Last week, both the New York Times and the Guardian released editorials supporting clemency for NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Considering the important nature of Snowden’s revelations, clemency is definitely in order – and it’s about time that major outlets recognize that.
However, the focus on Snowden’s singular case seriously deflects from the fact that the Obama administration has been a nightmare for whistleblowers and truth tellers, and that several others currently in prison or in exile deserve the same clemency or clear assurances they will not be prosecuted.
So why is the media now calling for mercy for Edward Snowden, while other truth tellers including Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, continue to face persecution (and prosecution)?
If you apply the criteria established by both the New York Times and the Guardian to Manning and Assange – as well as other truthtellers including Jeremy Hammond, currently in prison serving a 10-year sentence after exposing corporate spy networks – a clear double standard emerges.
First and foremost, all of these truthtellers exposed or published documents exposing government misdeeds and crimes. All of the disclosures were of information that was valuable to the public debate of United States war tactics, intelligence gathering and privacy concerns, with no documentable damage to national security interests.
For example, Chelsea Manning exposed American involvement in torture centers in Iraq, an unauthorized war in Yemen, and the so-called “collateral murder” of thousands of Iraqi citizens. Manning brought the “Collateral Murder” video and other documents to Wikileaks after going to people above her in the chain of command who refused to act. In fact, none of these truth tellers had another way to get this information out, which should afford them protections from prosecution.
Throughout Manning’s case, it became clear that the government could not prove that her disclosures did any significant harm to national security. And yet this young soldier is still facing exorbitant time in prison, because the information she revealed casts a dark shadow on the United States’ war tactics.
The “incredible value” that the New York Times and the Guardian ascribed to the Snowden leaks is clearly present in the Manning disclosures, which exposed the brutal and illegal nature of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning’s disclosures opened up an entirely new public debate on the nature of modern war and diplomacy.
And yet none of these other truth tellers have received the kind of public and media support that this set of editorials represents, perhaps because there is a fundamental difference between Manning’s disclosures and Assange’s publication of Wikileaks, when compared to Snowden’s revelations on NSA intelligence gathering.
Manning and Assange exposed information pertaining to American activities abroad, actions that affected foreign nationals rather than American citizens. Americans are clearly outraged by the unprecedented level of surveillance they’re being subjected to by their own government, which is perhaps why so many are now calling for a deal for Snowden.
Nowhere near the same amount of public outrage has been mustered for Manning and Assange, whose disclosures mostly effect situations far from home. But this shouldn’t excuse war crimes, or condemn those who tried to shine light on them.
Instead, Manning, Assange and Hammond have all been subjected to unfair character assassination, resulting in ignominious imprisonment for Manning and Hammond, and the continued detention of Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he remains isolated due to the knowledge that leaving will mean almost certain imprisonment in the United States.
But Manning, Assange, and Hammond all did their civic duty by disclosing information on government overreaching. They all exhibited great moral courage in doing so. And they all deserve far more than unfair imprisonment and exile for the service they have done for the American people and for people all around the world.