The Hamptons International Film Festival had scheduled the screening of the Oscar nominated documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, the second in its SummerDocs Series in East Hampton for Saturday August 7, well before Wikileaks made Daniel Ellsberg a hot item-again, 40 years after he leaked The Pentagon Papers.
Now, swamped with media requests, Ellsberg will fly east from his home in Oakland, California to attend the Guild Hall screening and join actor Alec Baldwin and Carl Bernstein, the journalist with whom Bob Woodward broke Watergate, for a conversation that is sure to engage his anti-war passions, even though, as he asserted in a recent phone interview, "I am not a pacifist. Self defense is justified."
Q: Do you think the comparison between The Pentagon Papers and Wikileaks is apt?
The comparison is inevitable. The scale of this leak is comparable. There hasn't been any authorized disclosure on this scale. Both leaks are about similar, hopelessly stalemated wars: Vietnam and Afghanistan are analogous.
Q: Forty years ago, Henry Kissinger called you "the most dangerous man in America." Who is playing these roles in today's Wikileaks scandal?
Bradley Manning is not yet arraigned. His motives are similar to mine: shortening a war and saving lives, same as mine 40 years ago. He said the information needed to be known, and was wrongfully withheld. He said he was willing to take personal risk, and expected to go to jail. I don't know of anyone else to express that readiness to risk. Why not take personal risk? In 1971, in the Pentagon, many people thought the war in Vietnam was wrong. I was supposed to serve 115 years in prison, until it was revealed that the same burglars arrested in Watergate had broken into my psychiatrist's office to steal information. Manning's case is different in that Manning faces charges in a military court, and he may have to go to jail or worse. Republican Congressman Mike Rogers called for execution of anyone who leaks such sensitive information.
Q: Are you disappointed with Obama?
I didn't expect a lot and he is at the low end of my expectations. I just thought he was better than McCain. His foreign policy is actually similar to that of George W. Bush.
Obama violated or should I say reversed many of his views, but not on Afghanistan. He sent 27,000 more troops in March. In December of 2009, he said he expected to withdraw troops in 2011. I do not expect that to be his last infusion of troops; if he believes that, he was mistaken.
By the end of 2011 troops will remain. I said I did not expect him to keep to his pledge. I don't think he expects that himself. We will keep bases there for an indefinite period. If Americans turn over U.S. bases to Iraqis by 2011, I will never make foreign policy predictions again.
Q: Do you think our country has learned anything over the years from the Pentagon Papers?
Yes, the Pentagon has learned ways of prolonging a war: Curtail reporting, prevent Americans from seeing coffins, blood, injured, dead Americans or Iraqis. That's why what Wikileaks exposed was so important to keep out of sight. Americans saw more violence in the Rodney King video than in images from Iraq or Afghanistan. Writers tried to get the videos and were being refused. Who refused them? This should be investigated. We need to raise questions about the war.
The public needs to know. $33.5 billion more has just been allocated for this war in our time of economic hardship. For what? To recruit for the Taliban. We cannot afford these crimes. After 30 years of war it is time to reevaluate our involvement with Afghanistan and if Wikileaks causes a drop in support of the war, that's all to the good.
Q: Have you seen the Afghan woman on the cover of Time magazine who was brutally punished for attempting to flee her abusive in-laws? Is this image of a woman with her nose cut off being used to manipulate our sympathies toward our continued military presence in Afghanistan?
I haven't seen the cover yet, but if you oppose Taliban justice, you need to end the American occupation. Our presence strengthens the Afghanistani's support for the Taliban, a much more fanatic group, because the people will put up with their repressive rule in opposition to the American occupation. Had we left, they would be weaker. The fact is, the Taliban is larger today. The presence of our troops there recruits only for the Taliban. Our involvement goes back thirty years with our funding wars in Afghanistan. Do feminists imagine that the status of women has improved in thirty years? The improvement of women's lives has not been a U.S. government priority, or an effect.
Q: So, how do you feel about your visit to the Hamptons, and your conversation with Alec Baldwin and Carl Bernstein?
Oh, is Bernstein going to be there too? I knew about Baldwin. That's terrific.
As a beach lover and body surfer, I am looking forward to my first visit to the Hamptons for the screening on August 7th, and, the next day, celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary.
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