Tag Archives: Chelsea Manning

Hacking Dirty Government Secrets Is Not a Crime

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British goon cops acting at the request of the United States government entered Ecuador’s embassy in London, dragged out WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and prepared to ship him across the pond. After this event last month most of the mainstream media reacted with spiteful glee about Assange’s predicament and relief that the Department of Justice had exercised self-restraint in its choice of charges.“Because traditional journalistic activity does not extend to helping a source break a code to gain illicit access to a classified network, the charge appeared to be an attempt by prosecutors to sidestep the potential First Amendment minefield of treating the act of publishing information as a crime,” reported a pleased The New York Times.

At the time, the feds had accused Assange of hacking conspiracy because he and Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning allegedly discussed how to break into a Pentagon computer.

Bob Garfield of NPR’s “On the Media,” a veteran reporter who should and probably does know better, was one of many establishmentarians who opined that we needn’t worry because Assange isn’t a “real” journalist.

This being the Trump Administration, self-restraint was in short supply. It turns out that the short list of Assange charges was a temporary ploy to manipulate our gullible English allies. Now Assange faces 17 additional charges under the Espionage Act and a finally-concerned Times calls it “a novel case that raises profound First Amendment issues” and “a case that could open the door to criminalizing activities that are crucial to American investigative journalists who write about national security matters.”

Corporate media’s instant reversal on Assange—from rapist scum to First Amendment hero within minutes—elevates self-serving hypocrisy to high art. But that’s OK. Whatever gets Assange closer to freedom is welcome—even the jackals of corporate media.

May we linger, however, on an important point that risks getting lost?

Even if Assange were guilty of hacking into that Pentagon computer…

Even if it had been Assange’s idea…

Even if Manning had had nothing to do with it…

Even if Trump’s DOJ hadn’t larded on the Espionage Act stuff…

 Assange should not have faced any charges.

Included in the material Manning stole from the military and posted to WikiLeaks were the “Afghan War Logs,” the “Iraq War Logs,” files about the concentration camp at Guantánamo and the “Collateral Murder” video of the U.S. military’s 2007 massacre of civilians in Baghdad.

For the sake of argument let’s assume that Assange, without Manning, had personally hacked into a Pentagon computer and in doing so discovered proof that U.S. occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were guilty of war crimes, including torture and the mass murder of civilians for fun—and put that evidence of criminal wrongdoing online. Would Assange deserve a prison term? Of course not. He would merit a medal, a ticker-tape parade, a centrally-located handsome statue or two.

Even if Assange were “guilty” of the hacking charges, so what? The “crime” of which he stands accused pales next to the wrongdoing he helped to expose.

Good Samaritan laws protect people who commit what the law calls a “crime of necessity.” If you save a child from your neighbor’s burning house the police shouldn’t charge you with trespassing. Similarly if the only way to expose government or corporate lawbreaking is to steal confidential documents and release them to the press à la Edward Snowden, you should be immune from prosecution. That principle clearly applies to the materials Manning stole and Assange released as a public service to citizens unaware of the misdeeds committed under their name and at their expense.

Even among liberals it has become fashionable to observe that people who engage in civil disobedience must be prepared to face legal punishment. This is a belief grounded in practicality: individuals who confront the state need to understand that theirs will be a difficult struggle.

Over the past few decades, however, what was common sense has become perverted into a bizarre justification for oppression: Snowden/Assange/Manning/Winner violated laws, they knew what they were doing, that’s the risk they took, and so—this is the weird part—the Left need not defend them.

Yes, these whistleblowers knew (or ought to have known) that they risked prosecution and prison time. But that’s the way things are, not the way they ought to be. The project of a Left must be to fight for society and politics as they should be, not to blandly shrug our shoulders and accept the status quo. Laws should be rewritten to protect whistleblowers like Manning and journalists like Assange who expose official criminality.

Whistleblowers should never face prosecution.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Two Stories the Same Day Show That the U.S. is Rotten to the Core

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Still think the United States is governed by decent people? That the system isn’t totally corrupt and obscenely unfair?

Two stories that broke April 23rd ought to wake you up.

Story 1: President Obama admitted that one of his Predator drones killed two aid workers, an American and an Italian, who were being held hostage by Al Qaeda in Pakistan. As The Guardian reports, “The lack of specificity [about the targets] suggests that despite a much-publicized 2013 policy change by Barack Obama restricting drone killings by, among other things, requiring ‘near certainty that the terrorist target is present,’ the U.S. continues to launch lethal operations without the necessity of knowing who specifically it seeks to kill, a practice that has come to be known as a ‘signature strike.'”

“Lack of specificity” is putting it mildly. According to a report by the group Reprieve, the U.S. targeted 41 “terrorists” — actually, enemies of the corrupt Yemeni and Pakistani regimes — with drones during 2014. Thanks to “lack of specificity,” a total of 1,150 people were killed. Which doesn’t even include the 41 targets, many of whom got away clean.

Obama’s hammy pretend grief was Shatner-worthy. Biting his lip in that sorry/not sorry Bill Clinton way, the president summed up mock sadness for an event that happened back in January. Come on, dude. You seriously expect us to believe you’ve been all weepy for the last three months, except for all those speeches and other public appearances in which you were, you know, laughing and cracking jokes?

Including, um, the same exact day when he pretend-sadded, when he yukked it up with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots? “That whole story got blown a little out of proportion,” he jibed. (Cuz: “deflate-gate.”) While sad. But laughing.

So. Confusing.

I swear, the right-wing racists are right to hate him. But they hate him for totally the wrong reasons.

Anyway, what took so long for the White House to admit they killed one of our best citizens? “It took weeks to correlate [the hostages’] reported deaths with the drone strikes,” The New York Times quoted White House officials. But in his prepared remarks, Obama said “capturing these terrorists was not possible” — thus the drone strike.

How stupid does the Administration think we are?

The fact that it is possible to find out who dies in a drone fact (albeit after the fact) indicates that there is reliable intelligence coming out of the targeted areas, presumably provided by local police and military sources. If there are cops and troops there who are friendly enough to give us information, then it obviously is possible to ask them to capture the targeted individuals.

Bottom line: the U.S. government is blowing up people with drones willy-nilly, without the slightest clue who they’re blowing up. Which, as political assassinations, are illegal. And which they specifically said was what they were no longer doing. Then they have the nerve to pretend to be sad about the completely avoidable consequences of their actions. They’re disgusting and gross and ought to be locked in prison forever.

Story 2: David Petraeus, former hotshot media-darling general of the Bush and early Obama years, received a slap on the wrist — probation plus a $100,000 fine — for improperly passing on classified military documents to unauthorized people and lying about it to federal agents when they questioned him about it.

Here we go again: more proof that, in the American justice system some people fly first-class while the rest of us go coach.

In this back-asswards world, people like Petraeus who ought to be held to the highest standard because they were entrusted with immense power and responsibility, walk free while low-ranking schlubs who committed the same crime get treated like Al Capone. Private Chelsea Manning, who released warlogs documenting U.S. war crimes in Iraq to Wikileaks, rots in prison for 35 years. Edward Snowden, the 31-year-old systems administrator for a private NSA outsourcing firm who revealed that the U.S. government is reading all our emails and listening to all our phone calls, faces life in prison.

Two years probation. Meanwhile, teachers who helped their students cheat on standardized tests got seven years in prison. To Petraeus, who went to work for a hedge fund, $100,000 is a nice tip for the caddy.

Adding insanity to insult is the fact that Petraeus’ motive for endangering national security was venal: he gave the documents to his girlfriend, who wrote his authorized biography. Manning and Snowden, heroes who in a sane society would receive ticker-tape parades and presidential medals of freedom, weren’t after glory. They wanted to inform the American people about atrocities committed in their name, and about wholesale violations of their basic freedoms, including the right to privacy.

Before he was caught and while he was sharing classified info with his gf, Petraeus had the gall to hypocritically pontificate about a CIA officer who disclosed sensitive information. Unlike Petraeus, the CIA guy got coach-class justice: 30 months in prison.

“Oaths do matter,” Petraeus pompously bloviated in 2012, “and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.”

If you’re a first-classer, the consequences are very small.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

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