A New Pentagon Papers

A few days ago, I wrote an article warning of the danger of allowing the government and/or media to avert our attention to important matters through the Art of Misdirection. In it I alluded to the compelling notion of some patriotic Americans exposing the crimes of the Bush Administration in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg did when he brought us the Pentagon Papers. Apparently Ellsberg agrees with me:

“The equivalent of the Pentagon Papers exist in safes all over Washington, not only in the Pentagon, but in the CIA, the State Department and elsewhere. My message is to them: Take the risk, reveal the truth under the lies of your own bosses and your superiors, obey your oath to the Constitution, which every one of those officials took, not to the commander in chief, but to the Constitution of the United States.”

This comment was made at a panel at the annual convention of Unitarian Universalists last weekend. The panel, “The Pentagon Papers Then and Now,” was moderated by Amy Goodman and included Ellsberg, Sen. Mike Gravel, and Rev. Robert West. There is a video of the session at the link above. Watch it. These are three of the principles involved in the Pentagon Papers affair and they relate some fascinating details about an honest-to-goodness spy caper.

After 35 years, most people should be aware of the basic story of how Ellsberg copied secret Defense Department documents and got the New York Times and others to publish them (if not, click here). Less well known is the story of how the Papers moved from the DoD to the public. It wasn’t easy.

Ellsberg was turned down dozens of times before the Papers were published. President Nixon obtained a restraining order halting the presses at the New York Times (the first time in U.S. history that presses were stopped by federal court order). Sen. Mike Gravel wore a colostomy bag as he attempted to read the Papers into the Congressional Record via filibuster. When a quorum could not be held, Gravel convened the Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds, which he chaired, and read the papers into the record from there.

This is a tale of true American heroism. These people risked their freedom, perhaps their lives, to save the lives of so many more; to insure that Americans, and the world, were informed; to defend the ideals of Democracy. We need more like them.

Let me repeat: We need more like them. I do not say this as a plaintive yearning for a bygone era of dedicated public servants. I say it as an appeal to recruit soldiers of conscience to save more lives; to inform more people; to further defend what is today an ailing Democracy. Daniel Ellsberg heeded the call. Sen. Gravel heeded the call. For all the ridicule Gravel endures in his quixotic bid for the Democratic nomination, he deserves some credit for his courageous participation in these historic matters. I guarantee that you will not look upon him the same after you learn what did 35 years ago to advance peace and liberty.

And now it’s our turn. As Ellsberg said, “The equivalent of the Pentagon Papers exist in safes all over Washington…” Let’s find them. Let’s publish them. Let’s free them and ourselves – again.