Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Pepper Spray, Rubber Bullets, and IRS Questionares"

Earlier this week Truth Out published an original article of mine. It's entitled "Pepper Spray, Rubber Bullets, and IRS Questionnaire" and deals with a very peculiar trend that I've noted in the American corporate media. As I write in my piece,

Pepper spray, rubber bullets or an IRS questionnaire - which of these poses the greatest threat to your political speech? If the recent brouhaha over the IRS's singling out of Tea Party groups and the lack of a similar uproar over the systematic use of state violence against the Occupy movement is any indication, only the IRS questionnaire poses any threat to our democracy. It may seem rather bizarre, but in our current political and media climate, Karl Rove and his well-monied friends are potential victims of a nefarious political police and Occupiers are just a public nuisance.
The full piece can be read here. Additionally, Popular Resistance, a new website that seeks to provide daily news about the grassroots movements that challenge corporate hegemony, has reprinted it. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Unhappy is The Land In Need of Heroes"

     In light of the recent spate of whistleblowers and their subsequent unprecedented persecution by the Obama administration CNN has taken to asking whether a given individual, be it Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or Edward Snowden, is a “hero or traitor.” Ignoring the fact that Assange is an Australian and thus incapable of being a traitor to the US (or perhaps CNN is asking its viewers if Assange has committed treason against the Commonwealth of Australia by publishing leaked US diplomatic cables?) this dichotomy reflects a rather broader view taken in the discourse surrounding whilstleblowers. Whistlblowers must either be totally and completely unblemished individuals, and thus heroes, or completely and utterly villainous beyond redemption and thus rendering their acts of personal sacrifice completely beyond the reach of our collective admiration. 
This has led to an increasingly disturbing fetish on the part of the corporate media with the personal lives of whistleblowers. This fetish often times ends up overshadowing whatever the whistleblower exposed. Instead of talking about the killing of civilians by American Armed Forces in Iraq, the secret and possibly illegal bombing of Yemen, or just how large and secretive the surveillance apparatus of the United States has become we end up talking about the personalities and personal conduct of Assange, Manning, Snowden, etc. Because, of course, any personal defects, minor or major, on the part of the whistleblower instantly nullifies any criticism of the government conduct they exposed. This exploration of personal misconduct does range the gament from very serious to very laughable. Assange is wanted for questioning (but is not currently charged with) very serious sexual crimes. The New York Times which does not see fit to send a correspodent to cover the trial of Bradley Manning, did see fit to discuss whether Assange flushes the toilet after every use.
Mark Felt, better known as Deep Throat, was not only the man who brought down Richard Nixon and caused a larger evaluation of the shadowy and criminal practices of the United States government at home and abroad. He also oversaw the FBI’s COINTELPRO operations and was convicted of violating the constitutional rights of American citizens. Felt was certainly not a very likable or noble person (I’ll leave it to CNN viewers to decide if he was a hero or traitor), but it certainly doesn’t undermine the significance or importance of his actions.
Personally, I believe the act of revealing the misconduct of a state at great risk to oneself to be an inherently heroic act. I also don’t think there is any requirement for the individual to be a saint for this to be true. That being said every time I see “Hero or Traitor” scrolling across the bottom of CNN I cannot help, but recall an exchange from Bertolt Bretch’s play The Life of Galileo. It is worth prefacing that regardless of the traits of the historical Galileo Brecht’s Galileo was a drunkard, glutton, lackluster father, and self-admitted coward. Whether he flushed the toilet after every use Bretch, much to the dismay of the fine journalist at America’s paper of record, neglected to mention. Near the end of the play, Galileo after having publicly renounced his findings that the Earth revolves around the sun is confronted by his assistance Andrea. Andrea, enraged by Galileo’s cowardice tells him “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.” Galileo replies “No. Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Why I Am Marching For Bradley Manning

"I start from the supposition that the world is topsy turvy. That things are all wrong. That the wrong people are in jail, and the wrong people are out of jail. That the wrong people are in power, and the wrong people are out of power. I start with the supposition that we don't have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down." --Howard Zinn

Bradley Manning, the whistleblower responsible for the trove of Iraq, Afghan War and diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, is scheduled to stand trial beginning on June 3. This weekend at Ft. Meade there will be a protest before his trial calling for Manning’s release (For more info check out this site). I plan on attending and have outlined a few reasons why I personally am committed to freeing Bradley Manning

1. Bradley Manning has been tortured.

While Bradley Manning has pled guilty to some of the charges against him, he has not yet been tried and has been in custody since May 2010, meaning that he has been held for three years without a trial. The military judge ruled that part of his time in custody was an illegal form of pretrial punishment and has credited any future sentence Manning would receive with 112 days time served.
Even more disturbing than the fact that the treatment Manning endured was pretrial punishment is that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture found that his treatment during this time constituted “cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment.”  / Manning was kept in an extreme form of solitary confinement during which he was confined to a windowless 6 x 12 ft cell for 23 hour day. The conditions were worse than those experienced by American citizens on death row.  
2. The Charges Against Bradley Manning Are Not Only Baseless, but Dangerous
As mentioned earlier Manning has pleaded guilty to ten of the charges against him. Amongst the charges he has not pleaded guilty to include the count of “aiding and abetting the enemy.” This charge is very serious, as it carried the possibility of death sentence (although the prosecution is not seeking the death penalty Manning would still receive life without parole if convicted). It also undermines any notion of democracy as it essentially criminalizes whisteblowing, journalism, and even dissent. Manning is not accused of giving secrets to a hostile foreign state or terrorist organization. Instead, he is accused of leaking information to the whistleblowers website Wikileaks, which in turn turned over such information to newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Guardian.
At first glance, it is unclear who the government considers the  enemy to be. Is it Wikileaks? The New York Times? Or we the American people? However, the prosecutor's argument is that by placing information in the public domain through such sources as Wikileaks and the New York Times “the enemy,” which includes al-Qaeda, was able to access it.
If this was a work of fiction, perhaps something from the cannon of Franz Kafka, this charge would be comical. However, its implications are deeply disturbing and essentially criminalize all whistleblowing and even journalism since any information in the public domain, on the internet, or in newspapers can potentially be accessed by the “enemy.”
Furthermore, no US lives have been endangered by Manning’s action and he revealed no military intelligence or battle plans. It is unclear why al-Qaeda would feel aided by knowing that the American occupation forces in Iraq had a policy of ignoring complaints of torture or that American diplomats conspired with American corporations in actively pressuring the Haitian government against raising the minimum wage. This is unless the American government believes that any information exposing corruption or unflattering actions on their part aids groups engaged in violence against the American people and the American government. This too has deeply disturbing implications. If carried to its logical extreme once again it would de facto criminalize any whistle blowing or even any dissent as “aiding the enemy.”
Luckily, the military judge has rejected the prosecutor's theory of what it means to aid the enemy and instead ruled that the government must prove that Manning acted ““with reason to believe such info could be used to the injury of the US or to advantage of any foreign nation.”
This is certainly is an improvement over what the prosecution wanted, but it still is a threat to whistleblowers everywhere to try Manning for aiding the enemy, particularly when he has already pled guilty to leaking classified information. Furthermore, Manning is a whistleblower and should not be facing any criminal prosecutions. 

3. Manning’s Whistleblowing was a Contributing Factor for the Arab Spring and the US Withdrawal From Iraq .
It is hard to determine what role a single event ever plays in the course of human history. There is also no question that oppostion to corrupt US-backed dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as opposition to the occupation of Iraq long predated Manning’s actions. However, while we do not know what would have happened had Manning not leaked information documenting extreme corruption amongst US client states or the Arab world or the Collateral Murder video such releases helped to spur both the Arab Spring and the eventual US withdrawal from Iraq.


To this day not a single American official has been charged with any crime relating to the murderous, brutal, illegal, and quite frankly evil invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. None of the key architects of the post 9/11 policies of torture have ever faced any criminal sanctions. Obama, to this day, continues to assassinate people via drone strikes, including a 15 year-old American citizen accused of no crimes or links to terrorism (Robert Gibbs suggested his death was his own fault though he not having picked a better father). Decades of support for Israel’s brutal policies of apartheid, colonization, and occupation and for Latin American oligarchs, death squads, and coups have similarly warranted no formal legal sanctions. Yet, Manning stands accused of essentially revealing to the American people the corrupt acts of their government and he has punished without being tried, tortured, and now stands to potentially be imprisoned for life. Clearly the world is topsy turvy.