• ‘The Boys Who Said No!’: New Documentary About War Resisters

    April 4, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    VIDEOPOSTER

    Evil is participatory, says interviewee David Harris at the beginning of a documentary in progress about Vietnam-era draft resisters, The Boys Who Said No!

    Evil continuing depends on people joining in, and the first step to stopping it, he continues, is withdrawing your own participation. So Harris said no to the Vietnam-era draft, and went to jail for it.

    The Boys Who Said No!

    The Boys Who Said No! is set during the late 1960s and early 70s, when thousands resisted conscription at the risk of federal prison. Unlike those who evaded the draft by fleeing to Canada, getting various deferments, or resorting to violent protest, the subjects of this film chose civil disobedience.

    It was a costly decision.

    An estimated 500,000 young men evaded or refused to cooperate with the draft, and 3,250 went to prison for their beliefs, the largest mass incarceration of war resisters in U.S. history. The film tackles this broad narrative mostly through the story of David Harris (who spent three years in Federal prison for refusing to be drafted, and for encouraging others to do the same) and his wife, folksinger Joan Baez. Interviews with many other draft resisters round out the narrative.

    As part of understanding the Vietnam era, the film also reviews the history of the draft, and opposition to previous drafts, and the Vietnam war. Resistance to the war is tied into the larger civil rights movement, two sides of the same coin in opposing unjust actions by the government, with the inclusion of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. visiting Joan Baez and those jailed for blocking the Oakland Draft Board in 1967.

    How Do You Say “Vietnam” in Arabic? Iraq

    To a younger audience, the film is perhaps a bit funny, guys with weird hair and unhip clothing burning whatever draft cards were. For a cynical generation, it is as easy to dismiss the value of individual action as it is wrong to do so. Indeed, the actions of one person alone can amount to little. But as an interviewee says, you never know who’s watching. The Boys Who Said No! illustrates how one can become two, two can become ten, and over time they together remind you all that sand on the beach was once a rock.

    The Boys Who Said No! thus resonates strongly today.

    It offers an answer to the question of what courage is in a modern world: not only choosing the harder right over the easier wrong, but being willing to pay the price for acting on conscience, for a good bigger than oneself. And in that definition, the actions of men like David Harris and the thousands who joined him in refusing the draft, become clearer. The path they put themselves on leads in a straight line through whistleblowers Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), Drake and Binney (NSA), Manning and Assange (Iraq War), Kiriakou and Sterling (CIA) and Snowden.

    Acts of conscience never go out of fashion, and a country never has enough examples. That’s what makes a film like The Boys Who Said No! more than historical document.

    To many today the war in Vietnam seems as old as the battles at Gettysburg and Antietam. But think about this: Vietnam was a war started on false pretenses (U.S. ships attacked in Gulf of Tonkin, Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq), built on deeply flawed fear (Communism will overtake Southeast Asia, a caliphate will engulf the Middle East), a faux-threat to the United States/Homeland (Communists on the beaches of California, Islamic terrorists in your town) and the strategy of extraordinary means spent for limited ends. Very, very similar comparisons apply to America’s war in Central America during the 1980s.

    And before you dismiss that by saying the struggle against Islamic terror is “different,” remember this: history shows those who resisted the war in Vietnam, and that in Central America, turned out to be right.

    The Boys Who Said No! is currently in production, but in need of additional funding for completion. Take a look at a 17 minute excerpt, and visit the project’s website, Facebook, or Indiegogo page if you wish to contribute.

    A Bit More

    The Boys Who Said No! was directed is Judith Ehrlich, who won an Academy Award nomination for The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. The producer is Christopher C. Jones, who at age 17 refused to register for the draft, was arrested and served nine months in federal prison. As the documentary is not complete, my comments above are based on previews and clips I have seen.

    The film takes its title from a 1960s poster showing Joan Baez’ sisters sitting on a couch with the caption “Girls say yes to boys who say no.”




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    I Join the Advisory Board for ExposeFacts.org

    July 29, 2014 // 7 Comments »




    I am quite pleased to have joined the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.org.

    The group’s message is clear: encourage more government officials to blow the whistle. As said on their website, “ExposeFacts.org represents a new approach for encouraging whistleblowers to disclose information that citizens need to make truly informed decisions in a democracy. From the outset, our message is clear: “Whistleblowers Welcome at ExposeFacts.org.”

    I’m sort of amazed I fit in alongside the others working with ExposeFacts: Barbara Ehrenreich, Dan Ellsberg, Tom Drake, Jesselyn Radack, Michael Ratner, Matt Hoh, Coleen Rowley, Ann Wright and Ray McGovern. So there’s yer humble brag for today.

    I am also quite pleased that half a block from the State Department in Washington, at a bus stop used by America’s diplomats, ExposeFacts erected its first outdoor advertisement encouraging government employees to blow the whistle (photo above; that’s Matt Hoh there, not me). The ad shows Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg alongside the words “Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.”

    ExposeFacts will erect more such ads at other prominent locations in Washington and beyond. As an advisory board member, I’m glad to report that outreach to potential whistleblowers is just getting started.

    (For those new to the blog, I am a State Department whistleblower, so this all resonates with me personally as well as a concerned American. Learn more in my book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project))



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    Ghosts of Tom Joad on Sale at Amazon Now

    April 7, 2014 // 20 Comments »

    Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99PercentMy new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percentis now available and shipping from Amazon in Kindle, paperback and hardcover.

    The book is off to a good start. Here what one reviewer said:

    Ghosts of Tom Joad is a book about the 99% but told from a very personal level. I needed to remind myself throughout the book that this is fiction, but it is also so many people’s real life story. Van Buren laces factual information throughout the book, but it fits into the story. It does not read like a collection of statistics or a leftist/union propaganda brochure. It reads as real life. This book is very well done on so many levels.


    Here’s another, from Daniel Ellsberg:

    In his new book Ghosts of Tom Joad Van Buren turns to the larger themes of social justice and equality, and asks uncomfortable questions about where we are headed. He is no stranger to speaking truth to power, and the critical importance of doing that in a democracy cannot be overestimated.

    Rolling Stone:

    A lyrical, and deeply reported look at America’s decline from the bottom up. Though a work of fiction, Ghosts of Tom Joad is – sadly, and importantly – based on absolute fact. Buy it, read it, think about it.

    Academy-Award nominated filmmaker James Spione:

    Like his heroes Steinbeck and Agee before him, the author takes us on an unflinching tour of America’s “broken places,” yet true to his predecessors Van Buren never loses sight of his rough characters’ resilient humanity, their deeply held yearning for the grounding connection of family and community, their stubborn hope for a better life. An urgent, important story and an incredibly necessary book.


    Ghosts of Tom Joad is an important book for me, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to bring the issues of social and economic inequality in America to a wider audience, to expose clearly our apartheid of dollars in our nation. If you enjoy my writing here, or on TomDispatch, HuffPo, FireDogLake or elsewhere, picking up a copy of the book will help fuel what I hope to continue doing.

    Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percentis a good story, but with a conscience.



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    Whistleblowing is About the Message, Not the Messenger

    January 9, 2014 // 18 Comments »

    The current media pablum about whether Snowden is “narcissistic” or “spiteful” or the devil himself is nonsense.


    This kind of thing has become a set-piece in America to dehumanize and discredit whistleblowers so as to dilute public support for the vital information they make available. In high school debate class this lame name-calling is known as ad hominem, one of the lowest forms of argument. The idea is that a claim is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the person presenting the claim. First comes an attack against the character of person making the claim. Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim the person in question is making, just like stating 1+3=2.

    The technique is in full use against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, particularly swirling around demands by the New York Times and The Guardian that the U.S. government grant him clemency.

    The use of cheap ad hominem takes its crudest form in “opinion pieces” such as those by Washington Post typist Ruth Marcus. In the course of only a couple of hundred words, Marcus (who has never actually spoken to Snowden) calls Snowden messianic, smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought, feckless and insufferable before concluding “The whistleblower personality is rarely an attractive one. Whistleblowers tend to be the difficult ones, the sort who tend to feel freer to speak out precisely because they don’t fit in. So perhaps it is not a surprise that the biggest whistleblower of all time has an unpleasant personality to match.” In an earlier piece, Marcus announced that “Snowden is no Socrates and no Martin Luther King,” as if anyone but her was even making such assertions. She concludes that “Socrates is [sic] a great philosopher and Snowden the lowest type of menial.”

    Former National Security Agency and CIA head Michael Hayden said of Snowden: “I used to say he was a defector… I’m now kind of drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language… such as traitor.”

    None of this is new. After Daniel Ellsberg exposed America’s duplicitous history in Vietnam by leaking the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon White House broke into his psychiatrist’s office looking for dirt to smear him. Chelsea Manning’s sexuality featured prominently and pruriently in media coverage of her disclosures. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake described his own experience as “the politics of personal destruction while also engaging in abject, cut throat character assassination, and complete fabrication and frame up.” When the State Department was seeking to prosecute/fire me because of my own whistleblowing (seriously minor compared to Snowden of course) they pushed out all sorts of nasty things, and several media people accused me of being bad in some way. I was typically asked to “respond” to questions that I blew the whistle as part of some self-promotion campaign, or that I was simply a disgruntled employee out for revenge.

    When asked to respond to such statements, I would cut them off and stipulate “I am indeed a terrible person, mean to babies and puppies. And so what? This must be about the message, not the messenger. I don’t matter. What I said is either true or made up (of course it was true). Focus your energy on that. What I said either exposed government waste and mismanagement or it did not (it did), so focus your energy on that and not whether I return my library books on time (I do).

    The technique of smearing the messenger is crudely wielded when people try to diminish Snowden’s information’s value by criticizing him for not “manning up” to face consequences in the U.S., or for “selling out” to the Russians for asylum. Snowden, having watched what happened to Manning, Drake and others, knew he would be unlikely to be handled justly. The Espionage Act of 1917 carries the death penalty, and as we learned with the Manning trial the government need not prove any actual damage was done or any foreign power was actually aided to gain a conviction. The proceedings would all be classified and Snowden would be held in devastating pretrial detention in some Supermax. He would be prohibited from discussing his case with anyone but perhaps his lawyer and denied any outside contact or information. I don’t think Snowden wanted to live in Russia but under those circumstances he did not have many options outside of basically handing himself over to the U.S. government to be disappeared. To put this in some perspective, the U.S., after all, takes in many political asylees each year, the circumstances of which ebb and flow with U.S. policy of the moment. Other countries do the same and unless one is willing to condemn all those political asylees in the same way as one does Snowden (no guts, face the music, etc.) than it isn’t right to single him out.

    Snowden. I don’t know the guy. Maybe he is cool, fun to hang around with, quick with a joke and nice to babies, puppies and kittens. Maybe he is not. But outside the guilty pleasures of gossip (what new diet trick is Edward using to stay trim? Is it true about him and Lady Gaga?!?), Snowden, in a larger sense, in a good way, doesn’t matter as a person. What matters is what he has revealed to us about a national security state that has clearly gone quite insane, violating our liberty and our freedom to live without unwarranted search and seizure of our private lives.

    We would know nothing about the extent of NSA intrusion without Snowden’s information. Whether the debate on the NSA leads anywhere or not is an evolving question, but, without Snowden’s leaks, it would not be happening in any form. Let’s focus on Snowden’s information to save our democracy and leave the hypocrisy outside the door, the name-calling on the schoolyard and the gossiping for the Kardashians.


    BONUS: No one in government takes an “oath of secrecy.” I held a TS clearance for 23 years. You sign a paper promising to follow the rules on handling classified info. However, you do swear one oath, to preserve and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Snowden believed he was acting on that oath in revealing the extent that the NSA had spun out of control. That action is called “conscience,” and it requires significant courage. FYI.



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    Whistleblowers Write Open Letter to Federal Employees after Snowden

    December 23, 2013 // 5 Comments »



    I know you’re out there, and this is for you.

    Somewhere there is a Federal government employee who has witnessed an act of government waste, fraud, malfeasance or mismanagement and is unsure what to do next. Several former whistleblowers have written a letter to you. I fully endorse what they say (see my additional thoughts here), and encourage you to take the hard, right choice over staying silent.

    We’re all depending on you.

    (This open letter originally appeared in the UK’s Guardian newspaper; links added)

    The Letter

    At least since the aftermath of September 2001, western governments and intelligence agencies have been hard at work expanding the scope of their own power, while eroding privacy, civil liberties and public control of policy. What used to be viewed as paranoid, Orwellian, tin-foil hat fantasies turned out post-Snowden, to be not even the whole story.

    What’s really remarkable is that we’ve been warned for years that these things were going on: wholesale surveillance of entire populations, militarization of the internet, the end of privacy. All is done in the name of “national security”, which has more or less become a chant to fence off debate and make sure governments aren’t held to account – that they can’t be held to account – because everything is being done in the dark. Secret laws, secret interpretations of secret laws by secret courts and no effective parliamentary oversight whatsoever.

    By and large the media have paid scant attention to this, even as more and more courageous, principled whistleblowers stepped forward. The unprecedented persecution of truth-tellers, initiated by the Bush administration and severely accelerated by the Obama administration, has been mostly ignored, while record numbers of well-meaning people are charged with serious felonies simply for letting their fellow citizens know what’s going on.

    It’s one of the bitter ironies of our time that while John Kiriakou (ex-CIA) is in prison for blowing the whistle on US torture, the torturers and their enablers walk free.

    Likewise WikiLeaks-source Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning was charged with – amongst other serious crimes – aiding the enemy (read: the public). Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison while the people who planned the illegal and disastrous war on Iraq in 2003 are still treated as dignitaries.

    Numerous ex-NSA officials have come forward in the past decade, disclosing massive fraud, vast illegalities and abuse of power in said agency, including Thomas Drake, William Binney and Kirk Wiebe. The response was 100% persecution and 0% accountability by both the NSA and the rest of government. Blowing the whistle on powerful factions is not a fun thing to do, but despite the poor track record of western media, whistleblowing remains the last avenue for truth, balanced debate and upholding democracy – that fragile construct which Winston Churchill is quoted as calling “the worst form of government, except all the others”.

    Since the summer of 2013, the public has witnessed a shift in debate over these matters. The reason is that one courageous person: Edward Snowden. He not only blew the whistle on the litany of government abuses but made sure to supply an avalanche of supporting documents to a few trustworthy journalists. The echoes of his actions are still heard around the world – and there are still many revelations to come.

    For every Daniel Ellsberg, Drake, Binney, Katharine Gun, Manning or Snowden, there are thousands of civil servants who go by their daily job of spying on everybody and feeding cooked or even made-up information to the public and parliament, destroying everything we as a society pretend to care about.

    Some of them may feel favourable towards what they’re doing, but many of them are able to hear their inner Jiminy Cricket over the voices of their leaders and crooked politicians – and of the people whose intimate communication they’re tapping.

    Hidden away in offices of various government departments, intelligence agencies, police forces and armed forces are dozens and dozens of people who are very much upset by what our societies are turning into: at the very least, turnkey tyrannies.

    One of them is you.

    You’re thinking:

    ● Undermining democracy and eroding civil liberties isn’t put explicitly in your job contract.
    ● You grew up in a democratic society and want to keep it that way
    ● You were taught to respect ordinary people’s right to live a life in privacy
    ● You don’t really want a system of institutionalized strategic surveillance that would make the dreaded Stasi green with envy – do you?

    Still, why bother? What can one person do? Well, Edward Snowden just showed you what one person can do. He stands out as a whistleblower both because of the severity of the crimes and misconduct that he is divulging to the public – and the sheer amount of evidence he has presented us with so far – more is coming. But Snowden shouldn’t have to stand alone, and his revelations shouldn’t be the only ones.

    You can be part of the solution; provide trustworthy journalists – either from old media (like this newspaper) or from new media (such as WikiLeaks) with documents that prove what illegal, immoral, wasteful activities are going on where you work.

    There IS strength in numbers. You won’t be the first – nor the last – to follow your conscience and let us know what’s being done in our names. Truth is coming – it can’t be stopped. Crooked politicians will be held accountable. It’s in your hands to be on the right side of history and accelerate the process.

    Courage is contagious.

    Signed by:

    Peter Kofod, ex-Human Shield in Iraq (Denmark)
    Thomas Drake, whistleblower, former senior executive of the NSA (US)
    Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower, former US military analyst (US)
    Katharine Gun, whistleblower, former GCHQ (UK)
    Jesselyn Radack, whistleblower, former Department of Justice (US)
    Ray McGovern, former senior CIA analyst (US)
    Coleen Rowley, whistleblower, former FBI agent (US)



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    Naw, This is Nothing (Break-in at State Dept Whistleblower Lawyer)

    July 28, 2013 // 36 Comments »




    This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

    I get a lot of conspiracy emails at my blog, wemeantwell.com. Various “truthers” want me to believe that the CIA or the Mossad or the Spiders from Mars did 9/11, and that Obama was born on the Planet Mongo and is thus not even human, never mind an American Citizen. C’mon folks, try it again, using “facts” this time.

    At the same time, I find myself worrying a bit. Stuff that fell into the conspiracy theory catalog last year now is old news: the government is indeed reading your email, your snail mail, your Facebook, all the while listening in on your calls. Torture and indefinite extra-judicial imprisonment are just another thing the government does. Whatever really happened to bin Laden will likely never be known, as the records were secretly moved into CIA hands where they will not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Drones have been used in the U.S. Oh, and a secret court is making secret laws that affect all of us, in secret.


    So, given all that, this next item is probably nothing. Another coincidence.


    Two burglars broke into a Dallas law firm, bashing through a wall, and stealing only three computers while leaving other valuables behind. The law firm targeted represents State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn. Fedenisn revealed that she’d seen internal investigations called off by higher ups. The State Department accused her of removing “highly sensitive, internal documents” containing “personal information and unsubstantiated allegations,” and explained that it was working to secure the documents once again. The thieves also tried to pry open a filing cabinet at the lawyer’s office. Coincidence.

    An office across the hallway from the whistleblower’s lawyers that was left unlocked and was full of valuables, as well as fourteen other computers, was untouched by the thieves. Coincidence.

    Not too long ago, a thief entered the offices of the Government Accountability Project, one of America’s premier whistleblower representatives, and stole only some attorney laptops. Nothing else, not even purses left out. The theft occurred just as the government’s case against NSA whistleblower Tom Drake was collapsing. His attorneys’ computers were taken. Coincidence.

    In 1971 John Ehrlichman, assistant to president Nixon, approved a covert operation to break into Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and examine his medical files. The purpose was to get a “mother lode” of information about Ellsberg’s mental state to use to discredit him.

    Naw, I think I’ve just seen to many spy dramas on TV lately. I mean, who could think that the government would be involved in anything like breaking into a law office in search of info on one of its whistleblower critics?

    Also coincidences: Death of Andrew Breitbart, the coroner who handled Breitbart’s case and died of arsenic poisoning, and Michael Hastings, where the LAPD refuses to release the accident and toxicology reports, or make the crashed Mercedes available for inspection. Nothing to see here you proles, go about your business.




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    Dinner and a Speech with Daniel Ellsberg

    June 3, 2013 // 21 Comments »

    It was one of my great pleasures to have dinner with Daniel Ellsberg (and several others supporting justice for Bradley Manning) this week.

    Ellsberg is the prototypical whistleblower, a former Marine and serious government official supporting the government’s way until something– in Ellsberg’s case, learning the truth about U.S. conduct in the Vietnam War– so shocked his conscience that he was compelled to speak out. In Ellsberg’s case, that resulted in the “Pentagon Papers” and the landmark legal decisions defending the right of the New York Times to publish them. That those same legal rights are now under attack by the Obama Administration, and likely to figure significantly in the Manning case, just emphasized the importance of what Ellsberg risked his freedom to do.

    I wrote an open letter to Dan, tracing a small part of my own political awakening to his brave actions. Maybe worth a read.

    In person Dan proved to still be an amazing intellect at age 82. Though his hearing has faded, his mind is razor. Talking politics with him, from Lyndon Johnson to Bradley Manning, was like playing chess against Fischer, discussing writing with Steinbeck or shooting pool against Fats.

    Dan also possesses an amazing stock of jokes, some a bit naughty, which he tells with some skill. One involved a leprechaun (you had to be there) and Ellsberg slipped in and out of an Irish accent as effortlessly as he skewed Richard Nixon moments earlier.

    The next night I joined Ellsberg, Jesselyn Radack, Michael Ratner, Tom Drake, Ethan McCord and others at the Unitarian All Souls Church in Washington DC to speak out for justice for whistleblower Bradley Manning. Manning’s trial, after his three years of confinement, finally begins June 3. The speeches were followed by interviews with the BBC Radio World Service. The American media, who certainly profited from Manning’s whistleblowing, skipped the event.

    Sorry to brag a bit, but losing one’s job at the State Department isn’t all bad when you get opportunities like this.




    Video of the support Manning speeches.




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    Dear Daniel Ellsberg,

    July 29, 2012 // Comments Off on Dear Daniel Ellsberg,




    (This was originally published on the Huffington Post, April 24, 2012)

    Thank you for sending me copies of your books (they arrived in today’s mail), and thank you even more for writing “with admiration for your truth telling” inside the cover flap of one. I am humbled, because I waited my whole life to realize today I had already met you.

    Pentagon Papers

    In 1971 I was ten years old, living in a small town in Ohio. The Vietnam War was a part of our town’s life, same as the Fruehauf tractor-trailer plant with its 100% union workforce, the A&P and the Pledge of Allegiance. Nobody in my house went to war, but neighbors had blue and gold stars in their windows and I remember one teacher at school, the one with the longer hair and the mustache, talking about Vietnam. It meant little to me, involved with sports and oncoming puberty, but I remember my mom bringing home from the supermarket a newsprint quickie paperback edition of the Pentagon Papers. She knew of politics and Vietnam maybe even less than I did, but the Papers were all over the news, the Lady Gaga of their day, and it seemed the thing to do to spend the $1.95. My Dad flipped through the book, pronounced it garbage and when I tried to make sense of the names and foreign places it made no impact on me.

    I didn’t know then that in the years before my mom bought that paperback what you had done. I didn’t know that the US had been at war in Vietnam since the 1950’s, that it was US duplicity that divided the country into North and South, and that a series of Presidents had customarily lied to the American people about what we were doing in a third world jungle. I did not know that at the time you were working at the RAND corporation, and that a secret history of the Vietnam War, the real story of our involvement, had been commissioned. While I was in fourth grade trying to learn multiplication, you were making photocopies of these then-classified documents. As you read them, you understood that the government had knowledge early on that the war could not be won, and that continuing the war would lead to many times more casualties than was ever admitted publicly. As the New York Times was to write, the documents “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.”


    New York Times Stands

    A lot of people inside the government had read those same Papers and understood their content, but only you decided that instead of simply going along with the lies, or privately using your new knowledge to fuel self-eating cynicism, you would try to persuade US Senators Fulbright and McGovern to release the papers on the Senate floor. When they did not have the courage, even as they knew the lies continued to kill Americans they represented, you brought the Papers to the New York Times. The Times then echoed with the courage of great journalists and published the Papers, fought off the Nixon Administration (New York Times v. The United States) by calling to the First Amendment and brought the truth about lies to America. That’s when my mom bought a copy of the Papers at the A&P.

    You were considered an enemy of the United States because when you encountered something inside of government so egregious, so fundamentally wrong, that you risked your own freedom to make it public. You almost went to jail, fighting off charges under the same draconian Espionage Act that Obama uses today to silence others who stand in your shadow.


    Fast Forward to Iraq

    In 2009 I volunteered to serve in Iraq for my employer of some 23 years, the Department of State. While I was there I saw such waste in our so-called reconstruction program, such lies put out by two administrations about what we were (not) doing in Iraq, that it seemed to me that the only thing I could do—had to do—was tell people about what I saw. In my years of government service, I experienced my share of dissonance when it came to what was said in public and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the gap was filled only with scared little men and women, and what was left unsaid just hid their flaws.

    What I saw in Iraq was different. There, the space between what we were doing (the waste), and what we were saying (the endless chant of success) was filled with numb soldiers and devastated Iraqis, not nerveless bureaucrats. It wasn’t Vietnam in scale or impact, but it was again young Americans risking their lives, believing for something greater than themselves, when instead it was just another lie. Another war started and ended on lies, while again our government worked to keep the truth from the people.

    I am unsure what I accomplished with my own book, absent losing my job with the State Department for telling a truth that embarrassed them. So be it; most people at State will never understand the choice of conscience over career, the root of most of State’s problems. There are higher goals than obedience.

    Thank You

    But Dan, what you accomplished was this. When I faced a crisis of conscience, to tell what I knew because it needed to be told, coming to realize I was risking at the least my job if not jail, I remembered that newsprint copy of the Papers from 1971 you risked the same and more to release. I took my decision in the face of the Obama administration having already charged more people under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined, but more importantly, I took my decision in the face of your example.

    Thank you for the books you sent me Dan, and for the sentiments you expressed toward me inside them. Thank you for your courage so that when I needed it, I had an example to assess myself against other than the limp men and women working now for a Department of State too scared of the truth to rise to claim even a whisper of the word courage for themselves.



    On April 25 a number of people will gather in Washington DC for this year’s Ridenhour Prize, which recognizes patriots who choose acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society. I am proud to have been nominated. One of this year’s winners is Congressman John Lewis, whose life working for social justice started when he walked alongside Dr. King. Another awardee this year is Lieutenant Colonel Danny Davis, a soldier whose leaked documents on the Afghan War revealed the same rotten lies at its heart that we saw in our previous wars. Daniel Ellsberg was the first person awarded the Ridenhour, his award simply for Courage.



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    Posted in Democracy, Military, Post-Constitution America

    An Obligation to Speak Out

    July 20, 2012 // 2 Comments »



    In an age where dissent is thought of as a form of treason, where Federal agencies spy on their own employees to prevent whistleblowing, it is important to remind ourselves that as government workers– f*ck that, public servants— we have an obligation to speak out to the people we serve.

    Timothy MacBain, who creates the podcasts for TomDispatch, has created a brilliant audio meditation on whistleblowing well-worth a listen for its five minute span. Listen to it here.

    MacBain’s piece uses the voices of Daniel Ellsberg, author Eyal Press (Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times), attorney Chase Madar(The Passion of Bradley Manning), me, and one-time Constitutional law professor Barack Obama.

    Listen to it carefully, before someone switches the channel on you and

    shuts

    it

    off.



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    Posted in Democracy, Military, Post-Constitution America

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