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Freedom of the Press is Real National Security

The buildings that fell on September 11, 2001 in New York City took down more than steel and concrete, and stripped us of more than 3,000 lives.

The attack on the World Trade Center was a precursor to a government assault on our civil liberties. From airport scanners and metal detectors, to cameras taking your picture- as you drive innocently through an intersection to go to the dry cleaners- we have become the Surveillance States of America. No matter where we go and what we do, someone somewhere is now watching us. We have subjugated ourselves to powerful forces that can’t be trusted.

Worse than all of the invasive intrusions into our privacy, government now seems to sanction secrecy for those who are in charge and in power. Every overreaching step that law enforcement takes is justified and defended by the need for ‘national security.’ Think about it. If you oppose a law called the ‘Patriot Act,’ what does that make you? Fighting for your freedoms makes you seem traitorous. Outrageous.

It is no secret to us that our government deploys spies, or conducts clandestine operations. But what if the lawmakers become the lawbreakers? If someone working at an agency doing spying exposes the agency for doing things illegally, who is really violating the law? Who is the hero and who is the villain?

Daniel Ellsberg is a former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War to the media. We forget that Ellsberg was prosecuted, smeared, and harassed.

There is a 2009 documentary about the story, which led to lawsuits by the NY Times, when then attorney general John Mitchell went to court to try to stop publication of the documents. The Supreme Court eventually upheld the right of the NY Times to publish the Pentagon Papers. It is a pillar of first amendment law.

Flash forward to a Moscow airport in 2013. Why is Edward Snowden fighting for his freedom after revealing to a reporter the United States has been illegally spying on our citizens? Shouldn’t we be giving this guy a medal? Has he really put soldiers at risk?  Or has he gone to a reporter and revealed systemic and institutionalized corruption which is compromising your rights as an American citizen?

Transparency is healthy for our government. There is a reason freedom of the press is in the first amendment. It is the most important. Cover-ups are unacceptable breaches of the public trust, and we cannot stand for them at any level.

Whistleblowers play a critical constitutional role in our system of government, particularly in the area of national security. We reward people for their courage in standing up to the system, not take away their rights.

So why is Bradley Manning, a gay man in jail for providing documents to Wiki-Leaks? Did he really aid the enemy or assist you as a free citizen with a right to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Today we celebrate Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail. Will society so salute Bradley Manning one day?

He should not face life in jail for daring to make information accessible to the American public that the government should not have been hiding. Is the empire falling, or are our trains still running on time? His trial is a travesty of justice, with the secret lawbreakers trying to protect their secret making. The fact is we have over classified too much and declassified too little. This does not strengthen our country. It weakens us. Sunlight is a disinfectant.

We have Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. How many Americans even know there was a secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Service Act?  How many people know the government has asked for about 15,000 surveillance warrants from them. which judges grant 99.997% of the time. You cannot trust these entities with delivering you the truth.   These are the people that have brought you the disgrace we call Guantanamo Bay, the internment camps of the 21st century.

The IRS did more than target the Tea Party. A disproportionate number of non profits using buzz words like marijuana reform were apparently also targeted. The powers that be enforce their powers without discretion or discrimination.

These are the people secretly spying on you, maybe with drones over your shoulder, and taps on your phones, collecting your emails and monitoring your Facebook account. A healthy distrust of government is the safest way to protect national security.

A free press has a duty and an obligation to report the truth, uncover the lies, and expose secrets. One congressman has gone as far as suggesting that Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who published Edward Snowden’s story, should himself face jail. No, the truth is that a congressman who suggests such a thing should himself face expulsion from the house.

The truth is that our country is strong enough to withstand revealing tears in the emperor’s clothes, and our fabric is strong enough to expose the lies, sew together the wounds and heal the divisions. As the Billy Joel song noted, ‘we are still standing.’ We will not only survive these purported and hyped-up alleged breaches and leaks of national security; we will become stronger because of them.

Norm Kent, the Chairman of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, (NORML)  is a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale.

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Norm Kent, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of NORML.

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