Tony Russo, a key figure in the Pentagon Papers case, talks with Paul Gruchow and Marvin Granger about social justice under the Nixon administration. Russo describes his personal experience in jail. (Please note - This is a "raw" interview, with audio prior to start of proper interview, and fluctuations in audio quality)
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
Connected in any way with campaigns or not. Press conference today is speech at the University of Minnesota this afternoon speech. It's a dollar. Well, that's a Saturday. There's some kind of Rally or something on Saturday Saturday at 1 is a teaching at Augsburg College. I guess the tape is rolling. Is it? Okay, okay. Thank you. Thank you wherever we moved in here in January and things are being installed around us and getting getting going from primitive to my list. Do you want to start week. Couple times on these stations that three-hour Marathon session that you and Daniel Ellsberg and I hope that there was Studs Terkel and that was so so good. And so so thorough that I almost feel at a loss to know. Just what to take up with with you one of the things in that three part interview with studs that impressed me was your conversation with him about your jail experience in California, and the policeman I can't remember what the Well, that was a warden within the within the jail or whether it was a policeman that you anyway, you talked about the kinds of pressures. those people are under and how beneath the apparent insensitivity there is there are real people there somewhere you use this policeman as an example or this prison or jail official as an example of the jail when he heard that I have been beaten in shackles on the first day. I went into jail and the warden looked down and said, you know, I'm a prisoner here too and then found out that he had worked in public relations prior to having been sent to a duty as as one in the prison. And in Los Angeles County, it's from what I understand. It's it's a general practice or deputy sheriff's to be sent to jail as a disciplinary move. It is a good Duty in jail. Just like in an analogous fashion to people who get sent to jail as inmates such a very interesting situation you get that assignment is it was a form of punishment like guard Duty in the military or something well aware that they are in jail. And if they spend a good deal of their day in jail. You find that some of them like it though, and these are the ones that the did this is why this kind of work brings brings the sadist to the surface soon because you you absolutely have to be a sadist in order to enjoy that kind of work. And believe me there are I'm not saying that all guard to say this I would say that. But I would say the problem good Thirty 40% of them are. And believe me they are sadistic. They do enjoy beating up people. They enjoyed treating people rough. We have in the state of Corrections commissioner. Who is the governor brought in a couple of years ago. Who has publicly announced his intention to to break down the Fortress prison and two to try to move the state corrections system anymore community-centered less confinement and more relations for the inmates with people in the community the Peace Officers Association in this stage, which are very much opposed to this man's ideas and I have have asked for conferences with a governor to try to to remove the man from from his office. When I first read that story I thought about that statement about the I'm a prisoner too because there seemed to be in the society these these two ways of looking at Auntie social behavior criminal Behavior. If you will one is to to lock them up in to keep them out of contact with everybody else that that is perhaps the safest way to handle them that has a lot of implications. I would think for for a lot of other things in the in the society since you've spent some time in jail, would you would you comment on that that issue of penal reform? What is not only spend some time in jail I spent A good six months working in the Los Angeles County Probation Department in the research office there and the one at one of the primary task of the LA County Probation Department is keeping people out of jail keeping them in the community under the supervision of a probation officer on this is by no means an ideal situation because you have a probation officer meddling in someone's life. And sometimes I can be just as impressive as having to go to jail with it can it can be very much very much like a big brother kind of thing, but Having been in jail and I think that it is certainly the preferable the preferable way to go. I think that we have to recognize why people end up in jail to begin with and it is very much a function of the ills of society the the anomic social condition that makes people the cast people that cast individuals aside. It's the economic situation where an individual cannot get a job. If it's it's a whole constellation of factors that come from the society the individual Bears only half the load the society has to be at the other half of the gilts for this condition. And also I think that because of politicians who who play on the the whole aspect of of crime and crime in the streets Law & Order that kind of thing very conveniently forgetting crime in the Suites as one says nowadays. I think the the community supervision role is by far the preferable more and more more humane way to do it, but that has its dangers to because as I say you can have people meddling in other people's lives to an extent that is intolerable, but given the situation right now. I think it is by far the better way to go public attitudes toward that the worry me because people People are so afraid of breaking down their traditional way of locking them up. Why is the public so afraid of that because prisons and prisoners criminals are scapegoats a criminal is not necessarily an individual. It's a figment of criminal is a figment of society's imagination. people Awesome in it at their weakest needs scapegoats. This is true in the whole extended Matrix of situations Escape goats that we have known have been Catholics in the example and in the periods when there's been intense anti-catholicism Jews have been scapegoats black people have been scapegoats. Certainly Hitler felt that the ills of German Society could be cured if if he just got rid of the Jews. You see the use of the scapegoat has been very cheap way for politicians and leaders to fuel the fires of discontent contemporary. His number one scapegoat since Vietnamese. be at the Communist young Richard Nixon has spent his it's ironic that he spent his career on the that is he's built his career on the scapegoat of anti-communism of portraying communist is Devil's and then the here he Tia. Achieves his crowning political that the crowning political achievements of his of his entire career buy a rapprochement with the Chinese and with the Russians. It's very very young competes with the devil. But the Vietnamese still are devils by him how much the same kind of thing? I like to have a more traditional how much more deeply in view scapegoat the very Concept of criminal if we if it's such a thing as criminal didn't exist. Then we sort of have to reorient our lives. We have to take responsibility for a for our actions know day by day by day rather than assuming that there are people who are bad and we call those people criminals and those people are over in the jail that there's their identities very well defined by those walls and by the Fortress complex. And we tell ourselves that as long as we're not in there, we're good people. So it's a very complex thing very subtle thing. Sometimes a phenomenon of scapegoats personal reaction to the experience of being jailed, but I have a couple of very middle-class light friends who aren't completely non criminal types and the parking tickets and another on a drunk driving charge and both of them had exactly the same reaction which was that it was months. Before they were even able to talk about it to their close friends than just a night to the mo such a harrowing experience of and I never really got either to say anything about what it is about that experience. That is so so destructive brightness with the lie that you were lied to you deceived that keep secrets from you. They push you around that don't listen to do you become a non-person you speak to a God and the guard does not acknowledge you whatsoever. It's a situation with you totally wiped out as an individual. Your identity is just totally blotted out. So I think that's probably the best way to characterize that you were you just totally wiped out and it's a very hurtful experience because if you step out of line, if you if you don't look that boots, so to speak they'll beat you up and in the Los Angeles County Jail they have what they call a rubber room where they take prisoners in that beat them with rubber hoses and rubber hoses. Don't leave any marks. So when the prisoner comes out if he if you tell someone he's beating up they'll say well he's lying that's a figment of his imagination and the the guards will stand by one another completely all the way down the line to live for one another. I would I would say that Most important thing I learned was the capacity for lying that the bureaucracy has in prison is the ultimate bureaucracy. I felt that before I went to prison I felt it. Well and I was very cynical about the prison guards in prison officials in the system that produces prisons and I felt that they probably like a good half the time but I dive after having the experience of prison. I now know that the lie was not 50% that the LIE is 100% They lie about everything that goes on behind those walls would be an example of one day. I was I was beating up. I was keeping a journal in myself and The guards was constantly trying to steal it. I would take it to the shower with me. I put in the plastic bag and take it to the shower. I always hang on to it and on a number of occasions that guards would try to take it from me and we have a little tug of war and they back down because they didn't want to start a ruckus. Well one day two guards. Apparently, we're not afraid of starting a Ruckus and they tried to take it away from me. I took the adrenaline and some bent over and then held it into my chest like this and I told him know that they couldn't take it because it was my private property that it had to do with the The the case that I was developing for court that I was I was working on my own the legal research and if they had no right to see it that they could see it when it came out they insisted on taking it from me though. And so I held onto it and they couldn't get away from me. So they began to hit me they punch me in the side. They kicked me a push me into a wall. I hit my head on the wall had a big bump on my head. I didn't have any shoes on so they they they tore off one of my toenails. It was pretty harrowing experience. and Right after that right after that shortly after that. I saw my lawyer and told him what had happened to get describe to describe it to him a blow-by-blow account and the News got out and got into the newspapers and the prison Warden told newsmen News man came to the prison to what as to warn you about it and that they asked has to warn about my having been beaten up in the warden denied the the whole thing. He said that I had not been beaten up that that was That was a rumor that I got now, but it was totally baseless and there was no foundation for whatsoever. So the warden lied 100% he just lied through his teeth and that that's a typical way in which it happened on several other occasions. And all I was beat up three times when I was in jail, and each time the officials lied about one of the controversial aspects of David fogle's program here in Minnesota. And Bosman paroles are in this morning's newspapers child of Guy was giving 20 year sentence in was paroled for months afterwards in his enraged the judge and he's been re-arrested and sent back to prison than the great controversy about it. So it would seem to me that a prisoner in that kind of situation would be very is susceptible to having of the conditions on which he might be paroled grotesquely managed. I know that the adjustment committees as they're called in the other federal prisons are grossly unfair and these these adjustment committee some out too many parole board's they've been frequently sometimes every month. Prisoner has to go before this so-called adjustment committee and they determine how much good time. He gets good time. Of course is the amount of time is taken off the the total sentence. So these so-called adjustment Committee in the federal system performs this month by month. Or especially every time a prisoner gets into some kind of trouble with the authorities. He has to go before the adjustment committee and it's a very intimidating atmosphere you walk into this room and there are anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen people sitting there sometimes a warden or the assistant Warden the guards on the counselor's as they call them. They don't do any counseling but that's their title and they said they are you not allowed to have any notes. You can't have a lawyer as no one on your side. It's all of them against you and believe me. It is a very very difficult situation for a prisoner to cope with and usually in order to be successful. What he has to do is he has to Cowtown to them. He has to agree with everything. They say no matter whether it be true or false and down. It's it's a situation in which he has to the prisoner has to demean himself. He has to let go of all his dignity you say so that the so-called correctional system does not rehabilitate it all it takes away a text away a man's dignity by the time he eventually gets out of that hell-hole. He has very little self-respect. So just it's just the opposite of Rehabilitation and it's one more example of how we've become, you know that the precepts in 1984 freedom is slavery ignorance is strength war is peace. Well Rehabilitation is loss of self-respect in the prison system. And that's especially true in the federal system, which is supposed to be a model for statement and local correctional facilities. My committee sounds a little bit like going to your draft board when you're in trouble. The same kind of rules apply. How do you Pentagon papers and other Revelations of the inner workings of our you are making a policy and executing policy. I think of that every once in awhile when I read the polls would show that most of the people think that the President Nixon is handling the war in a satisfactory way or that he's more able to to end the war than Senator McGovern is It seemed to me that in terms of many of the things that mr. Ellsberg said. Shortly after the publication of the Pentagon papers that he felt that it was necessary that the American people know the truth. Well, they know more truth than they did. What have they done with it? Well, unfortunately it takes a long time to read and digest such a big body of information is the Pentagon papers is 10000 pages long. There are still no more than I would say 20 some thousand copies of the Pentagon papers. A lot of them are sitting up in the book stores and still haven't gotten into circulation the Bantam Edition that the New York Times printed is a small summary of the entire set of Pentagon papers and relative to the society at large only one and 200 people have bought copies that but that is for a book a very big distribution. It's it's a situation in which very simply don't take Americans a long time. The digestive Pentagon papers, but the message actually boils down to something very simple and but unfortunately usually one has to go through and read the entire thing before one believes that that message. The message is that American leaders have lied to us for a long time specifically on the question of Vietnam. I mentioned the orwellian precepts while ago and the other thing about Rehabilitation doing just the opposite of what I supposed to do with the very same thing as happened in government. With regard to the Vietnam situation America's the American people have been told just the opposite of what was actually going on there and what that gets down to is the issue of self-determination Americans were told that we were in Vietnam to protect the Vietnamese right to self-determination the highest democratic ideal. We were there to protect this democratic ideal. When actually we were there doing just the opposite. We was there undermining undermining self-determination. So this is a pretty serious thing. If every American believes this we would have had a coup d'etat change in government a revolution on the spot, but it's a pretty drastic thing and it's going to it's going to take a long time for that to be digested. It's I think that's the essence of it is it's simply too much to digest and so short a period of time, but certainly certainly many Americans have had a chance to read it already and they have been able to change their their way of thinking they've been able to see more clearly what goes on behind the the closed doors of government and I think it's having a very good effect, but it's it's a long-range kind of thing and I'll take a long time for it to play itself out it auntie and the Watergate thing and the behavior of international corporations in the internal affairs of other governments there just been so many things of come along since the Pentagon papers. We're first summarized for for the public that would tend to raise questions in the minds of people about. The credibility of the government a lot of levels and yet And yet people seem to be the polls indicate that people are very resistant to the Gallup poll last night at about 76% of the American people know about the Watergate case now about 70% of them believed that the Watergate incident occurred by a margin of 60% to 12% They reject the notion that the Nixon or his Close Associates had anything to do with it. There's a great capacity to reject it's understandable because we know over the past several decades have been the object of of so many lies now. I mean when you switch on your televisions that you see one lie after another in the advertisements So what the Norms the Norms of discourse in this country have have sunk so low that I can blame people for being cynical about everything that here. You know, I I quite often to have heard the the speculation that the CI that the CIA was behind the release of the Pentagon papers that you know, I mean this kind of cynicism is I think I natural result of of of the Norms having having sunk so low. I can State categorically that as far as I know the CIA had nothing to do with it as far as I know. But the CIA has its hands into everything so difficult to say I do know that the that one one. Really gets into the Pentagon papers is obvious that the CIA has no government agency had anything to do with it because it makes them all look bad. If it's did the Pentagon papers showed that the the Norms of of the dialogue within the government are very low standards of very very low within the government government officials feel that they have a right to lie to the people and even to the extent that that news management has become a science. It has become a science which is even has a name in academic circles. The name is tacit bargaining and entire books are written on the subject of passive. Bargaining mathematical models are formulated in this area. So the Norms I would say in this in this country, but regarding dialogue are so incredibly low that I'm not surprised that the people are are cynical about everything that heater and I'm not surprised when people respond to the Watergate Affair by saying well, they all do that and this just happens to be one situation in which Republicans were caught. But the one thing that people have to realize now is that perhaps they do I'll do it. Perhaps the Democrats certainly no more Lily white than the Republicans are but there's one fundamental difference in that is that from what has come to light so far we can tell the President Nixon has his own private secret police force and the Democrats may be just as corrupt or an individual basis, but it's clear that the Democrats don't have an equivalent private secret police force. That I think is the major difference in in the that certainly are levels of corruption. There are bureaucrats who steel paper clips that bureaucrats who may even go so far as to steal typewriters and they're bureaucrats who go so far as to misappropriate millions of dollars of funds, and that is what we see. With regard today at the the Nixon establishment. They are using literally millions of dollars to of money that they have gotten illegal to build up this the secret police WW2 r68 rather why we talked about President Nixon. The Liberals in this country certainly played a very important part in establishing that that public cynicism from the very beginning. In a sense the the use of the traditional liberal ideal. Of them bringing the American Revolution and its high principles to bear in world affairs. Why did that girl arrived? What was it about that that that that that went awry and weed that you mentioned here a while ago. We will use the the justification of of self-determination of bringing freedom of saving people and oppressed people from an aggressive people from totalitarian domination all the justifications to get into Vietnam and to maintain the rationale for are staying there. Those are all liberal arguments. That's right. That's right. That's what is really happened in this country in the past 20 or 30 years throughout this cold war. You found the McCarthyism is heaven has really been rampant. The the veiled anti-communism the blatant anti-communism are both the same liberals have been guilty of a bias the bias of anti-communism in in his Bat Away as this is the John birchers have only the John birchers have been blatant about it. The Liberals have been subtle about it you have I sent it to McCarthy who would rant and then waved his list of Communists in the state department which were fictitious on the other hand you have liberal academics. Who would just as biased against communism and but they were more polite more subtle more low-key. About it but in both cases, it was a bias and whenever you have bias, you do get a sort of cancerous element in in any kind of dialogue, but you have to create and certainly communism in Marxist thought is is a major issue. It's a it's a worldwide issue that the Americans have to deal with if we deal with it in Indonesia with was with a knee-jerk response if we simply fail to comprehend and understand that if we simply oppose it in a knee-jerk fashion than certainly Some bills are going to develop out of that because we are simply trying to ignore something. That's That is exactly is in existence and is a very potent Force. The blatant anti-communism or the fit as well as the subtle anti-communism means that we've put the Vietnamese in the same boat with the Russians with a Chinese with Eastern Europeans. It means that we put the third world. We've lump the third world in with Russia with Russian brand of Communism. And that has been a big mistake because communism in Vietnam is as different as night and day as this is it is in Eastern Europe for sampling Americans when they think of Communism have they they think that it is synonymous with totalitarianism. They think of the stalinist purges that think of the Eastern European trials, I think of a heavy-handed authoritarian government, whereas it's it's not true at all for example in Vietnam. The the Hanoi government is perhaps one of the most democratic one of the most popular anywhere in the world. And this is something I know that this is very difficult probably for 80% or 90% of Americans even comprehend. Even at this late date after we've been involved in Vietnam for so long, but this is what history is going to show you believe you met people who were members of the North Vietnamese legislative assembly, whatever that is called in that country, but they were not communist many of them were Catholics many of them were were Trade union people and so forth who had no ties at all to the Communist party and if they were they were sitting as members of the National Assembly That kind of thing. Most Americans probably don't believe or take seriously because their government has been telling them the opposite of that were sold for so long and that they've got a choice. Probably believe the authority rather than the Challenger, you know, that's just like like like Well, well before I go and I'd like to say that now it's for anyone who wants to it was really interested in this. the material is available because The statements I might guy based on the experience. I had in Vietnam and all that material is available. But now by the way, the interview that we did in Vietnam was Prisoners defectors refugees. We did well over 2,000 interviews that are 60,000 over 60,000 pages of transcripts and they're in the library in Washington. Now people can go to the National Technical information service in the Department of Commerce in Springfield, Virginia, or write to them and ask about the Rand interviews in Vietnam and really get into them read them for themselves. And you find that the the even the so-called Communists in in Vietnam are the real Patriots. They're the very popular and their form of government is is a very democratic form of government. It strikes me that there is a reverse side of this coin with also is part of the common theme that's developed in our way of life lately on the end with regard Vietnam devices epitomized by the Vice President being able to go around the country unchallenged so far as I know and make these speeches in which he says North Vietnamese government has the most totalitarian then dictatorial and all the history of the world and that's a good for example sensors and news media. And that is why we've got the support South Vietnam, they lack of information the the suppression of information about for example, the nature of the South Vietnamese government. It's it's part of the whole Pentagon Papers thing though the notion that the the right to have the full amount of information no longer applies with regard to our policy seems Auctioning in the South Vietnamese government, whether it's the embezzling of government funds for Buy Buy military officials or by people in the world is last week's Amir of dawn on West was fired by by two for a for a stealing the patient's that had been provided by the government for the refugees from concrete. And that sort of thing is like almost every weeks is a story like that. But the American people as far as I can see do not react to it with the horror or with the the righteous outrage that they showed toward the fact that the North Vietnamese don't dress our prisoners while I'm in this kind of thing, you know, it was because because the the the highest moral Authority in this land the president of the United States Is it makes his decision to to call the Patriotic Vietnamese the enemy and that? Did those words the enemy probably have more effect than anything else. It just wipes everything else away Hermann Goering talked about this at the Nuremberg trials when when he was asked about how Hitler and the Nazis were able to manipulate people so easily and he says it's very simple. All you have to do is label your opposition the enemy and tell people that the enemy threatens them directly like Americans have been told that the Vietnamese threatened America in Vietnamese, these these gentle almost sank like people in this very small country halfway around the world with a very small economy. With with no ballistic missiles, no airplanes. No big ships somehow they threaten Us in America. We've been told that there are enemies and that they threaten Us in when the president tells you that it has a great deal of force to see because we brought up to respect the president and the president as a great deal of latitude has a great deal of force behind everything he says, so he hasn't has a great deal capacity to manipulate people to manipulate public opinion and It's come full circle. Now. We're just about everything. The President says is a lie. If it's it's calculated to to manipulate the American public a few minutes, but I want to ask you what is the long-range effective that mean you can't tell that for sure but what do you feel might be the long range effect of that kind of relationship between the most authoritative figure in are the most reliable figure supposedly in our our national life. They the Office of the President and the American people they may be voting for Nixon and landslides proportions in November. But over the long run, what will that do to our public life to think? Well, if it's making a police thing out of our country, it's driving us directly into a situation which are well or saw what he wrote the novel 1984 and it's interesting to note that in that story. The characters were never quite sure what year it was that guessed that it was Nineteen Eighty-Four. They thought it was Nineteen Eighty-Four, but by then the calendars had become classified. So all I can say is four more years of Nixon and eight more years of Agnew was brings us into 1984. We're pretty close to that now. Thank you, Anthony Russo.