Curtain Raiser

Time for Congress to Show Some Spine, Colltalers

As the NSA backpedaled on its policy banning current and former employees from referring to leaked news by ‘unauthorized’ sources, a bill going through our do-nothing Congress, the USA Freedom Act, aims at restoring some judicial accountability for the agency and give us back our privacy.
It won’t be enough, but it’s already a step forward in what’s been mostly a tale of outrage against the NSA’s widespread spying on the lives of common citizens, here and abroad, and the Obama administration doubling down and reaffirming its questionable security-at-all-costs credo.
All the while, Edward Snowden, the man responsible for igniting a new sense of awareness about what intel agencies really do with taxpayers money, and how insulated they’ve become to pressure from the civil society, remains caught up in a legal limbo and self-imposed exile in Russia.
Despite receiving the Sam Adams Integrity in Intelligence and the Ridenhour Truth-Telling awards, or being instrumental for the Pulitzer and the Polk awards granted to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Pointras, the two journalists who published his revelations, Snowden continues to languish outside his country of birth, wondering if he’ll ever regain his full rights as a citizens, before his visa at the convoluted nation expires next month.
There has been, in fact, talk about his return to the U.S. to ‘have his day in court,’ in the words of National Security Advisor Susan Rice. But several issues may conspire against him having the chance to justify his actions before Americans. Chief among them, the Justice Department, which may intervene and prevent him from even talking publicly,
invoking, you guessed it, reasons of national security. He’s trapped in a judicial Catch-22.
Besides, the Obama administration has been particularly litigious against whistleblowers, denying them the chance of defending themselves, before being ushered into obscurity, in spite of candidate Obama’s avowed commitment to protect truth tellers, in those long ago final months of 2008.
There’s a justified fear that as soon as Snowden touches down on American soil, he too will be rushed to some undisclosed location, allegedly to ‘be briefed,’ but for all purposes, to be silenced and likely not being heard from for years to come. Even though there’s no jurisprudence for such a draconian approach to dissenters in the U.S., his stature as a challenger of the security status quo may be a fitting excuse to do just that.
That’s why most of the blame, or rather, accountability must be placed at the White House doorstep, not just for what may happen to Snowden when and if he comes back, but also, indirectly, for what happened to Chelsea Manning, from whom we probably won’t be hearing again anytime soon.
Her judgment and relative swift sentencing exemplify with accuracy the administration’s willingness to pursue those who clearly had solely a moral, not financial, reason to leak government classified information, even when such leaks did not damage or harm Americans forces in the field.
Throughout Manning’s process and now Snowden’s, President Obama, whose old speeches as a candidate and as Professor of Constitutional Law are at complete odds with his present stance on security and the handling of state secrets, made a risky calculation that took more into consideration his support among the intel establishment than the interests of the civil society’s right to know what the government does with its tacit approval.
That simply doesn’t bode well to a president in middle of his final term, who should be doing more to put emphasis on individual freedom for dissent, now that his relentless opposition, the GOP, seems to be stuck into a mad stride, going from one hayride to insanity (opposing Obamacare) to another (reinvestigating Benghazi). What a missed opportunity to ‘make a change,’ to paraphrase from any one of his inspiring stump speeches.
As the NSA engages into more deceit and veiled threats, in a disingenuous attempt to discredit its critics and preserve its privileges, the Freedom Act has received qualified support from important civil rights groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Apart support from these and other organizations, though, the bill is far from being an assurance that it’ll give us back our rights to privacy, or that it even won’t be weakened further. Time for society to pick up the slack and push for its implementation in an even more meaningful way.
And to be approved by the Senate, of course. Talking about missed opportunities, Congress has a golden one to catch up with the real needs and aspirations of the majority of Americans, since it’s been at considerable fault when it comes to all other issues people care the most about.
It may be almost flippant to say, but since they won’t act to extend unemployment benefits, or stop preventing enhancements to job creation and income distribution measures, our legislators could show some backbone on this issue and stand on the side of the civil society, for a change.
As we continue to benefit from the courage of Manning, Snowden and many others, as well as the reporters who gave them a global pulpit, so we can now be discussing personal freedom and demanding the government to stand behind our constitutional rights, all we hope is that they too, and others like them, receive the acknowledgement they deserve for risking their lives and sacrificing their careers for the common good.
No national security interests should rule a nation founded on principles of individual freedom and the rule of law, no matter how dismayed Americans may be with members of the Judiciary Power, and how fearful we all are of the consequences from having a central government determining how we should conduct our lives and speak our minds. Perhaps now is good a time as any to guarantee net neutrality and free access for all.
Have a great week. WC

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