Truthtellers as Heroes: Wikileaks and the Struggle for Democracy – Maverick Lecture Series – Trinity University – Speech Notes – PDF

2013 San Antonio Speech Notes

4/8 Version 6 San Antonio Final Cut  Michael Ratner

I so appreciate your having me; your willingness to hear the unconventional ­ Lucky u have Bill Scanlon–2 gitmo  people-impressive; wonderful trip around San Antonio

My talks until recently were on the illegalities of the US response to 9/11

And the efforts of my office, myself and others to end them:

to close gitmo (we were first); prosecute US torture team; end drone attacks and other excesses

That dark chapter in our country’s narrative, sadly, is still being written While that is not my topic for today–

I do want bring to your attention the hunger strike going on at Guantanamo and ask you to act: Gitmo is in its 11th year 166 people remain despite Obama promise–no plans to close; cases at dead end 88 cleared

support them in any way you can–demand that gitmo be closed -Obama can despite restrictions–never  used transfer provisions

Thursday participate in a day of action to close gitmo-as small as tweeting and calling to vigils

As I said, gitmo is not my topic for today. Today I want to give a talk that is more perhaps more hopeful –   about some contemporary heroes and what they have done–

A talk about a subject that looks to a future where our government does not hide behind closed doors- but where its actions are transparent and we can act on what we know.

I call today’s talk: Truth Tellers as Heroes: Wikileaks & the Struggle for Democracy

On the screen before you are 4 photos of Truth Tellers

You probably recognize one or two of them-

On the left is Julian Assange–he is the publisher of Wikileaks–it has a website that provides an anonymous and secure way to give documents to Wikileaks which can then publish them. It has done a lot of that.

I and ccr are among his lawyers. He is in trouble for the truth he has published. The US has a grand jury investigating him and likely has a sealed indictment. He potentially faces life in prison. He has taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been granted diplomatic asylum, but he cannot leave.

Next to Julian is Bradley Manning. He is the young, 25 year old, pfc who has admitted to giving hundreds of thousands of documents, many of them secret or confidential to Wikileaks. They included important revelations about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic cables revealing US criminality and hypocrisy. He is trouble for the truth he revealed. Deep trouble. He is in prison and on trial for charges that could send him to jail for life.

Next to him is Jeremy Hammond. 28 years old. He is alleged to be part of a group that hacked into Startfor, a private Intelligence Company and obtained millions of documents revealing its surveillance of activists, corporate corruption and US spying. Included in the documents was one stating that there was a sealed indictment against Julian Assange. The documents were published on WL and are known as the Global intelligence files. He is trouble for the truths he revealed. He is in prison, facing trial and life in prison.

On the far right is Aaron Swartz. He was 26 years old when he took his own life. I knew Aaron a bit, and gave him some legal advice. He was a wonderful young man. Aaron was brilliant and helped develop computer codes and sites that are critical to the internet. He believed that information should be widely available without charge-especially government and academic publications. He was facing trial and 30 years in prison for uploading academic articles to a computer. His death was the result of his anxiety and depression over that persecution. I won’t really talk about Aaron today. But his death should be a warning to us all of this government’s relentless persecution of truth tellers and internet activists.

I could put up another dozen pictures of truth tellers or democracy heroes. Many of whom are jailed or facing jail. But those 4 will suffice for now: with this fact.

The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined. It is is making war on those who would reveal its secrets, or I shd say its criminality and hypocrisy.

Many of you might be thinking: How can these people be heroes?

How can Julian Assange, the publisher of Wikileaks be a hero?

How can someone who published hundreds of thousands of pages of US government secrets and those of other governments be a hero?

Or you might be asking: How can Bradley who purportedly violated his oath, be a hero when he may be responsible for transmitting 750,000 confidential or secret documents to Wikileaks?

Or how can Jeremy Hammond, be a hero for allegedly hacking into Startfor and transmitting millions of those documents to Wikileaks?

Or you might ask how I can consider them heroes when they may be facing life in jail and people have called them traitors?

My short answer is that Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Jeremy Hammond and others are truth tellers.

They are Truth Tellers in a country and a world that sorely needs the Truth. Here is how I see it:

Today we live in a darkened country

We are like prisoners in a Plato’s cave believing that the shadows we see on the blank wall are the reality.

But they are not.

We don’t know what the government does in our name

We don’t know who it’s targeting for death–whether by drone or otherwise We don’t’ know how it chooses those marked for death

We engage in wars about which we barely have an inkling: Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, perhaps Mali, and who knows where else

In the wars we know about, Iraq and Afghanistan–we don’t how many we kill, especially civilians

We don’t know who the government and our partners torture, disappear or render to another country

We don’t hear about the bloodlust of some of our soldiers who seemingly enjoy the act of  killing

It’s all secret – at least from us, but not from those on the receiving end of our wars

We don’t learn about the corrupt governments we support; the coup’s we back, or to which we give our blessing

We know little about the vast government and private intelligence apparatus spying upon us and others

When we try and discover what is done in our name we get stopped by our own government with the words:

Secret secret secret

The Obama promise of an open government is just nice sounding words Our lawsuits are dismissed; Our FOIA requests denied

When we try and get accountability in Congress or in the courts for crimes carried out in our name–whether those crimes are war, torture, drone killings, kidnapping wiretapping or spying–we cannot

Our Congress and our courts have no backbone

Or the administration–whether Republican or Democratic–manipulate the courts to insure satisfactory result–

I and my office have had firsthand experience with the government hiding its crimes and then making it impossible to get accountability once we know the crimes.

Here are three examples–from dozens–of the pervasive darkness that covers government actions.

  1. First, We were the first to challenge the legality the offshore prison at Guantanamo where hundreds of prisoners were disappeared, held incommunicado and it was all done in secret–it was all illegal

Despite repeated demands we could not learn the names of most of people we tried to represent–they were disappeared

One heroic, whistle blowing, government attorney actually tried to get the names out–he was discovered, convicted and disbarred

Ultimately we got the names; we got to Guantanamo and found out that our clients had been tortured.

Today our attorneys are barred from speaking about how their clients were tortured or that they were tortured at all–

What purpose can this serve except to cover government criminality?

When we try and go to court on behalf of a few of those clients who have revealed torture, our lawsuits are dismissed: We were told by Bush and now by Obama: State Secrets.

  1. A Second example, We took on one of the first rendition An innocent Canadian citizen pulled of a plane at Kennedy airport by US officials and rendered to Syria

In Syria he was tortured for almost a year. For much of that year no one knew where Maher Arar was or anything about his torture

After he release Canada held an inquiry for its role and paid him 9 million Canadian dollars

In the US we brought a lawsuit. We lost. Once again the ugly state secrets defense reared its head. The case was dismissed.

  1. A Third example. Together with the ACLU we are involved in lawsuits regarding drone killings. We represented the family of Anwar al-Awlaki in an effort to prevent his killing in Yemen by drone. We failed

Al-Awlaki was an American citizen. We said he is entitled to due process before he is killed.

We asked for the criteria used to put him and others on a kill list-and then kill him.

I am sure I don’t’ have to tell you what got in the way our lawsuit: State Secrets.

I could of course continue to talk about this darkness that pervades our government.

But I want to talk about the light

I want to talk about some of the heroes I have mentioned who bring us into the sunshine:

Julian Assange and WL Bradley Manning Jeremy Hammond

  1. I begin with the premise:

We should know what our government does in our name That is what makes for a meaningful democracy

How do we debate, decide upon our policies, our representatives, our leaders if we are kept in darkness?

What would John Stuart Mills say about the truth emerging from the market place of ideas when only the shadows of ideas, if that, can be debated?

How can our government and its leaders be held accountable for their crimes, such as torture, if we are unaware of the crimes carried out in our name?

A well known federal judge Damon Keith had this to say of the secrecy pervading our government:

Democracy Dies Behind Closed Doors A phrase we should all remember: Democracy Dies Behind Closed Doors

  1. Some will say we need secrets and yes we For example: The Pentagon Papers case said the court could prevent publication of troop movements in time of war

And of course there are others examples.

But what has occurred in this county is an incredible excess of secrecy; a huge withholding of information, destruction of information and over classification of information-70 or 80 million documents a year-up from some 5 million a few years ago.

So while there needs to be some secrets–there needs to be more information–a lot more–

The system is broken and with it so is our democracy

Many agree with the premise that too much is secret; and that our government is hiding its practices, criminality and hypocrisy; activities that need to be debated

But they say WL, Julian Assange, Manning exposed too much. They were not careful enough

Wikileaks did not remove some material critics say it should have.

Here is where I come out when I hear those criticisms.

WL did try to redact certain names from the documents and even asked DOS to help: DOS refused; Instead it wrote a letter-demanding back the documents and said property was stolen (just so you all know anyone who has them is according to govt. holding stolen property) (so millions of us today are holding stolen property) hold up documents

But, Even more importantly, the system is so broken and the secrecy so great, that we need to applaud those who take on that system.

When brave people act to correct wrongs, it’s not always done perfectly; it’s not always done within The Marquess of Queensberry rules. But it must be done.

Moreover, there is no evidence that anyone was killed or injured from the revelations.

But there is plenty of evidence that US killed and injured thousands, many thousands more than it ever admit ted.

I have mentioned the light and the truth. I want to talk about the substance of that light and truth. What we have learned. The supposed “secrets” kept from us. The importance of the revelations by WL, Manning and Hammond

I could make out a list of the 100 top truths or 1000. I could list the importance country by country of the revelations. Much of it you can find by going online.

But here are a few truths that will give you a sense of the importance of what has been achieved and the potential for more from the goldmine of documents.

  1. One set of documents is called the Iraq War Logs-391,000 pages of daily logs, incident reports and the like of soldiers in the field. In 2010 BM uploaded them to WL Docs Gave us a much clearer picture of the war and its atrocities He released Afghan war logs as

I was at the pretrial hearing at Ft Meade in MD on Feb 28 when Bradley Manning took responsibility for uploading the documents to WL. The image in the media of a BM who did what he did because he was a depressed, troubled soldier-was demonstrated to be utterly false.

I heard him speak for over an hour. It was one of the more remarkable hours I ever spent in court. BM is smart, self-aware and a person of conscience.

He could not just see the lies and crimes in front of him–and do nothing. After I heard his statement–which I recommend to every one of you-you can hear the audio–

I called Bradley Manning “the conscience of America”

Here is what he said about the reasons he revealed the Iraq War Logs:

He pointed out that the sensitivity of the logs dissipates in 48 -72 hours and his release was long after that

He spoke of the release and his hopes:

“For me, the (sig acts) documents represented the on the ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan….

I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [documents] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I also believed ...society might reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment every day.

Bradley Manning had the high hopes of an idealistic person in their 20’s

He tried to give the documents to the Wash Post and NYT rebuffed –

So he turned to WLO “seemed to be dedicated to exposing illegal activities and corruption”

And that is why the documents got out

Here is just one examples of what we learned from the Iraq war logs:

Two weeks ago I was listening to Dn! (I hope you know-if not, its our most inpt one hr daily news program 1000 stations and on web independent)

Here was the headline of a 20 minute segment:

BBC-Guardian Expose Uses WikiLeaks to Link Iraq Torture Centers to U.S. Col. Steele & Gen. Petraeus

What does this story show: The United States armed and trained Iraqi death squads that ran torture centers, torturing up to 3000 a month. That helped fuel the sectarian war in 2004-5.

An important and untold story. Why do we know it? -because the Iraq war logs-down loaded by Bradley Manning and uploaded to Wikileaks

  1. Or as a second example of the result of Bradley Manning’s truth telling:

Some of you may be familiar with what is called the collateral murder video. That’s the heartbreaking, disturbing video of a US helicopter gunship killing two Reuters journalists and then murdering and injuring children and Iraqis trying to help them–a clear war crime–watch it -and listen to the blood lust of American soldiers not worried about shooting children or killing those rescuing the wounded. And their laughter as a US vehicle runs over and Iraqi body

April 5 3d anniv.

Although not classified US had refused to release it to Reuters. After seeing it BM did.

WL allegedly decrypted and published it.

Here is a part of why Bradley Manning said he did it:

The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have.

They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as “dead bastards” and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers

I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members.

As I hoped, others were just as troubled– if not more troubled than me by what they saw.

3. Another set of documents BM uploaded to WL are the state department cables. I want to give you a few highlights of the Cables–250,000–these were the cable traffic-secret or less -between US diplomats and State Dept.-real stink

Here is why Bradley Manning said he did it:

The more I read, the more I was fascinated by the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations. I also began to think that the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity that didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.

 I thought these cables were a prime example of a need for a more open diplomacy.

 Here are a few of the thousands of impt truths revealed:

  1. Cables Helped end the war in Iraq or at sharply reduce number of US troops

WL release of diplomatic cable that US troops executed 10 Iraqi civilians: 70 yr old woman; 5 month old baby; lied and said airstrike; Iraq no longer willing to give immunity to US troops in new agreement A factor in forcing them out

  1. Tunisia: A cable reveling the corruption of the President of Tunisia­ Ben Ali– and his family was a factor in the collapse of the government and the beginning of Arab Spring:

Impt of WL in Tunisia recognized in media:

Tunisia’s government has collapsed, partially due to food price inflation and unemployment, but also because of WikiLeaks. or

Tunisia: The First Wikileaks Revolution

wld we have it different?

  1. Or another Headline based on the cables: Yemeni President Lied About US Strikes-for us in US we learned that our govt have opened another front in the war-shd not we know
  2. Or the Spanish torture cases: Headline Obama and GOPers Worked Together to Kill Bush Torture Probe

Describe our work Garzon

5. Not just US–many examples: China behind Google attack or UK training death squads in Bangladesh

Then there are The Startfor emails a private intelligence company like a private CIA

Hired by corporations and even governments to gather intelligence on various matters-other companies or even activists. Former govt employees work for it-revolving door

Jeremy Hammond alleged to have hacked into and downloaded millions of documents uploaded to WikiLeaks—

A few examples of what we learned:

It’s not only our govt carries out spying and surveillance; pvt. intell companies do as well:

It has a global network of informants and sells information to corporations and governments including our  own.

Strator was paid by Dow to report on the activist groups – such as the Yes Men–trying to get a settlement for the thousands killed at Bhopal in India

It was spying on Peta for coca cola- worried about protest at winter Olympics

It claimed it cld get access to the documents taken from Bin Laden house and would have sold the information to its clients–

and of course the sealed indictment against JA

There is of course much more that has been learned and will be learned from these remarkable documents – the war logs, the cables, the global intelligence files and others that have been published by WL Journalists and others will be mining these documents for years to come

They are probably the most important revelations about the working of government, its criminality, and hypocrisy ever published.

Despite this, or rather because of this, the government has come hard. It has come down hard on WL, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Jeremy Hammond – as well as others.

Its trying to send a message: there will be a high cost for revealing government and corporate criminality and hypocrisy; for bringing to light what the government wants to remain dark and for using the internet to do so.

Prosecution of truth tellers has become persecution:

US been after WL since 2008; of course much worse- after cm Iraq war logs and cables:

JA called akin to a high tech terrorist by Vice President Biden-that set the climate

Pundits suggested he shd be killed by drone

One terrible result of this stigmatizing: WL funding was cut of by pay pal master card and visa- although no crime—(power of private companies which control perhaps 90 pct of more to cut off speech they don’t like—Klan still uses); really hurt WL

Now Freedom of the Press foundation

A criminal investigation was begun under Espionage laws and grand jury impaneled in ED Va.; a grand jury that has most likely already issued an indictment against JA that cld get him life in prison–

although he is a publisher much like NYT;

and if jail him, why not the NYT which often publishes secrets and uses WL documents

A few weeks ago DOJ confirmed continuing investigation of WL

I regularly visit Julian Assange in the Ecuador embassy in London–(describe it-not fancy) a year in June Ecuador has given him diplomatic asylum believing that he faces persecution in the United States for his whistle blowing.

JA can’t leave the embassy without arrest-he is facing extradition to Sweden to answer questions concerning allegations of sexual abuse—but that is not why he is the embassy; that is not why he won’t go to Sweden;

He knows and I believe he is right-that a trip to Sweden will be a one way ticket to the US where he could conceivably spend life in prison—

Were he promised that Sweden wld not forward him to the US, he would be there–

So far–no such promise and Sweden refuses to come and question him in Ecuador embassy-

Or UK cld give him safe passage out of the embassy to Ecuador but will not

And so he waiting and waiting

Despite efforts of US to destroy WL and claims its is done; they have not succeeded:

As Twain said on hearing about his obituary in a nyc newspaper: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated:

And so with WL

The reports of its death are greatly exaggerated

Just yesterday Natl Press Club in DC: This announcement and release:


More than 1.7 million US diplomatic records for the period 1973 to 1976

Had been declassified but unsearchable – 1.7 million pdf files now amazing search mechanism – released with a dozen partners

For example this gem: “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” –Henry A. Kissinger, US Secretary of State, March 10, 1975

So WL continues its important work-work that no other journalism organization takes on.

I also on occasion go to the Bradley Manning court martial at Ft Meade pretrial going on now–

He has been charged with 21 counts including espionage and aiding the enemy-potential death penalty crimes-but govt says wont ask for death penalty

He has been in pretrial detention for 3 years

For a year he was kept under conditions that were considered cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment even torture

Hearing him speak about that torture was one of the moving days I have spent in a courtroom; it brought me to tears. For a while he was kept in an animal cage and in darkness; other times stripped naked, light on 24 hours and in solitary

Only ended when a public outcry

I was also there when he pleaded guilty to counts that cld get him 20 years-

There shd be no doubt this was a young man of conscience who explained the politics and the morality of why he released the documents

He was brave and heroic. As I said call Bradley Manning the conscience of America

Although he pleaded guilty to 20 years of charges, not a deal with govt. govt. wants to go forward with other charges that can get him life-20 not enuff

espionage and aiding the enemy

So BM sits in prison. Ct Martial Trial date scheduled for june 3 Lets hope the govt  comes to its senses-drops the rest of the charges –

Ends what I call the persecution of the conscience of America

Finally, tomorrow in federal court in Manhattan there will be another appearance in court by Jeremy Hammond Another case of incredible overcharging

he is facing 32 years to life for the stratfor hack. Federal judge Preska has denied him bail she refused to recuse herself although her husband’s email was contained in the stratfor documents

VIII. All these cases are  part of a pattern: Incredible overcharging in an effort to dry up information we shd have about our govt;

part of an effort to intimidate others But I don’t think it will work

Can’t put the genie back in the lamp

Knowledge is like that people seek it and don’t want to go back to darkness

In closing I want to say this:

We are in the midst of a Manichean struggle between darkness and light Between a government that seeks to hide its criminality and stay in the shadows Or one that will be transparent moral and legal

We should not leave these 3: Julian Assange Bradley Manning and Jeremy Hammond; and other truth  tellers, in prisons and under the thumb of the government.

We must work for their freedom because their freedom is really our own.

I have been drawn to this struggle because I believe truth telling is essential to our democracy.

And I ask you each to learn more, go to the various websites and act to protect transparency and democracy :

center for constitutional rights, Wikileaks Bradley manning support and free Hammond.