on the announcement: “Snowden is no more of a traitor than I am, and I am not a traitor. He has done more for our Constitution in terms of the Fourth and First Amendment than anyone I know.”

Here’s the interview I did on CNN:

[1/15/13] And here’s a dialogue I did about the announcement, on Reddit

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My opinion piece in the Guardian today:

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.

The government claims it has a court warrant under Fisa – but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. As Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, put it: “It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp.”

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.

The fact that congressional leaders were “briefed” on this and went along with it, without any open debate, hearings, staff analysis, or any real chance for effective dissent, only shows how broken the system of checks and balances is in this country.

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

There are legitimate reasons for secrecy, and specifically for secrecy about communications intelligence. That’s why Bradley Mannning and I –both of whom had access to such intelligence with clearances higher than top-secret – chose not to disclose any information with that classification. And it is why Edward Snowden has committed himself to withhold publication of most of what he might have revealed.

But what is not legitimate is to use a secrecy system to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse. Neither the president nor Congress as a whole may by themselves revoke the fourth amendment – and that’s why what Snowden has revealed so far was secret from the American people.

In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms:

“I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

The dangerous prospect of which he warned was that America’s intelligence gathering capability – which is today beyond any comparison with what existed in his pre-digital era – “at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left.”

That has now happened. That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former “democratic republic” of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.

So we have fallen into Senator Church’s abyss. The questions now are whether he was right or wrong that there is no return from it, and whether that means that effective democracy will become impossible. A week ago, I would have found it hard to argue with pessimistic answers to those conclusions.

But with Edward Snowden having put his life on the line to get this information out, quite possibly inspiring others with similar knowledge, conscience and patriotism to show comparable civil courage – in the public, in Congress, in the executive branch itself – I see the unexpected possibility of a way up and out of the abyss.

Pressure by an informed public on Congress to form a select committee to investigate the revelations by Snowden and, I hope, others to come might lead us to bring NSA and the rest of the intelligence community under real supervision and restraint and restore the protections of the bill of rights.

Snowden did what he did because he recognised the NSA’s surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans’ and foreign citizens’ privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we’re trying to protect.

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[Originally published in Social Research]

I) Reflections on Secret-keeping and Identity

In the “national security” area of the government–the White House, the departments of state and defense, the armed services and the “intelligence community,” along with their contractors–there is less whistleblowing than in other departments of the executive branch or in private corporations. This despite the frequency of misguided practices and policies within these particular agencies that are both more well-concealed and more catastrophic than elsewhere, and thus even more needful of unauthorized exposure.

The mystique of secrecy in the universe of national security, even beyond the formal apparatus of classification and clearances, is a compelling deterrent to whistleblowing and thus to effective resistance to gravely wrongful or dangerous policies. In this realm, telling secrets appears unpatriotic, even traitorous. That reflects the general presumption–even though it is very commonly false–that the secrecy is aimed not at domestic, bureaucratic or political rivals or the American public but at foreign, powerful enemies, and that breaching it exposes the country, its people and its troops to danger.

Even those insiders who have come to understand that the presumption is frequently false and that particular facts are being wrongly and dangerously kept secret not so much from foreigners but from Congress, courts or the public are strongly inhibited from speaking out by an internalized commitment to keep official secrets from outsiders, which they have promised to do as a condition of employment or access.

To be sure, there are strong, usually more than adequate careerist incentives not to break those promises. Being found to do so exposes officials to loss of access to meetings and information, loss of clearance, demotion or loss of promotion, loss of job or career, loss of retirement benefits, harm to marriage or to children’s prospects that comes with loss of income, even danger of prosecution and prison. The last risk is much less likely than they are led to believe—at least, that was true prior to the present Obama administration — but the other job-related penalties are not, and they prove more than sufficient to keep most secret-keepers from breaking the rules in ways that would expose them to such losses, even when the welfare of many others is at stake.

However, as a former insider I can attest to psychological dimensions of this behavior that seem rarely to have been discussed. They seem worthy of some extended reflection here, given my own motive to understand this behavior in order in some respects to change it. In my experience, the psychological stakes for officials in keeping their commitment to keep secrets-even what appear to be “guilty” secrets that not only preclude democratic accountability but endanger the welfare of many people–go beyond careerist calculations of keeping a job or possible punishments for disobedience, influential and even sufficient as those considerations generally are. [More. . .]

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Today, I join with a group of colleagues and friends to announce The Freedom of the Press Foundation.

This new foundation crowd-sources funding for a number of tireless, courageous and underfunded freedom of press organizations, INCLUDING WIKILEAKS.

This is the first time that citizens can offer their financial support to WikiLeaks, since donation processing for the organization was shut down by extra-judicial government pressure on Bank of America, MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, and Amazon.

They’re not going to stop us this time.

Please tell the US government what you think of its attempted financial embargo of Wikileaks, by making a donation to the Freedom of Press Foundation today. You can choose how much of your money you’d like to go to WikiLeaks.

Here are related links:

Our Huffington Post op-ed announcing the new initiative

New York Times blog post about the Foundation

Glenn Greenwald’s Guardian op-ed about the Foundation

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I agree with nearly everything Jill Stein of the Greens and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party say: except when they say “vote for me” in swing states.

Here’s why:

It is critical to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.

The election is just a week away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally like mine—progressives, especially activists—to make this a high priority.

An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”  I was startled, and took offense.

“I lose no opportunity,” I told him angrily, “to identify Obama publicly as a servant of Wall Street: a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, who claims authority to detain American citizens and others indefinitely without charges or even to execute them without due process, and who has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. Would you call that support?”

My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him!  How could you say that?  I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”

I said to him: “Like it or not, we have a two-party system in America. The only real alternative for the next four years is Mitt Romney, who has endorsed every one of those criminal and unconstitutional offenses. And those are promises I believe he will keep.  That’s a terrible situation, but it won’t be improved by replacing Obama with Romney.

“I don’t ‘support Obama’. I oppose the current Republican party. Obama’s policies, as I see them, range from criminal to—at their best—improvements on the recent past, partial and inadequate.  But current Republican policies range from criminal to disastrous. That’s not really a hard choice.”

This not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive—primary challenger or major candidate—or even a Republican who’s good on foreign policy and civil liberties like Ron Paul or Gary Johnson. What voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine on November 6 is whether or not Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years.

A Romney/Ryan administration would be no better on any of the constitutional violations I mentioned, or on anything else. But it would be catastrophically worse on many other important issues: The likelihood of attacking Iran, Supreme and Federal Court appointments, the economy and jobs, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, the safety net, green energy and the environment.

As Noam Chomsky said recently,“The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”

He also told an interviewer: “Between the two choices that are presented, there are I think some significant differences. If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice. I happen to be in a non-swing state, so I can either not vote or—as I probably will—vote for [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein.”

I see it the same way. Chomsky lives in Massachusetts, a “safe” blue state.  I too live in a non-swing state, blue California, so I too intend to vote for a progressive candidate, either Jill Stein or (as a write-in) my friend Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.

Along with Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Frances Fox Piven, Cornel West and others, I have encouraged others in non-swing states (including red states like Texas and Mississippi) to consider doing the same, in contrast to what we urge progressives in swing states to do, which is to vote against Romney/Ryan by voting for Obama/Biden.

We see long-term merit for our movement in registering a large protest vote against both major candidates and in favor of a truly progressive platform.  In the almost 40 non-swing states—red or blue—that can be done without significant risk of affecting the electoral votes of those states or the final outcome in favor of the Republicans.

But that isn’t true in the dozen or less battleground states—Ohio, Virginia Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, along with Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania—where decisions by relatively small numbers of progressives to vote for a third party or not to vote at all would risk and might well result in a Republican triumph. That risk, as we see it, outweighs any benefits there might be in pursuing votes for a progressive third party in those states.

I personally agree with almost everything Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson have to say—except when they say “Vote for me” in a swing state.

This election is a toss-up. That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives—a small minority of the electorate—could actually determine the outcome of a national election. We might swing it one way or the other by how we vote and what we say about voting to fellow progressives in the battleground states.

Given that third party candidates with genuinely progressive platforms are on the ballots of most of these swing states, their supporters—who might successfully encourage those with the same values to vote for Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson instead of Obama—could well provide the margin for Romney that would send him to the White House.

If, to the contrary, such voters in those states could be convinced  to overcome their disinclination to vote for Obama, they could crucially block the far more regressive agenda of the Republican Party.

Our task is clear. The only way to block Romney/Ryan from office is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama—not stay home or vote for someone else.  And that has to include progressives and disillusioned liberals who are inclined not to vote at all or vote for a third-party candidate (because like me, they’re not just disappointed but disgusted and even enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).

This is not easy. But it’s precisely the effort that is worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans’ rise to power.  And it will take progressives—some of you reading this, I hope—to make that effort effectively.

It’s true the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want. In many aspects, especially in the areas of foreign and military policy and civil liberties that are the focus of my own activism, their policies closely converge (though small differences remain significant, all favoring Obama/Biden over Romney/Ryan).

It’s even fair to use Gore Vidal’s metaphor that they form two wings (“two right wings”) of a single party, the Money or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo calls it, the War Party.

Still, the reality is there are two distinguishable wings, and one is even worse than the other. To deny that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet still avoidable, victory of the worse.

The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: “The Republicans are no worse, overall.” And that’s absurd. It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended. It’s crazily divorced from the present reality.  (I say that although I agree with virtually every passionate criticism of Obama’s policies I’ve ever heard from the left. What I don’t hear from third-party partisans is comparable realism about the Republicans.)

Some progressives who do acknowledge that the Romney/Ryan party is “marginally” worse in some respects nevertheless believe that “worse is better” for progress in the longer run, by evoking more effective protest and resistance—especially from Democrats in Congress and the media—and a popular turn to leftist leadership and policies. But, historically, they’re profoundly wrong. That hoary theory would seem to have been well tested and demolished by eight years under George W. Bush.

And it’s very harmful to be propagating either of those false perspectives. They encourage progressives in battleground states either to refrain from voting or to vote for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to do the same. That serves no one but the Republicans and  the 1%, and not only in the short run.

It is true that Obama has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.”  If impeachment on constitutional grounds were politically imaginable, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors.)  It is entirely understandable to not want to reward him with another term or a vote that might be taken to mean trust, hope or approval.

But to punish Obama by depriving him of progressives’ votes in battleground states and hence of office, in favor of Romney and Ryan, would serve to punish most of the poor and marginal in society, along with women, workers and the middle class. It would mean the end of Roe v. Wade, via Supreme Court appointments.

And the damaging impact would be not only in the U.S. but worldwide. In terms of the economy, I believe the Republicans would not only deepen the recession, but could convert it to a Great Depression.  They would attack women’s reproductive rights globally, and further worsen the environment and the prospects of climate change. Disastrously, it could lead to war with Iran  (a possibility even with Obama, but far more likely under Romney).

The re-election of Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That’s for us and the rest of the public to bring about after this election and for the rest of our lives—through organizing, building movements and agitating.

But to urge people in swing states to “vote their conscience” by voting for a third-party candidate is dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive in a battleground state that if your conscience is telling you to vote for someone other than Obama, you need a second opinion. Your conscience seems to be ignoring the realistic impact of your actions or inactions. You need to reexamine your estimates of likely consequences and moral reasoning.

Our demonstrations, petitions, movement building and civil disobedience—including protest and resistance to the wrongful practices of the incumbent administration—are needed every month, every year, including campaign seasons like this one. (I faced trial two weeks ago, with fourteen others, for civil disobedience protesting Obama’s continued tests of the Minuteman III ICBM’s, my fifth arrest protesting policies of President Obama, including the treatment of Bradley Manning and the continuation of war in Afghanistan).

But it has been clear for months that this is a moment when effective resistance to an even worse alternative administration that is within sight of power is also urgently needed, leading up to and on Election Day.

In this last week of this campaign, there is no more effective or pressing political effort which progressives can undertake than to make their voices heard—through e-mails, blogs, social media and public appearances—to encourage citizens in swing states to vote against a Romney victory by voting for the only real alternative, Barack Obama.

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Daniel Ellsberg and David Krieger’s opinion piece, originally published in the Christian Science Monitor:

America’s 450 launch-ready land-based nuclear-armed ballistic missiles are the opposite of a deterrent to attack. In fact, their very deployment has the potential to launch World War III and precipitate human extinction – as a result of a false alarm. We’re not exaggerating.

President Obama and other world leaders gathered at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, this week to address threats posed by unsecured nuclear material. If Mr. Obama is truly concerned about nuclear safety, he should seriously consider doing away with the 450 inter-continental ballistic missiles deployed and ready to fire at Russia on a moment’s notice.

Last month we were among 15 protesters who were arrested in the middle of the night at Vandenberg Air Force Base, some 70 miles north of Santa Barbara, Calif. We were protesting the imminent test flight of a Minuteman III inter-continental ballistic missile.

The Air Force rationale for doing these tests is to ensure the reliability of the US nuclear deterrent force; but launch-ready land-based nuclear-armed ballistic missiles are the opposite of a deterrent to attack. In fact, their very deployment has the potential to launch World War III and precipitate human extinction – as a result of a false alarm. [More. . .]

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Edited excerpts of transcript from Keith Olbermann’s interview of Daniel Ellsberg on Current:

ELLSBERG: The commander-in-chief, President Obama, gave Manning ‘verdict first, trial later.’ He said Manning had broken the law, before even the prosecution case had been heard, let alone the defense case. He said he was guilty,

That alone is virtually a directed verdict. It’s unlawful command influence on the subordinate officers, who will be carrying out both this decision, and later in the trial. The court martial should be out for that reason alone.

Second, the way Manning has been treated at my old base at Quantico, was shameful, and amounted to torture. My own case, the first one ever brought on this, was dismissed for reasons of “gross governmental misconduct” by President Nixon. There has been gross governmental misconduct in this case, in the form of that 10-and-a-half months of isolation. The case should be dismissed, for that reason. But it won’t be.

Obama’s practically got a war going on here against whistleblowers. He’s setting precedents here for the use of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers, which is of very questionable constitutionality in this guise. It was meant for espionage, and has often been used against espionage successfully.

But he’s setting a precedent of using it against whistleblowers now–five times under Obama now, and only three times in all the years before Obama.

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Forty years ago today—June 13, 1971—the New York Times began publishing the top secret study which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.

Daniel Ellsberg talked with the AP on the anniversary:

“I was part, on a middle level, of what is best described as a conspiracy by the government to get us into war,” [Ellsberg] said. Johnson publicly vowed that he sought no wider war, Ellsberg recalled, a message that played out in the 1964 presidential campaign as LBJ portrayed himself as the peacemaker against the hawkish Republican Barry Goldwater.

Meantime, his administration manipulated South Vietnam into asking for U.S. combat troops and responded to phantom provocations from North Vietnam with stepped-up force.

“It couldn’t have been a more dramatic fraud,” Ellsberg said. “Everything the president said was false during the campaign.”

His message to whistleblowers now: Speak up sooner. “Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until the bombs start falling.”

In an op-ed for the Guardian published today, Daniel wrote:

What we need released this month are the Pentagon Papers of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen and Libya). . . .

Yes, the languages and ethnicities that we don’t understand are different in the Middle East from those in Vietnam; the climate, terrain and types of ambushes are very different. But as the accounts in the Pentagon Papers explain, we face the same futile effort in Afghanistan to find and destroy nationalist guerrillas or to get them to quit fighting foreign invaders (now us) and the corrupt, ill-motivated, dope-dealing despots we support. As in Vietnam, the more troops we deploy and the more adversaries we kill (along with civilians), the quicker their losses are made good and the more their ranks grow, since it’s our very presence, our operations and our support of a regime without legitimacy that is the prime basis for their recruiting. . . .

In accounts of wars 40 years and half a world apart, we read of the same irresponsible, self-serving presidential and congressional objectives in prolonging and escalating an unwinnable conflict: namely, the need not to be charged with weakness by political rivals, or with losing a war that a few feckless or ambitious generals foolishly claim can be won. Putting the policy-making and the field realities together, we see the same prospect of endless, bloody stalemate – unless and until, under public pressure, Congress threatens to cut off the money (as in 1972-73), forcing the executive into a negotiated withdrawal.

To motivate voters and Congress to extricate us from these presidential wars, we need the Pentagon Papers of the Middle East wars right now. Not 40 years in the future. Not after even two or three more years of further commitment to stalemated and unjustifiable wars.

Yet, we’re not likely to get these ever within the time frame they’re needed. The WikiLeaks’ unauthorised disclosures of the last year are the first in 40 years to approach the scale of the Pentagon Papers (and even surpass them in quantity and timeliness). But unfortunately, the courageous source of these secret, field-level reports – Private Bradley Manning is the one accused, though that remains to be proven in court – did not have access to top secret, high-level recommendations, estimates and decisions.

Very, very few of those who do have such access are willing to risk their clearances and careers – and the growing possibility (under President Obama) of prosecution – by documenting to Congress and the public even policies that they personally believe are disastrous and wrongly kept secret and lied about. I was one – and far from alone – with such access and such views, as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs in the Pentagon in 1964-65. . . .

I’ve long regretted that it didn’t even occur to me, in August 1964, to release the documents in my Pentagon safe giving the lie to claims of an “unequivocal, unprovoked” (unreal) attack on our destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf: precursors of the “evidence beyond any doubt” of nonexistent WMDs in Iraq, which manipulated Congress, once again, to pass the exact counterpart of the Tonkin Gulf resolution.

Senator Morse – one of the two senators who had voted against that unconstitutional, undated blank cheque for presidential war in 1964 – told me that if I had provided him with that evidence at the time (instead of 1969, when I finally provided it to the senate foreign relations committee, on which he had served): “The Tonkin Gulf resolution would never have gotten out of committee; and if it had been brought to the floor, it would have been voted down.”

That’s a heavy burden for me to bear: especially when I reflect that, by September, I had a drawer-full of the top secret documents (again, regrettably, not published until 1971) proving the fraudulence of Johnson’s promises of “no wider war” in his election campaign, and his actual determination to escalate a war that he privately and realistically regarded as unwinnable.

Had I or one of the scores of other officials who had the same high-level information acted then on our oath of office – which was not an oath to obey the president, nor to keep the secret that he was violating his own sworn obligations, but solely an oath “to support and defend the constitution of the United States” – that terrible war might well have been averted altogether. But to hope to have that effect, we would have needed to disclose the documents when they were current, before the escalation – not five or seven, or even two, years after the fateful commitments had been made.

A lesson to be drawn from reading the Pentagon Papers, knowing all that followed or has come out in the years since, is this. To those in the Pentagon, state department, the White House, CIA (and their counterparts in Britain and other Nato countries) who have similar access to mine then and foreknowledge of disastrous escalations in our wars in the Middle East, I would say:

Don’t make my mistake. Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until a new war has started in Iran, until more bombs have fallen in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, Libya, Iraq or Yemen. Don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you go to the press and to Congress to tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. Don’t wait 40 years for it to be declassified, or seven years as I did for you or someone else to leak it.

The personal risks are great. But a war’s worth of lives might be saved.

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In honor of the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers this Monday, June 13th, POV Documentaries on PBS will be streaming the entire documentary “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” for free, all day Monday and Tuesday, 6/13-14.

On those days, you can click here to watch the film.

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June 13th, 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the initial publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times.

Daniel Ellsberg was interviewed for pieces in both the New York Times and CNN on the anniversary, and on the government’s decision to declassify the Papers.

In the New York Times piece, Daniel said:

It’s absurd. . . . The reasons [for keeping it secret all these years] are very clearly domestic political reasons, not national security at all. The reasons for the prolonged secrecy are to conceal the fact that so much of the policy making doesn’t bear public examination. It’s embarrassing, or even incriminating. . . .

It seems to me that what the Pentagon Papers really demonstrated 40 years ago was the price of [Congress giving its war powers to the President. . . . ] [L]etting a small group of men in secret in the executive branch make these decisions — initiate them secretly, carry them out secretly and manipulate Congress, and lie to Congress and the public as to why they’re doing it and what they’re doing — is a recipe for, a guarantee of Vietnams and Iraqs and Libyas, and in general foolish, reckless, dangerous policies.

In the CNN piece, which contains a longer interview with Daniel, he said:

[I]f the hype around this belated release got a new generation to read the Pentagon Papers  or at least the summaries to the various volumes (my highest hope, pretty unlikely), they’d get from them as good an understanding as they could find anywhere today of our war in Afghanistan. . . .

Different religion and language, different terrain and tactics, but the same hopeless effort to get nationalist guerrillas to quit fighting foreign invaders and the corrupt, dope-dealing despots we support; and secretly, the same irresponsible, self-serving, presidential and congressional objectives: namely, not to be charged with weakness by political rivals, or with losing a war that a few feckless or ambitious generals foolishly claim can be won.  The same prospect of endless, bloody stalemate: unless public political pressure on Congress threatens to cut off the money, forcing the Executive into a negotiated withdrawal.

The Pentagon Papers didn’t explicitly present that last alternative, but their release contributed to that result, eventually.  Is it too much to hope that their re-release could do the same?  Yes, it is.  But fortunately there are a few Congresspersons, like Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee, Walter Jones and Ron Paul who got that message the first time, even if the Republican and Democratic leadership hasn’t, yet.

The lessons of Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate. . . do seem to have been largely lost, especially in the last decade but even before that.  There was a decade or so in the Seventies of the aggressive investigative journalism and Congressional hearings we need, including the Church and Pike committees, by journalists like Sy Hersh (one of the few who keeps up the tradition).

And then… back to  unquestioning acceptance of government pronouncements and reliance on the president’s judgment formed and enacted in secret:  both, totally unfounded and unwise, irresponsible in a democracy, paving the way to new Vietnams, as in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya.

Our Founders sought to prevent this. Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, for the first time in constitutional history,  put the decision to go to war (beyond repelling sudden attacks) exclusively in the hands of Congress, not the president.  But every president since  Harry Truman in Korea—as the Pentagon Papers demonstrated up through LBJ, but beyond them to George W. Bush and Barack Obama–has violated the spirit and even the letter of that section of the Constitution (along with some others) they each swore to preserve, protect and defend.

However, as has been pointed out repeatedly by Glenn Greenwald and Bruce Ackerman, David Swanson and others, no president has so blatantly violated the constitutional division of war powers as President Obama in his ongoing attack on Libya, without a nod even to the statutory War Powers Act, that post-Pentagon Papers effort by Congress to recapture something of the role assigned exclusively to it by the Constitution.

This open disregard of a ruling statute (regardless of his supposed feelings about its constitutionality, which Obama has not even bothered to express) is clearly an impeachable offense, though it will certainly not lead to impeachment–given the current complicity of the leaders of both parties–any more than President George W. Bush’s misleading Congress into his crime against the peace, aggression, in Iraq, or President Johnson’s lies to obtain the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

Yet the most important point, as I see it, is not the secrecy and the lying, or even the blatant disregard of the Constitution, the Presidential oath and the rule of law.

As the Pentagon Papers documented for the much of the Vietnam era (we still lack, and we still need, the corresponding Papers for the Nixon policy-making, that added over twenty thousand names unnecessarily to the Vietnam Memorial and over a million deaths in Vietnam) and the last decade confirms: the point is that the Founders had it right the first time.

As Abraham Lincoln explained their intention (in defending to his former law partner William Herndon his opposition to President Polk’s deliberately provoked Mexican War): “The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object.  This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.”

As Lincoln put it, the alternative approach (which we have actually followed in the last sixty years) “places our President where kings have always stood.”  And the upshot of that undue, unquestioning trust in the president and his Executive branch is: smart people get us into stupid (and wrongful) wars, and their equally smart successors won’t get us out of them.

Either we the people will press elected officials in Congress–on pain of losing their jobs–to take up their Constitutional responsibilities once again and to end by defunding our illegal, unjustifiable (and now, financially insupportable) military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and air attacks on Pakistan, Libya and Yemen: or those bloody stalemates will continue indefinitely.

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