Saturday, February 10, 2007

Over 1,000 Turn Out in San Diego for Jan. 27 Anti-War Protest

Pentagon Papers Leaker Ellsberg Speaks at Rally, Later Church Meeting


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Over 1,000 protesters crowded into the park in front of Horton Plaza Saturday afternoon, January 27, as part of a nationwide mobilization against the war in Iraq and President Bush’s decision to add over 20,000 troops to the U.S. forces there. The action started at 2 p.m. with a vigil in which participants lined both sides of Broadway between Third and Fourth Streets and waved signs in front of passing cars. Many of the drivers honked their horns to signal their approval of the action as they went by — far more than had done so in previous actions — and the diners at sidewalk eating areas at restaurants and bars in the Gaslamp Quarter were also more supportive than they’d been before. Only one woman heckled the protesters as they staged a march through the Gaslamp at 3 p.m.

In between the vigil and the march, the crowd was addressed by Daniel Ellsberg, veteran anti-war activist who became famous for leaking a top-secret history of the Viet Nam war to the media in 1971. The release of this study, which became known as “The Pentagon Papers,” caused then-President Richard Nixon and his advisers, including Henry Kissinger, to go ballistic and order a series of illegal activities, including burglarizing the office of Ellsberg’s former psychiatrist and attempting to bribe the judge in Ellsberg’s criminal trial with an offer to head the FBI. Ellsberg also spoke in the evening at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest, where he noted ruefully that just about everything Nixon and his minions did during Watergate, including the burglary of his psychiatrist’s office has now been made legal by the USA PATRIOT Act, passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress six weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

The local protest was sponsored by the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice and featured wide-ranging participation by groups including the International Socialist Organization and the International Action Center/A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) group. Though anti-war protests took place throughout the country on January 27, the main event was on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where over 100,000 people participated and the rally speakers included celebrities Jane Fonda (making her first appearance at an antiwar event in 34 years), Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon; anti-war Congressmembers Dennis Kucinich, Lynn Woolsey, John Conyers and Maxine Waters; and veteran activists Rev. Jesse Jackson, Medea Benjamin and Michael Lerner. The D.C. event was organized by the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) coalition, which set aside its previous decision not to work with A.N.S.W.E.R. in view of the urgency of the situation.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the D.C. event is who didn’t speak. Aside from Kucinich, who’s running a long-shot Presidential campaign for 2008 similar to the one he staged in 2004, none of the declared candidates for the 2008 Democratic nomination for President showed up. Linda Shade and Kevin Zeese of the activist Web site called the front-runners for the Democratic nomination — Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, et al. — “out of step with many Americans who are calling for bringing the troops home now.” Shade and Zeese called for “a larger and more organized anti-war movement” to pressure the politicians into taking tougher stands against the war.

Ellsberg Compares Nixon, Bush

Ellsberg’s speech at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church on the evening of January 27 attracted an overflow crowd, taking up all 700 seats in the church’s main chapel and spilling over into the choir loft. It was preceded by a screening of a 10-minute film clip from a documentary on Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers that is still in production, and which Ellsberg said later had never been shown publicly before. The film included excerpts from actual tape recordings of President Nixon and his advisors, including Henry Kissinger, debating what to do about Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers leaks in June 1971. Ellsberg recalled that Nixon and his men had mixed feelings about the leaks of the Pentagon Papers, fearing setting a precedent that it as O.K. to leak government secrets but also rejoicing that most of the Presidents embarrassed by the revelations in the Pentagon Papers were Democrats.

Most of Ellsberg’s speech compared Nixon’s actions on Viet Nam with the current President Bush’s prosecution of the war in Iraq. Indeed, the parallels between the two were so striking that at one point Ellsberg misspoke and said the name “Nixon” when he clearly meant “Bush,” then corrected himself. He cited the case of former U.S. foreign service official Joseph Wilson, who was sent to the small African country of Niger at the behest of vice-president Dick Cheney to document that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium ore from Niger for his alleged nuclear-weapons program. When Wilson found out that no such thing had happened, and went public in the New York Times in 2003 that the administration’s claim that it had were bogus, “they punished him through his wife,” Ellsberg noted, “outing” Mrs. Wilson, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent.

“Nixon wanted to destroy me in the press,” Ellsberg recalled. “He said, ‘Get everything out.’ When he realized I had other documents from Nixon’s National Security Council (NSC), they were worried about it, especially about the illegal bombing of Cambodia and the threats to use nuclear weapons against North Viet Nam that Nixon had made through Kissinger since 1969.” Ellsberg recalled that five people suddenly left the staff of Nixon’s NSC in late 1969 but didn’t go public with their reasons for doing so until decades later. One of them, Roger Morris, “said he saw the nuclear-target folders Nixon prepared on North Viet Nam in November 1969, but that information didn’t come out until this year. I knew about that but I didn’t have the documents because they didn’t give them to me. They hoped the press would come to them and ask why five people had left the National Security Council staff at once, but [the media] didn’t, and Roger Morris later said it was the biggest mistake of his life.”

When Ellsberg criticized people for leaking information too late to make a difference in policy, he included himself. “I wish I had [leaked the Pentagon Papers] in 1964 or 1965 before the escalation,” he said. “That’s why I’m asking people currently in the government to do it now and not after the U.S. drops 100 nuclear weapons on Iran.” Ellsberg noted that New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, UCSD professor Jorge Hirsch, and others have received anonymous information from government officials on the Bush administration’s plans to nuke Iran, and Bush has publicly refused to rule out the option of a nuclear strike against Iran if it doesn’t give up its uranium-enrichment program.

“The incentive is being used against Iran,” Ellsberg said. “If Iran backs off under a threat of nuclear weapons, that’s the optimum outcome for Bush. But this is also an incentive for Iran to get nuclear weapons because they would rather be in the position of North Korea [which actually did develop nuclear weapons, and which the U.S. did not attack] than that of Iraq. If we do use nuclear weapons against Iran, every country will get the message that they need a nuclear weapon. Proliferation will be unstoppable, and tests and use will follow once we set the example [of using nuclear weapons in combat against a non-nuclear state]. The stakes are enormously serious.”

Ellsberg recounted the story told by Bush’s first treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, that at Bush’s very first Cabinet meeting in January 2001 — eight months before the 9/11 attacks — “he said he wanted to stop being an intermediary between Israel and Palestine, and go totally on Israel’s side. He also said he wanted to attack Iraq and bring down the regime of Saddam Hussein. [Then-Secretary of State] Colin Powell warned him of the possible consequences, and Bush said, ‘A little violence will clarify things.’” Ellsberg gave O’Neill credit for revealing that story in 2004, before Bush ran for re-election, but said he should have put out the story three years earlier right after it happened.

According to Ellsberg, Bush’s so-called “surge” of 20,000 additional troops, many of them to be stationed in Baghdad, isn’t just a peacekeeping force (as the administration is trying to sell it to the American people) but part of a major escalation of the war. “We’re asking [Iraqi premier Nouri] al-Maliki not to get in the way of our assassination of Muqtada al-Sadr, even though al-Sadr’s people are Maliki’s principal political supporters,” Ellsberg said. “We’re about to attack al-Sadr and his militia with the 20,000 additional troops from Bush’s ‘surge,’ which will give the 60 percent of Iraq’s population who are Shi’a Arabs just as much of a reason to hate us as the 20 percent who are Sunni Arabs have now. Already 61 percent of the Iraqi people say it’s appropriate and acceptable to kill Americans. The war is about to get more deadly for both sides. The U.S. soldiers will have air support, including napalm and phosphorus dropped directly into heavily populated urban areas. Americans are going to die and from 10 to 50 times as many Iraqis will die.”

Recounting the history of the Viet Nam war, Ellsberg argued that it will be difficult but not impossible for a popular movement to stop Bush’s escalation of the Iraq war and its likely extension into Iran. “Nixon was elected in 1968 with the promise of ending the war with honor,” Ellsberg said. “The war didn’t end until May 1, 1975, four years after the Pentagon Papers came out, and it could have gone on much longer and bigger. It took 10 years to get the U.S. out of Viet Nam, and Viet Nam had no oil. It will be hard to get the U.S. out of Iraq and avert the expansion of the war into Iran.”

Ellsberg argued that the only reason the Viet Nam war ended when it did was because the Watergate revelations and Nixon’s stonewalling the Congressional investigations into them angered enough Congressmembers to create a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both houses against further funding for the war. On May 10, 1973 — while Ellsberg’s criminal trial was still going on, before charges against him were dropped due to Nixon’s heavy-handed and illegal tactics against him — “the House of Representatives voted for the first time to cut off all money for fighting in Indochina,” Ellsberg said. “No legislature anywhere had ever done that in the middle of the war. But the Senate hadn’t acted, and under normal circumstances even if they had passed it the President would have vetoed it.”

What changed, Ellsberg said, was that the burgeoning Watergate scandal made impeachment a realistic possibility and directly threatened Nixon’s job. At first, Ellsberg said, Nixon wasn’t worried about being impeached because the next person in line for the presidency was vice-president Spiro Agnew, whom Nixon actually referred to as “my impeachment insurance.” But when Agnew pled guilty to corruption charges of his own and resigned in October 1973, “Nixon lost his impeachment insurance,” Ellsberg said. He’s hoping history will repeat itself and vice-president Cheney will be driven from office as the perjury trial of his former top aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, continues. “I’m betting Cheney will perjure himself and that [special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald] will be able to nail him,” Ellsberg said.

“If not for the crimes against me and all the people heard on his surveillance, Nicon wouldn’t have resigned and the war would have gone on at least one more year,” Ellsberg argued. “But since Nixon was facing an impeachment fight, he could not veto any of the bills that were going up. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said ‘impeachment is off the table’ and ‘cutting funding [for the war] is not our priority.’ Cutting funds is the only way our troops will get out of Iraq. Without our pressure, Congress will be content with letting the war get bigger and Bush take all the blame. Unless they’re willing to stand up against the funding and risk being called traitors, as Barbara Lee was [for casting the only Congressional vote against the resolution authorizing Bush to use military force after 9/11], the war will go on and get bigger.”

Nor does Ellsberg think that the war will finally end if a Democrat gets elected President in 2008. Indeed, according to his analysis the election of a Democrat will make it more likely that the U.S. military involvement in Iraq will actually continue. “I don’t think a Democratic President — certainly not the ones likely to get the nomination, like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, both of whom have talked about expanding the war — will withdraw unless they’re forced to by public opinion. In the next two years, with a Congress controlled by the opposition party and a President more impeachable than any in our history, that gives us a window of opportunity we won’t have after 2008. If Congress doesn’t have the courage to hold this President accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors, they will be complicit. If they don’t see the light, they’ll feel the heat. Let’s be part of that fire.”