Today, in 1971, the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers. A full, declassified copy of the Pentagon Papers, officially titled “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force“, can be found here.
The report was originally commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on June 17, 1967, for the purposes of creating an encyclopedia of US involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967. The report revealed that the government had been systematically lying to the American public and to congress.
The Pentagon Papers were leaked to the world by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg worked in the intelligence sector and had access to the leaked documents. Kissinger said of Ellsberg “He’s a genius. He’s the brightest student I’ve ever had.” Ellsberg correctly believed the Pentagon Papers contained war crimes and lies that would end the war early if discovered and leaked the items to several senators and to the New York Times.
Senator Mike Gravel was brave enough to introduce the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record to ensure a public debate.
Robert McNamara later wrote “In Retrospect”, his memoirs, and apologized for the Vietnam war. His apology would have consoled, I am sure, the 3 million+ dead Vietnamese, the million or so dead Cambodians and Laotians, and the 60,000+ American military dead had they only lived to read it.
Noam Chomsky writes about the Pentagon Papers, Robert McNamara, and his apology here. Chomsky absolutely gets to the heart of things, as usual. His discussion of our massacre of the South Vietnamese (that’s right…the South Vietnamese) is particularly scathing.
President Nixon’s reaction to the release of the Pentagon Papers was predictable . Listen to his recorded conversation with Henry Kissinger and other officials (with transcript) here. Regarding the leak of The Pentagon Papers, Nixon says
“[a]nd people have got to be put to the torch for this sort of thing. This is terrible…Well, I just wish that we operated without the bureaucracy.”
This rant was on a tape Nixon secretly recorded that had over 1 minute of recording deleted. Makes you wonder what was deleted from the tape if he kept in his fondness for “…putting people to the torch…without the bureaucracy.”
When Nixon saw what the Times had started publishing, he conferred with advisors and sent a telegram to the Times threatening them with prosecution if they did not cease publishing the leaked documents. The telegram read:
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger
President and Publisher
The New York Times
New York New York
I have been advised by the Secretary of Defense that the material published in The New York Times on June 13, 14, 1971 captioned ”Key Texts From Pentagon’s Vietnam Study” contains information relating to the national defense of the United States and bears a top secret classification.
As such, publication of this information is directly prohibited by the provisions of the Espionage law, Title 18, United States Code, Section 793.
Moreover further publication of information of this character will cause irreparable injury to the defense interests of the United States.
Accordingly, I respectfully request that you publish no further information of this character and advise me that you have made arrangements for the return of these documents to the Department of Defense.
John W. Mitchell
The Nixon administration tried to prevent the Times from continuing to publish the Pentagon Papers, but lost a U.S. Supreme Court case, and the publishing was allowed to continue.
The recordings of Nixon’s conversations make it clear that he was hell-bent on prosecuting Ellsberg, not because he feared the release of materials that could damage national security, but because he wanted to send a message to any whistleblowers.
In the end, Nixon was revealed as a hate-filled, incompetent thug. He was a villain and is reviled by history.
Ellsberg, on the other hand, has been enshrined in our nation’s history as a first amendment warrior…a man who truly “spoke” truth to power. A patriot.
Now we watch as Obama crucifies Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Julian Assange and others. The Inquisition these days is heading for Eric Snowden, who had the nerve to tell the world that the US government was illegally spying on a historically unprecedented scale.
History repeats itself.
Obama will pursue Eric Snowden just as Nixon pursued Ellsberg. He will pursue him for the same reasons Nixon pursued Ellsberg…not to protect the nation, but to show all others that revealing US government secrets of its war crimes (like Manning), its torture regime (like John Kiriakou), its fraud and abuse (like Thomas Drake), or its illegal spy programs (like Snowden) will result in draconian punishment.
Like Nixon, Obama’s real goal is to chill whistleblowers. Obama has more Espionage Act whistleblower scalps than all other US Presidents combined.
Obama has made constant war while holding the Nobel Peace Prize and has peeled back the civil rights protections of the country while being its first African-American president. As a constitutional law professor, he has overseen war without specific congressional authorization, established due process-free zones all over the world in the form of black prison sites, and has been the author of a doctrine that allows for the due process-free assassination of American citizens.
Like Nixon, Obama will be judged harshly by history as his assaults on our freedoms and values are laid bare.
Speak out to protect our whistleblowers.