Legacy of the Pentagon Papers
Today, the impact of the release of the Pentagon Papers is still hotly debated. Some say the facts revealed by the Pentagon Papers gave strength to the antiwar forces across the nation and hastened the end of the war. Others maintain that President Nixon’s reaction to both the press and Ellsberg led to his downfall, which in turn helped to end the war in Vietnam. International law scholar Richard A. Falk makes the point that the revelations themselves were relatively unimportant but that “what has remained significant about the release of the Pentagon Papers is the decision by a public official to give priority to conscience as compared to career.” Moreover, Ellsberg’s “whistleblowing” stimulated a mindset and inspired actions among many that has effected change in the corporate and political worlds in the United States and abroad, even pushing Congress to enact “whistleblower legislation” to protect those who break laws or agreements to unearth corporate and political abuse. And there is no doubt that the ramifications of the First Amendment battle between the Nixon administration and the press continue to be felt today in the world of journalism.
On July 25, 2010, a document called the “Afghan War Diary” containing over 91,000 classified reports on the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010 was made public through the organization WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks describes itself as a “multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public.” Prior to making public the Afghan War Diary, WikiLeaks made public internal memos about the dumping of toxic material off the African coast and U.S. military operations in the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The April 2010 leak of the “collateral murder” video of an American Apache helicopter shooting down 12 civilians, including two Reuters news service employees, sent shock waves through the country. In June, the alleged leaker, Bradley Manning, was identified and imprisoned by the military.
The Afghan War Diary painted an extremely bleak picture of military gains in the Afghan region, implying that U.S. troops were not receiving adequate resources and that the Taliban’s strength had increased since 2001, despite that fact that the United States had spent more than $300 billion on the war. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that the document could have “potentially dramatic and grievously harmful consequences.” WikiLeaks has been assailed by many human rights organizations and press organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, for indiscriminately and irresponsibly publishing the documents, thus potentially revealing the identities of people who collaborated with the coalition in Afghanistan. No one has been targeted in the intervening months on the basis of those leaks.
The F.B.I. and the U.S. Army are involved in a criminal inquiry to review whether any of the reports could endanger national security or troop safety. In the meantime, the Pentagon requested that WikiLeaks remove the classified documents from its website.
Unlike the Pentagon Papers, which were commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense, these reports were written by soldiers and intelligence officers. However, when asked about the similarities between the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks in a Christian Science Monitor interview, Ellsberg stated, “[The documents] look very familiar to me. Different places and names, but they are describing a war that is as thoroughly stalemated as was the case 40 years ago and more in Vietnam.”
ProPublica. “Why WikiLeaks’ ‘War Logs’ Are No Pentagon Papers.” (July 26, 2010)
The Washington Post.
“Checkpoint Washington: Wikileaks’ Afghanistan War Log vs. the Pentagon Papers.” (July 26, 2010)
“Daniel Ellsberg’s WikiLeaks Wish List” (Aug. 1, 2010)
The New York Times. “Frank Rich: Kiss This War Goodbye.” (July 31, 2010)
» WikiLeaks. “Afghan War Diary, 2004-2010.”
» Collateral Murder. “Overview.”
» Greenwald, Glenn. “The WikiLeaks Afghanistan Leak.” Salon, 25 July 2010.
» Pezzi, Stephen M. “WikiLeaks and the First Amendment.” Harvard National Security Journal, 14 August 2010.
» Rich, Frank. “Kiss This War Goodbye.” The New York Times, 31 July 2010.
» Schmitt, Eric. “U.S. Tells WikiLeaks to Return Afghan War Logs.” The New York Times, 5 August 2010.
» Sheehan, Neil. “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement.” The New York Times, 13 June 1971.
» Siddique, Haroon. “Press Freedom Group Joins Condemnation of WikiLeaks’ War Logs.” The Guardian, 13 August 2010.
» MSNBC. “Whistle-blowers Who Made Their Mark.”
» Campaign For Liberty. “WikiLeaks and Freedom of the Press.”