Category Archives: Politics

The long, long reach of Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning’s trial continues today with the defense succeeding in getting the judge to force the prosecution to release the government’s damage assessments:

A military judge has ordered the state department to release into her hands official documents that assessed from the viewpoint of the US government how damaging the leak of state secrets to WikiLeaks had been to American national interests.

[…]

For months Manning’s defence lawyer, David Coombs, has been pressing the soldier’s military prosecutors to hand over in the discovery stage of the trial the official damage assessments. The assessments, carried out by several federal agencies including intelligence bodies, could have a crucial bearing on any sentence handed out to Manning should he be found guilty.

There have been suggestions that the assessments show that in the official opinion of the US government, WikiLeaks did very little to harm US national interests around the world. That could prove invaluable for the defence in mitigation.

Required reading: Kevin Gosztola was at the trial and has some up-to-date information.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Manning would probably be convicted. After all, it is a trial where the judge’s boss is the Commander-in-Chief who already decided before any trial began that Manning broke the law. It is not really that far-fetched to say that best outcome out of this would be for Manning to wither away in jail instead of being executed for daring to embarrass the Empire. I would ask “Why go through all this trouble of wasting resources conducting a mock trial? Why not just execute Manning and be done with it?” but then I already know the answer.

Anyway, I had the opportunity a few of weeks ago to attend a presentation by Jeff Paterson of the Bradley Manning Support Network. Him and another staffer are traveling the country giving updates to concerned citizens about how eager the government is to make an example of Manning.

Paterson is not only a project director for Courage to Resist, but a fellow Marine artilleryman as well. As part of his presentation, he recounted his own antiwar stand during the first Gulf War as one of the first group of servicemembers who refused to fight that war. He ultimately spent several months in jail before being discharged from the military, after which he disappeared from the public eye. It must be noted that his stand was not an attempt at activism, but a lone protest motivated by a deep moral objection to war.

And because of this action, he has more credibility than most of us could ever hope to achieve. Unlike him, when I joined the Marine Corps in 2006, Iraq and Afghanistan was already well underway. My lack of knowledge is a poor excuse and that I honestly believed the propaganda is irrelevant. The fact that I was a willing cog in the war machine forever discredits me and there is nothing I can do—now or any time in the future—to redeem myself of this complicity.

Which brings me to the Army specialist who found a way to redeem himself: Bradley Manning.

Paterson’s backstory is very important, because it explains his involvement with the Manning case. As he explained in his presentation, he became involved with the military resistance movement at the beginning of second Iraq War. From those efforts came Courage to Resist, a network of veterans, military families, and activists supporting many military resisters defy the War Machine. When it came to light that an Army specialist by the name of Bradley Manning was central in the government’s investigation of Wikileaks, Paterson knew that he had to do something or as he puts it, “before they disappear [Manning].” Within two weeks of Manning’s arrest, Paterson was able to persuade several people to publicize Manning’s plight including establishing the Bradley Manning Defense Fund. To say that Paterson was “involved” with the Manning case is to understate how important he was to this cause. If it were not for his early efforts, who knows what might have happened to Manning?

Paterson’s presentation began with the infamous Collateral Murder video, the release of which firmly embedded the name “Wikileaks” in people’s radars. Manning is accused of leaking the video and also many other documents, including the Iraq War Logs and hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables. If the accusations are true and that Manning is to be credited for the leaks, that would make his singular action of leaking classified information the most significant catalyst of change in modern history.

There is some evidence that the classified information Manning allegedly provided to Wikileaks influenced and might have contributed to the Tunisian uprisings, which itself became the fount from which the Arab Spring continues to flow. Could it be that Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, Khaled Mohamed Saeed’s death, and Manning’s reckless bravery are all to be equally credited for the changes sweeping the Middle East? According to Amnesty International in their 2011 report, Wikileaks’ revelations were “catalysts” in the Arab Springs:

While the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia would not have happened without the long struggle of brave human rights defenders over the last two decades, support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the Wikileaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger. In particular, some of the documents made clear that countries around the world were aware of both the political repression and the lack of economic opportunity, but for the most part were not taking action to urge change.

So, while one cannot fully credit Manning and Wikileaks for the Arab Spring, there were fundamental to its strength and ultimate success. Additionally, the Arab Spring’s strength and success served as inspiration for the widespread protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Scientists might stand on the shoulders of giants, but modern revolutionaries apparently stand on the shoulders of a 110-pound Army specialist. Some might write about how Wikileaks is changing journalism, but in reality without Manning and his trove of classified information, Julian Assange and his outfit would have a lot less to leak.

So, Manning’s leak might have started revolutions in the Middle East, inspired a social movement in the United States, and changing the journalism itself, but could it have ended a war as well? Paterson asserts that the account of atrocities in the Iraq Wars Logs is what finally pushed Iraqi legislators to grow a spine and refuse granting immunity to American troops from prosecution in Iraqi courts. This refusal was the “deal breaker” that finally led to the Third End of War in Iraq (Obama’s second). If that is the case, then Manning’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination is well-deserved.

What we mean when we call our neighbors “terrorists”

A chart from ThinkProgress is currently making the rounds on Tumblr, especially among self-described liberal blogs, depicting what it claims to be the rise of right-wing “terrorism.” Ken Sofer writes:

Fifty-six percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, as compared to 30 percent by ecoterrorists and 12 percent by Islamic extremists. Right-wing extremism has been responsible for the greatest number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. in 13 of the 17 years since the Oklahoma City bombing.

Predictably, Sofer demands more resources to be poured into the laughably ineffective Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the express purpose of tracking and monitoring what the government defines as domestic threats.

In order to protect American citizens, we need to match our resources to the reality of our threats, not just the politically expedient narratives we have formed.

Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with devoting an appropriate amount of resources to combat national threats. Ideally, Sofer would have said to shutter the DHS entirely, but instead gripes about the fact that only a single DHS agent is tasked to monitor his fellow citizens. Sofer also does not take the time to ask, “by what measure or standard does the DHS define terroristic acts?” and “what does the DHS mean by terrorism?”

It has been evident in the past decade—beginning with the Bush administration and continuing under the Obama administration—that the word “terrorism” and what constitutes a “terrorist” is indeed, as Sofer rightfully points out, based on “politically expedient narratives.” The definition at this point is so meaningless that it no longer denotes the act of terror itself but, according to Glenn Greenwald, a politically manipulated epithet to identify those who oppose the interests of the United States and its allies. Simply put, a terrorist is someone who the United States is currently killing and terrorism an act that it is counter to its interests.

That is why, for example, legitimate resistance to American occupation in Iraq is libeled as “terrorism” whereas Sgt. Robert Bales’ midnight excursion that resulted in the deaths of 17 innocent Afghan civilians is merely a product of a troubled mind. And why Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani’s material support of the Iranian terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is not prosecuted despite very public evidence, while an innocent 16-year old American teen gets blown to bits for no apparent reason. Additionally, the government’s counter-terrorism efforts are increasingly being turned against domestic political organizations that seem threaten the political establishment. Missouri, for example, famously labeled Ron Paul supporters as domestic terrorists and there is mounting evidence that Occupy Wall Street has been deemed a domestic terror threat by various government agencies. The chilling effect of this has on legitimate dissent and political speech cannot be overstated.

Given what we know about what the American government does to people it considers terrorists, I do not understand Sofer’s casual and flippant branding of people he politically disagrees with as “terrorists.” Whether we agree with it or not, there is a separate set of rules that dictates what the government does to people it considers terrorists. The reality is that the government indefinitely detains, tortures, and extra-judicially kills terrorists, a reality that will not suddenly change because the accused is an American (for evidence, see Abdulrahaman al-Awlaki or Yonas Fikre cases). While we can disagree whether the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist” are utterly meaningless, but there is no question that being labeled by the government as a terrorist is a grave matter.

When we libel our neighbors, our fellow Americans, as “terrorists,” we are implicitly giving permission to the State to perpetrate the same heinous acts it commits against foreign enemies against our own countrymen. Any reasonable person would be horrified at the thought.

In America, the Law is Not King

(Originally published at Young Americans for Liberty’s Young American Revolution.)

Book Review:  With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

Glenn Greenwald, 304 pages, Metropolitan Books, 2011

By Jayel Aheram

Just a week before the year ended, 26-year old single mother Patricia Spottedcrow spent the holidays in prison. It was her first Christmas away from her children — now ages 2, 4, 5, and 10 — after receiving a 12-year sentence for the first-time offense of attempting to sell $31 worth of marijuana to undercover police officers.

If Spottedcrow had been a former president, an influential administration official, a Hollywood celebrity, or a hedge fund manager for wealthy investors, the single mother might have experienced leniency and compassion from the criminal justice system. In fact, she might not have even seen the inside of a courthouse for worse crimes. Instead, like most powerless victims of this country, the rule of law will be stringently enforced with all the impartiality and dispassion the criminal justice system could muster.

While the heavy hand of the law is used to incarcerate an increasing number of the poor and sentenced for increasingly long periods for even the most petty of crimes, this same rule of law is repeatedly abrogated in the name of protecting the very powerful of this country: the political and financial elites. That this two-tiered justice system exists — one tier to protect powerful from any culpability in high crimes committed and the other to severely punish the powerless for the most minor of offenses — represents the deposition of law as king in America, according to Glenn Greenwald in his latest book With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.

Greenwald convincingly illustrates the existence of a two-tiered justice system in America and recounts the systematic efforts to dismantle the rule of law as it applies to powerful beginning with Gerald Ford’s presidential pardon of Richard Nixon to the current Obama administration’s self-serving refusal and aggressive prevention of all efforts to investigate the Bush torture regime.

In his introduction, Greenwald lists the crimes he lays upon the elites: the “global torture regime” of the Bush administration, the “plundering by Wall Street” that led to the still-ongoing economic recession, the “obstruction of justice” by administration officials, and the widespread fraud that characterized the home foreclosures by the largest banks. In every instance, Greenwald claimed that “the perpetrators were shielded from any legal consequence.” This is in contrast to the aforementioned Spottedcrow or other non-violent offenders like her, whose negligible “crimes” are so inconsequential compared to the criminal destruction by the financial elites of the wealth of this nation’s middle class and the prolonged suffering they continue to endure.

According to Greenwald, this decades-long undermining of the rule of law not only denies justice for those most aggrieved — in this case, the American people who have been spied on, plundered, tortured, and under the current Obama administration even assassinated — but also perpetuates the chronic lawlessness from the very institutions Americans have entrusted to protect them and provide ever more incentives for the elites to commit even greater injustice against the American people.

Greenwald rose to national prominence as a blogger in 2005 when the first controversies regarding the National Security Agency’s illegal domestic wiretapping were disclosed by the New York Times. Unsurprisingly, the most compelling chapter of his book is devoted to this saga of flagrant violations of the law by the Bush administration and the ensuing scramble by officials to secure immunity for the telecoms who cooperated with the administration in law-breaking and shield them from any legal consequence.

That the telecoms were acting under the orders of the president is irrelevant according to Greenwald, when the law explicitly forbids telecoms from “intentionally engaging in electronic surveillance unless authorized by a court.” Greenwald argues very forcefully that the administration’s demand for retroactive immunity for the telecoms “makes complete mockery of the rule of law,” contending:

[T]he United States is not supposed to be a country where private actors are permitted to commit crimes and violate laws whenever the president tells them that they should. The president has no greater power to authorize others to break the law than he does to break the law himself.

Greenwald also argues that the president — far from the idea of an imperial presidency with unchecked powers to bend or break laws as he sees fit, as advocated by many prominent members of the Bush administration — is bound by Article II of the Constitution to faithfully execute laws. Greenwald puts it succinctly, “lawbreaking is still illegal even if the president says it should be done.”

Indeed, the warrantless spying case perfectly illustrates how completely entrenched the idea among the powerful elites that certain members of this exclusive group, such as the president and members of his administration, are completely unbound by the rule of law and immune from the requisite justice that would be reasonably applied if the laws were properly executed. This is then extended to the private companies who cooperated in the law-breaking. In return for their silent complicity, the telecoms breaking the law were amply rewarded with multi-million dollar contracts generating huge revenues, and then afterwards were granted complete immunity from prosecution that their law-breaking would normally demand. This mentality is not the domain of one political party, but has become a bipartisan consensus as evidenced by the Democrat-controlled Congress’ eventual passage of the law that granted retroactive immunity to these law-breaking telecoms.

This idea is also shared by many outside the Capitol, with many of the more vocal calls for full-scale immunity originating from influential voices in the corporate media. Greenwald condemns the immunity law as “one of the most striking pieces of evidence that the royal Beltway court and its corporate partners placed themselves above and beyond the reach of the law even for the most blatant transgressions.”

It turns out that this bipartisan repudiation of the rule of law continues from one administration to the next regardless of party affiliation. In the chapter “Too Big to Jail,” Greenwald details the Obama’s administration’s sidestepping of the rule of law to shield the very financial elites responsible for the economic crisis. According to Greenwald, President Barack Obama went as far as elevating these same elites from Wall Street to positions of power that will enable them further control over the economy’s machinations. He argues that the appointment of Timothy Geithner as his Treasury secretary was precisely because of Geithner’s close ties with Wall Street. Because Obama “had been a major beneficiary of Wall Street’s largess,” there is an expectation that this friendliness will be return in kind.

Greenwald strongly condemns the Obama administration’s collusion with the very financial elites responsible for the wholesale destruction of this country’s economy, calling it a “rancid state of affairs” and “the hallmark of lawlessness and tyranny.” The resulting collaboration between the financial elites guilty of plundering the country and political elites we entrusted to protect us further entrenches the idea that the powerful — whether they belong in the private or public sectors — are above the law.

Yet Greenwald reserves his strongest polemics in the chapter devoted to the Obama’s administration refusal to prosecute the criminals responsible for the Bush torture regime. In that chapter, Greenwald details the aggressive prevention by the Obama administration of all efforts to investigate the war crimes committed by the previous administration. Obama went as far as pressuring the Department of Justice to not initiate criminal proceedings, which Greenwald contends amounts to transforming the Justice Department from an “independent law enforcement agency into a political arm of the White House.”

Citing the need to “look forward not backwards,” Obama echoed the very same spurious reasoning that Ford used to justify the pardoning of Nixon. This hostile unwillingness to enforce the law and prosecute crimes of the previous administration is self-serving; after all, the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute the Bush torture regime is in itself a crime. Greenwald laments that the Obama administration’s resistance to any sort of accountability and lack of desire to prosecute wrongdoings ensure that the bipartisan “culture of impunity” will continue from one administration to the next.

“In the long run,” he says “immunity from legal accountability ensures criminality and corruption will continue.”

Wholly depressing in its inarguable citation of facts and recent history, Greenwald’s book is a breathless and damning indictment of the bipartisan effort to abrogate of the rule of law and eviscerate the very American principle of equality under the law. Greenwald convinces that the neutering of law to shield the elites from justice leads to the creation of a two-tiered justice system that protects the favored and punishes the oppressed.

Just as Thomas Paine once did, Greenwald rightly worries that a society that forsakes the rule of law will inexorably lead to tyranny. His argument for the rule of law and for it to be applied equally is an acknowledgement of the harsh reality we live in: that given the opportunities that immense power provides — from the unchecked accumulation of ill-gotten wealth to the complete abrogation of justice — only the objective, impartial, and equal enforcement of the supreme laws of this land will serve as effective chains against the natural tendency of men to tyranny.

Otherwise it would be that in America, law is not king.