On Tuesday, April 26, 2011, “America’s most dangerous man,” Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, is scheduled to give a talk at 8 p.m. in the SAC Auditorium. His lecture will touch on the parallels between his big claim to fame and the recent work of WikiLeaks.
To many college-aged individuals, Daniel Ellsberg is a name in American history textbooks. And if you happened to stay awake during the one or two classes that discuss more recent history, you might know that Ellsberg was the man behind the release of the Pentagon Papers – a 7,000-page collection of top-secret and sensitive documents containing briefs and memos that outlined U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Included was a candid internal assessment of the war’s progress that varied drastically from the rosy picture presented to the American public.
On June 13, 1971, the New York Times published the first of many excerpts from the papers Ellsberg had leaked to it. But after the first three articles ran, the Nixon Administration pursued a federal injunction against the Times, hoping to block publication of more sensitive information.
As the suit worked its way through the legal system, other papers like The Washington Post filled in and began to publish the documents – a united act of public service and protest against a government trying to censor the information through prior restraint.
The papers didn’t put Nixon’s administration in a bad light so much as they led to embarrassments for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations by detailing their foreign policy strategies and actions in Southeast Asia. Revealed were a multitude of secret and illegal bombings in Cambodia and Laos, as well as raids on North Vietnam – all of which had gone unreported by the press.
In April 2010, beginning with a sensational video of U.S. soldiers gunning down a Reuters photographer from an Apache helicopter, WikiLeaks started to release selections from a massive trove of government cables and documents, including classified materials related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s not difficult, then, for one to draw a connection between Ellsberg and the newspapers that ran his story and WikiLeaks and its verified sources.
Of course, Ellsberg and WikiLeaks aren’t analogous. WikiLeaks, the non-profit media organization, occupies some not-entirely-charted new-media position halfway between that of Ellsberg and the New York Times. A more clear parallel exists between Ellsberg and, allegedly, Pfc. Bradley Manning. Manning is suspected of being the lead source in the leak of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.
But there are some differences. Although he faced fierce vitriolic attacks from the political establishment when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg was never criminally charged or arrested for the leak.
For Manning, it’s a completely different story. For the past eight months, the 23-year-old Oklahoma native has been locked up in the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, VA, where Ellsberg once trained many moons ago. In maximum security custody, Manning spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Amnesty International has expressed concerns over the potentially brain damage-inducing conditions of Manning’s detainment.
The torture of Bradley Manning, which Ellsberg has labeled a direct violation of the Eight Amendment, is just one of the violations of the principles of democracy and freedom involved in his dubious incarceration. The Eighth Amendment states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
“Here we have someone who has not yet been tried, not yet convicted, being held in isolation, solitary confinement, for something over nine months,” said Ellsberg. “This is something that is likely to drive a person mad, and may be the intent of what’s going on here.”
When Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley spoke out against the conditions of Manning’s treatment, without even questioning the repression of his rights but rather the efficacy of the torturous tactics, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that he resigned a day later.
“What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the Department of Defense,” Crowley said before a small audience at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology seminar in early March.
In addition, the strategic effort by both the government and the corporate sector to dismantle WikiLeaks’ operations—so uniquely effective as a journalistic watchdog in a sea of sycophantic pro-war establishment news outlets—and censor its content is just another way that freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution have been threatened in the herculean efforts to manufacture popular acquiescence to America’s overseas wars.
Companies like Amazon, Paypal, Mastercard and Visa caved quickly to pressure to withdraw their services from WikiLeaks, hindering the site’s ability to receive the donations and funding necessary to stay afloat, while the private security firm HB Gary Federal and others cooked up smear campaigns and plots to threaten the careers of journalists sympathetic to WikiLeaks.
It is in this context, and the tradition of our mission to fire a vital public debate on campus, that the Press is proud to bring Ellsberg to Stony Brook. Again, that appearance will be at 8 p.m. on April 26 in the SAC Auditorium.
Ellsberg has been vociferous on the question of the equivalence between Manning’s actions and Ellsberg’s, as well as a feisty participant in the larger debates around the WikiLeaks revelations and the efforts to stifle them. And these questions about WikiLeaks and the treatment of whistleblowers more generally, given the essential role of a meaningful and practically useful journalism as check on government wrongdoing, are fundamental to America’s democratic health.