Assign the component VirtueMart to a menu item

Search (Features)

Friday, 23 August 2013 00:00

The escalating US war on whistleblowers

by Solomon Hughes

When it comes to attacking those who reveal the country's dirty secrets, President Obama is acting worse than Nixon - with the help of the British police

US President Barack Obama's government is squeezing two whistleblowers - Chelsea Manning, formerly called Bradley, the soldier who courageously revealed some of the nasty truths about Iraq and Afghanistan, and Edward Snowden, who spilled the beans about secret surveillance in the "war on terror."

Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks website carried Manning's revelations, is also at risk of US injustice. Assange's case is complicated by a rape allegation against him, which he must address. But given the recent history of kidnapping, "rendition" and abuse of extradition by the US, Assange has very genuine reasons to fear the authorities there.

Manning's leaks included film of US helicopter pilots laughing as they machine-gunned journalists in Iraq to death.

The "war logs" he leaked showed that coalition forces were working with Iraqi torture centres and gave details of many more killings of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan than previously admitted by authorities. They also showed Western mercenaries were killing civilians in both countries with no comeback whatsoever.

Manning also leaked diplomatic cables that helped inspire uprisings in the Arab spring.

Snowden's leaks showed the US was spying on its allies and on European Union diplomats - and pretty much on anyone using phones or email - using the "war on terror" excuse.

These three men are heroic whistleblowers and there have been others.

Richard Nixon faced leaks about the Vietnam war. In 1971, Defence Department contractor Daniel Ellsberg leaked the "Pentagon Papers."

These were a secret history of the war, drawn up by the Defence Department. They showed the US wasn't fighting for "freedom" in Vietnam. They included government memos showing the war was fought "70 per cent" to avoid a humiliating US defeat but only "10 per cent" for the Vietnamese people.

The papers showed the US secretly backed coups against their South Vietnamese "allies" and expanded the war while claiming it hadn't. The leaks revealed US attacks on neighbouring Cambodia and Laos and exposed many other official lies.

They were a terrible blow to Nixon's war propaganda.

He had the White House wired for sound, with voice-activated microphones. He was tripped up by this paranoia when the Watergate Tapes finally confirmed much of his illegal behaviour.

The tapes also catch Nixon talking about the leak and saying: "I just say that we've got to keep our eye on the main ball. The main ball is Ellsberg. We've gotta get this son of a bitch."

Another Ellsberg conversation between Nixon, his security adviser Henry Kissinger and Nixon's attorney general John Mitchell goes like this:

Nixon: "Let's get the son of a bitch into jail."

Kissinger: "We've got to get him."

Nixon was intimately involved with attempts to "get" his whistleblower. Don't imagine Obama isn't having similar conversations.

Nixon was so worried about Ellsberg that he got the same illegal gang who broke into his Democratic Party rival's office at Watergate - the "Plumbers" - to commit a burglary on Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office.

Nixon hoped his burglars would get something to smear Ellsberg with and told his aides: "You get him tied in some with communist groups, that would be good." He hoped smears would limit Ellsberg's message to "intellectual types and the people that have no loyalties."

Nixon's gang even planned to "totally incapacitate" Ellsberg, probably by lacing his soup with LSD at a rally to make him look like a "burnt-out drug case."

But for all Nixon's crazy schemes, Obama has in many ways gone much further. Nixon tried to have Ellsberg imprisoned for "espionage" but the trial collapsed after the break-in to his psychiatrist was exposed. The trial also foundered on revelations of illegal phone tapping. Ellsberg never went to jail. He is still with us, and speaks out for Manning and Snowden.

But under Obama, Manning has already suffered inhuman imprisonment, with isolation and sleep deprivation. Now she faces 35 years more. Snowden has had to go on the run. Obama's officials' attempts to trap Snowden are so over the top that they even grounded Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane in case he was smuggling the whistleblower.

It's shameful. Whistleblowers are treated much, much worse under Obama than they were under Nixon. And now we are involved.

Snowden's revelations were made through Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. The British police's detention of Greenwald's partner David Miranda at Heathrow shows that our government wants to join US attempts to bully whistleblowers and journalists, especially by misusing so-called anti-terror legislation.

This was clearly a political detention. David Cameron says he was "kept abreast" of the operation and Theresa May also says she knew Miranda would be seized.

And it looks like a joint US-British plan because Obama's press spokesman Josh Earnest described "a heads-up that was provided by the British government" before Miranda's detention, which he called "law enforcement action that was taken by the British government."

Many lawyers think Miranda's detention was illegal because he obviously isn't a terrorist. This would not be the first time US pressure got the British police to make illegal political detentions.

In 2003 a busload of anti-war protesters were detained on their way to Fairford, an RAF base used by US jets to bomb Iraq.

The protesters had the detention ruled illegal in 2006 and in 2009 I published papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in the Morning Star showing that British ministers pushed for the police clampdown because US officials had pressed them on "increased protester activity."

So if US pressure led to illegal curtailment of civil liberties in 2003, there is every reason to think something similar happened with Miranda.

People look back at Nixon's government as one of the rottenest in history. But the "war on terror" is excusing worse government action in the US, action the British government is willingly helping.

Search (Features)

Search (Features)