Did Daniel Ellsberg defame George Bush on Lateline last night?

13 Oct

I have connected this to the previous entry, even if this one is really about my new TV set! So I saw Lateline, and so maybe did you. Well, what do you think of what Ellsberg said?

TONY JONES: You really believe that the war in Iraq was based on lies?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: No question. Actually, no matter how much misunderstanding there was underneath that about the role of the presence of WMDs in Iraq, when the administration figures, all of them – Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld – said, we have no doubt, our intelligence agrees, we know for a fact, all those things were lies. The evidence which they had, which was misleading at best, was extremely thin by any standards. Contradictory, controversial, and the administration managed to conceal from the public for years the amount of controversy there was about the aims of the project, how much it would cost, how long it would take. All of those things were concealed from the public and lied about, just as happened in Vietnam and I’m afraid that’s happening once again with respect to Iran…

Of course I would like to have trust in the commonsense of my president. No, I don’t. We’ve had this president for five years now. I would say that the judgment that he and his advisers have shown not just in Iraq but in an entire range of situations have earned him the greatest distrust and scepticism. Indeed, I would say that if there was an Opposition party in the House, in the Senate, he has richly earned impeachment and I would say, though the trial hasn’t been held, conviction on a number of grounds through breaking the law and of showing absolutely miserable judgment…

There was also an excellent documentary on the tragic madness of The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, called in China today rather euphemistically “the ten wasted years”. There were some very frank revelations in that program from Chinese sources. Part 2 is next week. I notice one of the people behind it is Geremie Barmé, whom I met some years back at Nicholas Jose’s place. Geremie R. Barmé lived and studied in China during the last years of the Cultural Revolution. He is now a professor at ANU.

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2 responses to “Did Daniel Ellsberg defame George Bush on Lateline last night?

  1. marcelproust

    October 13, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Strictly, defamation is a statement which simply de-fames an identified person, that is, which injures the person’s reputation. It doesn’t even have to be untrue, although truch can be a defence (see below).

    On that ground alone, you might think it to be a moot point whether Pres Bush was defamed, although that is a too-cute point – it is not relevant to say, for example, that no one believes Daniel Ellsberg so therefore he did not defame President Bush.

    In practical terms, defamation usually extends to that strict sense above plus the absence of any defence. The relevant defences here would be either truth or what is known as qualified privilege. The latter takes a different form in the States where they have constitutional free speech and a “public figure” defence based on constitutional rights, but even in Australia such statements would probably be covered by what was at one stage called the “Lange” (after the late PM of NZ, who sued, I think, the ABC) defence. This relates to matters of public interest and is mostly subject to some proviso that the person making the statement acted reasonably. There are also statutory forms of this defence.

    In that sense, I doubt if President Bush was defamed, even though generally, to call someone a liar is, in the strict sense, classically defamatory.

    On one view, read carefully, Mr Ellsberg stops short of identifying President Bush or anyone else in particular as a liar.

    In any event, I doubt if President Bush would like the truth of his claim or even the reasonableness of the ABC in publishing Mr Ellsberg’s statements (or the reasonableness of Mr Ellsberg in making them) to be tested in the courts of Australia.

    There is a very interesting case concerning David Irving suing an American professor who called him a holocaust denier. The judgment is available on the internet in its entirety, although you probably heard about it at the time. That was an unusual example of the truth of historical matters being subject to curial determination.

  2. Armagnac Esq

    October 13, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    I think truth would be an excellent defence to this action.

    Anyway, the other factor is ‘would they sue?’ You could almost certainly make these assertions knowing that they would not want to subject themselves to cross examination on the subject!

    PS thanks for link below. Will recip..

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