Saturday, October 23, 2010

Power to the People

Democracy Now! has a fascinating interview with Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame) about the latest release from Wikileaks.

Here's the part that struck me.
AMY GOODMAN: Dan Ellsberg, can you go back to the language of 793, the law that goes after whistleblowers—


AMY GOODMAN:—and how it can go after journalists, as well?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: It actually can apply—the words are so broad, because they really were intended for espionage, for people who are secretly giving information to an enemy, so they weren’t designed to protect, let’s say, First Amendment or freedom of speech when it comes to giving information to the public. So they talk about wrongfully receiving or holding information that is not authorized for release or giving it to people who are not authorized to receive it. And the people who get it are subject to charge under that.

It often has been said that the AIPAC case, the case of the Israeli lobby here, people who were accused of receiving information, were for the first—who did not have clearances—who were being charged under this law. Barack Obama, by the way, dropped that case, which was brought under Bush. Actually, that was not the first case. In my case, my co-defendant, Anthony Russo, was in exactly the same position. He didn’t have a clearance at that time. He was just receiving the material. He held it; he didn’t return it. At least at that time they had paper he could have returned, in principle, as did the New York Times.

But the wording of the law could apply to readers of the New York Times, which I believe is coming out with this information. They’re not authorized to receive this classified information, even though they may very well have a need, as citizens, to have it. It’s being wrongfully withheld from them, but they’re not authorized to receive. Unless they return it, they are subject—now, that’s not going to happen. But the journalists, indeed, are being put on warning that they may be subject to this.

In a democracy, the people are the holders of sovereign power. The first words of the US Constitution are "We the People" to acknowledge that true power lies with the people, and that they are just loaning some of it to the government in order to have a government that protects and secures their rights.

So, ultimately, in a democracy, its the people who need to know this information. If power lies with the people, then the people have a right to the information they need to exercise that power.

In a democracy, no one could be prosecuted under such language as above, certainly not any citizen in the community with voting rights, because they all are people who have an intrinsic right in a free society to see such information.

Now, I'll concede that you can't have everything free and known. If you are fighting a war, then you can't tell your enemy what you are about to do. But, beyond what should be very strict limits around such truly national security areas, there should be as free as flow as possible about information to the people who are the holders of real power.

If you don't see that, then what you are seeing are other government officials usurping the power of the people by denying them the knowledge they need to make those decisions.

And, look closely at the information in these Wikileaks documents. Are they top secret stuff that if OBL knows it today we are all in danger? Or, are these facts that are embarrassing to the people who want to fight this war? Is is stories of civilians being killed, and documentation that we've killed many, many, many more Iraqis than Americans were killed on 9-11? Is it stories of prisoners being abused? Is it accounts of friendly fire?

Why are these documents so secret that the American people can't see them? This isn't the plans for our next great offensive in Afghanistan. This is the dirty laundry that they don't want people to know.

In a democracy, for the people to make an informed decision on whether to continue a war or to bring the troops home, then the people need to know all the information they can about that war. Not just the shiny propaganda picture of Americans liberating the fictional city of Marjam, but the real stories of what this war really does. What happens when the US military decides to set up a check point?

Never forget this war was sold to Americans by lies. Iraq has WMDs, or so we were told. Now we know that was a lie. Saddam was a nasty man, but his capability to hurt Americans was very limited. Did we really need to fight this war? Over 4,000 Americans have died. According to these Wikileaks documents, the Pentagon accounts for 66,000 Iraqi civilians.

They don't want you to know those facts. They don't want you to know how many people have died. They want to fly the coffins home and night and ban the media from the funerals. They want to say that they don't count Iraqi civilian deaths, so don't even ask.

Now we know. Well over 4,000 Americans are dead because of this war. That's more than OBL killed on 9-11. Over 66,000 Iraqi civilians are dead because of this war. Was it worth it? Was making sure that Saddam didn't hurt us with his fictional WMDs worth over 100,000 dead bodies?

That's the questions you aren't supposed to ask. That's why they don't want you to know those numbers, so you can't ask a question like that one. Because to me, that question shows that these Wars of Terror have been a horrible mistake. And that the first step of recovering from that mistake is to end them all as soon as possible.

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