CounterPunch, July 6, 2007
Scooter Libby and Mordechai Vanunu
By DANIEL ELLSBERG
On the day that Scooter Libby's prison sentence was lifted by President Bush, Mordechai Vanunu was sentenced to prison, again, in Israel. In both cases, the underlying offense was the same: speaking to journalists. In each case, the nominal charges were otherwise. For Libby, lying under oath about the circumstances, thereby obstructing justice. For Vanunu, it was breaking a restriction laid upon him when he emerged from prison three years ago, after serving an earlier full sentence of eighteen years, also for speaking to journalists: he was ordered not to speak, at all, to journalists or foreigners. Like a free man, he did both, openly and repeatedly.
But whereas Libby had passed classified information, and Vanunu had served his earlier sentence for doing the same, in this instance Vanunu was not charged with revealing any secrets. The transcripts or published accounts of his conversations being available, it was open knowledge that what he had mainly talked about was the truth of his personal convictions about nuclear weapons: that they should universally be abolished, Israel's among them.Perjury, with the intent and effect of obstructing justice (successfully, as it happens, in Libby's case) is an ancient, established crime under virtually any system of justice. Vanunu's act of speaking his mind freely is not, under existing international human rights law. Nor is it a domestic crime in other democratic societies. These were not conditions of parole, as frequently misstated. Vanunu was not paroled from prison for his earlier conviction, but served his full sentence of eighteen years, eleven and a half of them in solitary confinement. Therefore, under most systems of criminal justice, he should have been subject to no further restrictions or requirements.