PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who now joins us from New York City.
Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He’s chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He’s also the American attorney for Julian Assange. And he’s also a board member of The Real News.
Thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Good to be with you again, Paul.
JAY: So what have you been following this week?
RATNER: You know, it’s an exhausting week. There’s a lot we could talk about, from the demonstrations around Guantanamo and the hunger strike to new information about drones, to what’s happened with the new release by WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning’s trial. I’m going to focus today on WikiLeaks and what they just did this week, and then what happened in the Bradley Manning trial on Wednesday.
It was really an amazing thing that WikiLeaks did. They had a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. A spokesperson for WikiLeaks came over from Iceland, and they released 1.7 million documents that they are labeling the Kissinger Files.
What they are are documents that had already been declassified by the United States and were sitting in the National Archives in 1.7 million separate PDF files, so there was no real way to search them, and yet they’re a very valuable set of documents, because Kissinger either authored them or was mentioned in many, many of those documents. And what they did is they–what–they said they reverse-engineered the documents.
And now, if you go to the website, which I think you’re going to post, it’s an incredible thing to search through 1.7 million documents and look for people you may have known, cases that I might have worked on, information about what was going on in the world from the U.S. point of view and their diplomats’ point of view. It’s an extraordinary, an extraordinary achievement, and one that I think is really just–again says how important WikiLeaks are as an organization or how important it is as an organization.
JAY: What jumps out at you? I know that people are just starting to sift through all of this. So far, what seems to have been some of the headlines that come out of it?
RATNER: Well, there were some quotes from Kissinger about–you know, that we don’t–it’s not bad when we do things illegally, it’s harder to do things when they might be unconstitutional, things like that. But then there’s material on every single country in the world, for example in India. There’s a document that says that Rajiv Ghandi, who is–he’s dead now, but at a time before, I guess, he was prime minister, that he had tried to broker deals for arms in which he and his brother were going to be the middlemen, apparently obtaining a kickback of some sort. India now denies that’s true, but that’s the claim.
Then there’s a document from the U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia, 1975, that goes, of course, to the State Department, and it says that Israel is the biggest block to peace, that Israel is not making any efforts at peace, that all it’s doing is [incompr.] to fight the fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh war, Yom Kippur War, rather than understanding who’s on the other side, the changes in the Arab world, and that Israel is being the stubborn partner in the peace negotiations. I mean, that’s pretty impressive to have come from a U.S. diplomat. I don’t think you would necessarily see that today.
JAY: Well, one thing we’re going to do–and this is a–I’m going to speak now to our viewers. I would suggest any of you that have some time go to the WikiLeaks site and send us stuff you find you think is newsworthy, historically of importance. And we’ll find a place to post the selection. We don’t have the manpower to go through 1.7 million PDF files. And not only that, WikiLeaks has way more than just the Kissinger Files there. So if people will help us go through that, you send us the links to the things you think are of importance, we’ll do some interviews around some of those quotes to kind of unravel what the meaning or significance of them. And we’ll also have a section where we can post some of the best selections.
Go ahead, Michael.
RATNER: No, no. I think that’s critical. And people will love searching it. They will just love it. I mean, I searched, for example, for the name Charles Horman, who was killed in a coup in ’73. American citizen. The film Missing was made about him. And while I didn’t have time to get all the documents, there’s numerous documents that we had not seen before, even though we represented Charles Horman and brought a lawsuit, documents about the U.S. embassy wanted to get fingerprints, lots of other things like that.
Then my friends who worked on Haiti got the Haitian documents from that period, searched about Duvalier, came up with the fact that there was a period–there was a fire somewhere, at one of the barracks in Haiti. And as if you were picking up the phone to me, Duvalier or his aide could call the U.S. ambassador and say, help us put out the fire. And then there’s a series of documents how the U.S. is going to make an excuse of the fire so they can supply the Haitian dictatorship with more documents.
Then there’s another one about the Vatican and the Vatican’s belief about what was going on in Chile. And it’s essentially a refusal to believe that Pinochet was massacring or killing people.
So this is an incredibly important leak. And I’m–and all of these people who say, oh, WikiLeaks is dying or dead or it’s not doing anything, I mean, this was an amazing job of getting the most searchable database you’ve seen by every means you want. It’s instantaneous. I mean, it’s like something–I mean, it’s the most advanced I’ve ever, ever seen.
And, of course, you know, you might as well say these documents were secret even though they’ve been declassified, because they’ve been buried in the National Archives. Well, they’re no longer secret. I want to echo what you just said, Paul. People should go to that site, which you’re going to put up, and look for anything they want on those documents. It’s extraordinary.
Now, one footnote to that, and then I want to talk about Bradley Manning. The footnote, of course, is, again, the relationship of what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks has done to the falling out with the head of The Guardian and someone who used to intern for WikiLeaks, a man named James Ball. And Dave Leigh is the editor of The Guardian. They wrote a column yesterday in The Guardian that I really have to take issue with. Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake really tore it to pieces. They basically are trying to minimize the effect of these documents. And then they say to themselves, look what we do; we’ve exposed offshore bank accounts [incompr.]
You know, there shouldn’t be this fighting by The Guardian against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. And moreover, these documents have just buried all other stories around what’s been exposed, because they are an incredible window into U.S. foreign policy during this period, and particularly one of the nasty periods, when Kissinger was our one-time foreign security guy and then head of our state department.
So that’s been the news this week. It’s big news. And, of course, it leads into the second part, which is the Bradley Manning case.
Bradley Manning, as your listeners know, is the private first class who now has admitted to uploading, you know, 750,000 documents to WikiLeaks. The pretrial is continuing. There was an important pretrial yesterday in the Bradley Manning case, or rather there was an important pretrial hearing this week, Wednesday, in the Bradley Manning case.
And the judge made a couple of very interesting rulings. One was actually somewhat favorable to Bradley Manning, and the other was not favorable. As listeners may recall, Bradley Manning pleaded guilty to ten out of 20 charges or 11 out of 20 charges that could get him 20 years in prison. His hope was that the government would not go ahead and continue the espionage case against him and the aiding the enemy case against him, because those can bring him life in jail. In fact, one has the death penalty, but the government isn’t asking for that.
So yesterday concerned what does the government have to prove under the espionage charge or the aiding the enemy charge. On the espionage charge, the government argued they did not have to prove that Bradley Manning has had reason to believe that the files could harm the United States. All that had to happen is that–according to the government, is the files that he uploaded to WikiLeaks had to concern defense information. And he gave them to unauthorized people–WikiLeaks, an unauthorized organization.
The government lost on that issue. The judge said the government has to prove that Bradley Manning had reason to believe that these files could harm the United States.
Now, that’s interesting, because to the extent that the lawyer for Bradley Manning, David Coombs, has tried to ask the government–has asked the government, tell us how it harmed you, he’s been unable to get any real answer to whether these documents have harmed the United States. And there’s a serious question about that. It certainly wasn’t Bradley Manning’s motive to harm the United States. As he said repeatedly, it was to open discussion of U.S. foreign policy and hopefully change it.
So the espionage charge, Bradley manning got a good ruling yesterday from the judge.
On the other hand, on the aiding the enemy charge, he got a bad ruling, because here’s the scenario. Imagine this. The government comes in and they say, well, look, we think he aided the enemy. They say, who’s the enemy? The enemy’s al-Qaeda and some of its associates. How did Bradley Manning aid the enemy? He aided them through a middle man. The middle man is WikiLeaks. He gave them to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks published them. Al-Qaeda read them. That’s the charge.
The government wants to bring in a secret witness, who may wear a mask, who may be behind a screen, who was one of the people, apparently, who went into the house where bin Laden was killed. What are they called? Rangers or whatever term the U.S. gives these guys. And he apparently, or someone with him, but apparently him, found some WikiLeaks documents that were uploaded to WikiLeaks by Bradley Manning on some of the computers or a computer belonging to that house or to bin Laden or some of the people associated with him.
So the government wants to bring into court this secret witness and say, well, aiding the enemy, we can show you that the enemy actually got these documents, and therefore it’s aiding the enemy.
The lawyer for Bradley Manning says, well, that’s crazy. Aiding the enemy doesn’t require actually receipt of the documents by the enemy, as much as the word aiding sounds like that. It only requires that you send them to a place where–at least the way the judge has said it, and the judge agrees with this–it only requires that you send them to a place where the enemy conceivably could read them. That’s the judge’s position.
And so how can the government put in what’s going to be a very prejudicial witness? You can imagine that putting in a guy who was involved in the bin Laden killing to talk about a WikiLeaks document on a bin Laden computer–. So he’s trying to keep that–the lawyer for Manning is trying to keep that evidence out.
The judge said, despite the fact receipt of the document by the, quote, enemy is not necessary for the charge, I’m going to allow the secret witness, in a mask of some sort, behind a screen, to actually testify about the document on the WikiLeaks–on the website of–on the website–in the computer of bin Laden or one of his associates. Very, very bad ruling, because of course it prejudices the whole trial.
JAY: And then the whole notion of it is kind of crazy. So if The New York Times or The Real News does an investigative piece that is very critical of some U.S. policy and it shows up on the computer of–of an al-Qaeda computer. So why isn’t that aiding the enemy too, then?
RATNER: You know, Paul, that gets to the real heart of it. I mean, I was going through two of the evidential rulings, but the real heart of the government’s case is exactly what you said. Their claim is that WikiLeaks, by publishing these documents, allowed the enemies of the United States to read them. And then the court, the lawyer for Bradley Manning said, well, wouldn’t that be true if The New York Times published them as well? And the government said, yes, it would.
Now, that doesn’t make The New York Times the aiding the enemy person. Nor does it make WikiLeaks the aiding the enemy person. But what it does is it tells every whistleblower, be careful–not careful–we warn you, particularly if you’re in the military where that charge comes up, if you whistleblow by giving your documents to WikiLeaks or The Real News or The New York Times we can charge you with aiding the enemy, because obviously you know that the enemies of the United States are going to go to those websites and look at those documents. So journalists, whether it’s The Real News or The New York Times, should be up in arms about this charge, because if we think whistleblowers are far and few between now, particularly from the military, there will be zero after this. Aiding the enemy carries a death penalty.
JAY: Now, is there any onus that they’re going to have to prove that after reading these things, that this al-Qaeda person and his computer did something with the information that then damaged the United States? Or just the fact they read them as somehow nefarious?
RATNER: They don’t even–Paul, they don’t even have to have read them. All they have to do is be communicated to a place where it’s likely–where it’s the kind of thing they would read. They don’t even have to prove they read them. And that’s why bringing in the witness who actually had them, found them on a bin Laden or bin Laden associate computer is so outrageously egregious and so prejudicial.
JAY: Well, so why doesn’t–why isn’t that just one step to saying that the journalists or The Times or whoever is also doing it? I mean, what if The Times does a piece of original investigation that finds out something about the U.S. military, and then it winds up on a computer somewhere? How far is it from then calling that aiding the enemy?
RATNER: Yeah, I don’t want to mix up your listeners too much. The aiding the enemy is primarily a military charge, and therefore civilians aren’t charged with aiding the enemy. But they could be charged with espionage. And as you well know–let’s take an example that is easy. The Pentagon Papers were given to The New York Times and The Washington Post. They published them. They were top-level security. Ellsberg had top-level security clearance. He took them and he gave them to these media. They published them. Ellsberg was charged with espionage, for violating his security code, taking, you know, highly classified documents and giving them to unauthorized persons.
Interestingly, there’s an interpretation of the Espionage Act which the government always rattles around that says that The Times could have actually been charged with espionage as well for publishing those documents. And, in fact, your listeners may not know, while they couldn’t be prosecuted for the publication of the documents or they couldn’t–no–that the publication of the documents couldn’t be stopped by an injunction, they could have been prosecuted. And, in fact, there was a grand jury after the Pentagon Papers case that Nixon empanelled that spent a year investigating The New York Times on whether they should be prosecuted for espionage. So journalists are protected in this country when they do that from whistleblowers, because at this point they’re too strong for the administration to start cracking down on journalists that publish leaks.
On the other hand, they always make noises about it. They were going to do it to the Pentagon Papers. They were thinking about doing it to James Risen when he exposed the warrantless wiretapping. There were all kinds of saber rattling. So, in fact, there’s a possibility that they could go after journalists who publish it.
JAY: And then, with this new NDAA legislation where the military can indefinitely detain someone who’s collaborating, assisting the Taliban or al-Qaeda–I mean, I don’t think we’re there yet, but a lot of doors have been opened here.
RATNER: A lot of doors, Paul. I think, you know, we’ve set up, I would say, the infrastructure, you know, for a police state, you could say. I mean, when–after 9/11, I wrote an article [incompr.] called “Moving Toward a Police State or Have We Arrived?” And it was about Guantanamo, military commissions, rendition, torture, you know, everything like that. But now we’ve really–with the NDAA, with the continuation of the abomination of the trials, with Obama prosecuting more whistleblowers than all other presidents in U.S. history, we’re moving to a point where they have an infrastructure in place where the kind of conversations you and I are having could at some point be in jeopardy.
I do want to make one last point about Manning and something interesting that happened yesterday [incompr.] again something interesting that happened Wednesday. I know that your listeners are aware, and you’ve put it up, the audio of Bradley Manning’s moving guilty plea as to why he uploaded the documents to WikiLeaks. It’s one you have on your site. It’s one I recommend to every listener. Yesterday, of course, they got mad about that down at Fort Meade, and they essentially accused the journalists of surreptitiously recording it and giving it out to somebody. I think it was published on the Freedom of the Press Foundation website initially giving that out. And they said, as a result of that, we’re going to cut off any access into the room of any cell phones and anything like that.
And so a couple of things come to mind. One, it’s not clear a journalist did it. The audio quality is excellent. It could have been an insider. Secondly, without knowing who did it, they’re essentially collectively punishing all the journalists by doing that.
And thirdly, and more importantly, in talking to the journalists, the military spokesperson said, just remember, your press here is a privilege and not a right. Hear that again. It’s a privilege and not a right. Those are words I would have never expected to hear in America, that the right of the press or myself or a regular person to cover and go to a trial is a privilege and not a right. Unfortunately for the military, it’s a protected First Amendment right of both the press as well as the public to go to these trials.
But that just shows you how the military is thinking. And it’s also making a point again and again that a trial about exposing secrets is very secret itself.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Michael.
RATNER: It’s always good to be with you, Paul.
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