We have been discussing the collapse of the American civil liberties movement and the attacks on the free press and privacy under the Obama Administration. As discussed in prior columns, we continue to refer to the United States as the “land of the free” despite a comprehensive reduction of civil liberties and due process in this country. The Snowden affair has put that record in sharp relief as the White House and Congress has joined together in barring the prosecution of perjury by high ranking officials and pursuing Snowden with close to unhinged rage. As previously discussed, our governing class has created a new American Animal farm. Long ago, American politicians adopted a type of dismissive paternalism toward the public as shepherds to so many sheep. Then one sheep goes and spooks the flock. The response has been bipartisan rage that has included demands to cut off aid to entire nations if they grant sanctuary to this whistleblower and even boycott the Olympics. The shepherds want Snowden made into mutton for stampeding the flock and no measure appears too extreme. Now Jimmy Carter has entered the fray and said what many citizens are saying in denouncing our duopoly. Carter told Spiegel “America has no functioning democracy.” Of course, you have to live in Germany to read such views.
Carter has rightfully pointed to the dramatic reduction of the United States as a moral authority in the world after Bush and Obama. He clearly views Edward Snowden as a whistleblower. Yet, the media has yielded to the demand of the White House that Snowden not be called a whistleblower. This is follows media allies who have attacked Snowden and even mocked his concern about coming back home. As for the refusal to call him a whistleblower, it seems part of the full court press to demonize Snowden or prevent favorable references to him. [It brings to mind the successful effort to convince media to call waterboarding “enhanced interrogation” in the media rather than “torture” as it has long been defined by courts] Snowden is a whistleblower in my mind. It is true that the Administration can argue that these programs were lawful to the Supreme Court’s precedent stripping pen registers of full constitutional protection in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979). Many of us disagree with that ruling, but this is a new application of the precedent. While the government has long sought the information for individuals, the Administration is essentially issuing a national security letter against the entire population. Moreover, it does appear that violations have occurred in these programs.
Putting aside the legality issue, whistleblowers are defined more probably by public interest organizations. For example, The Government Accountability Project, a leading nonprofit handling whistleblowers, defines the term as “an employee who discloses information that s/he reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, general wrongdoing, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. Typically, whistleblowers speak out to parties that can influence and rectify the situation. These parties include the media, organizational managers, hotlines, or Congressional members/staff, to name a few.”
Snowden clearly fits that more common definition of whistleblower, even if the government contests the application of statutory protections. Many can legitimately question Snowden’s chosen means for objecting to this program. However, the hostile and dismissive treatment by the establishment reflects an obvious fear of the implications of this scandal. We saw the same full court press in defining Julien Assange in a way that avoids calling him a journalist or a whistleblower. He is just an Assange.
Carter’s voice at this moment is incredibly important. Most media has ignored such criticism of Obama and his authoritarian powers. Even the story on Carter has been given limited attention and only because smaller blogs have continued to spread the word. We are living in the greatest crisis of civil liberties in our history and the public is facing a unified front of all three branches against efforts to deal with erosion of the rights of citizens in this country. The question is whether the public will finally awaken to this peril. Carter’s courageous voice could not have been heard at a more critical time for this nation.