I spoke to her at a public event in Sydney about her coverage of the Chelsea Manning trial, dissent in America, Barack Obama’s war on whistle-blowers and threats to democracy. The video was recorded by Cathy Vogan:
Last night at the Sydney Opera House I witnessed a truly unique event. 1.5 hour discussion with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, indy reporter and key documenter of the Chelsea Manning trial Alexa O’Brien (with whom I did an event tonight on Manning and dissent), Manning lawyer David Coombs, academic Robert Manne and moderator Crikey’s Bernard Keane.
They discussed mass surveillance, Edward Snowden and why dissent is so vital in an age of ever-growing government and corporate intrusion:
My following column appears in the Guardian today:
Treating voters with contempt is the perfect way for the left to guarantee itself permanent exile from the political scene.
On election night, Melbourne writer Catherine Deveny tweeted: “This is win for racists, morons, homophobes, fuckheads, jumped up bogans, misogynists, billionaires, haters, comedians.” Such sentiments might momentarily make you feel good and superior to your fellow voters, but in the end you’re merely speaking to the converted; succumbing to rage is the wrong response to an outcome you’re unhappy with. Overland editor Jeff Sparrow perfectly articulated the issues the day after Tony Abbott’s victory:
“The left can easily fall prey to bitterness, a disdain for the public who voted in such a deeply reactionary figure. That would be a terrible mistake. Denouncing ordinary Australians as fools and halfwits, as slackjawed dupes of Murdoch too dim to grasp the obvious, might make us feel better but hurling abuse at those you want to convince has never been a successful strategy, particularly in a context in which the left is all too often portrayed as a clique of self-satisfied elitists.”
So let us look forward instead, and analyse what the left should (and shouldn’t) do.
Blaming Rupert Murdoch for Labor’s loss only highlights the lack of viable media alternatives; the Australian Financial Review’s Neil Chenoweth rightly argues that News Limited’s influence is inflated by its own bluster. Finding new and original ways to cover elections is vital, including resourced, ethical and accountable independent coverage from every seat in the country via print, online and social media sources. This could be be financed through ingenuity and a desire for local news to grow (America shows us the way).
A plethora of minor parties thrived this election. One in particular, the Wikileaks party, should have been a far more effective advocate for free speech but was let down by internal mismanagement and lack of transparency (something highlighted by strong Wikileaks backer, Gary Lord, on the day of the election). It’s simply not good enough to claim that libertarianism is opposed by the left and right in Australia, which might explain why Wikileaks polled so poorly. A raft of high-profile departures during the campaign tainted the Wikileaks party’s oft-stated claims of accountability. I write this with sadness, after being a Wikileaks supporter since 2006.
By all means, let’s not ignore the consistent campaign by Murdoch’s minions dressed up as journalists and editors to destroy Labor and the Greens. The “absolutist tendencies” of the Greens, condemned by The Australian this week, is nothing more than corporate frustration over the Greens surviving and maintaining much of its parliamentary numbers; its national influence, likely reduced, will continue.
Already much has been written about the decline of the Greens vote and why this signals confusion amongst the public about the role of the party: are they left-wing agitators, permanent opponents of government, or simply paying the price for sleeping and working with a neo-liberal Labor party? I’d argue the last option. The Greens’ humane policy on asylum seekers was arguably one of the key factors lifting its falling support. NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon is already frankly assessing what her party needs to do under a Coalition government to clearly differentiate itself from the Labor party on key issues such as tackling rising temperatures and Denticare.
Leaving Australian politics to the two major, pro-war parties is not a rational option so a vibrant Greens, and/or alternative left-wing force, is vital. The Greens need a thorough examination of the kind of party they want to be in the 21st century after unsuccessfully joining elite Canberra politics in 2010. For a party so committed to tackling serious climate change, it’s hard to celebrate then leader Bob Brown’s “win” over a climate package that locked in notoriously corrupt international “offsets”, especially from Europe.
The future viability of a party that wants to obtain far more than 9% of the national vote requires a serious investigation into what went wrong. History records very few examples globally of a left, green party succeeding by moving closer to the centre. The German Greens arecurrently suffering this fate.
The Greens candidate for the inner Sydney seat of Grayndler, Hall Greenland, wrote this week that “without a positive and convincing model of an alternative society, voters are going to be generally conservative and defensive.” This should involve explaining why a larger and more accountable public sector, better public transport, more independent foreign policy, open borders, serious action on climate change and more regulation on energy companies must all be part of any long-term strategy.
But this isn’t the 1960s or 1970s. Lives and the world have changed, so the left must adapt to different circumstances and explain why a bigger, publicly funded safety net – unlike the increasingly privatised network of failures in Western Australia under Liberal premier Colin Barnett – is the best way to ensure long-term prosperity.
A serious left will look both inwardly and globally for answers, and they may not like what they see. Canadian journalist Naomi Klein condemns mainstream green groups for foolishly jumping into bed with corporations to reduce carbon emissions. In a clear message to the Greens and other green groups, she explains that such partnerships have been a spectacular failure. She recently told Earth Island Journal that handouts to polluting corporations – a key part of Labor policy, backed by the Greens – has shown “the way in which neo-liberal economic orthodoxy has infiltrated the scientific establishment”. The scale of the climate crisis, due to the likely ongoing burning of dirty fossil fuels, requires sober consideration.
A period of reflection, anger and despondency is expected. But calmer heads will soon realise that a strong left must do more than just resist the onslaught of cultural, economic, climate and covert wars. Whether it’s the Greens or other political forces, a palatable and popular left shouldn’t just wait until the stock market crashes before expecting a rise in support. The global financial crisis in 2008 should have been a golden age for the left, a rare opportunity to show the failures of the Wall Street corruption. The Occupy movement was a brief and glorious moment.
Never underestimate the resilience of vulture capitalism. The challenges faced by the left remain great.
As Australia conservative leader Tony Abbott has won the national elections by a landslide, bringing an end to a six-year Labor rule, Antony Loewenstein, an Australian independent freelance journalist, in an interview with the Voice of Russia, shared his opinion on the election outcome and on what the country may expect from the new government which is to face many challenges, including tackling such issues as immigration policy and the carbon emission tax.
The Australian Election Commission confirmed on its website that the Liberal-National coalition had won 88 seats in the House of Representatives, and Labor 57. Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has admitted defeat to Tony Abbott in the Australian election. Outgoing Prime Minister said he will not stand again for Labor leadership. Rudd had called the election after defeating Julia Gillard in a leadership challenge in June. Under Rudd, Labor initially saw its figures improve, but Tony Abbott, who enjoyed the support of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, then widened the gap again.
Tony Abbott’s top priorities include cutting 4.1 billion dollars from Australia’s foreign aid program over four years, abolishing a highly unpopular carbon tax, and implementing Operation Sovereign Borders aimed at curbing the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat. Abbott has also promised to scrap a controversial 30 percent profits tax imposed on major coal and iron ore mines.
The new Liberal-National Party coalition government is a strong supporter of a long-standing military alliance with the United States, and supports the rotation of US Marines through northern Australia. It also advocates closer ties with China, Australia’s top trading partner, and wants to push ahead with negotiations for a free trade deal with Beijing.
It was very much expected. It’s been a Labor government in power since 2007, in the last couple of years it became very unpopular for a range of different reasons. The economy is doing remarkably well, which is quite strange because most countries have suffered the financial crisis but Australia is doing very well. So, it has been combination of factors. The asylum seekers keep coming; there is also the issue of a lot of protests by Murdoch. There was time when Murdoch had a lot of influence in Australia and the opposition – it was inevitable that they were going to win on Saturday, and here we are.
Unfortunately, the policy has become even crueler towards asylum seekers. For the last years, especially for the 15 years both sides of the politics in Australia found ways to harsh towards refugees, putting them in detention camps in the middle of desert, treating them very badly on the Pacific. So, unfortunately, it is already very bad. The new government is even worse. The aim is to stop people getting on boats from Indonesia to come to Australia, which may not be successful but people often forget in Australia or elsewhere that what the issue here is how we treat refugees when they come and Australia unfortunately in the last few years has chosen a path of giving harsh treatment. And I am worried that it is going to be worse not better in the coming months and years.
That is what the government says, that Australia must protect its borders and yes, that is certainly a view that every country, including Australia must protect its borders. But the language that is used by politicians here, the true thing is, one, they regularly say that refugees are coming here illegally, which is incorrect. Any refugee has the right to come to Australia or any country and claim asylum – that’s not for the government to decide. And secondly, if you claim as the Australian government does that many asylum seekers are potentially terrorists or criminals or untrustworthy, it creates the image in the greater community that people that are coming by boat should be mistrusted and I think that is the problem where our own government figures show that a vast majority of asylum seekers that come to Australia from Iran, from Afghanistan, from Pakistan actually are legitimate refugees. So, this I think is the problem with that kind of rhetoric.
Yes, there is no doubt that there is a sizable proportion of Australia that supports the idea of a harsher refugee policy. That is true. My view is possibly in the minority, I understand that. I would say because many people don’t know the full spectrum of refugees. The media for many years have sent a certain message that was negative towards asylum seekers, but yes, you are right, there is a great deal of support in the Australian community, as the reason many countries around the world have been treating asylum seekers very harshly and that is the challenge to try to make people look sympathetic, in my view.
One of the things that is quite remarkable is that besides the fact the Australian economy is doing very well, normally when the economy does well, people do not change the government. Australia is the opposite of that. So, we have the situation now when we have the new government. What the new government is talking about doing is providing far greater tax breaks for corporations to reduce regulations for those corporations and to help mining companies and energy companies to have far greater access to resources with less taxes and regulations. So, it seems that they are going to be following the path of the number of other countries and that will happen in the next 6-12 months.
We have the situation in Australia where there are 2 parts of the Parliament – the upper half and the lower half and because of the way the Parliament works quite similarly to Britain in some ways, it is unclear whether the new government will be able to put this through the Parliament. What they plan is to say that carbon tax that was put in place by the previous government should be abolished, the current government has been in power for 2 days and I think it has a very ambivalent relationship towards climate change, some members believe it exists, some do not. So, we are likely to see a loosening of regulations around energy companies and less of an issue towards pollution. I think Australia’s policy towards the carbon tax is likely to change and in some ways is following many other countries, but public support of serious actions on climate change regulations, in fact, is reducing, and it is similar to what is happening in many parts of the world at the moment as well.
Australia has a federal election on 7 September. We’re looking at a change of government to Liberal leader Tony Abbott; a period of neo-conservatism awaits us. I agree with Wikileaks head Julian Assange who argues that one of the key issues is liberating ourselves from genuflecting towards Washington on every issue.
Israel/Palestine has barely featured in the campaign though the Zionist lobby is upset the ruling Labor party talks about West Bank colonies as “illegal”. They want obedience to the Likud line, that Palestinians are a) evil b) violent and c) anti-Semitic. A sign of the paranoia and ignorance of the lobby came this week when Zionist lobbyist Albert Dadon (a man with a background of embracing Israeli apartheid) banned a film critical of Israel from the Israeli Film Festival. Comical, tragic and pathetic.
Here’s a feature in Haaretz by Dan Goldberg which reflects the constipation, ignorance and racism amongst the Zionist elites. Here’s hoping younger Jews are far more enlightened:
Jewish community leaders in Australia have virtually abandoned support for the governing Labor Party, with most privately hoping the conservative Liberal Party wins the federal election next weekend.
The near consensus in favor of Tony Abbott to replace Kevin Rudd as the nation’s next PM comes as the Liberal Party reportedly plans to upgrade relations with Jerusalem, make visa applications easier for Israelis, ban more terror groups and stop financial support to any organization that supports the boycott Israel campaign.
According to a report in The Australian newspaper on Monday, an Abbott-led government would add Israel to the growing list of countries that can access fast-track visas for short-term visits to Australia.
The latest polls predict the Liberal Party will win the September 7 election by 53 percent to Labor’s 47 percent. Voting is mandatory and Orthodox Jews have started to pre-poll because all Australian elections are held on Saturdays.
If the polls are accurate, it would spell the end of a bitter battle between Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Jewish leaders, who were infuriated in January when he joined British Foreign Secretary William Hague in stating that all Israeli settlements are “illegal under international law.”
Carr, a founder of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Israel group in the 1970s, reignited Jewish angst last month in a speech outside Australia’s largest mosque. “All settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and should cease,” he said. “That is the position of Kevin Rudd, the position of the federal Labor government, and we don’t make apologies for it.”
It prompted fellow Labor lawmaker Michael Danby to take out a full-page advertisement in last week’s Australian Jewish News reminding Carr of Labor’s “carefully calibrated even-handed policy on peace.”
Danby, one of federal parliament’s most vocal advocates for Israel, added: “Foreign ministers have come and gone but Australia and our Australian Jewish community’s bond with Israel is as solid as Jerusalem stone.”
But Albert Dadon, the founder of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum, who first took Rudd to Israel a decade ago, told Haaretz: “An old tradition in Australian politics was bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel.
“Unfortunately it is evident that it’s Labor that broke with that tradition and attempted to use Israel as a political football,” said Dadon.
Another senior leader said there is “no question” the leadership of the Jewish community favors the Liberal Party.
He claimed some Jewish leaders felt “betrayed” by the Labor Party after Julia Gillard, who he described as “an unwavering friend of Israel,” was dramatically deposed as prime minister at the end of June.
During Rudd’s first stint as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 he led a successful campaign for Australia to win a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, but was accused of sacrificing support for Israel in a bid to woo Arab votes.
Gillard wanted to oppose the vote to upgrade the status of Palestine at the UN last year but was thwarted by a campaign reportedly led by Carr, who preferred to abstain.
The Jewish vote in Australia is neither uniform nor influential given its relatively small size, and most Jews generally vote primarily on economic and social issues, and not based on the party’s Middle East policy.
But the Liberal Party’s strong economic credentials, coupled with its unapologetic support for Israel, are understood to have attracted increased Jewish support in the last decade.
One Jewish leader said Labor’s wavering posture on Israel would affect some Jewish voters. “I know there are a lot of Jewish people who feel strongly about it,” he said.
Abbott, a London native who once enrolled at a Catholic seminary before abandoning plans for the priesthood, has wooed Jewish voters since his first public speech soon after being elected leader of the Liberal Party in December 2009.
“I’d like to think that nowhere in the world [does Israel] have more stauncher friends than us,” he told Dadon’s Leadership Forum in Melbourne.
Dr. Ron Weiser, a former president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, told Haaretz: “It is not uncritical support that we seek; it is the support of a friend who understands that Israel is a moral entity that behaves morally and with that understanding is more likely in the first instance to assume that Israel is correct rather than incorrect.”
In an apparent swipe at Carr, he added: “We seek the support of a friend who understands the complexities of the Middle East and the fact that the obstacle to peace is not the legality of settlements but rather Palestinian intransigence and Palestinian unwillingness to accept a two-states-for-two-peoples solution.”
But some Jewish leaders fear a Liberal government could “open the door to Holocaust denial” by amending the Racial Discrimination Act. Abbott has mooted the possibility of diluting section 18c of the RDA, which makes it illegal to commit an act that could “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people … because of their race, color or national or ethnic origin.”
It was precisely this section that was cited by Federal Court judge Catherine Branson in 2002 when she ruled that Adelaide’s Dr Fredrick Toben must stop publishing Holocaust denial material on the Internet in a landmark case brought by Jewish community leaders.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, another Jewish MP alongside Danby in the Labor government, argued in an open letter to Abbott recently that his preference to limit section 18c to acts of “intimidation or harassment” is inconsistent with his support for the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism.
“Section 18c is precisely the kind of legislated protection against anti-Semitism and discrimination that the London Declaration calls on its signatories to enact,” Dreyfus wrote.
The best outcome for the Australian Jewish community would be a narrow victory for the Liberal Party, added one senior Jewish leader.
“That would mean Australia would revert to its historic position regarding Israel but they will not be able to ram through badly thought-out amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act.”
My following article appears in today’s Guardian:
Revelations of British government intrusion of legitimate media reporting of American-led, global surveillance is a call to arms for journalists everywhere.
Australian attorney general Mark Dreyfus recently claimed that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden weren’t whistle-blowers because they were “politically motivated”, and neither man exposed government wrong-doing (in fact, both did in major ways). The highest lawyer in the country fundamentally misunderstands the vital, democratic necessity of whistle-blowing as a safety valve against state violence, corruption and dishonesty.
Dreyfus should remember that the most comprehensive global study ever conducted into public attitudes towards whistleblowing, Melbourne University’s Suelette Dreyfus was a key researcher on the World Online Whistleblowing Survey, which found 81% of Australians believed such individuals should be backed.
If any western state claiming to be a democracy wants to destroy hard drives containing sensitive information, there’s only one response: resistance. Glenn Greenwald is right when he told CNN this week that “journalism is not a crime and it’s not terrorism”. The fact that such obvious statements need to be made in this climate shows how dangerous the attempts to criminalise legitimate investigations have become in the post 9/11 world.
In the spirit of telling governments and authorities that the public won’t tolerate illegal intrusion and intimidation against its own citizens, the following list is a far from comprehensive collection of information and documents the public has the right and need to know. Whistle-blowers and gadflys should feel unburdened and find the best way to get this information out (yes, I can receive snail mail to avoid all electronic communication).
- A decade after Australian forces were sent to Iraq to join the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there’s still no inquiry into the decision-making process leading to that decision (though the Iraq War Inquiry Group has been calling for one). It’s essential that documents are released related to the motivation and timing of the decision, whether legal advice found the decision legal, the exact role of private contractors working for Australians in the conflict zone and whether public statements by then prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer matched private knowledge and assessments.
- Trade agreements negotiated with other nations must be made public long before they’re passed, usually with bipartisanship, by a government of the day. Far too often, including in the trade deal between Australia and America, secrecy is used to obfuscate clauses that disadvantage citizens, not least over sovereignty and excessive use of foreign law enforcement actions in our territory. We need to see documents that detail these negotiations and what benefits Australian officials were willing to forgo for political expediency.
- What’s the legal basis for the use of American assets on Australian territory, such as Pine Gap, in Washington’s drone war? What, if any, intelligence was gathered on Australian soil in the “war on terror” that caused the death of civilians in officially declared or undeclared battle zones? What is the legal basis for maintaining a key US intelligence asset without proper and regular parliamentary scrutiny? Recent revelations in New Zealand that US intelligence may be supporting its intelligence services should ring alarm bells in Australia, as our subservience to Washington’s needs are equally transparent.
- What legal advice did former prime minister Julia Gillard rely on when she claimed Julian Assange was behaving “illegally” when his organisation Wikileaks released documents in 2010? When Australian foreign minister Bob Carr said in June this year that his government was washing his hands of Assange because his case “doesn’t affect Australian interests”, we deserve to see the legal advice that supports this absurd suggestion. The fact that Australian officials attended the trial of Bradley Manning proved the spuriousness of Carr’s comments.
- Australia and America signed in 2008 a “statement of principles on geospatial intelligence co-operation”. The program is GEOINT, a high-level intelligence sharing program from spy satellites. President Barack Obama has accelerated America’s drone war since 2008, killing countless civilians in Yemen, Pakistan and beyond, and Australians have the right to see the legal basis for any information given by Canberra to attacks that kill or maim non-combatants. Does this legal advice, if it even exists, show that Australian officials could be held accountable for misuse of American intelligence in its “war on terror”?
- Australia provides more than half a billion dollars of aid annually to Papua New Guinea. How much financial assistance is AusAid providing to Australian consultants to assist the government of Bougainville (and its corporate backers) in drafting mining legislation to allow the return of mining giant Rio Tinto more than two decades after the multinational was kicked out of the province? Billions of dollars are up for grabs in the project.
- Australia’s ascension to the UN Security Council in 2012 was surrounded by allegations of bribing African nations for the honour. What diplomatic promises were made by Australian officials to secure these votes and what internal discussions by Australia were undertaken to assess the benefits or disadvantages of the two-year position? Furthermore, what pressure did Israel, during its unsuccessful bid to convince Australia to reject Palestinian statehood at the UN in 2012, place on the Gillard government and what did Gillard herself promise to the Israelis after failing to secure support of her cabinet during the discussions over the issue?
- Just two months before East Timor became independent in March 2002, Australia unilaterally withdrew from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. The Timor Sea Justice Campaign claimed that Australia was stealing billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue from its poorest neighbour. Documents that reveal the Australian government’s decisions would be insightful. Equally important are the exact reasons for the Howard government’s intervention in 1999 (not as noble as claimed) and successive Australian governments, from Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s onwards, ignoring Indonesian genocide against the Timorese (all ably documented in a recent book by Clinton Fernandes).
Governments routinely over-classify information and beyond the reach of the public – the US now classifies literally trillions of pages of text annually – so it’s our duty to uncover what the state and business want to keep secret. Embarrassing power is our job. Let’s make authorities sweat by releasing an avalanche of riches.
Is this the future of investigative reporting? How far would a US government (or London?) go to stop information they believed was sensitive?
On Saturday night, Michael Grunwald, aTime correspondent, deleted a tweet that he said was “dumb”; a spokesperson for the magazine noted in an e-mailed statement that it had been on Grunwald’s “personal twitter account” and “is in no way representative of Time’s views,” and called it “offensive”: “he regrets having tweeted it.” Those responses are apt. This is what Grunwald said:
“I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange.”
People say reckless things on Twitter, as Grunwald’s defenders pointed out and as some of his more extreme critics, who posted that they couldn’t wait to write a similar defense regarding the drone strike that hit him and other gruesome things, demonstrated. If dumbness were the only issue we’d be done. But this one deserves being talked about a bit more, less because Grunwald still seems a bit oblivious as to what was wrong with what he said (though there’s that) than because it encapsulated something hazardous about the current moment, for journalists, for anyone who cares about civil liberties, and for the political culture more generally. And there’s the issue of the lack of civility on Twitter—but we already knew that one.
Still, let’s start with the tweets. Many people read it as a call to kill Assange, a founder of WIkiLeaks; that isn’t quite right, but “can’t wait to write a defense” implies a certain eager anticipation. And “takes out” is one of those terms—like “ice,” which Grunwald used, with regard to Anwar al-Awlaki, in a post he cited Saturday to explain his position as a “statist”—that makes its user feel blunt while serving as a distancing euphemism. (The Timespokesperson said that he wouldn’t be saying anything more on this for now.) Killing is killing; and this isn’t just Grunwald’s problem. The language reflects one of the problems with drone strikes—they seem like the clap of a hand, tough and sharp, but they are so much uglier and more complicated than that.
It was troubling, too, to read Grunwald’s tweet on a day when journalists were being threatened, detained, and set upon in Cairo, accused of being terrorist sympathizers or spies, underminers of public safety, for reporting on the violence of the government’s assault on the Muslim Brotherhood. Would words like those have appeared in Grunwald’s defense of a drone strike? This is a dangerous time for journalists; Time itself sends people places where missile strikes and bombs are not just rhetorical ammunition.
Journalists are in legal danger, too. The Obama Administration has, in its practices, embraced the position that the leaking of classified information to reporters is a problem properly addressed with the Espionage Act. Bradley Manning was convicted under it even though the government failed on a charge of aiding the enemy. Edward Snowden, the N.S.A. leaker, has been charged with two violations of the Espionage Act, for starters. Snowden’s leaks made a crucial discussion about the N.S.A.’s overreach possible. President Obama said in a press conference last week that he didn’t consider him a “patriot”; others have openly called him a traitor. And the Administration has come close to calling reporters who work with leakers members of spy rings.
Peter Maass, in a profile of Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker to whom Snowden turned with his files, describes how she was stopped and harassed at border crossings for years before even meeting him, perhaps because of filming she did in Iraq—but who knows why. [Update: David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, was detained for nine hours Sunday while transiting Heathrow under a section of the U.K.’s Terrorism Act, apparently because he is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, who also worked with Snowden, and had just visited Poitras; British authorities questioned him about the N.S.A. leaks, according to theGuardian.]
The other part of the equation is our drone regimen and the legal rationales the Obama Administration has constructed for targeted killings—including the killings of Americans. Ina post a few months ago, I asked whether an Administration white paper explaining why it thought it could extra-judicially kill Americans abroad—ones whom it had decided were a threat and involved with Al Qaeda or “associated forces”—could be used to justify, say, a drone strike against a journalist who was about to reveal classified information. Despite the Administration’s denial that this is its intention, it appears that it could; it is too easy to imagine a future President pointing to the language of the white paper as a precedent. And that is for Americans: foreigners have less protection.
The role of an accountable press has never been more important. The role of Wikileaks, whistle-blowers, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden should inspire us all and bring a realisation that transparency in a democracy requires brave souls.
In exchanges with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman prior to his name becoming public, Edward Snowden said something that got overlooked.
“Whistleblowers before him, he said, had been destroyed by the experience. Snowden wanted “to embolden others to step forward,” he wrote, by showing that “they can win.””
It’s not enough to defy the government and reveal what it wants to keep secret. When you go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet, you have to try to win. It sounded kooky at first, or completely outrageous, but after President Obama’s August 9th press conference it was difficult to deny that Snowden had won— not a complete but still a significant victory.
Congress had woken up to its oversight responsibilities and was finally debating the limits of the surveillance state. Lawmakers in both parties were advertising their doubts. Other parliaments around the world were asking questions they had not asked before. The President had been forced to respond with an announcement of some (tepid) reforms and a press conference intended to restore public confidence after the Snowden effect flipped the polls around. (Link.) When Obama tried to argue that he had been ahead of the game on transparency and the protection of whistleblowers and would have wound up in the same place without Snowden’s actions, it was hard to imagine anyone in the know buying it. As The Economist said:
Mr Obama laments that the debate over these issues did not follow “an orderly and lawful process”, but the administration often blocked such a course. For nearly five years it appeared comfortable with the secret judicial system that catered to executive demands. It prized the power to spy on Americans, and kept information from Congress. Mr Snowden exposed all of this. His actions may not have been orderly or lawful, but they were crucial to producing the reforms announced by Mr Obama.
On Meet the Press they also talked about the sale of the Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. But they did not try to connect the two stories, even though one of the living connections — Barton Gellman, who writes for the Post and was contacted by Snowden — was on the program.
“…Bart Gellman, the kind of work you do requires not only sources deep inside the intelligence community, but editors and owners who are willing to defy the government and publish over its strongest objections. If you had been able to talk to Jeff Bezos before he bought the Washington Post, what would you have told him to expect about this part of the job– publishing the secrets his reporters dig up?”
David Gregory didn’t ask Gellman that, but he could have. For one of the biggest unknowns in the story of Bezos taking over the Post has nothing to do with adapting to the internet or finding a new business model for newspapers. It’s whether Bezos has the inner strength to go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet. When his free press moment comes — and it will come — will Jeff Bezos answer the bell?
My following article appears in New Matilda today:
Whistleblowers like Bradley Manning show us the true face of global power. The guilty verdict against him should stir journalists to challenge authoritarianism, writes Antony Loewenstein
The verdict was never really in doubt. Former US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was always going to be found guilty by a US military court. The only question was whether or not he would be viewed as “aiding the enemy”, namely Al-Qaeda.
Military judge Colonel Denise Lind decided he was not — but found Manning guilty on many other counts, including espionage, relating to the leaking of documents to Wikileaks. He is likely to face decades inside a US prison.
The Manning trial represents one of the most significant examples of American legal and political intimidation in our time. After being arrested in 2010 and brought to the US from the Middle East to await trial, the administration of Barack Obama subjected him, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in solitary confinement.
He was unable to communicate with the world. The reasons he leaked remained largely a mystery. Manning’s contribution to public knowledge of US foreign policy after 9/11 is profound, from war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, spying on the UN, abuses in Guantanamo Bay and countless details of corrupt US allies.
Manning’s motivations were never about financial gain nor destroying America; he is the ultimate prisoner of conscience, as his moving testimony proved during the trial. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange rightly said this week that Manning and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, both young men dedicated to risking their freedom in the pursuit of revealing truths about US power, should be seen as heroes.
Even after this week’s verdict, many in the US media continue to regard Manning as a sideshow and prefer, as independent journalist Jeremy Scahill told Democracy Now!, to focus on trivial stories. “There has been more coverage of the indictment of that Real Housewives lady and her husband than there has been of Bradley Manning,” Scahill said. “This is the state of media in this country right now, and it is just devastating that we don’t have a media culture that says this should have been gavel-to-gavel coverage.”
The precedent set by the Manning decision is clearly aimed at intimidating media outlets that dare to publish leaked information likely to embarrass the government. After all, White House-friendly stories appear every day after sanctioned drops to insider journalists. Witness the orgy of pro-Barack Obama yarns after the murder of Osama Bin Laden, where classified information was shared by officials when it was convenient to praise the heroic President.
Manning’s conviction was guaranteed because the US military and the security state could not allow a relatively low level intelligence official free without him paying a price as an example to others. The Obama administration wants Americans and the world to know that it prefers to prosecute whistle-blowers who reveal crimes than the perpetrators of the acts themselves. There have been no successful cases brought against government officials who ordered the torture, murder and assassination of innumerable civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and the “global war on terror”. Instead, Obama has pursued more whistleblowers than every previous US administration combined. This is what being a “liberal” President apparently means.
Sometimes unjust laws must be broken. This is what Daniel Ellsberg believed when he released the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s in an attempt to stop the brutal Vietnam War. Ellsberg has been a long-time supporter of Manning and this week said that the conflicts may have changed but the need for whistleblowers had not. “When I hear Bradley Manning and when I read what he said in the chat logs and whatever, I’m hearing myself when I was twice his age 40 years ago”, he said.
“I know my motives and I perceive the same motives in his case, in each case actually, to save lives, to shorten a wrongful, hopeless, stalemated war, and to do so by informing the public and challenging them to live up to the Constitution in an unconstitutional war, to live up to ideals of democracy and of nonaggression, rather than fighting an aggressive war, as Iraq, the war that Manning was involved in, was an aggressive war from start to finish”.
In a society that is increasingly monitored and recorded, recent revelations by Edward Snowden confirmed our worst fears about the US surveillance state, the role of whistleblowers and organisations like Wikileaks become even more important. Embedded journalism has left many global citizens in the dark about the actions of their governments since 9/11 (though encouragingly, latest poll figures in the US indicate a majority of people now oppose rampant state breaches of privacy). Adversarial journalism, ably assisted by leaks that shame the powerful, will not stop because the Obama administration wants them to. The internet doesn’t work that way and I believe it’s our responsibility, as citizens and journalists, to challenge the increasingly authoritarian streak of the Western state.
How should this happen? It’s equally relevant in America as in Australia. Whistleblowers here, including the recent expose on SBS Dateline by a former British multinational G4S employee detailing allegations of rape and abuse on Manus Island, should be praised and supported. In my own work, including new book Profits of Doom, I rely on explosive testimony from a senior Serco whistleblower who outlines the price-gouging, lack of care towards guards and asylum seekers and corruption within the corporation. This is an undeniable public service to the debate about warehousing refugees by private companies.
It is our responsibility as reporters, whether professional or amateur, to encourage the leaking of information from within corporations and the state that has no business remaining private. We’re beyond playing nice with authorities that are scared of material the public has the right to know. Let the leakers roam free.
The Manning verdict is a call to arms for the activists, journalists, whistle-blowers, hackers and citizens who refuse to accept that the only information we deserve to consume is given the tick of approval by a public relations office. Julian Assange remains a target for US prosecutors, arguably even more so after the Manning conviction. Washington will not tolerate an outsider, an Australian no less, releasing cables that reveal the dirty reality of the US empire.
It’s no wonder Edward Snowden fears returning to America and currently resides in Russia. Only a fool would believe the US Attorney General Eric Holder who was forced to recently issue a statement declaring the whistleblower would be treated fairly back home and not given the death penalty. The world laughed in response.
The true face of American justice has never been clearer after the Manning verdict. The Guardian writer Gary Younge tweeted the most perfect response.
Great comments by The Guardian journalist on CNN: