Two progressive heroes tell the truth

Ralph Nader, the former presidential candidate and longtime consumer advocate, and Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, were interviewed on Democracy Now! (click here and here).

Both men plan to participate in a major protest in Washington, D.C., on March 19 to mark the 8-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Ellsberg plans to risk arrest by participating in nonviolent civil disobedience actions against the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Here are some of the points they made:

  • About Bradley Manning. Ellsberg: “State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley noted that the conditions under which Manning is being held were ‘ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.’ And that seems an accurate description, as far as it goes. The words ‘abusive’ and ‘illegal’ would go beyond that and are equally appropriate…. [The conditions] clearly violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, even for someone being punished and having been convicted (and here we have someone, who has been charged but not yet tried or convicted). He is being held essentially in isolation, solitary confinement, for more than 9 months, something that is likely to drive a person mad and may be the intent of what’s going on here. “The WikiLeaks revelations that Manning is charged with having revealed, having to do with Iraq, reveal that in fact we–that is, the U.S. military, in which Manning was a part–turn over suspects to the Iraqis with the knowledge that they will be and are being tortured. This is a clear violation of our own laws and of international law and makes us as much culpable in doing that as if we were doing the torture ourselves. Moreover, the WikiLeaks logs show the order is given: ‘Do not investigate further.’ Now, that’s an illegal order, which our President could change–and should change and must change–simply by picking up one phone and changing it.

    “Reportedly, Manning was very strongly motivated at one point to try to change this situation, because he was involved in it actively and knew that it was wrong and found that it was not being investigated within the government and that it was not being dealt with at all. …

    “I was very dismayed that the President, faced with accusations at such a high level from his assistant secretary for public affairs… was satisfied with having asked the Defense Department whether the conditions were, quote, ‘appropriate’ and met reasonable standards, basic standards, and he was assured that they did. It was very like President Nixon asking the White House plumbers or his counsel, John Ehrlichman, ‘Was it appropriate and did it meet our standards for you to be burglarizing Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in Los Angeles? Did that meet our basic standards?’ and when told by Howard Hunt or G. Gordon Liddy, ‘Yes, no problem,’ that’s the end of that matter….”

  • About Julian Assange. Ellsberg: “He’s appealing a decision to extradite him to Sweden, with the rather clear subtext here that the U.S. hopes, or might find it easier even, to extradite him from Sweden, with its current relatively right-wing government, than from England, which has stronger restrictions on extraditing for political motives. He is concerned about that…. “He could be subject to the kind of special forces operation that the WikiLeaks revelations show they were doing on a very wide scale in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now, it turns out, in Pakistan. One of the major revelations of WikiLeaks that I found in the Afghan war logs was that we are already doing offensive ground operations of a special-forces nature in Pakistan. This is one of the most dangerous possible operations we could be doing, since it might destabilize the government there and lead to a government in which nuclear weapons were in the hands of allies, literal allies, of al-Qaeda and of the Taliban.”
  • Our ongoing wars in the Middle East. Nader: “The protest on the 8th anniversary is important because the Veterans for Peace, who include World War II veterans all the way to the present Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, are making a powerful statement for the rule of law, for advocating peace, for getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq. If you took a poll of the soldiers in Afghanistan (as a poll was taken in Iraq in January 2005), the majority would say, ‘Let’s get out of here. It’s a quagmire. All we’re doing are creating new enemies, slaughtering innocents, spending huge amounts of money that can be spent back home to create jobs, and violating our constitutional processes.’ “You know, let’s be very forthright: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney committed war crimes. They authorized illegal surveillance of American. They unconstitutionally pursued wars in Asia. They slaughtered innocents. And they have been considered war criminals by many people, including Republican former judge Andrew Napolitano, author of four books on the Constitution, and Republican Bruce Fein. Now, Barack Obama is committing the same crimes–in fact, worse ones in Afghanistan. And innocents are being slaughtered. We’re creating more enemies. He’s violating international law. He is not constitutionally authorized to do what he’s doing. He’s using state secrets. He’s engaging in illegal surveillance. The CIA is running wild without any kind of circumscribed legal standards or disclosure….

    “Why don’t we say what’s on the minds of many legal experts? That the Obama administration is committing war crimes. And if Bush should have been impeached, Obama should be impeached.”

    Ellsberg: “More than a $120 billion a year [is] being wasted, hurting the welfare, really, of the people of Afghanistan and of Iraq. It’s outrageous that this is continuing and that [politicians are] talking about removing fuel from elderly during the winter here, [about cutting] health aid and education aid, while we’re spending this money on the wars, these totally wrongful and unnecessary wars….

    “Just as the President is unwarrantedly accepting assurances from the Defense Department that there are no human rights violations,… the media and the public have been accepting unwarrantedly assurances for years now that the President’s policy is to get out of Afghanistan and to get out of Iraq even sooner. I’ve been saying for several years that I think those assurances are almost worthless, that there is essentially no chance that the President means to get us all out of our bases in Iraq by the end of this year, no matter what they say. And indeed, I think that we’ll have tens of thousands of troops there, if Pentagon plans proceed as they’re expecting right now in Iraq, indefinitely. And the same in Afghanistan, that the idea that we’re going to be out of there even by 2014, under current plans, I think has no basis. So people, as they did under Nixon, when they thought the war is ending, turned their attention away from it at a time when in fact almost half of American casualties had yet to be suffered. This is quite unwarranted. These wars are on, and, as WikiLeaks shows, they’re actually expanding into Pakistan and, we know now, Yemen….

    “President Obama is a former community organizer, that that’s very far behind him, just as I’m a former Cold Warrior. And really, what we see in connection with the expansion of these wars and with—but especially with the human rights, in general, the detention and the state secrets, the rendition and the torture, the torture in Iraq and the torture of an American citizen here in Virginia, we see that President Obama is a former constitutional scholar. In fact, the man who wrote the torture memos and all the other memos on presidential power, John Yoo, of University of California, Berkeley Law School, I think would be very comfortable in this administration. I see no real difference in his perspective on presidential powers—unlimited, essentially monarchical presidential powers—from this administration. They do say in Washington here that where you stand depends on where you sit. Well, the man who sits in the Oval Office—or woman, some day—seems to believe very quickly that they’re sitting on a throne. And we see the effects of that in these unnecessary wars.”

  • About the assault on labor unions. Nader: “It’s a very concerted one, not only by governors, but by the Republican Party, in particular, and the corporatists that run it. And the idea is, after the Wall Street collapse drove us into a deep recession, which reduced tax revenues everywhere, especially with the Republican insistence that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy be continued, it was the stage for saying, ‘Well, there are a lot of deficits in the state government in Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio and elsewhere.’ Therefore, they have to go after the public employee unions, not only to make them concede on their salaries and benefits, but also to break their human right to collectively bargain. “And let’s not be fuzzy about this. The right of collective bargaining is part of the United Nation Declaration of Human Rights. Whenever we analyze the level of democracy in other countries, one of the signal yardsticks is: Are the workers able to form independent labor unions? They are not in Mexico. They are not in China. They are not in many other countries that U.S. corporations are shipping jobs and entire industries to, day by day.

    “So, the response has been unexpected but necessary. There were 100,000 people rallying last Saturday in Madison. There are other rallies in other states.

    “The question is whether the AFL-CIO is going to put money, and whether the United Auto Workers and others, who have a lot of money in their strike fund reserves, into mobilizing workers, union and non-union, all over the country into a major political movement that refuses to go for the least worst between the Republican and Democrat and that demands that Obama fulfill his campaign pledge in 2008 to raise the minimum wage to $9.50–it’s now $7.25–and also to push openly and transformingly for the card check and for repeal of Taft-Hartley, so workers can have the same rights to organize as they do in Western Europe and Canada….

    “How can they say that the public employees’ claim on the treasury has to be cut back–firefighters, police, teachers, civil servants–when there’s hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate welfare in these states–tax abatements in New York City, for example, subsidies, handouts, giveaways? I mean, it’s insinuated into the structure of state, local and national government…. Corporate welfare should go first, before you start cutting back on people’s standard of living.

    “And the Governor of Wisconsin… provided $140 million in corporate tax welfare, for starters, added on to all the other corporate welfare systems in Wisconsin…. Workers take the brunt, but not these corporate supremacists, not these corporate freeloaders that we have to guarantee and support….

    “We have to get over this idea of making the least powerful pay the price for the corporate criminality that started, in the latest stage, from the Wall Street crooks and speculators who looted and drained trillions of dollars of pension funds and mutual fund savings, while they enriched themselves, tanked their companies, their banks, and sent them to Washington to be bailed out by the same workers in their role as taxpayers. It’s really time to raise our level of informed indignation, break our routine, and get involved as voters and citizens at the local, state and national level.”