Thursday, June 13, 2013

Edward Snowden's act of sacrifice

Indeed, on hearing about Snowden's revelations of NSA domestic spying on US citizens I went on quickly to conclude that there is another hero and a revival of American spirit of freedom is possible and maybe even imminent. But then I hear about the belittling of his person and motives by the likes of Thomas Friedmann and David Brooks as reported on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. Snowden is also coolly treated by legal scholar (and Obama's academic boss at the University of Chicago) Geoffrey Stone who very strongly argues that he is simply a law breaker and as such would not be tolerated by any government.

On the program of June 12 Chris Hedges, however, argues passionately, that lawbreakers such as Snowden may be heros as they expose other larger crimes committed behind the cover of the law. He speaks in defense of the "act of conscience" and about Snowden and "people who, within systems of power, have a conscience to expose activities by the power elite which are criminal in origin or unconstitutional. And that’s precisely what he did." In response to Stone he says: "When you have a system by which criminals are in power, criminals on Wall Street who are able to carry out massive fraud with no kinds of repercussions or serious regulation or investigation, criminals who torture in our black sites, criminals who carry out targeted assassinations, criminals who lie to the American public to prosecute preemptive war, which under international law is illegal, if you are a strict legalist, as apparently Professor Stone is, what you’re in essence doing is protecting criminal activity. I would argue that in large sections of our government it’s the criminals who are in power."

On the program of June 13, Christopher Pyle, a former whistleblower who exposed illegal government spying on US citizens in the late 60's, argues again in favor of Snowden's actions. Pyle says that Congress has lost the power of oversight because of the terrific degree of dependency on corporate sponsorship of their political office and because of the legal bind in which the secrecy of the object of oversight. Pyle: "Members of Congress do not go to those briefings (on security agencies), even if they’re offered, because once you go to the briefing, then you can’t talk about what you’ve been told, because it’s classified. So the briefing system is designed to silence Congress, not to promote effective oversight." Further: "Members of Congress don’t want to spend time on oversight. They’re too busy raising money. New members of the House of Representatives this winter were told by the Democratic Campaign Committee that they should spend between four and six hours a day dialing for dollars. They have no time to do the public’s business. They’re too busy begging for money. President Obama himself attended 220 fundraisers last year." And he describes the situation of fascist merger between private business and government: "the reason that private contractors get this business is because members of Congress intercede with them with government agencies. And we now have a situation where members of the Intelligence Committee and other committees of Congress intercede with the bureaucracy to get sweetheart contracts for companies that waste taxpayers’ money and also violate the Constitution and the privacy of citizens. This is a very serious situation, because it means that it’s much more difficult to get effective oversight from Congress."

So we have a very serious situation in this country. The government has excused itself from justifying its secret actions ostensibly taken to protect the Constitution. Citizens trying to force the US government to show the legal basis of its actions and would be met with persecution in the name of the law: Espionage Act, etc. The government acts behind the veil of secrecy with legal impunity while the citizenry is to exposed to indiscriminate spying and subject to prosecution. How do we make sure that the government is not exceeding its prerogatives? We can't. Furthermore, we can be sure that it is exceeding its constitutional prerogatives because it is in the grip of corporate, economic influence.

What about Edward Snowden, the low-level employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a private entity entrusted with the mission of spying on us. He shows us the difference between what is right and what is legal. Sometimes what is legally called for is not right and the law needs to be broken because it is immoral and unjust. It would be better if we just change the law but first those who will reveal the injustice will be sacrificed. It is not the first time.

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