Truthout Stories Sat, 27 Dec 2014 14:21:24 -0500 en-gb Unearthing the Truth: Mexican State Violence Beyond Ayotzinapa

"I feel desperate looking for my daughter because I don't have any proof, I have questions about everything that they've done but they never looked for me; they never handed over evidence," Mirna del Carmen Solórzano told Mexican news outlet Sin Embargo on March 20, 2014. Similar sentiments have been expressed by family members of the 43 Ayotzinapa rural teachers college students who were disappeared on September 26 at the hands of local and federal police reportedly working in coordination with the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos. But in this case, Mirna's daughter was found dead over four years prior, in a massacre of Central American migrants that foreshadowed what became deafeningly clear in September: that the Mexican state is frequently complicit in the country's greatest human rights atrocities.

In what is now called the San Fernando Massacre, Mirna's daughter and 71 other migrants—many en route from Central America to the United States—were captured and murdered in late August 2010. All public accounts indicate they died at the hands of the criminal organization Los Zetas. While the August 2010 San Fernando Massacre was the most well-reported case of migrant abuse in Mexico at the time, known for its scale and level of atrocity, it was only part of a larger pattern of violence targeting migrants, mostly from Central America, traveling north towards the U.S.-Mexico border. While this case may be seemingly unrelated to the abduction of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, developments in accessing information on the former may have implications on efforts to uncover truth and push for accountability for the later.

Slowly, information on the San Fernando massacre and related violence against migrants is surfacing from behind closed government doors. The dramatic increase in U.S. security assistance programs in Mexico—ushered in through the Mérida Initiative inaugurated in 2008—paralleled a surge in internal government reporting produced by U.S. officials. Open-government proponents have used the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to gain access to these internal files, which illuminate the links between U.S.-funded counter-drug initiatives and human rights abuses. This article cites a collection of formerly secret declassified files, many of which have been published by the U.S.-National Security Archive (NSA), disseminated by investigative journalists from news outlets such as Proceso and Aristegui Noticias in Mexico, cited as evidence in ongoing legal cases, and used for clarification purposes by a network of activists working to defend migrant rights and increase transparency and accountability for migrant abuses. The slow trickle of such files from the U.S. state archives entails essential clues to understanding the migrant massacres, and is informing the civil society response to the Ayotzinapa disappearances today.


U.S. and Mexican documents from 2011 provide details of the role of government officials in violations targeting migrants in Tamaulipas, where the San Fernando Massacre occured, and other regions of Mexico. In January 2011, U.S. Embassy officials reported internally on receiving "anecdotal evidence" that migrant authorities and local police were turning a blind eye or colluding in routine forms of extortion, kidnapping, and trafficking of migrants, emphasizing the role of the state in the violence.

In April and June of 2011, hundreds of more bodies were discovered in mass graves in the same region. During that time, the Mexican government took action to downplay the severity of the violence, particularly leading up to Easter Week (also known as Semana Santa, or Holy Week), so as to not deter tourism in the area. Mexican officials told U.S. Consulate officers in secret that "the bodies are being split up to make the total number less obvious and thus less alarming." Consulate officers are documented as having acknowledged that "Tamaulipas officials appear to be trying to downplay both the San Fernando discoveries and the state's responsibility" for the massacres in the region. Such candid observations were shared internally between U.S. officials, but shielded from public scrutiny just as the United States was ratcheting up Mérida Initiative security assistance to Mexico and the region.

In April, U.S. consulate officials also noted that 17 San Fernando municipal police officers were arrested in connection with the aforementioned April 2011 discovery of 196 bodies in the mass graves, and seven officers were arrested in Reynosa connected to a separate kidnapping of 171 migrants. The following month, the U.S. Embassy reported on the firing of seven top officials from the National Migration Institute (INM) amid allegations of involvement in the kidnapping of migrants. INM released its own records on this case in response to information requests and a resolution issued by Mexico's Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI), but kept secret the names of the officials implicated in the kidnappings. In November 2011, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (the Pentagon's intelligence wing) reported on information it received of police officer involvement with drug trafficking and undocumented migrant smuggling organizations.

Similar to the case of Ayotzinapa, where federal authorities have stated that the Mayor of Iguala and his wife had been operating in collusion with corrupt police and local drug gangs, officials in Tamaulipas have been linked to organized criminal networks. In a cable from February 2012, the U.S. Embassy sent information back to Washington on investigations underway of three successive governors of Tamaulipas for suspected links to organized crime. In 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) identified the governor at the time of the 2010 massacre, Eugenio Hernández Flores, as having received bribes from the Zetas so the cartel could operate freely in Tamaulipas. The governor proceeding Hernández, Tomás Yarrington, is now wanted for extradition to the United States on charges of money laundering and taking bribes from the Gulf and Zetas cartels. Internal investigative files released by Mexico's own federal prosecutors have revealed that local police were allegedly paid by the Zetas to act as vigilantes (labores de halcones), intercept people, turn them over to the cartel, and provide cover for their members. As today's Proceso investigation reveals, a newly disclosed document released to the National Security Archive's Migration Declassified project lays bare the depths of these connections between the police and Zetas at the time of the San Fernando massacres.


Family members of victims of the San Fernando massacres and other migrant abuses in Mexico continue to seek answers from state authorities. Organizations working in defense of migrant rights, such as Article 19 and the Foundation for Justice, are taking legal action to force Mexico's government agencies to disclose official records with classified information on the cases. In April 2014, a lower court judge found that case files on the San Fernando massacres and other abuses against migrants should be disclosed, after determining the existence of, prima facie, grave human rights violations. Following this decision, Mexico's Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI) agreed with the assertion of the lower-court, and in August ordered the Office of the Public Prosecutor (PGR) to release its files relating to the arrest of the San Fernando municipal police officials in connection with the discovery of mass graves in April 2011. The PGR complied with the order in December, making the first official disclosure of any part of its investigative files concerning state complicity in the San Fernando massacres.

The court ruling and the decision of the Federal Institute for Access to Information point specifically to a special clause in Mexico's transparency law, passed in 2002, which mandates disclosure of otherwise protected documents when they relate to grave violations of fundamental rights and crimes against humanity. The provision was included as a safeguard against the entrenched secrecy surrounding human rights abuses that reigned under the first seven decades of the notoriously corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)—the party of the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto.

This type of human rights override clause is meant to protect against State secrecy on human rights atrocities and has been modeled in legislation in other Latin American countries with histories of government repression. It is based on the notion that some gross violations are so egregious, they impact not only victims, but society has a whole, and should thus be exposed to the general public. Information advocates in Mexico have cited the clause to gain access to files on historical cases of state-sponsored abuse, including records on the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, and on enforced disappearance carried out in the state of Guerrero in the 1970s. But the recent 2014 IFAI resolution is the first instance the special human rights override has been invoked to compel the disclosure of information related to current abuses. Now, human rights activists are calling for IFAI to declare the Iguala disappearances a human rights violation, and compel the disclosure of related information.

Despite the information commission's ruling ordering federal prosecutors to disclose the information on police connection to the earlier migrant massacres, the PGR is challenging the lower court ruling, and the First Chamber of the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. The lawyers are preparing their arguments, and organizations representing the family members of the San Fernando victims have started a public campaign calling for access to the full truth behind the massacres.

While the result of the PGR's challenge to the lower court's ruling remains inconclusive, the ruling and the IFAI resolution have important implications on the government and civil society responses to the Ayotzinapa disappearances. Though it could take time for the human rights override clause to be invoked in the Ayotzinapa case (the decision of Mexico's information commission to order the release of investigative files relating to the San Fernando massacres was made four years after the first bodies were discovered in the region), decisions on the San Fernando massacre have now provided important legal foundation to argue for access to information on the Ayotzinapa disappearances. The San Fernando developments have established that investigative files, even if they are ongoing, cannot be kept secret if they relate to gross human rights violations.

In the meantime, however, the efforts to identify remains and obtain information on the disappearances have taken on a sense of urgency, and included direct actions such as the creation of local action brigades, the seeking of precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the denouncement of continued impunity and lack of information around ongoing human rights violations at the Commission level.


The official determination that abuses against migrants by Mexican officials constitute grave violations of human rights has implications not only for the Mexican government's response to the massacre, but also for the U.S. policy response—particularly with regards to U.S. assistance and training for Mexican security forces. The Leahy Amendment, introduced in Congress in 1997 as part of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, and made permanent in the Foreign Assistance Act in 2008, strictly prohibits U.S. funding for foreign security units that violate human rights with impunity. Fifteen percent of the Mérida Initiative funding (roughly $2.4 billion to date) is subject to withholding based on human rights conditions.

While the Leahy Amendment has provided the channel for withholding further funding of the Mérida Initiative, these efforts are continually defeated. The State Department elected to hold back $26 million in September 2010 for Mexico until progress was made in the areas of transparency and combating impunity. This was reportedly the first time that the State Department's periodic progress report on the Mérida Initiative—required by Congress to secure the 15% of funds tied to human rights stipulations—cited human rights concerns with the intention of impacting any portion of Mérida funding. The funding was nonetheless approved the following year. The same occurred with the State Department progress report delivered in August 2012, initially electing to hold back 2012 funding. This funding was also approved, despite the fact that the State Department's own annual human rights reports for that year cited credible reports of police involvement in extrajudicial killings, kidnappings for ransom, and torture. In each occasion, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the State Department has consistently reported to Congress that human rights conditions under the agreement are being met, citing vague and incomplete progress toward Mexico's meeting of the requirements.

Senator Patrick Leahy himself has been a vocal proponent of withholding Mérida funding in light of increasing exposure of Mexican state complicity in human rights abuses. He has challenged the State Department reporting, claiming publicly that there has not been sufficient evidence that Mexico is effectively addressing abuses by security forces. Leahy originally blocked $229 million in State Department funding for the Mérida Initiative in the fall of 2012, but $134 million of this was released in April 2013 after the Senate Appropriations Committee received an explanation from the State Department. In August 2013, Leahy and others in Congress took actions to block the release of the remaining $95 million in Mérida funding over human rights concerns, and it was still on hold as of April 2014. Even with the hold, training and equipment continues to pour in, as the governments agreed in March 2014 of this year to over $300 million in new aid.

These many exposures of major human rights concerns have yet to deter U.S. assistance; even in the wake of the groundbreaking case of the San Fernando massacre, support for Mexico's migration authorities actually increased. This included equipment and training that incorporates biometric technology for migration authorities to track all persons entering and exiting Mexico, via air, land, and sea, as well as INM checkpoints. The State Department also awarded millions to U.S. contractors, such as the company Sarakkhi Associates, for Mexico's national command intelligence center (The Bunker). And joint intelligence fusions centers, requested under the Calderón administration, were created to enhance intelligence sharing in 2010 in regions near the U.S.-Mexico border, and spread throughout the country in the following years, reaching as far as Mexico's southern border.

The enforced disappearances in Iguala have heightened calls to cut off U.S. funding to Mexico, where it has become evident that federal authorities had knowledge that the mayor and his entire police force was connected to organized crime, and failed to respond to the situation. But when questioned about Ayotzinapa, the official U.S. response has been to condemn the disappearance of the 43 students while praising the Mexican government's response to calls to investigate and bring those responsible to justice. When pressured about the most recent human rights review and submission of its 15% progress report on the Mérida Initiative, followed by the determination to approve continued funding in September shortly before the disappearances, a State Department spokesperson said the Department would not revisit the issue until sometime next year.

With growing concerns over the Mexican state's connection to organized crime and human rights violations, it is no wonder Mexican and U.S. officials have been reluctant to release internal files with information on the San Fernando massacres and other atrocities. Maintaining secrecy is key to the continuation of the counter-drug initiatives that fuel migration, while at the same time lead to rampant abuses against migrants in Mexico's territory—and have led to a frightening increase in the number of enforced disappearances. Uncovering the truth behind the San Fernando cases not only has the potential to challenge uninterrupted U.S. assistance for abusive security forces, but may also begin to lift the veil of secrecy behind the human rights atrocities in Mexico that are only increasing by the day.

News Sat, 27 Dec 2014 13:37:00 -0500
It's Not Even 2015, but the 2016 Republican Presidential Race Rumors Have Begun

It's still 2014 for at least another week, but that hasn't stopped the 2016 presidential speculation from jumping to an accelerated start, with news that another Bush may be tossing his hat in the ring. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, son to President George H.W. Bush and brother to President George W. Bush, has announced a plan to announce a run for president in 2016, and these days that's all it takes to start a media cycle turning.

If Jeb Bush does win the nomination, pundits cite that it would be the fifth time in the last eight national elections that a Bush was on a presidential ticket, and seven of the last ten. But fears that voters would turn off in the face of what begins to look like a political dynasty are being brushed aside as this Bush is meeting with advisers and, more importantly, donors.

According to the Chicago Times, Bush was recently in town to meet with a handful of money people, a sure sign of campaign preparation. "While no money was being solicited, the small group attending indicates Bush may be meeting with potential bundlers as part of a nationwide strategy to set up a fundraising network for a presidential campaign. Bundlers solicit funds from their own well-heeled contacts and deliver the cash to the campaign in a large lump sum."

His early move is expected to start the entire 2016 cycle in motion sooner rather than later. Pundits are already speculating that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will need to announce soon, if for no other reason than to be able to begin his own fundraising and gather backers before Bush takes in too many GOP resources.

Interestingly, one candidate coming in with an early entrance in response? Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and failed 2010 California senate candidate. Not only does she acknowledge that she will likely be the only woman running for the nomination, she allegedly intends to staff her campaign that way, too. "According to three sources with direct knowledge of the situation, she has authorized members of her inner circle to seek out and interview candidates for two key positions on her presidential campaign: political director and communications director," writes the National Journal. "Notably, the sources said, her associates are aiming to fill both positions with women."

Other likely candidates may not be as obvious about their intentions yet, but they are most definitely laying the groundwork for a campaign down the road. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says he isn't planning on announcing a run, but his decision to headline the Louisiana affiliate of "The Response," a national prayer rally hosted by extremist evangelical group American Family Association, has many thinking a run is imminent, especially when you weigh in the fact that Texas Governor Rick Perry did the same in 2011 right before he announced his own Republican candidacy.

"The event is expected to raise the Republican governor's profile with Christian conservatives, a group that Jindal is heavily courting as he builds a possible presidential campaign in 2016," writes the Advocate. "Texas Gov. Rick Perry headlined a similar prayer rally in 2011 only a few days before launching his White House bid." AFA, meanwhile, claims The Response is only a religious event, not a political one.

Jindal isn't the only one potentially rallying the Christian soldiers for a grassroots campaign. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum ran a highly competitive nomination race in 2012, and many social conservatives have bemoaned his loss to Mitt Romney, who eventually lost to Barack Obama. Santorum has long been thought to be preparing a 2016 campaign, and this time social conservatives may be much less willing to support the "establishment" candidate in the end, feeling that is what made them lose in 2012.

Santorum may have a secret weapon to put him over the top this time: the churches of America. In January, with the help of Family Research Council, Santorum is leading a simulcast of a new pro-religious liberty movie that features a who's who of the social conservative right. The goal is to get as many churches as possible to show the movie, then turn to those churches and demand they stand up for religious liberty.

It is in fact the perfect way to groom a grassroots network that could help one candidate excel during caucuses and primaries, and even, potentially, a general election.

With so much action even before 2015, it's hard to imagine what the race will be like next year. With little restrictions when it comes to campaign finance, superPACs growing in importance daily, and religious groups able to turn donations into political support, 2015 is going to be a heated and expensive political year.

And that's still before we ever get to 2016.

News Sat, 27 Dec 2014 13:19:32 -0500
Why Obama Won't Reach an Agreement With Iran

Everyone following the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program and the lifting of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic agrees that the Obama administration would like to have an agreement with Iran. It would be in line with the real interests of the United States to be able to cooperate openly with Iran against the common enemy of Sunni terrorists of ISIL. And it would be the one major accomplishment in foreign affairs that Obama could cite in his two terms in office.

But the evidence suggests that the administration won't make the compromises with Iran necessary to get a comprehensive agreement. On one hand, the political and legal system of the United States has been so thoroughly reshaped over more than two decades by Israeli interests that the hoops Obama would have to jump through to lift sanctions against Iran would be far more politically demanding than what he had to do to lift sanctions against Cuba.

And on the other hand, despite its differences with Benjamin Netanyahu over the negotiations, the administration actually believes in the false narrative of covert Iranian nuclear weapons program and "nuclear deception" that Israel has long promoted. As the lead negotiator for the United States with Iran, Wendy Sherman (the protégé of the hardline anti-Iran and pro-Israeli Secretary of State Warren Christopher and the choice of Secretary of State Clinton to be Undersecretary of State) told a Congressional committee in October 2013, she didn't trust Iran, because, "we know deception is part of the DNA."

But an even more important, the evidence indicates that the administration feels that it has no incentives to reach an agreement with Iran, because it is getting most of what it wants already under the status quo.

Sometimes it is what is not asserted more than what is said that provides a crucial insight into official thinking. Secretary of State John Kerry said in explaining the extension, "We would be fools to walk away from a situation where the breakout time has already expanded rather than narrowed, and where the world is safer because this program." He was referring, of course, to the Joint Program of Action signed by the P5+1 and Iran in November 2013, which was supposed to provide a temporary bridge to the comprehensive agreement to follow.

In a sense, he was merely stating the obvious. He did not add, however, that without achieving a comprehensive agreement, the temporary gains would all be lost. That omission raised the obvious question whether the administration had begun to hope that it could use the JPOA as a device to keep the negotiations going until Iran finally had to go along US terms. The answer appears to be that the administration assumes that Iran will ultimately be forced to make the additional concessions Washington has been demanding – or that the talks will continue for another two years.

Politico's report on the decision to extend the talks elaborated on the administration's negotiating calculus. Administration officials, it said, "strongly dispute the idea that Kerry is wasting his time or that the extension amounts to a disappointment." The reason, they explained, was that Iran's nuclear program "is frozen in place" and "its growth capped by a November 2013 agreement that provided limited relief from international sanctions." The officials further argued that time was on the side of the US negotiators, "because continued economic sanctions are grinding away at Iran's economy."

The strategy suggested by that outline was clearly one of playing out the negotiations for as long as possible in the belief that Iran would ultimately be forced to accept the US demands on enrichment and abandon its own demands on the lifting of sanctions.

A similar strategy was suggested in a column the following day by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, well–known for reflecting the thinking high-ranking national security officials to whom he has long had unparalleled access. Mirroring the view of the unnamed administration officials quoted by Politico, Ignatius said the economic pressure on Iran "seems to be working in tine West's favour," even though Iranian negotiators did not yet have the freedom to accept US terms.

He went further, however, likening the situation in the talks with Iran to a labour negotiation in which both labour and management find the option of breaking off the talks too costly, so they continue the negotiations "without a contract". Each side, Ignatius wrote, "for different reasons, seems to agree that for now, 'no deal is better than a bad deal'," as long as they "keep talking".

Kerry made a special point in his press availability of the fact that the United States was holding on to its ultimate card – the entire sanctions regime – until Iran agreed to US terms. "We will remove sanctions as the agreement is reached," he said.

Kerry was thus emphasizing what it views as the central fact of the negotiations: The United States can hold on to the gains from the JPOA while at the same time maintaining its bargaining leverage over Iran.

That posture depends on the perception that Iran cannot afford to walk away from the negotiating table. Six weeks before the November 24 cut-off date, the Obama administration State Department's non-proliferation official Robert Einhorn until January 2013, who had detailed the administration's thinking about the key negotiating issues earlier in the 2014, observed that the rollover strategy was available as an alternative to reaching agreement, because Iran would go along with it. "The option of simply throwing in the towel and calling it quits is not something that appeals to any of the parties," Einhorn told the Los Angeles Times. A few days later Einhorn pronounced the option of rolling over the negotiations

And even as early as December 2013, Gary Samore, who had been Obama's primary adviser on the Iran nuclear issue until he left the administration in January 2013, predicted at the Manama, Bahrain "regional security summit" that the most likely outcome of another six month of negotiations would not be yet be an actual comprehensive agreement but rather another "interim agreement". Even more significantly, Samore suggested, that what he called a "process of rolling interim agreements" could last through the remainder of Obama's term.

Samore is both Executive Director for Research at Harvard's Belfer Center on Science and International Affairs and President of the organization United Against Nuclear Iran, which takes positions on the Iran nuclear issue that reflect Israeli interests. So it is revealing that Samore was openly promoting an extension of the talks in October 2014, telling the New York Times, "[W]e would favour an extension because it keeps the nuclear program frozen."

The remarks by Samore and Einhorn strongly suggest that the Obama administration has a strong incentive to maintain its hard line demand for a major reduction in Iran's enrichment capabilities – a demand that Iran to which Iran is unlikely to accede. And that was before the collapse of oil prices, putting even more pressure on the Iranian economy, which makes the administration even more confident about it diplomatic posture. It is very difficult to imagine the administration rethinking its hard line unless and until Iran walks away from the negotiations at the end of the current extension and threatens to resume the development of its enrichment capabilities that it chose to freeze as a confidence-building measure.

Opinion Sat, 27 Dec 2014 13:10:52 -0500
What the US Should Learn From Russia's Collapse

After months of whispered warnings, Russia's economic troubles made global headlines when its currency collapsed halfway through December.

Amid the tumbling price of oil, the ruble has fallen to record lows, bringing the country to its most serious economic crisis since the late 1990s.

Topping most lists of reasons for the collapse is Russia's failure to diversify its economy. At least some of the flaws in its strategy of putting all those eggs in that one oil-and-gas basket are now in full view.

Once upon a time, Russia did actually try some diversification — back before the oil and gas "solution" came to seem like such a good idea.

It was during those tumultuous years when history was pushing the Soviet Union into its grave. Central planners began scrambling to convert portions of the vast state enterprise of military production — the enterprise that had so bankrupted the empire — to produce the consumer goods that Soviet citizens had long gone without.

One day the managers of a Soviet tank plant, for example, received a directive to convert their production lines to produce shoes. The timetable was: do it today. They didn't succeed.

Economic development experts agree that the time to diversify is not after an economic shock, but before it. Scrambling is no way to manage a transition to new economic activity. Since the bloodless end to the Cold War was foreseen by almost nobody, significant planning for an economic transition in advance wasn't really in the cards.

But now, in the United States at least, it is. Currently the country is in the first stage of a modest defense downsizing. We're about a third of the way through the ten-year framework of defense cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming Congress doesn't scale back this plan or even dismantle it altogether, the resulting downsizing will still be the shallowest in U.S. history.

It's a downsizing of the post-9/11 surge, during which Pentagon spending nearly doubled. So the cuts will still leave a U.S. military budget higher, adjusting for inflation, than it was during nearly every year of the Cold War — back when we had an actual adversary, the aforementioned Soviet Union, that was trying to match us dollar for military dollar.

Now, no such adversary exists. Thinking of China? Not even close: The United States spends about six times as much on its military as Beijing.

Even so, the U.S. defense industry's modest contraction is being felt in communities across the country. By the end of the ten-year cuts, many more communities will be affected.

This is the time for those communities that are dependent on Pentagon contracts to work on strategies to reduce this vulnerability. To get ahead of the curve.

There is actually Pentagon money available for this purpose. Its Office of Economic Adjustment exists to give planning grants and technical assistance to communities recognizing the need to diversify.

As we in the United States struggle to understand what's going on in Russia and how to respond to it, at least one thing is clear: Moscow's failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Diversified economies are stronger. They take time and planning. Wait to diversify until the bottom falls out of your existing economic base, and your chances for a smooth transition decline precipitously.

Turning an economy based on making tanks into one that makes shoes can't be done in a day.

Opinion Sat, 27 Dec 2014 12:56:51 -0500
Looking Back, Moving Forward: 2014 Year in Review

In today's news cycle it's challenging keeping up with the latest developments around the world. In 2014 we saw pro-democracy protests spanning 75 days in Hong Kong to the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. On today's show we're going to bring you an update on some of the stories we've covered this year.

A man photographs a wall covered with notes left by pro-democracy protesters outside the seat of government in Hong Kong, Oct. 4, 2014. Saturday saw one of the largest pro-democracy protests yet, a gesture of defiance following attacks on their encampments and a deadline set by authorities that the roads must be clear by Monday. (Adam Ferguson/The New York Times)A man photographs a wall covered with notes left by pro-democracy protesters outside the seat of government in Hong Kong, Oct. 4, 2014. Saturday saw one of the largest pro-democracy protests yet, a gesture of defiance following attacks on their encampments and a deadline set by authorities that the roads must be clear by Monday. (Adam Ferguson/The New York Times)

Time is running out to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout this year. If you want to contribute in 2014, click here now!

In today's news cycle it's challenging keeping up with the latest developments around the world. In 2014 we saw pro-democracy protests spanning 75 days in Hong Kong to the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. Often we just get the stories when they first break, then once the height of a conflict diminishes or really when another issue surfaces to the top of the news cycle, that's it. After that we don't hear much more about the issue. Even though we know that the issues remain.

On today's show we're going to bring you an update on some of the stories we've covered this year. We'll go to a protest to talk to advocates calling for an end to using Native American imagery and stereotypes in sports. We'll talk to the Center for Food Safety about the political outlook for supporters of better regulations of GMOs and pesticides. And we'll get an update on US immigration policy from the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.


Alice Ollstein, radio producer
Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee advocate for American Indian rights
Morning Star Gali, co-chair of Bay Area Coalition to End Racism in Sports
Jacqueline Keeler, founding member of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry
Don Tipping, Seven Seeds Farm owner
Chris Hardy, Rogue valley farmer
Sylvia Wu, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety
Catherine Tactaquin, Executive Director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Opinion Sat, 27 Dec 2014 09:49:09 -0500
Everything You Need to Know About the Radical Roots of Wonder Woman

The cover of the book “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore in New York, Oct. 20, 2014. The book is fundamentally a biography of Wonder Woman’s larger-than-life creator, William Moulton Marston. (Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times)The cover of the book “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore in New York, Oct. 20, 2014. The book is fundamentally a biography of Wonder Woman’s larger-than-life creator, William Moulton Marston. (Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times)

Time is running out to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout this year. If you want to contribute in 2014, click here now!

All these things are true about Wonder Woman: She is a national treasure that the Smithsonian Institution named among its 101 Objects that Made America; she is a '70s feminist icon; she is the product of a polyamorous household that participated in a sex cult.

Harvard historian Jill Lepore claims in her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, that Wonder Woman is the "missing link in a chain of events that begins with the women's suffrage campaigns of the 1910s and ends with the troubled place of feminism fully a century later."

The hero and her alter ego, Diana Prince, were the products of the tumultuous women's rights movements of the early 20th century. Here are 10 essential elements to understanding the history and legacy of Wonder Woman and the family from which she sprung.

Wonder Woman first appeared in Sensation Comics #1 in December 1941.

Since that issue arrived 73 years ago, Wonder Woman has been in constant publication, making her the third longest running superhero in history, behind Superman (introduced June 1938) and Batman (introduced May 1939).

Wonder Woman's creator had a secret identity.

Superheroes always have secret identities. So too did the man behind Wonder Woman. His name upon publication was Charles Moulton, but that was a pseudonym. It was after two years of popularity and success that the author revealed his identity: then-famous psychologist William Moulton Marston, who also invented the lie detector test.

William Moulton Marston was, as Jill Lepore tells it, an "awesomely cocky" psychologist and huckster from Massachusetts. He was also committed to the feminist causes he grew up around.

By 1941, Marston's image of the iconic feminist of the future was already a throwback to his youth. He saw the celebrated British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst speak in Harvard Square (she was banned from speaking at Harvard University) in 1911, and from then on imagined the future of civilization as one destined for female rule.

Actually, the whole Marston family had a secret identity.

The Marston family was an unconventional home, full of radical politics and feminism. Marston lived with multiple women, including his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, a highly educated psychologist, and another lifelong partner, a writer named Olive Byrne, who was the niece of birth control activist Margaret Sanger. He had four children, two by each of the women, and they all grew up oblivious to the polyamorous nature of their parents' relationships.

Marston, Holloway, and Byrne all contributed to Wonder Woman's creation, a character that Marston explicitly designed to show the necessity of equality and advancement of women's rights.

Wonder Woman was an Amazon molded from clay, but she was birthed out of feminism.

Princess Diana of Themyscira, or Diana Prince (Wonder Woman's alter ego), comes from the land of the Amazons. In Greek mythology, the Amazons are an immortal race of beauties that live apart from men. In the origin story of Wonder Woman, Diana is daughter of the queen of the Amazons. She's from Paradise Island (Paradise is the land where no men live), where Queen Hyppolita carves her daughter out of clay. She has no father.

She comes out of the feminist movements of women's suffrage, birth control, and the fight for equality. When Marston was working with DC Comics editor Sheldon Mayer on the origins of Wonder Woman, Marston left no room for interpretation about what he wanted from his heroine.

"About the story's feminism," historian Lepore writes, "he was unmovable. 'Let that theme alone,' Marston said, 'or drop the project.'"

Wonder Woman fought for the people—all the people.

The injustices that moved Wonder Woman to action did not just take place in the world of fantasy heroes and villains, nor was she only about women's rights. She also fought for the rights of children, workers, and farmers.

In a 1942 issue of Sensation Comics, Wonder Woman targets the International Milk Company, which she has learned has been overcharging for milk, leading to the undernourishment of children. According to Lepore, the story came right out of a Hearst newspaper headline about "milk crooks" creating a "milk trust" to raise the price of milk, profiteering on the backs of American babies.

For the Wonder Woman story, Marston attributed the source of this crime to Nazi Germany. But the action Wonder Woman takes is the same as the real-life solution: She leads a march of women and men in "a gigantic demonstration against the milk racket."

There's a whole lot of bondage in Wonder Woman.

In the years that Marston was writing Wonder Woman, bondage was everywhere. "In episode after episode," Lepore writes, "Wonder Woman is chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered, and manacled." Even Wonder Woman herself expressed exhaustion at the over-use of being bound: "Great girdle of Aphrodite! Am I tired of being tied up!" she says.

There's little doubt that the sexual proclivities of the Marston family were in part responsible for this interest. A woman named Marjorie Wilkes Huntley was part of the Marston household—an "aunt" for the children, who shared the family home (and bedroom) when she was in town. Huntley was fond of bondage.

The theme was so persistent that an Army sergeant who was fond of the erotic images wrote to Marston asking where he could purchase some of the bondage implements used in the book. After that, DC Comics told Marston to cut back on the BDSM.

But that bondage was not all about sex.

The bondage themes in Wonder Woman are more complex than just a polyamorous fetish, though. Women in bondage was an iconic image of the suffrage and feminist movements, as women attempted to loosen the chains that bound them in society. Cartoonist and artist Lou Rogers drew many women in bonds, and Margaret Sanger appeared before a crowd bound at the mouth to protest the censorship of women in America.

Later, Margaret Sanger's Birth Control Review would use a similar motif. One cover image had a woman chained to the weight of unwanted babies.

Readers—boys and girls—loved Wonder Woman.

Despite the political and secretive history of Wonder Woman's creation, she was a wildly popular character. After Wonder Woman's early success, DC Comics considered adding her to the roster of the Justice Society, which included Batman and Superman and many other male superheroes. Charlie Gaines, who ran DC Comics, decided to conduct a reader poll, asking, "Should Wonder Woman be allowed, even though a woman, to become a member of the justice society?"

Readers returned 1,801 surveys. Among boys, 1,265 said yes, 197 said no; among girls, 333 said yes, and only 6 said no.

But Justice Society was not written by feminist Marston. After Wonder Woman was brought into the Justice Society, she spent her first episodes working as the secretary.

The feminist spirit of Wonder Woman waned for decades.

After the death of William Moulton Marston in 1947, DC Comics took the feminism out of Wonder Woman and created instead a timid and uninspiring female character. "Wonder Woman lived on," Lepore writes, "but she was barely recognizable."

The first cover not drawn by the original artist, Harry G. Peter, "featured Steve Trevor [Wonder Woman's heretofore hapless love interest] carrying a smiling, daffy, helpless Wonder Woman over a stream. Instead of her badass, kinky red boots, she wears dainty yellow ballerina slippers," Lepore observes. Without her radical edge, Wonder Woman's popularity waned until the rise of second wave feminism in the '60s and '70s, when Wonder Woman was trumpeted as an icon of women's empowerment.

Wonder Woman became president.

In a 1943 story, Wonder Woman is actually elected President of the United States. Marston was adamant that a women would one day rule the United States, and that the world would be better when civilization's power structures were in the hands of women instead of men.

Wonder Woman's popularity soared as the feminist movement picked up in the late 1960s. Wonder Woman appeared on the first issue of Ms. Magazine, in 1972, with the headline "Wonder Woman for President." At that time, Gloria Steinem said of Wonder Woman, "Looking back now at these Wonder Woman stories from the '40s, I am amazed by the strength of their feminist message."

The impact of Wonder Woman continues.

Wonder Woman is in for a great couple of years. Ms. Magazine just celebrated its 40th anniversary, and Wonder Woman is back on its cover. Jill Lepore's book has been getting wonderful coverage (see her on The Colbert Report below discussing the kinks of the Marston Family), and Noah Berlatsky's Wonder Woman: Feminism and Bondage in the Marston/Peter Comics will be published in January.

She's also gearing up for her first-ever theatrical film appearance: Wonder Woman will appear in Zack Snyder's 2016 film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. In 2017, she will be the star of her own film, to be directed by Michelle McClaren (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead). Wonder Woman will be played by the Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

Let us hope that Gadot in the role conjures the spirit of the original creation of Marston, Holloway, and Byrne: a radical, independent, fierce woman and leader for all women and men to admire.

Opinion Sat, 27 Dec 2014 11:08:56 -0500
Native Americans Confront History of Dispossession

Earlier this month, as part of the $585 billion defense bill for 2015, Congress passed a measure that would give lands sacred to American Indians in Arizona to a foreign company. The deal gives the Australian-English mining firm Rio Tinto 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in exchange for several other parcels so it can mine a massive copper deposit.

This week, Bill speaks with Robert A. Williams Jr., a professor specializing in American Indian law, about how deals such as the one with Rio Tinto are a part of American Indian’s tragic history of dispossession. “Very much like African-Americans, the history of America is taking away resources, whether it’s labor or whether it’s land from one racial group to give them to the dominate racial group,” Williams, who is of Lumbee Indian heritage, says.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

He adds that the Arizona land set to become the “largest copper mine in the world” is one of the most sacred places of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. “These are folks that have been fighting the federal government over their land rights and cultural rights for a long time,” adding, “and here you have this little, small tribe of Apaches, one of the poorest tribes… trying to stop this.”


BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Mention America's original sin and most of us will quickly think of the enslavement of black people, with a bitter fruit we're still harvesting. Rarely, though, are we summoned to think about the fate of indigenous people, the Indians, who were already here when Europeans “discovered” the so-called “New World.” Even the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins fails to hold our attention for very long.

And you can safely bet that not many school children are taught that these native people wound up in the Declaration of Independence as “merciless Indian savages” – right there in the birth certificate of our nation. How is it they came to be mythologized as so ignorant and primitive they didn’t even know the value of Manhattan island, which they sold on the cheap to the Dutch? And how is it they became stereotyped as monolithic when in fact, opinions and beliefs among the 550-plus tribes are as diverse as any other society’s?

For example, suppose you were to think all American Indians share a belief that untouched land is sacrosanct. Then you wouldn’t be surprised, that the Rosebud Sioux in South Dakota oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline. Or that Apaches in Arizona are furious that Congress just slipped through a law turning over sacred land to the foreign corporate giant Rio Tinto for mining copper. Or that Navajos in Arizona have protested the Snowbowl ski resort’s use of recycled sewer water to make snow on sacred mountainsides. Yet at the same time, in the same state, Navajo leaders want to build the Grand Canyon Escalade, a tramway nearly a mile and a half to the floor of the canyon to facilitate tourism. To some Indians that would be sacrilegious. So -- monolithic? Hardly.

And that’s why my guest is Robert Williams, who is out to change how we think about Indians and to challenge the laws that embody bigotry against them. Robert Williams teaches law and American Indian studies at the University of Arizona. He’s represented tribal groups before human rights courts and the US Supreme Court, and he’s written such groundbreaking books as “Like a Loaded Weapon,” about the legal history of racism against Indians in America, and my favorite, “Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization”. Robert Williams, welcome.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Thank you, Bill. Thank you for having me.

BILL MOYERS: That land deal that gives the big mining company land in Arizona, what's your take on that?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: It involves land that is really part of the most sacred land to the San Carlos Apache tribe. Many members of San Carlos trace their ancestry back to Geronimo and some of the famous Apache warriors. These are folks that have been fighting the federal government over their land rights and cultural rights for a long time.

It's going to be the largest copper mine in the United States. And here you have this little, small tribe of Apaches, one of the poorest tribes, poverty rates and unemployment rates double, triple that of the rest of Arizona, trying to stop this. They brought in a large coalition, National Congress of American Indians, tribes from all over the US to try and fight it. But they couldn't overcome the power of the copper industry, quite frankly, and the economic benefits that this would purportedly bring.

BILL MOYERS: When you say sacred land, help me understand what you mean by that from your history.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Yeah. In many tribes, all land is sacred in the sense that it sustains the tribe. But some sites have particular historical and religious significance. It may be, for example, for the Navajos, in that development that you were talking about, the Escalade project in the Grand Canyon, many Navajos believe that that point of the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado River was the point of emergence of the Navajo from, blessed by the creator.

So you can go on reservations and ask, is that mountain sacred? And maybe half of the folks will say, yeah, that's a sacred mountain. The other half will say, no, it doesn't mean anything to me. So it's very difficult for a tribe to sort of sit down and come to a consensus on which particular pieces of land are sacred. Each different clan or family will have a different idea.

BILL MOYERS: So this small tribe fighting the Rio Tinto land swap in Arizona, they consider the sacredness of the land, by their definition, more important than the jobs that it would produce?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: In this particular case, yes.

BILL MOYERS: The opposite in the Grand Canyon, right?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: In the Grand Canyon, absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: The Navajos want to build this.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: That's right. And at the same time the Navajos are also fighting a sacred lands battle, as you mentioned, involving a ski resort. And so, again, the tribe has to come to a consensus, what's important to us? In some cases, that particular piece of land may not have so many associations with it that we can't let it go and let it go to development. But in other instances, particularly where things might be associated with the Apache, with a famous battle between the Apache and the US armies where Apaches died--

BILL MOYERS: Like Gettysburg to--

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Yeah, it would be very similar if somebody neighboring Gettysburg wanted to build an amusement park. People would be offended.

BILL MOYERS: You represent tribes in land disputes such as these. What do these particular stories: Arizona, Grand Canyon, Rio Tinto, the ski resort, what do they have in common?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Today what we see is tribes moving into the 21st century and facing real 21st century problems of globalization, of multi-national, national resource development, of jobs, of the need, you know, tribes have elected leaderships. They're elected to do a lot of things.

They're elected to protect sacred lands. But they're also elected to provide jobs, improve quality of life. And so these are the types of situations tribes are confronting on a daily basis. And you find lots of different attitudes, lots of different conflicts, lots of different controversy within tribes. Is this piece sacred, is that piece sacred? How sacred is it, to which particular part of the tribe, for example. So you're going to find a lot of diversity. And tribal governments have to manage that diversity and have to do what's best for the tribe.

BILL MOYERS: So is the Rio Tinto deal that just has gone through familiar to you? I mean, is it a pattern?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Oh yeah. That land was taken away from the tribe. And many people in the tribe will tell you to this day that it was illegally taken away. But once Congress signs a treaty or issues an Indian Claims Commission decision and pays off on it, that's it. Your rights are exhausted. I've looked at a lot of treaties. And I keep seeing the same guy sign that treaty again and again. And I ask my students what that guy's name is, X. You know, and it's--

BILL MOYERS: And that says?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Yeah, and what it says is that the tribes didn't, they had a document handed over to them. They didn't know what they were signing. They were lied to. Often times it was fraud induced. Sometimes treaties would be ratified even though the required signatures weren't there. And so for Indian tribes, the fact that there may be a treaty, the fact that they may have been quote “compensated” for these lands in a process that didn't even award them interest from the date of the taking doesn't mean the case is over.

US law and international human rights law have radically diverged in the past 20 years in terms of the recognition of indigenous people's rights. International human rights law now looks at not whether or not the tribes have formal ownership or legal title in a Western legal conception might have it, but rather they look at the tribe's historical connection to that land.

BILL MOYERS: So US courts couldn't address it.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: No they wouldn't be able to address it. In fact, the way that legislation is written, the environmental review process is going to be concluded before the land is transferred. And then of course once it's transferred there's a mandatory transfer date, those processes really have little meaning anymore.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, once the land is transferred, environmental laws don't-- it's because private property and federal environmental laws don't apply.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Yeah, you've really hit on it. It's this idea of private property. You know, when Europeans came to the New World the first thing they said is, well, Indians don't appreciate property. They're savage. They're backwards. They're uncivilized. And so we really don't have to pay them for it or if we give them a treaty we really don't have to give them what the land is truly worth.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Tribes have very clear conceptions of their traditional boundaries, they maintain their rights and their claim sovereignty over the lands according to their own honored traditions and tribal elders. And so, you can go out there on the reservation, and there might be a reservation boundary established by the United States. But then there's traditional land boundaries. The Navajo, for example, regard their traditional lands as within the four sacred peaks. One of those sacred peaks is the San Francisco Peaks where the ski resort, one of the holiest, sacred mountains in Navajo cosmology. And here you've got the city of Flagstaff selling reclaimed water to make snow.

BILL MOYERS: Sewage water.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Sewage water. I mean, it's considered a horrible desecration. I mean, you know, put it into another cultural context and you wouldn't be able to think of that being, with any other racial group. But for Indians because, you know, we think they really don't care about land or they have primitive ideas or they don't have ownership, we completely disrespect that.

BILL MOYERS: This has been your passion, almost your obsession, to help us understand how American law came to embody this whole notion of savagery. Your book, "Savage Anxieties" just opened my eyes to this long, 250-year history that you talk about as institutionalizing savagery as a concept to discriminate against Natives.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: That's right. And what I tried to show in that book is that this idea of this fundamental conflict between savagery and civilization goes back to the very beginnings of Western history. I go back to the Greeks, I go back to the Romans. You can read Homer. And of course Homer has his great heroes involved in this myth, this wonderful mythic contest with savage tribal peoples, half-human monsters on distant parts of the world. When you think about the Roman Empire, what was it made of? It was made of conquest of the tribes of Central Europe, the Germans, the, the Celts. You have tribal wars of Charlemagne in the Middle Ages, fall on behalf of Christianity.

Western civilization has been at war with tribalism for 3,000 years. And that war was brought to the New World by Columbus, by the Spanish conquistadors, by the English colonists. And what you find is that a very early point in American law Chief Justice John Marshall is asked to decide the status of Indian tribes. And what he does is, I like to tell my students, he goes to the S-card. He calls them savages who lack the same rights as the white people who came over here, the Europeans, and colonized their land under this, what many Americans might regard as an obscure legal doctrine called the Doctrine of Discovery. But it is still the most important doctrine in American constitutional law.

BILL MOYERS: The Doctrine of--


BILL MOYERS: --which holds?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Which holds that when Columbus and John Cabot and the other European explorers came to the New World and then sailed along the shores and claimed it for their crowns so long as those lands were occupied by heathen, infidel and savage peoples their property rights did not have to be recognized.

Marshall says in this famous 1823 case of Johnson v. M'Intosh, he says when “the great nations of Europe” discovered this continent they “were eager to appropriate to themselves so much of it as they could respectively acquire,” but “the character and religion of its inhabitants” made them “a people over whom the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendency." In other words, what he's saying there is, when we discovered America it was occupied by a bunch of backwards uncivilized brutes and we were going to make better use of the land than them so we could take it from them.

BILL MOYERS: I grew up in Texas in a town named after John Marshall. Marshall, Texas. No one ever told me what Chief Justice John Marshall said in that 1823 decision that you just mentioned in which he refers to Indians as heathens and fierce savages. And you say this is one of the most important Indian rights cases ever handed down through the Supreme Court.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Oh, absolutely.


ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Because it defines the property rights of indigenous peoples in this country. And what it says is that upon discovery the European nation, or the nation that secedes to its interest, the US from Great Britain, holds superior title and sovereignty to the land belonging to the Indians. They have a mere right of occupancy. And what Marshall says is that right of occupancy can be taken away by purchase, conquest or any other means.

And so the reason that this case is so important is it really sets the foundation for this radical approach to understanding the basic human rights of Indian people to hold and control the lands that they occupy. It gives the US government the right to relocate, it stands at the bottom of the ethnic cleansing campaigns, for example, in the removal era.

And it's continued to be cited today by the Supreme Court. Even Justice Ginsburg, the most liberal member of the court, in footnote one of opinion she wrote several years ago involving the Oneida Nation cites the Doctrine of Discovery. The court never questions it.

BILL MOYERS: The Doctrine of Discovery, the fact that the white Europeans quote “discovered” the New World.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: Carries with it an inherent right to dominate the people who live there.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Oh absolutely. It's exactly why Congress can pass legislation as it did with the Rio Tinto land mine deal because Congress took the land from the tribes, ignores their sacred connections to it, their cultural connections and does whatever it wants with it. It's why Congress can order tribes removed in the 1950s. Congress terminated tribal status for more than 100 tribes. Basically said, you're not a tribe anymore and we're not going to pay attention to the treaties. The Supreme Court has held that when Congress breaches a treaty with an Indian tribe it's not judicially reviewable. It's called a political question. And if tribes have a problem with that, go back to Congress, the very people who broke your treaty.

BILL MOYERS: You write about another case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia. The chief justice, John Marshall again, describes Indians as constituting a race of people who were quote "once numerous, powerful, and truly independent,” but who had gradually sank "beneath our superior policy, our arts, and our arms." I mean, this from one of the most brilliant men of the founding generation, fought with Washington at Valley Forge, became the chief justice. And this is what he's saying about the Native--

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: That's right. And that was the opinion shared by the founders to a man. In fact, George Washington two weeks after the Treaty of Paris is signed ending the Revolutionary War is asked about his opinions on Indian policy. Washington had been an Indian fighter since the French and Indian War.

And a lot of folks, particularly in the red states, the Southern states that had suffered a number of Indian depredations wanted to remove all the Indians to Canada. Let them go with the English. And Washington said, well, you can try and chase the Indians off their land but the savage is like the wolf. They're return immediately you turn your back. And so better, he said, more expedient to negotiate treaties with them because, and again this is what the founders believed to a man, Indians are a vanquished race. They won't be here two to three generations.

BILL MOYERS: When I talked to the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates recently here he said that African-Americans today are bound, tethered by the reality, the mythology and the legacy of slavery. What is, what are you saying is the equivalent of that phenomenon for Indians?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: It's the history of dispossession. You know, very much like African-Americans, the history of America is taking away resources, whether it's labor or whether it's land from one racial group to give them to the dominate racial group. So in that sense, there is a very similar experience.

But the dispossession experience that, you know, African-Americans were dispossessed of the land by being brought over here in slave ships, whereas Indians were on the land and fought literally wars against Europeans for control of that land. And that history of dispossession, you know, if you look at the treaties, it's very interesting. Everyone thinks that Indians were ripped off in their treaties. If you look at the first round of treaties from about 1800 to the Civil War, tribes secured over 150 million acres. I think it may have been 144 million acres in those treaties. That's a large amount of real estate.

In the 1880s after tribes were finally defeated in the Indian Wars and put onto reservations, Congress passed the 1887 General Allotment Act. And that act ended up dispossessing tribes of 90 million acres. Most of it turned over to white homesteaders. Most of those acres being primed the best lands on the reservation. And so that history of dispossession was also accompanied by a history of forced assimilation whether it was in residential schools, whether it was in dismantling traditional tribal governance structures. And so it's that, it's what's been taken away. And the justifications for that is that you're not as good as us. Our systems are better. Our modes of education. Our ways of owning land, our ways of working have been continually cited to Indians as the reason for these government policies.

BILL MOYERS: You're savage and we're not. Even though we come from a continent, Europe, that was racked by blood and violence and cruelty beyond measure. But that term savage never stuck to the white European the way it did to the American Indian.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: No that's right. And it was a generic term. It was used wherever-- you see the term used in Australia to describe the aboriginal people.

BILL MOYERS: Savagery.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Savagery. You--

BILL MOYERS: It's in the Declaration of Independence.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: It's in the, yeah. It was a word that Westerners used to, again, to consciously differentiate them from non-Westerners, to assert that superiority, that cultural superiority. It goes back to the British Empire, and again, you know, what was the purpose of the British Empire? To bring civilization to the savage no matter where they were, whether it was India or Asia or Australia or whatever. It's that civilizing mission that characterizes so much of the history of Western colonialism.

So what this ideology, what this myth did was really excuse America for the disappearance of the Indian. It wasn't our fault. They were just an inferior race. And so Marshall adopts that. And the tragedy and the present-day circumstances of that decision are that those racial attitudes are so deeply embedded in these foundational principles of American Indian law.

BILL MOYERS: So has there been any improvement in the way Native Americans are treated in the John Roberts court more recently?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: No. In fact, Native American Rights Fund has a project called the Supreme Court Project. And quite frankly, it's focused on trying to keep cases out of the Supreme Court. This Supreme Court, Justice Roberts is actually, hard to believe, was probably worse than the Rehnquist Court. If you look at the few decisions that it's issued.

And Justice Rehnquist as before he became chief justice had written several highly negative stereotype charged opinions about Indians. One was a horrible case called Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe which denied tribes the right to criminally prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on their reservations. That decision has had horrible consequences for law enforcement on Indian reservations. But in that opinion Justice Rehnquist cites language from the 1830s to explain why whites didn't trust tribes to exercise criminal jurisdiction. They were savages.

BILL MOYERS: I was shaking my head as I read “Savage Anxieties” and “Like a Loaded Weapon” to realize the real meaning of that term, “the long arm of the law." Because what you're describing here, a Supreme Court decisions in 1823 and 1830 and that era that still shape how the Indian, the people who were here before John Marshall and the others, are seen, perceived, and governed.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Well, I did my job then. Thank you. Well, I actually developed that title thinking it worked both ways. You know, if you're an Indian, you could be very anxious about some of the Supreme Court's decisions, some of the decisions of policy makers, so maybe a little bit of irony there. But I think our “Savage Anxieties,” when I titled the book, I really wanted to focus people on the challenge that tribes in this country, as well as indigenous peoples around the world, are confronting Western civilization with.

And that's the challenge of them saying, we don't want to go your way. You know, we want to maintain our culture. We want a land base. We want a right to govern ourselves. And everybody who steps onto that land base, according to our ways, according to our traditions, according to our law. And that's something that the West has never accepted.

What we've had is 500 years of taking away from tribes. And it's going to be very hard to start giving back and to start recognizing those things were taken from tribes. Indian people don't regard that as a permanent situation. It's just a project that needs to be worked on. And that is the project. And that continual work that Indian leaders, indigenous peoples are doing throughout the world, is getting back what was taken away.

BILL MOYERS: If there were one stereotype you could immediately change what would it be?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: That Indians are lawless people, okay. And I would change that because it's probably the most harmful stereotype. I'll give you one other example about the San Carlos case. One of the prime backers of that land bill was a Republican Congressman, a Paul Gosar. And when he was challenged by an Apache on this bill, he said, well, you know, Indians are wards of the federal government. This happened recently. A member of Congress from Arizona whose district includes lots of Indians characterized Indians as wards of the federal government. That's a 19th century notion.

That congressperson is obviously stuck in the 19th century when he thinks about Indians. How is that person going to legislate and treat Indians fairly and respect their rights when he has this sort of infantilized image of Indians as not being, you know, up to the same level of responsibility as everybody else? But I make this point in my books: until we start attacking the root of the historical problems of discrimination against Indians, and those Indians begin in these stereotypes, that Indians are less civilized than us, they're less able to exercise self-governing functions. Until we get to the roots of those problems, we're not going to change legislation. We're not going to change the hearts and minds of the Supreme Court.

BILL MOYERS: The past is really the invisible hand at our back, isn't it?

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: Well, and that's the problem today. Many of the situations that we've talked about whether it's the San Carlos, whether it's the Navajo fighting for their land rights or fighting to develop their land to try and provide decent jobs on the reservation.

The backdrop to all that, the reason that we have those battles is that history of dispossession. The story isn't over for American-Indians. You may think, you know, Americans may think, well, you know, Indians are in the past, we don't have to worry about that anymore. But like those guys that signed that treaty with X, Indians knows those treaties were oftentimes negotiated under duress. You know, how can you give away a sacred land? You know, how could any tribal member think about giving away something that means so much to the tribe?

It's just impossible to conceive. And so whether or not it may have been through the Indian Claims Commission in the 1950s or whether through a treaty or through Congressional legislation, the fact that the tribes may not have Western fee simple title of that land doesn't mean there's still a strong connection there. And you're going to see tribes continue to assert that.

BILL MOYERS: Robert Williams, let’s continue this conversation online, and thank you for being with me.

ROBERT A. WILLIAMS, JR.: I'd very much like that. Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: We’re near the end of our broadcasts – next week will be our last. But we are continuing our website, That's because democracy is in peril -- the moneyed interests are winning, and even public media cowers from exposing their power and calling them to account. We need every possible venue for critical reporting and skeptical voices, and we intend to be one of them. So I 'll see you there, and I will see you here, one more time.

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News Fri, 26 Dec 2014 13:10:10 -0500
Jeopardy Has Not Attached: Killer Cops Can Still be Indicted

Protesters should not be intimidated. The murder of the police officers should not be pretext for repression. Protests should continue to demand justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

November 25, 2014: #DCFerguson Rally And March. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)November 25, 2014: #DCFerguson Rally And March. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

Time is running out to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout this year. If you want to contribute in 2014, click here now!

The violent act of Ismaiiyl Brinsley in no way represented the tens of thousands of protesters who have filled streets in Ferguson, New York and other cities around the world during the past few weeks. Just the opposite.

City officials allowed prosecutors with conflicts of interest to handle the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. The prosecutors were deeply tied to the cops. They relied on the cops for their evidence. They were practically family with the cops. That is why their grand juries failed to return indictments.

City officials still refuse to appoint an independent special prosecutor in each case. But now the violent act by Mr. Brinsley makes these appointments urgent.

The cops who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner can still be indicted. A grand jury does not invoke double jeopardy. Jeopardy does not attach in the grand jury process. As mentioned in a US Supreme Court case, United States v. John H. Williams,  Jr., "The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not bar a grand jury from returning an indictment when a prior grand jury has refused to do so."  Only after the regular jury in a trial court is sworn in does jeopardy attach.

This means that a redo is possible. The cops who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner can still be indicted and tried for murder under state law in Missouri and New York.

A redo must take place with a truly independent special prosecutor.  He or she may be drawn from the criminal defense bar.

When two police were killed, the head of the police union, Patrick Lynch, blamed protesters - who were wholly unconnected to the crime - and declared that the New York Police Department has become "a wartime police department." Lynch said there was "blood on their hands [of] those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest … [blood] on the steps of city hall, in the office of the mayor."

The murder of the police officers should not be pretext for repression. Officials must cease their attempts to stifle protesters demanding justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner. If independent special prosecutors are not appointed, and if the killer cops are not indicted, the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases will firmly establish impunity for police.

Continued impunity for cops is the outcome likely desired by the likes of Patrick Lynch. Recognizing that jeopardy has not attached, protest is even more urgently needed now calling for the cops who killed Brown and Garner to be indicted under state law, and for an independent special prosecutor to be appointed in both cases.

Opinion Sat, 27 Dec 2014 10:40:57 -0500
Rene Gonzalez, First Freed Member of Cuban Five, Speaks Out From Havana

Earlier this month the United States released the remaining members of the Cuban Five — Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino — as part of a deal to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba. We rebroadcast a 2013 interview with the first freed member of the Cuban Five, René González. The five Cuban intelligence agents were arrested in the United States in 1998 and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. They say they were not spying on the United States, but rather trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups responsible for attacks inside Cuba.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report_. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to René González, the first freed member of the Cuban Five. The last three were released earlier this month as part of a deal with the United States and Cuba in beginning normalizing relations. René González was released in October 2011 after being jailed in the United States for 13 years. In October of 20135, just over a year ago, I spoke to René González in Havana via Democracy Now! video stream. I began by asking him why he came to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, for my generation Cubans, it was part of our development or common experience to have seen people coming from Miami raiding our shores, shooting at hotels, killing people here in Cuba, blowing up airplanes. So, we were really familiar with the terrorist activities that the Cuban people had been suffering for almost four years back then. So it wasn’t hard for me to accept the mission of going there and monitor the activities of some of those people, who had been trained by the CIA in the '60s. Some of them had participated in Bay of Pigs. Some of them had gone then—after that, had gone to South America as part of the Operation Condor. And if you look at the history of those people, you can see their link to the worst actions of the U.S. government, be they Iran-Contras—even the Kennedy assassination plot was linked to them. So, it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission and to go there to protect the Cuban people’s lives, and that’s what I did.

AMY GOODMAN: What were some of the groups that you and your colleagues came to infiltrate? What were their names, and what specifically did you know they were doing in Miami?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, if we are talking about that, we should start by Luis Posada Carriles, who’s still in Miami. He’s living there under the protection of the U.S. government. Posada Carriles has a long story of terrorism against not only Cuba, but also even in the United States. He was responsible for the blowing up of the Cubana airliner in 1976 in Venezuela. And later on, when we were in Miami, he was also organizing the bombs which were placed on the hotels in Havana. But it’s not only him. I mean, he doesn’t work alone. The sad part is that he was being paid for by the Cuban American National Foundation, which is a legal organization linked to the Washington establishment, an organization which has a lobby in Washington, which has paid for the election campaigns of guys like Ileana Ros or Lincoln Diaz-Balart. And those people were paying these terrorists—that terrorist to put bombs in Havana in 1997. So that’s an example of the whole scheme that we were facing there.

And, of course, there were some other people, like José Basulto, who founded Brothers to the Rescue, but before that he had a long history of terrorism against Cuba. We had Orlando Bosch, who together with Luis Posada Carriles, was involved in the plot in Venezuela to blow up the Cubana airliner. And we have, for example, the Novo Sampoll brothers, who were linked to the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington with a car bomb. So the list is long, but those are the—those were the people we were watching on, and that was our mission there.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you make it from Cuba to Miami? Explain how you came up.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I was a pilot here in Cuba. So I was flying with the skydiving operations here for sports operations. And, well, I took a chance and stole a plane, and I landed in Key West. Of course, I had been born in the United States, so when I landed there, I showed my birth certificate, and then they allowed me to go back to my family’s house. And then I ended up with Brothers to the Rescue, which was the first organization that I infiltrated there. And the rest was just linking up with all those people and, you know, going from one group to another to find out their plots against the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And what most surprised you about what you found in the linkages of these groups, from Brothers to the Rescue? Talk about what Brothers to the Rescue was doing and who was supporting them and what you were reporting back to Cuba.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, as I told you, Brothers to the Rescue was founded by—I mean, he’s a main celebrity, I would say he was—José Basulto, was a young guy trained by the CIA during the Bay of Pigs invasion. But he was part of what was called back then the infiltration teams. So it wasn’t only him, but a bunch of guys from the infiltration teams, they were the ones who created Brothers to the Rescue. Initially, it was—I would say it was more of a psych-op operation. They tried to incite people to leave Cuba by boats or rafts, and then they would pretend that—let’s say, they would rescue some of them and, you know, make propaganda out of that rescue operations. It was a very intelligent operation, because, you know, it was premised on a—on a team that appeals to humanitarian feelings of the people—rescuing rafters, saving lives.

And at the beginning, they grew up, you know, out of the support from the people in Miami. But then, after 1995, when the immigration agreements were signed off between Cuba and the United States, they resorted to invading the Cuban airspace, going—or, flying Havana, launching things. And they started to develop some other plans, which even included the use of some explosive to plant in Cuba. So, they began really dangerous. By 1995, they were already trying to do some different things than the ones they had done at the beginning. And, you know, those were the activities I was reporting on.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Basulto talking about a weapon they had to test in the Everglades?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, that was presented as evidence on the trial. He devised a weapon which would be like a flare. Let’s go back to the beginning, because even when he was saving lives, he—he called me once, and he asked for my advice to introduce some explosives in Cuba. It was in 1994—I mean, 1992, sorry. His idea back then was to blow up some power lines. You know, back then, in 1992, the economic situation in Cuba was really hard, and we had blackouts every day. So, maybe he decided that he could do something to make those blackouts more common. And he was already devising a scheme to introduce in Cuba with his airplanes some explosive to be planted on the power lines. But that was back in 1992.

Then, after that, he was involved in some plots to buy some leftover military Russian planes. I remember he was trying to buy an L-39, which was a Czechoslovakian military training plane. He was trying to buy a MiG-23, which was a Soviet-built plane.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how you came to be arrested in the United States?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, it’s a long process, but I’m going to make it short. By the middle of 1998, there was an opportunity for the two governments, Cuba and the United States, to work together against terrorism. An FBI delegation had visited Havana for some days in June of that year. And before they left Cuba for the United States, they assured the Cuban government that they would do something about the voluminous information that had been given to them on terrorist activities against Cuba, based mainly in Florida. And three months after that meeting, all of a sudden things changed, and the FBI raided our homes, and we all were arrested on September 12th, 1998. They put us in solitary confinement for a year and a half. And then, the whole story started to develop.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your time in jail like, in prison for 15 years? How were you treated?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I would say there were two stages. In Miami, they did everything in their power to break us down. They put us in solitary confinement. They kept us in a hole for a year and a half. They used the conditions of confinement to prevent our access to the evidence of the trial, which is one of the grounds why the United Nations group on arbitrary detentions rejected the trial, by the way, and also Amnesty International. They used my family also to punish me. They didn’t allow me to see my daughters, for some reason they came up with. And it applied only to me, because nobody else in that building had that limitation. So, I could say—I will like to say, but they were very brutal during our time in Miami.

But, well, after that, you go, you know, to the normal—when you go to Pennsylvania, you’re not anymore. And that’s one of the reasons that we say the trial couldn’t be held in Miami, because once you leave Miami, then you are a normal person again.

AMY GOODMAN: And where are the other members of the Cuban Five, the four who are still in prison? One about to be released—is that right?—in February.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Fernando, he should finish his sentence in February next year. And I hope he comes right away to Cuba, because he’s not a U.S. citizen, so he should be deported from the U.S. And then is Antonio, who is still four years away. Ramón is already—is still 11 years away, which is—it would be a crime to keep him in jail. And then Gerardo, who is still dealing with one life sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: And where are they all in prison?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, they’re scattered all over the United States. Antonio, he went to the prison where I’m at now, Marianna. Fernando is in Arizona in a prison, in an immigration prison, I believe low-level prison. Ramón is in Ashland in Kentucky, I believe it is. And Fernando is in—Gerardo is in Victorville in California.

AMY GOODMAN: What gives you hope that they will be released before their term? I mean, for example, Gerardo is in prison—what is it—right now on two life sentences?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, my main hope is that the nature of the trial is too murky, is too perverse, to withstand the pressure of the best people in the world. I believe that this injustice, this trial, is going to go down in history as one of the worst example of what they call U.S. justice. And I hope that the U.S. government, little by little, is going to feel that the weight of this injustice is costing them more than the solving the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: You were already jailed, because it was in June of 2001 that you were convicted. You were in jail at the time of the 9/11 attacks, right? September 11, 2001. And I’m wondering about your thoughts at the time. I mean, before that, the deadliest airline terrorism in the hemisphere was 1976, was the downing of the Cubana airliner in Venezuela that took out the entire Cuban Olympic—that took out the Cuban Olympic fencing team, killed 73 people on board. Ultimately, Posada Carriles was convicted in absentia by Panama, who lives in Miami. Your thoughts on what happened then, that kind of what is called terrorism, and where you were, in prison?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, my first reaction was shock. Of course, nobody can forget that day. I was in my cell, and all of a sudden somebody called me: "Look at this!" And, you know, I just walked out of the cell, and there was a TV set, and the first plane had already hit the first tower. So I was—you know, I thought that it was an accident at first. So we were talking about that accident, how it happened, whatever. And then, all of a sudden I saw the second hit, and I just couldn’t believe it. And, of course, it was—it was shocking. I was moved by all those—I can never forget those people having to jump from buildings. It’s something that you don’t wish would happen to anybody. And, you know, the first reaction was just the shock of—at something so horrible.

And then you have to think a little more about that. And, well, I believe—on my elocution to the judge, I talk about it a little bit. I believe that as long as somebody believe that there are some good terrorists and some bad terrorists, terrorism is going to be there. And it’s a pity because, as I said to the judge, and you can be a capitalist, you can be Jew, you can be a Catholic or a Muslim, and be a good person. But a terrorist is a sick person; it’s not a good person. And for me, the fact that some people, like my prosecutors, for example, believe that some terrorists deserve to be protected and some don’t, I mean, is a—I can’t believe that in the 21st century this is happening yet.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction to those who said that Cuba shooting down the Brothers to the Rescue plane, February 24th, 1996, killing four members of Brothers to the Rescue, was a terroristic act?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: I don’t see—I mean, the definition of "terrorism" doesn’t go that far. Terrorism, although I know—I acknowledge the definition is too politically sometimes, politically motivated, but my definition is that it is a—it’s the imposition of violence indiscriminately to instill fear among the surviving people. And I don’t see how it fits what happens on February 1996. We are talking about a guy who was trying to be a terrorist, who all of a sudden discovered that he’s a humanitarian, and he creates an organization. He’s flying for years in front of the Cuban coast without any incident at all, while he is saving rafters. Cuba doesn’t interfere on his activities. And all of a sudden he decides that he can break into the Cuban airspace, do whatever he wants in Cuba, and he even starts devising plans to introduce explosives in Cuba and to introduce weapons in Cuba using those planes. And, I mean, anybody would accept that defending the country against those actions is an act of sovereignty.

AMY GOODMAN: René González, the first freed member of the Cuban Five, speaking in October 2013 from Havana, Cuba. He was released in October of 2011 after being jailed in the United States for 13 years. The last three members of the Cuban Five were just released in the deal made by the United States and Cuba to being normalizing relations.

News Fri, 26 Dec 2014 12:04:14 -0500
How the Pentagon Papers Came to Be Published by the Beacon Press, as Told by Daniel Ellsberg and Others

In 1972 Beacon Press lost a Supreme Court case brought against it by the U.S. government for publishing the first full edition of the Pentagon Papers. It is now well known how The New York Times first published excerpts of the top-secret documents in June 1971, but less well known is how the Beacon Press, a small nonprofit publisher affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, came to publish the complete 7,000 pages that exposed the true history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Their publication led the Beacon Press into a spiral of two-and-a-half years of harassment, intimidation, near bankruptcy and the possibility of criminal prosecution. This is a story that has rarely been told in its entirety. In 2007, Amy Goodman moderated an event at the Unitarian Universalist conference in Portland, Oregon, commemorating the publication of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance today. Today, we hear the story from three men at the center of the storm: former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst, famed whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times; former Alaskan senator and presidential candidate Mike Gravel, who tells the dramatic story of how he entered the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and got them to the Beacon Press; finally, Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We begin with Ellsberg, who Henry Kissinger once described as "the world’s most dangerous man."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now back to an historic 2007 event, a discussion about how the Pentagon Papers came to be published. In 1972, Beacon Press lost a Supreme Court case brought against it by the U.S. government for publishing the first full edition of the Pentagon Papers. It’s well known how The New York Times first published excerpts of the secret documents in June '71, but less well known is how the Boston-based Beacon Press, a small nonprofit publisher affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, came to publish the complete 7,000 pages that exposed the true history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Beacon's publication led the Press into a spiral of two-and-a-half years of FBI harassment, intimidation, near bankruptcy and the possibility of criminal prosecution. This is a story that’s rarely been told in its entirety.

Well, back in 2007, I moderated this historic event at the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist conference. It took place in Portland, Oregon, in front of about 5,000 people. It was commemorating the publication of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance today.

Today, we hear the story from the three men on the stage at the center of the storm: former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst, famed whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times; we also hear from former Alaskan senator and former presidential candidate Mike Gravel—he’ll tell the dramatic story of how he entered the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and got them to the Beacon Press; finally, Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

We begin with famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who Henry Kissinger once called "the most dangerous man in America."

DANIEL ELLSBERG: There were 7,000 pages of top-secret documents that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates—I, for one—who had participated in that terrible, indecent fraud over the years in Vietnam, lying us into a hopeless war, which has, of course—and a wrongful war—which has, of course, been reproduced and is being reproduced right now and may occur again in Iran. So the history of that, I thought, might help us get out of that particular war.

Let me skip over the intervening 22 months then, really, which passed after I first copied the Pentagon Papers, when I was trying to get them out, and the senators and others who were not up to the task of putting them out, people who were otherwise very admirable and very credible in their antiwar activities: Senator Fulbright, Senator McGovern, Gaylord Nelson, Senator Gaylord Nelson, various others. Except for Nelson, Fulbright, McGovern and Senator Mathias, some of the best people in the Senate, had, in fact, contrary to the way it’s often reported, not refused to bring out these papers when I discussed them with them. Each one agreed to bring them out and then thought better of it over a period of time, said they just couldn’t do it, take the risk—in effect, in other words, "You take the risk, but I’ve got an important position here, and I can’t ruffle the waters here."

I read in—I did give them to The New York Times — sorry, to Neil Sheehan, but with no assurance that they would come out in the Times, and for reasons not clear to me still, Neil, who, again, acted very admirably and credibly, as did the Times, which took a great risk in deciding to publish the papers, did not tell me they were bringing them out. I’m not clear to this day quite why that was. But so I continued up—while they were working to get the papers ready for publication in the spring of 1971, I was still worrying and trying to see where I could get them out. I approached Pete McCloskey, who, again, agreed to do it, but took efforts to get them officially from the Defense Department before he did that. He was very supportive of me during my trial later.

And I also thought then—I read in the paper about a Senator Gravel, whom I really didn’t know much about, from Alaska, who was conducting a filibuster against the draft, which was exactly what should have been done. By the way, I had raised as a litmus test—I probably never told Mike this—I had raised the idea of a filibuster with a number of senators as a litmus test to see whether they were the kind of person who might go one step beyond that and maybe put out these papers. And in every case I got serious answers—they weren’t frivolous—but the point was, as Senator Goodell put it to me, "Dan, in my business, you can’t afford to look ridiculous. You cannot afford to be laughed at." And he said, "If I could find other people who would join me, I would do it." I heard that, by the way—I’ll mention—each name I’m mentioning here is very—the top people in the Senate. Senator—oh, darn, at my age I forget some of these names—but anyway, other senators said much the same: "If I could find somebody else to go with me, I would do it, but I can’t do it by myself. I would look foolish. I can’t afford that."

So here was a senator who was not afraid to look foolish, basically, and that’s the fear that keeps people in line all there lives. Don’t get out of line. It’s the kind of thing you learn at your mother’s knee to get along, go along—your father’s knee. And don’t stick out, don’t make yourself look, you know—don’t raise your head, sort of this thing, and look ridiculous. But he wasn’t afraid to do that on a transcendent issue like the draft in the middle of this war. So I thought, "OK, maybe this is the guy." I hadn’t met—I had met the other ones before, I knew them. So I didn’t know him. I said, "OK, he’s doing a filibuster."

So at some point—and we were just discussing this. It’s not even clear in my mind when I had a discussion I’ll mention in a moment, but I do remember very clearly that not knowing that the Pentagon Papers were about to be published by The New York Times on June 13th—the night of June 12th, they came out, I was in Boston at the time—and nobody had told me that this was happening, so I had them in my apartment for the first time ever. I had never allowed them to be in our apartment, lest the FBI swoop down and get them. That was my nightmare. I had a number of copies stashed with different people, so I could say, even from jail, you know, "OK, get that one out or get this out," with my 10-cent call that I was allowed, that they couldn’t stop it. But I never allowed it to be in my apartment. For once, I had it there because—and Mike did not even know this—because I intended to communicate with his office on Monday to go to Washington, not knowing they were coming out in the Times, and offer this thing to this man who was conducting the filibuster.

So I was quite shocked to learn from a friend in the Times that the building was locked down. They were worried about an FBI raid and an injunction, because they were copying this seven—they were putting out this big study, which I hadn’t been told. So I go, "Well, that’s very interesting." And meanwhile, I had these papers in my apartment. The FBI might come any minute, and I had already had a scheduled meeting with Howard Zinn that night, with our families—his wife and my wife—to go to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And so, I called Howard, didn’t say it over the phone, but I said, "I’ll come to your apartment. We’ll go from your place," and I went there with the papers, and asked him if I could dump them in his apartment for that night, which he said, you know, "Fine." I had already shown him. He was one of two people I’d shown—Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, both—some of these papers earlier.

So, the papers came out that night, and we got them at midnight in Harvard Square. There wasn’t a lot of attention on Sunday to them, which everybody was surprised at in The New York Times. The TV didn’t pick it up, and so forth. But on Monday they had got attention, and the key thing was that John Mitchell, the attorney general, then asked a request of The New York Times that they cease publication of this criminal act, stop this. Remember, they had lost their law firm already, Lord & Day, on the grounds that their lawyers had told them this was treason and a criminal act, and they wouldn’t represent them. And Mitchell was confirming that and telling them that they must stop.

Well, they went ahead; they did not obey the request. So the next day, Tuesday, they enjoined The New York Times for the first time in our history. We know from the tapes now that Nixon had asked Mitchell on the tape—I’ve heard this—the day before, on Monday, Mitchell wanted to put the Times on notice. And, of course, Nixon says, "Have we ever done this before?" And Mitchell says, "Oh, yes, many times." Terrific legal advice from the bond lawyer. It had never been done in our history and, of course, led to a constitutional battle, which Nixon lost and the attorney general lost. But they did enjoin it, and so the question was what to do next.

I hadn’t been identified yet, but I decided, on the base of one other person who suggested it to me, that I give it to The Washington Post. And meanwhile, I had called up Gravel’s office—I was still able to use a phone, not my home phone, but I went out to a pay phone—and said to the person there, "Is your boss interested in putting out the Pentagon"—I didn’t say the "Pentagon Papers"—"Is your boss intending to keep up this filibuster? Is he going to stay there?" They said, "Oh, absolutely." I said, "Well, I’ve got some material that could keep him reading till the end of the year, if he’s interested in it, you know." And that being the number one story at the moment, he sort of guessed what it was. And I think Mike will go on from there. He went on and informed Mike of this possibility. But the question then was how to get them to him. I could no longer travel, as I’d planned to do.

So I’ll end with this story, which will tie in with—Mike can take up the story from there. The question was how to get it to him. I was not in a position to travel at this point. So I did arrange with a former colleague from RAND, Ben Bagdikian, an editor of The Washington Post who had spent a year or two at RAND as a consultant—mic’s down? Can you hear me? OK—Ben Bagdikian, I said, I knew. So I called him up and arranged to have him come to Boston—yeah, it was a colorful story, which I think is told in the thing you have there. He came to Boston, Cambridge. We took a room at the Treadway Inn near Harvard Square, and my wife and I brought these boxes of ill-assorted papers, tremendous stuff we hadn’t collated ideally, to him, and we spent the night with him collating and putting them in an order that he could take back with him. And in the morning he had this big box. He didn’t have—he needed a cord for the box and asked the Treadway, and the motel owner said, "Well, somebody’s been tethering a dog outside. I can give you the dog cord." So we tied up the box, and he went off and put it on.

My wife and I looked at the television before we went home. We had been all night on this now. This was about 7:00, 8:00, 7:30 in the morning, and there was our home being—with some FBI agents knocking on the door on live television. And they were knocking on the door, so we thought, "Hmm, maybe this isn’t the best time, you know, to go back home, actually." And what had happened was that Sid Zion, who was mad at the Times for having fired him, had rather quickly found out who their source was, and to get back at them, he had revealed it on a radio show, the Barry Graves show, the night before. So the FBI was at my door, and having seen it on television, I was now in a position to not be caught and to put out the other copies.

Well, the reason—so we didn’t go home. We went underground in Cambridge. For the next 13 days, the FBI conducted what the papers said was the biggest manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping, and they were—we were in Cambridge—they were all over the world, in the south of France, in [inaudible] in California. I had a feeling there was a good deal of junketing going on, actually, by the FBI looking for us, but meanwhile we were putting it out to these other newspapers.

And I will mention, as one last point here, it’s always the Times and the Post who are mentioned, of course, as having had the courage to go along with this, as we spent the 13 days putting it out. That’s why I was evading the FBI. I had other copies, and I was putting them out. Actually, there were four injunctions, also The Boston Globe and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, before they gave up on injunctions, or there would have been more. Altogether 17 other newspapers published those papers. And oddly, they don’t seem to mention it much in their own histories. They don’t commemorate this, as we’re commemorating the Beacon Press right now, but they should. That was a wave of civil disobedience across the country by publishers who were being told that they were violating the Espionage Act, they were committing treason, they were hurting national security. They read the documents we gave them and decided they didn’t agree with that as Americans and patriots, and they published them. So it was institutional civil disobedience of a type—I don’t really know of any country or any other journalists, and that’s a kind of freedom and courage we need to celebrate and we need to continue. So, thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon Papers whistleblower Dan Ellsberg. Coming up, former Senator Mike Gravel picks up the story from there. But first, our break, sung by Barbra Streisand for Dan Ellsberg.


AMY GOODMAN: Barbra Streisand singing "I’ll Get By," a live recording at a 1973 fundraiser for Daniel Ellsberg. Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison of The Beatles also attended. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to Senator Mike Gravel from Alaska. In 1971, he received the Pentagon Papers from Washington Post journalist Ben Bagdikian, who in turn had gotten them from Daniel Ellsberg.

MIKE GRAVEL: Let me just pick up where he left off, because it really—there’s a lot of little vignettes, and I’ll talk fast, but I want to get all the details out, because I know what you want to know is the inside skinny. You can read the broad lines, but it’s what happened to both our lives at the time that—

Dan calls my office. He talks to Joe Rothstein, who was my administrative assistant. My administrative assistant—I was down in the Senate gym getting a massage. I was on the table. And, of course, you can’t have staff come into the Senate. This is hallowed ground, so—into the Senate gym. So he’s knocking at the door. He says, "I’ve got to see the senator! It’s an emergency!" And he works his way in to get into the massage stall, and the masseur pulls back a little bit, and he whispers down in my ear. He says, "Somebody wants to give you the Pentagon Papers." I said, "Man! Where is he?" He says, "He’s going to call us back." So, man, I get dressed up real quick. We bolt back to the office. And I’m sitting in my office waiting for this call.

Along comes this voice. He says, "Senator, would you read the Pentagon Papers as part of your filibuster?" I says, "Yes. Now please hang up." The reason for that is I have a background in intelligence. When I was 23 years old, I was a top-secret control officer. I could classify and I could declassify, and I was 23 years old.

So now, here are the papers coming at me. I had a sense of what they were, was a history, a history, and, of course, I had read what the Times had published. And so, lo and behold, Dan and I have other conversations. To tell you the truth, our memories are a little vague. He informed me about something that I didn’t know, and occasionally I had done that with him, when he was doing his memoir Secrets. We’d spend near a couple days: "Oh, is that what—that’s your interpretation of what you think we did?" "Yes." "Well, no, that’s my"—"Oh, no. We did it that way." And what happens, that’s human beings. We all have a different read on some of the details.

The long and short of it is, he called me in a few days, and he was angry. He was on the phone, and he says, "Why the hell haven’t you used the papers?" And I says, "Why the hell haven’t you got them to me? I don’t have them. I haven’t heard anything." So he goes back to Ben Bagdikian, and Ben then contacts my office.

Well, quite candidly, I didn’t know who Ben was, but he wanted to get to meet with me. So we meet somewhat secretively on the front steps of the Capitol behind a column in broad daylight during the session. So Ben is standing there. We’re talking about how we’re going to move the papers across, and then out comes Bob Dole, who was one of my enemies, but we’re on the same committee, and he walks up, and Bagdikian is slipping behind a column so he can’t be seen. And so, I get rid of Dole fairly fast, and so we go back.

And Bagdikian had this plan. We’re going to meet someplace out in the country, you know, Rock Creek Park in a dark—I say, "Wait a second, Ben. I’ve got to tell you. I’ve got a little more experience in this than you have. What we’re going to do, here’s how we’re going to transfer the papers: You’re going to come at 12:00 at night under the marquee of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. At 12:00 you park your car there. I will come up with my car. You’ll open your trunk. I’ll open my trunk. And I’ll pop the papers in, and I’ll race off. That’s the way we’ll do it, before God and country, and they won’t even know what happened."

Well, what happens? A group of Alaskan natives walk by, "Oh, there’s our senator," and they all want to come up and talk with me. And I’m trying to peel them away: "Well, I’ve got to run. I’ve got to run." And so, I got in my car. We did that. We transferred the papers. I sped away, parked my car, came back in, and Ben and I had a coffee.

I took the papers home. Where are you going to put them? I brought them home. That’s the first time I told my wife at the time, Rita, I says, "I’ve got the Pentagon Papers right here." And, of course, the whole world was looking, trying to chase him down and catch him and get the papers. She says, "What are you going to do with them?" "We’re going to put them under the bed, and we’re going to sleep on them. That’s what we’re going to do." We did.

Next morning—I’m dyslexic, and so I couldn’t read all those papers if it took me a year. And so, what happened, I started calling staff in. And I said, "Look at, you’re going to come in. You bring a toilet kit. Don’t tell your wife what you’re doing. You’re just coming to the senator’s house." And I met them at the door, and I said, "Look at, I’ve got the Pentagon Papers. You come in, you can’t leave until I leave. But I won’t think ill of you if you don’t come in, because there’s risks that we don’t know anything about." And so, every one, to the person, said, "Senator, let me have it." So about four or five people for two days were sleeping on the living room floor, and we would go through the papers.

The style that I used in going through it, I was reading my little portion of it, the first part of it, which is the most historic and the most interesting part. But the others would—I said, "Whenever you come across a name, come and show me the name." I would then read around the context and make a judgment if this should be excised or not. And when we excised, we didn’t just take a pencil, we took scissors and cut it out, so there would be no misunderstandings.

Now, I’ve got to bring the papers from my home to the Capitol, and so I buy two flight bags, you know, those old flight bags without wheels. I buy two of those to honor the papers. And so, I spend the money, pack them up with two bags like that, and so I’m going to take them to the Capitol. But now I’m concerned, so I call the Vietnam Veterans of America, and I say, "Look at, I’ve got a problem. I need somebody to guard my office. And what I want, I want the most disabled veterans you can find." And lo and behold, I trudge in—and I wouldn’t let my staff touch the papers—so I trudge in with my two big bags, heavy, and, of course, staff is walking with me, and the cops, they’re looking. Why the hell is the senator carrying the bags and the staff is not carrying his bags? So we walk down to the end of the hall, and there are about six, seven soldiers in uniform, you know it, ponytails, badges all over, all in wheelchairs. And they could do wheelies. And all they could do—they didn’t know what I had. All they said: "Go get ’em, Senator! Go get ’em!" I was just about to cry, with the commitment of these human beings. And they guarded the office. No, but they would have thrown their bodies at anybody that tried to break in.

I had the papers, so I go to the floor of the Senate. Now, I had made a deal with Alan Cranston. I had to get—I wanted to read in the filibuster. Now, I had a little bit of ego trip going on here: I wanted to break Strom Thurmond’s record in filibustering. And the draft was going to expire at the end of the month, so I wanted to two days, about close to 48 hours, break his record. Now, how are you going to do that? Most people don’t know when Huey Long and those guys used to debate, what they’d do is—they’re drinking a lot of water—they pee right on floor, right on the Senate floor. Make no mistake about it. But I’m a little more cultured than that. So what I do is I rig myself up. I go to the doctor’s office. I tell him what’s going on, tell him I’m going to filibuster. And so, he rigs me up with a colostomy bag with a little hose down to my ankle. And my administrative assistant’s job is going to bleed the colostomy bag.

Then, it gets better than that. We now go to—I’ve got to get somebody to chair, because you can’t control the floor if you don’t control the chair. So I go to Alan Cranston, my closest friend. I say, "Alan, I need help." "Well, what do you need, Mike?" "I’ve got the Pentagon Papers." "Oh, my god, Mike! You need more than help. You’ve got problems," so he says. I said, "Alan, you don’t have to do anything to risk. You don’t have to touch the papers. You just get in the chair by 5:00. We’ll turn around, and you just stay in that chair as long as I’m filibustering." And that was our plan. And so, I said, "Now go down to the doctor’s office and get a colostomy bag." He does that. And, of course, I had a rubber mat. It was very interesting to go into the dynamics of that.

So, lo and behold, I come to the floor of the Senate. I’m trudging in with these papers. I put them next to my desk. And I was a freshman, so I was way on the side. And so, Muskie had come up to me for some committee—we were on the same committee. He’s talking to me. He looks down at these two black bags, and he says, "Mike, are those the Pentagon Papers?" And I look up at him with a blank stare. It was just a joke on his part. But I’m looking at him, "My god!" So, lo and behold—here, I’m a nice guy, so what I wanted to do, I know I’m going to be talking for a couple days, so I want to tell the staff of the Senate that, "Hey, you better call your wife, because you’re not getting out here shortly."

And so, what I do is I lay on a quorum call. Now, if you’re familiar with the procedures in the Senate, a quorum call, they have to now stop—they have to start calling the roll. And there was only one other senator in the chamber. That was Griffin. The Democrats had gone to a banquet. The Republicans had gone home. And so, there’s two senators in the chamber. So I lay on a quorum call. Griffin walks up to me, and he says, "Mike, what are you going to do?" I says, "Well, you know, I’m just continuing my filibuster on the draft." But I had always done that because Mansfield had set up a two track. Mind you, I filibustered for five months. It could only happen because Mansfield set it up without anybody seeing his velvet hand. And so, I says, "Well, you know." He says, "But wait, what are you doing at night?" I said, "Well, the draft is about to expire, and I just want to really make a big show."

He goes back to his desk, and he’s thinking and he’s thinking. Then, of course, I wait 30 minutes to let the staff notify that they’re going to be there a good part of the evening. And, lo and behold, I make a unanimous consent to remove to quorum call. He objects. The minute he did that, I knew I had just been harpooned. And all I could think is, my mind: Good men don’t win. Good men don’t win. I was so angry. He came up to me, and he says, "Well, Mike, what are you doing?" And I started swearing at him, you cannot believe. Well, by that time, he knew something was really afoot. So he went to the Republican cloak room, said, "Stay away from the Senate," telling all the Republicans. I’m sending my troops to go out there and get the Democrats to come back from the banquet. Well, that goes on for 'til about 9:30, 10:00, and we could not get a quorum. I'm stuck.

Rothstein comes up to me, and he says, "Senator, we’re stuck. There’s nothing we can do here." So I grabbed—and he says, "But our attorneys think they’ve got a plan B." So we grab the bags, trudge back to the office again. By this time, the Vietnam vets are out there, they know there’s something really serious afoot, because there’s a lot of media following us. And so, I go in, sit down. "What’s our plan?" "Well, Senator, it’s interesting. There’s not much hope, but we do have one precedent that we could follow." And that’s the precedent, believe it or not, the House Un-American Activities Committee, for those of you who know what that means.

He says, "What they were doing is they would go around the country and they would immediately call a hearing so that they could grab somebody, pull him up, swear him in, and get him to talk." He says, "With that precedent, what you could do"—and now, mind you, I’m a freshman—"you’re chairman of a committee, a subcommittee,"—and, of course, that committee was the Buildings and Grounds Committee. So, lo and behold, they say, "What you could do is you could convene a hearing of this committee, and you would be still within the umbrage of the Senate." And so, I said, "Fine. Let’s do that." But what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to have somebody to testify. So we type up the notice that I’m chairman, I’m calling a hearing, slip it under the doors of all these senators who are not there, that I’m notifying them of the hearing, so that that’s covered legally. And then the peace group calls up a Congressman Dowd from Upper New York. He doesn’t know what it’s about. All they tell him on the telephone: "Senator Gravel needs you to come and testify at a very important hearing." He gets dressed—he was an elderly fellow—gets dressed, comes down, and we convene.

By this time, we’re upstairs in one of the Senate chambers, committee room, and the whole phalanx of the media. And then Congressman Dowd comes up, and I’m sitting there with my two black bags and my staff assistant. And the congressman—and I gavel the meeting to order. "Congressman, can I help you? Now, I understand you want to testify." He says, "Yes. I’d like to get a federal building in my district." And I say, "Congressman, let me interrupt you right there. I know you need a federal building in your district, and I’d love to give you a federal building in your district, but I’ve got to tell you, our government’s broke. We don’t have any money to give you a federal building. And let me tell you why we’re broke: because we’re squandering all this money in Southeast Asia. And let me tell you how we got into Southeast Asia." And I haul out the papers, put them on the table, and I’m reading.

It gets better than that. I read for an hour. Now, here again, I’m dyslexic, but there’s no way on God’s green earth I’m going to read—but I’m reading it. Now, keep in mind I hadn’t slept for about three or four days. And so, I’m reading, and I break out sobbing. It’s about 12:00 at night, and I am sobbing, and I can’t get control of myself. Here’s what was going through my head. A journalist on one of the networks the next morning: "Well, this was a bizarre occurrence the night before. You know, Gravel was very bizarre. He cried." And so, what I was sobbing over—I had been to Walter Reed a month or more before to walk around, and I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take it emotionally to look at the wounded. And so, I can handle macro-problems, but not micro-, and so, lo and behold, I kept saying to myself, "My god! I love my country. My country is committing immoral acts. We’re killing human beings. There’s no reason for it." And I’m sobbing, and as I’m dyslexic, I’m reading rote. You know, I couldn’t follow the words in front of me. So Rothstein comes up to me. He says—and the understatement of the year—he says, "Senator, I think you’ve lost it."

And so—and I keep sobbing, and then he goes back, and I try to get a hold of myself, and I can’t. And so he comes back. He says, "Senator, why don’t you put it in the record." And then I sobered up immediately and said, "Oh, yes. I got power. I’m the chairman of this committee. So I move and ask unanimous consent to put all these papers that I was going to read into the record, to put them in the record automatically." Bang! They’re in the record. That’s how it officially got into the record of the United States of America.

And obviously, the media, by that point, they’re out there going really—so I put the papers back in. We’re trudging back to my office. The media is following us. "We want the papers! We want the papers!" So we cut a deal with them. "Look at, we’ve got a copy of the papers, because we want to hang on to a set. And as we copy them, we’ll turn them to you. We’ll set up a pool, and then you go copy them and distribute them to the world." That’s what happened all night long. And that’s what made the Supreme Court decision moot, which was at 11:00 or 12:00 that very day. And what they did is they said you could not put on prior restraint, but what you could do is, if you published, you’d be at risk. And that’s what happened. Those that had published took the risks, but they weren’t prepared to take the risks after that.

We scoured the country, and this is where the meeting comes in with Beacon. We scoured the country, could not find one major or minor, or anybody, that would touch the Pentagon Papers. We had some inkling that maybe MIT Press would, so with my staff, Fishman and one other attorney, we go to Boston. Whoever was handling it—and I don’t recall—at the time, he said, "Senator, I’ve got bad news for you. MIT Press won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole." And then I’m just crestfallen, like we’re going to check how to get back to Washington. He said, "But I’ve got some good news for you: Beacon Press has got the money, and they will publish it. And Gobin Stair and Bob West are downtown in Boston waiting for you, if you want to come down and make the deal with them." And I said, "Let’s go!" And we had a press conference shortly thereafter. And that’s when we announced that we were going to do it.

I was a Unitarian even before all this happened in Alaska, but I can’t tell you what I feel for Beacon Press, for the Unitarians and for Dan Ellsberg. Dan quoted and likes to say that when I went in the service, I was going in to be a spy, but I wasn’t getting any action, so I went in to be a combat infantry platoon leader. And on the patch on my shoulder said, "Follow me." Well, when I saw Dan do what he did, all I could think of: Here’s a guy that’s walking up the hill, taking his life in his own hands, and the least I could do is follow Dan Ellsberg.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, who put the Pentagon Papers into the public record. When we come back, the man who allowed the Beacon Press to take the risk of publishing the secret documents, an act that almost brought down the Unitarian Church. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Ringo Starr singing "With a Little Help from My Friends," yes, sung at the 1973 fundraiser for Daniel Ellsberg. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report, as we pick up the story with Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Beacon Press. While every other publishing house former Senator Gravel had approached and had refused to publish the Pentagon Papers, West agreed, despite the considerable political and financial risks involved.

ROBERT WEST: My first involvement with the Pentagon Papers was on a midsummer day in 1971, when the director of Beacon Press, Gobin Stair, came into my office. He told me about the 35 publishers who had refused to publish them, and he requested my approval for Beacon Press to do it. I gave my approval that day, and we started down a path that led through two-and-a-half years of government intimidation, harassment and threat of criminal punishment.

Beacon published the Pentagon Papers that October, after having publicly announced its intention in August. In September, Gobin was visited by two intelligence agents from the Defense Department who, in a meeting Gobin described to me as intimidating, tried to dissuade him from publishing the papers. He also received a phone call from President Nixon, who, after saying what a decent fellow Gobin was, pointedly suggested that he was sure Gobin would not want to get into trouble by proceeding to publish them.

One morning in early November, a vice president of our bank called our UUA treasurer to advise us that FBI agents had secretly been working at the bank for the last seven days. They were there with a subpoena from the federal grand jury that called for copies of all UUA financial records, which meant every check written and every check deposited into UUA accounts over a period of four-and-a-half months, amounting to thousands of checks, including those of all individuals who contributed to our denomination.

Senator Gravel immediately brought contempt proceedings against the government and succeeded in halting the FBI investigation and examination of our bank records for two months. But agents were authorized to resume their scrutiny on January 10. The next day, the UUA filed suit against the FBI, the Justice Department and the grand jury, seeking to stop the investigation. We emphasized the grounds of religious freedom and freedom of association, as well as freedom of the press. And we succeeded in halting it on a temporary basis.

But before all the events had run their course in 1974, we were in federal courts on numerous occasions, including the Supreme Court. FBI agents served grand jury subpoenas on Gobin Stair and our UUA treasurer, and then withdrew them. The U.S. attorney in Boston filed a memorandum in court that indicated the strong likelihood that Beacon Press officials would be prosecuted for criminal activity. And Gobin Stair was subpoenaed to appear at the Ellsberg trial in California, with me next in line.

Ultimately, the mistrial that was declared in the Ellsberg case meant we did not have to appear at the federal trial in California. The federal court in Boston never allowed the FBI investigation of our bank records to continue, and no one associated with Beacon Press or the UUA was prosecuted for criminal activity.

What the government did to us as a continental religious denomination was unprecedented in the history of our nation. The Justice Department investigated our entire denomination’s financial affairs and threatened our association’s staff members because one of our departments, Beacon Press, published one book that was controversial, a text that was already in the public domain.

The relevance of our experience, those 35 years ago, to secrecy and deception in government today is patently obvious. For example, three of the issues and principles that were involved in our court actions were misuse of power of the Justice Department, invasion of privacy, and misuse of secrecy by the government. All of those clearly apply to what is happening today.

In his 1972 dissenting opinion in the Gravel case, Supreme Court Justice Douglas said, "The story of the Pentagon Papers is a chronicle of the suppression of vital decisions to protect the reputations and political hides of men who work an amazingly successful scheme of deception on the American people." And he went on to say in that decision that he had no choice but to hold that it was the government that is lawless, not the press.

In 1971, Senator Gravel wrote, "The Pentagon Papers show that we have created a new culture, protected from the influence of American life by the shield of secrecy." In that same year, Beacon Press Editor-in-Chief Arnold Tovell spoke of the Pentagon Papers aiding those who try to unravel exactly how a well-meaning nation could have committed such a colossal blunder in its foreign affairs.

In closing, I would cite these words from my annual report to the 1973 UUA General Assembly, words that could be spoken just as appropriately in this general assembly today: We in this denomination have confidence in a democratic process. We want to make known our determination to resist every government intrusion upon constitutional liberties and to encourage others also to resist. We, as a religious movement, are qualified by our nature, by our heritage, and indeed by our recent experience, to play a significant role at this time in our history to help resist and reverse the ominous trend affecting constitutional liberties. We can, and we will.

AMY GOODMAN: Dan Ellsberg, in the last few years, you have been calling for people, who like you 35 years ago were inside the system, to step outside and to release an equivalent of the Pentagon Papers. Do you think they exist—the papers and these people who could step forward?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, of course, the papers exist. The Pentagon Papers, the equivalent of them, exist in safes in Washington, all over Washington, not only in the Pentagon, but in the CIA and the State Department and elsewhere. Are there people who realize what the meaning of those—the full meaning of those papers in their safes? Yes. We know from many leaks and memoirs that have come out that there were people in the White House and the CIA and the Pentagon who realized that we were being lied into war. They realized that as early as 2001.

So my message, Amy, over the last two years has been to officials in that position, of whom there are hundreds, not only in 2001 and 2002, hundreds right now who could prevent a war with Iran that is on the tracks right now, that they know, and that they know would be disastrous. They could put that out with the authority of their position, but especially of documents, at the risk—the certainty—of losing their clearances, which would almost certainly—which would mean losing their career with the executive branch, possibly, very likely, subjecting them to prosecution, possibly to conviction, possibly to prison. And by taking that risk, they would have a high chance of averting a catastrophe that would lead to the deaths of tens, hundreds of thousands of people and disastrously reduce our security. They know that. So by taking their own personal risk, like the 5,000 people who went to prison as draft resisters in Vietnam, and by the people here who took risks with their institution and their privacy, by taking that risk they could avert this.

AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon Papers whistleblower Dan Ellsberg, Unitarian leader Robert West and former Senator Mike Gravel. They were all speaking in 2007 at an event I moderated in front of the Unitarian Universalist Church, a crowd of 5,000 in Portland, Oregon.

News Fri, 26 Dec 2014 11:55:53 -0500