Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department official who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, on Saturday urged voters to oust President Bush from office and called for government insiders to provide similar classified documents about the invasion of Iraq.
Speaking before about 400 people at Lane Community College's Performing Arts Hall, Ellsberg provided a tepid endorsement of Sen. John Kerry. He urged liberals to vote for Kerry despite their misgivings about the Democratic presidential candidate's support of the invasion of Iraq.
Ellsberg said the Bush administration has had the worst foreign policy decision-making of any administration since Lyndon Johnson.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and made Americans more vulnerable to terrorist attacks at home, Ellsberg said.
"The invasion of Iraq greatly strengthened al-Qaeda, which is in fact a significant threat to this country. It's increased their recruiting and I think that's true every week we continue our occupation," Ellsberg said.
But the famed whistle-blower also disagrees with Kerry's position on Iraq.
"His position so far on Iraq in terms of calling for a victory and saying he knows a way to do it is not reassuring," Ellsberg said.
But he was encouraged by Kerry's recent criticism of the Iraq war spurred by a CIA report that shows a stalemate as the best possible scenario and a protracted escalated civil war with more civilian and military casualties as the worst scenario.
Ellsberg said that claims of government deception and lies have little credibility unless supported by documentary evidence, which often is available only in classified materials.
Ellsberg, 73, said federal insiders owe a "higher allegiance" to the Constitution, the public and U.S. soldiers in Iraq than to their government bosses. He acknowledges that whistle-blowers risk personal setbacks, such as losing their jobs, but urged them to act nonetheless.
"I'm asking them to ask themselves whether their highest duty to this country really consists in keeping secrets of an administration that has acted like this ... in protecting lies, untruths that are costing many lives; or whether they don't have a duty to those troops who are over there to frankly get them out of what many people in the government understand to be hopeless," Ellsberg said.
Ellsberg was joined by syndicated columnist Norman Solomon and Medea Benjamin, founder of Global Exchange, a human rights organization.
Solomon said he feared Bush would appoint anywhere from one to three Supreme Court justices who would be opposed to abortion.
Benjamin, who has visited Iraq four times in the past two years, said the possible re-election of Bush would lead to an escalation of the war in Iraq and an increase in the anti-American sentiment throughout the world.
Benjamin, who lives in California, said she plans to vote for David Cobb, the Green Party candidate. But she urged voters in Oregon and other battleground states to vote for Kerry.
Justine Cooper of Eugene, who has been active with Eugene Peace Works among other peace and environmental groups, agreed with Benjamin.
"Because we're a swing state we should vote with our heads instead of our hearts," she said.
Fred Dix, who moved to Eugene from Wisconsin in June, said Ellsberg's speech offered a "sense of hopefulness in an era of negative political advertising."
Ellsberg was a special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense during the Vietnam War. He later served two years in Vietnam.
The document that came to be called the Pentagon Papers was a 7,000-page study of the U.S. decision-making in Vietnam that was classified top secret. They revealed the knowledge, early on, that the war would not likely be won and that continuing the war would lead to many more casualties than was admitted publicly. Further, the study showed a deep cynicism toward the public and a disregard for the loss of life and injury suffered by soldiers and civilians.
In 1969, as an employee of Rand Corporation, Ellsberg photocopied the classified study and released it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later 20 different newspapers. The New York Times began publishing them in 1971.
He was later indicted on espionage, theft and conspiracy charges related to the release of the documents. Ellsberg's trial on 12 felony counts was dismissed in 1973 when John Dean, former counsel to President Nixon, told federal prosecutors and then Congress that White House staff had ordered a break-in at the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist. The White House hoped to discredit Ellsberg with information from his psychiatrist's file, but once the break-in was revealed, Ellsberg's case was thrown out on grounds of government misconduct.
Ellsberg continues his eight-city Pacific Northwest tour with a speech tonight at Willamette University in Salem. Ellsberg said he's touring the Northwest because Washington and Oregon are battleground states.
He will speak Monday at Oregon State University. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. in OSU's La Sells Stewart Center at 26th Street and Western Boulevard.
The speech, which is the opening event of the university's 2004-05 Convocations and Lecture Series, is free and open to the public.
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