Video of a presentation by attorney David Coombs, Seattle, Washington on December 11, 2013. Transcript of presentation by Mr. Coombs, Oakland, California on December 9, 2013 below.
Well it’s an honor to be here. I want to thank Jeff Paterson and Courage to Resist for bringing me here, allowing me to speak, to meet a lot of you for the first time and some of you people I’ve met quite often, and it’s good to see your faces again.
It’s been a little over three months since the sentencing case, and actually I’d hoped that during that time period I would get the chance to kind of reconcile, at least with myself, the outcome at the court martial with what I know to be the facts. And I thought, you know, time has a way of kind of healing all wounds, but for me, it hasn’t. And I don’t know if it will until Chelsea’s actually out of prison.
It’s hard for me to really get my mind around everything I know to be the facts and the 35-year sentence, because I believed then and I still believe that when Chelsea did what she did, she did an incredibly dangerous thing — what she dared to do was to show people the truth, show people what was actually happening. And that is a very dangerous thing to do when your country does not want you to speak the truth, when your country wants you to just go along with what everyone believes to be the truth. And when Chelsea went to Iraq, she didn’t go there with the mindset of, ‘I’m going to disclose any information,’ that was not her intent. She went there with the intent to help her unit, as you know she is a humanist. But she viewed her ability as an intelligence analyst, and her belief in the intrinsic value of life, to actually maybe help her unit save lives. And so prior to deploying, this very dedicated woman started to read more, to learn about the country that she’s going to, to learn about the people in that country, the long history. She (inaudible) talk about Iraq and its history with the best of people. She became kind of the go-to person for the unit, prior to their deployment, if you wanted to know something about Iraq, if you wanted to know something about the area they were going to. This young specialist — actually at the time a PFC, she got promoted when she was deployed — knew more than her superiors, her officers, about where they were going.
This was the dedication she had, and she had this dedication because she was hoping that she could apply that to actually save lives. That was her goal. That was her motivation. And when she got there, she saw things that she couldn’t ignore. And she talked about the fact that she [sound cut] her mind, she wished that she could just keep it on some dark server in some place, but she couldn’t do that. And so Chelsea spoke out. She did that incredibly dangerous thing. And the real question that should be asked at the time she did that, is ‘Why was she the person doing this?’ You know, over a million people had access to the information that Chelsea ultimately disclosed. Think about that for a moment. Over a million people had access to that information. And yet nobody spoke out before this. And so Chelsea took it upon herself to do that, at great risk, and as we now know, personal sacrifice to herself.
So she speaks out and we know the information gets out and it makes a difference. It makes a difference in this world. You think about, just running off some of the accomplishments from the release of this information. It ended the Iraq war. The government might not acknowledge that, but when Iraq saw the information that was released, that’s when they insisted that they would have criminal jurisdiction over American soldiers. And that of course precipitated our immediate withdrawal from Iraq. So had these documents not been released, we would have been in Iraq for a lot longer. So it ended that.
It also shed a lot of spotlight on the people that we’re holding in Guantanamo. Many people, when they think about Guantanamo, they think, ‘That is the worst of the worst, that is where we take the most dangerous terrorists that we could ever find and we put them there. They’re so dangerous that we cannot bring them to the United States to allow them to be part of the federal judicial system, where they would get due process and actually get a day in court. They’re too dangerous for that. So we need to keep them in Guantanamo.’ That was the mindset of most Americans. And unfortunately, most people believe that it was necessary. But these documents that Chelsea released show that for the most part, the vast majority of these people were individuals who were just swept up, or at the time was the money that America was paying for information on terrorists. So someone would say, ‘This person is a terrorist,’ they would get a little bit of money, and that person would be gone. Who knows what the reason might be? It might be just for the money, or it might be these two individuals had some sort of disagreement or long-term problem with each other and this is a quick way of getting rid of somebody. And those that weren’t in that category were low-level operatives that were being held there, at a cost of almost a million dollars a year per person. So the documents shed light on that.
The documents also started the Arab Spring. And again, the government doesn’t want to give much credit for that, but Tunisia would not have happened if not for these documents. And when you look at the ripple effect from Tunisia, you see that just spread like a wildfire across the Middle East, bringing a chance at democracy to countries that we professed a desire to do that. But when we see now from the diplomatic cables, that was not our intent.
And that’s the other thing these documents did. They shed light on how we deal with other countries. And it’s unfortunate but we don’t always do the right thing. We don’t always deal with countries in what’s in the best interest for the world, it’s always, ‘What is in our best interest?’ And if you take it from the country level down to just normal people, if you knew somebody who was dealing with you this way, they would be known as a taker. Somebody who just takes, takes, and never gives back to you. And quickly you probably wouldn’t want to be friends with that person. That’s how we were dealing with other countries on the international stage. And it shed light on that.
And that’s just a small list of how these documents changed things. Now of course the government doesn’t want to give any credit for that. In fact, they wanted to instead exaggerate the potential harm from these documents. And they did this primarily out of embarrassment, because these documents in fact embarrassed our country. So, when the government started to go on the war path against Chelsea — at that time, she wasn’t identifying — more so against WikiLeaks. The idea was convincing all of you and the rest of the American public how dangerous these documents were, how these documents wouldn’t lead to the loss of human life — people who were cooperating with us — they would lead to the loss of soldiers’ lives. It would aid the terrorists, ‘cause they would know our playbook of what we’re trying to do. This is what was put out. I can tell you that not only through three years of this case, but even from your own standpoint of three years later, how many of those predictions came true? Absolutely none. The whole idea was the convince and control the narrative of, ‘These leaks are dangerous, you should not look at them.’ But these leaks were information, they were vital information that we should have had. Well in advance to Chelsea releasing the information.
In addition to exaggerating the potential danger, the next thing they were trying to do was to marginalize Chelsea. Marginalize a person who was getting this information out. And the way they did that was to say, ‘You know what, she’s a disgruntled soldier. This is why she released information. She’s a gay soldier. Didn’t like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. That is why she released this information. She has mental illness, she was mentally troubled. We knew she was mentally troubled, this is why she released the information.’ It’s a standard, playbook tactic. Kill the messenger when you can’t kill the message. And that’s exactly what they were trying to do, to show she must have been struggling from these various things.
Make no mistake, Chelsea was struggling during that time. The things she was struggling with was having a conscience. That’s what she was struggling with. That’s the illness that she was having difficulty reconciling. She had a conscience, she saw what she was reading, she saw what was happening, and she couldn’t let that information stay inside. So that is why she chose to act, and do the very dangerous thing of sharing this information with the American public. And that’s what her intent was, to get this information out. She wanted to spark debates, to spark worldwide reforms. That’s what she was hoping would happen. And early on, when you saw the Collateral Murder video, that’s exactly what did happen, people started talking about that, ‘What is going on?’ And she was greatly encouraged by that, by the discussion that had started. And as the subsequent releases happened, and when she was identified, then unfortunately, some of that message got lost. And there is a harsh reality for people like Chelsea, who are whistle-blowers, and that harsh reality is that, unfortunately, within a short period of time, their conduct, their actions get forgotten. The message gets lost. And often times, even though we know the information, we know what’s happening, that also gets lost. People forget what they’re told, they go on with their busy life. Some other event happens that the media takes its attention to, and the vast American public’s attention gets directed towards that. Then all of the sacrifices of the whistle-blower get lost. And they get forgotten. And now the question is, what happens now, today, and going forward with Chelsea. Is she going to be forgotten? Are the lessons and the information that she shared with us going to be just a historical note, that three years from now, five years from now, is forgotten? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. And I will tell you one organization that I am very proud to be associated with is Courage to Resist. And for me, as a reserved lieutenant colonel, as a person who is still in the military, that might not have been the first thing out of my mouth about three years ago. And in fact, when I was hired, and I had my first conversation with Jeff, Jeff said, ‘Hey, you know, we’re here to help, we want to help. We understand that you might not support us, and what we’re trying to do, but we want to support you. And all we ask is that you don’t say too many bad things about us when we’re trying to help you.’ Which was very gracious of Jeff, I thought. And I told him at the time you know, I don’t know much about the organization, but I’m not going to badmouth your organization. And as time went on, the one thing that consistently was always true, was when I needed something for Chelsea, Courage to Resist was there. And so when they asked me to come here, that was too easy for me, it was my pleasure to come.
But one thing I do want to highlight for a moment is when Courage to Resist stepped forward, that was at a very risky time to do that. Think back to the 2010 time frame, late 2010. You had the President of the United States speaking out against WikiLeaks and the leaks. You had people calling for the targeted assassination of Julian Assange. You had unprecedented amount of pressure placed upon corporate organizations to basically defund WikiLeaks. And now here you have a grassroots organization, Courage to Resist, stepping up saying, ‘We’re gonna help, we’re gonna give you some money, we’re going to do fundraising, we’re gonna do public awareness,’ at a time when that was not a popular thing to do. And I remember when that decision happened, I thought, ‘I don’t know much about this organization, but what a brave organization to do that, to step forward at that time.’
And thank goodness that that organization did step forward, because Chelsea was being worn down at that point. That’s the other thing about most whistle-blowers, is they become isolated. And the United States government, with its unlimited resources, starts to bear down and isolate that person [inaudible]. And Chelsea had that not only from the standpoint of a monetary issue, certainly not a very wealthy person so she couldn’t afford to hire just anybody. But also they did that pressure from the standpoint of where they placed her, in Quantico. And that’s a well-known fact of history, of how much she went through during that time period, almost nine months. The fact that Courage to Resist stepped forward when they did made a huge difference. It led to, at the time, for me at least personally, the idea that I would not have to be totally pro-bono in this case, which — that’s a good thing, my wife was happy about that. But more importantly, when they stepped forward, it allowed Chelsea to know that she had support. And every time when we were in a hearing, Chelsea would — she would not look back but she would ask me, ‘How many people are there? Are they wearing the Truth shirts?’ She was very happy to know when certain people were there, she would recognize certain people. I think this part of her intelligence analyst [inaudible]: she would try to pick up information in a way that other people wouldn’t recognize that she was getting information. So she was aware certain people — maybe you, by the way, she was aware of.
But then you know, she also, even today, is aware of what’s happening. She called me yesterday right before the Santa Monica speech, to wish me good luck, which — that was nice of her, I thought. And it might come as a surprise to you that she can call me, she has a calling card and she’s able to call certain people on her approved list. I’m one of those, so we talk at least, probably, three times a week. But with her, as I said, the problem with the whistleblower is there comes a time when history moves on. And in this case, the stakes are too high to do that. It’s too high because, as of 2001, 7,678 soldiers have died in either Iraq or Afghanistan. These are men and women who committed the ultimate sacrifice for our country. These were husbands, wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. And what we don’t know, and what we’ll never know is, ‘What could those 7,678 people have done in this world? What have we lost, by the fact that they’re no longer here?’ We’ll never know the answer to that question. But one thing that Chelsea has shown is that we need whistle-blowers like her to ensure that when we do commit our nation’s resources, we do so knowing all the facts, we do so knowing true information. And if a war is a necessary evil, and assuming that fact to be true for this purposes here today, then we need to go into war when we know that this is our last choice, the last resort. Because 7,678 human lives — and that’s just American soldiers — is too much to lose over lies, over incomplete truths. And that is why we need whistle-blowers. Because too often in our country, we don’t know information. Daniel talked a little about Snowden, some of the facts that have come out about Snowden, and why people care about that. Because now that’s stuff that’s affecting us. That’s just one example of information that, if you would’ve said that publicly maybe three to four years ago, or even less time than that, people would’ve looked at you and said, ‘No our country’s not doing that.’
So what else don’t we know? And the answer to that is a lot. Because when you look at the problem in our society today, it centers on over-classification. We have a complete section of our government — that is funded by us — that’s classified. And we’ll never know, because we don’t have the security clearance to know. By some estimates, we have over a billion documents classified at this point. As of 2012. We had over 97 million classification determinations during that year. That is a lot of information that is kept out of our public debate. And when you see that you have that lack of transparency in a democratic government that prides itself on being the beacon of democracy for the entire world, you have to ask yourself what’s wrong with that picture. Why is there so much information that we don’t know? So when Chelsea decided to release her information, again, she decided that this was stuff that the American public needed to know. And one little-known fact about this, although I did bring this up during the trial, is Chelsea was selective in what she chose. She had the ability to release literally millions of documents. The government kept counting on the fact that it was over 700,000 documents. But those were very selective documents that she chose. And she released that information because she was hoping that it would spark debates, it would spark worldwide reforms. And now our challenge here today is, ‘Is her hope going to come to fruition? Are we going to have public debates? Are we going to demand accountability? Are we going to demand transparency in our government?’ I hope the answer to that is yes. Not only for the sake of my client, and the sacrifices that she has made, but also for future whistle-blowers, because if we don’t pay attention to their sacrifices, how can we expect them to step forward in the future? And we need whistle-blowers. We need them because there is just too much that we don’t know.
And I for one hope we’re up to that challenge. Because, not being a person at the time that would be a person standing up for transparency in all avenues, I look to what I’ve seen now over the last three years, and more importantly, I look to what you guys don’t know, what people don’t know from the case, that happened in the the closed sessions. And I think to myself, why don’t you know that? There is nothing in there that you shouldn’t have been able to see. So if you rise to the challenge, hopefully we can encourage others to do so as well. And we can ensure that whistle-blowers like Chelsea, like Snowden, like Daniel Ellsberg, and like the future whistle-blowers, know that they have people who will support them. People who will stand up and people who will be there when they need their help. Thank you.