On This Day

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Daniel Ellsberg, left, speaks to reporters outside the Federal building.

On This Day: Pentagon Papers Case Dismissed by Judge

May 11, 2009 02:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On May 11, 1973, Judge William Matthew Byrne Jr. cleared whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg of all criminal wrongdoing in leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press.

‘Pentagon Papers: Case Dismissed’

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Daniel Ellsberg and his former colleague at the Rand Corp., Anthony J. Russo Jr., faced eight charges of espionage, six of theft and one of conspiracy for distributing the documents to the press. However, Judge Byrne dismissed all the charges, stating that because of the government’s conduct, “the totality of the circumstances of this case offends a 'sense of justice,’” reported Time magazine. In its 1973 report, Time referred to the Pentagon Papers case as “one of the most extraordinary legal—and in many ways, illegal—proceedings in the history of American justice.”

The Pentagon Papers were a 7,000-page classified report detailing the government’s planning and policy from 1945 to 1967, before and during the Vietnam War. The report revealed numerous discrepancies between government officials’ internal dialogue about the war and what they told the public.

Ellsberg secretly photocopied the papers with the help of Russo, and in 1971, leaked them to The New York Times and other newspapers. Former president Richard Nixon ordered the FBI to stop Ellsberg, who eventually surrendered to the authorities and was indicted by a grand jury for violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property.

Government officials also went after the Times and the Washington Post, inspiring a legal battle that became a landmark case about press freedom.
In recent years, Ellsberg has spoken out against the war in Iraq and has raised his concern that the government may be preparing to attack Iran. He encourages any would-be whistleblowers to speak out before it is too late.

“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,” Ellsberg said in Harper’s Magazine in 2006. His article expressed his hope that anyone possessing documentation of the government’s plans would come forward before the nation became involved in a conflict.

Related Topics: After Vietnam, Iraq?

In a 2008 interview with Truthout, Ellsberg urged Americans to demonstrate against the war in Iraq, stating that watching the Iraq War develop was like reliving the lead up to Vietnam. Ellsberg ardently encourages whistleblowers to speak up and report any constitutional violations they might enconunter, and highlights the importance of timing and of documentary evidence. Ellsberg has been involved in anti-nuclear lecturing, writing and activism. “It was my hope to help bring about a grass roots active movement to end the nuclear arms race comparable to the movement against the Vietnam War, in scale and activities, and I hoped in effectiveness,” he said.

In a 2008 article published in Slate Magazine, Timothy Noah compares an army commissioned study about the Iraq war buried by the government, and recently acquired by The New York Times, to the Pentagon Papers, asking “Isn’t this the story line of the Pentagon Papers?

Reference: The Pentagon Papers

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