A WRONG WHICH IS WRAPPED IN THE STARS AND STRIPES IS STILL A WRONG
John Bolton and Dick Cheney have joined forces again to proclaim that those who tell the truth about American wrongdoing are hurting their country. They are two of the most prominent “experts” that have recently attacked Edward Snowden for having the audacity to inform us that the NSA is collecting information from all of our internet and phone communications. According to these experts the ugly truths about the NSA “tar the U.S. with Beijing’s brush.” The message of the “experts” seems to be that you should never let the world know when your country is acting like a tyrannical country because the world might conclude from the evidence that governments which act alike ARE alike. The unspoken premise of such two faced standards is that everyone knows that we are so special that when our government defecates it does not really stink the way it would if it were some other government defecating. This is an old tune that both Dick Cheney and John Bolton have made careers playing.
Remember when the American people and the world needed to be convinced that Iraq had to be conquered to save the world from a future attack? If anyone failed to agree, then Vice President Cheney and Ambassador to the United Nations Bolton gave the dissenter the ugliest labels they could find or invent. When the United Nations failed to fully subscribe to the notion that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” Bolton pronounced the institution irrelevant, although it was his job to represent his country as its diplomat to that institution. When another American diplomat reported that there was no evidence that Iraq had obtained high grade uranium for building nuclear weapons, the Vice President’s office (through his right hand man, Scooter Libby) simply leaked the diplomat’s wife’s job as a CIA agent. Bolton’s actions was almost unbelievably undiplomatic, to the point of giving America’s critics the opportunity to paint America with the same brush as other UN flouters. Cheney’s staffer committed an act which was both a breach of national security and a criminal act. So guess what these fellows are saying now about Edward Snowden’s disclosures? You got it! Snowden is said to be damaging America’s image abroad by criminally leaking national security information.
Before we worry too much about the current fears of Cheney and Bolton, we should remember the consequences of their advice the last time they took action to allegedly protect our national security. Their excuse for the invasion of Iraq was as false as it was illegal. There were no threatening weapons of mass destruction (labelled WMD to simplify the practice of making interminable references to these nonexistent threats). The excuse was false. There was no basis in international law for subjugating another sovereign nation merely because it possessed any kind of weapon. The excuse was illegal.
A decade ago when he was the Vice President, Dick Cheney, then the immediate past CEO of this country’s most profitable private war contractor, Halliburton, helped to lead this country into a trillion dollar war that cost well over one hundred thousand lives and more than a trillion taxpayer dollars. John Bolton pushed for the same war and attacked the patriotism of anyone who opposed. That past CEO and others like his buddy Bolton hijacked the good will that a shocked world was ready to extend to the country after it was attacked on 9-11. Instead of using that good will to forge a world wide alliance against terrorism, these self- styled neoconservatives mounted an inexcusable war for control of the Iraqi oil fields. While they were thereby damaging their nation and the rule of international law, which they led us to flout shamelessly, they whined. According to them anyone who resisted their leadership lacked patriotism and courage. Never mind that the only job either of them ever had within the U.S. armed services was Cheney Secretary of Defense role during the wars of the first Bush presidency. Unless you count Bolton’s stint in a national guard unit, which he admittedly joined to avoid going overseas to the Vietnam War he had been touting.
John Halford, on the other hand, has no past tainted by either deceit or the kind of cowardly bullying that characterizes the likes of Cheney or Bolton. His very thoughtful contributions to this blog defend the NSA by arguing that Americans may be safer as the result of the kind of internal spying that Edward Snowden has revealed. He has listed a string of American government actions alleged to protect the country in the past. He states that “our country has a long tradition of doing what it has to in order to protect American, sometimes even stretching the law to its limits.” His list of illustrations on this point are instances in which I would argue the U.S. government has behaved in an extremely tyrannical manner. I would also argue that these government actions should warn rather than console.
Consider my learned friend Halford’s list of pre 9-11 government actions: (1) The Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 which led to the deportation of aliens who favored American support of French revolutionaries and the prosecution of Americans who criticized their government. These actions led to the downfall of the Federalist Party after many Americans recognized and denounced this government assault on open political speech and thought. (2) Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and the imprisonment without due process of Southern sympathizers in Maryland. These actions did not appreciably help the union cause in any way, tarnished Lincoln’s otherwise great record of championing freedom, and may have contributed to the particular personal hatreds that led to Lincoln’s assassination by a Marylander, John Wilkes Booth. (3) The Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918 “which provided for severe penalties for any speech, statement or article criticizing the government in wartime,” to quote Mr. Halford’s accurate description of the repressive measures which resulted in injustices that included the imprisonment of the popular American labor leader, Eugene Debs. These acts sullied the ideals of our society while inflicting cruelties on pacifists whose only crime was, as Oliver Wendall Holmes pointed out, that they believed more firmly in the Sermon on the Mount than most of their fellow American Christians. (4) Mr. Halford also cites for, consideration the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans without charges or habeas corpus rights. All of these instances form the beginning of a litany of wrongs the government has visited on innocent civilians, always in the name of national security. They form the opening fact recitation for concern about the future of government spying; they do not make an argument for Americans trusting that their government should be trusted to spy on them for their own good. These incidents Mr. Halford considers are only a few of many official abuses of Americans by their government, warnings that Mr. Snowden is doing us a great service by exposing the enormous surveillance programs the government has tried to keep secret.
Many of us have apparently still not learned that there is a moral law at work in the affairs of nations as well as individuals. From the ancient prophets of Israel to the American warnings of Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr and Chris Hedges there have been those who have warned that history does not play favorites. Those who choose dishonest means of accomplishing their goals must one day find themselves snared in their own lies. An aunt of mine used to recall the admonition of the Bard: “Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
We have been warned long before Mr Snowden’s revelations that the National Security Agency was going far beyond legal or proper bounds in collecting massive amounts of information about our private lives. A reply to an earlier posting on this subject has pointed out that the USA TODAY has run a front page article recently. That article detailed the names and ranks of senior members of the NSA surveillance operation; it also revealed in interviews with them how and when they had tried to raise concerns about these surveillance improprieties, how they had been rebuffed and humiliated for suggesting that we the people must consent or refuse the actions of our government. As Mr. Stephen Dillard demonstrated in his reply, the warnings have been more than ignored; they have been punished while the secretive practices of private contractors and agency operatives continued to collect information about us. No attention was payed to these warnings until Snowden accompanied them with documentary proof.
We have been asked to hate the messenger and to forget the message, to believe that a wrong must be measured differently if done by Americans or to Americans. But that is asking us to believe that the moral laws of the universe are not universal. We are asked to believe the universe has us as its exceptions. There are no exceptions. But I bet you already knew that.