Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Happy Anniversary, Everyone

The Pentagon Papers are 35 years old today. Daniel Ellsberg remembers:
What was it that prompted me in the fall of 1969 to begin copying 7,000 pages of highly classified documents — an act that I fully expected would send me to prison for life? (My later charges, indeed, totaled a potential 115 years in prison.) ... On Sept. 30, I read in the Los Angeles Times that charges brought by Creighton Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Vietnam, against several Special Forces officers accused of murdering a suspected double agent in their custody had been dismissed by the secretary of the Army.

The article... made clear that the reasons alleged by Secretary Stanley Resor for this dismissal were false (and that the order to dismiss the charges had most likely come directly from the White House). As I read on, it became increasingly clear that the whole chain of command, civilian and military, was participating in a coverup.

As I finished the article, it hit me: This is the system I have been part of, giving my unquestioning loyalty to for 15 years, as a Marine, a Pentagon official and a State Department officer in Vietnam. It's a system that lies reflexively, at every level from sergeant to commander in chief, about murder. And I had, sitting in my safe at Rand, 7,000 pages of documentary evidence to prove it.

The papers in my safe, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, constituted a complete set of a 47-volume, top-secret Defense Department history of American involvement in Vietnam titled, "U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68."

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 — just as are the 85% of the troops in Iraq today who still believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 and that he was allied with Al Qaeda.
I wonder what the effects of the Pentagon Papers would have been if Nixon hadn't fought it so vehemently. We'll never know, because Nixon immediately sued the New York Times, and later the Washington Post, in an effort to prevent the American people from knowing the truth. This famously went so far as getting the would-be Watergate burglars to break in to Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office, in hopes of discrediting him.

(You've got to appreciate the delicious irony of the clinically-insane, drug-addled Nixon ordering somebody discredited because they - gasp! - see a shrink.)

The Nixon White House's efforts to halt the publication of the Pentagon Papers were so ham-fisted as to be counterproductive:
...top Justice Department official Robert Mardian refused to allow the government witnesses - even behind closed doors - to give any specifics about the alleged security threats the nation would face if secrets from the Pentagon Papers were revealed.

The arrogance that Mardian and other prosecutors and the government witnesses exhibited led New York District Court Judge Murray Gurfein to dismiss the restraining order he had temporarily issued against the newspaper when the case was first brought before him, two days after the Times began publishing the reports.
Judge Gurfein should be a hero to every journalist, every soldier, every American. In his decision to deny the White House's restraining order, he wrote - with incredible force and eloquence, considering this was his first week on the job: "The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone," Gurfein wrote. "Security also lies in the values of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know."

Upon his appeals, the Supreme Court - in its rational, constitutional, pre-Reagan days - found Nixon to be a lying, noxious bastard who deserved every sling and arrow the press could hurl at him. Don't believe me? Here is the decision written by Justice Hugo Black, in his judgement against the White House:
In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government....

...[We] are asked to hold that, despite the First Amendment's emphatic command, the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary can make laws enjoining publication of current news and abridging freedom of the press in the name of "national security." The Government does not even attempt to rely on any act of Congress. Instead, it makes the bold and dangerously far-reaching contention that the courts should take it upon themselves to "make" a law abridging freedom of the press in the name of equity, presidential power and national security, even when the representatives of the people in Congress have adhered to the command of the First Amendment and refused to make such a law.
Not that any of that should sound familiar to you.

It's on this note that I see Karl Rove's lawyers telling us all he won't be indicted. And I think, well, that figures. After all, the whole story of the outing of Valerie Plame is essentially all about how the Washington press corps has abdicated any of the roles that Black and Gurfein ascribed to it. Instead of censuring the government, Elizabeth Bumiller tells us that it's "intimidating" to ask the President questions on TeeVee. We get otherwise decent organs like Salon positively rushing to discredit any claims that Bush stole the 2004 election. And at the root of the Plame affair we have noxious pond scum like Robert Novak and Judy Miller, all claiming the protections of the media without bearing any of the duties.

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