On June 3rd, the trial of Bradley Manning finally began, just a touch over three years since his arrest. He is charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, and in turn to enemies of the U.S., via the nature of the Internet’s global availability. Among the leaked information, was the “Collateral Murder” footage of a U.S. helicopter gunning down four journalists and two kids, and reports confirming the Granai Airstrike, which killed anywhere between 86 and 147 civilians, most of which were apparently women and children, and a good number of diplomatic cables containing information that embarrassed the U.S. government.
I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the recent crackdown on whistle-blowers in general, not just Manning. While I have said before that I am a staunch defender of personal privacy, I’ll admit to having lopsided standards when comparing personal privacy to governmental privacy. I believe that Manning should be applauded for showing something that, quite frankly, needed to be exposed: I believe that the American people have a right to know who we have killed half way across the world while fighting a war against an abstract concept (terrorism), and furthermore, I believe that even if these incidents were accidental, that they shouldn’t just be swept under the rug and classified because they might embarrass a few officials. We’re not all babies, I don’t think anyone who knows we’re at war expects us to not have at least some civilian casualties, and I think that the American people can certainly “handle the truth,” even if it is unpleasant.
But moving away from Manning specifically, there seems to be a recent shift towards this head-in-the-sand idea: that dissenting or even leaking is not okay. From the Obama administration’s six uses of the Espionage Act– more than all other presidents combined– to the Patriot Act, to even the recent DOJ scandal(s). What I am gathering from these, among others, is that it’s no longer completely okay to speak out, or else a whistle-blower, or even just a dutiful reporter, risks getting caught up in the vortex, as we’ve seen with the AP scandal recently. Add in just the chilling effects alone from the Patriot Act and it looks to me like we’re nibbling away at the first amendment. To the argument that this is just all in the name of counter-terrorism and that we should have more faith in the government, I counter with “once you give it up, you aren’t getting it back”; the Espionage Act has been around since 1917, almost 100 years ago, and the Patriot Act just got extended in 2011 to last four more years, but I will concede that this government-press scandal will probably blow over, though I’m not so sure leakers will bother coming to the press for quite some time.