Pentagon Papers Set To Be Released
Forty years ago, Daniel Ellsberg, Ph.D., a former marine officer, and employee of the RAND Corporation, worked on a top-secret document of the United States government’s role in the Vietnam War. When he found that the information in the document revealed that the government knew the war was unwinnable and would result in massive numbers of casualties, and yet was still continuing the war while deliberately lying to Congress and the public about the nature of the war, Ellsberg acted. He and his colleague, Anthony Russo, spent several nights photocopying 7,000 pages of the document, which Ellsberg then sent to the New York Times and various other news organizations. The New York Times published numerous sections of the document beginning on June 13, 1971. They contributed to the anti-war sentiment already prevalent throughout the country and thus contributed to the end of the Vietnam War.
Ellsberg’s goal was to end the war in Vietnam by alerting the public to the gross overreach of Executive power the Johnson administration’s actions exemplified. The New York Times, reporting on the coming release of the documents, reports: “He said they [The Pentagon Papers] demonstrate the wisdom of giving war-making powers to Congress — a power that he lamented has been increasingly usurped by the executive branch. ‘It seems to me that what the Pentagon Papers really demonstrated 40 years ago was the price of that practice,’ he said. ‘Which is that letting 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.’”
The Constitution, in Article I, Section 8 clearly places the decision to go to war in the hands of Congress, not the President. “But,” Ellsberg stated, “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.” To Ellsberg, 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.” The most important point is this gross overreach of Executive power that leaves countless dead and countless lives destroyed, all without the public scrutiny it deserves.
It is the repercussions of potential public scrutiny that caused the government to wait forty years before releasing the documents. Ellsberg stated, “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…”
Bradley Manning, if he actually did release compromising government documents to WikiLeaks as he is accused of doing, can be considered Ellsberg’s parallel in the present. In fact, on the Colbert Report in 2010, Ellsberg defended Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, as well as his source. When asked “Do you believe what Bradley did was necessary and heroic?” Ellsberg responded with a simple, “Yes.” The New York Times reports, “Mr. Ellsberg said he wished more people would come forward to release information that could stop these wars, praising Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the military intelligence analyst who is jailed on charges that he leaked a trove of government files to WikiLeaks. ‘If he did what he’s accused of, then he’s my hero, because I’ve been waiting for somebody to do that for 40 years,’ Mr. Ellsberg said. ‘And no one has.’”
If there is evidence that the wars in which we are currently involved should be discontinued, the people have a right to know. And the government has the responsibility of being held accountable for its actions.