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40th Anniversary of the Pentagon Papers event at GVSU featured Daniel Ellsberg

May 27, 2011

Last night WGVU hosted an event for the 40th anniversary of the release of the Pentagon Papers at the downtown campus of GVSU. The vent featured a 30-minute excerpt from the documentary film The Most Dangerous Man in America, with a panel discussion afterwards that included Daniel Ellsberg via Skype.

The panel included former 2nd Congressional Representative Pete Hoekstra, who was also Chair of the House Intelligence Committee; Devin Schindler, a lawyer and law professor at Cooley Law School and Gleaves Whitney, head of the GVSU Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies.

Whitney began the discussion by stating that Americans are naïve in trusting what the government tells the public. He made the point that the approval rating for Nixon went up, even after the release of the Pentagon Papers.

Dr. Ellsberg disagreed with Whitney’s assessment and pointed out that the Pentagon Papers ended with 1968, so it did not deal with the Nixon administration, thus exposing Whitney’s lack of historical knowledge. Ellsberg also stated that what he had hoped to demonstrate with the release of the Pentagon Papers was that four continuous President’s, both Democrats and Republicans, had all supported the war and lied to the public.

The next panelist was Devon Schindler who said he was “ambivalent about the Pentagon Papers.” Schindler clarified that point by saying that in many ways Daniel Ellsberg is similar to Oliver North, saying that, “they fundamentally did the same thing. People cannot put themselves above the law or there will be chaos in the country.”

Ellsberg challenged Schindler’s read of the Espionage Act that does not support government secrecy. Ellsberg said he took an oath to the US Constitution, not a government that was lying and operating in secret. This is significantly different than what Oliver North did by participating in covert operations involving drug and weapons sales, which have nothing to do with upholding the Constitution.

Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra spoke next and did something that this writer did not expect, which was that he agreed with much of what Ellsberg had to say. At one point Hoekstra even said that we needed more whistleblowers. While this was somewhat unexpected it also may have served Hoekstra well since there ended up being no discussion of Hoekstra’s role in the deception of the American public in regards to the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that the Iraqi government possessed, according to the Bush administration. In fact, Hoekstra was claiming at the very end of the Bush years that Iraq still had WMDs.

Where Hoekstra admitted that he disagreed with Ellsberg was on the legality of the  NSA spy program to monitor phone conversations of Americans that began under Bush and continues with Obama. Here Hoekstra believes that the domestic spy program was legitimate.

Devon Schindler then questioned Ellsberg on his actions to distribute the Pentagon Papers saying that it violated his oath. Here is a video clip that has Schindler adding to his point followed by Ellsberg’s response:

There wasn’t much time for questions from the audience, but there were several good points raised by Dr. Ellsberg. When asked about whether or not the news media is doing its job today he said they were doing a terrible job because they continue to take the government at its word and often “act as stenographers.” “The Press is not nearly investigative as it should be, which is due in part to pressures from advertisers and consolidation of owners,” according to Ellsberg.

There was also a question asked about the comparison of WikiLeaks and the Pentagon Papers.  Devon Schindler and Hoekstra both agree that the accused whistleblower Bradley Manning should be punished because he put the national security of the country at risk. Again Ellsberg criticizes Obama for his treatment of Private Bradley Manning and makes the point that one of the main differences was that the Pentagon Papers were Top Secret, whereas the documents Manning leaked were lower level combat information, not that of high-level administrative policy decisions and therefore did not put national security at risk.

One glaring omission from the forum was the lack of any serious discussion about what really motivated both Ellsberg and Manning – the desire to stop the killing of innocent human beings in both Vietnam and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems that the desire to stop the killing for both men was paramount in their decision to release documents, but that point was never really addressed other than a minor reference to torture.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Cliff permalink
    May 28, 2011 11:16 am

    Fine review! I wish the panel was better representative of diverse views. Tried to make it but it filled up quick enough.

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