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Shooting the Messenger

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Posted on Dec 8, 2013
AP/Kin Cheung

A supporter holds a picture of Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret information about U.S. surveillance programs, outside the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong on June 13, 2013.

By Chris Hedges

There is a deeply misguided attempt to sacrifice Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond on the altar of the security and surveillance state to justify the leaks made by Edward Snowden. It is argued that Snowden, in exposing the National Security Agency’s global spying operation, judiciously and carefully leaked his information through the media, whereas WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond provided troves of raw material to the public with no editing and little redaction and assessment. Thus, Snowden is somehow legitimate while WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond are not.

“I have never understood it,” said Michael Ratner, who is the U.S. lawyer for WikiLeaks and Assange and who I spoke with Saturday in New York City. “Why is Snowden looked at by some as the white hat while Manning, Hammond, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange as black hats? One explanation is that much of the mainstream media has tried to pin a dumping charge on the latter group, as if somehow giving the public and journalists open access to the raw documents is irresponsible and not journalism. It sounds to me like the so-called Fourth Estate protecting its jobs and ‘legitimacy.’ There is a need for both. All of us should see the raw documents. We also need journalists to write about them. Raw documents open to the world give journalists in other countries the chance to examine them in their own context and write from their perspectives. We are still seeing many stories based on the WikiLeaks documents. We should not have it any other way. Perhaps another factor may be that Snowden’s revelations concern the surveillance of us. The WikiLeaks/Assange/Manning disclosures tell us more about our war crimes against others. And many Americans do not seem to care about that.”

The charge that the WikiLeaks dump was somehow more damaging to the security and surveillance state because it was unedited, however, is false. Snowden’s revelations to the journalist Glenn Greenwald, which are ongoing, have been far more devastating to the security apparatus than the material provided by Manning. Among the four larger data sets released by Manning—collectively 735,614 documents—only 223 documents were charged against the Army private first class under “reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation,” as stated in the Espionage Act. Specifically there were 116 diplomatic cables, 102 Army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, and five Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, as the journalist Alexa O’Brien has reported.

As O’Brien points out, many of the individual documents that resulted in charges have not been identified and those that have been are turning out to be very, very benign. For example, the government prosecuted the soldier, then known as Bradley Manning, for three detainee assessment briefs from Guantanamo Bay that were nothing more than profiles of the “Tipton 3,” British citizens who were held for years without trial or charges before finally being released. The information Manning made public was not top secret. There was much in the WikiLeaks release that was already public or unclassified. All the leaked material had been widely circulated to at least half a million military and government officials as well as private contractors. It had no serious impact on U.S. operations at home or abroad. Even then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, admitted that a Department of Defense review of the leaked Manning documents had “not revealed any sensitive intelligence source and methods.” But what the leaks did do was expose the deep cynicism of U.S. policy, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the plethora of government lies about what was happening under U.S. occupation. The WikiLeaks material documented several important war crimes that the government had covered up. Manning wrote, correctly, in a letter last October to The Guardian newspaper: ” ... [T]he public cannot decide what actions and policies are or are not justified if they don’t even know the most rudimentary details about them and their effects.”

Manning, whose material was published by WikiLeaks as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in his court-martial at Fort Meade, Md., on 22 charges, including espionage, exceeding authorized access, stealing U.S. government property and wanton publication.

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