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The Unknown Whistleblower June 4, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Genocide, History, Imperialism, Torture, Vietnam, War, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: torture and corrupt imperial aggression didn’t begin with George W. Bush (1492 might be a good place to start).  Here we have documented Vietnam War the torture regime (under presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) and the beginning of the murderous (and counterproductive) doctrine and strategy of massive bombing that is alive and well in Iraq and Syria today (along with its little brother drone killing machine).

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The Secret Origins of the CIA’s Torture Program and the Forgotten Man Who Tried to Expose It

 

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Daniel Ellsberg (left) and his less well known colleague Anthony Russo (r) were charged with theft and unauthorized possession of classified documents under the Espionage Act in 1971, but were eventually acquitted. (File)

The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.

The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.

Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.

That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.

The CIA Interrogation Center, Saigon

Before him sat the enemy.  VC.  Vietcong. He was slender, a decade older than the 28-year-old American, and cautious in his initial responses.  The American offered him a cigarette. “Smoke?”

Anthony Russo liked to befriend his subjects, finding that sharing a cigarette or a beer and congenial conversation could improve an interview’s results.

This man’s all right, Russo thought — unlike the one he had interviewed when he first arrived in Saigon. That prisoner hadsat before him, quivering in fear, pleading for his life.“Are you going to kill me?” the distraught man had said repeatedly, his thumbs red and bulbous from being strung up.

Torture was not something Russo had anticipated when he took the job. A civilian with a rank equivalent to major working for the RAND Corporation, he had arrived in the South Vietnamese capital on February 22, 1965, and was briefed on his mission. Russo was to meet the enemy face-to-face and figure out what made them tick. On that first day, he could hear General Richard Stilwell, chief of staff of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), barking orders from the next room: “You get every goddamn plane in the air that you can!”

Russo thought the war would be over in a few weeks,months at worst.

Instead of the limited conflict he expected, years slipped by. Bombs fell, villages were decimated, the fabric of Vietnamese life assaulted. Russo persisted with his interviews ofVietcong prisoners, witnessing the after-effects of torture in nearly every instance.

It’s hard to pinpoint just when the shift occurred in the young man who came to Southeast Asia to “promote democracy.” But as one tour of duty extended to two, contact with the enemy changed not their hearts and minds, but his. On the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive, he returned to the United States intent on challenging the war, a chance he would get, helping his friend and RAND co-worker Daniel Ellsbergwith the Pentagon Papers.

That secret history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, a massive compilation of internal government memoranda and analyses, had been quietly commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 to assess what had gone wrong in Vietnam. Ellsberg leaked the Papers to the press in mid-1971, setting off a political firestorm and First Amendment crisis. He would be indicted on charges of espionage, conspiracy, and theft of government property, and would face a maximum penalty of 115 years in prison. Charges were also brought against Russo, who was suspected of complicity, after he refused to testify before a grand jury. He was jailed for 47 days for contempt and faced a possible sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted.

Ellsberg’s leak led to a Supreme Court decision on prior restraint, a landmark First Amendment case. Though all the charges were ultimately dropped, the leak and its aftermath had major political fallout, contributing to the demise of the presidency of Richard Nixon and forming a dramatic chapter on the path to U.S. defeat in Vietnam.

Ellsberg became a twentieth-century hero, applauded in print and film, his name nearly synonymous with the Pentagon Papers, but Russo, the young accomplice who goaded Ellsberg to go public, has been nearly forgotten. Yet he was, according to Ellsberg, the first person to document the systematic torture of enemy combatants in Vietnam. If no one knows this, it’s because his report on the subject remains buried in the vaults of the RAND Corporation, the think tank that did research for the Pentagon in Vietnam. Similarly, while the use of unprecedented airpower against the civilian populations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia inspired international calls for war crimes trials in the 1970s, Russo’s exposure of the fabrication of data that propped up that air war remains but a footnote in Vietnam War historiography, unknown to all but a handful of academics.

He has remained “the other conspirator.” Ellsberg later conceded that he probably wouldn’t have thought of releasing the Papers if Russo hadn’t prodded him to “put that out” and helped copy them in a series of all-night sessions. But Russo would take a backseat to Ellsberg, who had snuck the massive set of documents out of RAND headquarters and released them to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and 18 other news organizations.

The two of them would become the antiwar movement’s odd couple. Ellsberg was articulate, suave, and fashionable; Russo opted for hippie attire, long hair, and impossibly bushy sideburns, a style of dress that fit with his growing political radicalism. Russo and his attorney, Leonard Weinglass, devised a bold — some said reckless — defense strategy focused on using expert witness testimony to put the U.S. prosecution of the war on trial. Weinglass would emerge as a star attorney on the case, even — in the opinion of some observers — eclipsing Ellsberg’s senior lawyer, Leonard Boudin. But his client kept getting into trouble: scrawling a wiseacre comment on evidence before the court, handing a prosecution witness a press release that accused him of war crimes, peppering his statements to the press with movement jargon. In the end, Russo’s leftwing antics would help marginalize him and bury the story he had to tell.

The Think Tank

It all started in a nondescript mid-century building on Main Street in sunny Santa Monica, California. There, the RAND Corporation, a quasi-private think tank with a cozy relationship with the Air Force and Washington power brokers, dreamed up study projects for the Department of Defense.

RAND, an acronym for “research and development,” was launched in 1946 as a private research arm of the Army Air Forces, whose successor, the Air Force, would remain its primary financial backer and client for years to come.  The think tank’s work ranged from weapons development to advanced strategic thinking on how to wage — or avert — nuclear war.  RAND theorists would set the parameters for strategic defense thinking for decades, with the likes of Herman Kahn, once dubbed the “heavyweight of the megadeath intellectuals”; Thomas Schelling, Nobel laureate in economics for his work on game theory and the originator of “tacit bargaining”; and Albert Wohlstetter, the godfather of RAND’s nuclear strategists who devised the concepts of “second strike,” “fail safe,” and what he called the “delicate balance of terror” (aka “deterrence”).

In 1961, as President John F. Kennedy launched a counterinsurgency effort that would see its first expression in Vietnam, the think tank took on the study of guerilla war, falling into an easy alliance with the Department of Defense and Robert S. McNamara, the numbers man at its head. Thinking he could apply a systems analysis approach to national defense, Secretary of Defense McNamara had turned to the leader in the field for ideas and manpower. From RAND, he recruited heavily to help lead the counterinsurgency charge in Vietnam, creating a team popularly known as “McNamara’s Whiz Kids.” And he turned to RAND for an answer to an essential strategic question: “What makes the Vietcong tick?”

“M&M” would become the institution’s shorthand for the Vietcong Motivation and Morale Study that resulted, an attempt to apply social science to the study of enemy motivation. Russo was eager to join the effort. Elizabeth Gibbs, who married him in 1964, said that her young husband was preoccupied with the threat of guerilla war and wanted to see action on the front lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

Fascinated by flight, Russo had pursued aeronautical engineering in a cooperative work-study program run by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and NASA’s Langley Research Center, where he worked on the first Mercury space capsule.  He then went to graduate school at Princeton, specializing in plasma physics. After just a year there, however, he took up the study of national defense policy at its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, receiving master’s degrees in both engineering and public affairs in 1964. An ambitious academic, he also exhibited an unruly, prankster side.  In one of his moments of youthful excess — a story he liked to tell — he cemented a commode to a Virginia war memorial, an act that might be considered a foreshadowing of things to come.

At Princeton, Russo studied under four men he called “heavyweights”: Oskar Morgenstern, an originator with Schelling of game theory; Cold War theorists Klaus Knorr and George Kennan; and Richard Falk, an expert on international law and the lone dove among Russo’s mentors. Falk argued against the move to RAND. But Russo, impressed by the think tank’s influence in the highest echelons of U.S. policymaking, jumped at the opportunity. Within six months he had secured an assignment to Vietnam.

Russo arrived in Saigon in February 1965 and met Leon Goure, his boss and future nemesis, just as the U.S. bombing campaign against North Vietnam was beginning and only two weeks before the first United States Marines landed at Danang.  His job was to meet the enemy.

The M&M

“How many people in your village work for the Front?”

“Everyone in the village works for the Front,” the prisoner responded in Vietnamese, translated by the young man at Russo’s side.  His village was in the Cu Chi district, an area near Saigon under Vietcong control. Russo would later describe it as the birthplace of southern resistance to the French and then American armies. Despite their vastly superior arms, the South Vietnamese Army and its American allies rarely ventured into the prisoner’s village for fear of the VC’s deadly resistance methods.  

“How was your village defended?” he asked.

“It had pit traps with bamboo spikes, grenade booby traps.  It was surrounded by bamboo hedges,” the prisoner responded and then explained in detail how the villagers organized their resistance.

Physically fit and tall, Russo towered over the former cadre.  He felt anything but complacent, however, about the enemy he faced, having barely escaped a bomb that had recently exploded in a Saigon restaurant where he was planning to have dinner.

“Why does the Vietcong use terrorism against women and children?” Russo asked.  Until now, he had been careful to call the enemy military by its homegrown name, “the Front,” rather than the pejorative “Vietcong.” Emotion must have caused him to break protocol.

He was part of the second M&M study team. Joseph Zasloff and John Donnell, analysts from the initial team, had reported their results in Washington at a meeting attended by Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T. McNaughton and Henry Rowen (who would later head RAND). They described the Vietcong as a unified, disciplined army that already acted as an alternative government in large swaths of SouthVietnam with widespread support from the population, prompting a shocked McNaughton to comment that it sounded as if the U.S. had signed up with the wrong — and losing — side. Daniel Ellsberg, who then worked for McNaughton, witnessed the exchange.

The Zasloff-Donnell report, however, came too late for an audience that had already made up its mind. The previous March, President Lyndon Johnson’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy had urged an expanded war even as the president campaigned for a full term in office with a promise to keep American soldiers out of Vietnam. Meanwhile, within the military, a struggle for dominance was underway, with Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay, instrumental in the founding of RAND, agitating for a bigger role for air power.

Then came the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964. As presented by President Lyndon Johnson, the destroyer USS Maddox was innocently sailing through the Gulf of Tonkin when attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats followed, two nights later, by a second attack on the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy.  Johnson orderedmilitary action “in reply,” and Congress quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the president carte blanche to repeatedly intensify the war. The claim of two separate attacks would, however, prove untrue, as Daniel Ellsberg would attest. It had been his first night on the job in the Pentagon.

At RAND, the stage was set for Leon Goure, an analyst acclaimed for his work on Soviet civil defense preparations. Goure had toured Vietnam and visited RAND’s Saigon operation in 1964. Upon his return to the U.S., he proposed that the M&M project be redefined with a critical twist. No longer would it focus solely on an assessment of enemy motivation and morale. It would now identify what kinds of weaponry would be most likely to demoralize that enemy, with an emphasis on air power.

A meeting with his friend LeMay cemented the deal. He would later report that “by the strings he pulled, LeMay assured continuation of the project” under Goure’s lead. At that time, the Air Force still provided two-thirds of RAND’s funding, a connection the new lead analyst made no attempt to hide.

The Answer Is Always Bombing

Susan Morrell could scarcely believe it. As RAND’s Saigon-based administrative assistant, it fell to her to pick up her new boss at the airport on his arrival. Making the Vietnam version of small talk on the way back to town, she asked Goure if he planned to use the existing protocol for enemy interviews or wanted to start over from scratch.

“I’ve got the answer right here,” he responded with a pat on his briefcase.

“What do you mean?” asked Morrell.

“When the Air Force is footing the bill, the answer is always bombing.”

Decades later, Morrell told RAND historian Mai Elliott that it was a moment seared into her memory and in those early days she wasn’t the only RAND staffer to observe Goure’s special affinity for the Air Force. At their first meeting, for instance, Russo remembered Goure commenting on that service’s unhappiness with the Zasloff-Donnell study.  Zasloff himself was still in Saigon when Goure arrived and would soon accuse his successor of pandering to the Air Force. Half a century later, in a phone interview just before his death, Zasloff still lamented that his intelligence data hadn’t changed the course of the war and Goure’s had.

Goure’s work on Soviet civil defense was then widely known. In 1961, he claimed that the Soviets had trained 50 million citizens in civil defense procedures, were readying a massive system of bomb shelters to ride out a nuclear conflagration, and so were preparing to absorb a preemptive nuclear strike. His research seemed to have frightening implications: U.S. reliance on what was then called mutual assured destruction, or MAD, to stop a nuclear war suddenly appeared insufficient. The Soviets could strike preemptively if they thought national survival after a nuclear attack was possible. Kennedy stepped into the heated debate in July 1961 with a call for a $207 million appropriation for civil defense. That October, he began to encourage Americans to build their own private shelters for protection from nuclear fallout. Goure became a sought after expert.

In fact, his work would be challenged by New York Times journalist Harrison Salisbury, who questioned Goure’s sources, found observers who vigorously challenged his conclusions, and made his own 12,000-mile trip across the Soviet Union and found them unsubstantiated.  But nothing, it seemed, could crack Goure’s reputation in Washington.

The year 1961 had been a seminal moment for Russo, too.  His lifelong friend and future technology consultant William Grossmann recalled them driving to their NASA jobs together, one day in Russo’s white 1959 Ford convertible, the next in Grossmann’s white Chevy convertible — and on weekends, sharing heady conversation and wooing girls. The two like-minded Southerners had each taken stands against segregation, while worrying about the bomb, totalitarianism, and the “containment” of Communism. They were impressed that Kennedy had forced the Russians to stand down in the Cuban missile crisis. The same, both believed, could happen in Vietnam. On arrival in Saigon, Russo wrote Grossmann that the Vietnamese “are going to have to get used to it. We’re going to have to be the policemen for a while.”

Russo found himself at the epicenter of American intelligence-gathering in Vietnam. RAND’s Saigon villa became the requisite “prestige stop” for anyone with an interest in the war. By day, it served as a command center; at night, it hosted dinner parties for visiting luminaries, high-ranking figures in the military, the CIA, and members of the press. Goure was the star attraction. In that initial critical period of massive escalation, he provided the perfect mix of optimistic analysis and an engaging personality and so became the “go to” intelligence man in town.

Though Goure wrote research memoranda, RAND’s usual stock in trade, it was on the briefing circuit that he truly shone. His message, reported directly to Westmoreland,the top military commander in Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and others at the Pentagon, was unambiguous: the Vietcong were losing their resolve in the face of U.S. military might, especially airpower. Goure quickly established himself as the Air Force’s best pitchman.

It’s hard to overstate his influence. McNamara was so enamored of his message that, on first hearing him in June 1965, he offered to up the M&M budget on the spot from $100,000 to $1,000,000. As one analyst later quipped, the secretary of defense “lapped up Goure’s analysis like good scotch.” Journalists repeated his claim that the Vietcong were heading for defeat as the daily body count became a staple of war coverage.

Russo, who attended some of Goure’s Saigon briefings, remembered how he liked to brag that RAND had “the best damned intelligence in Saigon.” It would take some time for Russo to realize that his boss’s prescription for military success didn’t match the data.

The Cadre from Cu Chi

Intent on answering McNamara’s question about what made the Vietcong tick, Russo focused on his interviews with enemy prisoners. With full access and a small team of Vietnamese interviewers under his supervision, he visited detention sites all over South Vietnam, including the CIA’s National Interrogation Center in Saigon. Of all the interviews he conducted, the one with that cadre from Cu Chi would most deeply challenge his assumptions about Vietnam. He kept a copy of it, which he published in the left-leaning magazine Ramparts in October 1972, and spoke about it whenever he could, including at his Pentagon Papers trial.

He never knew the prisoner’s name; he was identified in the transcript only as AG132. Over the course of two days in May 1965, Russo sat in his cell listening to his views on Vietnamese history, the political forces at play in his country, and Vietcong organizing strategy and tactics. When the cadre blamed the Americans for the deaths of women and children, Russo took a new tack, initiating what he called a “friendly chat” about world politics, the American role in Vietnam, and the civil rights movement in the U.S.

“Even though I don’t know first hand what it means to be burned out, pillaged, and raped, I grew up knowing it had happened to my ancestors,” Russo would later say.  While there is no record of how Russo described his personal history to that cadre, his comments to me years after in private interviews and public conversation provide a window onto what he might well have said. Unemployed and with time on his hands in 1990, Russo held daily court at the Boulangerie, a cafe on Main Street in Santa Monica, just blocks from the RAND Corporation. There, he regaled a small audience with old stories and political analysis.

With a twinkle in his eye, he would say that the short answer to why he got involved with the Pentagon Papers was that the British had burned his hometown of Holland, Virginia, to the ground. He was proud to call it a hotbed of sedition.

While he liked to portray himself as the descendent of America’s first revolutionaries, his Civil War heritage was harder to reconcile. Race was the first issue to challenge his personal worldview. Russo attended a segregated high school and then hung out with black friends he had met working at the local golf course.  By the time he got to Virginia Polytechnic, the battle over court-mandated school integration had engulfed the state, with Senator Harry F. Byrd leading the segregationist charge. When Russo got Lionel Hampton to play for a school dance he organized, the university dean, anticipating that a black musician would attract a mixed crowd, demanded that the audience be segregated. Russo defied the order and black and white attendees packed the event.

“We integrated Burrus Hall,” Russo would say.  “I see that as my first political act.  We stood up for justice.”

He had a way of telling and retelling the stories that were most important to him, so I suspect that he told the Cu Chi cadre of his own experience with civil rights in the South. And perhaps, even under those circumstances — and even through a translator –made the prisoner laugh, as he had a way of telling a spirited tale.

Whatever he said, it appeared to affect the cadre as he hoped it would for he scribbled in the margin of his notebook, “The chat proved to be very successful and the subject’s attitude changed visibly.” Their talk then turned back to the situation at hand and the cadre accused the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies of blocking the election, agreed upon in the 1954 Geneva Accords that ended the French War, an election which would almost assuredly have brought Communist leader Ho Chi Minh to power and reunified Vietnam. A group of schoolteachers from his village, AG132 told Russo, had been imprisoned simply for writing a petition demanding those elections and peace.

The prisoner added that local government officials were, in his opinion, directed and controlled by the Americans who had the same intentions as the French colonialists before them. “The concrete evidence,”said the cadre, “makes the Americans identical to the French. But much more clever.”  He summed the situation up this way: “The aims of the Americans are very nice. They fight for freedom and equality. It is very nice to talk about a free world, but I have not seen any good deeds. All I saw was evil.”

By the end of the interview, AG132 had confronted every issue that would later prove troublesome to Russo, including the indiscriminant bombing campaigns, the use of chemical defoliants, and torture.

The cadre’s analysis clearly unsettled the young American, who saw himself as a liberator, not an occupier. In an interview with filmmaker Peter Davis, he would later acknowledge how disturbed he was when the prisoner insisted that the Vietnamese hated the Americans and admitted that he then tried to defend his country, to show that “everything about America wasn’t bad.”

“He was very disdainful of me, but I was fascinated by him,” Russo said.  By the end, “I had a great deal of admiration for him. He recited a poem for me. It was very moving to hear him recite this poem right in the middle of this interrogation room in a jail where I knew people had been tortured, if not killed.”

AG132, Russo later testified, had been tortured on multiple occasions. Historical research, including the work of Alfred McCoy, an expert on CIA torture practices, buttresses Russo’s statements about the brutal treatment of Vietcong prisoners. McCoy, for instance, quotes a military intelligence veteran who told a 1971 House subcommittee that, during his 18-month stint in Vietnam, not a single Vietcong suspect had survived the interrogations he witnessed.

Russo’s interview with AG132 took place only three months after he landed in Saigon. Though he would return to it again and again in the ensuing years, some time would pass before he became convinced that he was actually on the side of the aggressor.

His wife remembers him still defending U.S. intentions in Vietnam in the spring of 1965. By that summer, however, Russo and other RAND analysts were questioning their boss’s methodology and intentions. They still found themselves reaching conclusions nearly identical to those of Zasloff and Donnell: that the Vietcong represented peasant aspirations and weren’t likely to be bested by air power or any other kind of U.S. military action.

On a sweltering June day in 1965, Russo and Goure were together when word came in that the most powerful bombers in the U.S. arsenal, B-52s, had been approved for use in Vietnam. Russo knew airplanes and understood full well the kind of destruction B-52s would bring with them. For Goure, the decision was advocacy put into action and he would extol the B-52’s power to destabilize the enemy in his next report. In it, he was careful to note that civilians should be warned of such bombings by leaflets dropped in advance of a raid to insure against any popular backlash.

A month later, Russo would meet an old man at a detainment center clutching one of those warning leaflets. His village had been warned, just as Goure had said, but the bombers came a day early, wiping out nearly all of its inhabitants. “Why?” he cried.  It was a moment Russo would not forget.

Breaking the Enemy

Torture hadn’t been part of the job description when Russo signed on at RAND.  Of the first victim he met, he said, “I never will forget. He was washed out, looked very sad. He told the translator that he had been hung up by his thumbs and that they beat him real bad. They thought he had thrown a bomb,” though he proclaimed his innocence.

“That was one of the first interviews that I did. It was very sobering. I saw that a person could be broken badly.” The interview tape then goes silent for more than a minute as Russo struggled to regain his composure.

He reported the incident to the American captain who was his contact there only to experience the first of many official brush-offs when it came to torture. Russo said prisoners were tortured “as a matter of course” and reported specific forms of abuse including men being hung by the feet or thumbs, waterboarding, electric shocks to the genitals, and solitary confinement in “a dark cell, a dark, dank, dirty — very dirty cell.”

It is no accident that the torture methods he documented are strikingly similar to those revealed in the December 2014 Senate torture report. Vietnam was the first testing ground for what historian McCoy termed a new paradigm in the practice of torture developed by the CIA. The Agency had launched a multi-billion dollar research program on human cognition in search of techniques to protect U.S. forces in the event of capture by the Soviets. Finding that a potent combination of sensory deprivation and “self-inflicted pain” was more effective than centuries-old methods of physical torture and produced profound psychological regression in their test subjects, the CIA applied the same techniques to enemy interrogation. While they emphasized destruction of the psyche, physical brutalization was also employed. In Vietnam, this included electric shocks, beatings, rape, and the deaths of prisoners in “pump and dump” procedures, named for the process of pumping detainees for information and then dumping their bodies. Russo was witnessing the beginnings of what would become institutionalized CIA torture practices that would span four decades and four continents.

When asked about torture performed by Americans, Russo said a “CIA man” at the National Interrogation Center in Saigon told him in great detail on numerous occasions about the Agency’s torture techniques, including in one case the hanging of a man by his feet while a “piano wire noose was slipped around his genitals.” The CIA operative, he said, grinned as he told him that the prisoner never talked.

Russo documented every instance of torture he encountered. He later wrote that the interview reports were full of “embarrassing stories of atrocities and crimes against humanity” and he argued bitterly with Goure over his boss’s order to “sanitize” the interview transcripts by removing all mention of abuse. Though Russo defied the order, Goure controlled the final drafts.

Then there was the torture paper that Ellsberg has repeatedly said was the first to document American complicity in the routine use of torture and one of three papers that would ultimately get Russo fired. That document was either squashed in internal review or it remains classified, presumably buried somewhere in the think tank’s archives.

There is no reliable information on how much of RAND’s Vietnam-era work still remains off limits to the public. The think tank responded to a 2013 request of mine for Russo’s and other missing reports by saying that the “documents you have requested have not been cleared for public release and are not available.”

Making Russo’s missing torture report public, if it still exists, would provide eyewitness data supporting the burgeoning body of evidence that CIA torture practices have a long and sordid history beginning in Vietnam.

Trouble with the Data

Goure had fabricated his data to emphasize the efficacy and importance of air power and his analysts knew it. At the RAND villa, an open split developed, with Russo leading the group who wanted to expose their boss. He and his roommate, analyst Douglass Scott, spent long nights discussing “what to do about Leon.” Finally, with a third analyst, Russell Betts, they wrote the head of RAND’s Social Science department in the spring of 1966 about the improprieties they had found in Goure’s research methodology.

A succession of three RAND envoys came to Saigon to investigate and by summer a controversy raged on both sides of the Pacific. Russo and Scott had been particularly incensed that Goure signed their names to a February 1966 memorandum that again cited the benefits of air power, which was increasingly targeting rural villages, and proposed that the refugee crisis offered “a major opportunity to pacify” the population. It also pointed out that the chemicals that came to be known as Agent Orange could control movement of the population while also denying food to the guerillas. Russo and Scott fought to get their names removed without success. Around the time their whistleblowing letter hit Santa Monica, Goure amplified his arugument, proposing that the U.S. adopt a deliberate program to generate refugees.

Meanwhile, Goure’s prescriptions for success were being passed up the chain of command. The president’s phone records show McNamara using the February report to offer encouragement to Johnson that the American counterinsurgency operation was working. Influential Washington columnist Drew Pearson would capture Goure’s effect on the president in his famous May 1966 comment: “For the first time [he] sees light at the end of the tunnel.”

At this point, RAND’s leadership knew that Goure’s data, relied upon by both the Pentagon and President Johnson, was questionable at best and decided to pull Goure from the M&M study. The think tank couldn’t, however, get rid of him. He had secured his position with a direct line to the White House through National Security Adviser Walt Rostow, a hawk, architect of Vietnam policy, and staunch Goure supporter. Thanks in part to him, President Johnson, who reportedly sometimes carried a summary of Goure’s conclusions in his pocket for discussions with journalists, would continue to ride a wave of optimism in this period.

Though Russo never let his wife in on his conflict with Goure — he was, Gibbs said, too conscious of his secrecy oath to disclose such problems — she saw a changed man when he visited her in Bangkok on leave in November 1965.He wasmorose and withdrawn. When they returned to Santa Monica at the end of his first tour of duty in September 1966, Russo set to work at RAND headquarters trying to counter the most pernicious aspects of what he’d witnessed. Off work, he took to the hills of Topanga Canyon on his motorcycle, leaving Gibbs home alone. They would soon divorce.

Outside of RAND, the flaws in Goure’s analysis would gradually be noted. Westmoreland expressed his first doubts in late 1965 and McNamara began to worry when the general upped his request for new ground troops to 410,000 that winter. In February 1966, the secretary of defense confided to a few journalists that “no amount of bombing can end the war,” though he continued to maintain a façade of confidence in the war effort.

The bombing levels were by then unprecedented in the history of air power. From March 1965 through November 1968, Operation Rolling Thunder unleashed 800 tons of munitions a day on North Vietnam, a total of a million bombs, rockets, and missiles. Even more bombs were dropped in the South with estimates ranging from seven million to eight million tons of them, not to mention 70 million liters of defoliants, as well as napalmand other anti-personnel weapons.  Then, of course, there was the massive bombing of neighboring Laos and later Cambodia.

Yet victory never came into view. Instead of drawing down, the administration only intensified the air war, sidelining the doubters, including — as he grew ever more disillusioned — McNamara himself. In August 1967, he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the air raids had not broken Vietcong morale and that, short of the “virtual annihilation of North Vietnam and its people,” the air war could not succeed. Johnson quickly forced him out of the administration. At his farewell luncheon, a Johnson aide reported that the secretary of defense’s voice broke and there were tears in his eyes as he spoke of the futility of the air war. Later, he would acknowledge more than two million Vietnamese deaths. 

Knowing the cause was lost, McNamara had by then ordered the production of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history that he hoped would avert future such disasters.

The Second Tour of Duty

Back in Santa Monica, Russo wrote a critical evaluation of the Motivation and Morale Study, which is still classified. He was also drafting an argument against the defoliation program, already in its sixth year, when, in September 1967, he was called back to Vietnam for a six-month tour of duty.

He found Saigon changed — Americanized, overrun with prostitution and corruption, expensive and dirty. Goure at least was gone, removed from the M&M crew in April by RAND’s new president Henry Rowen, who had been at that Zasloff and Donnell debriefing years earlier.

Once again, Russo felt hopeful that fact-based intelligence could rule the day. His cost analysis of defoliation, written in what he called “RAND systemspeak,” showed that while the chemicals sprayed did little to deprive revolutionary forces of food, they were having a profoundly destructive impact on the civilian population.  He estimated that for every pound of food that defoliation denied a guerilla, 100 pounds were denied to civilians. But when he got his moment to brief Westmoreland’s scientific advisor on the subject, he was dismissed in under 15 minutes. Frustrated but undeterred, he set to work disproving a RAND socio-economic study that claimed widespread peasant support for the U.S. backed South Vietnamese army. Again, his work would not be well received.

Russo left Saigon just as the Tet Offensive, a vivid demonstration of the enemy’s resilience, began to unfold on January 30, 1968. He said he could see wrecked planes beneath him as he passed over Danang Air Base.

It’s likely that he wrote the missing torture report in the early months of 1968, a period when the CIA’s use of torture expanded dramatically under the notorious Phoenix Program.

During Russo’s stint in Vietnam, the CIA actually oversaw three separate operations that employed torture: its own interrogation centers, 40 provincial interrogation centers run by Vietnamese with CIA training and supervision, and a training program that schooled 85,000 Vietnamese police in torture techniques, part of a worldwide operation. Russo left Vietnam shortly after the Agency brought the three operations under one counterinsurgency umbrella. The Phoenix Program, designed to destroy the “civilian infrastructure” of the National Liberation Front, would be one of its major operations.

William Colby, the chief of “pacification” in Vietnam who would later become the CIA’s director, informed a House Operations Subcommittee in July 1971 that the Phoenix Program had killed 20,587 Vietcong suspects. Other sources quote figures as much as four times higher. Russo’s paper had done nothing to stop the carnage.

In May 1968, the new head of RAND’s economics department fired him. Associates were told to keep their distance from him during the six-month grace period he was given to find other employment. Ellsberg was the only RAND associate who argued for his reinstatement.  

Meanwhile, though relieved of leadership of the M&M, Goure held onto a job at RAND, even returning to Vietnam in 1968 as head of a new study of enemy infiltration rates. He would finally leave in 1969 to become the director of Soviet studies at the University of Miami. There, he would contribute his “expertise”to another front in the war against Communism: Cuba.

In fact, Goure’s “best damned intelligence” had proved to be an intelligence debacle for the ages. After Ellsberg and Russo took the Pentagon Papers public, Russo was eager to expose one thing that mammoth document hadn’t: how a single think tank under contract to the government and far from the public eye, along with its highly touted expert in counterinsurgency warfare, had disastrously affected policy from behind the scenes.

His two Ramparts exposés (one aptly titled “The RAND Papers”) and his testimony at his trial were generally ignored by the mainstream media. Goure’s reputation remained remarkably unsullied and he would continue to be a player in the formulation of foreign policy. In 1980, for example, he was invited onto a panel of advisers to presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan. In 1991, by then the director of Soviet studies at Science Applications International Corporation, he participated in an International Security Council round table discussion of future Russian military policy. Past and future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in attendance.

Much of his work, however, was conducted in the shadows. He died in 2007. Stanford University holds the Goure Papers collection, a testament to his enduring legacy. Anthony Russo would not fare so well.

Charged With Espionage

“Russo weeps as he tells jury about change in views on war,” read the New York Times headline on the 66th day of the Pentagon Papers trial when Russo told the story of the Cu Chi cadre to the jury.

He had already published the cadre interview in Ramparts. Now, he again turned to the Vietcong prisoner who had come to symbolize for him all that was wrong with U.S. policy in Vietnam. As he would confide to filmmaker Peter Davis, the memory of that prisoner never left him. He was convinced that if other Americans met their enemy, if he could give that enemy a human face, the public would fully abandon Washington’s efforts to destroy them.

He compared the depersonalization of the Vietnamese to the Nazi depiction of the Jews. “If you don’t know who the Vietnamese people are, it is much easier to be racist.  It’s much easier to kill them.  This really is a lesson from World War II. Racist attitudes made it possible to manifest hatred and to undertake the extermination campaigns. Well, this really is what the United States is doing in Vietnam. The United States is exterminating the Vietnamese. And the United States couldn’t do this, no American, no human being could do this, if he really knew who the Vietnamese are.”

In the trial’s aftermath, Russo would be progressively marginalized, his claims about the M&M study ignored or written off as the ravings of a leftwing radical. But in its heady days, he reveled in his whistleblower role. Ten months after it began, prosecutor David Nissen’s case was in shambles. Revelations that the government wiretapped the defendants had resulted in a Supreme Court-ordered stay and then mistrial in its first round. And it had only got worse.

Soon enough, the press revealed that President Nixon’s right-hand man, John Erlichman, had introduced presiding trial judge William Byrne, Jr., to the president in his home and had discussed his possible appointment as FBI director — a clear impropriety in the middle of an espionage case. And then it hit the news that convicted Watergate conspirators G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Jr., had burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

On April 30, 1973, just days after the first news of that burglary, which tied the Pentagon Papers case to Watergate, a set of dominoes lay on the prosecution table. Each domino was labeled — Hunt, Liddy, Erlichman, Byrne, and so on — the last domino had Nixon’s name. It was Russo’s prank.

On May 1st, Erlichman’s domino fell when the news broke that he had admitted to the FBI his knowledge of the break-in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.  On May 2nd, the last domino did indeed fall.  It was revealed that President Nixon had been informed of that break-inat least a week before the court knew about it.

On May 11th, Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg and Russo.

Postscript: Validation by RAND

Seventeen years later, Russo told me that a single realization had changed his mind about the war. He had, he said, been misinformed about the Vietcong. “They were not the enemy we were told they were.”

I asked what had most surprised him in his interviews with Vietnamese prisoners.

“The extent to which they cared about principle,” he answered. “The extent to which they had legitimacy, every reason in the world to be fighting. They were very admirable and very likeable. Very likeable. Natural friends of Americans.”

As for his participation in the release of the Pentagon Papers, he summed up his reasons in a single sentence: “It would have been un-American not to do it.”

Russo died in 2008 before RAND verified his claims about the Motivation and Morale Study in an extensive history written by Mai Elliott (herself a former M&M interviewer and interpreter) under contract to RAND and published in 2010. Her book, RAND in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era, forms a fitting sequel to the Pentagon Papers, with a carefully documented tale of how intelligence can go terribly wrong.

Elliott’s book validates nearly all of Russo’s claims. It confirms, for instance, that Goure did act as a pitchman for the air war, selling a prescription for military success that didn’t faintly match the data at hand. It details Goure’s outsized influence on policymakers and Russo’s claim that evidence of torture by U.S. forces and allies was systematically removed under Goure’s orders. She even quotes former RAND President Gus Shubert’s admission that the assignment of Goure to the Motivation and Morale Study appeared to represent collusion between his RAND predecessor and the Air Force, which he termed a “disgrace.”

In the end, Elliott, and by extension RAND, corroborate and elaborate on nearly every claim Russo made in his 1972 Ramparts articles. Only one of Russo’s charges was rejected: that the think tank was complicit in war crimes.

Never one to mince words, Russo called the M&M a “whitewash of genocide” and “a justification of genocide cloaked in the mantle of RAND social science,” accusations that echoed growing popular sentiment for war crimes trials and that must have held terrible personal resonance for a man whose name is there in black and white, attached to the call for the ever greater use of air power, defoliation, and the displacement of rural populations as tools of war.  

Today, Anthony Russo is gone, his report on torture disappeared, and his legacy perhaps doomed to obscurity.  RAND, meanwhile, continues to churn out studies for the military; the Air Force continues to drop bombs and fire missiles from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan to Yemen; the CIA continues to cover-up its torture policies. But Russo’s spiritual descendants, whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning of WikiLeaks fame, John Kiriakou who exposed CIA torture,and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden live on, each putting his freedom on the line just as Russo did. Whether or not any of the whistleblowers of the post-9/11 era knew Russo’s story, they benefitted from a tradition he, Ellsberg, and others of their generation had helped to pioneer.

It’s a testament to the explosive nature of Russo’s revelations that, almost 50 years later, RAND still keeps his report on CIA torture in Vietnam a secret — as the Pentagon Papers might be today if he had not convinced Daniel Ellsberg to make them public. It’s a tribute to Russo that his critical evaluation of the Motivation and Morale Study remains classified as well.

Call it an irony, but Dwight D. Eisenhower, the president who articulated the domino theory that brought Russo to Vietnam, crafted the words that might be most fitting for his epitaph years before he arrived in Vietnam. In his 1961 farewell address, Eisenhower focused on twin internal threats: “the military-industrial complex,” which he first named, and its forgotten corollary: that public policy could become the captive of a “scientific-technological elite.” Russo, who railed against RAND’s secret and deadly influence until his dying day, couldn’t have said it better.

 [Note: Special thanks go to Peter Davis for his use of his interview with Anthony Russo, provided courtesy of the University Archives & Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts, Boston: Hearts and Minds collection, 1970-1974.]

Barbara Myers is a journalist, educator, and activist. She has written for the Miami Herald and edited and produced multi-media for the San Francisco Chronicle. In the 1970s, she worked with the Indochina Peace Campaign in Los Angeles, where she attended the Pentagon Papers trial and first met the subject of her TomDispatch story, Tony Russo.

War Resisters League Sings at the Cutting Edge of History October 20, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Peace.
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Image: War Resisters LeagueOn October 18, War Resisters League celebrated its 90th birthday by honoring Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte and Daniel Ellsberg in a bash held at the 1199/SEIU Penthouse in New York City, which I had the great good fortune to attend.  Being in the same room as Joan Baez, the closest thing to an idol that I’ve got, is already safely tucked away as one of the joys of my life. (Other joys being standing out with the peace folks and my daughter.)

Harry Belafonte spoke about coming home after his service during WWII to a nation that still lynched African Americans and how he learned about non-violence from Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King.  When, later in life he met with Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, Belafonte’s experiences in the civil rights movement were of help during their struggle to rid South Africa of the apartheid regime.

Joan Baez told about the ten years of the Vietnam War that she did not pay war taxes, during which there was a lien on her house and car.  She sang two songs – Joe Hill and Gracias a la Vida – and shared an anecdote about having said on stage that her feet were tired from so many marches and being visited by two women after the concert, one of whom was 107 years old, and scolded her for saying her feet were tired!

Daniel Ellsberg spoke of how important it is to speak out when, as an individual, you know that there is wrongdoing by institutions.  Despite risks, dangers and consequences, it is crucial that human beings take action to tell the truth publicly, as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have been doing and as Ellsberg himself did when he released the Pentagon Papers.

It was a beautiful evening of sharing and honoring WRL history as well as these three individuals who have lived up to the highest ideals in their lives and art.

Harry Belafonte told us about how a time came when Martin Luther King was criticized for preaching to the choir, to which King replied that if he didn’t preach to the choir they might not keep singing.

Belafonte looked out at the crowded room of pacifists, many of whom are no longer young and said, “Keep on singing.”

Founded in 1923 by Jessie Wallace Hughan and some others as a secular pacifist organization, War Resisters League is the oldest secular peace association in the United States.  Not only is WRL an historical organization, it is an organization that has made history.

A few examples from the impressive history of WRL:

Refusing to heed air raid sirens by seeking shelter, WRL members, including WWII resister and eventually WRL staff person, Ralph DiGia stood with Dorothy Day and A.J. Muste in New York’s City Hall Park protesting the futile pretense of surviving an atomic bomb during the early years of the Cold War.

WRL staff person Bayard Rustin took a leave to play a crucial role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, perhaps best remembered for Martin Luther King’s extemporaneous “I Have a Dream” speech.  Both Joan Baez and Harry Belafonte were on that stage that day in August 1963.

The first peace group to call for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam was WRL.  Throughout the long years of that war, WRL organized what became mass draft card burnings (with staff David McReynolds being one of the first to burn his draft card in 1965), coordinated major rallies, initiated civil disobedience actions and brought tens of thousands into the streets in opposition to the war.

WRL does pioneering work in nonviolence training preparation for nonviolent direct action.  From protests at induction centers during the Vietnam War, to the historic anti-nuclear power protest at the Seabrook Nuke, to the Women’s Pentagon Action protests, to training members of ACT UP in the days when AIDS was being ignored, WRL trainers and materials have been indispensable.

The War Resisters League pie chart shows where our income tax dollars go each year (48% on past and current military, over a trillion dollars in FY 2012).

In short, War Resisters League has been involved in every movement for peace and social justice for generations. It is a venerable organization.  Although the people involved in this exalted work may not be “household names,” they are not only the backbone, but a rock of movements for nonviolent social change.

WRL puts out a quarterly publication, WIN magazine, that covers resistance to war abroad as well as resistance to violence and militarism within the United States.

WRL is part of War Resisters International, which has a Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns that is highly useful for all activists interested in a well-documented crash course in social change organizing.

The War Resisters League pledge:

The War Resisters League affirms that all war is a crime against humanity.  We therefore are determined not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive nonviolently for the removal of the causes of war, including racism, sexism and all forms of human exploitation.

Long may WRL live and work!

Snowden Made the Right Call When He Fled the US July 8, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, History, Whistle-blowing, Wikileaks.
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Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.

(Photo: The Guardian)

 

After the New York Times had been enjoined from publishing the Pentagon Papers — on June 15, 1971, the first prior restraint on a newspaper in U.S. history — and I had given another copy to The Post (which would also be enjoined), I went underground with my wife, Patricia, for 13 days. My purpose (quite like Snowden’s in flying to Hong Kong) was to elude surveillance while I was arranging — with the crucial help of a number of others, still unknown to the FBI — to distribute the Pentagon Papers sequentially to 17 other newspapers, in the face of two more injunctions. The last three days of that period was in defiance of an arrest order: I was, like Snowden now, a “fugitive from justice.”

Yet when I surrendered to arrest in Boston, having given out my last copies of the papers the night before, I was released on personal recognizance bond the same day. Later, when my charges were increased from the original three counts to 12, carrying a possible 115-year sentence, my bond was increased to $50,000. But for the whole two years I was under indictment, I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures. I was, after all, part of a movement against an ongoing war. Helping to end that war was my preeminent concern. I couldn’t have done that abroad, and leaving the country never entered my mind.

There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today, let alone that a trial could be terminated by the revelation of White House actions against a defendant that were clearly criminal in Richard Nixon’s era — and figured in his resignation in the face of impeachment — but are today all regarded as legal (including an attempt to “incapacitate me totally”).

I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.

He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)

Snowden believes that he has done nothing wrong. I agree wholeheartedly. More than 40 years after my unauthorized disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, such leaks remain the lifeblood of a free press and our republic. One lesson of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s leaks is simple: secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts.

Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg was put on trial in 1973 for leaking the Pentagon Papers, but the case was dismissed after four months because of government misconduct. He is the author of “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

Camouflaging the Vietnam War: How Textbooks Continue to Keep the Pentagon Papers a Secret June 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, History, Vietnam, War.
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Roger’s note:   ‘Ellsberg’s central conclusion about the United States in Vietnam: “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.”’  This is as true with the US military adventures today as it was then.  Something many if not most so-called liberals and progressives (not to mention the mainstream media) cannot get through their heads.

In the Academy Award-winning documentary Hearts and Minds, Daniel Ellsberg, who secretly copied and then released the Pentagon Papers, offers a catalog of presidential lying about the U.S. role in Vietnam: Truman lied. Eisenhower lied. Kennedy lied. Johnson “lied and lied and lied.” Nixon lied.

Ellsberg concludes: “The American public was lied to month by month by each of these five administrations. As I say, it’s a tribute to the American public that their leaders perceived that they had to be lied to; it’s no tribute to us that it was so easy to fool the public.”

 

(Painting by Robert Shetterly, American’s Who Tell the Truth series)

 

The Pentagon Papers that Ellsberg exposed were not military secrets. They were historical secrets—a history of U.S. intervention and deceit that Ellsberg believed, if widely known, would undermine the U.S. pretexts in defense of the war’s prosecution. Like this one that President Kennedy offered in 1961: “For the last decade we have been helping the South Vietnamese to maintain their independence.” No. This was a lie. The U.S. government’s Pentagon Papers history of the war revealed how the United States had sided with the French in retaking its colony after World War II, ultimately paying for some 80 percent of the French reconquest. By the U.S. government’s own account, from Truman on, Vietnamese self-determination was never an aim of U.S. foreign policy.

Like today’s whistle-blowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg knew the consequences for his act of defiance. Ultimately, he was indicted on 11 counts of theft and violation of the Espionage Act. If convicted on all counts, the penalty added up to 130 years in prison. This story is chronicled dramatically in the film The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and in Ellsberg’s own gripping autobiography, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

In June of 1971, Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities at Post Office Square in Boston. Forty-two years later, few of the historical secrets that Ellsberg revealed— especially those that focus on the immediate post-World War II origins of U.S. involvement in Vietnam—appear in the school curriculum.

Corporate textbook writers seem to work from the same list of must-include events and individuals. Thus, all the new U.S. history textbooks on my shelf mention the Pentagon Papers. But none grapples with the actual import of the Pentagon Papers. None quotes Ellsberg or the historical documents themselves, and none captures Ellsberg’s central conclusion about the United States in Vietnam: “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.”

Textbooks resist telling students that the U.S. government consistently lied about the war, preferring more genteel language. Prentice Hall’s America: History of Our Nation includes only one line describing the content of the Pentagon Papers: “They traced the steps by which the United States had committed itself to the Vietnam War and showed that government officials had concealed actions and often misled Americans about their motives.” The textbook offers no examples.

Teaching students a deeper, more complete history of the American War—as it is known in Vietnam—is not just a matter of accuracy, it’s about life and death. On the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, spoke bluntly about what it means when we fail to confront the facts of our past wars: “If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives.”

The “we” in Zinn’s quote refers especially to the young people who will be convinced or tricked or manipulated—or lied—into fighting those wars, even if it is only “fighting” by guiding remote assassination drones from bases in a Nevada desert.

For almost 30 years, I taught high school U.S. history. I began my Vietnam unit with a little-remembered event that happened on Sept. 2, 1945. I showed students a video clip from the first episode of PBS’s Vietnam: A Television History, in which Dr. Tran Duy Hung, a medical doctor and a leader of the resistance to French colonialism, recounts the massive end-of-war celebration with more than 400,000 people jammed into Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. Japan had surrendered. The seemingly endless foreign occupation of Vietnam—Chinese, then French, then Japanese—was over.

Dr. Hung remembers: “I can say that the most moving moment was when President Ho Chi Minh climbed the steps, and the national anthem was sung. It was the first time that the national anthem of Vietnam was sung in an official ceremony. Uncle Ho then read the Declaration of Independence, which was a short document. As he was reading, Uncle Ho stopped and asked, ‘Compatriots, can you hear me?’ This simple question went into the hearts of everyone there. After a moment of silence, they all shouted, ‘Yes, we hear you!’ And I can say that we did not just shout with our mouths, but with all our hearts.” Dr. Hung recalls that, moments later, a small plane began circling and then swooped down over the crowd. When people recognized the U.S. stars and stripes on the plane, they cheered, imagining that its presence signaled an endorsement for Vietnamese independence. “It added to the atmosphere of jubilation at the meeting,” said Dr. Hung.

I want my students to recognize the hugeness of this historical could-have-been. One of the “secrets” Ellsberg risked his freedom to expose was that the United States had a stark choice in the fall of 1945: support the independence of a unified Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, which had spearheaded the anti-fascist resistance during World War II; or support the French as they sought to reimpose colonial rule.

Think about all the suffering that might have been avoided had the U.S. government taken advantage of this opportunity. Howard Zinn quotes from the Pentagon Papers in A People’s History of the United States:

Ho [Chi Minh] had built the Viet Minh into the only Vietnam-wide political organization capable of effective resistance to either the Japanese or the French. He was the only Vietnamese wartime leader with a national following, and he assured himself wider fealty among the Vietnamese people when in AugustSeptember 1945, he overthrew the Japanese . . . established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and staged receptions for incoming allied occupation forces. . . . For a few weeks in September 1945, Vietnam was—for the first and only time in its modern history—free of foreign domination, and united from north to south under Ho Chi Minh. . . .

In class, I brought this historical choice point to life with my students through a role play, in which some students portrayed members of the Viet Minh and others represented French business/government leaders arguing before “President Truman” about the future of Vietnam. (A fuller description and materials for the activity can be found at the Zinn Education Project website.) The role play depicted a make-believe gathering, of course, because the United States never included any Vietnamese in its deliberations on the future of Vietnam. Nonetheless, the lesson offers students a vivid picture of what was at stake at this key juncture.

In this and other activities, I want my students to see that history is not just a jumble of dead facts lying on a page. History is the product of human choice—albeit in conditions that we may not choose. Tragically, the United States consistently chose to side with elites in Vietnam, first French, then Vietnamese, as our government sought to suppress self-determination—perhaps most egregiously in 1954, when the United States conspired to stonewall promised elections and to prop up the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.

Forty-two years ago this month, Daniel Ellsberg allowed himself to be taken into custody, with no clear outcome in sight. A reporter asked Ellsberg whether he was concerned about the possibility of going to prison. Ellsberg replied: “Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?”

No one expects that kind of integrity from textbook corporations. But educators needn’t confine ourselves to the version of history peddled by giant outfits like Pearson and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt. Right now, every high school student is learning either to accept or to question the premises that lead our country to wage war around the world. As Howard Zinn suggested, if students don’t know their history, then they are “ready meat” for those who will supply the carving knives of war. Fortunately, more and more teachers around the country recognize the importance of teaching outside the textbook, of joining heroes like Dan Ellsberg to ask questions, to challenge official stories.

This article first appeared at the Zinn Education Project.

Bill Bigelow

Bill Bigelow taught high school social studies in Portland, Ore. for almost 30 years. He is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and the co-director of the Zinn Education Project. This project offers free materials to teach people’s history and an “If We Knew Our History” article series. Bigelow is author or co-editor of numerous books, including A People’s History for the Classroom and The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.

Bradley Manning’s Quest for Justice February 25, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Democracy.
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Roger’s note: there is nothing new in this article that I haven’t already posted, but I believe it is important to keep Bradley Manning before the public eye.  Of all of the Orwellian machinations we have witnessed in the Bush/Obama era, the President of the United States (Obama) pronouncing Manning guilty before he has had a trial is one of the most outrageous and unbelievable.  I say this because, one, Obama is a lawyer and a constitutional scholar; and, two, because I learned in school that we are a nation of laws.  Naive of me, I know.

Published on Saturday, February 25, 2012 by the Guardian/UK

Whatever the outcome of the WikiLeaks suspect’s trial, many of us believe he holds to a higher standard of truth than this court’s

  by  Logan Price

In a small military court room at Fort Meade, two weeks after he was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize, I watched Bradley Manning appear before a judge – for the second time in his 635-day stint of pre-trial detainment. He sat silently while the prosecution read his 22 charges.

We won’t hear his plea until the hearing is continued in March. Manning will likely be tried in early August. If all goes to plan for the prosecution, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Bradley Manning escorted from a military vehicle to the court facility at Fort Meade, Maryland. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

Before the charges were read, Manning’s attorney asked the judge about her prior knowledge of the case, the issues surrounding it, and any previous opinions she may have had about it. She stated that she had known nothing of the case besides Manning’s name “and that it involved classified material”. When asked if she had spoken to friends or colleagues about the case, she said she hadn’t. She held no prior opinion, we were told.

For what must be the biggest controversy of the decade, I found this hard to believe. It reaffirmed my skepticism and brought to mind what many have already said: this trial is a sham.

President Obama, ultimately the judge’s commander, does have an opinion about the matter – as he told me when I asked for his view at a fundraiser in San Francisco last April, at the end of Manning’s extended solitary confinement at Quantico Marine Base.

In his mind, Bradley Manning was already guilty. The conversation was caught on tape, and legal experts have argued that the president’s statement should be grounds for dismissal.

“We’re a nation of laws,” Obama told me. “He broke the law.”

Some people are held to the law and others are not. Recalling the killing of journalists working for Reuters in the “Collateral Murder” video allegedly released by Manning, this is exactly this kind of selective enforcement that motivated WikiLeaks’ revelations – and which brought me and my peers to Zuccotti Park last fall to use the only means we have to hold accountable those whose criminal acts brought us to economic crisis.

A generation before Bradley Manning, Daniel Ellsberg understood that some laws were worth breaking to expose and bring accountability to far greater crimes. Ellsberg tried to voice his grievances within his chain of command, as Manning did, before being ignored.

I have heard many people justify the government’s treatment of Manning simply because of the risks he allegedly took. “He should have known better,” they say, missing the point. Asked in 1971 if he was prepared to go to prison for releasing the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg’s reply was simple: “Wouldn’t you go to jail to end this war?”

Ellsberg’s stand came back to me, sitting at Manning’s arraignment. “I want people to see the truth,” Bradley is alleged to have typed to the hacker who turned him in.

As the judge announced the recess and prepared to leave the room, someone stood up and shouted: “Your honor! Isn’t it a soldier’s responsibility to report war crimes?”

The judge silently looked away. It’s an argument that the court will have to contend with, before the trial ends. When that happens, I hope the world is watching.

© 2012 Logan Price

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Logan Price

Logan Price is a grassroots environmental activist and nonviolence trainer who has worked with a variety of organizations, including Occupy Wall Street and the Bradley Manning Support Network.

After 40 Years, the Complete Pentagon Papers June 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History, War.
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by: Michael Cooper and Sam Roberts, The New York Times News Service, Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It may be a first in the annals of government secrecy: Declassifying documents to mark the anniversary of their leak to the press. But that is what will happen Monday, when the federal government plans to finally release the secret government study of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers 40 years after it was first published by The New York Times.

At first blush, it sounds like the release of one of the worst-kept secrets in history — finally unlocking the barn door four decades after the horses bolted. The study, after all, has already been published by The Times and other newspapers, resulting in a landmark First Amendment decision by the Supreme Court. It has been released in book form more than once. But it turns out that those texts have been incomplete: When all 7,000 pages are released Monday, officials say, the study can finally be read in its original form.

That it took until the era of WikiLeaks for the government to declassify the Pentagon Papers struck some participants as, to say the least, curious.

“It’s absurd,” said Daniel Ellsberg, the former RAND Corporation analyst who worked on the report and later provided it to The Times. He said Tuesday that the report should not have been secret even in 1971, when newspapers first published it, adding: “The reasons are very clearly domestic political reasons, not national security at all. The reasons for the prolonged secrecy are to conceal the fact that so much of the policy making doesn’t bear public examination. It’s embarrassing, or even incriminating.”

When Mr. Ellsberg first leaked the study, he had to take it volume by volume out of a safe in his office and ferry it to a small advertising company owned by the girlfriend of a colleague who had Xerox machine. Page by page, they copied it in all-night sessions. Now the National Archives and Records Administration will scan it and — behold — it will be online quickly.

Leslie H. Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was the director of the task force that wrote the report, said he was surprised it had remained officially classified all these years, after so much of it had been made public. “It should have been declassified a long, long time ago,” he said.

But the secrecy has persisted. Timothy Naftali, the director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, said that when he recently put together an exhibit on Watergate, he wanted to display just the blue cover of the Pentagon Papers report. “I was told that the cover was classified,” he said, adding that he was astounded.

There is intrigue even in the release itself. Archivists touched off a new round of feverish speculation when they originally announced that 11 never-before-published words of the 7,000-page report would remain redacted all these years later, only to reverse themselves and announce Tuesday that the 11 words would be published after all.

So what were the mysterious 11 words?

Archivists originally joked that they would hold a Mad Libs contest, to see who could guess them. But even though the 11 words will be published after all, they have not said what they were — sparking a bit of a guessing game. Thomas S. Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said he guessed the words had something to do with intelligence capabilities, or references to people who are still alive who had been sources, or North Vietnamese diplomats.

“The criticism of their redacting the 11 words in the first place is that it’s self-defeating,” Mr. Blanton said. “You’re just flagging them for everyone to identify what they are.”

The bigger question is what new material will be made public for the first time. Several archivists who have seen the complete report declined invitations to repeat history and leak the full version of the Pentagon Papers to The Times. But there are some indications of what will be in it.

Until now, the complete text of the report — officially known as the Report of the O.S.D. Vietnam Task Force — has been as elusive to researchers as a clean copy of Hamlet has been to generations of Shakespeare scholars. The version Mr. Ellsberg provided to the press was incomplete. A book published by Beacon Press, based on a copy from Senator Mike Gravel, Democrat of Alaska, had missing sections. And a version published by the government was heavily redacted.

When Mr. Ellsberg originally leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did so because he wanted to stop the Vietnam War — so he left out sections about peace negotiations with North Vietnam. “I omitted them because I thought that Nixon would use the release as an excuse for breaking off negotiations with North Vietnam,” he said in an interview. “I frankly didn’t want to give him that excuse.”

Those sections about the negotiations had been declassified for years. But they will now appear in the context in which they were first written, along with several volumes that have not been published, including a section on the United States training the Vietnamese national army, a statistical survey of the war from 1965 to 1967 and some supporting documents.

Mr. Gelb said he thought the depth of the reports had been exaggerated over time, and noted that his team was extremely limited in what it was able to draw on to produce them.

“They are almost catch-as-catch-can studies based on available documents,” he said. “This thing was not meant to be in any sense a definitive history, or even a definitive bureaucratic history. It was just a history put together by very smart guys on the run.”

But Mr. Ellsberg said there were still plenty of lessons to be drawn.

“The rerelease of the Pentagon Papers is very timely, if anyone were to read it,” he said.

He said they demonstrate the wisdom of giving war-making powers to Congress — a power that he lamented has been increasingly usurped by the executive branch.

“It seems to me that what the Pentagon Papers really demonstrated 40 years ago was the price of that practice,” he said. “Which is that letting a small group of men in secret in the executive branch make these decisions — initiate them secretly, carry them out secretly and manipulate Congress, and lie to Congress and the public as to why they’re doing it and what they’re doing — is a recipe for, a guarantee of Vietnams and Iraqs and Libyas, and in general foolish, reckless, dangerous policies.”

Mr. Ellsberg said he wished more people would come forward to release information that could stop these wars, praising Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the military intelligence analyst who is jailed on charges that he leaked a trove of government files to WikiLeaks.

“If he did what he’s accused of, then he’s my hero, because I’ve been waiting for somebody to do that for 40 years,” Mr. Ellsberg said. “And no one has.”

© 2011 The New York Times Company
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President Obama speaks on Manning and the rule of law April 23, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Saturday, Apr 23, 2011 11:24 ET

By Glenn Greenwald
 
 
Wikipedia.org
President Obama tries to distinguish Manning from whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, above

(updated below)

Protesters yesterday interrupted President’s Obama speech at a $5,000/ticket San Francisco fundraiser to demand improved treatment for Bradley Manning. After the speech, one of the protesters, Logan Price, approached Obama and questioned him. Obama’s responses are revealing on multiple levels. First, Obama said this when justifying Manning’s treatment (video and transcript are here):

We’re a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.

 

The impropriety of Obama’s public pre-trial declaration of Manning’s guilt (“He broke the law”) is both gross and manifest. How can Manning possibly expect to receive a fair hearing from military officers when their Commander-in-Chief has already decreed his guilt? Numerous commentators have noted how egregiously wrong was Obama’s condemnation. Michael Whitney wrote: “the President of the United States of America and a self-described Constitutional scholar does not care that Manning has yet to be tried or convicted for any crime.” BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza interpreted Obama’s declaration of guilt this way: “Just so you know, jurors subordinate judging officers!” And Politico quoted legal experts explaining why Obama’s remarks are so obviously inappropriate.

 

It may be that Obama spoke extemporaneously and without sufficient forethought, but it is — at best — reckless in the extreme for him to go around decreeing people guilty who have not been tried: especially members of the military who are under his command and who will be adjudged by other members of the military under his command. Moreover, as a self-proclaimed Constitutional Law professor, he ought to have an instinctive aversion when speaking as a public official to assuming someone’s guilt who has been convicted of nothing. It’s little wonder that he’s so comfortable with Manning’s punitive detention since he already perceives Manning as a convicted criminal. “Sentence first – verdict afterward,” said the Red Queen to Alice in Wonderland.

But even more fascinating is Obama’s invocation of America’s status as a “nation of laws” to justify why Manning must be punished. That would be a very moving homage to the sanctity of the rule of law — if not for the fact that the person invoking it is the same one who has repeatedly engaged in the most extraordinary efforts to shield Bush officials from judicial scrutiny, investigation, and prosecution of every kind for their war crimes and surveillance felonies. Indeed, the Orwellian platitude used by Obama to justify that immunity — Look Forward, Not Backward — is one of the greatest expressions of presidential lawlessness since Richard Nixon told David Frost that “it’s not illegal if the President does it.”

But it’s long been clear that this is Obama’s understanding of “a nation of laws”: the most powerful political and financial elites who commit the most egregious crimes are to be shielded from the consequences of their lawbreaking — see his vote in favor of retroactive telecom immunity, his protection of Bush war criminals, and the way in which Wall Street executives were permitted to plunder with impunity — while the most powerless figures (such as a 23-year-old Army Private and a slew of other low-level whistleblowers) who expose the corruption and criminality of those elites are to be mercilessly punished. And, of course, our nation’s lowest persona non grata group — accused Muslim Terrorists — are simply to be encaged for life without any charges. Merciless, due-process-free punishment is for the powerless; full-scale immunity is for the powerful. “Nation of laws” indeed.

One final irony to Obama’s embrace of this lofty justifying term: Manning’s punitive detention conditions are themselves illegal, as the Uniform Code of Military Justice expressly bars the use of pre-trial detention as a means of imposing punishment. Given how inhumane Manning’s detention conditions have been — and the fact that much of it was ordered in contradiction to the assessments of the brig’s psychiatric staff — there is little question that this is exactly what has happened. The President lecturing us yesterday about how Manning must be punished because we’re a “nation of laws” is the same one presiding over and justifying Manning’s unlawful detention conditions.

Then, in response to Price’s raising the case of Daniel Ellsberg, we have this from Obama:

No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way.

 

What Obama said there is technically true, but not the way he intended. Indeed, the truth of the matter makes exactly the opposite point as the one the President attempted to make. The 42 volumes of the Pentagon Papers leaked by Ellsberg to The New York Times were designated “TOP SECRET“: the highest secrecy designation under the law. By stark contrast, not a single page of the materials allegedly leaked by Manning to Wikileaks was marked “top secret”; to the contrary, it was all marked “secret” or “classified”: among the lowest level secrecy classifications.  Using the Government’s own standards, then, the leak by Ellsberg was vastly more dangerous than the alleged leak by Manning.  

(And the notion that Ellsberg’s leak was limited and highly selective is absurd; he passed on thousands of pages to the New York Times in the form of 42 full volumes worth.  Among the documents leaked by Ellsberg were some of the nation’s most sensitive cryptography and eavesdropping methods: documents The New York Times withheld from publication upon the NSA’s insistence that their publication would gravely harm American national security [see p. 388 and fn 170].  By contrast, none of the documents allegedly leaked by Manning comes close to anything as potentially damaging or sensitive as that.)

But it has long been vital for Obama officials and the President’s loyalists to distinguish Ellsberg from Manning. Why? Because it is more or less an article of faith among progressives that what Ellsberg did was noble and heroic. How, then, can Nixon’s persecution of Ellsberg continue to be loathed while Obama’s persecution of Manning be cheered? After all, even the hardest-core partisan loyalists can’t maintain contradictions that glaring in their heads; they need to be given a way to distinguish them.

Hence the importance of differentiating Ellsberg’s actions from those in which Manning is accused of engaging. That Ellsberg himself has repeatedly said that Manning’s alleged acts are identical to his own both in content and motive — and that he considers Manning a hero — is obviously problematic for that cause, but the justifying show must go on. Thus do we have Obama’s backward claim that “Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way,” when the reality is that The Pentagon Papers were deemed far, far more sensitive by the U.S. Government than the documents published by WikiLeaks. Indeed, from every objective metric, Ellberg’s leak was a far graver compromise of national security secrets than Manning’s alleged leak; if they’re to be distinguished, it would be in favor of defending Manning, not defending Ellsberg (and while it’s true that Obama didn’t order the break-in of Manning’s psychiatrist’s office, it’s also true Nixon never ordered Ellsberg confined to 23-hour-a-day pre-trial solitary confinement and forced nudity).

That Obama has to resort to the most brazen hypocrisy and factually confused claims to defend Manning’s treatment should hardly be surprising (and as Politico‘s quoted experts noted, Obama was also deeply confused when he claimed yesterday that he, too, would be breaking the law if he released unauthorized classified information, since the President has the unfettered right to declassify what he wants). Those engaged in purely unjustifiable conduct can, by definition, find only incoherent and nonsensical rationale to justify what they’re doing. The President’s remarks yesterday provide a classic case of how true that is.

UPDATE: In response to the controversy created by Obama’s declaration of Manning’s guilt, the White House now says that the President merely was “making a general statement that did not go specifically to the charges against Manning: ‘The president was emphasizing that, in general, the unauthorized release of classified information is not a lawful act,’ [a White House spokesman said] Friday night. ‘He was not expressing a view as to the guilt or innocence of Pfc. Manning specifically’.” What Obama actually said was: “He broke the law.” I’ll leave it to readers to determine whether the White House’s denial is reasonable, or whether it’s the actions of a President constitutionally incapable of admitting error (h/t auerfeld).

Amazingly, this incident — as this truly excellent post documents — is highly redolent of the time Richard Nixon publicly declared Charles Manson’s guilt before the accused mass murderer had been convicted.  Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, was at Nixon’s side when he did it and immediately recognized the impropriety of Nixon’s remarks, and the White House quickly issued a statement claiming that Nixon misspoke and meant merely to suggest Manson had been “charged” with these crimes, not that he was guilty of them.  Obama’s decree was worse, of course, since (a) Obama has direct command authority over those who will judge Manning (unlike Nixon vis-a-vis Manson’s jurors); (b) Manson’s jurors were sequestered at the time and thus not exposed to Nixon’s proclamation; and (c) Obama is directly responsible for the severe punishment to which Manning has already been subjected (h/t lysias).

It is notable indeed that an act immediately recognized as grossly improper by John Mitchell — “easily American history’s crookedest Attorney General ever” — is engaged in by our nation’s top political-leader/Constitutional-scholar, and no attempt is made to rectify it until it becomes clear that the controversy could harm both Manning’s prosecution and the President’s political standing.

America Owned by Its Army November 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, History, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Published on Monday, November 9, 2009 by CommonDreams.orgby William Pfaff

It is possible that the creation of an all-professional American army was the most dangerous decision ever taken by Congress. The nation now confronts a political crisis in which the issue has become an undeclared contest between Pentagon power and that of a newly elected president.

Barack Obama has yet to declare his decision on the war in Afghanistan, and there is every reason to think that he will follow military opinion. Yet he is under immense pressure from his Republican opponents to, in effect, renounce his presidential power, and step aside from the fundamental strategic decisions of the nation.

The officer he named to command the war in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, demands a reinforcement of forty thousand soldiers, raising the total US commitment to over 100 thousand troops (or more, in the future). He says that he cannot succeed without them, and even then may be unable to win the war within a decade. Yet the American public is generally in doubt about this war, most of all the president’s own liberal electorate.

President Obama almost certainly will do as the the general requests, or something very close to it. He can read the wartime politics in this situation.

The Vietnam war was opposed by the public by the 1970s, when according to the Pentagon Papers, the government itself knew that victory was unlikely. Today the public doubts victory in the war in Afghanistan. However the version of Vietnam history most Americans (who were not there!) read today says there really was no defeat at all.

It is argued that there was only a collapse of civilian support for the war, caused by the liberal press, producing popular disaffection both at home and inside the conscript army, with a breakdown of military discipline, “fraggings” (murders) of aggressive combat leaders, and demoralization in the ranks. This is the version most military officers believe today.

It is an American version of the “stab in the back” myth believed in German military and right-wing political circles after the first world war.

In the US case, the Vietnam defeat was painfully clear at the time, and few believed that either the US Congress or the Nixon Administration (which signed the peace agreement with North Vietnam) were parties to any betrayal of the United States.

Today the revised interpretation of the Vietnam war, claiming that it actually was a lost victory, has become an important issue because most Pentagon leaders are committed to the “Long War” against “Muslim terrorism.” An Obama administration order to withdraw from Afghanistan, Iraq (or Pakistan) would be attacked by many in Congress and the media, and by implicitly insubordinate elements in the military community, as “surrender” by an Obama government lacking patriotism and unfit to govern.

Conservative politicians are convinced that any policy not set on total victory for the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan – and in coming months, perhaps in Somalia, Yemen, or possibly in Palestine, or sub-Saharan Africa, (or even in an Iran determined to pursue its nuclear ambitions) – would mean American humiliation and defeat.

After Vietnam, Congress ended conscription (which in that war had become heavily corrupt: the poor and working classes were drafted, while many of the privileged had influential families and found complacent doctors or college deans willing to hand over unjustified draft exemptions to those – like the future Vice President Richard Cheney – who had “other priorities” than patriotism and national service.

Congress created a new all-volunteer army. The sociology of the new army was very different from the old citizens’ army. The new one was also composed of people who wanted to be soldiers, or wanted the college education that an enlistment could earn you, or often were high-school graduates who didn’t have much in the way of other career choices, but since 9/11, and the Iraq invasion, the new army has increasingly relied on immigrants or other young foreigners who can earn permanent US residence by way of a US Army enlistment. The US also increasingly has relied on foreign mercenaries hired by private companies.

Its professional character is fundamentally different from the old army. In the old army, career West Point officers were during wartime largely outnumbered by war-service-only officers, the graduates of Officer Candidate schools or Reserve Officers trained in universities (where much of the cost of higher education could be earned in exchange for a fixed term of duty afterwards as a junior commissioned officer).

Thus the US army from the start of the Second World War to the end of Vietnam was effectively a democratic army, with civilian conscripts, and the majority of its non-commissioned and commissioned officers peacetime civilians, with solid commitments to civilian society, often with families at home – doing their temporary (or “for the war’s duration”) patriotic duty.

Professional armies have often been considered a threat to their own societies. It was one of Frederick the Great’s own officers who described Prussia “as an army with a state, in which it was temporarily quartered, so to speak”. The French revolutionary statesman Mirabeau said that “war is Prussia’s national industry”. Considering the portion of the US national budget that is now consumed by the Pentagon, much the same could be said of the United States.

The new army also has political ambitions. It now dominates US foreign relations with a thousand bases worldwide and regional commanders like imperial proconsuls. Both General McChrystal and his superior, General David H Petraeus, have been mentioned as future presidential candidates. The last general who became American president was Dwight Eisenhower. He is the one who warned Americans against “the military-industrial complex”.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services International

William Pfaff is the author of eight books on American foreign policy, international relations, and contemporary history, including books on utopian thought, romanticism and violence, nationalism, and the impact of the West on the non-Western world. His newspaper column, featured in The International Herald Tribune for more than a quarter-century, and his globally syndicated articles, have given him the widest international influence of any American commentator.