Pentagon Papers Officially Declassified on the 40th Anniversary of Their Publication – 40 Years Late

June 13th, 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the initial publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times.

Daniel Ellsberg was interviewed for pieces in both the New York Times and CNN on the anniversary, and on the government’s decision to declassify the Papers.

In the New York Times piece, Daniel said:

It’s absurd. . . . The reasons [for keeping it secret all these years] are very clearly domestic political reasons, not national security at all. The reasons for the prolonged secrecy are to conceal the fact that so much of the policy making doesn’t bear public examination. It’s embarrassing, or even incriminating. . . .

It seems to me that what the Pentagon Papers really demonstrated 40 years ago was the price of [Congress giving its war powers to the President. . . . ] [L]etting a small group of men in secret in the executive branch make these decisions — initiate them secretly, carry them out secretly and manipulate Congress, and lie to Congress and the public as to why they’re doing it and what they’re doing — is a recipe for, a guarantee of Vietnams and Iraqs and Libyas, and in general foolish, reckless, dangerous policies.

In the CNN piece, which contains a longer interview with Daniel, he said:

[I]f the hype around this belated release got a new generation to read the Pentagon Papers  or at least the summaries to the various volumes (my highest hope, pretty unlikely), they’d get from them as good an understanding as they could find anywhere today of our war in Afghanistan. . . .

Different religion and language, different terrain and tactics, but the same hopeless effort to get nationalist guerrillas to quit fighting foreign invaders and the corrupt, dope-dealing despots we support; and secretly, the same irresponsible, self-serving, presidential and congressional objectives: namely, not to be charged with weakness by political rivals, or with losing a war that a few feckless or ambitious generals foolishly claim can be won.  The same prospect of endless, bloody stalemate: unless public political pressure on Congress threatens to cut off the money, forcing the Executive into a negotiated withdrawal.

The Pentagon Papers didn’t explicitly present that last alternative, but their release contributed to that result, eventually.  Is it too much to hope that their re-release could do the same?  Yes, it is.  But fortunately there are a few Congresspersons, like Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee, Walter Jones and Ron Paul who got that message the first time, even if the Republican and Democratic leadership hasn’t, yet.

The lessons of Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate. . . do seem to have been largely lost, especially in the last decade but even before that.  There was a decade or so in the Seventies of the aggressive investigative journalism and Congressional hearings we need, including the Church and Pike committees, by journalists like Sy Hersh (one of the few who keeps up the tradition).

And then… back to  unquestioning acceptance of government pronouncements and reliance on the president’s judgment formed and enacted in secret:  both, totally unfounded and unwise, irresponsible in a democracy, paving the way to new Vietnams, as in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya.

Our Founders sought to prevent this. Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, for the first time in constitutional history,  put the decision to go to war (beyond repelling sudden attacks) exclusively in the hands of Congress, not the president.  But every president since  Harry Truman in Korea—as the Pentagon Papers demonstrated up through LBJ, but beyond them to George W. Bush and Barack Obama–has violated the spirit and even the letter of that section of the Constitution (along with some others) they each swore to preserve, protect and defend.

However, as has been pointed out repeatedly by Glenn Greenwald and Bruce Ackerman, David Swanson and others, no president has so blatantly violated the constitutional division of war powers as President Obama in his ongoing attack on Libya, without a nod even to the statutory War Powers Act, that post-Pentagon Papers effort by Congress to recapture something of the role assigned exclusively to it by the Constitution.

This open disregard of a ruling statute (regardless of his supposed feelings about its constitutionality, which Obama has not even bothered to express) is clearly an impeachable offense, though it will certainly not lead to impeachment–given the current complicity of the leaders of both parties–any more than President George W. Bush’s misleading Congress into his crime against the peace, aggression, in Iraq, or President Johnson’s lies to obtain the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

Yet the most important point, as I see it, is not the secrecy and the lying, or even the blatant disregard of the Constitution, the Presidential oath and the rule of law.

As the Pentagon Papers documented for the much of the Vietnam era (we still lack, and we still need, the corresponding Papers for the Nixon policy-making, that added over twenty thousand names unnecessarily to the Vietnam Memorial and over a million deaths in Vietnam) and the last decade confirms: the point is that the Founders had it right the first time.

As Abraham Lincoln explained their intention (in defending to his former law partner William Herndon his opposition to President Polk’s deliberately provoked Mexican War): “The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object.  This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.”

As Lincoln put it, the alternative approach (which we have actually followed in the last sixty years) “places our President where kings have always stood.”  And the upshot of that undue, unquestioning trust in the president and his Executive branch is: smart people get us into stupid (and wrongful) wars, and their equally smart successors won’t get us out of them.

Either we the people will press elected officials in Congress–on pain of losing their jobs–to take up their Constitutional responsibilities once again and to end by defunding our illegal, unjustifiable (and now, financially insupportable) military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and air attacks on Pakistan, Libya and Yemen: or those bloody stalemates will continue indefinitely.

Ellsberg: Wikileaks Logs Show Clear US War Crimes in Iraq—Manning Was Reportedly Motivated By Conscience

Edited transcript of today’s Democracy Now interview with Daniel Ellsberg

ELLSBERG: The conditions under which Manning is being held clearly violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment—even for someone being punished, having been convicted. Here we have someone who has not yet been tried, not yet convicted, being held in isolation, solitary confinement, for something over 9 months. This is something that is likely to drive a person mad, and may be the intent of what’s going on here.

The Wikileaks revelations that Manning is charged with having revealed, having to do with Iraq, show that in fact the US military in which Manning was a part, turns over suspect to the Iraqis with the knowledge that they will be and are being tortured. Turning these suspects over, with that knowledge, is a clear violation of our own laws and of international law. It makes us as much culpable for the torture as if we were doing it ourselves.

Moreover, the Wikileaks logs show, the order is given: “Do not investigate further.” That’s an illegal order, which our president could change and should change and must change with one call.

Reportedly, Manning was very strongly motivated, at one point, to try to change this situation, because he was involved in it actively, and knew that it was wrong. He found that it was not being investigated within the government and was not being dealt with at all.

That’s a big difference between the Pentagon Papers and the WIkileaks logs. The former were higher level things which didn’t reveal field-level war crimes. The Wikileaks actually do.

Well, P.J. Crowley described the conditions under which Manning is held as “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid.” That seems an accurate description as far as it goes. The words “abusive” and “illegal” would go beyond that, and are equally appropriate.

I was very dismayed that the president, faced with accustations at such a high level from his assistant secretary for public affairs, rather than investigating and discovering—as he easily could have—that the descriptions by Crowley’s counterpart at the defense department, have been totally false, and that Obama has been totally misinformed.

The president’s reaction was very dismaying. He was satisfied with having asked the Defense Department, whether the conditions were “appropriate” and met “basic standards.” He was assured that they did.

That was very like president Nixon asking the White House Plumbers, or asking his counsel John Ehrlichman, who was in charge of them–“Was it appropriate, and did it meet our standards, for you to be burglarizing Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist? Did that meet our basic standards?”

And when told by Howard Hunt, or G. Gordon Liddy, “Yes, no problem,” that’s the end of that matter.

It’s so absurd, it really raises the question very much about president Obama’s understanding of the law, or his willingness to abide by it, in this case. And not for the first time.

Ellsberg on Obama’s View that Manning’s Treatment is “Appropriate”

[This statement by Daniel Ellsberg was published in the Guardian (UK), two days before P.J. Crowley was fired.]

President Obama tells us that he’s asked the Pentagon whether the conditions of confinement of Bradley Manning, the soldier charged with leaking state secrets, “are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are.”

If Obama believes that, he’ll believe anything. I would hope he would know better than to ask the perpetrators whether they’ve been behaving appropriately. I can just hear President Nixon saying to a press conference the same thing: “I was assured by the the White House Plumbers that their burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor in Los Angeles was appropriate and met basic standards.”

When that criminal behavior ordered from the Oval Office came out, Nixon faced impeachment and had to resign. Well, times have changed. But if President Obama really doesn’t yet know the actual conditions of Manning’s detention – if he really believes, as he’s said, that “some of this [nudity, isolation, harassment, sleep-deprivation] has to do with Private Manning’s wellbeing”, despite the contrary judgments of the prison psychologist – then he’s being lied to, and he needs to get a grip on his administration.

If he does know, and agrees that it’s appropriate or even legal, that doesn’t speak well for his memory of the courses he taught on constitutional law.

The president refused to comment on PJ Crowley’s statement that the treatment of Manning is “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid”. Those words are true enough as far as they go – which is probably about as far as a state department spokesperson can allow himself to go in condemning actions of the defence department. But at least two other words are called for: abusive and illegal.

Crowley was responding to a question about the “torturing” of an American citizen, and, creditably, he didn’t rebut that description. Prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity – that’s right out of the manual of the CIA for “enhanced interrogation”. We’ve seen it applied in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. It’s what the CIA calls “no-touch torture”, and its purpose there, as in this case, is very clear: to demoralise someone to the point of offering a desired confession. That’s what they are after, I suspect, with Manning. They don’t care if the confession is true or false, so long as it implicates WikiLeaks in a way that will help them prosecute Julian Assange.

That’s just my guess, as to their motives. But it does not affect the illegality of the behavior. If I’m right, it’s likely that such harsh treatment wasn’t ordered at the level of a warrant officer or the brig commander. The fact that they have continued to inflict such suffering on the prisoner despite weeks of complaint from his defence counsel, harsh publicity and condemnation from organisations such as Amnesty International, suggests to me that it might have come from high levels of the defence department or the justice department, if not from the White House itself.

It’s no coincidence that it’s someone from the state department who has gone off-message to speak out about this. When a branch of the US government makes a mockery of our pretensions to honour the rule of law, specifically our obligation not to use torture, the state department bears the brunt of that, as it affects our standing in the world.

The fact that Manning’s abusive mistreatment is going on at Quantico – where I spent nine months as a Marine officer in basic school – and that Marines are lying about it, makes me feel ashamed for the Corps. Just three years as an infantry officer was more than enough time for me to know that what is going on there is illegal behaviour that must be stopped and disciplined.

Daniel Ellsberg on Colbert Report: Julian Assange is Not a Criminal Under the Laws of the United States

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
International Manhunt for Julian Assange – Daniel Ellsberg
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog March to Keep Fear Alive

[Daniel’s segment starts at 4:06]

ELLSBERG: Julian Assange is not a criminal under the laws of the United States. I was the first one prosecuted for the charges that would be brought against him. I was the first person ever prosecuted for a leak in this country—although there had been a lot of leaks before me. That’s because the First Amendment kept us from having an Official Secrets Act. . . . The founding of this country was based on the principle that the government should not have a say as to what we hear, what we think, and what we read. . . .

If Bradley Manning did what he’s accused of, then he’s a hero if mine and I think he did a great service to this country. We’re not in the mess we’re in, in the world, because of too many leaks. . . . I say there should be some secrets. But I also say we invaded Iraq illegally because of a lackof a Bradley Manning at that time.

Ellsberg: “EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time.”

[Below is a news release put out by the Institute for Public Accuracy, co-signed by Daniel Ellsberg]

Ex-Intelligence Officers, Others See Plusses in WikiLeaks Disclosures

WASHINGTON – December 7 – The following statement was released today, signed by Daniel Ellsberg, Frank Grevil, Katharine Gun, David MacMichael, Ray McGovern, Craig Murray, Coleen Rowley and Larry Wilkerson; all are associated with Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

WikiLeaks has teased the genie of transparency out of a very opaque bottle, and powerful forces in America, who thrive on secrecy, are trying desperately to stuff the genie back in. The people listed below this release would be pleased to shed light on these exciting new developments. Continue Reading

Daniel Ellsberg: “I’ve waited forty years for a release of documents on this scale.”

On the eve of the biggest leak of classified documents in US history, Daniel Ellsberg appeared on Democracy Now. Daniel is on his way to London to participate in a press conference with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Saturday to announce the release.

From the WikiLeaks website:

At 5pm EST Friday 22nd October 2010 WikiLeaks released the largest classified military leak in history. The 391,832 reports (‘The Iraq War Logs’), document the war and occupation in Iraq, from 1st January 2004 to 31st December 2009 (except for the months of May 2004 and March 2009) as told by soldiers in the United States Army. Each is a ‘SIGACT’ or Significant Action in the war. They detail events as seen and heard by the US military troops on the ground in Iraq and are the first real glimpse into the secret history of the war that the United States government has been privy to throughout.

The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 ‘civilians’; 23,984 ‘enemy’ (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 ‘host nation’ (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 ‘friendly’ (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths.That is 31 civilians dying every day during the six year period. For comparison, the ‘Afghan War Diaries’, previously released by WikiLeaks, covering the same period, detail the deaths of some 20,000 people. Iraq during the same period, was five times as lethal with equivallent population size.

Share your thoughts, comments, and discussion in the comments section below.

Daniel Ellsberg Documentary, “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” Premieres Tonight on PBS

“The Most Dangerous Man in America,” the Academy-Award-nominated documentary about Daniel Ellsberg, premieres tonight nationwide on PBS. Check the link for more info and local listings. You will also be able to watch the entire film for free via that link between Oct. 6-Oct. 27.

Daniel was interviewed by about parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam on the USA Today site here.

Did you watch the film? What are your reactions? Leave them in the comment section!

Ellsberg in LA Times: “There should be a Pentagon Papers out every year.”

Daniel Ellsberg was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in anticipation of the premiere of The Most Dangerous Man in America tonight on PBS:

Ellsberg was critical of George W. Bush’s administration for what he regards as its disdain for transparency, but also blames the Obama White House for continuing the cloaked practices in the war on terror. He’s heartened by the recent cache of documents released by WikiLeaks on the Afghan war, though he thinks newspapers are more credible places to publish than the Internet. But he applauds the site for offering a clearer look at what the U.S. government is up to: “There should be a Pentagon Papers out ever year,” he says.