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Supreme Court Likely to Endorse Obama’s War on Whistle-Blowers
Posted on Mar 12, 2012
By Chris Hedges
This revised version of the column published earlier this week clarifies some facts related to the history of the Espionage Act. Several sentences in the original article have been changed or deleted. The act had been used against whistle-blowers only three times before President Obama took office but many times in other espionage cases.
Totalitarian systems disempower an unsuspecting population by gradually making legal what was once illegal. They incrementally corrupt and distort law to exclusively serve the goals of the inner sanctums of power and strip protection from the citizen. Law soon becomes the primary tool to advance the crimes of the elite and punish those who tell the truth. The state saturates the airwaves with official propaganda to replace news. Fear, and finally terror, creates an intellectual and moral void.
We have very little space left to maneuver. The iron doors of the corporate state are slamming shut. And a conviction of Bradley Manning, or any of the five others charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act of 1917 with passing government secrets to the press, would effectively terminate public knowledge of the internal workings of the corporate state. What we live under cannot be called democracy. What we will live under if the Supreme Court upholds the use of the Espionage Act to punish those who expose war crimes and state lies will be a species of corporate fascism. And this closed society is, perhaps, only a few weeks or months away.
Few other Americans are as acutely aware of our descent into corporate totalitarianism as Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to The New York Times and is one of Manning’s most ardent and vocal defenders. Ellsberg, who was charged under the Espionage Act, faced 12 felony counts and a possible sentence of 115 years. He says that if he provided the Pentagon Papers today to news organizations, he would most likely never see his case dismissed on grounds of government misconduct against him as it was in 1973. The government tactics employed to discredit Ellsberg, which included burglarizing his psychoanalyst’s office and illegal wiretaps, were subjects of the impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon. But that was then.
“Everything that Richard Nixon did to me, for which he faced impeachment and prosecution, which led to his resignation, is now legal under the Patriot Act, the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] amendment act, the National Defense Authorization Act,” Ellsberg told me late Friday afternoon when we met in Princeton, N.J.
Manning, whose trial is likely to begin in early August, is being held in a medium-security facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He allegedly gave WikiLeaks more than 700,000 documents and video clips. One clip showed the 2007 Apache helicopter attack in which U.S. military personnel killed more than a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. Manning faces 22 charges under the Espionage Act, including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, theft of public property or records, transmitting defense information, and fraud and related activity in connection with computers. If he is found guilty he could spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Juan Ernesto Mendez, the U.N. torture rapporteur, has described Manning’s treatment by the U.S. government as “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” especially “the excessive and prolonged isolation he was put in during the eight months he was in Quantico.”
The Espionage Act was used only three times for leaks before President Barack Obama took office. Ellsberg’s case was dismissed.
Obama, who serves the interests of the surveillance and security state with even more fervor than did George W. Bush, has used the Espionage Act to charge suspected leakers six times. The latest alleged leaker to be charged by the Obama administration under the act is John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information to journalists about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaida suspect. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which published the cables and video clips allegedly provided by Manning, is expected to be the seventh charged in a leak case under the act.
The Supreme Court has yet to hear a leak case involving the Espionage Act. But one of these six cases will probably soon reach the court. If it, as expected, rules that the government is permitted to use the Espionage Act against whistle-blowers, the United States will have a de facto official secrets act. A ruling in favor of the government would instantly criminalize all disclosures of classified information to the public. It would shut down one of the most important functions of the press. And at that point any challenges to the official versions of events would dry up.
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