This past week, we learned that the IRS has targeted for additional scrutiny the tax exemption applications of groups with whose messages it disagrees. We also learned that the Department of Justice obtained the personal telephone records of hundreds of reporters and editors employed by the Associated Press without a search warrant issued by a judge. And during this past week we learned that the White House, the Department of State and the CIA all engaged in a conspiracy of disinformation so that the official version of events of what caused the murders of four Americans at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, would not impair Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. The common threads in all of this government secrecy and lying are a general rejection of government’s moral obligation to tell the truth, a disturbing yet brazen willingness to evade and avoid the restrictions the Constitution has deliberately built around government, and a glib admission that the government can do as it pleases so long as it can politically get away with it.
This past week, we learned that the IRS has targeted for additional scrutiny the tax exemption applications of groups with whose messages it disagrees. We also learned that the Department of Justice obtained the personal telephone records of hundreds of reporters and editors employed by the Associated Press without a search warrant issued by a judge. And during this past week we learned that the White House, the Department of State and the CIA all engaged in a conspiracy of disinformation so that the official version of events of what caused the murders of four Americans at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, would not impair Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.
The common threads in all of this government secrecy and lying are a general rejection of government’s moral obligation to tell the truth, a disturbing yet brazen willingness to evade and avoid the restrictions the Constitution has deliberately built around government, and a glib admission that the government can do as it pleases so long as it can politically get away with it.
The key point is that the last bit is always the truth: “the government can do as it pleases so long as it can politically get away with it.” Words on parchment can never restrain those who thirst for ever more power, nor hold them to any moral obligation whatsoever. Agents and cronies of the state only get away with what the acquiescent masses allow them to.
[I]t is remarkable how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as “cruel and inhuman”.
But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration’s true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as “regular Americans”. Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman - once the most vocal defender of Bush’s vast warrantless eavesdropping programs - suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.
Leave to the side how morally grotesque it is to oppose rights assaults only when they affect you. The pragmatic point is that it is vital to oppose such assaults in the first instance no matter who is targeted because such assaults, when unopposed, become institutionalized. Once that happens, they are impossible to stop when - as inevitably occurs - they expand beyond the group originally targeted. We should have been seeing this type of media outrage over the last four years as the Obama administration targeted non-media groups with these kinds of abuses (to say nothing of the conduct of the Bush administration before that). It shouldn’t take an attack on media outlets for them to start caring this much.
New Evidence That Obama Administration is Deliberately Misleading Americans About Drone War in Pakistan →
To justify frequent drone strikes that regularly kill innocent people, risk serving as a terrorist recruiting tool, and terrorize whole communities understandably averse to drones buzzing above their homes, Obama Administration officials give the impression that al-Qaeda terrorists are the main targets. As it turns out, they haven’t just helped hide the fact that the Bush Administration kicked off America’s drone campaign in Pakistan by killing someone at the request of Pakistan’s government — as Jonathan S. Landay explains, Obama officials have misled us about their own behavior. “Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified ‘other’ militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show,” he reports. …
In fact, the documents “show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing.” Under what legal theory does the Obama Administration justify that behavior? It won’t tell us.
Instead John Brennan is trotted out to mislead us while acting as if he is being admirably forthcoming. “On April 30, 2012, Brennan gave the most detailed explanation of Obama’s drone program. He referred to al Qaida 73 times, the Afghan Taliban three times and mentioned no other group by name,” Landay writes. But the classified documents McClatchy reviewed demonstrate that, during the months about which they have information, al-Qaeda members were a minority of people killed by drones, and killing senior al-Qaeda leaders was rare. …
There has long been evidence indicating the Obama Administration was misleading the country about the nature of its drone war in Pakistan. This latest report only confirms the suspicions that critics of the program have articulated. And there is reason to believe that even it understates the magnitude of executive branch deception. Says Marcy Wheeler, “This report is perhaps most interesting for the fact that CIA, in its own documents, claims that none of the 40-some people killed at Datta Khel on May 17, 2011 were civilians. In other words, the CIA is lying — even internally — about drone strikes as blatantly as it did about torture.” …
The appropriate response when a president is caught misleading the country about a war he’s waging is more scrutiny. There’s no telling what else the Obama Administration is hiding.
Manning is absolutely right when he said today that the documents he leaked “are some of the most significant documents of our time”. They revealed a multitude of previously secret crimes and acts of deceit and corruption by the world’s most powerful factions. Journalists and evensome government officials have repeatedly concluded that any actual national security harm from his leaks is minimal if it exists at all. To this day, the documents Manning just admitted having leaked play a prominent role in the ability of journalists around the world to inform their readers about vital events. The leaks led to all sorts of journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Without question, Manning’s leaks produced more significant international news scoops in 2010 than those of every media outlet on the planet combined.
This was all achieved because a then-22-year-old Army Private knowingly risked his liberty in order to inform the world about what he learned. He endured treatment which the top UN torture investigator deemed ”cruel and inhuman”, and he now faces decades in prison if not life. He knew exactly what he was risking, what he was likely subjecting himself to. But he made the choice to do it anyway because of the good he believed he could achieve, because of the evil that he believed needed urgently to be exposed and combated, and because of his conviction that only leaks enable the public to learn the truth about the bad acts their governments are doing in secret.
Heroism is a slippery and ambiguous concept. But whatever it means, it is embodied by Bradley Manning and the acts which he unflinchingly acknowledged today he chose to undertake. The combination of extreme government secrecy, a supine media (see the prior two columns), and a disgracefully subservient judiciary means that the only way we really learn about what our government does is when the Daniel Ellsbergs - and Bradley Mannings - of the world risk their own personal interest and liberty to alert us. Daniel Ellberg is now widely viewed as heroic and noble, and Bradley Manning (as Ellsberg himself has repeatedly said) merits that praise and gratitude every bit as much.
There is no way to become a Julian Assange in Cuba and stay alive, believe me.
What the US wants, the US gets from its allies - regardless of if it’s legal or if it’s ethical or in breach of human or legal rights.
— Christine Assange, Julian Assange’s mother claiming that the United States are behind the British threats to Ecuador’s embassy (where Assange has been granted asylum).
If you go to the village of Al-Majalah in Yemen, where I was, and you see the unexploded clusterbombs and you have the list and photographic evidence, as I do—the women and children that represented the vast majority of the deaths in this first strike that Obama authorized on Yemen—those people were murdered by President Obama, on his orders, because there was believed to be someone from Al Qaeda in that area. There’s only one person that’s been identified that had any connection to Al Qaeda there. And 21 women and 14 children were killed in that strike and the U.S. tried to cover it up, and say it was a Yemeni strike, and we know from the Wikileaks cables that David Petraeus conspired with the president of Yemen to lie to the world about who did that bombing. It’s murder—it’s mass murder—when you say, ‘We are going to bomb this area’ because we believe a terrorist is there, and you know that women and children are in the area. The United States has an obligation to not bomb that area if they believe that women and children are there. I’m sorry, that’s murder.
A federal judge has estimated that at least 30,000 secret electronic surveillance orders are made every year in the US, and those who are found to be innocent will probably never know that they’ve been the target of such snooping.
This is all accomplished by characterizing disclosures in American newspapers about America’s wrongdoing as “aiding the enemy” (the alleged enemy being informed is Al Qaeda, but the actual concern is that the American people learn what their government is doing). As The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage wrote this morning, Obama has brought “more such cases than all previous presidents combined,” and by doing so, has won the admiration of the CIA and other intelligence agencies which, above all else, loathe transparency (which happens to be the value that Obama vowed to provide more of than any President in history).
There’s so much I’d love to say about this but I don’t want to sound even a little bit like a conspiracy theorist, so let’s just see where this goes.
I highly recommend clicking above to read Greenwald’s three cases, but here’s the takeaway:
The Rules of American Justice are quite clear:
(1) If you are a high-ranking government official who commits war crimes, you will receive full-scale immunity, both civil and criminal, and will have the American President demand that all citizens Look Forward, Not Backward.
(2) If you are a low-ranking member of the military, you will receive relatively trivial punishments in order to protect higher-ranking officials and cast the appearance of accountability.
(3) If you are a victim of American war crimes, you are a non-person with no legal rights or even any entitlement to see the inside of a courtroom.
(4) If you talk publicly about any of these war crimes, you have committed the Gravest Crime — you are guilty of espionage – and will have the full weight of the American criminal justice system come crashing down upon you. …
It’s long past time to rip those blindfolds off of the Lady Justice statues. When the purpose of American justice is to shield those with the greatest power who commit the most egregious crimes, while severely punishing those who talk publicly about those crimes, it’s hard to imagine how it can get much more degraded or corrupted than that.
For three reasons, AP’s findings [that accusations about the damage done by WikiLeaks’ latest release are — yet again — wildly overstated and without any factual basis] are anything but surprising.
First, that the U.S. Government declares something Very Secret hardly means it is; this is a secrecy-obsessed government that reflexively declares even the most banal matters to be “sensitive” and off-limits to the public, as proven by the release of hundreds of thousands of “secret” documents that reveal nothing.
Second, there is an established history of extremely exaggerated government and media claims about the harm done by WikiLeaks releases; that’s why, when examining the events last week that prompted the release of the unredacted cables, I wrote: ”Serious caution is warranted in making claims about the damage caused by publication of these cables.”
Third, and most important for present purposes, this is what the U.S. government and its media-servants do; it’s their modus operandi. Whomever the government wants to demonize at any given moment is subjected to this same process. On a moment’s notice, the full propaganda system is activated against the New Enemy, indiscriminate accusations are unleashed, personal foibles are exposed, collective hatred among all Decent People is mandated, and it then instantly becomes heretical to question the caricature of evil that has been manufactured.
That’s how dictators and other assorted miscreants with whom the U.S. was tightly allied for years or even decades are overnight converted into The Root of All Evil, The Supreme Villain who Must be Vanquished (Saddam, Osama bin Laden, Gadaffi, Mubarak). Americans who were perfectly content to have their government in bed with these individuals suddenly stand up and demand, on cue, that no expense be spared to eradicate them. Often, the demonization campaign contains some truth — the nation’s long-time-friends-converted-overnight-into-Enemies really have committed atrocious acts or, as a new innovation of Nixonian tactics aimed at Daniel Ellsberg, even harbored some creepy porn (!) — but the ritual of collective hatred renders any facts a mere accident. Once everyone’s contempt is successfully directed toward the Chosen Enemy, it matters little what they actually did or did not do: such a profound menace are they to all that is Good that exaggerations or even lies about their bad acts are ennobled, in service of a Good Cause; conversely, to question the demonization or object to what is done to them is, by definition, to side with Evil.
Directing all this passionate hatred toward the state’s identified Enemy and their Evil Acts has an added benefit: the resulting mass contempt, by design, distracts all attention away from of the evil committed by those stirring that passion. Thus do we all stomp our feet in righteous fury over the potential, speculative harm caused by WikiLeaks while steadfastly ignoring the actual, massive death and destruction on the part of our own leaders which WikiLeaks reveals…
- At great personal cost, Bradley Manning has given our foreign policy elite the public supervision it so badly needs.
- Knowledge is powerful. The WikiLeaks disclosures have helped spark democratic revolutions and reforms across the Middle East, accomplishing what Operation Iraqi Freedom never could.
- Bradley Manning has exposed the pathological over-classification of America’s public documents.
- … Bradley Manning has upheld a great American tradition of transparency in statecraft and for that he should be an American hero, not an American felon.
From Obama’s campaign website:
“We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.”
Also part of his ‘change’ agenda (still available on the website):
“Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.”
“The Last Nail” by Ron Paul
Is the Libyan war legal? Was bin Laden’s killing legal? Is it legal for the president of the United States to target an American citizen for assassination? Were those “enhanced interrogation techniques” legal? These are all questions raised in recent weeks. Each seems to call out for debate, for answers. Or does it?…
[I]f, in a country theoretically organized under the rule of law, wrongdoers are never brought to justice and nobody is held accountable for possibly serious crimes, then you don’t have to be a constitutional law professor to know that its citizens actually exist in a post-legal state. If so, “Is it legal?” is the wrong question to be asking, even if we have yet to discover the right one.
Of course, when it came to a range of potential Bush-era crimes—the use of torture, the running of offshore “black sites,” the extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects to lands where they would be tortured, illegal domestic spying and wiretapping, and the launching of wars of aggression—it’s hardly news that no one of the slightest significance has ever been brought to justice. On taking office, President Obama offered a clear formula for dealing with this issue. He insisted that Americans should “look forward, not backward” and turn the page on the whole period, and then set his Justice Department to work on other matters. But honestly, did anyone anywhere ever doubt that no Bush-era official would be brought to trial here for such potential crimes? …
Nothing better illustrates the nature of our post-legal society: Anti-torture laws were on the books in this country. If legality had truly mattered, it would have been beside the point whether torture was an effective way to produce “actionable intelligence” and so prepare the way for the killing of a bin Laden.
By analogy, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that robbing banks can be a successful and profitable way to make a living, but who would agree that a successful bank robber hadn’t committed an act as worthy of prosecution as an unsuccessful one caught on the spot? Efficacy wouldn’t matter in a society whose central value was the rule of law. In a post-legal society in which the ultimate value espoused is the safety and protection a national security state can offer you, it means the world. …
When it comes to acts of state today, there is only one law: don’t pull up the curtain on the doings of any aspect of our spreading National Security Complex or the imperial executive that goes with it. …
And when someone in Congress actually moves to preserve some aspect of older notions of American privacy (versus American secrecy), as Sen. Rand Paul did recently in reference to the PATRIOT Act, he is promptly smeared as potentially “giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected.”…
Here is the reality of post-legal America: since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the National Security Complex has engorged itself on American fears and grown at a remarkable pace. According to Top Secret America, a Washington Post series written in mid-2010, 854,000 people have “top secret” security clearances, “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001 … 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks … [and] some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.” …
Consider what it means to have a U.S. Intelligence Community (as it likes to call itself) made up of 17 different agencies and organizations, a total that doesn’t even include all the smaller intelligence offices in the National Security Complex, which for almost 10 years proved incapable of locating its global enemy number one. Yet, as everyone now agrees, that man was living in something like plain sight, exchanging messages with and seeing colleagues in a military and resort town near Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. And what does it mean that, when he was finally killed, it was celebrated as a vast intelligence victory?
The Intelligence Community with its $80 billion-plus budget, the National Security Complex, including the Pentagon and that post-9/11 creation, the Department of Homeland Security, with its $1.2 trillion-plus budget, and the imperial executive have thrived in these years. They have all expanded their powers and prerogatives based largely on the claim that they are protecting the American people from potential harm from terrorists out to destroy our world.
Above all, however, they seem to have honed a single skill: the ability to protect themselves, as well as the lobbyists and corporate entities that feed off them. They have increased their funds and powers, even as they enveloped their institutions in a penumbra of secrecy. The power of this complex of institutions is still on the rise, even as the power and wealth of the country it protects is visibly in decline. …
So, democracy? The people’s representatives? How quaint in a world in which our real rulers are unelected, shielded by secrecy, and supported by a carefully nurtured, almost religious attitude toward security and the U.S. military. …
Theoretically, the National Security Complex exists only to protect you. Its every act is done in the name of making you safer, even if the idea of safety and protection doesn’t extend to your job, your foreclosed home, or aid in disastrous times.
Welcome to post-legal America. It’s time to stop wondering whether its acts are illegal and start asking: Do you really want to be this “safe”?