[Mb-civic] NYTimes.com Article: Truths Worth Telling
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Tue Sep 28 04:25:18 PDT 2004
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Hey y'all -
Daniel Ellsbrg on the importance of outing the Bush junta's war agenda from the inside...
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Truths Worth Telling
September 28, 2004
By DANIEL ELLSBERG
Kensington, Calif. - On a tape recording made in the Oval
Office on June 14, 1971, H. R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon's
chief of staff, can be heard citing Donald Rumsfeld, then a
White House aide, on the effect of the Pentagon Papers,
news of which had been published on the front page of that
"Rumsfeld was making this point this morning,'' Haldeman
says. "To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of
gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very
clear thing: you can't trust the government; you can't
believe what they say, and you can't rely on their
judgment. And the implicit infallibility of presidents,
which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt
by this, because it shows that people do things the
president wants to do even though it's wrong, and the
president can be wrong."
He got it exactly right. But it's a lesson that each
generation of voters and each new set of leaders have to
learn for themselves. Perhaps Mr. Rumsfeld - now secretary
of defense, of course - has reflected on this truth
recently as he has contemplated the deteriorating
conditions in Iraq. According to the government's own
reporting, the situation there is far bleaker than Mr.
Rumsfeld has recognized or President Bush has acknowledged
on the campaign trail.
Understandably, the American people are reluctant to
believe that their president has made errors of judgment
that have cost American lives. To convince them otherwise,
there is no substitute for hard evidence: documents,
photographs, transcripts. Often the only way for the public
to get such evidence is if a dedicated public servant
decides to release it without permission.
Such a leak occurred recently with the National
Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was prepared in July.
Reports of the estimate's existence and overall pessimism -
but not its actual conclusions - have prompted a
long-overdue debate on the realities and prospects of the
war. But its judgments of the relative likelihood and the
strength of evidence pointing to the worst possibilities
remain undisclosed. Since the White House has refused to
release the full report, someone else should do so.
Leakers are often accused of being partisan, and
undoubtedly many of them are. But the measure of their
patriotism should be the accuracy and the importance of the
information they reveal. It would be a great public service
to reveal a true picture of the administration's plans for
Iraq - especially before this week's debate on foreign
policy between Mr. Bush and Senator John Kerry.
The military's real estimates of the projected costs - in
manpower, money and casualties - of various long-term plans
for Iraq should be made public, in addition to the more
immediate costs in American and Iraqi lives of the planned
offensive against resistant cities in Iraq that appears
scheduled for November. If military or intelligence experts
within the government predict disastrous political
consequences in Iraq from such urban attacks, these
judgments should not remain secret.
Leaks on the timing of this offensive - and on possible
call-up of reserves just after the election - take me back
to Election Day 1964, which I spent in an interagency
working group in the State Department. The purpose of our
meeting was to examine plans to expand the war - precisely
the policy that voters soundly rejected at the polls that
We couldn't wait until the next day to hold our meeting
because the plan for the bombing of North Vietnam had to be
ready as soon as possible. But we couldn't have held our
meeting the day before because news of it might have been
leaked - not by me, I'm sorry to say. And President Lyndon
Johnson might not have won in a landslide had voters known
he was lying when he said that his administration sought
"no wider war."
Seven years and almost 50,000 American deaths later, after
I had leaked the Pentagon Papers, I had a conversation with
Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, one of the two senators who
had voted against the Tonkin Gulf resolution in August
1964. If I had leaked the documents then, he said, the
resolution never would have passed.
That was hard to hear. But in 1964 it hadn't occurred to me
to break my vow of secrecy. Though I knew that the war was
a mistake, my loyalties then were to the secretary of
defense and the president. It took five years of war before
I recognized the higher loyalty all officials owe to the
Constitution, the rule of law, the soldiers in harm's way
or their fellow citizens.
Like Robert McNamara, under whom I served, Mr. Rumsfeld
appears to inspire great loyalty among his aides. As the
scandal at Abu Ghraib shows, however, there are more
important principles. Mr. Rumsfeld might not have seen the
damning photographs and the report of Maj. Gen. Antonio M.
Taguba as soon as he did - just as he would never have seen
the Pentagon Papers 33 years ago - if some anonymous people
in his own department had not bypassed the chain of command
and disclosed them, without authorization, to the news
media. And without public awareness of the scandal, reforms
would be less likely.
A federal judge has ordered the administration to issue a
list of all documents relating to the scandal by Oct. 15.
Will Mr. Rumsfeld release the remaining photos, which
depict treatment that he has described as even worse? It's
highly unlikely, especially before Nov. 2. Meanwhile, the
full Taguba report remains classified, and the findings of
several other inquiries into military interrogation and
detention practices have yet to be released.
All administrations classify far more information than is
justifiable in a democracy - and the Bush administration
has been especially secretive. Information should never be
classified as secret merely because it is embarrassing or
incriminating. But in practice, in this as in any
administration, no information is guarded more closely.
Surely there are officials in the present administration
who recognize that the United States has been misled into a
war in Iraq, but who have so far kept their silence - as I
long did about the war in Vietnam. To them I have a
personal message: don't repeat my mistakes. Don't wait
until more troops are sent, and thousands more have died,
before telling truths that could end a war and save lives.
Do what I wish I had done in 1964: go to the press, to
Congress, and document your claims.
Technology may make it easier to tell your story, but the
decision to do so will be no less difficult. The personal
risks of making disclosures embarrassing to your superiors
are real. If you are identified as the source, your career
will be over; friendships will be lost; you may even be
prosecuted. But some 140,000 Americans are risking their
lives every day in Iraq. Our nation is in urgent need of
comparable moral courage from its public officials.
Daniel Ellsberg is the author of "Secrets: A Memoir of
Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers."
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