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Nuclear Hero`s `Crime` Was Making Us Safer

by Daniel Ellsberg
Friday, January 1, 2010
Los Angeles Times

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

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.


[Published 4/21/04 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

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

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

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

Daniel Ellsberg, a former State Department and Defense
Department official, released the `Pentagon Papers` to
the press in 1971.

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