The Difference Between Tyranny and Freedom

After Julian Assange in 2010, Thomas Drake and Jesselyn Radack in 2011, and Edward Snowden last year, Chelsea Manning has received the 2014 Sam Adams Award, not named after the 18th century Founding Father but CIA whistle-blower during the Vietnam War, Samuel A. Adams. The award is conferred to “reward intelligence officials who demonstrated a commitment to truth and integrity, no matter the consequences,” by the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, a group of retired CIA officers around former CIA officer and political activist Ray McGovern.

While Chelsea’s award is in fact overdue (why did she get it years after her massive leaks of documents to WikiLeaks in 2010?), her acceptance statement is worth to be read very carefully. Manning compares her case, when she was accused by the American Executive for “aiding the enemy” (a charge of which she was acquitted in her court martial), with that of Anwar al-Awlaki, the possibly militant hate preacher, al-Qaeda affiliate and, yes, American citizen who had been ordered to be killed by President Obama without due process or even attempt to get hold of him alive, and had actually been killed in a drone attack on 30 September 2011 (his 16-yr-old son, an American citizen too, was killed in another drone strike two weeks later; see an open letter by his grandfather here).

Manning explains,

“In a recent Freedom of Information Act case […] a federal district court judge ruled against the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Times and the ACLU argued that documents regarding the practice of ‘targeted killing’ of American citizens, such as the radical Sunni cleric Anwar Nasser al-Aulaqi were in the public’s interest and were being withheld improperly.

The government first refused to acknowledge the existence of the documents, but later argued that their release could harm national security and were therefore exempt from disclosure. The court, however, felt constrained by the law and ‘conclud[ed] that the Government [had] not violated the FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and [could not] be compelled . . . to explain in detail the reasons why [the Government’s] actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States.’

However, the judge also wrote candidly about her frustration with her sense that the request ‘implicate[d] serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States,’ and that the Presidential ‘Administration ha[d] engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of [American] citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways.’ In other words, it wasn’t that she didn’t think that the public didn’t have a right to know – it was that she didn’t feel that she had the ‘legal’ authority to compel disclosure.”

Then she asks a troubling question (admitting that she received due process and a fair sentence before a military judge),

“[D]id the American government, and particularly the same President and Department, have the power to unilaterally determine my guilt of such an offense, and execute me at the will of the pilot of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle?”

One intuitively recalls Obama’s irresponsible verdict “He broke the law” in an unwittingly recorded private conversation after a fundraiser speech in April 2011, months before Chelsea’s trial would have commenced, see the video here. Given the fact that Amnesty International had heavily criticized inhumane conditions under which Chelsea Manning was detained at that time in the Marine Corps in Quantico, VA, her question is in fact chilling. And what about the above mentioned Samuel A. Adams awardees Assange and Snowden? What about Glenn Greenwald? The so-called Global War on Terror has turned, it seems so, into a war against an emerging new and “fearless, adversarial journalism”.

Once Obama had crossed the red line by establishing his “disposition matrix” which is meant to identify those foreign hostile combattants (“terrorists”) to be assassinated by unmanned drones but which includes unlawful killing of American citizens as well, despotism is a logic consequence. The shocking confession of being “good at killing people” is something the Peace Nobel Prize laureate of 2009 had better avoided. The whole enterprise can only result in a disaster. Neither American paranoia nor imperial hubris can justify becoming a murderer and tyrant.

The often quoted Founding Fathers had been aware of temptations by those in power. Chelsea Manning, in accepting the Award, concludes,

“When the public lacks the ability to access what its government is doing, it ceases to be involved in the governing process. There is a distinct difference between citizens, in which people are entitled to rights and privileges protected by and from the state, and subjects, in which people are placed under the absolute authority and control of the state. In essence, this is the difference between tyranny and freedom. To echo a maxim from Milton and Foes Friedman: a society that puts secrecy – in the sense of state secrecy – ahead of transparency and accountability will end up neither secure nor free.”

22 February 2014 @ 3:07 pm.
Last modified February 22, 2014.
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