A Vietnam War-era whistle-blower accused the U.S. government of committing war crimes in the Middle East during an anti-war rally Thursday at Saddleback College.
Anthony J. Russo, who was involved in the release of the top-secret Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, said the government has violated international law, the United Nations charter and the U.S. Constitution by sending troops into combat against Iraq.
"We should be supporting democratic reform in the Middle East, and we're not. We're supporting kings and emirs," said Russo, who referred to the congressional resolution in support of the war as "a vote that was bought."
After morning classes finished, more than 200 students stopped by the college's upper quad to listen to Russo and other anti-war speakers protest U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf, where a ground war appears to be imminent.
"We are not going to free Kuwait. Kuwait has never been free," said Michael Benner, a former KLOS-FM disc jockey who spoke at the rally. "Kuwait is ruled by an emir and his 85 wives. . . . If we're going to overthrow dictators, why don't we invade South Africa? Because the U.S. supports dictators."
The speeches were periodically interrupted by three war supporters, including one who yelled, "Will you protest Saddam?" His placard read, "We Will Not Be Saddam-ized."
Eventually, the flag-waving trio was silenced by campus security.
The most famous speaker, however, was Russo, a former analyst for Rand Corp., a think tank that undertook an enormous study of U.S. participation in the Vietnam War at the request of then-Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.
The epic and controversial work, called the Pentagon Papers, revealed policy failures and CIA involvement in assassinations and that military intervention in Vietnam was based on false pretenses. Russo and associate Daniel Ellsberg released the secret study to the news media.
Russo, now a pollution researcher, said Thursday that if confidential U.S. documents about the Middle East were released they would contain information much more damaging than the Pentagon Papers.
"Bush gave Hussein the green light to do it, so why is Bush now turning into a white knight?" Russo said, noting that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq had given Saddam Hussein assurances that the United States had no interest in his dispute with Kuwait.
Saddleback College President Constance Carroll said she was pleased that the protest did not get out of hand and recalled the late 1960s, when the protests over Vietnam and civil rights were at their peak.
"We don't have cities in flames or violent upheavals," she said. "People left politely and were well-behaved."