AMITIAE - Wednesday 21 August 2013

Cassandra: The Sentencing of Bradley Manning and the Future of Edward Snowden

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By Graham K. Rogers


Be it thy course to busy their giddy minds
With foreign quarrels, that action hence borne out
May waste the memory of the former days.

Shakespeare: Henry 4, Part II

There is no room for the whistleblower in society. This not because we do not need whistleblowers to keep powerful people in check, but that the authorities take such a dim view of being found out that they will hound these true heroes until prison or death are the only options; but there is ample room for the whistleblower in history.

Without doubt, Edward Snowden has been under a tremendous amount of strain in the last few weeks, and events this week may have added to the problems he was facing. With the partner of Glen Greenwald stopped illegally at Heathrow as a form of intimidation, the petty destruction of hard drives at the Guardian (the data exists elsewhere of course, so this was nothing more than the Prime Minister being petty) and now the sentencing of Bradley Manning to 35 years, those who report on wrongdoing by governments are usually on the losing side.

It may have been naive or idealistic of Snowden to think - with the pre-trial incarceration of Manning and the hounding of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, to the extent that he had to take refuge in an embassy in London - that he would be treated as some form of hero. Right or wrong is not in the equation. And yet, despite the treatment of Manning, Snowden contacted Greenwald and set the ball rolling. Whistleblowers will continue to come forward as Manning himself did after the earlier example of Daniel Ellsberg.

The winners in these situations, however, are those who already have power, or who have the right connections. While some may debate the legality or morality of going to war with Iraq, acts of torture that took place under the guise of the so-called War against Terrorism - a convenient title that it is difficult to form any argument against. Those acts that were committed during that time, and were justified because of it (especially torture) remain unpunished.

It was too easy for tame lawyers to redefine laws (and words) to make the case that torture was not really torture and was justifiable in the circumstances, but little if any real information came from those sessions, apart from the recognition that it was easier to redefine the laws - and the US Constitution - than had been realised. So they did it again. And again.

Legal processes are being thrown out with the thin justification that peoples must be protected. What occurs instead is that a culture of fear from within now exists, while the programs that the politicians and security agencies try to justify have not been at all effective. If they had been, the Boston Marathon bombings would not have happened.

The end result is that as more and more data of ordinary people is gathered up with the excuses of porn, crime, terror, a massive loss of freedom has occurred and the countries that were beacons of freedom are now little better than the Nazis or Stalin. As with those regimes, people learn self-censorship and trust the authorities less and less.

But so few tell their elected officials that it is time to stop.

Although I am not a US citizen I watched the election of Barack Obama with much interest, thinking that here was a chance. Idealistically I thought that this was a new voice - a voice that could represent the oppressed - now in the position of President. I am disappointed. While he faced tremendous opposition from the elected Houses in his first term, he seemed to fold (not compromise - there is a difference) on so many issues. And now in his second term, he has become the pawn of the established bureaucracies, like so many before him.

Obama is not alone. In the UK for example, the Tory party were fiercely against the attempt by the previous (Labour) government to introduce legislation that would allow monitoring of all internet traffic. They were against it until they became the party in power, and then they were just as fiercely for it.

Dick Cheney, George Bush, and others may well have committed war crimes, but they remain unquestioned. Assange is on the run, Snowden hides in Moscow and Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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