With more pretrial hearings scheduled for this month and next we examine the similarities between the Bradley Manning case (and Wikileaks) and that of Daniel Ellsberg, the celebrated whistleblower who, together with Anthony Russo, was charged and tried for leaking the Pentagon Papers. At the trial all charges against Ellsberg and Russo were dropped and Bradley Manning’s supporters argue that the charges against him should be dropped too. Below is a summary of what happened to Ellsberg and Russo, their trial and the irregularities identified that led to the outcome..
“I was the Bradley Manning of my day. In 1971 I too faced life in prison for exposing classified government lies and crimes. President Obama says “the Ellsberg material was classified on a different basis.” True. The Pentagon Papers were not Secret like the Wikileaks revelations, they were all marked Top Secret—Sensitive. Ultimately all charges in my case were dropped because of criminal governmental misconduct toward me during my proceedings. Exactly the same outcome should occur now, in light of the criminal conditions of Manning’s confinement for the last six months.” Daniel Ellsberg.
Daniel Ellsberg was described by Henry Kissinger as “the most dangerous man in America.” His actions directly contributed to the end of the Nixon presidency and the Vietnam War.
2. The Pentagon Papers
To see the Pentagon Papers in full (all 7000 pages were only made available in May 2011), click here .
The papers were officially known as United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense. The Papers showed that the US had deliberately expanded its war with the bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks. Four administrations, from Truman to Johnson, had misled the public regarding their intentions.
Ellsberg provided material from the Papers to the New York Times and the Washington Post (both went ahead and published).
3. The charges
On June 28, 1971, Ellsberg (who had gone into hiding after distributing copies of the Pentagon Papers to newspapers) surrendered in Boston to face criminal charges. Under the Espionage Act, Ellsberg was charged with theft and unauthorized possession of classified documents. Anthony Russo, a former RAND colleague of Ellsberg’s who had helped photocopy the documents and urged Ellsberg to distribute them, was subpoenaed in August 1971 and imprisoned for six weeks after refusing to testify against Ellsberg before a grand jury. In December 1971, a second indictment was issued against the two men, listing them as co-conspirators in the matter. Ellsberg faced five counts of theft and six of violations of the Espionage Act, for a maximum total of 115 years; Russo faced one count of theft and two of violating the Espionage Act, for a maximum total of 35 years.
4. The trial
Their trial began on January 3, 1973. Five days later, the Watergate burglary trial commenced in Washington, D.C. The Ellsberg/Russo trial continued for more than four months. In late April, Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert submitted a memo that revealed that two members of a special investigations unit known as “the plumbers” that had been created by President Nixon — G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt (who had just been convicted in the Watergate burglary trial) — had illegally entered the offices of Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg’s psychoanalyst, in search of files that could be used to discredit Ellsberg. A few days later the judge revealed that John Ehrlichman — one of Nixon’s top aides — had offered him the job of director of the FBI. It was also revealed that the FBI had secretly and illegally recorded conversations between Ellsberg and Morton Halperin, who had supervised the Pentagon Papers study. Meanwhile the Government admitted that telephone conversations of Ellsberg were picked up by wiretapping in late 1969 and early 1970, but that all records and logs of those conversations had disappeared from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Given the irregularities that had occurred the judge declared a mis-trial and the charges against both Ellsberg and Russo were dropped. The Government’s action in this case, Byrne said, “offended a sense of justice,” and so “I have decided to declare a mis-trial and grant the motion for dismissal.” The judge also made it clear that Ellsberg and Russo would not be tried again on charges of stealing and copying the Pentagon papers. He said, “The conduct of the Government has placed the case in such a posture that it precludes the fair, dispassionate resolution of these issues by a jury”.
Note: it was the revelation of the Fielding break-in that Nixon feared the most. When the House Judiciary Committee, in 1974, adopted three articles of impeachment against Nixon, two of them directly concerned the Fielding break-in. After that, Nixon had no choice but to resign.
5. Similarities/differences to Manning case
A. The (apparent) differences:
1. Manning is being court-martialled and is not facing charges via the criminal courts system. The rules and procedures are therefore different from those that applied to Ellsberg/Russo.
2. At the time of the Ellsberg/Russo trial the public mood was not in favour of President Nixon, whereas today President Obama still, arguably, enjoys popularity.
3. While Ellsberg provided extracts from the Pentagon Papers directly to the media, Manning is alleged to have used Wikileaks as a conduit.
B. The (apparent) similarities:
1. Both cases involve irregularities. With Ellsberg/Russo it was about break-ins, unauthorised surveillance, corruption, etc. With Manning it is more to do with the way he has been treated – or mistreated – since his arrest.
2. With both the Manning and Ellsberg/Russo cases the raison d’etre is/was all about revealing uncomfortable truths and acting according to conscience.
3. The files Manning is alleged to have leaked were published in part by several well known newspapers, including the New York Times; NYT and the Washington Post similarly published extracts from the Pentagon Papers.