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Calling Vanunu a "preeminent prophet of the nuclear era," Ellsberg stressed that Israel must recognize, for its own good, what Vanunu did was right and come clean about the existence of its nuclear weapons program. The Israeli government should also stop lying to its own people and the world and admit that they were the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East, he added.
Ellsberg, who exposed the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War to the American media in 1971 and was prosecuted and branded a "traitor" by some for his move, also talked about Vanunu's ordeal from the perspective of a whistleblower.
RT: Ten years since his release, Vanunu is still under constant government pressure, is in constant fear of arrest. Why is that happening, do you think?
Daniel Ellsberg: I think it's essentially what they want to be a life-time punishment, in effect, for embarrassing them, actually, in a policy that really can't be defended in the nuclear era. Is it really legitimate for a country to develop nuclear weapons in secret and continue to maintain the secrecy, then, indefinitely from the world, or pretend to keep that secret? I think not. I think Vanunu did exactly the right thing by telling his fellow citizens, and the rest of the world, that Israel had a large nuclear program. And for that, he served 18 years in prison: 10 and a half in a very small cell of isolation -- a 6 by 9 foot cell -- what Amnesty called "torture," essentially, for that long period.
The idea that he's restricted after serving the full sentence -- nothing off for good behavior or any pardon of any sort -- after serving the full sentence of 18 the idea that he should be subject to further restrictions about who he can talk to, and whether he can leave the country, is actually a relic of the British colonial policies, when they ruled Israel entirely and they were just incorporated into Israeli law that's not regarded under human rights legislation anywhere else in the world, actually, as a fair thing to do.
He wasn't let out a day early. He served the entire sentence, and was then he was given, as I say, these further restrictions as the British occupation regulations had allowed and Israeli law simply continued those into its own law in clear violation of the UN Charter on Human Rights.
RT: For some people Vanunu is a hero, for others, he is the exact opposite. They say he should be put in prison for life. What impact do you think his revelations have had?
DE: Well, I can't say that his revelations affected Israeli policy, though they should have, I think. Many Israelis feel that they should have been honest and open about their nuclear policy many years ago, and right now are still saying that. He's called a traitor. I was called a traitor, though not charged with that under the American constitution. Virtually everyone, I think, who gives out truth that the officials, the government doesn't want revealed, gets that terrible name. If you're not willing to be called names, you really can't tell the truth, I would say, about wrongful things your government is doing. And I'm speaking here not so much about the Israeli nuclear program, as about the fact that they have lied about it ever since.
RT: Has it been effective in the sense that he was the first to publically speak out about the alleged existence of the Israeli nuclear program? Has it been effective in that it's inspired others to follow his lead?
DE: I'm glad that it has. Actually, there were those who felt at the time that he had improved Israeli security by making it clear to their neighbors that they were confronting a nuclear state -- something I think they were, on the whole, even the government, was happy to have out. But they wanted to "A" -- punish the person who had taken it on himself, the initiative to reveal that, and discourage other whistleblowers. And, on the other hand, they wanted to continue their policy of the so-called "ambiguity," which is just a policy of lying to the public -- to their own public and to the world. By the way, they've said forever they would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East -- they've said that over and over. That's simply a flat government lie. No better, no worse than lies by my own government, or any other government.
RT: Now, Vanunu is not even allowed to leave the country. The government says he could still reveal more secrets. You can speak from a position of experience here, how you feel about that. Is it legally acceptable, though?
DE: I can't go on my own judgment on that, but every nuclear expert -- which I'm not, I've worked on nuclear war plans, but not on design or having to do with nuclear weapons -- everyone says that what he knew as a technician in Dimona in 1986, more than 20 years ago, could [not] possibly have any security relevance today. And that that's just a threadbare excuse for continuing his punishment indefinitely, beyond what even a military type court assigned to him so many years ago.