Today in Legal History: Ellsberg Acquitted in Pentagon Case, Barbie Nazi War Crimes Trial Begins

On this day in 1973, charges against Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case were dismissed, due to government misconduct. (The administration of President Richard M. Nixon was implicated in a burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, in an effort to discredit him.) Ellsberg, a Pentagon employee, had released 7,000 pages of top-secret materials on the Vietnam War to the New York Times (and later the Washington Post), and the newspaper ran the information. A landmark U.S. Supreme Court case resulted, severely limiting so-called “prior restraint” on a newspaper’s publication of controversial material. For further details, see this next-day New York Times story on Ellsberg’s acquittal, this Washington Post interview of Ellsberg, decades later, about why he released the Pentagon Papers, and this George Washington University site providing links to historic documents in the case.

On this day in 1987, the trial of Klaus Barbie began in Lyon, France, for 177 crimes against humanity during the Nazi era. The former Gestapo chief in charge of Lyon when it was occupied by Germany during World War II, Barbie is believed to have been responsible for executing some 4,000 people, largely Jews and members of the French Resistance, and personally tortured and executed a number of prisoners. Shielded by the U.S. government after the end of the war, and eventually smuggled to South America in exchange for his work as an American agent, Barbie helped establish brutal internment camps and served in the secret police in Bolivia. He was found guilty in the Lyon trial and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 1991. For details, see this BBC article, and this Web site about Barbie’s trial written by Joseph November, a self-described computer programmer, which provides a lengthy bibliography of hard-copy source materials.

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