By E.A. Barrera
“There is no suggestion that Subject saw anything treasonous in his act. Rather he seemed to be responding to what he deemed was a higher order of patriotism.”
1971 CIA psychological profile of Daniel Ellsberg
“We have the rocky situation where the sonofabitching thief is made a national hero.”
Richard Nixon commenting on Daniel Ellsberg, May 11, 1973
Daniel Ellsberg is coming to San Diego. He will be speaking on Saturday, January 27th at the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Front Street. His topic will be the necessity to create a culture of whistle-blowing and truth telling by people with knowledge about government lies and deceptions especially in a time of war. Few people are better equipped or understand the costs of such whistle-blowing.
His name conjures images of early 1970s political folklore - either strong emotions or vague memories - for those old enough to know what was happening in the United States on June 14, 1971. Flag Day in America that year was rocked by the bombshell of information leaked by Ellsberg and published in the New York Times the day before - that the Military, Intelligence and Political Leadership of the government had known for several years there was no way to win the war in Vietnam.
Titled “U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68,” the documents came to be known collectively as “The Pentagon Papers” a massive three-year study ordered by then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in the Fall of 1966 to understand and analyze the history of the war in Vietnam. Over 7,000 pages revealed a consistent habit on the part of every administration since Harry Truman’s to falsely paint what was ultimately a civil war in Vietnam, as a cold-war struggle between the Allied free nations of the world and those under Russian and Chinese communist rule. Ellsberg, who had been a U.S. Marine, a Pentagon official and a State Department officer involved with Vietnam for 15 years, was serving as a research fellow for the RAND Corporation when he was given a copy of the document for his work.
“I had exclusive access to the papers for research purposes and had been reading them all summer; they made it very clear that I, like the rest of the American public, had been misled about the origins and purposes of the war I had participated in, said Ellsberg. “The papers documented in stunning detail a pattern of lies and deceptions by four presidents and their administrations over 23 years to conceal their war plans along with internal estimates of the high costs and risks of these plans (and their low probabilities of success), never meant to reach the public and provoke debate.
“They showed very clearly how we had become engaged in a reckless war of choice in someone else’s country,” said Ellsberg. “A country that had not attacked us - for our own domestic and external purposes. It seemed to me that to be doing that against the intense wishes of most of the inhabitants of that country was not just bad policy but morally wrong. Moreover, it became clear to me that the justifications that had been given for our involvement were false. Vietnam was not a just war, and never had been. And if the war itself was unjust, then all the victims of our firepower were being killed without justification. That’s murder.”
Ellsberg was arrested and put on trial for leaking the “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times. His actions caused then President Richard Nixon to create a special operation which would attempt to stop future leaks of classified information. Known as “The Plumbers Unit,” Nixon’s new team attempted to paint Ellsberg as a psychologically unfit man and discredit him.
“The underlying aim was to tear down Ellsberg’s image rather than to bring Ellsberg to Justice,” wrote historian Jonathan Schell in his 1975 book The Time Of Illusion. It hardly mattered to them whether they threw him in jail for life or merely smeared him with damaging publicity.”
The Plumbers broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to try to find damaging information and used the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency of the U.S. government to try and bring Ellsberg down. Ellsberg was put on trial in January of 1973 and faced 115 years in prison if convicted. But the judge in the case dismissed the charges against Ellsberg due to what he termed was improper governmental conduct that included evidence tampering and illegal wiretapping. The Plumbers unit would later be found to have committed, among other crimes, a burglary attempt into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee - which would become the basis for the scandal later known as Watergate and would lead to the forced resignation of Nixon from office.
Since that time, Ellsberg has become a staunch opponent of nuclear weapons proliferation and an international advocate for peace. He was an early opponent of the Iraq War and insists that the same sorts of deceptions used by administrations regarding the Vietnam War have been used by George W. Bush to put the nation in a war in Iraq. He has called for the release of a so-called “Pentagon Papers of Iraq”, which he is conviced exists and would expose the war for all the lies he says existed in it’s inception.
“Bush and Cheney manipulated the fears from what happened on September 11th to justify a war in Iraq they had been planning long before we were attacked and even before they came to power,” said Ellsberg. “They wanted to be men of destiny who would be credited for removing Saddam Hussein, creating democracy in the Middle East and giving us access to all that oil. As was true in Vietnam. We got into Vietnam with our eyes open internally as to how bad it would be. In this case, the military could see that there would be a terrible occupation problem. General Shinseki, of course, was strongly rebuked as chief of staff of the Army for saying that it would take several hundred thousand troops to occupy instead of the 130,000 that they were sending over. Wolfowitz said that’s wildly off the mark. And Shinseki’s replacement was announced. He didn’t retire immediately, but was made into a lame-duck general. Now, looking back, I’m sure that Shinseki had a six-foot-high stack of studies telling him why you needed several hundred thousand troops. I wished he would have released those at the time. They are documents that need to be leaked.”
Ellsberg was also critical of former President Gerald Ford and Watergate-famed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward for not revealing Ford’s own doubts about the war in Iraq when it started in 2003. Ellsberg said it took the nation 30 years to forget the lessons learned out of Vietnam and said Bush was guilty of both murder and imperialist aggression against innocent people in the world.
“There is an expanding American empire taking place in the world and Iraq is just the latest example. What Nixon did in 1973 in Chile - helping the right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet overthrow the democratically elected government of Socialist Salvador Allende - was an example of empire. Guantanamo Bay is an example of empire. When we use violence or threaten other countries economically to either go along with us or pay a price, we are committing acts of American empire,” said Ellsberg.
Ellsberg said it was patriotic to blow the whistle on those in power who would lie to the American people. He said he knew he could face life in prison when he copied and leaked the “Pentagon Papers” in 1971, but that he felt he owed the people of his country that risk. He repeated comments he once made in a 2004 New York Times essay he authored.
“Seven years and almost 50,000 American deaths later, after I had leaked the Pentagon Papers, (Senator Wayne Morse told me that) if I had leaked the documents (at the time of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing President Johnson to begin a full-scale war in Vietnam), the resolution never would have passed. That was hard to hear. But in 1964 it hadn’t occurred to me to break my vow of secrecy. Though I knew that the war was a mistake, my loyalties then were to the secretary of defense and the president. It took five years of war before I recognized the higher loyalty all officials owe to the Constitution, the rule of law, the soldiers in harm’s way or their fellow citizens.”
Ellsberg will be at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at 7:30pm this Saturday. The address is 4190 Front Street in Hillcrest. For more information, please contact Tanja Winter at 858-459-4650.