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A July 4th reminder: Edward Snowden, like Bradley

July 4, 2013

A July 4th reminder: Edward Snowden, like Bradley Manning is a whistleblower. Both are heroes, exposing information the public needs to know. Although critics (and in the case of Manning prosecutors) of both men claim some of the information released caused harm beyond exposure and embarrassment of people in power, no one has been able to document any such harm.

Showing the ability of opponents of our civil liberties to maintain two contradictory arguments at the same time, many of those arguing that these two men have done great harm also claim that the information they revealed is of no significance. The truly savvy, some argue, already knew everything that Snowden and Manning revealed. The truth is most whistle blower reveal information that is widely known, but officially denied. At the time the Pentagon papers were published, it was clear to anyone paying attention that South Vietnam was an artificial State propped by the United States, with no popular support in any region of Vietnam. But that fact was dismissed as crazy ranting in “respectable” public forums such as the NY Times – at least in the United States. The publication of the Pentagon papers moved that fact out of a limbo where it was known, but not discussed where the public might overhear. The Pentagon papers did reveal very important details that were not already known. But, the the key gain it accomplished was to move obvious facts out of the realm where they could be sneered away.

Manning and Snowden have performed a similar service. They have, of course revealed important details that were not previously known. But their key contribution to the public good was to provide evidence of information that has been widely discussed in alternative media, that can be easily deduced from publicly available information and provide evidence that even “respectable” outlets could no longer ignore or try to sneer away. Manning made it impossible to ignore the routine use of murder and torture by the US government outside its borders. Snowden made it impossible to ignore the routine privacy violations both inside and outside US borders by the United States government. Anyone who dismisses this as unimportant does not understand the role of open secrets in repressive regimes. Facts that everybody knows, but that “respectable” discourse denies are a critical to maintaining elites in power. It is a form of soft power that reinforces hard power.

So what Manning and Snowden revealed are important. As I have said many times before, I consider the the attempts to smear them Howler Monkey politics. Throw your own excrement at the messengers delivering bad news, and hope enough sticks that the stink cause people to ignore the message. It is not a means of discourse decent people  use. However since, the shit-throwing continues, I will take a moment to say that Manning and Snowden have performed a heroic service, and in spite of all the smears are heroes.

It is a disgrace that Bradley Manning is being tried rather than treated as a hero and even more disgraceful that he was subjected to years of torture before trial. It is a further disgrace that he is not even being given a fair trial, that he is being tried in part on hearsay evidence, and upon evidence that he is not allowed to see and refute, and that his lawyers are not allowed to make key arguments in his favor. It is also a disgrace that while the prosecution makes selective leaks to damage his name, he his prevented for the most part from replying and arguing in the same court of public opinion where he is being attacked.

It is no wonder that Snowden chose to flee rather than subject himself to this. I urge, with no hope it will be listened to, that our leaders cease to pursue Snowed. I also urge, with a bit more hope, that Evo Morales and other leaders of nations that claim to be independent of the USA, issue travel documents to Edward Snowden so that he can reach a country where he can apply for political asylum.

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