The papers documented in stunning detail a pattern of lies and deceptions by four presidents and their administrations over 23 years to conceal their war plans -- along with internal estimates of the high costs and risks of these plans (and their low probabilities of success), never meant to reach the public and provoke debate. They showed very clearly how we had become engaged in a reckless war of choice in someone else's country -- a country that had not attacked us -- for our own domestic and external purposes.
It seemed to me that to be doing that against the intense wishes of most of the inhabitants of that country was not just bad policy but morally wrong. Moreover, it became clear to me that the justifications that had been given for our involvement were false. Vietnam was not a just war, and never had been. And if the war itself was unjust, then all the victims of our firepower were being killed without justification. That's murder.
As I read the story in The Times that morning about the coverup of the Special Forces murder and compared it with what I'd been reading in the secret history, I came to see it as a microcosm of what had been happening since the war began. And I thought to myself: I don't want to be part of this lying machine anymore. I am not going to conceal the truth any longer.
I called Russo, who had been fired from Rand a year earlier, in part for inconvenient field reporting about torture of prisoners by our Vietnamese allies. I asked him if he had access to a copying machine.
We began on Oct. 1. Night after night, I brought out batches of papers from my safe, and we copied them. I gave them first to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hoping that they would make the documents public. But they did not. Eventually, I gave them to the New York Times, which began publishing them Sunday, June 13, 1971.
Two days later, the New York Times was ordered by a federal judge, at the request of the White House, to stop publishing -- the first injunctive prior restraint of the press in U.S. history. I then gave copies to the Washington Post and, when it also was enjoined, to 17 other newspapers, while I was being sought by the FBI. On June 28, I turned myself in and was arrested and charged with violations of the Espionage Act and theft.
Today, there must be, at the very least, hundreds of civilian and military officials in the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, National Security Agency and White House who have in their safes and computers comparable documentation of intense internal debates -- so far carefully concealed from Congress and the public -- about prospective or actual war crimes, reckless policies and domestic crimes: the Pentagon Papers of Iraq, Iran or the ongoing war on U.S. liberties. Some of those officials, I hope, will choose to accept the personal risks of revealing the truth -- earlier than I did -- before more lives are lost or a new war is launched.
Haditha holds a mirror up not just to American troops in the field, but to our whole society. Not just to the liars in government but to those who believe them too easily. And to all of us in the public, in the administration, in Congress and the media who dissent so far ineffectively or who stand by as murder is being done and do nothing to stop it or expose it.
It is past time for Americans to summon the civil courage to face what is being done in their name and to refuse to be accomplices. We must force Congress and this president, or their successors if necessary, to act upon the moral proposition that the U.S. must stop killing men, women and children in Iraq, and must not begin to do so in Iran.
Neither the lives we have lost, nor the lives we have taken, give the U.S. any right to determine by fire and airpower who shall govern or who shall die in countries we have wrongly attacked.