To the Editors:
Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo have been indicted for conspiracy, espionage, and larceny. The government is spending millions of dollars to put Dan in jail for 115 years and Tony for 35 years.
Their “crime”? Giving the American people the government’s—our government’s—private history of how we were eased into the longest, costliest, and most shameful foreign war in the history of this country. By their action the Pentagon Papers now belong to the citizens who paid for them with their sons and their resources.
Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo struck a blow for all of us when they gave the Pentagon Papers to the press and to the Senate: against the war in Vietnam and against new adventures in Cambodia, Laos, or elsewhere; against secrecy in government, so that it is now a hundred times more difficult for any administration to hoodwink the people, on foreign or domestic policy; and they struck a mighty blow—which reached right up to the Supreme Court—for freedom of the press, freedom of the American people to be informed of what crimes their government might be committing in their name.
Only days after their brave release of the Pentagon Papers they were indicted. Then, further grand jury hearings—an unheard-of procedure in the American legal system after an indictment had been obtained. Questioning of friends, relatives, even of Dan’s fifteen-year-old son. Finally, a second round of indictments, this time on fifteen counts, including conspiracy—the last and murky resort when the government is on uncertain ground.
It was clear that the initial charges of theft and espionage could not be made to stick. Nothing had been stolen—and it was absurd to suggest that there had been dealings with foreign governments.
Now the charge includes “conspiracy.” Conspiracy against whom? The American people to whom the documents belonged in the first place? The press to whom the Pentagon Papers were given—not sold—so that they could better inform the people on how a succession of administrations had deceived them and wasted this country’s lives, resources, and honor?
Incidentally, you may be interested in the peculiarities of this case. No one has ever been convicted in the United States for making classified information public for the simple reason that it is not a crime to do so. “Leaks,” after all, are a common Washington practice. They are used by officials to influence legislation, to propagandize, and indeed to obtain for Lyndon Johnson a million-dollar cash advance when he published some of those same Pentagon Papers in his memoirs. Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo weren’t paid a cent by anyone for making the Pentagon Papers public.
They deserve the best possible defense against the vindictiveness of this Administration. The trial is scheduled to begin May 9 in Los Angeles. If they go to jail, whether for one year or 115 years, then all of us who opposed the war in Vietnam—who believe in freedom of the press and the right of the people to know—are affected. Indeed, who is to say who will be next?
Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo deserve better of the American people. They have good legal counsel. Their trial will be a crucial test of the right of the people to know about illegal actions of government officials.
But this will be a long and complicated trial and an estimated $250,000 is needed for their defense against the Justice Department. Dan and Tony don’t have that kind of money and preparations for the trial don’t leave much time for fund-raising speeches. That leaves it to us.
That’s the way it should be because all of us who applauded when the Pentagon Papers made headlines—who bought over a million copies of the paperbound edition of the Papers—we are on trial with them. We benefited from their courageous action.
If you think that Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo should not be imprisoned for doing their duty as citizens—or simply that they deserve a full hearing in the courts—then I hope you will contribute as much as you can toward their legal expenses. Mail checks to The Pentagon Papers Fund, PO Box 1630, Grand Central Station, New York, New York 10017. Please give even more than you can afford. What we cannot afford is to abdicate our right to be informed, nor can we afford to leave the lives of our own and other people’s children to the mercy of secret decisions in Washington.
Stanley K. Sheinbaum
The Pentagon Papers Fund
New York City