'A Coup Has Occurred'
By Daniel Ellsberg
09/26/07 "ICH" -- -- September 26, 2007 (Text of a speech
delivered September 20, 2007) -- - - I think nothing has higher
priority than averting an attack on Iran, which I think will be
accompanied by a further change in our way of governing here
that in effect will convert us into what I would call a police
there’s another 9/11 under this regime … it means that they
switch on full extent all the apparatus of a police state that
has been patiently constructed, largely secretly at first but
eventually leaked out and known and accepted by the Democratic
people in Congress, by the Republicans and so forth.
there be anything left for NSA to increase its surveillance of
us? … They may be to the limit of their technical capability
now, or they may not. But if they’re not now they will be after
would say after the Iranian retaliation to an American attack on
Iran, you will then see an increased attack on Iran – an
escalation – which will be also accompanied by a total
suppression of dissent in this country, including detention
little hard for me to distinguish the two contingencies; they
could come together. Another 9/11 or an Iranian attack in which
Iran’s reaction against Israel, against our shipping, against
our troops in Iraq above all, possibly in this country, will
justify the full panoply of measures that have been prepared
now, legitimized, and to some extent written into law. …
is an unusual gang, even for Republicans. [But] I think that the
successors to this regime are not likely to roll back the
assault on the Constitution. They will take advantage of it,
they will exploit it.
Hillary Clinton as president decide to turn off NSA after the
last five years of illegal surveillance? Will she deprive her
administration her ability to protect United States citizens
from possible terrorism by blinding herself and deafening
herself to all that NSA can provide? I don’t think so.
this somehow, by a change in our political climate, of a radical
change, unless this gets rolled back in the next year or two
before a new administration comes in – and there’s no move to do
this at this point – unless that happens I don’t see it
happening under the next administration, whether Republican or
The Next Coup
simplify this and not just to be rhetorical: A coup has
occurred. I woke up the other day realizing, coming out of
sleep, that a coup has occurred. It’s not just a question that a
coup lies ahead with the next 9/11. That’s the next coup, that
completes the first.
last five years have seen a steady assault on every fundamental
of our Constitution, … what the rest of the world looked at for
the last 200 years as a model and experiment to the rest of the
world – in checks and balances, limited government, Bill of
Rights, individual rights protected from majority infringement
by the Congress, an independent judiciary, the possibility of
have been violations of these principles by many presidents
before. Most of the specific things that Bush has done in the
way of illegal surveillance and other matters were done under my
boss Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War: the use of CIA, FBI, NSA
could go through a list going back before this century to
Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War,
and before that the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 18th century.
I think that none of those presidents were in fact what I would
call quite precisely the current administration: domestic
enemies of the Constitution.
think that none of these presidents with all their violations,
which were impeachable had they been found out at the time and
in nearly every case their violations were not found out until
they were out of office so we didn’t have the exact challenge
that we have today.
was true with the first term of Nixon and certainly of Johnson,
Kennedy and others. They were impeachable, they weren’t found
out in time, but I think it was not their intention to in the
crisis situations that they felt justified their actions, to
change our form of government.
increasingly clear with each new book and each new leak that
comes out, that Richard Cheney and his now chief of staff David
Addington have had precisely that in mind since at least the
early 70s. Not just since 1992, not since 2001, but have
believed in Executive government, single-branch government under
an Executive president – elected or not – with unrestrained
powers. They did not believe in restraint.
say this I’m not saying they are traitors. I don’t think they
have in mind allegiance to some foreign power or have a desire
to help a foreign power. I believe they have in their own minds
a love of this country and what they think is best for this
country – but what they think is best is directly and
consciously at odds with what the Founders of this country and
believe we need a different kind of government now, an Executive
government essentially, rule by decree, which is what we’re
getting with signing statements. Signing statements are talked
about as line-item vetoes which is one [way] of describing them
which are unconstitutional in themselves, but in other ways are
just saying the president says “I decide what I enforce. I
decide what the law is. I legislate.”
[the same] with the military commissions, courts that are under
the entire control of the Executive Branch, essentially of the
president. A concentration of legislative, judicial, and
executive powers in one branch, which is precisely what the
Founders meant to avert, and tried to avert and did avert to the
best of their ability in the Constitution.
Founders Had It Right
I’m appealing to that as a crisis right now not just because it
is a break in tradition but because I believe in my heart and
from my experience that on this point the Founders had it right.
not just “our way of doing things” – it was a crucial perception
on the corruption of power to anybody including Americans. On
procedures and institutions that might possibly keep that power
under control because the alternative was what we have just
seen, wars like Vietnam, wars like Iraq, wars like the one
brings me to the second point. This Executive Branch, under
specifically Bush and Cheney, despite opposition from most of
the rest of the branch, even of the cabinet, clearly intends a
war against Iran which even by imperialist standards, standards
in other words which were accepted not only by nearly everyone
in the Executive Branch but most of the leaders in Congress. The
interests of the empire, the need for hegemony, our right to
control and our need to control the oil of the Middle East and
many other places. That is consensual in our establishment. …
even by those standards, an attack on Iran is insane. And I say
that quietly, I don’t mean it to be heard as rhetoric. Of course
it’s not only aggression and a violation of international law, a
supreme international crime, but it is by imperial standards,
insane in terms of the consequences.
that make it impossible? No, it obviously doesn’t, it doesn’t
even make it unlikely.
is because two things come together that with the acceptance for
various reasons of the Congress – Democrats and Republicans –
and the public and the media, we have freed the White House –
the president and the vice president – from virtually any
restraint by Congress, courts, media, public, whatever.
the other hand, the people who have this unrestrained power are
crazy. Not entirely, but they have crazy beliefs.
the question is what then, what can we do about this? We are
heading towards an insane operation. It is not certain. It is
likely. … I want to try to be realistic myself here, to
encourage us to do what we must do, what is needed to be done
with the full recognition of the reality. Nothing is impossible.
I’m talking about in the way of a police state, in the way of an
attack on Iran is not certain. Nothing is certain, actually.
However, I think it is probable, more likely than not, that in
the next 15, 16 months of this administration we will see an
attack on Iran. Probably. Whatever we do.
we will not succeed in moving Congress probably, and Congress
probably will not stop the president from doing this. And that’s
where we’re heading. That’s a very ugly, ugly prospect.
However, I think it’s up to us to work to increase that small
perhaps – anyway not large – possibility and probability to
avert this within the next 15 months, aside from the effort that
we have to make for the rest of our lives.
Restoring the Republic
Getting back the constitutional government and improving it will
take a long time. And I think if we don’t get started now, it
won’t be started under the next administration.
Getting out of Iraq will take a long time. Averting Iran and
averting a further coup in the face of a 9/11, another attack,
is for right now, it can’t be put off. It will take a kind of
political and moral courage of which we have seen very little…
have a really unusual concentration here and in this audience,
of people who have in fact changed their lives, changed their
position, lost their friends to a large extent, risked and
experienced being called terrible names, “traitor,” “weak on
terrorism” – names that politicians will do anything to avoid
we get more people in the government and in the public at large
to change their lives now in a crisis in a critical way? How do
we get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for example? What kinds of
pressures, what kinds of influences can be brought to bear to
get Congress to do their jobs? It isn’t just doing their jobs.
Getting them to obey their oaths of office.
an oath many times, an oath of office as a Marine lieutenant, as
an official in the Defense Department, as an official in the
State Department as a Foreign Service officer. A number of times
I took an oath of office which is the same oath office taken by
every member of Congress and every official in the United States
and every officer in the United States armed services.
that oath is not to a Commander in Chief, which is not
mentioned. It is not to a fuehrer. It is not even to
superior officers. The oath is precisely to protect and uphold
the Constitution of the United States.
that is an oath I violated every day for years in the Defense
Department without realizing it when I kept my mouth shut when I
knew the public was being lied into a war as they were lied into
Iraq, as they are being lied into war in Iran.
that I had the documents that proved it, and I did not put it
out then. I was not obeying my oath which I eventually came to
often said that Lt. Ehren Watada – who still faces trial for
refusing to obey orders to deploy to Iraq which he correctly
perceives to be an unconstitutional and aggressive war – is the
single officer in the United States armed services who is taking
seriously in upholding his oath.
president is clearly violating that oath, of course. Everybody
under him who understands what is going on and there are myriad,
are violating their oaths. And that’s the standard that I think
we should be asking of people.
Democratic side, on the political side, I think we should be
demanding of our Democratic leaders in the House and Senate –
and frankly of the Republicans – that it is not their highest
single absolute priority to be reelected or to maintain a
Democratic majority so that Pelosi can still be Speaker of the
House and Reid can be in the Senate, or to increase that
not going to say that for politicians they should ignore that,
or that they should do something else entirely, or that they
should not worry about that.
course that will be and should be a major concern of theirs, but
they’re acting like it’s their sole concern. Which is business
as usual. “We have a majority, let’s not lose it, let’s keep it.
Let’s keep those chairmanships.” Exactly what have those
chairmanships done for us to save the Constitution in the last
couple of years?
shocked by the Republicans today that I read in the Washington
Post who yesterday threatened a filibuster if we … get back
habeas corpus. The ruling out of habeas corpus
with the help of the Democrats did not get us back to George the
First it got us back to before King John 700 years ago in terms
need some way, and Ann Wright has one way, of sitting in, in
Conyers office and getting arrested. Ray McGovern has been
getting arrested, pushed out the other day for saying the simple
words “swear him in” when it came to testimony.
think we’ve got to somehow get home to them [in Congress] that
this is the time for them to uphold the oath, to preserve the
Constitution, which is worth struggling for in part because it’s
only with the power that the Constitution gives Congress
responding to the public, only with that can we protect the
world from mad men in power in the White House who intend an
attack on Iran.
the current generation of American generals and others who
realize that this will be a catastrophe have not shown
themselves – they might be people who in their past lives risked
their bodies and their lives in Vietnam or elsewhere, like
[Colin] Powell, and would not risk their career or their
relation with the president to the slightest degree.
has to change. And it’s the example of people like those up here
who somehow brought home to our representatives that they as
humans and as citizens have the power to do likewise and find in
themselves the courage to protect this country and protect the
world. Thank you.
Ellsberg is author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the
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