August 22, 2012
"This administration has punished so-called whistleblowers – those who reveal certain illegal actions by US government agencies – more than any other in US history."
This past weekend, while giving a televised speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange directed a segment of his comments towards US president Barack Obama. Assange demanded that the Obama administration stop its unprecedented "war on whistleblowers" – a war in which Assange himself has been cast as an enemy. Indeed, Assange had been granted political asylum by Ecuadoran President, Rafael Correa in an attempt to prevent his extradition to the US, and his supporters are rightly worried that the US government is gunning to punish the man responsible for one of the greatest release of classified information in history.
One doesn’t have to dismiss the serious rape allegations against Assange, or agree with his bizarre libertarian politics, to recognize the truth in his claim of a US witch-hunt. The Obama administration has been after Wikileaks since that organization released classified military reports and diplomatic cables showing evidence of US war crimes in Iraq, and that verified its corrupt imperialist actions around the world. But the Assange stand off provides one more example of the rogue nature of the Obama administration.
This administration has punished so-called whistleblowers – those who reveal certain illegal actions by US government agencies – more than any other in US history. It has used the obscure Espionage Act, a WWI law meant to go after spies, more than all other presidential administrations combined. Similar to George W. Bush, the Obama administration has also been over-classifying documents that deal with US torture, corruption, and imperial misadventures, making it much easier to label and charge so-called enemies of the state.
"The US government is gunning to punish the man responsible for one of the greatest release of classified information in history."
This is where Assange and Wikileaks come in. In retaliation, Obama’s administration has gone after both Julian Assange, the editor of Wikileaks, and Bradley Manning, 24 year old US army intelligence analyst who is accused of releasing Wikileaks’s trove of classified information, including the "Collateral Murder" video of the US military slaughter of Iraqis, two of whom were Reuters journalists. For that allegation, Bradley Manning, who has yet to be convicted of a crime, has spent more than 800 days in military prison, relentlessly tortured and kept in inhumane conditions. He is subject to intensive solitary confinement 23 hours a day, denied a pillow and sheets for his bed, barred from accessing news events, and subject to extreme sensory deprivation.
But while most people (or, I hope, some people) may be aware of Assange and Manning, they are probably not familiar with the cases of other "whistleblowers," such as John Kiriakou or Thomas Drake. Kiriakou is a former CIA agent who was indicted in April and charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly releasing classified information to journalists. Kiriakou exposed and assailed the torture technique of "enhanced interrogation" (otherwise known as waterboarding). It is this critique of waterboarding, his defense argues, that has earned him the wrath of the US government. Thomas Drake is a former National Security Agency (NSA) official who was also charged under the Espionage Act for criticizing the agency’s wasteful use of taxpayer money on useless intelligence gathering. He complained that NSA’s mismanagement did not allow it to catch the 2001 September 11th plot, and led it to spend more than a billion dollars on a spying program that was eventually cancelled. He also questioned the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping. Drake’s case has received more media attention than the others, and he recently managed to defeat the government’s espionage charges.
Yet, with these vindictive – and selective – prosecutions the Obama administration is sending a clear message: that dissent will be silenced through blatant verbal, physical, and legal bullying. In fact, as Noam Chomsky recently reminded us, Obama, much more than Bush, has shifted the law towards a culture of political censorship. And it is those who blow the whistle who are punished, not those who commit the crimes. Consider that no one from the Bush administration has been punished for torturing prisoners or for warrantless wiretapping, or that no Wall Street banks or their executives have been indicted for causing the global financial collapse. Now, consider the information "leaked" to the New York Times by senior government officials that glorified Obama’s personal role in picking names of victims for his "Kill List," and the access granted to filmmakers making a movie about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Thus, those who celebrate the president’s callous murder directives, and who support the US empire’s misadventures get a free pass.
"The Obama administration is sending a clear message: that dissent will be silenced through blatant verbal, physical, and legal bullying."
What the Obama administration is prosecuting, then, is not leaks, but information that brings the illegal activities of the US under scrutiny and that show evidence of a failing – and flailing – empire. As BAR columnist Margaret Kimberly wrote of the Manning case, "The enemy is anyone, anywhere who dares to consider revealing the truth about how this country actually conducts itself around the world."
Obama has surpassed Bush not only in the criminal treatment of those who point out this country’s wrongdoing, but also in its unmatched violations of the rights of those he governs. Because along with the persecution and prosecution of whistleblowers, comes the draconian laws, such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows the government to detain and kill its citizens at will, and a growing (and frightening) national security apparatus (see Trapwire). These are meant to keep us all in line – scared shitless and silent.
Jemima Pierre can be reached at BAR1804@gmail.com.