Whistleblowers risk their freedom by exposing stuff about the war in
Iraq that officials want to keep a secret. Thanks to the web, that's changing
By Daniel Ellsberg
October 31, 2010
Nearly 40 years ago I leaked the Pentagon papers a top secret
7,000-page study of US decision-making during the Vietnam war which
revealed repeated lies and cover-ups by the administration. The Iraq
war logs, published this weekend by WikiLeaks, could be even more significant.
As with Vietnam, we have again seen evidence of a massive cover-up
over a number of years by the American authorities. The logs reveal
the human consequences of the continuing Iraq war, which have been
concealed from the western public for too long: the countless
instances of torture and the killing of hundreds of civilians at
Now we know that the Pentagon, which claimed in the early years of
the Iraq invasion either that it didn't count casualties or that it
had no evidence of them, was indeed keeping meticulous records all
along. It has reports of 66,000 civilian casualties 15,000 of which
were completely unknown to Iraq Body Count, the only public attempt
to log the war's victims.
That means 15,000 deaths that never made any news report five times
the number murdered on 9/11. It certainly would be news if they were
American or British deaths. That's 15,000 families who've suffered
huge anguish and who may potentially have been motivated to seek
revenge against American or allied troops. For the Pentagon to lie or
try to hide this kind of carnage can only be self-defeating. Perhaps
that the victims are "only" Iraqis shows the kind of mindset among
the occupying commanders that kept this bloody war going for so long.
Perhaps they failed to realise that the coalition's deadly activities
have been such a powerful recruitment weapon for the resistance, both
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When I released the Pentagon papers in 1971, the administration
responded by trying to suppress publication. It took out an
injunction against myself and The New York Times in order to stop
publication, a clear violation of the American constitution's first
amendment, claiming that every page and every day's revelations were
gravely damaging national security. We were eventually vindicated by
the fact that no such damage was shown to have taken place.
Indeed, what gained such great media attention then was not so much
the substance of our revelations but the unprecedented efforts by the
administration to suppress them. Other newspapers followed suit in
total 19 defied the department of justice. And this duel sparked a
wave of civil disobedience that had never been seen before. After a
two-week legal battle the Supreme Court eventually ruled in our favour.
The American administration has learned from that episode. It has
repeated the line as it did with the leaked Afghan war papers in
July that the leaks are a danger to national security and put US
troops' lives at risk. The Pentagon has now had to acknowledge that
it doesn't have any evidence of a single life being harmed in
Afghanistan since July, despite the fact they've been searching
desperately for it.
At the same time, however, the Pentagon has been trying to downplay
the revelations in order to lessen the public reaction. They say the
reports are nothing new, and that they've already been the subject of
public discussion. Well, maybe they are nothing new to Iraqis, who
have lived with the consequences of torture and checkpoint killings
for seven years. And of course they are nothing new to the Pentagon
it has been reporting these cases internally for years.
But over that period, each time the American media has reported
claims of indiscriminate killings, it has always reported either that
the US military denies the allegations or that they are
"investigating". As former British ambassador Craig Murray once said,
these revelations don't risk the lives of our soldiers, but risk
merely the reputations of the politicians and bureaucrats who send
them to their deaths.
The US is in the midst of a frenzied congressional election campaign,
and because Republicans and Democrats are both incriminated in Iraq
and Afghanistan, the wars have scarcely been mentioned. But now we
have strong evidence of a huge cover-up over a number of years in
the largest unauthorised disclosure in history the mainstream media
cannot ignore it.
Forty years ago, to make my revelations, I utilised the then leading
technology, Xerox, to photocopy 7,000 pages of evidence. I can only
envy the ability of a 21st century whistleblower to impart a vastly
greater trove of material using digital technology. And now the
information is on the web, millions have the ability to look into it
further in the coming days. It will play out very differently.
In addition, I've been impressed by Britain's Deputy Prime Minister
Nick Clegg who has said the Iraq data need to be investigated. Any
inquiry, even if only in the UK, will keep the issue high on the global agenda.
In the coming months I hope the courage and patriotism shown by the
sources of these records who risk long-prison sentences will be
emulated by those with access to higher level documents. We need to
see White House, Pentagon and CIA papers that reveal evidence of war
crimes by top-level policymakers.
The possibility of uncovering this is worth the great personal risk
by whoever the sources may be just as I never doubted that it was
worth risking my own freedom to reveal the Pentagon Papers four decades ago.
Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon papers, revealing US policy
decisions in Vietnam, in 1971.