The former Democratic senator from Alaska discusses his presidential campaign, his role in the releasing of the Pentagon Papers and his support for NYC 9/11 Ballot Initiative Campaign, a grassroots group seeking to place an initiative on the ballot of the November 6th general election allowing registered New York City voters to create a new commission to investigate 9/11.
Sen. Mike Gravel, former Democratic senator from Alaska, who served two terms from 1969 to 1981, and a former candidate in the 2008 presidential election.
* 9/11 Ballot Initiative Campaign http://www.nyc911initiative.org
AMY GOODMAN: Former Alaska senator and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Gravel is holding a news conference in New York City today to call for a new independent investigation into 9/11. Gravel will be speaking on behalf of the NYC 9/11 Ballot Initiative Campaign, a grassroots group seeking to place an initiative on the ballot of the November 6th general election allowing registered New York City voters to create a new commission to investigate 9/11.
The group is looking to appoint between nine and fifteen commissioners on the panel to conduct the investigation. Some of the people who have reportedly already agreed to serve as commissioners include Lori Van Auken, a 9/11 widow, one of the so-called "Jersey Girls"; Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican senator from Rhode Island; Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a pastor in Detroit, Michigan; as well as former Democratic Senator Mike Gravel, who joins us here today.
He has published three books this year: Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change, The Kingmakers: How the Media Threatens Our Security and Our Democracy and A Political Odyssey. His book Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change has a forward by Ralph Nader. He'll be joining us on the show later in the week.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Senator Gravel.
MIKE GRAVEL: Amy, thank you for having me. But before we launch into the mission of my appearance, I want to comment on this young man you just had on. I've got to tell you, the military is in for deep trouble. That this kid felt he wasn't very educated, wasn't good student, I mean, I've-he's beautifully articulate. Let me tell you one thing. We lose-we forget history. The First World War ended because hundreds of thousands of people walked off the battlefield. If we're going to end this war and the strength of the military-industrial complex, it's through courageous young men like this walking away from the stupidity and the immorality of our political leaders who lead us on fools' errands of violence and war. And so, I want to applaud what this kid is talking about and his experience. And boy, now that is Courage with a capital C. And I just wanted to articulate that for you.
AMY GOODMAN: Didn't you lead the initiative to end the draft in Vietnam?
MIKE GRAVEL: Oh, yes. Well, I'm very proud. It's one of my accomplishments. I forced it. I forced the end of it. And that-
AMY GOODMAN: How?
MIKE GRAVEL: Well, it was a five-month filibuster that Mansfield made possible without anybody realizing it.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Michael Mansfield.
MIKE GRAVEL: Yes, who was the Majority Leader at the time. So he bought into it, and I didn't even realize what he was doing. He set up a two-track system on legislation. So I started in May, and then by-and, of course, you were there when Ellsberg, myself and West, at the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalists, had a rollicking good time talking about this whole history, and you moderated it. And I can't tell you how, as long as I live, I'll never forget what a wonderful time we had piecing this together what happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, that, I was asking you about ending the draft. You're talking about the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
MIKE GRAVEL: That's right, but I got the Papers because I was filibustering the draft. [inaudible]
AMY GOODMAN: So you went on the floor of the Senate.
MIKE GRAVEL: And tried to filibuster. I failed it, because I was too nice to the staff, and so I had to use another device, which was to-and I was a freshman. So I was chairman of Buildings and Grounds, so I used the precedent, you won't believe, House Un-American Activities Committee, where I could call at a moment's notice a hearing and, as a result of that, turned around and got testimony from a Congressman Dowd from New York, Upper New York, who came and testified, and he wanted a federal-
AMY GOODMAN: You mean you called an emergency hearing-just to be clear, you called this man, what was it, out of bed? And you said, "You know that building you've been asking for? If you come and testify right now about why you need this building, we will commence the hearing." That enabled you to hold the hearing.
MIKE GRAVEL: That's right. And we held a hearing. And then, when he said-he said, "I want a federal building," I says, "Well, I'd love to give you a federal building, but we don't have the money, and the reason why we don't have the money is because we're in Southeast Asia. Now, let me tell you how we got into Southeast Asia." And I started to read the Pentagon Papers. That's how-and then I started sobbing after an hour of reading. I'm dyslexic, so I read terribly.
AMY GOODMAN: You had gotten those Papers from the Washington Post?
MIKE GRAVEL: Well, from Ben Bagdikian, who had gotten them from Dan Ellsberg, and the Post didn't know that Ben had an extra copy. So Ellsberg had pushed Ben, because Ellsberg was very concerned that he couldn't get the Papers out.
AMY GOODMAN: That the Times wouldn't publish them.
MIKE GRAVEL: That's right, and nor would the Post any further, because of the injunction. And so, as it happened, I released the Papers about six, seven, eight hours before the Supreme Court rendered its decision, and their decision was moot, because the world had the Papers as a result of what I did that night.
AMY GOODMAN: And you ultimately had them published by Beacon Press.
MIKE GRAVEL: Right, courageous Beacon Press, not just Beacon Press. Courageous Beacon Press, because nobody would touch it. Nobody would touch it, because they were at risk. And poor Beacon Press really suffered from government harassment. And as it turned out, I and Dr. Rotberg could have been prosecuted, but then, by that time, Watergate had been exposed, and they weren't going to charge a religion or a sitting senator. And so, Dan Ellsberg and I never served a day in jail. And the three people within the Justice Department that came after us, they all went to jail. There's some justice someplace.
AMY GOODMAN: They were.? They were.?
MIKE GRAVEL: They were the Attorney General Mitchell, Mardian, and the other guy I keep forgetting who his name is.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the Pentagon Papers were the 7,000 pages of secret history of US involvement in Vietnam that Ellsberg had taken out of a safe.
MIKE GRAVEL: Totally. It's nothing-nothing but history, nothing but history. This stuff should have never been classified, never have been classified. And what I operated on-I'm a layperson-is just very simple: if it's important for the Secretary of Defense to know how we got into this mess, it's important for the American people to know how we got into this mess. And this is the same situation we have with Iraq. How did we get there?
And now, this segues us into this commission here in New York. I view this very, very serious. I don't see the body politic having the guts to go out and make a new-a real new investigation, because the way politicians act, whether it's Democrat or Republican, "Oh, we'll investigate a little bit, but let's not go too deeply, because we've got to cover their backside, because they'll cover our backside," and it's too political in nature.
And so, with the commission that we're talking about 9/11 here in New York City, now that's a commission that's going to be a real commission. And that commission now can make a true investigation as to what happened on 9/11, but not just 9/11, because the war is tied with that. And so, this will give us an opportunity to vertically go into all the backup to this data and have subpoena powers to have people testify. Now, if a person perjures themself here with the New York commission, it's perjury, so it's a crime. And so, maybe, maybe this will give us an opportunity to have justice, and we can begin subpoenaing the President of the United States-at that time, he'll be the former president-and the Vice President and go on down into the boughs of the intelligence and a whole host of areas to get to the truth. We don't know the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: And how advanced is this ballot initiative?
MIKE GRAVEL: Well, it's very serious right now, because there's windows. When you do an initiative, there's a window that you have to comport to. And so, they need upwards of 50,000 signatures to be real safe, and they've only got 10,000 signatures. And so, they've got about four weeks left.
AMY GOODMAN: They have to all be New Yorkers?
MIKE GRAVEL: Yes. Oh, yeah, they do. And I can't even-I was going to try to go out and collect signatures, but legally I can't. So I'm going to be part of a press conference, and I've done several initiatives myself as a sitting senator. And as you know, with my efforts with the National Initiative, I believe in this concept. What the government can't do, the people can do through the initiative process. And so, we've got to get those signatures in the next forty-thirty, forty days, and it's going to depend on people hearing my voice, hearing you, because you've spoken about this before and the importance of this.
And so, there's a telephone number I want to give: (646) 537-1755. That's (646) 537-1755. And that's a hotline. And today, at St. Mark's Church, that's at Second Avenue and 10th Street-
AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York City.
MIKE GRAVEL: Here in New York City. If people will come there, we're going to have a get-together at 7:30. It's going to be a reception. There will be some light refreshments, and then we'll be talking about this. Sign the guest book. Give us your address. And then what you can do is log on to our website, and that website will permit you to download a petition, and then you'll be able to circulate the petition. But it's key to call this phone number.
AMY GOODMAN: Mike Gravel, did you ever raise this, for example, in the debates that you were able to participate in?
MIKE GRAVEL: About the commission? Not this particular commission, because I was-keep in mind, I was shut out in September of '07 after I had challenged the Democratic Party and Hillary, particularly, on the Lieberman 2 resolution which gave George Bush the power to invade Iran, which is still a threat that looms over our heads.
I was with Ramsey Clark over the weekend, and Ramsey joins me in feeling very, very frightened over the possibility that George Bush may go crazy again and do something significant between now and the term. Remember when Sarkozy asked him, "Well, Mr. President, you've did a-you know, you've done a fine term of office." He said, "I'm not done yet!" Well, by "not done," what's he got in his mind? What more could he do?
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Gravel, when you say we don't know the truth about 9/11, what do you mean?
MIKE GRAVEL: Government-90 percent of what the government does is held secret. It's a whole cult. And that's the thing that is really strangling our democracy, that we just don't know what's going on. And so, you need to rip off the scab and see the wound of what the government is damaging. And so, it's a cult. And I don't know how I can phrase it. I've written about the subject.
When I was-here, best example I can give you. When I was twenty-three years old, I was in a communications intelligence service. I was an adjutant of the communications intelligence service, and I was a top-secret control officer. I was twenty-three years old. Now, I'm forty-two years old, I'm a United States senator, and I could not go in and take notes and read the Pentagon Papers, because they were under guard in the Senate. Now, does it get any stupider than that? And that-and I didn't even go in. When that was-Nixon sent them to the House, sent them to the Senate, and no staff could read it or senator could read it, couldn't even take notes. I mean, we are so steeped in this.
And when you hear-and keep this in mind, Amy, any member of the Congress could release any secret about the government's activities right today, because the court case, the Supreme Court ruled in my case 5-4 that a senator, under-or a House member, under the speech and debate clause of the Constitution of the United States, could not be held accountable. I was talking to Congressman Moran, and he had made the statement, "Well, you know, George Bush is about to do something in Iran." I said, "My god! Say something about it. They can't touch you."
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Moran of Virginia.
MIKE GRAVEL: Of Virginia, and who's a tough hombre.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe there's another set of Pentagon Papers around 9/11 and Iraq?
MIKE GRAVEL: There's no question about it, but how do you get your hands on it? If some-see, not every-there's not that many Ellsbergs around. We've got Sibel Edmonds and others who-what people learn, and Ellsberg knew this walking into it, he was trying to find somebody in Congress. George McGovern wouldn't do it, Fulbright wouldn't do it. He needed the umbrage, the legal status of a member of Congress doing it.
He didn't know I was alive until the Times wouldn't act or the Post wouldn't act. Then, all of a sudden, there's this freshman who's out there filibustering the draft. And so he called me up, "Would you release?" "Of course, I'd release it." And I don't know-people say, "Oh, you're so courageous." I'm not courageous; this is just the way I'm made. And that's the reason why I admire this young kid, this Chiroux, that you just had on. This is what makes a difference in society, when people step up at any level of life.
AMY GOODMAN: You ran for the Democratic nomination for president.
MIKE GRAVEL: Yes, right.
AMY GOODMAN: But then, you just lost the-
MIKE GRAVEL: Libertarian.
AMY GOODMAN: -Libertarian nomination for president to Bob Barr.
MIKE GRAVEL: Right, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you run there?
MIKE GRAVEL: As a Libertarian? Well, very simple. The Libertarian is not a war party. The Democratic Party is a war party. The Republican Party is a war party. My god, you've got to look around. The Green Party is not a war party. The Libertarians are not a war party. And I fancy myself very much-when people would say, "Well, Gravel is a misfit. He was a maverick," what does that mean? It means that I didn't fit into the Democratic Party. Now, there's a lot of things that I like about what they do, but there's a lot more things that I like about what the Libertarians-I believe in freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are you endorsing for president?
MIKE GRAVEL: Well, I'm keeping my mouth shut. I'm going to vote, obviously, for the lesser of evils, but I'm not going to do it-
AMY GOODMAN: We'll have Ralph Nader on next week, Independent candidate for president. What do you think of his run?
MIKE GRAVEL: Well, I like Ralph-
AMY GOODMAN: This week. We'll have him on this week.
MIKE GRAVEL: Yeah, and I like Ralph. Ralph and I are good friends, as you can tell. He wrote the-
AMY GOODMAN: Forward to your book.
MIKE GRAVEL: He wrote the foreword to my book, but he never talked to me about running for president. He was my competitor until I got out of the race. Now I've got out of his way. But no, Ralph is a great, great American. There's no question about it. His chances of becoming a president-but it's a good place to put a protest vote if you want to put it. And so, we'll see what happens. But we need people to articulate the alternative. I've not given up. I'm going to give an account of myself the rest of my life on all these issues.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of another Democratic candidate, Dennis Kucinich, you were on the debate floor with, introducing these articles of impeachment against President Bush?
MIKE GRAVEL: I think-and, of course, Ramsey Clark is leading that battle outside of the Congress. I think it's important, because it sets the stage. It creates an appetite for people. But it's not going anywhere.
And I really resent the identity politics that we have today. You know, you've got to have a woman be our president or a black person president. That's fine. But I-very candidly, I was very excited when Nancy Pelosi became the Speaker, but I-reflecting on it, I don't know of any woman in Congress, by and large, who is that much different from any male member of Congress. Oh, there are some that are courageous, but a lot of them are just normal. And Nancy Pelosi is no different than any male Speaker that I've seen in my career.
And so, she's the one that took the impeachment deal off the table. That's a tragic mistake. And I know why they did it: they're playing politics. Now, from my point of view, impeachment is not what George Bush deserves. He deserves to be prosecuted. He and Cheney need to go to the Hague and stand in the dock like they had Milosevic and others. What they did was criminal. 4,000 Americans have died as a result of their fraud on the American people and-
AMY GOODMAN: Do you support Vincent Bugliosi, the Charles Manson prosecutor, who got him behind bars, his call for-we had him on on Friday. He's written the book The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.
MIKE GRAVEL: Oh, there's no question about it. In fact, I have great regrets over the fact that we never put Richard Nixon in jail. I mean, everybody around him went to jail, and he got off and rehabilitated himself. The sooner we put a president or a vice president or a secretary in jail for crimes that they commit against humanity, the sooner leaders will shape up.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there. Senator Mike Gravel, I want to thank you very much for being with us, former Democratic senator from Alaska who served two terms and ran for president of the United States this past year.