Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.
August 8, 2013
On Native Ground

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DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- While Bradley Manning contemplates the probability of a lifetime in military prison, and Edward Snowden gets a year in Russia to contemplate which nation unafraid of the bullying of the United States will grant him asylum, let us salute how these two whistleblowers changed the course of U.S. foreign policy for the good and forever.

Consider that 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats in the House recently came together for one brief moment to vote to defund the National Security Agency's telephone data collection program.

They were seven votes short, but another bill is in the works to rein in the NSA.

That probably wouldn't have happened had we not learned that the NSA and the FBI had been given carte blanche to secretly spy on Americans, thanks to an expansive interpretation of the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Has the reflexive deference to official authority instituted after the Sept. 11 attacks starting to weaken? Snowden's revelations certainly have helped.

Then there's the data Manning released.

At his trial, Manning said he "believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained {in the leaks], it could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan."

And he did. By ripping the official mask off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and exposing war crimes, he not changed the course of U.S. foreign policy. He has changed the course of history.

The Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 might not have happened without Manning's revelations about the extent of U.S. support for the corrupt dictatorships in those nations.

We would not have learned about the extent of the secret U.S. drone war in Yemen, information that helped lead to the overthrow of dictator Ali Abdallah Selah in 2012.

We would not have learned about the overwhelming corruption of the Afghan government, the U.S. spying campaign against United Nations diplomats, or the extent of official U.S. policy to ignore torture in Iraq.

And the now-infamous "collateral murder" video, where a pair of U.S. helicopter gunships blithely fired upon unarmed Iraqi civilians and Reuters photographers, which probably did more than anything to convince the Iraqis to tell the U.S. to end its occupation and withdraw.

What Snowden and Manning have done is in keeping with the critically important principle that a properly functioning democracy requires that citizens receive truthful information about what their government is doing in their names.

That's why the people willing to risk everything to expose official wrongdoing deserve legal protection.

The information that Manning and Snowden revealed prompted the kind of public debate that healthy democracies have. But that can only happen if whistleblowers can expose illegal activities without reprisals.

That Manning was acquitted of the charge of aiding the enemy was important. With that action, the military court hearing his case confirmed that Manning is a whistleblower, not a traitor. Unfortunately, the guilty verdicts on the other charges could put Manning in jail for the rest of his life.

But remember that the law that Manning was charged with violating, the Espionage Act of 1917, had little to do with spying and everything to do with quelling public dissent to an unpopular war.

The Wilson Administration proposed the act 16 months before the U.S. entered the World War I. Why? Because popular opinion needed to be mobilized in favor of war, so making dissent illegal served the dual purpose of silencing critics while whipping up the kind of fear and uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with a nation going to war.

Manning and Snowden weren't spying. They didn't slip secrets to a so-called enemy. What they did was smash the walls of secrecy erected around illegal acts that were being committed in our names. And that act is something that those in authority will not tolerate.

That's why Manning is looking at life in prison, a fate that Snowden will likely face if the U.S. government ever gets its hands on him, while the men and women who planned the wars and committed illegal acts remain free.

The crackdown by the Obama Administration against whistleblowing is a direct threat to our freedom. In America, you don't need a license to be a journalist. You don't need a government seal of approval. The First Amendment gives every American the right to gather and disseminate news and information, and this is a principle that's non-negotiable if we are to remain a free nation.

In a time of perpetual war abroad and perpetual assaults on our civil liberties at home, we need more Snowdens and Mannings. We need more Glenn Greenwalds and Jullian Assanges. We need more people willing to stand up for the First Amendment and its guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.

Their fight is our fight. In the struggle against those who equate journalism with espionage, and dissent with disloyalty, we must not fail.

AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

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