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Where would we be without Daniel Ellsberg and Thomas Tamm?

Apr 17, 2009 Where would we be without Daniel Ellsberg and Thomas Tamm?

Before my college sophomore year began in 1982, I started working at a small Brooks Brothers-type men’s clothing store in Harvard Square. One of the two owners delighted in watching a boxing match between African-Americans, exulting at "two n-gg-rs" (his phraseology) "beating the crap" out of each other. This same co-owner hummed happily to EZ listening radio; praised Richard Nixon as one of the best presidents; and told me of displaying a handgun to a demonstrator ready to throw a rock through his store’s window in the Sixties. I let him know of my displeasure over his bigotry, but took too long to let him know that directly enough.

Then, one day a browsing man left the store, and the co-owner had some choice and sharp words. He said the man was Daniel Ellsberg, whose face I did not know, but whose name I did. He was angry.

He probably was not the only person angry about Ellsberg; I certainly have been happy about Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg’s felony prosecution over the leak was dismissed over government misconduct in 1973, perhaps speeding along Nixon’s downfall all the faster.

Now, former Justice Department attorney Thomas Tamm waits to see whether he will be prosecuted over his courageous and commendable 2005 leak to the New York Times over warrantless White House-directed surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and emails with people abroad. His chances of a prosecution might be lower with the January 20, 2009, White House changing of the guard, but he still remains very preoccupied over the possibility of a prosecution.

Thomas Tamm prosecuted for around two decades into the late 1990’s in the county where I live and work, Montgomery County, Maryland. We never had a case together, in part because I was mainly defending in other parts of Maryland until becoming my own boss in 1998. He then moved to Janet Reno’s Justice Department, and stayed when George Bush, II, took the reins. Tamm comes from a family including numerous loyal FBI employees, and would sometimes crawl under J. Edgar Hoover’s desk as a toddler.

In 2007, Tamm’s family suffered a multitude of cops bursting into their home late at night (which is cops’ often preferred time to execute search warrants, to catch people sleeping and by surprise), which hopefully Tamm recognizes is the fate that so many of his opposing criminal defendants have suffered. However, was the judge who authorized the search warrant of Tamm’s home justified in doing so? Apparently not until Obama’s election victory did Tamm come public in late 2008.

No matter one’s views of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, she is a captivating speaker and interviewer, as reconfirmed this morning in her interview of Tamm. People can try to call Tamm a Bush II hater all they want and theorize a trail from him to the Democratic National Committee, but this is a man who proclaims to this day his strong belief in the role of prosecutors, while insisting that law enforcement and prosecution be done honestly and cleanly. Talk about a speech that he hopefully will present to every prosecutor.  

Today, Tamm was awarded the Ridenhour Truth-Telling prize, whose website gives a further rundown of Tamm. By the way, Daniel Ellsberg is a recipient of the Ridenhour Courage Prize.

As the Ridenhour Prize’s website reports: "In 1969, Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon describing the horrific events at My Lai — the infamous massacre of the Vietnam War — bringing the scandal to the attention of the American public and the world." Ridenhour’s letter to Congress is here. I have written about My Lai here and here.

People can rant and rave all they want against such whistleblowers as Ellsberg and Tamm. However, the federal government is too overly powerful as is. Such power corrupts. We need more whistleblowing Daniel Ellsbergs and Thomas Tamms to help neutralize abuses of power. 

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