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When I was an activist in the anti-Vietnam war movement and a budding civil liberties attorney, I remember getting really stumped by the following: Only congress has the power to declare war. Wow, I thought. While civil libertarians and conservative strict constructionists have battled endlessly over the framers’ original intent and the penumbras of the due process and equal protection clauses, the war power could not have been more clearly and definitively stated. Yet as we all know or should know, there has been no Congressional declaration of war since World War II. This is a fact, so just look it up young people if you think I am whistling Dixie, which is geezer talk for bullshitting.
When anti-war groups brought this not-so-small matter to the attention of our then somewhat vigilant US federal courts, it seemed like a slam dunk. I mean, hello, the Vietnam War was never legally declared by Congress, and therefore should be enjoined, that is, stopped cold in its tracks as a clear violation of our Constitution. Right? Wrong. And no coherent, much less persuasive, reasons were ever given why the clear and exclusive power of Congress no longer applied, no longer mattered, why a majority of our elected representatives were effectively stripped of their all important power to declare war.
I, for one, was very bummed. Why the hell was the US Constitution’s Article Numero Uno so callously discarded in this particularly important area, the power to declare war, that is, the power to force young American soldiers to kill, rape, pillage, maim and destroy an infinite number of human and other beings the world over, and to do so whether or not the United States’ interests were determined to actually be at stake.
Fast forwarding ahead, the US is presently at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya, by any reasonable definition of the word, although I am pretty sure I have overlooked a war or two. All of these wars, as is the case with every war since World War II, were launched without a debate and a majority vote by Congress to declare war! For real. Maybe since the two World Wars were meant to be the Wars to End all Wars, a formal vote to go to war would be pretty unlikely to pass even in our comatose congressional chambers. It seems that most people in this world — which actually includes the United States despite certain rumors to the contrary — are extremely fussy about getting involved in wars. In any event, it is now all up to the U.S. President and Commander-In-Chief to decide these matters. Congress just gets to vote on the funding and lots and lots of it, in order to “support the troops” who were all rushed in willy-nilly — and we best forget about why they were ever deployed in the first place — they are already over there and if they leave now, there will be worse hell to pay. Ad nauseum, ad infinitum.
So as it turns out in our present day world, young men and women are suffering and dying on all sides in the current plethora of U.S. and NATO backed wars, as well as multitudes of innocent and mostly poor civilians, children, the defenseless, the infirm. Bombs are falling just as we speak folks, and as bombs are wont to do, they are raining death and destruction. (Drones are doing the dirty work in Pakistan, thus sparing some less than courageous US bombardiers a one-to-one with the victims of their remote controlled video games.)
The mass media no longer discuss body counts and no longer film body bags filled with bodies of young dead soldiers. Nor do they showcase the barbaric neglect of our war vets at home for that matter. But this does not mean it ain’t happening, folks. It just means that American Idiot, Killer Chef, and Dancing with the Rich and Famous are what passes for news nowadays.
So now let’s get to Julian Assange. First let me say that my book of heroes is not that big, and it is on the microscopic side when it comes to heroes presently living. But Julian Assange is totally in it. He is an ace investigative journalist, expert in internet technology, who knowingly and intentionally published leaked government documents in to inform us, the citizens of the US and our world, just what our various governments are up to. And we are talking about international, not only United States governmental irregularities here. We are talking corruption, illegalities, and war crimes which were heretofore kept secret, and the disclosure of which has been incredibly important to human rights investigators, historians, but mostly to all of us, the people, as in We the People.
And reader please take note: Julian Assange is not the only one who thought we have a right to read these leaked materials. Please recall that a large number of WikiLeaks documents were immediately published with fanfare and at great length by no less a media institution than The New York Times, among many other mainstream and alternative media. We the people, not only in the US but the world over, absolutely require knowledge of our governments’ institutions and activities – precisely so that we can exercise popular and democratic control over these institutions and activities, including challenging them broadside whenever necessary.
We cannot – we must not– let government and corporations control the very information we receive, classifying or censoring whatever they don’t want us to see and hear, which is likely the very information which will cast widespread doubt about the manner in which power is exercised over our lives and the lives of fellow humans all around the planet. This is called Transparency, a relatively recent term popularly used to connote Freedom of Information which, in turn, encompasses and requires Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Expression. These very concepts are supposed to define the highest ideals of our society and the way of life which our soldiers are ordered to fight and die for. And so we come full circle here, as well we should.
So dear ones, this is the short version of why I believe that the publication of WikiLeaks documents was a good thing, especially if knowledge is power and the truth will set us free. And let’s also remember that WikiLeaks gave the entire world the opportunity to view a recording of a pretty shocking war crime casually committed – and recorded– by the US military in our (undeclared) war in Afghanistan, which at last count is scheduled to continue until 2024.
Yes, Julian Assange’s actions could have been easily predicted to arouse the extreme wrath of war makers the world over and their media mouthpieces. Duh, as they say. But the thing is this: Assange’s journalistic mission to expose secrets lies and war crimes won out over any fears he might have had for his personal safety. That is precisely what makes his actions heroic in my book, as well as those of the whistle blowers whose consciences propelled them to blow the whistle, that is to give us, the people, important information and therefore the tools to act. They are all heroic and worthy of our strong support in my book, and they are definitely less-than-loved-and-appreciated by the warmongers and war profiteers in government and industry. Thus there may already be a sealed indictment against Julian Assange, and very possibly for the capital crime of espionage punishable by death. It is certain that a grand jury has been impaneled and many subpoenas have been issued. Grand Jury proceedings are always secret, as are indictments until the prosecutor wishes to reveal or unseal them. If Assange is charged and tried for his heroism, we are all screwed. Totally.
So to paraphrase troubadour Phil Ochs, call it peace or call it treason? It ultimately depends on which side you are on. The many of us who seek transparency, democracy, justice, and oh yeah, peace, really need the likes of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Definitely.
B.J. Sachs was born in Brooklyn way back in the days, practiced law with the Legal Aid Society for 16 years, and has been living for the past 17 years in rural Ecuador, where the government of Rafael Correa is presently reviewing the request of Julian Assange for political asylum.