Mortin Halperin describes Pentagon Papers, not WikiLeaks, as “courageous act”

02/11/11 Zack Baddorf
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WikiLeaks has made waves around the world with the release of tens of thousands of classified State Department and Defense Department documents. About 20 Tampa Bay Area residents came to Sarasota Monday night to hear from Mortin Halperin, a Senior Advisor to George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, about his analysis on the release of the secret information.

Mortin Halperin was responsible for the writing of the so-called Pentagon Papers, a study of the American political and military involvement in Vietnam. A former RAND Corporation analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, released the classified documents to the press in 1971, in an effort to end the Vietnam War.

Looking back, Halperin says Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a “courageous act” that had a particular political objective.

“As contrasted with the WikiLeaks which as far as I could tell was simply somebody deciding that he was going to take every document he could get his hands on, give it to somebody else, who then decided that they would take it and make it publicly available.

Having worked for the American Civil Liberties Union, Halperin says the release of data by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks advances no first amendment interest and endangered lives.

In fact, he say it’s likely that, when the dust settles, there will be a statue that’ll make the publication of classified material a crime.

“That will make it much harder for reporters to do their job and much harder for the public to learn what it needs to know what it’s government is doing.”

He says he’ll oppose any move by the government to establish such a law.

Halperin’s wife works at the State Department and some of her cables may have been in the WikiLeaks data dump. Halperin says the U.S. government classification system is flawed and that “far too much information” is classified. He recommends that both the public value of the information and harm to national security be considered when deciding what can be made public.

“The way the system works now, if there’s any expectation of any harm, you’re entitled to keep the information secret.”

However, Halperin says there are situations when it’s OK to release some classified data, like when the data exposes “illegal, immoral or unconstitutional” activity.

“If you discover information about lying by the government to the people or about wrongdoing or about corruption or graft, then you’ve got an ethical dilemma and there’s a perfectly ethical or reasonable position to say I’ve now learned something that shows the government was doing something illegal. I have an obligation to make it public.’”

Before Halperin’s speech, Bob Phillipoff handed out fliers in support of Private First Class Bradley Manning, who is in a military brig for allegedly leaking secret info to WikiLeaks.

While the U.S. military claims Manning is not being treated any different than other prisoners, Phiilipoff says the private is subject to “very unhumane treatment.”

“If in fact he’s guilty of what they allege him to be guilty of, he’s actually obeying the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Nuremberg Principles concerning war crimes. He’s actually quite innocent. He’s actually obeying the law against war crimes and illegal activities that the WikiLeaks information suggests has been occurring.”

He says the leaks have been helpful in exposing what he says are violations of international law.

Paul McGiffin, a self-described snowbird now living in Sarasota, also attended Halperin’s talk. He said it was “very provocative” and “balanced.”

“It’s important to preserve some security for the govnerment. The government has a right to secrets and not to let all the secrets out for a variety of very important reasons.”

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