Today, we will be speaking to an illustrious panel of champions for free speech. Alice Walker is a poet,
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of books like, ‘The Color Purple’, a fine essayist, and a civil rights activist.
She is one of our greatest writers and greatest social activists. Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics
and social critic and one of the foremost intellectuals of our time. And Daniel Ellsberg joins us, he was
the US military analyst who bravely released the Pentagon Papers in 1971. These documents exposed
the lies of our government about the Vietnam War. The fallout of his whistle-blowing helped bring an
end to our military involvement in Vietnam. And all three of these guests are co-chairs of the new US
support group for Julian Assange called, Assange Defense. And if you want more information, you can
always go to assangedefense.org and you will find coverage of the trial, and updates on Julian’s hearing.
That’s assangedefense.org. Mr. Ellsberg, Professor Chomsky, Miss Walker, thank you all for being here.
So let me just start with, Noam, first. There is some confusion in the public. Many think that Julian
Assange is on trial for something to do with Russia, and the DNC, and the 2016 election, but he’s being
prosecuted for the release of a video showing the US air attack in Iraq that killed dozens of people,
including two Reuters media workers. Now, if they are successful in prosecuting Assange, won’t it allow
governments around the world from the US, UK, to Europe, and Australia to outlaw any reporting about
Let me just put that to you, Noam.
Well, Julian Assange has, as you said, met the responsibilities of the journalist in the most effective and
courageous fashion. He has released information to the public that the public should know. Journalists
and scholars are making extensive use of the information that he provided, something that all of us
should know. Those in power have their own reasons to suppress facts that display to the general public
what they’re doing. The essence of a free, democratic society is that the public should know,
understand, and be of critical awareness and analysis of what their elected leaders are doing.
The highest mission of journalists is to fulfill that responsibility. Julian Assange has done so with great
merit and courage. We should stress that he’s been punished brutally for years for having the cheek that
carried out this crucial mission of journalism at the highest level. He is now being threatened with
extremely severe punishment by a government that wants to silence the revelations of its actions. What
will happen at the trial and afterwards will depend very significantly on public actions and reactions.
The public uproar over this criminal prosecution is sure to have an impact on how it will eventuate. And
not only is Julian Assange’s fate at risk in this sordid affair, but so is that of journalism, freedom of
speech, and democratic rights quite generally. We can’t stand by and permit this monstrous offense
against our highest values to proceed.
If I could just ask you a follow up on that, why is the world of journalism so silent about the persecution
of Julian Assange?
You have to ask them. They shouldn’t be. Maybe people are afraid, or maybe they have other reasons,
but it’s not a great tribute to journalism to see them back away from supporting someone who has lived
up to the highest ideals of the profession and is being savagely persecuted for doing so. This is a mission
that journalists should applaud. They should be on the front lines of defending Assange, and in fact
themselves, against state power that is out of control.
Yeah, it seems to me, maybe it’s because a small Internet outlet like WikiLeaks, what it accomplishes,
poses a great threat to institutions like The New York Times and The Washington Post because they’re
not accomplishing much. But let me move on to Alice Walker, this next question is for you. If Julian
Assange is successfully prosecuted, what effect will this have on free speech and activists? And why
should Americans care about this extradition trial?
We need to know that we have people in our country and in the world who stand for something, and
who stand up for the people who stand up for the planet. And if they are persecuted in the way that
Julian Assange is being persecuted, our children won’t even know that there was someone who said,
hey, you should not shoot anyone from a helicopter, and especially people who are not bothering you.
They won’t know in the same way that we have lost so many wonderful people.
I mean, how many people know anything about John Brown, for instance, you know, these great
abolitionists who died, fighting for black people, for our freedom. They hide these people from us in this
very way that they’re doing with Julian Assange. They just lock them away. They kill them.
And who are we to let this happen, who are we, who are we to let this happen, really? So we need to
press on. All the people who awakened to the condition that Julian Assange is suffering, and his family, I
am especially concerned about his family. This is just a wrong, it’s an evil, and we have the power to
change it. It takes waking up and it takes acting, that’s all. And also, because we are now, all of us,
locked down, locked in, locked up with the virus, what a perfect time to just revolt and say enough
already. Free all these people like Julian, although I don’t know how many people are quite like Julian,
he’s quite exceptional. But it’s time to stand up and say, “free the people”.
Yes, agreed. Let me just ask you one more question. Frederick Douglass once said, “To suppress free
speech is a double wrong. It violates the right of the hearer as well as those of the speaker”. Can you talk
about how free speech is integral to the struggle for social justice?
Well, totally, because if you can’t talk about it, how can you do anything about it? And if you’re afraid to
speak, how can you ever move anywhere? It’s absolutely essential. People can disagree, that’s their
right. But it should not be their right to lock you up for saying something they don’t like. That’s
ridiculous. And we actually outnumber these people who are making these laws, and that’s what has to
happen, we have to awaken to that fact. I mean, every one of us should say, what can we do to get
Julian Assange and people like him, out of these prisons. And just find a way, find whatever you can do,
it may be small, it may be whatever, but that’s what we can do.
Thank you very much. Let me now turn to Daniel Ellsberg. You were subjected to an FBI manhunt after
you released the Pentagon Papers. Today, Assange is at risk of being tortured, and facing a potential
175-year sentence. Do you see parallels with your case and Julian Assange’s’ case?
Certainly very close parallels, on the point you just raised, of course, Julian Assange is not in the
potential of being tortured, he has been tortured for, I could really say, for about eight years now, but in
particular, for the last 18 months, kept in a cell in isolation in a prison for terrorists here for telling the
truth. During the time he had in the Ecuadorian embassy, already he was suffering from severe pains in
his shoulder, from terrible dental problems, which could not be dealt with in the Ecuadorian embassy.
And the British would not give him any assurance that he would not be extradited to the United States if
he left there to get dental care. I’m not aware that he’s gotten the care that he needs, even now that
he’s in British custody, all this time. So he is being tortured for that. What Alice reminded me of here is,
of course, the video of the killings during the first release, which had the title he put on, which was very
problematic in many people’s eyes, he was questioned for it, and that was “Collateral Murder.” I was a
battalion training officer in the Marine Corps and taught the laws of war, not for very long, but briefly,
and long enough to know that what I was seeing on that video when I first saw it, was murder. It was the
deliberate shooting down of unarmed civilians. It turned out one of them, a Reuters journalist and his
photographer, both killed, hunted down actually, as they tried to shield themselves, while they were
laughing in the helicopter at this turkey shoot. And the people who tried to help them were actually told
to go mind their business by their superior officers, actually, people on the ground. This was murder. It
was like the Rodney King shooting, which remember, had an enormous effect, the video, or, of course,
more recently the George Floyd murder, which we just saw on television.
It didn’t have that same effect because it was Americans killing foreigners. And as many people,
including the people who tried to rescue the people on the ground pointed out, this was a daily
occurrence in Iraq, and it didn’t get the attention it should have. But it got enough attention that he’s
still being charged with it 10 years later. And all those wars, of course, are still going on. They had been
going on for nine years in 2010 when this was revealed and now it’s 19 years, still going on.
So the question has been answered in a way that is coming up a great deal this year. What if a president
gives unlawful orders to his subordinates, to military subordinates, either for the military to exercise
police or vigilante purpose in American cities right now, or to start a nuclear war? The question has
arisen directly for the first time under this president. And the answer has come back, “well, of course,
we’d point out to him that it’s illegal, and we’d be sure that he didn’t do that.”
Actually not, that’s really not very likely at all. And that state of affairs is, of course, all hidden by the veil
of secrecy. You asked the question, of the relation to my case. I was the first person charged for giving
information to the American public under the same statutes and charges as Julian Assange. We do not
have an official secrets act in this country as in the mother country, Britain, because we have a First
Amendment, a freedom of the press, freedom of thought, freedom of association, which has always,
before my case in 1971, been held to preclude either a prosecution like mine under any section, or
specifically, an Official Secrets Act, which would criminalize any release of information that the
government wanted to keep secret from the public.
And in this case, they tried the Espionage Act, which was meant for spies who give information secretly
to another country, especially in a time of war, had been used very much for that. And to use that on
someone who gave information to the American public, me, for the first time. Since then, ten years
went by before there was another prosecution, mine was dismissed for reasons of governmental
misconduct against me during the trial. Criminal conduct, which led actually to the resignation of Nixon
in the end, and to the prosecution, the conviction of a number of his subordinates who had been
involved in that. It was another 10 years before there was another case, and then about 10 years after
that a third, only three before President Obama. One went to the Supreme Court and they refused
jurisdiction, so the Supreme Court has never, to this day, addressed the question of whether it can be
constitutional to prosecute someone for telling the truth to the American public. They haven’t ever
addressed that, there was a very strong constitutional case against that, whether the majority on this
court would notice that or not. Nevertheless, it hasn’t been tested.
President Obama brought nine such cases, three times more than the three that had been tried before.
But even he did not apply it to someone unlike me, who was an official who had had a security
clearance. All the other cases involved those, but no one has tried to apply it to a journalist, though the
wording of the Espionage Act permits it, it’s extremely broad. Under earlier constitutional doctrines, that
Espionage Act would almost surely be thrown out on grounds of over-breadth because it actually applies
in the wording to anyone giving, -plus, it doesn’t use the word classified- information relating to the
national defense that’s being protected, to an unauthorized person. Or reading it, or possessing it, or
keeping it, any of that. In other words, the literal wording would apply even to readers of a newspaper
who were warned that this is a leak of classified information, and if they give it to their spouse or
whoever and they protect it, they don’t give it back to an authorized authority as the wording of the law
requires, they could be subject to this, too.
Well, nobody had ever tried applying the law that far and it would so clearly lead to, if it got to the
Supreme Court, to a judgment of unconstitutionality, and then we wouldn’t have any threat to hold over
people at all in terms of legal prosecution. Obama considered using this against Assange actually in 2010
and 2011. And remember, he got out in 2017, early 2017. In all those years, he did not apply it to
Assange because of the reasons I’ve given, and for the practical reason that he could not explain using
that against Assange and not against The New York Times or, for that matter, the London Guardian, or
Observer, who used this.
Assange, after all, who’s not an American citizen, is being faced with extradition by the British to another
country for having allegedly violated its laws on security. Now, a lot of countries have laws even a lot
tougher than ours on security. In China for example. Imagine how this could be applied elsewhere. So in
this case, Obama backed off from charging Assange rather than charging The New York Times as well,
who had published the same material.
The ACLU, (American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization founded in 1920 “to defend and
preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the US), warned, at the
beginning of this administration, that this president was very likely to extend the law further to apply to
journalists and publishers for the first time, and that is what we see with Assange. And the very fact that
you mentioned earlier, that some journalists have chosen to remain aloof from this on the grounds that
he’s not really a journalist, as Bill Keller put it in The New York Times, not a journalist as he could see it.
The fact is that if he is extradited and prosecuted here in the current climate, I would say he would
almost surely be convicted. We couldn’t count on the Supreme Court to recognize that this was a clear
violation of the First Amendment, and we wouldn’t have a First Amendment applying to government
secrecy, to national security at all. We’d have nothing but handouts from then on, and we would have
more wars based on lies like Iraq and the others, Vietnam, for that matter, in my case with the Pentagon
Papers. So a great deal hangs on this. And finally, Jimmy, if I may address your question, you asked, why
is the press staying aloof from this?
To my belief, the press has been a state of denial since my case, and that was 1971, that was 49 years
ago. And I have been saying, I can tell you throughout that time, to audiences of journalists, in some
cases publishers, AP editors and whatnot, this is a buried bomb, a mine, in effect, waiting for you. If you
do not examine and investigate the secrecy system and the abuse of it, and the wrongness of the use of
this law against this, it is going to be used directly against you as well as your sources.
They were surprisingly acquiescent at the notion of it being used against sources actually. The legal
aspects of that in my case were hardly ever examined or in the other cases which have been going on
under Obama, the unconstitutionality of what’s being done. And so they stayed aloof from it. “Oh, this
will never touch us. We have an arrangement with the government, we do our best to find secrets and
they do their best to keep them. And it works out pretty well for democracy.”
Well, it hasn’t worked out well for democracy, or for our victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, all
these other places that are victimized in secret wars, and it hasn’t worked out well for our democracy at
all. So the Assange case gives journalists a chance now to write, to focus their attention at last, on the
direct threat to their freedom of speech, and the unauthorized disclosure, which is the lifeblood of a
You know, Barack Obama did not prosecute the people who ordered a torture program or carried it out.
He said the reason he wasn’t going to prosecute them was because all those crimes happened in the
past, and Barack Obama was looking towards the future. And I guess all those people in prison are upset
they committed their crimes in the future, I guess. He most recently, at the Democratic convention,
Barack Obama said that nobody’s above the law, including the president, yet war criminals are walking
free, and Julian Assange is in jail. Do you have any ideas on how we can bring war criminals to justice in
this day and age?
In countries like the U.S., superpowers, victorious or defeated, as in Vietnam, we don’t have crimes
trials, and we refuse, of course, the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which I think was an
American idea to a considerable extent, I could be wrong there, in the beginning. But of course, then we
said, “no, no, no, that’s not going to apply to us.”
In fact, I think there have actually been statements, and even legislation to the effect that we would use
force to free Americans who were otherwise going to be brought to trial in The Hague, in the
International Criminal Court. Of course, the very Collateral Murder video, which was the first big release
on Americans that I saw, by the way, people have forgotten that Julian had been revealing crimes of
state in other countries, including China, for years, before that. But this caught people’s attention
because it was Americans.
The truth is that Americans have not shown any interest in prosecuting war crimes by Americans. There
have been some trials, and in this case, of course, we have the obscene spectacle of this president using
Eddie Gallagher as actually a campaign supporter, a convicted war criminal who he pardoned for this.
And as I mentioned earlier, as a former lieutenant in the Marine Corps, platoon leader, and company
commander, I still have enough of that identification in me, despite the sorrows of recent decades of the
Marines, to be shocked as a Marine leader, as a platoon leader on that, at the idea of the message that
sends to everybody, that atrocities of which Gallagher was plausibly accused by his other people
working in the military on that are no problem if it’s an American, meaning that our wars, whether
they’re of aggression like Iraq, or possibly otherwise, there are no laws of war as far as Americans are
concerned, and that will mean far more victims than otherwise.
One last thing, why did we have such a pursuit of Obama and of Chelsea Manning, who was his source
actually at that time, it struck me that one of the things that hit home to the Obama administration was
that the torture that Chelsea Manning revealed was going on in Iraq could be put to the White House
itself, to Obama, because it extended into the Obama administration. She revealed these were clear cut
What she revealed was that as an intelligence operative, at the time, analyst, she became aware, then
Bradley Manning in the military, that we were turning over Iraqi prisoners to the Iraqi’s, people we’d
captured, with the clear knowledge that they would be tortured, and that they had been tortured. Now,
the law of torture in this case, which is international, it’s even called just Cogan’s. A crime that cannot be
legitimized, cannot be legalized by any legislature. It goes beyond that, it’s an international crime that
under any circumstances, and part of the law of that is that to fail to investigate a credible accusation of
torture, and to fail to prosecute and punish it is itself a crime equivalent to the torture itself. And for us
to turn those people over was as criminal as to do it ourselves. Now, what Chelsea revealed and what
Julian published was a huge pattern of these crimes, showing that it wasn’t an isolated instance, but
clearly was a policy.
She had been told, and many people that she revealed in the Iraqi reports, the war logs, and I was with
Julian when he released the Iraq war logs in London, had actually done what she’d done, which was say
these people are going to be tortured, and in every case, clearly, as a matter of policy, they were told,
“let it alone, don’t follow that up.” That was an illegal order. It was followed by everyone but Chelsea,
who spent seven and a half years in prison as a result essentially. But a policy like that goes up the chain,
and clearly was allowed by the White House, by the president.
So, she was revealing crimes, war crimes, by President Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush.
And I suspect that has a lot to do with why this is continuing pursuit goes on. So as Alice has said, if
crime stops at the foot of the government, if officials can’t be prosecuted and what Obama did
essentially was to decriminalize torture by refusing to prosecute. Jimmy, you were quoting him in saying,
“well, that’s in the past.” Strictly speaking, prosecutions referred to the past, certainly still in this
country. And that, if you’re not going to prosecute, it’s effectively not a crime. He has decriminalized
that, which I must say, I think is a terrible stain on Obama. And it’s not too late to reverse that.
Well, you know, one of the reasons why you prosecute a crime, one is for punishment, but the other is
to discourage it from happening in the future. And when you don’t prosecute a crime, it guarantees it’s
going to continue to happen in the future even if it’s not happening right now. So let me just say, one
point you made, you talked about the message it sends to the troops when Trump goes around with a
war criminal and pardons him and the message that sends. What message does it send when Barack
Obama tortures Chelsea Manning, which is what he did, for revealing war crimes? What message does
Well, that answers itself, doesn’t it? Namely, it’s just this pattern that I described. I suspect that’s not
solely an American problem. Other countries, I’m sure, are not quick to recognize crimes by their own
people. But really, I remember following the Nuremberg trials when I was young, and I was very struck
by Justice Jackson’s, which I remember from the time actually, saying we are applying laws that are
meant to be universal here.
And if these, this is a paraphrase now but, if these are not to be applied equally to Americans in the
future, this will have been a mockery. Well, that’s what happened. They haven’t been applied, they’re
not being applied, and they should be.
Let me take it back to Professor Chomsky and, you know, the international corporate state fears
investigative journalism. Does the fact that all major news outlets are controlled by billionaires and
corporations, does that pose a threat to our democracy?
Very seriously, if the United States notices, it’s one of the very few countries that does not have any
substantial, meaningful, public broadcasting. It’s only under private control that this was a battle, and it
goes way back to the days of the framing of the Constitution. One of the parts of the constitution is
establishing the post office. This is very much under threat today. Why the post office? The post office
was instituted by the framers as a way to support the free and independent press. Almost everything
that the post office was doing in the early years of the Republic was providing very inexpensive
distribution of press journals and magazines to the country, I think that was maybe 80% of what they
were doing. This was intended as a way to ensure that there would be a free and independent press,
given, what amounts to a subsidy to be adversarial and independent, that’s the source of the post office.
One of the reasons why there are such major attacks against it today. Those of the corporate sector and
those who work for them, don’t want a free and independent press. They want to control it. It’s called
neoliberalism, turn decisions away from government, which has the flaw that it is responsible,
responsive to some extent to the population. Turn it over into unaccountable private and then you’re
This has gone on through American history. When radio came along in the 1920s and 1930s, there was a
great battle, a very significant battle, about whether the airwaves, publicly owned, should be used for
the benefit of the public, and controlled by the public. Church groups, educational institutions, other
groups wanted it to be free and open. Public radio under public control. Corporate business sectors
were strong enough to be able to beat that down. Radio became private, privately controlled, tiny
fringe. The same thing happened in the late 1940s with television, the same battle. Should it be in the
public domain, it’s public property, after all, or should it be handed over to private institutions to run the
way they do? Well, you know the outcome of that. The United States has nothing like BBC or others, it’s
a privately owned system.
Well, the system works. We shouldn’t overlook the fact that the press does perform a major service. I
mean, journalists are overwhelmingly honest and courageous. They describe what they see and you can
trust what they say. Just speaking for myself, the first thing I do every morning is read The New York
Times, knowing the flaws of the company, once we understand, we can compensate for the way the
news is framed, for what’s chosen and what isn’t chosen, we can fill in the gaps. We can correct for the
ways in which things are modified and presented. But that and others like it are the main sources of
However, the idea that the media should be truly under the public control, independent, free, the way
the founders interpreted the First Amendment, that’s the way they interpreted it. The First Amendment
wasn’t just what are called negative rights, the government can’t interfere with the press. The First
Amendment was understood by the framers as conferring positive rights. The government should
actively take action to ensure that there is a free and independent press. Well, that’s again, why the post
office is in the Constitution. Compare that to today, when the government is trying to savagely punish
and viciously prosecute someone who is carrying out that mission, and it tells you something about what
we have allowed to happen to our own freedoms. We can take them back, we don’t have to abandon
them to a powerful unaccountable institution.
Alice, let me ask you, you’ve been an activist your entire life. Can you speak to how the current period of
protest is unique and what are the most alarming aspects that you’re seeing today?
Well, I’d actually rather continue talking about Assange, if you don’t mind, because I’m really concerned
about him, and his family, and what is going to happen to them if we fail to free him. I have lived long
enough to witness so many assassinations, for instance, where the person is killed or put in some
dungeon, and then the family is just left to sink or swim as it will.
And this is an area where I really think we should spend a lot more time, really thinking about what we
are doing when we consign people to these dungeons, literally dungeons, and go on about our lives as if
they don’t exist. I mean, the talent for forgetting is just amazing to me, that these are people who
actually give us so much of their very substance. I mean, Julian didn’t have to do this, but he did because
this is the kind of person that he is, he’s made like that. Some people are just made to stand, and he is
one of those people. And this is a good person. And it’s really just shocking to realize that people can’t
any longer tell when someone is good. I mean, they just lost that ability. And we used to have it, you
used to just know, oh, that’s a good person there. And now, you know, you just, ugh.
Anyway, so this is, you know, this is an area where we need to do some soul searching, homework,
whatever it takes to regain that ability to –We used to say grok somebody, you have to be able to grok
somebody and know that this person is really the medicine that your community, your world needs right
now in order to stay worth living in. You know, we’re losing the planet because we’ve forgotten how to
tell when somebody is trying to save it. We just can’t tell.
This is a tragedy and it’s a human tragedy and we’re catching it. You know, we’re really inheriting what
happened. And also, back to Noam, I’m listening to him and thinking how, all that early stuff about this
country didn’t even apply to people of color, and that is also what you’re seeing in the way war is made
on them. You know, the people who are making the war still believe that the people of color in the
world don’t really count as people, and so you can just do whatever you want. And that’s the deep, deep
racism. Which coming back to your earlier question, I would say, you know, some of the people now,
some of the youth, especially, are attempting to address–I mean, the white people. They’re actually
now, in many, many numbers, which is great to see, white people trying to deal with the history of
racism, which has to be dealt with in order for the United States to live and for the rest of the world to
live. It is a terrible wounding that has affected this land. And we have to figure out a way to deal with
that, otherwise, we’re sunk.
And I see you are very distracted. What are you doing?
Who me? What am I doing?
Well, you seem totally somewhere else, and that’s the other problem. You know, we have to cultivate
better listening, you know, right along with better seeing. And we have to forget about how a thing
looks perfect. None of it is perfect, it’s perfect in its imperfection, and just go on with that.
OK. You know, let me just ask you this question, I was searching for this next question, maybe that’s
what you were seeing, my eyes go down to the paper.
We tolerate the horrors of foreign policy in order to achieve the smallest reforms in domestic policy. We
adjust to Internet censorship until it affects us. We live with unspeakable cruelties towards the Earth
and the planet, focusing on human rights, although they are unshakably interconnected. Can you speak
to what the danger of accepting the war on whistle-blowers is, as many liberals have done throughout
the Obama administration and beyond?
Well, I’ve been banned a lot in my lifetime, you know, I have been called everything but a child of God.
So what that does is, it hurts. And sometimes, you know, you look for your books or whatever you
produced and they’re just not there. Well, they’ve been banned, right? So then you have to think about
your livelihood. So that’s totally reasonable. You know, you have to eat, you have to live, you have to
find housing, if you have children you have to take care of them. So all these things have to be
considered when you then make the decision, whether you’re going to just step up anyway. And that is
what is called for now, just step up anyway.
OK, let me go back to Professor Chomsky, if I could. You know, the Internet has given us an
extraordinary platform for dissenting journalism, my show being an example, but now we’re seeing
monopolies of big tech that works with government to silence free speech. What is the future of
dissenting journalism in the world when big tech seems to have the power of censorship and people
accept it because it’s a, quote-unquote, “private company”?
“If people accept it,” is the crucial phrase. If people accept it, if people accept to be submissive to private
power, then of course it’ll take over. But they don’t have to be. I mean, Alice mentioned the books being
banned, and when books are banned by private power, civil libertarians don’t take notice. I’ve actually
had experience with this as well, going back to 1971, which Dan mentioned, I often wrote books jointly
with my friend Edward Herman.
The first book we published was in 1971. It was a book on counter-revolutionary violence. The violence
used to suppress the popular movements, I’m thinking primarily about Vietnam, but others. The book
was published, 20,000 copies from a pretty small but flourishing publisher, with a conglomerate, an
executive of the conglomerate that owned the publisher, which is now Time Warner (back then it had a
different name. Time Warner said they didn’t like the book, and ordered the publisher to retract it.
When they refused, he put the entire publisher out of business, destroying all of their books.
This was brought to the attention of civil libertarians. They didn’t see any problem with it, after all, the
conglomerate owns the publisher. If they want to put them out of business and destroy every one of
their books, not just theirs, that’s a liberty. Actually, I think there was one major exception, Ben
Bagdikian, did stand up and say this is wrong, virtually no one else.
Part of the genius of what we call neoliberalism, what we’ve been living under for 40 years, was
encapsulated in Ronald Reagan’s inauguration speech. Everyone knows the phrase, “government is the
problem, not the solution.” translate that into English, that means that these decisions are going to be
made somewhere, but they shouldn’t be made in government because government is somewhat
responsive to the public, and somewhat under the control of the public. So take them out of public
hands, put them in the hands of private tyrannies, which are totally unaccountable to the public, in law
and in practice, and then we will have what’s called liberty. You have liberty if you abandon everything
to unaccountable private power. And that’s what we’ve been living with for 40 years. And this is very
closely connected to the government itself, if we lose even the capacity to influence the government to
permit, not only to permit, but to support and advocate freedom of an independent adversarial
journalism, we’ve given up everything. We’ve given up the freedoms that the founding fathers
established in the Constitution, we’ve given up any hope to influence, control the fears that affect us
and others. Very serious issues are on the line.
You know, Julian Assange said that power is a thing of perception; they don’t need to be able to kill you,
they just need you to think they can kill you. Can you speak a little bit about how Julian Assange’s
imprisonment has already had an effect on dissenting journalism?
Well, I think, Julian Assange, first of all, provided the vast amount of material we’ve been talking about,
one particular case, exposing the workrooms, but there’s a huge amount of important material, which is
being widely used by journalists, by scholars in all sorts of domains, as well as others, I’m sure, have.
So in the first instance, he provided a great spur to independent journalism. But then the silence that
you’ve been talking about is casting a pall over that, and it’s saying we tolerate suppression of the
independent journalism that we, ourselves, benefit from. We’re tolerating its suppression by looking the
other way when there’s a sacrifice to be made by a person who stood out for achieving the goals of true
independent journalism. He’s being sacrificed, we’ll stay silent. That’s a very dangerous threat to the
independence and freedom, not only of the press, but of a free democratic society altogether,
something that the framers of the Constitution understood very well, as we mentioned. We want to give
it up, let’s do it openly and honestly.
Let me go now to Daniel Ellsberg, let me just put that same question to you. Have you seen the
imprisonment of Assange, the effect that it’s had already on dissent in journalism?
Remember, I’m not a journalist, I’m a soldier, so I see it from that aspect. There’s no question that the
various prosecutions you’ve seen, especially under Obama and now, even more, as was predicted,
President Trump has brought more prosecutions, actually, than Obama, against sources, as well as this
one against a journalist here. And the intent of that, obviously, is to dry up the sources, which journalists
in general, by the way, my impression as a source is, journalists don’t see sources as part of the
journalist process, they’re raw material or they’re resources of some sort, I think journalists tend to see
sources, including me, the way that cops feel about their informers, their informants in the gangs, and
their snitches. They’re criminals. They’re breaking a law, which they aren’t, as I was trying to explain,
that the journalists assume there is a law that applies to sources, not themselves. And I have to say one
more time, the same law that applies to sources can be directed at the journalists, and now is being
directed in the form of Julian, and he will not be the last.
So the intention of this, of course, is to confront people with extreme punishment. To go back to the
nature of this punishment, by the way, let’s say Snowden, despite the fact that this week there was
actually some good news for the first time, which is that a court has held that the law that Snowden
revealed actually, that is to say, the process that he revealed of hearing everybody in America having
denied that they were doing that, and having been forbidden by law to do that, that that was criminal.
The law was illegal and probably unconstitutional. Does that mean that Snowden is home free, that he
can’t be prosecuted for breaking a law that was held to be unconstitutional here or exposing a practice
that was unconstitutional? No, no, revealing it is still, the offense, and what would happen to him if he
came back? I can predict that on the excuse of keeping him from telling more secrets to inmates in
general population in prison, he will be held in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.
I would say, like my friend Mordechai Vanunu, (AKA John Crossman), in Israel, who spent 11 and a half
years of a 17-year sentence in solitary confinement. And when Alice mentioned the human aspects of
this, I remembered this applied also to Jeffrey Sterling, a CIA person that was not given proper medical
attention when he had revealed a total bungle by the CIA, and they were out to get him as a result.
OK, Chelsea’s case, where she was held in solitary confinement for 10 and a half months in Quantico,
which led to a lot of public protest, made people aware of how common this solitary confinement
Jimmy, you started out by asking a question about torture. It is clear that that is torture, as the
rapporteur for torture in the UN, two of them now actually in succession, have said that this is torture.
And I think Chelsea’s own case made a lot of people aware for the first time as it was happening to a
white person. It made them aware, wait a minute, this happens all the time. People are held for years in
solitary confinement and of course, mainly people of color are convicted of that. That is torture, that is
going on right now, and should be illegal. So that’s a practice that should change. One last thing, when
Alice mentioned how so much of this is done to people of color. Well, so many of our illegal wars,
imperial wars in the world, are to keep hold of former colonies, and who were former colonies? They
are almost always people of color, right? So they’ve been screwed over, in other words, for centuries
now and by us, in turn.
Well, when Julian published Chelsea’s revelation of the State Department cables, a lot of points were
made of the fact that a lot of that didn’t involve crimes by us, it involved offenses and crimes and
repressions by other people. And Chelsea, why was that worth her risking prison and actually suffering
prison for? Well, Chelsea said “it’s time,” her intention was to show how the First World, us, deals with
the Third World, in terms of busting unions in Haiti, for example. And a very good example is what was
revealed about Tunisia, that had Julian given the information, let’s say, only to The New York Times, and
not to six or seven newspapers competing with each other, assuring that a lot of it would get out, the
information about Tunisia was not put out by The New York Times, and would not have been about the
extreme corruption of their dictator, Ben Ali. [Tom] LaBonge was one of the people that Julian gave this
to, and they gave it to their former colony, Tunisia.
It was printed in Le Monde, picked up in Tunisia, and that led to the freeing of Tunisia from that dictator
who fled days later. There should be a statue in Tunisia, in Tunis, to Chelsea, and to Julian, actually. And
that’s one of the rare cases where the Arab uprising, which it led to actually, really has worked out
reasonably well so far, a genuine liberation that would not have happened without Julian Assange and
Chelsea putting out this massive information from which people could find oppression all over the
world. So it isn’t just American freedom of speech that’s at stake here. The imperial order as a whole is
maintained by secrecy and needs to be challenged.
Let me just give everybody a chance to give our closing statement and wrap up as we’re coming to the
end of our panel here. Let me start with Professor Chomsky, any last words you’d like to add?
I would just like to stress once again that popular action in support of Julian Assange will be critical in
determining the outcome of this process of prosecution of someone who is standing up for our rights.
Silence is not an option.
Thank you very much, and thanks for being a part of the Assange Defense Team and doing this, and now
let’s move to Alice Walker. Alice, go ahead. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Well, I think ignorance is our greatest enemy. And lucky for us, ignorance is something that can be
defeated, you know, and I think if people take the time to actually look into this case and understand
what Assange did, and what he’s doing, and what he’s standing for, it will be fairly simple to realize that
this is someone who is trying to give us all a fuller life, a freer life, a happier life. This man is actually
bringing us a gift. And we should be intelligent enough to see that, to see that if we look into our lives,
there will be all these areas where we can be free people. We don’t have to be just stooges and slaves of
whatever the media is telling us, is the flavor of the week. You know, this is really something, I mean, it’s
a great, great offering, and we should rise up and accept it as the offering that it is. I mean, I don’t want
it to be his life, though, that’s being offered, or the father of the children of Julian Assange. I don’t want
them to be like so many of the children of assassinated, imprisoned people where they grew up without
a father. If that happens, how can we bear it, when we could prevent it? We can prevent it. So I would
just say for all of us, you know, just start studying. I believe in study. I believe in learning. I think learning
is one of the greatest things you could do to free yourself. Learn everything you can about this case. It’ll
reveal your country to you in a way that perhaps you’ve never seen it. And let’s just get on with it, we
are the many, they are the few.
All right, and let me go to Daniel Ellsberg, any closing thoughts?
Yes, I can’t help feeling that it’s an honor to be on this panel, and to see the faces of my fellow panelists
here. I had to laugh when you raised the question about censorship and one of us, Alice said, “Well, I’ve
been banned, my books are banned.” And when it comes to my case, I was prosecuted. Last night, I was
reading a book that was one of my great inspirations, actually, for the Pentagon Papers, I don’t know if
you can see this, it’s Noam Chomsky book. Why was I reading this now, because I was looking up his
chapter on the beginnings and the rationale for World War Two in the Pacific, and it’s the 75th
anniversary of Hiroshima, has put me on to study, from the Japanese point of view actually, the ending
of the war. And this book is the one that first really put in my head as a former official the notion that, as
Noam says over and over again in the logic of withdrawal in this book, at that time, that Americans act
as if we had a right to be doing what we’re doing, to be invading Vietnam, to be regime change, as it’s
now commonplace in the idea’s very definition of imperialism is, yes, we don’t like that country’s
leaders, let’s get rid of it, assassinate or not. Is assassination possible?
What is happening to Assange right now? It can only be understood as a desire by British and American
authorities to see him die rather than to make his case in court. That is my belief. That’s the speculation,
if you like. That’s just the judgment. It’s outrageous. It is criminal the way he is being treated. Many
jurists and many doctors in Britain have signed petitions exactly to that effect, that for medical reasons
alone, as Alice keeps mentioning, he should be released, or put in totally different offices. And in
general, that he is, as I say, being tortured right now and for, as Alice said, for informing us of
information we had a right to know, needed to know, and that has made a difference. So as each of
them said, Chelsea said that she was, unfortunately, prepared to go to prison for life or even be killed to
get this information out. And if it wasn’t acted on, she would despair of the human species. Snowden
said, who, by the way, Julian was critical in getting Snowden out of Hong Kong with his assistant, his
aide, Sarah Harrison, who accompanied him on his trip and helped him in Russia, get exiled in Russia,
and Julian, I think, hasn’t gotten the credit that he deserves for that on Snowden. But as Snowden said
there are things worth dying for. Well, that’s true. And these people should not have to die for what
they did, and it’s up to us to help keep that from happening.