Pentagon Papers, part deux
In Sacramento for a benefit, Daniel Ellsberg urged a new generation of whistleblowers to do as he did
It’s time for sources who have leaked secrets about America’s plans to attack Iran to search their consciences and take the next step by releasing documents that prove the existence of those plans.
So said Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower extraordinaire who, in 1971, leaked a 7,000-page top-secret study documenting the government’s deceptions regarding the war in Vietnam. The former defense analyst has been making the rounds in recent months to sound the alarm over what he believes are the government’s plans to go to war with Iran. On October 22, he spoke to several hundred people at a fund-raiser for the Sacramento area’s Physicians for Social Responsibility. The fact that the largest fleet to launch from the United States since World War II now sits in the Persian Gulf, within striking distance of Iranian targets, made Ellsberg’s comments all the more alarming.
“For the last couple of years, I’ve been urging people not to do what I did,” said Ellsberg, who by handing over the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, and more than a dozen other newspapers, may have helped shorten the Vietnam War. “I’ve been telling them, ‘Don’t wait until the nuclear bombs are falling on Iran before coming forward to tell the truth about what the government is planning.’ ”
Ellsberg believes that officials who earlier this year leaked details of operational military plans to attack Iran—which included use of tactical nuclear weapons against underground uranium-processing facilities in that country—just might have a chance to do what he could not: Help prevent a war from happening in the first place.
The step beyond anonymous leaking, however, is more like a leap into the abyss. Ellsberg knows that; he risked everything by releasing the top-secret Pentagon Papers. Though 12 felony charges were dismissed because of government misconduct against him, Ellsberg faced a possible 115-year prison sentence. Sources who’ve been divulging details of top-secret military plans for Iran to the press also could be prosecuted for breaching security rules, face certain job loss, risk being branded a traitor and much more.
“The personal risks of doing this are very great,” Ellsberg wrote in the October issue of Harper’s Magazine. “Yet they are not as great as the risks of bodies and lives we are asking daily of over 130,000 young Americans—with many yet to join them—in an unjust war. Our country has urgent need for comparable courage, moral and civil courage, from its public servants. They owe us the truth before the next war begins.”
As reported by the media—the New Yorker, Washington Post, Time magazine—anonymous sources fear the military plans would have catastrophic consequences in the Middle East. One source identified as a Pentagon adviser on the war on terror told the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh of a “resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it a “juggernaut that has to be stopped.”
The so-called “nuclear option” was reportedly “taken off the table” after military brass raised a stink and some high-ranking officers threatened resignation. Ellsberg cautioned, however, that the Bush administration continues to insist that all options are on the table in its efforts to get Iran to back down. He fears that Bush may put nuclear plans back into play: “Those plans are there to be carried out as necessary.”
There was little outcry from the public over those plans. Ellsberg said that’s because people just don’t understand the power of these bunker-buster or burrowing weapons.
A burrowing bomb, like the B61-11, can be set to explode with a yield ranging from .5 kilotons of power to 340 kilotons. These aren’t tiny bombs. By comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was about 13 kilotons; the one that flattened Nagasaki was closer to 20 kilotons.
A picture of the kind of devastation these earth-penetrating nuclear bombs might wreak if launched against Iran is revealed by an analysis published in May by PSR, which estimated that 2.6 million people would die within 48 hours of a strike on just two underground uranium plants in Iran. The assessment used a Pentagon tool to calculate the damage that three 340-kiloton bombs—that’s more than 50 times the destructive capability of the largest nuclear bomb dropped in World War II on Nagasaki—would do when used against the two sites. Their calculations also revealed that another 10.5 million people in an “immense fallout zone” across Iran and neighboring countries would suffer significant radiation exposure.
First use of nuclear weapons violates international law. And the physician group isn’t alone in insisting that while Iran should not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, nuclear attack is not the way to stop them.
Threatening nuclear attack, said Ellsberg, who spent three years in the early 1990s working with PSR against nuclear proliferation, creates a climate where countries—like Iran and North Korea—feel the necessity to develop their own nuclear capabilities in self defense.
Government insiders may be in a position to stop a war before it starts. By coming forward with documents to prove the existence of these plans, Ellsberg argued, “they just might help prevent the start of a new nuclear age that will lead to massive proliferation, frequent use of nuclear weapons and, ultimately, get the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia involved.”
He also called on Congress to deny funds for an attack—nuclear or not—against Iran. “If the president violates that, it would be another count of the impeachment that he so richly deserves.”
Alas, even the threat of impeachment of this president wouldn’t stop—in Ellsberg’s words—“this exact situation of presidential tyranny” that our system of government was designed to prevent.