Dozens of activists, including the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War, were arrested Thursday at the White House as they protested the Afghanistan conflict and defended WikiLeaks.
As President Barack Obama unveiled a war review strategy inside, more than 100 war opponents — many of them veterans — marched through snow to the White House, chanting “Peace now!” and refusing to step down from the fence’s ledge.
Police waited before gradually sealing off the area and escorting remaining protesters — who had vowed to stay until their arrest — into two waiting buses.
Daniel Ellsberg, who as a government consultant leaked the Pentagon Papers that revealed war planning in Vietnam, saluted Bradley Manning, the young army officer suspected of leaking secret US documents to website WikiLeaks.
Ellsberg predicted that Obama would intensify the Afghanistan war as “presidents don’t like to say they were wrong.”
“I’m afraid that will happen indefinitely unless more people follow the example of Bradley Manning, whose courageous act of civil disobedience probably confronts him with life in prison,” Ellsberg said to cheers.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the Code Pink women’s peace movement, noted that Afghanistan ranks near the worst in rankings on development and corruption despite billions of dollars a month in the US war effort.
“It is high time that President Obama get a clue and understand that we need, as our signs says here, a real peace president,” she said.
“We need men that understand that the best thing we can do for our security and the security of the people of Afghanistan is to take the money that we are spending on war and invest it in people, invest it in health care, invest it in education at home and in Afghanistan,” she said.
Obama, an early opponent of the Iraq war, has tripled troop numbers in Afghanistan but pledged to start a withdrawal next year. The United States sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda, which had found sanctuary in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
In the review, Obama said there was “significant progress” in curbing the Taliban and stifling Al-Qaeda, but warned more time was needed.
On Thursday, author, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges and Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg were among the 131 anti-war activists arrested during a nonviolent demonstration outside the White House to protest against the war in Afghanistan as well as America’s ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Pakistan.
Hedges delivered a rousing speech about the nature of hope (in contrast to what certain campaign slogans might have suggested in recent years), pointing out that “hope has a cost, hope is not comfortable,” before joining other supporters of Veterans for Peace who chained themselves to the White House fence. When asked why he chose that course of action, Hedges replied, “Because it’s all we have left at this point … The normal mechanisms by which democratic participation are rendered possible in this country have been closed shut, and if we don’t do this, we die. This is what’s left of hope in this country.”
For his part, Ellsberg said he was drawn to the demonstration in part because veterans were leading the action. “I know that people here understand this war is as hopeless and wrong as the war we participated in in Vietnam, and it is not going to end by a presidential initiative,” he said. “It’ll only be because the American public has awakened to their responsibilities and to the realities of this war.” The “big lie” that the American government is telling its people now, Ellsberg believes, “is that these wars are protecting us at home.” (Truthdig)