FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama Hands Out the Hemlock

by PAUL GOTTINGER

In Plato’s Trial and Death of Socrates Socrates is charged with corrupting the youth for the ghastly crime of encouraging his students to ask questions. The philosopher defended himself by saying he is actually a gift to Athens because like a gadfly to a horse, he stirs the citizens to life, and without his pestering questions the citizens of Athens would remain asleep to the true nature of Athenian society. Like Socrates, journalists and whistleblowers question accepted truths and help illuminate the mechanisms of power in their society. When people understand the actors that are responsible for injustice, they may just take action to change society. This is why Obama’s war on whistleblowers is such a dangerous development.

But now as the mainstream media rap on endlessly about the fake IRS and fake Benghazi scandals, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) seizing of the AP phone records seems to have been mostly forgotten.

Yet the AP scandal is only the most recent in a long line of attacks on leakers and journalists. The history of Obama’s commitment to government secrecy is most exemplified by his use of the espionage act six times against leakers with Julian Assange possibly becoming the seventh. That’s twice as many times as all other presidents combined. Obama has used the espionage act against: Shamai Leibowitz, Thomas Drake, Bradley Manning, Stephen Kim, Jeffery Sterling, and John Kiriakou. Other leakers have had prosecution attempted by the DOJ, and still others suspected of leaking have had their careers ruined—by having security clearances revoked—and have been intimidated by the Obama administration.

The freedom of information activist Aaron Swartz, who was a major figure behind the mobilizations against the Internet censorship bills CISPA and SOPA, faced a “needlessly cruel” prosecution from the DOJ. His family believed the prosecution might have led to his suicide. But now Obama has even formally accused the journalist, James Rosen, who was simply reporting information a government official told him.

Lest you think Obama’s battle against journalists hasn’t extended outside the United States, an article by Jeremy Scahill describes how the jailed Yemeni journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, was about to be pardoned by the Yemeni president, but Obama called him and persuaded him not to.

Most of the espionage cases back in the U.S. are still ongoing, but Leibowitz and Kiriakou have already been sentenced to jail time, and the very use of the espionage act signifies the DOJ wants serious punishment for the others indicted. Bradley Manning faces life in prison when his trial begins June 3 and Julian Assange would likely face the same or worse if the US could get a hold of him.

When one looks back at the pernicious actions the Obama administration has taken against whistleblowers and journalist, it’s clear the government wants to crush any prominent voices that question the government’s official narrative regardless of how many lives are destroyed in the process. But why is Obama waging this war on leakers?

Undoubtedly, one of the main reasons for the crackdown on whistleblowers has to do with Wikileaks. When Wikileaks initially released the Afghan War leak in 2010 the U.S. population was told that Wikileaks had endangered national security, but Obama has since claimed the leaks revealed nothing new. Then in January of 2011congressional aides told Reuters the Wikileaks revelations were “embarrassing, but not damaging”.

It’s clear that the minimizing of the Wikileaks effect on U.S. interests is simply an attempt to publicly deny the extremely significant blows the U.S. suffered to its imperialist policies. The truth is the Iraq War Leak was one of the major factors that forced the U.S. to abandon its combat operations in Iraq. The cables revealed that in 2006 U.S. troops executed 10 Iraqi civilians and used an air strike to destroy the evidence. This information received a great deal of attention in Iraq and made it politically impossible for the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, to agree to a status of forces agreement, which left U.S. troops outside the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts. With U.S. troops potentially facing trials for their inevitable crimes, the U.S. was forced to leave Iraq.

Cablegate’s 250,000 state department cables were one of the other ways Wikileaks damaged U.S. control in the Middle East.  Amnesty International, as well as a number of other sources have claimed that the leaked cables exposed—in the most concrete terms—the corruption of the U.S. supported dictators and played a major role in causing the Arab Spring.

The leaks demonstrate that the U.S. government will do anything it can to prevent people—inside the U.S. and out—from knowing what the U.S. and its client governments are doing. The results of the leaks showed what the ramifications can be when people know what their governments are doing.

The other major reason why Obama has been cracking down so much on journalists and whistleblowers is because the U.S. government has created an enormous security and surveillance apparatus since 9-11. The enlarged surveillance started under Bush, and Obama has simply increased these policies.  Once a government establishes new initiatives of security and surveillance they tend to find individuals to prosecute—legitimate or otherwise. These prosecutions justify the existence of the surveillance and serve a dual purpose of frightening the population. In other words, when institutions of power consolidate their power they don’t give it back.  This is the reason imperial powers never give up their colonies unless they’re forced to.

Understanding these reasons behind the attacks on leakers is important because it signifies the attacks are unlikely to end. The longer Obama’s P.R. strategy of playing “nice guy” under the lights while saving his most brutal acts for the darkness continues to fool people, the more damage Obama will be capable of doing. Already he has taken serious actions to begin dismantling one of American society’s proudest achievements—freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is protected in the U.S. at a level unparalleled in the world. Yet Obama, like Socrates’ dikasts, has decided to silence inconvenient questioning of the state and harshly punish those who attempt to pull the masks off centers of power. The question now is, will American citizens be stirred to life like Socrates’ horse from the gadflies of today and realize there is a serious and continued erosion of their freedoms taking place, or will they remain asleep until Obama has handed out his last cup of poison hemlock?

Paul Gottinger is a writer from Madison, Wisconsin where he edits whiterosereader.orgwhich is where this article first appearedHe can be reached at paul.gottinger@gmail.com.

Paul Gottinger is a journalist based in Madison, WI whose work focuses on the Middle East. He can be reached via Twitter @paulgottinger or email: paul.gottinger@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Minute Musings: On Why the United States Should Launch a Tomahawk Strike on Puerto Rico
Tom Clifford
The Return of “Mein Kampf” … in Japan
Todd Larsen
Concerned About Climate Change? Change Where You Bank!
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Brexit: Britain’s Opening to China?
John Hutchison
Everything Old is New Again: a Brief Retrospectus on Korea and the Cold War
Michael Brenner
The Ghost in the Dream Machine
Yves Engler
The Military Occupation of Haiti
Christopher Brauchli
Guardians of Lies
James Preece
How Labour Can Win the Snap Elections
Cesar Chelala
Preventing Disabilities in the Elderly
Sam Gordon
From We Shall Overcome to Where Have all the Flowers Gone?
Charles Thomson
It’s Still Not Too Late to Deserve Your CBE, Chris Ofili
Louis Proyect
Documentaries That Punch
Charles R. Larson
Review: Vivek Shanbhag’s “Ghachar Ghochar”
David Yearsley
Raiding the Tomb of Lubitsch
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail