SAN FRANCISCO -- Daniel Ellsberg may not be a familiar name these days, but his voice and actions remain as consistent as they were 30 years ago.
In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration was staggered when, as a Pentagon
insider, Ellsberg leaked thousands of
incriminating documents about U.S. lies and deception to the media regarding its
foreign policy in Vietnam.
The revelations of what came to be called the Pentagon
Papers showed that at least four presidents had deliberately encouraged a
war of dubious purpose in order to avoid the embarrassment of failure and to further
their own agendas.
The parallels between the Vietnam War and the current pursuit of military action against Iraq are not lost on Ellsberg, who has remained on the lecture circuit since those infamous days.
"We were lied into Vietnam, and we're being lied into a war right now," he
told a packed crowd at the Commonwealth
Club Monday night in a conversation with San
Francisco Chronicle Executive Editor Phil
Ellsberg compared the Gulf
of Tonkin Resolution -- which led the United States into the Vietnam War --
with the Iraq situation, claiming congressional leaders were not informed enough
about the current conflict to have offered its official backing last week.
"(To win support for the Vietnam War), we used our soldiers as bait, and I believe it's about to happen now," Ellsberg said.
Ellsberg, on a national tour promoting his memoir, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, expressed disappointment in the Democratic leadership, citing its fears of being called "unmanly and weak."
"As early as 1967, people in the Pentagon were saying we should be out of (Vietnam)," Ellsberg said, "that nothing we were doing was succeeding or would succeed."
Ellsberg claimed there are many within the Pentagon who "believe that it is a mistake or worse to be in an aggressive war" against Iraq.
He referred to Congresswoman Barbara
Lee (D-Calif.), Sen. Barbara
Boxer (D-Calif.), Pentagon insider Scott
Ritter, Sen. Charles
Berg (R-Minn.), CIA director George
Tenet and recently deceased Sen. Paul
Wellstone (D-Minn.) as "heroes" for being willing to risk their political
careers on the basis of their own convictions.
Ellsberg said that he doubts Iraq has any reason to use its weaponry against the United States unless provoked, and that "Bush's statement that Saddam Hussein is the U.S.' No. 1 enemy is absurdly false."
He said that real nuclear threats are more likely in Pakistan and in "loose," unaccounted-for bombs in Russia.
Also, he warned, civilian deaths (as a result of an attack on Iraq) will only serve to alienate potential allies in other Muslim countries.
Ellsberg chided the media for not holding politicians accountable for their actions and for not being aggressive enough in their criticism of the war resolution.
"Too few journalists have insisted that the constitution matters here," he said.
While Ellsberg decried the Bush administration's tactics thwarting the free flow of information, he expressed great faith in the "wisdom and scruples" of the American people.
"The apparatus of secrecy (in government) is greater but public skepticism is greater still," he said.
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