Nuclear Hero’s Crime Was Making Us Safer by Daniel Ellsberg


Nuclear whistle-blower, Mordechai Vanunu, was arrested again on New Year’s Eve by Israeli Police.  His crime this time was meeting with his Norwegian girlfriend!

The deafening silence over Morde’s re-arrest will illustrates the West’s double-standard when it comes to nuclear weapons and human rights. While sanctions and violence are threatened against Iran for their nuclear program, Israel’s nuclear stockpile is never discussed, and Morde’s inhumane treatment is officially ignored.

Daniel Ellsberg – an American who ‘blew the whistle’ on his own government’s actions during the Vietnam war – speaks out in Morde’s defense.

Mordechai Vanunu – my friend, my hero, my brother – has again been arrested in Israel on”suspicion” of the “crime” of “meeting with foreigners.” I myself have been complicit in this offense, traveling twice to Israel for the express purpose of meeting with him, openly, and expressing support for the actions for which he was imprisoned for over eighteen years. His offense has been to defy openly and repeatedly, conditions put on his freedom of movement and associations and speech after he had served his full sentence, restrictions on his human rights which were a direct carry-over from the British Mandate, colonial regulations in clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such restrictions have no place in a nation evincing respect for a rule of law and fundamental human rights. His arrest and confinement are outrages and should be ended immediately.

My perspective on Mordechai and his behavior was expressed as well as I could do it today in the following op-ed published in 2004 on the day of his release from prison. I can only say that I would be proud to be known as the American Vanunu: though my own possible sentence of 115 years for revealing state secrets was averted by disclosure of government misconduct against me which pales next to the Israeli misconduct in assaulting, drugging and kidnapping Vanunu in the process of bringing him to trial, let alone the eleven years of solitary confinement he was forced to endure.

The following article was first published on April 21st, 2004 in the Los Angeles Times

Mordechai Vanunu is the preeminent hero of the nuclear era. He consciously risked all he had in life to warn his own country and the world of the true extent of the nuclear danger facing us. And he paid the full price, a burden in many ways worse than death, for his heroic act – for doing exactly what he should have done and what others should be doing.

Vanunu’s “crime” was committed in 1986, when he gave the London Sunday Times a series of photos he had taken within the Israeli nuclear weapons facility at Dimona, where he had worked as a technician.

For that act – revealing that his country’s program and stockpile were much larger than the CIA or others had estimated – Vanunu was kidnapped from the Rome airport by agents of the Israeli Mossad and secretly transported back for a closed trial in which he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

He spent the first 11-1/2 years in solitary confinement in a 6-by-9-foot cell, an unprecedented term of solitary under conditions that Amnesty International called “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

Now, after serving his full term, he is due to be released today. But his “unfreedom” is to be continued by restrictions on his movements and his contacts: He cannot leave Israel, he will be confined to a single town, he cannot communicate with foreigners face to face or by phone, fax or e-mail (purely punitive conditions because any classified information that he may have possessed is by now nearly two decades old).

The irony of all this is that no country in the world has a stronger stake than Israel in preventing nuclear proliferation, above all in the Middle East. Yet Israel’s secret nuclear policies – to this day it does not acknowledge that it possesses such weapons – are shortsighted and self-destructive. They promote rather than block proliferation by encouraging the country’s neighbors to develop their own, comparable weapons.

This will not change without public mobilization and democratic pressure, which in turn demand public awareness and discussion. It was precisely this that Vanunu sought to stimulate.

Not in Israel or in any other case – not that of the U.S., Russia, England, France, China, India or Pakistan – has the decision to become a nuclear weapons state ever been made democratically or even with the knowledge of the full Cabinet. It is likely that in an open discussion not one of these states could convince its own people or the rest of the world that it had a legitimate reason for possessing as many warheads as the several hundred that Israel allegedly has (far beyond any plausible requirement for deterrence).

More Vanunus are urgently needed. That is true not only in Israel but in every nuclear weapons state, declared and undeclared. Can anyone fail to recognize the value to world security of a heroic Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian or North Korean Vanunu making comparable revelations?

And the world’s need for such secret-telling is not limited to citizens of what nuclear weapons states presumptuously call rogue nations. Every nuclear weapons state has secret policies, aims, programs and plans that contradict its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the 1995 Declaration of Principles agreed to at the NPT Renewal Conference. Every official with knowledge of these violations could and should consider doing what Vanunu did.

That is what I should have done in the early ’60s based on what I knew about the secret nuclear planning and practices of the United States when I consulted at the Defense Department, on loan from the Rand Corp., on problems of nuclear command and control. I drafted the Secretary of Defense Guidance to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the general nuclear war plans, and the extreme dangers of our practices and plan were apparent to me.

I now feel derelict for wrongfully keeping secret the documents in my safe revealing this catastrophically reckless posture. But I did not then have Vanunu’s example to guide me.

When I finally did have an example in front of me — that of young Americans who were choosing to go to prison rather than participate in what I too knew was a hopeless, immoral war — I was inspired in 1971 to turn over a top-secret history of presidential lies about the war in Vietnam to 19 newspapers. I regret only that I didn’t do it earlier, before the bombs started falling.

Vanunu should long since have been released from solitary and from prison, not because he has “suffered enough” but because what he did was the correct and courageous thing to do in the face of the foreseeable efforts to silence and punish him.

The outrageous and illegal restrictions proposed to be inflicted on him when he finally steps out of prison after 18 years should be widely protested and rejected, not only because they violate his fundamental human rights but because the world needs to hear this man’s voice.

The cult and culture of secrecy in every nuclear weapons state have endangered humanity and continues to threaten its survival. Vanunu’s challenge to that wrongful and dangerous secrecy must be joined worldwide.

As published in the Los Angeles Times on January 4th, 2010

Daniel Ellsberg

Ellsberg is A former US military analyst who blew the whistle on his own government in 1971 when he released ‘The Pentagon Papers’  – a top-secret Pentagon study of US government decision-making about the Vietnam War – to the New York Times and other newspapers.

Ellsberg faced 115 years imprisonment for his actions but the case against him was dismissed in 1973 on the basis of ‘gross governmental misconduct’.



About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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1 Response to Nuclear Hero’s Crime Was Making Us Safer by Daniel Ellsberg

  1. Arlene Adamo says:

    (Inspired by Mordechai Vanunu, I wrote this poem in honour of him and all the other Mordechais out there.)

    The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

    Mighty Mordechai

    In the land of Uz
    Where the devil cries,
    “Skin for skin!”
    God always calls forth
    His mightiest
    So when He softly whispered
    “Mordechai, come to Me”
    Mighty Mordechai had ears to hear
    He turned his back
    Upon the devil
    And walked forward
    The same path taken
    By the mightiest of his ancestors
    The path towards God
    The forward way
    The righteous way
    For the Lord is Peace

    So the devil screeched:
    Lock him up!
    Beat him down!
    Play with his mind!
    Take away everything!
    Give him death
    To suck upon!
    Skin for skin!

    Where there was no sky to gaze upon
    Mordechai gazed up at God
    Where there was no fresh air to breathe
    Mordechai breathed in the Breath of God
    Where there was no warm body for comfort
    Mordechai curled up against the Body of God
    Where there was no soothing voice
    Mordechai opened his ears and listened to God whisper
    “I love you”

    This world is God’s world
    His beloved world
    Full of His beloved children
    Woe to those
    Who would build weapons
    To destroy it!
    Woe to those
    Who would come up against
    His mightiest!

    (Permission granted by the author to reprint for non-monetary purposes and with credit to the author.)

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