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An Ode on Whistleblowers and Revolutionaries
May 27th marked exactly four years of prison time for whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
Four years for releasing documents disclosing torture and abuse by US and allied forces: rape, whippings, electric drills used on body parts, waterboarding, beatings, murder. Four years for disclosing previously unreported civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan – deaths that number in the tens of thousands. Four years for pulling back the fog of war and exposing US wars abroad for what they are – not the clean, surgical, tactical operations that we hear about on the news but dirty, bloody, and filled with the bodies of innumerable civilian victims: the bodies of men, women, and children who did nothing more than appear in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the ‘wrong’ skin color and the ‘wrong’ god. Manning exposed the great lie: we aren’t fighting terrorism in order to make us safer; we are fighting The Other in order to keep the powerful in power by inciting the people to fear each other.
For that, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The courage of this young, heroic woman who exposed The Empire for a moment and revealed the ugly truth that lies beneath the glittery exterior of Oz must quickly be made an example of. When Manning spoke during her trial, she recounted the first time she viewed what is now known as the Collateral Murder Video, a video which shows Americans in a US Apache helicopter shooting and killing 11 individuals in Baghdad in 2007 who do not return fire. The dead included two Reuters employees, journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh. When a van arrives and a man jumps out to help the wounded, the helicopter opens fire on it, wounding two children inside. When Reuters called for an investigation in 2007, they were ignored and no charges were filed. Manning stated,
“They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life, and referred to them as quote-unquote “dead bastards,” and congratulated each other on their ability to kill in large numbers. At one point in the video there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the aerial weapons team crew members verbally asks for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he can have a reason to engage. For me, this seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”
In war, we dehumanize our enemies so as to make it easier for us to kill when, deep down, we know it to be an abomination. And of course, The Empire encourages this. When we can so easily be turned against our brothers and sisters, so much so that we will kill on command, the power-elite are truly in control. Once we see the evil of our actions – of actions done in our name – and sunlight is cast upon the dark truths, we threaten the grip that the elite and powerful hold over us. Manning’s leaks did just that. And so she, too must be dehumanized. She too must appear as an ant – an insignificant pest standing in the face of Goliath. The government and the mainstream media thus endeavored to strip Manning of her heroism and integrity. Instead of portraying a careful and logical woman exposing war criminals, she was labeled as arrogant, irrational, impulsive; a “mad homosexual” who was lashing out after years of ridicule. And finally, fear was stoked; invoking cries of “terrorist” and “aiding the enemy”, allegations that aim to turn the people against someone who should serve as a paragon of virtue and revolutionary action. Someone who exposed the rampant greed and disregard for human life that fuels US hegemony and imperialism. Someone who stood in the face of the oligarchy and was unwavering.
Now, as Manning begins her 5th year in prison for exposing atrocities that were carried out in the name of the United States of America, no US war criminal sits with her. The very same people in our government who authorize and carry out torture against prisoners indefinitely detained in Guantanamo Prison and any number of our black sites around the globe, the same people who authorize and carry out bombings and drone strikes against civilians abroad and even US citizens (children like Abdulrahman al-Awlaki), the same people who surveil its own population, who have perpetuated a war in Afghanistan for over a decade, and who have authorized military involvement in an estimated 60% of the world’s nations – those people are free men. This Alice in Wonderland world that we live in is no fairy tale, it is a house of horrors.
And yet today, I don’t want to harp on what is wrong with the world but instead, I want to focus and give credence to what is right and good. In spite of the seemingly all-powerful oligarchy we live under, so many have decided to risk their jobs, their lives, their family security and their names to expose the lies and abuses of the elite. John Kiriakou sits in prison today – the only person ever jailed in connection to the US torture program. And yet, his crime was exposing the US use of waterboarding in interrogations. Edward Snowden may not be imprisoned in a cell, but he may be forever unable to return to his homeland. Exiled in Russia for exposing mass surveillance by the NSA on US citizens, Snowden is now on the run from the US government – cut off from his family and friends and unable to regain a life of normalcy for what may be the rest of his life. Thomas Drake, a whistleblower who exposed the NSA program “Trailblazer” in the early 2000’s that violated the privacy of US citizens, a leak that inspired Snowden, lost his job, money, time, and reputation fighting the espionage charges against him. These people and others fought. If we remember their fight, if we support them with marches, picketing, and protesting, if we join voices with them – then they did not lose. Calling attention to the lies and deceits of our government is important. It is of equal importance that we give praise and recognition when people expose those lies even at great personal risk. This is my thank you to Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg, and all other whistleblowers, truth-tellers, revolutionaries, and all those fearless in the face of Goliath. Thank you.