The Political Animal

This Is Bradley Manning’s Idea of Whistleblowing


This is his defense.

According to the defense, Manning was motivated “to do something, something to make a difference,” after arriving inIraq in 2009 and hearing of the carnage that was going on around him.

But Army prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow outlined how the short, bespectacled Manning fell into a partnership with the silver-haired media celebrity Assange. He said they quietly exchanged personal contact information and crafted Internet chat logs as they exposed about 700,000 pages of classified material, including secrets in the fight against terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Coombs said Manning’s decision to release classified documents came in late 2009, when he was new to Iraq and learned to his horror that a family of five had been grievously injured in a roadside bomb attack.

On Christmas Eve 2009, Coombs said, a vehicle with two adults and three children pulled to the side of the road to let an Army convoy pass, only to hit a roadside bomb. “All five of the occupants were taken to the hospital,” Coombs said. “One died en route.”

What troubled Manning more, Coombs said, was that U.S. soldiers cheered because their convoy had missed the hidden bomb. “He couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

He noted that Manning placed the word “Humanist” on the back of his dog tags, signifying his religion, and said the decision to leak material was his, not Assange’s. “He felt he needed to do something, something to make a difference, from that moment forward,” Coombs said. “He started selecting information he believed the public should see and should hear, and that that would make the world a better place.

A young army PFC discovers that in war innocent people horribly, randomly die. “He started selecting information he believed the public should see.”

Rather than clear knowledge of specific wrongdoing, we have one young man with an emotional response to what he witnesses in war. On this basis he substitutes his judgment for that of the American people, their system of government, and their elected leaders. His defense says he “started selecting information.” He passed “700,000 pages of classified material” to Julian Assange. One wonders if court documents include the written, considered protocol by which each of the documents were “selected” by Manning and Assange and judged suitable for declassification and public exposure. One does not wonder too long.

The nature of this defense account is fitting. This is what defenders of Manning so often represent as well – an emotional response to political realities they do not like. In place of the constitutional rule of law and over two centuries of legislative and judicial history, they offer their sense of righteous indignation. Give them the keys to the file lockers.

Along with their moral indignation, one encounters the incoherence of their thinking about nations and governance, openness and secrecy, the nature of order and of moral responsibility. They think Manning should be hailed as a hero. They find the government’s prosecution of him an affront. They often like to recall Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the Pentagon Papers. Said Daniel Ellsberg,

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney began working on “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” with the intent to make his film about Julian Assange. It did not work out that way.

Gibney penetrated the dense circle of agents, lawyers and journalists who surrounded Assange with the help of one of his film’s executive producers, activist Jemima Khan, who had posted some of Assange’s bail in a case involving allegations of sexual abuse by two Swedish women.

After months of discussions about Assange’s possible participation in his film, Gibney flew to England, where his subject was living under house arrest in a country estate, for a six-hour meeting. According to Gibney, at that meeting Assange told him the going rate for an interview was $1 million. When Gibney said he didn’t pay for interviews, Assange asked if instead the director would tell him what others interviewed in the documentary were saying.

“He didn’t see the irony at all,” said Gibney, 59, an unusually prolific filmmaker who often has multiple projects proceeding at the same time. “To him, he was … being attacked by big and powerful forces and he should have the right to do whatever is necessary to protect himself. The idea that spying on other interview subjects would be ironic for a transparency organization didn’t occur to him at all.”

Assange chose to keep what he knew to himself.


Enhanced by Zemanta
The Political Animal

Whistle Blowing and Blowing Smoke


John Kiriakou Interview
John Kiriakou Interview (Photo credit:

On Sunday, Scott Shane published an article in The New York Times about the prosecution of ex-CIA operative John C. Kiriakou for having revealed to a reporter the name of another, active and covert CIA agent. The back story is complex. I encourage you to read about it. Like many others, I think the context of the crime for which Kiriakou has been convicted – essentially, loose lips – not to warrant the severity of his sentence or the damaging effects, already, on his life. That is not my subject here.

Many supporters believe that Kiriakou has been prosecuted – really, persecuted – because he was the first CIA insider to speak publically about waterboarding, back in 2007. However, despite that charge, that is not what he has been convicted of – rather, the revelation of the covert agent’s name to a reporter. Nonetheless, supporters claim the prosecution is really about the waterboarding revelations, which were, second hand, mostly inaccurate, and regularly refer to and ennoble Kiriakou as a “whistle blower.”

Whistle blowing, properly understood, is not ratting, but an act of conscience. When committed in violation of the law, it is a form of civil disobedience. There is a long tradition of thinkers and actors far greater than anyone defending Kiriakou, going all the way back to Socrates, who have argued – and acted out their argument – that civil disobedience is committed in violation of a law, but out of respect for the rule of law, and thus entails a willingness to accept the punishment for one’s disobedience. Ideally, a self-conscious and ultimately just social and legal order will recognize the injustice – if such it was – giving rise to the disobedience, and mitigate the punishment.

The specific act for which Kiriakou has bees convicted even he claims to have been inadvertent and careless, no act of conscience. About the earlier waterboarding of which Kiriakou spoke publically,

He said he had been offered the chance to be trained in the harsh interrogation methods but turned it down. Even though he had concluded that waterboarding was indeed torture, he felt that the C.I.A.’s critics, inflamed by the new revelation that videotapes of the interrogations had been destroyed, were being unduly harsh in judging actions taken in the hectic months after Sept. 11 when more attacks seemed imminent.

“I think the second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair,” he said in our first conversation. “2002 was a different world than 2007. What I think is fair is having a national debate over whether we should be waterboarding.”

His feelings about waterboarding were so mixed that some 2007 news reports cast him as a critic of C.I.A. torture, while others portrayed him as a defender of the agency. Some human rights activists even suspected — wrongly, as it turned out — that the intelligence agency was orchestrating his public comments.

Kiriakou is a surprisingly loquacious fellow for an ex covert operative, but we see here that he makes no claim to have been blowing the whistle on government crimes of torture, however much the, then, Bush administration, not the current Obama administration,  may have been displeased by his public talk. Still, at the website of Friends of John Kiriakou, it is argued that

this is a case that should never have been brought anywhere – let alone in a country that values free speech and the protections of the First Amendment.

Of course, the free speech protections of the first amendment do not apply to revealing to reporters the classified names of covert CIA agents.

At Fire Dog Lake‘s Dissenter blog, Kevin Gosztola, a fervid supporter of “whistle blower” Bradley Manning, offers the same whistle blower defense of Kiriakou.

At Michael Moore’s website, Peter Van Buren states,

no one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.

Interestingly, it could be anyone, but not John Kiriakou who would call John Kiriakou a whistle blower. The ingenuous and impressively still patriotic Kiriakou, as we have read, does not claim to have blown the whistle on anything. Still, Oliver Stone supports him.

In their perpetual posture of smug dissent, these recorders of the whistle blow transcribe it as a free concert of their own inner music. One’s own inner conscience, to which one may rightly choose to be true, bears no responsibility to others. If one, as the sole decoder of the just and unjust law, rightful and wrongful acts, chooses to act in violation of the law, one is entitled to get off scot-free. One not only violates the law as an act of conscience, but one’s act of conscience by its inherent righteousness invalidates the entire system of a law by which one might rightfully be judged and held to account for one’s noble transgression.

Pretty neat, that: righteousness without risk, noblesse with no oblige, sacrifice without… sacrifice.

How, then, might we distinguish whistle blowing from ratting, an act of conscience from mere criminality, civil disobedience from treason? Don’t ask these defenders of the faith. They don’t know what they’re talking about.



Enhanced by Zemanta
The Political Animal

Amnesty’s Arrogance


For those whose vision is not obscured by their own committed advocacy, the map of how Amnesty International lost its way over the past decade and more is there to be read. From irreproachable defender of human rights to clearly ideological activist on behalf of one vision of political development, an organization now easily impeached, the loss to human rights advocacy is profound. Once it was obvious that nearly only tyrants challenged an Amnesty International report. When a free nation did, it was an embarrassment for that democracy in the eyes of nearly all, its rationalized misbehavior an otherwise indisputable black mark drawn by an organization with an unassailable reputation. Now, those always unsympathetic to Amnesty’s work can point to its own clear biases in dismissing the NGO’s judgments. How much easier, for instance, to seek an accounting of a United States torture and war prisoner abuse regime in the immediate post 9/1 years were AI not chargeable as anti-American in its advocacy.

I won’t retread here well-known paths. The road AI has traveled is on the record, and I’ve written about it multiple times before. The markers are both subtle and as obvious as broken tree limbs. The former kind shows up in a sentence like this, from the introduction to Amnesty’s 2012 report.

At the heart of many of these conflicts were economic development policies that left many, particularly those living in poverty and marginalized communities, at increased risk of abuse. [Emphasis added]

The kinds of “economic development policies” to which this sentence refers – would those be “neoliberal” economic development policies; I think they would be – are certainly arguable and grounds for a debate on economic development policy as a basis for social development. That these policies are also highly arguable as a focus of attention for a human rights organization is now beyond AI’s institutional ability to recognize.

What kind of marker represents the more obvious variety? How is this?

Amnesty International Calls on Sweden to Assure Julian Assange Won’t be Extradited to the United States

(Washington, D.C.) — Amnesty International calls on the Swedish authorities to issue assurances to the United Kingdom and to Julian Assange that if he leaves Ecuador’s London embassy and agrees to go to Sweden to face sexual assault claims, he will not be extradited to the United States in connection with Wikileaks.

Now Amnesty International is the philosopher king of the free and unfree worlds, the NGO Solomon seeking to divide the mother of judicial possession from the grasping arms of selfish enmity. How wise AI must be to take itself for a vision of justice made politically flesh and infallible.

Amnesty International believes that the forced transfer of Julian Assange to the United States in the present circumstances would expose him to a real risk of serious human rights violations, possibly including violation of his right to freedom of expression and the risk that he may be held in detention in conditions which violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

No, that is not a paragraph about the Soviet Union in 1966. Yes, the “forced transfer” distortion is a conscious, prejudicial substitute for legal “extradition.” Is it now the postion of Amnesty International that the United States is illegitimately governed, its legal system not merely to be questioned, but opposed, with the organization advocating that other nations forswear action in accordance with legal treaties of cooperation with the U.S.?

Arrogance is always striking, regardless of the repetition, but AI’s defensive advocacy of Julian Assange and Wikileaks is neither new nor surprising. The introduction to its 2011 report began,

The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power.

Later it added,

This year Wikileaks, a website dedicated to posting documents received from a wide variety of sources, began publishing the first of hundreds of thousands of documents which were allegedly downloaded by a 22-year-old US Army intelligence analyst….

Wikileaks created an easily accessible dumping ground for whistleblowers around the world and showed the power of this platform by disseminating and publishing classified and confidential government documents. Early on, Amnesty International recognized Wikileaks’ contribution to human rights activism when Wikileaks posted information related to violations in Kenya in 2009. [Emphasis added]

The intellectual dishonesty of an organization with so exalted a sense of its own rightness should give one pause: imagine it as a nation-state and you might imagine it little different from any other in its process of blind self-justification. “Downloaded” is an awfully innocuous term. It masks the notions of theft and espionage and violation of national security, particularly as engaged in by a member of the military. “Whistleblowers” are cool; “spies” not necessarily so much, and what Amnesty elides in every presentation on the subject I have read is the nature of the relationship between Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, which is precisely the area in which the legitimate consideration by the United States of criminally prosecuting Assange is to be found. Here is AI in a published Q & A on Wikileaks.

Would prosecution of Julian Assange for releasing US government documents be a violation of the right to freedom of expression?

The US government has indicated since July 2010 that it is conducting a legal investigation into the actions of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange for distributing secret documents.  A range of US political figures have called for a criminal prosecution of Assange.

According to Amnesty International, criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified. The same is true with respect to information on a wide range of other matters of public interest. [Emphasis added]

Notice that the focus here is on Assange’s releasing the documents and not on the process of acquiring them. What, also, if it is not only evidence of human rights violations that is released, but if this information is contained in what is really a much larger dump of legitimately classified and national security information? And what is the nature of this “information on a wide range of other matters of public interest” the illegal transmission of which AI justifies, on what legal basis?

Is it legitimate for governments to seek to keep their diplomatic discussions and negotiations confidential when they perceive it to be in their national interest?

Governments can of course in general seek to keep their communications confidential by using technical means or by imposing duties on their employees; it is not, however, legitimate for governments to invoke broad concepts of national security or national interest in justification of concealing evidence of human rights abuses.

Also, once information comes into the hands of private individuals, states cannot rely on sweeping claims of national interest to justify coercive measures aimed at preventing further public disclosure or discussion of the information. [Emphasis added]

“Comes into the hands of.”

Is Amnesty International concerned about the potential for harm to individuals as a result of the leaked information?

Amnesty International has consistently called on Wikileaks to make every possible effort to ensure that individuals are not put at increased risk of violence or other human rights abuses as a result of, for instance, being identifiable as sources in the documents.

However, risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct. [Emphasis added]

This last is very curious. The first sentence seems to warn against the possibility of individuals coming to “harm” – “increased risk of violence or other human rights” – as a consequence of unauthorized national security document releases. Let’s be clear, which AI is not, that what we mean by using such language in this context is death, and you would think, given the nature of an organization like Amnesty, and its hallowed history, that it would hold no higher goal than to work against such death. In that consideration “every possible effort” is pusillanimous, even deceptive, diplomatese. As it might be uttered by the nations committing the violations AI opposes, it means, “We tried, but in the end, other things were more important.” So the assurance-of-principles messaging is already muddled.

But the second, “however” sentence is totally incoherent. Given that the first sentence predicates the importance of protecting life (or, at any rate, making “every possible effort”), a “however” contrast would naturally introduce an exception to that paramount concern:

risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability.

Well, I’m confused. “Not the same” how, exactly? Are they greater risks? Lesser? Of more importance? Diminished importance, in the greater scheme of things? Given the preceding statement, the however contrast should logically be telling us diminished – the potential harm to individuals is of diminished importance when weighed against the greater goal of “calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct.”

But Amnesty International, the defender of human rights, of, in the good old days, individual human rights – every individual’s – cannot possibly mean that?

Can it?


Enhanced by Zemanta