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Pentagon papers finally released

Prince Norodom Sihanouk and Jacqueline Kennedy at Chamkarmon Palace during her visit to Cambodia in November of 1967. Photo by: Ambassador Julio A. Jeldres Private Photo Collection
THE United States government has released the full version of the
Pentagon Papers, a once top-secret report that details US actions in
countries including Cambodia as the Vietnam conflict escalated and was
leaked in partial form 40 years ago.

The US National Archives
declassified the report on Monday, 40 years after the New York Times
published selections leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, who worked on part of
the study with the Defence Department. Ellsberg had tried to leak the
documents to the Senate in the hope that it would convene hearings on
the war.

Some 2,384 pages, or about 34 percent of the original
7,000-page report, have been released publicly for the first time, the
National Archives said in a statement.

The report was
commissioned by US defence secretary Robert McNamara and catalogues US
policy-making in Indochina from 1945 to 1967.

The leak showed
that four successive American presidents had misled their citizens about
US policy in Southeast Asia, as they spoke publicly of restraint while
simultaneously expanding US commitments in the region.

The
report also exposed the involvement of the Kennedy Administration in the
1963 coup d’etat that led to the assassination of South Vietnamese
President Ngo Dinh Diem, President Lyndon Johnson’s approval to bomb
North Vietnam and decisions to expand military operations from Southern
Vietnam into Cambodia and Laos.

Among other topics, officials
raised concern over the stationing of North Vietnamese troops in the
Kingdom and debated how to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail, which was used
as a supply route between North Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos and South
Vietnam.

Historian David Chandler, an expert on Cambodia who
served as a US diplomat in Phnom Penh in the early 1960s, said it was
“very exciting” when the papers came out.

“It was a good move. I approved of what Ellsberg was doing,” he recalled.

Chandler
said the information contained in the report wasn’t “wildly surprising”
at the time for those closely studying the region, though its leak may
have been the most significant breach of US government secrecy in
American history, igniting a battle at the Supreme Court and an eventual
victory for press freedom.

The National Archives said that the
newspaper and magazine releases from Ellsberg’s leak contained “only a
very small portion” of the complete papers, and Monday’s release marks
the first time they have been available in full.

“The fact of the
matter is that no one, outside the people properly cleared to view Top
Secret, has seen the real Pentagon Papers,” the agency said in a
statement. About two-thirds have been made available previously, as US
Senator Mike Gravel published portions in 1971 and US the State
Department declassified an additional section in 2002.

Chandler
said he had not yet trawled through the final version of the documents
that was released on Monday, but did not expect any “surprises” for
Cambodia, noting that the most controversial US actions toward the
Kingdom came under President Richard Nixon, who approved the infamous
bombing campaign that released at least half a million tons of bombs in
Cambodia from 1969 to 1973.

Though Cambodia is less of a concern
in the papers, the documents do show that trying to eliminate Northern
Vietnam’s use of both Cambodia and Laos for supply routes and military
operations was a persistent challenge for US policymakers.

One
internal document from the Kennedy Administration contained in the
papers shows that officials had raised alarm over the issue at least as
early as December 1962. A US State Department official says in the
document that Northern Vietnamese forces had been using Eastern Cambodia
as a base from which to stage hit-and-run attacks in Southern Vietnam
since 1960.

On numerous occasions, military officials called for
“hot pursuit” of Northern Vietnamese forces into Cambodian territory. A
1967 document reveals pressure within the US government for Johnson to
expand the Vietnam War into neighbouring countries, presaging the
devastating consequences Cambodia would endure as it was dragged further
into the conflict.

“The military had once again confronted the
Johnson Administration with a difficult question on whether to escalate
or level-off the US effort. What they proposed was the mobilization of
the Reserves, a major new troop commitment in the South, an extension of
the war into the VC/NVA [Viet Cong/North Vietnam] sanctuaries (Laos,
Cambodia, and possibly North Vietnam) the mining of North Vietnamese
ports and a solid commitment in manpower and resources to a military
victory,” the US document states.

“The recommendation [from the
military] not surprisingly touched off a searching reappraisal of the
course of US strategy in the war.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KRISTIN LYNCH

Phnom Penh Post
Categories: Local News
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