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Dirty Tricks Deja Vu

From the Publisher of Chicago life

By PAM BERNS

On June 13, 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, an analyst at the Rand Corporation who served under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and in the State Department in Vietnam, leaked 7,000 pages of classified papers about the execution of the Vietnam War to The New York Times. Prior to releasing the papers Ellsberg said he tried unsuccessfully to get a senator to release the classified documents on the Senate floor before deciding to release the papers himself. He said he felt he had no choice. He had knowledge that the Vietnam War was launched with questionable "unequivocal evidence" that our own destroyers had been attacked by North Vietnam in an "unprovoked attack." The story was that we responded to that attack with bombing raids. Because of this erroneous report, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, authorizing our bombing Vietnam. The truth is that we had been preparing for an assault months before the reported Tonkin Gulf incident, according to Ellsberg in his book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

According to The Boston Globe, the papers Ellsberg leaked not only showed that we got into Vietnam based on bogus information, Ellsberg and other officials knew early on that the Vietnam War would cause many more casualties than estimated and that the war could probably not be won. But the officials and military kept reporting what they thought their superiors wanted to hear. The papers also revealed a callous lack of respect for the suffering of our injured soldiers and disregard for the lives lost by both the military and civilians.

After The New York Times started publishing the documents Ellsberg provided, Nixon's attorney general John Mitchell ordered the newspaper to cease publishing the papers. Fifteen days later, after a ruling by the Supreme Court, the newspaper resumed publishing them.

President Nixon was irate and ordered his aides to discredit Ellsberg. Nixon's aides, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt even broke into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to find information to discredit Ellsberg. Because of the government's misconduct, charges against Ellsberg were eventually dropped.

Ellsberg has said on record that he only wished that he had published the papers many years earlier--before 58,000 of our soldiers had lost their lives in a futile war.

The recent interest in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All The President's Men has seemed to bring so many loose ends of recent history together. The parallels between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq are uncanny--as are the revelations by those in government who have revealed our leaders' lies.

It has been months since former FBI second-in-command Mark Felt revealed that he was Deep Throat--the insider who exposed some of the dirty tricks that Nixon's election committee conducted by bugging the Democratic National Committee's headquarters. Felt's revelations led to the Congressional Watergate investigation and Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974. Without protection for journalists using anonymous sources, revelations such as these would never be reported by the press.

Our invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was also based on questionable "evidence" of Saddam's nuclear weapons of mass destruction and implications that Saddam was involved in 9/11. According to accounts in the Downing Street Memo and those of the U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former terrorism czar Richard Clarke and Ambassador Joe Wilson, the Bush administration used weak evidence to justify their excursion into Iraq. Bush quietly diverted troops from fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan--where we were searching for Bin Laden--to invade Iraq.

As most of us know, Joe Wilson published an op-ed column in The New York Times that claimed that when he travelled to Africa at the request of the CIA, he found no evidence to support the rumor of a uranium deal, as Bush claimed in his State of the Union address in 2003. "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush had said.

Wilson writes that the administration did more than lie about the African uranium, it "manipulated intelligence to bolster its case for invading Iraq." In his book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity, Wilson says that the White House was seeking vengeance for his op-ed piece when administration officials "leaked" information to members of the press that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA operative. Columnist Robert Novak wrote about the leak, and in the process, betrayed and perhaps even threatened the lives of Plame and other CIA agents who worked with her.

Like so many Americans, I wonder why anyone would risk endangering the life of Valerie Plame. It appears to some to be an unnecessary outing for no purpose but to undermine Joe Wilson at the bidding of top officials in the Bush administration. That would be a dirty trick. Why did White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales delay ordering preservation of documents pertinent to the investigation for days? This can only fuel suspicions about their undermining of Patrick Fitzgerald's CIA-requested investigation. If Wilson were lying, why did the CIA request the investigation? If Plame were not undercover, why did the CIA care? Are we also to believe that Plame had the power to hire her husband single-handedly on behalf of the CIA?

We owe Ellsberg, Felt, Wilson and other loyal patriots a debt of gratitude for exposing unconstitutional activities performed by our government. Ellsberg told Salon.com that he thinks Mark Felt should be awarded a Nobel Prize.

I remember Nixon's resignation like it was yesterday. I was running my art gallery in Door County, and June and July of 1974 had been slow for sales. Earlier that summer my dad had made bets with several of his friends that Nixon would not last out his term--despite the fact that Nixon had been re-elected by a landslide. My dad was right. I admit I was elated when Nixon resigned. It was the end of a painful time for our country--the Watergate Investigation ultimately resulted in a slew of convictions. I was also happy because the week after Nixon left office I sold nearly every watercolor I had in my gallery. The mood of the nation had changed. --Pam Berns

Published: August 01, 2005
Issue: Fall 2005