The Good Germans in Government

What a disgrace. The U.S. government, cheered on by much of the media, launches an international manhunt to capture a young American whose crime is that he dared challenge the excess of state power. Read the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and tell me that Edward Snowden is not a hero in the mold of those who founded this republic. Check out the Nuremberg war crime trials and ponder our current contempt for the importance of individual conscience as a civic obligation.

Yes, Snowden has admitted that he violated the terms of his employment at Booz Allen Hamilton, which has the power to grant security clearances as well as profiting mightily from spying on the American taxpayers who pay to be spied on without ever being told that is where their tax dollars are going. Snowden violated the law in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg did when, as a RAND Corporation employee, he leaked the damning Pentagon Papers study of the Vietnam War that the taxpayers had paid for but were not allowed to read. 

In both instances, violating a government order was mandated by the principle that the United States trumpeted before the world in the Nuremberg war crime trials of German officers and officials. As Principle IV of what came to be known as the Nuremberg Code states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

That is a heavy obligation, and the question we should be asking is not why do folks like Ellsberg, Snowden and Bradley Manning do the right thing, but rather why aren’t we bringing charges against the many others with access to such damning data of government malfeasance who remain silent?

Is there an international manhunt being organized to bring to justice Dick Cheney, the then-vice president who seized upon the pain and fear of 9/11 to make lying to the public the bedrock of American foreign policy? This traitor to the central integrity of a representative democracy dares condemn Snowden as a “traitor” and suggest that he is a spy for China because he took temporary refuge in Hong Kong.

The Chinese government, which incidentally does much to finance our massive military budget, was embarrassed by the example of Snowden and was quick to send him on his way. Not so ordinary folk in Hong Kong, who clearly demonstrated their support of the man as an exponent of individual conscience. 

So too did Albert Ho, who volunteered his considerable legal skills in support of Snowden, risking the ire of Hong Kong officials. Ho, whom The New York Times describes as “a longtime campaigner for full democracy [in Hong Kong], to the irritation of government leaders of the territory,” is an example of the true democrats around the world who support Snowden, contradicting Cheney’s smear.

But U.S. Democrats have also been quick to join the shoot-the-messenger craze, ignoring the immense significance of Snowden’s revelations. Take Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. Fool me once and shame on her, fool me dozens of times, as Feinstein has, and I feel like a blithering idiot having voted for her. After years of covering up for the intelligence bureaucracy, Feinstein is now chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and clearly for some time has been in a position to know the inconvenient truths that Snowden and others before him have revealed.

Did she know that the NSA had granted Booz Allen Hamilton such extensive access to our telephone and Internet records? Did she grasp that the revolving door between Booz Allen and the NSA meant that this was a double-dealing process involving high officials swapping out between the government and the war profiteers? Did she know that the security system administered by Booz Allen was so lax that young Snowden was given vast access to what she now feels was very sensitive data? Or that private companies like Booz Allen were able to hand out “top security” clearances to their employees, and that there now are 1.4 million Americans with that status?

As with her past cover-ups of government lying going back to the phony weapons of mass destruction claims made to justify the Iraq War, Feinstein, like so many in the government, specializes in plausible deniability. She smugly assumes the stance of the all-knowing expert on claimed intelligence success while pretending to be shocked at the egregious failures. She claims not to have known of the extent of the invasion of our privacy and at the same time says she is assured that the information gained “has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks. ...” If so, why did she not come clean with the American public and say this is what we are doing to you and why?

Instead, Feinstein failed horribly in the central obligation of a public servant to inform the public and now serves as prosecutor, judge and jury in convicting Snowden hours after his name was in the news: “He violated the oath, he violated the law. It’s treason,” she said.

Treason is a word that dictators love to hurl at dissidents, and when both Cheney and Feinstein bring it back into favor, you know that courageous whistle-blowers like Snowden are not the enemy.

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