Simon Williamson

Run, Edward, run

2013-08-02 09:54

Simon Williamson

The conviction of Bradley Manning continues to set a precedent that the US government will clamp down on leakers to the point of trying to lock them up for treason. That Manning was found not guilty of "aiding the enemy" is more reflective of the government trying to lash him with everything it legally had, rather than what Manning actually did.

In fact, Manning pleaded guilty to myriad charges against him that will send him to prison for most of his life anyway, rendering a large portion of the show-trial unnecessary as is.
In fact, considering how seriously the Obama administration seems to take the law - as its impervious-to-pragmatism approach to this particular trial has gone - it is incomprehensible how the Department of Justice hasn't chased those exposed by Manning: the torturers, those who killed civilians, those who tried to cover these incidents up - instead of the chap who informed the world his government was oft doing such illegal things.

Intimidating potential leakers

These are not limited to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, mind you - for example one of the hundreds of thousands of released cables show the US government was harvesting for military information on our own continent ("Details on military facilities, such as airfields and army camps, and on military equipment, including numbers, operational status, and procurement/refurbishment activity. - Details about military relations with other countries...").
The Manning verdict, and its recent predecessors - the government secretly nabbing months of Associated Press phone records to "investigate" another leak, dragging a New York Times journalist to court to identify his source, naming a Fox News journalist a co-conspirator (to the leaker) in another case so that they could legally rifle through his personal email - is all about intimidating potential leakers of government wrongdoing, and continuing to keep large pools of government work secret, whether justifiable or not.
The consequences: every person who contacted the Associated Press (in New York, Washington, DC and Hartford, Connecticut) with information in April or May last year has their number sitting in a database somewhere inside the Department of Justice. Would you feel confident speaking out about government wrongdoing to the press if you knew the top justice official could just secretly vacuum up all of the metadata about your call or e-mail? Or drag the journalist you contacted to court in order to cough your name up?

Government business

Scarily, it is people like Manning and the aforementioned leakers and journalists who are instrumental in revealing government wrongdoing. This cannot be overstated. If it were not for people within government willing to identify and publicise wrongdoing, we would, through ignorance, allow government to continually hide its wrongdoing.

In Manning's case it was a litany of dead Iraqi civilians, systematic torture by his government and its allies, spying on the United Nations, and diplomatic shenanigans - all of which changed how US foreign wars were debated. In fact one revelation - a 2006 incident in which US soldiers killed innocent people and then destroyed the evidence with an air-strike - was instrumental in the Afghan government forbidding US troops from immunity when details winding down the war were being thrashed out, causing the USA to end plans to leave troops in the country.
This is not to say that any government doesn't have a right to secrets. I am well aware that confidentiality is a major manner in which buckets of government (and private) business is done. But that does not give the people in charge the right to classify everything, nor govern in the dark, particularly when deciding how much money to spend on wars, and just what that money pays for. It shouldn't include spying on the entire country's phone records in order to work out who might be a terrorist or not. And this also applies to roving through your internet history.
(And FYI, it's only American people who even have a case they can take to court - us foreigners (even within the borders of the USA) can be spied on willy-nilly, according to US law and we can do absolutely nothing about it. As Glen Greenwald of The Guardian succinctly explains, "It vests the US government with boundless power over those to whom it has no accountability.")

Right to secrets

Naturally, we're dealing with this sort of thing in South Africa. While we have ceded much of our right to privacy to the government already, the Protection of State Information Bill should be hauled through the same critical wringer we're subjecting the Americans.

Anyone in South Africa who criticises current American foreign policy does so largely because of leaked details, and could therefore only hypocritically support the South African government's legislative solution to accountability. Again - the government has a right to have secrets, but the circumstances under which it does so much be incredibly clearly defined. And screwing up is not one of them. 
So as the US government continues to systematically break down the relationship between leakers and journalists, I have a mere few words of advice for the chap who leaked details of the indiscriminate spying operation being undertaken by the National Security Agency: Run, Edward Snowden, run and stay away.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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Sweet day for justice

2018-03-18 06:03

Sweet day for justice

2018-03-18 06:03

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