With Rumored Manhunt for Wikileaks Founder and Arrest of Alleged Leaker of Video Showing Iraq Killings, Obama Admin Escalates Crackdown on Whistleblowers of Classified Information

JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today’s show looking at the Obama administration’s recent crackdown on whistleblowers and leakers of classified information. Pentagon investigators are reportedly still searching for Julian Assange, the founder of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. Earlier this month it was revealed the website might be in possession of hundreds of thousands of classified State Department cables, as well as video of massacres committed last year by US forces in Afghanistan. Wikileaks made international headlines in April when it released a classified US military video showing a US helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians, killing twelve people, including two employees of the Reuters news agency.


The US military recently arrested Army Specialist Bradley Manning, who may have been responsible for leaking the classified video. Manning has claimed he sent Wikileaks the video along with 260,000 classified US government records. Manning, who was based in Iraq, reportedly had special access to cables prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East. During an internet conversation prior to his arrest, Manning explained his actions by writing, quote, "I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are. Because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." Manning is now being held in pretrial confinement in Kuwait.


The whereabouts of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is unknown. We reached Julian by email last night, but he declined to come on the program.


The arrest of Bradley Manning and the hunt for Assange has put the spotlight on the Obama administration’s campaign against whistleblowers and leakers of classified information. The Government Accountability Project, a leading whistleblower advocacy organization, has accused President Obama of criminalizing whistleblowing to a greater extent than any other US president.


AMY GOODMAN: Last month, a former FBI linguist named Shamai Leibowitz was sentenced to twenty months in prison for disclosing classified documents to an unidentified blogger. The website Politico reports Leibowitz is now poised to serve a longer sentence than any other convicted leaker in US history.


In April, Thomas Drake, a National Security Agency whistleblower, was indicted on charges of disclosing classified government information and obstructing justice in an ensuing investigation. Drake had helped expose details of the Bush administration’s domestic spy program by leaking information to the Baltimore Sun and the Wall Street Journal.


The Obama administration has also targeted journalists who receive classified information. New York Times reporter James Risen has been subpoenaed to reveal the sources of part of his book State of War.


We’re now joined by three guests. Daniel Ellsberg is joining us from the University of California, Berkeley. He is perhaps the nation’s most famous whistleblower. In 1971, he leaked the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page top-secret study of US decision making in Vietnam. With us from Iceland is Birgitta Jónsdóttir. She is a member of the Icelandic Parliament. She collaborated with Wikileaks. She’s author of a new Icelandic law protecting investigative journalists that passed last night. And on the line with us from Brazil is Glenn Greenwald, political and legal blogger for Salon.com.


We’re going to first go to the Icelandic member of Parliament, Birgitta Jónsdóttir. Can you explain the law that passed last night in the Icelandic Parliament?


BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, first of all, the law has not been created yet. It was a proposal tasking the Icelandic government to create this legislation called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. So, but the interesting thing about this voting was that it was supported by the entire Parliament, including the government, so it is going to be made. And what the law focuses on is to take all the best possible legislation from around the world, including from the United States, and create a holistic, modern package, so to speak, tackling these problems that we’re facing when it comes to freedom of information, speech and expression. So we are tackling source protection and whistleblower protection and bringing into this package the best laws we could possibly find.


JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you talk about the aspect that may create Iceland as a liberated area for computer servers from around the world?


BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, I think, once I filed this in—I think it was in February, it gained an incredible amount of attention from, in particular, investigative journalists from around the world and people that are trying to, for example, blog about political situations and so forth. And what people see in this is that, for example, the investigative journalist unit of media corporations could host the stories there to prevent them from being put under gag orders and so forth. Many see this as this could become sort of a safe haven for journalism, but it also tackles the problems that IP hosts have when they are put under orders not to publish or, you know, to tell the people they’re hosting the information for to get off or they get charged. So it is sort of tackling very many different areas when it comes to information, because we’re living in a world where information doesn’t have any orders anymore, just like our environment and the finance system.


AMY GOODMAN: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, can you tell us about Julian Assange, the Wikileaks project, that we played on Democracy Now! the videotape of the attack in New Baghdad several years ago that he acquired? You were a part of that project, which was put together, the video, released from Iceland.


BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Mm-hmm. Well, it’s probably one of the most difficult projects I’ve helped with, because of the content of it. What we basically did was that we—I helped bring together the volunteers, and I co-wrote the script. And the most difficult task in that project was actually to go through every second of this video to take out the stills, and particularly when you knew who the people were that were blown apart in this hideous war crime.


And we did decide to send out to Baghdad to fact-check everything in that video before we released it, to make sure that they could not say that this was falsified in any fashion. And we sent out some of our best investigative journalists to New Baghdad, despite the fact there was—the voting was going on, and it was incredibly dangerous. Nobody had been in that area since the shooting. And then I saw on Democracy Now! a video that a journalist or a documentary filmmaker had filmed the day after.


So I think the most important element about that story is that it showed that the witnesses, the people on the ground, had all along been telling the truth. But the media usually always takes the side of the military reports. And this is, of course, an everyday occurrence in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. So I think it is important that we bear that in mind.


JUAN GONZALEZ: And your reaction now to the news that the Pentagon is looking for Julian Assange?


BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Yeah, I found that to be extremely interesting, because we also have to remember that Wikileaks is not a one-person operation. And we—those of us that work for Wikileaks in various aspects of it, we all—none of us has all the information. The same thing applies to Julian Assange. So we co-share the responsibilities.


I find this to be appalling, how they are reacting to this. And, you know, let’s bear in mind that Bradley Manning has not been charged yet. So, what are they going to charge him for? If he, in fact, has leaked this, he should be considered a hero, because he is reporting on war crimes that the rest of the world, and in particular the countries that are participating in this war, this illegal war, should know what is happening on the ground there.


AMY GOODMAN: Army Specialist Bradley Manning, who is in intelligence in Iraq, says he was responsible for the leaked videotape as well as hundreds of thousands of classified US government records. Was he the source of the Wikileaks video?


BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: I can’t really comment on that. And the only acknowledgement of what he has said is in blog—or in logs that I have not—it’s not been verified if they are true or not. So I can’t really comment on that.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. Then we’re going to come back. We’ll be joined by Daniel Ellsberg—he’s in Berkeley, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower—and Glenn Greenwald, who’s written extensively about this at Salon.com. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute. Our guest is Birgitta Jónsdóttir, member of the Icelandic Parliament and a co-producer of that videotape, which they have named "Collateral Murder." Stay with us.




AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about the Wikileaks video that has led to, well, a kind of what’s been described as a manhunt for the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, this is a clip from the Iraq video released by Wikileaks. It is about July 2007 attack in Baghdad. This is the moment the US forces first opened fire.


US SOLDIER 5: There, one o’clock. Haven’t seen anything since then.


US SOLDIER 2: Just [expletive]. Once you get on, just open up.




US SOLDIER 4: I see your element, got about four Humvees, out along this—


US SOLDIER 2: You’re clear.


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