National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has released classified documents detailing the massive surveillance state that the Obama administration has now publicly endorsed as a credible defense against “terrorism”. Famous whistleblowers like Thomas Drake have warned that the US government will seek harsh retaliation “Chicago style” while Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, has described Snowden as the most consequential whistleblower in US history. Predictably, the “journalistic” community in the US has launched into a baseless campaign of character assassination. David Brooks of the New York Times condemned Snowden for his “betrayal” of the National Security State and Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo endorsed Snowden’s arrest and criminal prosecution.
These ludicrous attacks on Snowden share one common trait, namely they completely ignore, if not justify, the egregious crimes committed by the Obama administration and the NSA. The mere notion that blanket surveillance on the American public violates the Fourth Amendment is interpreted as treasonous but in a society shaped by corporate power this is expected. National “Security” is the province of concentrated centers of power, therefore any attempt reveal the content of this self-proclaimed right to commit crimes with impunity is interpreted as a “threat”. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who published Snowden’s exposure, argued this in his previous writings saying two forms of justice exist in the US: one for the elites and another for everyone else. In a December article that appeared in the Gaurdian detailing the incredibly lenient punishment HSBC got after they were found to have laundered money for terrorist organizations, he wrote the following:
” . . . Not everyone is subjected to that system of penal harshness. It all changes radically when the nation’s most powerful actors are caught breaking the law. With few exceptions, they are gifted not merely with leniency, but full-scale immunity from criminal punishment. Thus have the most egregious crimes of the last decade been fully shielded from prosecution when committed by those with the greatest political and economic power: the construction of a worldwide torture regime, spying on Americans’ communications without the warrants required by criminal law by government agencies and the telecom industry, an aggressive war launched on false pretenses, and massive, systemic financial fraud in the banking and credit industry that triggered the 2008 financial crisis.”
The current outcry from establishment quarters shows this clearly. Shortly before the press launched their campaign of demonization against Edward Snowden for upholding democratic principles of transparency a trial took place against US soldier Robert Bales. On June 5th Bales “pleaded guilty to murder . . . and acknowledged to a judge that there was ‘not a good reason in this world’ for his actions.” Bales is on trial for the ruthless murder of 16 Afghan civilians “many of them women and children who were asleep in their villages,” according to the Associated Press. Not one establishment journalist suggested that Bales was a “traitor” or a “coward”. In fact, the question was not even asked. This is despite the fact that murdering women and children in war violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice and international law. Such slanders are reserved for those who expose these types of war crimes, Bradley Manning being a case in point. Compare the judicial proceedings in Bales case to the trial of Bradley Manning. Not only was Bales spared the humiliation of stripping naked in front of US guards in a pre-trial detention period a prominent UN official called “cruel” and “inhuman” but Bales was given a chance to defend his actions.
As the Associated Press reported “For each charge, the judge asked him a series of questions to assess the validity of his plea. Did he believe he had legal justification to kill the victims? Was he acting in self-defense? Did anyone force or coerce him to commit the murders?” Contrast this treatment with this report from the Guardian: “The judge presiding over [Bradley] Manning’s prosecution by the US government for allegedly transmitting confidential material to WikiLeaks ruled in a pre-trial hearing that Manning will largely be barred from presenting evidence about his motives in leaking the documents and videos.” So a confessed mass murderer is not only granted generous treatment in the press but is properly afforded all his legal rights in court while a courageous whistleblower is villified and subjected to what can only be called an American show trial. Once again, imperial power has the last word.
Meanwhile, in a quite pathetic defense of the NSA surveillance program President Obama remarked that we can’t have “100% security”, “100% privacy”, and “zero inconvenience”. Embedded in this remark is an assumption that privacy and security are somehow antagonistic. The basis for this belief is fragile, if not non-existent. It’s not the elimination of privacy that safeguards security, it’s the protection of privacy. Interestingly, the reaction of the Obama administration after Snowden’s leak reinforces this logic in stunningly hypocritical fashion. The Obama administration has shrouded its actions in secrecy under the pretext that disclosure of their activities would undermine “national security” (in other words the “security” of wholesale criminals). They are making the argument that the survival of State power crucially depends on their ability to withhold information from the public.
Notice this notion–that State privacy leads to safety– is inverted entirely when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of ordinary Americans. Disclosing every intimate fact about ordinary Americans, according to the Obama White House, does not threaten our “security”. It upholds it. In other words, the Obama administration is asserting for the State what it vigorously denies to people of flesh and blood. The Obama administration has invoked the human right of privacy not to shield the public but to shield the inhuman institution of the State and corporations very much in the same way the Supreme Court granted Wall Street the human right of free speech in the form of unlimited campaign spending. Such fealty to power over the demands of the public is corrosive to any conception of democracy and closer to what Ellsberg accurately called “the United Stasi of America”.
Snowden’s act of defiance, far from an act “betrayal”, forms a much needed barrier to the criminality of State and corporate power and it’s a shame that so-called journalists can’t comprehend in regard to the American public what they reflexively understand when it comes to defending heinous acts of destruction at the hands of the US government and their corporate constituents. In his interview Snowden explained that his greatest fear was that “nothing would change” in response to the documents that he provided to the American public. Nothing will change unless Edward Snowden, and others like him, receive the vital support they deserve for choosing to disobey in the face of such overwhelming odds.
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