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
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail