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Defending Daniel Ellsberg and Mehmet Baransu

YÜKSEL DURGUT*

In my previous articles, including “Baransu, Journalism, and Lament,” I mentioned Mehmet Baransu, one of Turkey’s finest journalists, as well as Daniel Ellsberg, an American economist, activist, and former US military analyst.

Ellsberg was a fearless individual like Baransu, who revealed the cover-up of the betrayals committed by the United States in Vietnam, ensuring that the world heard about the documents exposing them.

On Sunday, June 13, 1971, the New York Times published a news article that changed the course of history, placed at the top of its front page under a rather ordinary headline: “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 30-Year Growing U.S. Role.” Several inner pages were dedicated to this news, making it the most explosive revelation in history.

However, this news did not receive the desired attention initially. There was almost no reaction from anywhere. Then President Nixon, sitting in the White House, intervened. A telegram from Attorney General John Mitchell instructed the New York Times to abandon the publication of this news. The newspaper defied this pressure and continued to expose the events in the Vietnam quagmire in subsequent editions. The following day, even more was published. Prosecutor Mitchell took the matter to court and obtained an injunction using his power to have the news articles published and the newspaper seized.

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However, during that period, due to the solidarity among the media, the pursuit of these news articles did not cease. Other newspapers, particularly the Washington Post, the biggest rival of the NYT, began to cover the same news in more detail. The power of the media and the published articles continued to disturb the government. Supported by the Washington Post, the NYT took the matter to the Supreme Court within a few days. The court ruled that the previous decision was unconstitutional.

Freedom of expression was reaffirmed by the majority decision of the court. The prosecutor did not give up pursuing the matter and initiated an investigation into the sources of the newspaper. These news articles, known as the Pentagon Papers, were commissioned by Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967.

These news articles, prepared by Neil Sheehan, continued to publish the Pentagon Papers. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara requested the addition of 4,000 pages of official documents to the 2.5 million words secret analysis of American involvement in Southeast Asia. The content revealed the government’s efforts to hide and conceal information about the Vietnam War.

The articles exposed the consequences of the United States’ intervention in Vietnam since 1945. There was no doubt that the presidents of that era constantly lied to their people.

Daniel Ellsberg, who played a significant role in the publication of these articles, was portrayed as a hero by the RAND Corporation, his former employer. He was once a fervent cold warrior. However, after spending two years in South Vietnam in the mid-1960s, his views changed. He realized that not only could the war not be won, but it was also wrong. In the documentary “Hearts and Minds” released in 1974, he said, “The issue is not just that the United States is on the wrong side, but actually, we are the wrong side.”

Daniel Ellsberg, who passed away at the age of 92 last Friday, was a dedicated war opponent, just like renowned historians Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, long before the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the public.

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Actually, it was a speech made by a resistor who was drafted into the military and faced imprisonment, convincing Ellsberg to disclose classified information. Ellsberg initially presented the documents he had obtained to some US senators. The Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, William Fulbright, promised to take the matter to court. However, he remained silent after a while. When Ellsberg realized he would not get results from politicians, he took refuge with NYT journalist Neil Sheehan.

He knew that if the truth about what was happening in Vietnam was revealed, he would spend the rest of his life in prison. However, he believed that if it could help stop the war in Vietnam, his sacrifice would be worthwhile. He became the first American civilian to be charged under the ‘Espionage Act’ 50 years ago, facing a potential sentence of 125 years in prison.

Ellsberg was saved by the Nixon administration’s opposition to the death penalty. Like a scene from a classic film, American agents were determined to prove that Ellsberg was insane and have him committed to a mental hospital, even if not behind bars. However, they had no evidence. They even attempted methods to kill Ellsberg.

These agents who attempted to eliminate Ellsberg were later arrested with the eruption of the Watergate scandals. Nixon’s men even offered the trial judge to become the head of the FBI to get rid of Ellsberg.

When he wrote his book “The Doomsday Machine,” exposing the world to the types of disasters it was being dragged into, he was arrested multiple times for being a nuclear activist. At the age of 90, his mind was still clear enough to reveal information about America’s plans for the first nuclear attack during the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis.

In this book, Daniel Ellsberg also mentioned the secret information regarding potential casualties resulting from a nuclear attack by the US in 1961. According to this information, it was conveyed that nearly 500 million lives would be lost as a result of a possible attack. This high number is frightening when considering that the world’s population was assumed to be less than 3.2 billion at that time. I also mentioned this issue in my article titled “Is Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world?”

Ellsberg became an advocate for prominent figures who caused trouble for American governments, such as CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, US soldier Chelsea Manning, who was arrested in Iraq under suspicion of providing secret documents to WikiLeaks, and Australian computer programmer and WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange.

He dedicated himself to liberating Afghanistan and Iraq from the US occupation. Every well-known figure in the forefront as an activist was on Ellsberg’s list of admirers. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was also among them.

On the rightmost column of the front page of The New York Times, the headline reads “US Calls for Restraint in India and Pakistan.” Pakistan was busy creating its own Vietnam at that time.

I would like to meet Daniel Ellsberg and tell him about Mehmet Baransu. I am absolutely certain that Daniel Ellsberg, just like expressing his admiration for American politicians Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would also admire Baransu’s steadfastness.

In fact, he would be the person holding that banner saying, “I am Mehmet Baransu. I want my freedom. I am a journalist. I have been imprisoned solely for my journalistic activities since March 2, 2015,” amidst the cries of thousands of democracy enthusiasts in the streets of Strasbourg.

Yuksel Durgut is a journalist and columnist at TR724.com

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