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Speaking Power to Truth
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[Editor’s Note: The following post is by TDV contributor, Wendy McElroy]
If you wish to speak the truth, then leave America. On American soil, the truth will not set you free; it can kill you.
Julian Assange knows this. In 2010, his organization WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of confidential documents; they pulled back the curtain on the lies and atrocities that constituted the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan
For aiding and abetting the truth, Assange confronted extradition to Sweden on flimsy charges, from where he would have been extradited to America and charged with treason despite being Australian. He sought sanctuary in Ecuador's embassy in London. On the one-year anniversary of his haven, Assange stated, “…if the Swedish government immediately drops their request tomorrow, I still cannot leave this embassy.” Why? “If I walk out the front door I could be arrested in relation to the United States.” A complicit UK has stationed police officers outside the embassy and in its lobby at a cost of nearly $6 million (as of the end of May.)
Bradley Manning knows the price of speaking truth on American soil. He is the US soldier who provided the classified material to WikiLeaks. Arrested in May 2010, he has spent over three years in jail without being convicted of a crime. Shortly after Manning's imprisonment, Adrian Lamo – the man who turned Manning in – assured an audience that the friend he betrayed would be treated well. “We don’t torture our own citizens,” Lamo said.
While jailed at Quantico, Manning was kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. He was not allowed to lean against the wall, to sleep during the day or to exercise. His personal items were confiscated; eventually, his reading glasses and clothing were also taken. Long-term solitary confinement is well recognized by human rights organizations as a form of extreme torture. On June 3rd, 2013, he finally went on trial. Of 22 charges against him, he has pleaded guilty to 10 which could bring a 20 year sentence. One of the unresolved charges is “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense that can be punished by death.
And in case anyone misses the message Obama is sending through the treatment of Manning, on New Year’s Eve 2011 the President signed a bill that gives him the power to indefinitely imprison Americans without trial. He has vowed to never use the power. Obama can claim whatever he wishes but he now possesses that authority to use at his discretion.
Edward Snowden knows what it means to speak truth in a jurisdiction that is not immediately obedient to Obama. Snowden leaked the classified details of the National Security Agency's illegal, massive surveillance of the emails and other communications of both Americans and foreigners. He was smart enough to release the information from Hong Kong. This was a geopolitical gamble WRIT large but Hong Kong was a superb choice.
The former British colony is ultimately answerable to the Chinese Communist Party but it has a considerable degree of self-administration. Its common law system shielded Snowden from political arrest while America's legal system would have slapped him into cuffs faster than he could say “indefinite detention.” Hong Kong had at least three other advantages. There is an active protest movement that solidly backed Snowden with demonstrations in the street. Hong Kong is renowned for a meticulous legal system that requires every “i” to be dotted. America's attempt to muscle the extradition met with a reply that essentially said “the paperwork is inadequate.” First and foremost, however, the revelation that America has been hacking into the computer systems of institutions and individuals in Hong Kong obviously infuriates officials; their official response to America's demand for extradition included a pointed inquiry about the hacking. The response came only after the Moscow-bound Snowden was in Russian and not Chinese air space.
America's despotism has turned the world upside down so that China and Russia are the protectors of free speech and transparency. Their motives are self-interested, of course, but this is true of any government. The most America could do was to revoke Snowden's passport and sputter demands that no country allow him to enter.
Domestically, Obama has responded by speeding the implementation of “Insider threat” – a program established in October 2011 as a response to the Manning leak. It imposes criminal penalties on government employees or contractors who do not report a suspected whistleblower. In short, everyone is to monitor everyone else's words and acts. McClatchy reported:
"Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies” are pursuing “ unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for 'high-risk persons or behaviors' among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”
The media and public silence surrounding “Insider Threat” is the silence of death; freedom of speech is dead in America.
Freedom of the press is hardly more vital. Snowden has been excoriated for leaking the NSA information to a British newspaper, The Guardian, rather than to a US one. “If he was sincere about not wanting to harm America,” his critics howl, “then he would have published in an American newspaper.” And, yet, Snowden went to the The Washington Post with the same story. Politico reported:
“Edward Snowden used the code name 'Verax', truth-teller in Latin, as he made his cautious approach to Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman about disclosing some dramatic state secrets on intelligence gathering....A series of indirect contacts preceded the first direct exchange May 16 between Snowden and Gellman.”
Snowden asked The Washington Post to guarantee full publication within 72 hours of a power-point presentation he had prepared on the NSA surveillance program. The newspaper not only declined, it also “sought the views of government officials about the potential harm to national security” prior to eventually publishing “only four of the 41 slides” provided by Snowden. Whether or not Snowden contacted Guardian commentator Glenn Greenwald prior to The Washington Post's decline, it was at that point that The Guardian became a necessary second outlet.
American news outlets that should be doing investigative reporting to establish the truth are consulting with government officials instead on what they should print. What if The New York Times had waved off Daniel Ellsberg or reported the Pentagon Papers to the government in advance for 'guidance' on what to report about the Vietnam War? Snowden went to The Guardian because there is no freedom of the press or a spine in America's mainstream news outlets. This is just one fall-out of the inability to speak truth on American soil without risking life and limb.
Those who wish to speak truth confront an increasing need to do so on foreign soil or, at least, to have a haven. Snowden's American passport was revoked precisely because the United States knows it must trap people within its own border to silence them. His flight from nation to nation dramatizes the value of a much underrated tool of personal freedom: a second passport. The Dollar Vigilante invites you to use their site and expertise to explore this safeguard of liberty.
Truth is now a foreign import.
Wendy McElroy is a frequent Dollar Vigilante contributor and renowned individualist anarchist and individualist feminist. She was a co-founder along with Carl Watner and George H. Smith of The Voluntaryist in 1982, and is the author/editor of twelve books, the latest of which is "The Art of Being Free". Follow her work at http://www.wendymcelroy.com.
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