Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Daniel Ellsberg, who released top secret Defense Department documents to the New York Times in 1971 and helped turn public sentiment against the war in Vietnam, is a hero to some Americans, a villain to others. When Ellsberg speaks at CSU Monterey Bay on Wednesday, Nov. 28, he will draw some stark parallels between the Vietnam era and today. But he says the political “crises” he sees emerging from the Bush administration are far more damaging to the country’s future.
Present at the creation of the “Imperial Presidency” during the Nixon and Johnson administrations, Ellsberg began his career as a self-described “cold warrior.” In the mid-1950s he served in the Marine Corps, including six months in the Suez with the U.S. Sixth Fleet. After receiving his doctorate in
economics from Harvard, he worked as a RAND Corporation contractor under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara before spending two years with the State Department in Vietnam. He was in Vietnam during 1965-67 with the U.S. Pacification Program when he concluded that the U.S. could not win that war.
“I think that anyone who was in Vietnam during the war could see the U.S. would not prevail,” he says. Ellsberg often draws on the American Revolution as an analogy. “The U.S. military was like the British redcoats, trained for traditional warfare against local militia who would attack then fade into the jungle.”
On his return to RAND Corporation in 1967, his security clearance exposed him to top secret Defense documents, which validated his fears that far more American lives were being lost than the government had been reporting. These documents, which later were dubbed “The Pentagon Papers,” indicated that chances of U.S. victory were poor.
For 18 months Ellsberg unsuccessfully attempted to turn these documents over to key members of Congress. After the New York Times publication, Ellsberg was charged in federal court with theft, conspiracy and espionage. These charges, which could have put him in prison for life, were eventually dismissed when the court ruled that the White House had acted with gross misconduct while attempting to gather further evidence against him, including its use of the National Security Agency and the CIA.
Despite the illegal activities he witnessed four decades ago, Ellsberg foresees even more sinister changes to the American political system. He voices urgent concern that the Bush administration may be leading America into a one-branch government headed by the White House, with the legislative and judicial branches fading into the sidelines, ineffective in pulling the nation back from what he predicts could be a police state.
There are three “convergent crises” Ellsberg identifies that lead him to this conclusion. The first is the war in Iraq, which he believes will be ongoing “because neither the Republicans nor the Democrats in Congress want to give up the military bases the U.S. has won.” The second is a war with Iran that he thinks could be initiated by President Bush before he leaves office. “While not a certainty, in my mind it is likely,” Ellsberg says.
The third crisis is the “collective illegal and anti-Constitutional actions of this administration, including several laws passed by Congress at the behest of the administration since Sept. 11, 2001.” Among them are the Patriot Act, which Ellsberg sees as “part of an overall plan to shift government power to the executive branch, the Military Commissions Act which limits habeas corpus in civilian trials, and the Protect America Act.”
Ellsberg also has harsh words for President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
“Impeachment is the obvious response to this imperial presidency,” he says. “This administration has already launched a civilian coup against our Constitution, which was not challenged by Democrats or Republicans in Congress. Both the president and vice president are, in my view, violating their sworn oaths of office, which is to protect and defend the United States Constitution. They are to me, domestic enemies of our Constitution.
“[Cheney’s] support for unrestrained presidential powers is documented as far back as 33 years ago when he worked in the White House under Donald Rumsfeld and later as President Ford’s Chief of Staff. Cheney has had an agenda for many years to change our form of government.”
Ellsberg predicts a “second coup” should the Unites States go to war with Iran. “This would be an opportunity to further curtail our civil rights. Among the outcomes may well be detention of dissidents and Middle Easterners in the U.S., and the reinstatement of the draft.”
He describes the grand design he perceives in clear terms. “I call it latent fascism, not full-blown, yet, but heading in that direction,” he says. “Unimpeded by real opposition by either party, this could lead to a police state with military law, even to a presidential monarchy.”
ELLSBERG TALKS AT CSUMB’S WORLD THEATER, SIXTH AVENUE, SEASIDE, 7PM ON WEDNESDAY, NOV. 28TH. FREE/ADVANCE RESERVATIONS RECOMMENDED. 582-4580 OR CSUMB.EDU/SPEAKERS