WASHINGTON - More than 30 years ago, Daniel Ellsberg helped to end the Vietnam War by leaking the Pentagon Papers. Yesterday, he was arrested near the White House as he and other protesters called for an end to the war in Iraq.
Ellsberg, 71, said the government is up to its old tricks, with the Bush administration engaging in a pattern of deception he finds reminiscent of what he discovered in the Pentagon Papers and their secret history of the war in Vietnam.
The reason for the new war, he said, is as simple as a three-letter word: "oil."
"Saudi Arabia and Iraq are the richest prizes in the world," Ellsberg said before being taken into custody. "Profits are involved, but oil is power more than oil is profit. Whoever has the oil has leverage over others in the world."
He and a group of protesters that included two Nobel Peace Prize winners and two bishops were arrested in Lafayette Park during a noon demonstration. The protesters marched from New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where once Abraham Lincoln prayed, to the park, where they scaled a police barricade and held a prayer service.
The park is off-limits to demonstrators, and 65 of them were taken into custody by police.
Those arrested yesterday included Nobel laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement and Jody Williams of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Detroit Archdiocese and Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of the United Methodist Church in the Chicago area were arrested. Pax Christi USA, the Catholic peace movement, called for the protest.
Ellsberg, a one-time rifle platoon leader in the Marine Corps, photocopied the 7,000-page top secret report on the Vietnam War while working for the Rand Corp., then leaked it in 1971 to the New York Times and other newspapers.
Hawks are civilians
During the Vietnam War, President Lyndon B. Johnson was in a constant struggle to rein in the hawks in the military, Ellsberg said. Today, he said, the voice of reason is the military, and the hawks are civilians such as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board.
"The president has been getting optimistic assurances from civilian officials in the Defense Department, and everything they've said about the reasons for this war is untrue," Ellsberg said.
The Bush administration is taking the nation on a disastrous course that will lead to a "permanent stalemate," he predicted. The Iraqis cannot win a war against the United States, he said, and the United States will not be able to totally eliminate the terrorists who have targeted this country.
"I want to believe that the administration is sufficiently in touch with reality to understand that this is going to increase the supply of suicide bombers for al-Qaida and free-lancers who are not religious extremists but will be driven crazy by what they're seeing in Baghdad," he said.
"The administration has pushed the notion that Saddam [Hussein] is the No. 1 danger; that's absurd," he said. "It's a dangerous world, and there should be concern about al-Qaida, the threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan, North Korea. ... Russia, with its 40,000 nuclear weapons, could become the Nukes 'R' Us store for terrorists."
Ellsberg said the war in Iraq could have repercussions throughout the Islamic world. Authoritarian regimes in countries such as Pakistan that have been allies in the war against terrorism could be toppled and replaced with religious fundamentalists who are unfriendly to the United States, he warned.
Moreover, the administration has signaled that it hopes toppling Hussein will become a catalyst for regime changes in Iran and Syria. "Those are very unreliable predictions" that add to the unrest, Ellsberg said.
Question the direction
In Baltimore yesterday, Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, compared the current conflict to the Vietnam War and the fight for civil rights in the 1960s.
"This isn't the first time questions have been raised about the direction our nation is taking," Dees told those attending the 37th annual convention of the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
"A lot has happened since Martin Luther King left us. We have taken three steps forward and two steps back," Dees said.
Stressing that he was proud to be an American and that he was "pulling" for our troops in Iraq when he sees them on television, Dees urged the teachers "to have the courage to let our leaders know how you feel."
Staff writer Walter F. Roche Jr. contributed to this article.