Absolutely everything that every official does in every branch of government in the United States of America should be fully transparent and accessible to any citizen. Though it has never been true in practice, it is the case that in theory government officials are no more than public employees doing work that should be directly in line with our will and in our service. Presidents and congresspeople, governors and mayors, are not meant to behave and be treated like kings and lords. Elected officials are meant to serve at our whims, not bend laws and play with our lives in ways that serve their own. They’ve no right to act as though they rule us, nor to determine what information we should be permitted access to.
All of this classified and top-secret business, government agencies hiding everything from public review and scrutiny in the name of “national security” is a sham based on a lie and it is an affront to the public that the government has no right to inflict. The purported purpose of keeping information secret for the sake of national security is to prevent hostile foreign powers from using said information to do harm to the American public. The truth, however, is that the information kept from us is almost always kept secret from us because it regards harm being done to us or to others in our name and with our money. It is also naive to believe that most information the US government keeps, if it has ever been on a networked computer, hasn’t already been accessed by foreign hackers. So it’s often a matter of our government and members of foreign governments both knowing information kept secret exclusively from us.
Every time a whistleblower comes forward and reveals information that was kept secret from the public it is with hardly any exception that the information reveals abuses done by members of the government which could, and should, expose them to legal retribution, rather than it being any information that some hostile government could use to harm us.
Chelsea Manning revealed information and videos exposing war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing she exposed put any military personnel in harm’s way; all it did was make the US military and government look bad, because they were bad and had done very bad things. She was branded a traitor and imprisoned for years.
Edward Snowden revealed that US intelligence agencies were and had long been spying on American citizens. They violated our rights, and he exposed that. Doing this public service got him labeled a traitor and he’s been in exile in Russia for years, in danger of abuse and life imprisonment after a sham trial if he’s ever under US jurisdiction again.
Julian Assange is under the same threat. Despite not being a United States citizen, and therefore arguably not subject to its draconian espionage laws, and having done nothing other than publish information that any other news outlet would have, and which many others did, Assange is currently on the verge of being extradited to the US, after years of ostensible house arrest and criminal imprisonment in England, to be summarily convicted and locked away forever.
People like this, who are labeled and persecuted as traitors, spies, and criminals by the government, military, and law enforcement, should be regarded as heroes by the rest of us. It is absurd, the ease with which political officials convince so many otherwise. Whistleblowers like Snowden and Manning did not betray their nation, they didn’t betray us. They exposed pervasive unchecked corruption being carried out with taxpayer money. They exposed systemic criminal behavior being conducted by the most powerful apparatuses of our nation. To call them traitors is to declare allegiance with the corrupt and the criminal. To cast them and prosecute them as lawbreakers is to not only overlook but to condone the illegal acts they exposed and further empower the true criminal perpetrators.
“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr., a man now almost universally regarded as a hero and icon of justice, who while living was persecuted and prosecuted as a radical and a criminal by the same powerful establishment still bandying spurious claims of traitorhood and criminality against those who challenge their own criminal treachery. Files of the FBI, White House, and municipal law enforcement made public long after his assassination have shown the criminal lengths these governing bodies went to in violating the rights of King and those like him. Yet to this day they’ve accelerated and enhanced their criminal behavior, have continued attacking those who challenge them in the interest of law, justice, and morality, yet these corrupt, criminal agencies still somehow cling to credibility. Their behavior, that of every government agency and department across the board, particularly those tasked with law enforcement, has through the entirety of their histories proven themselves wholly untrustworthy. The idea that they can keep any information secret from the public should be abandoned.
It is only through the public release of controversial information that the pretense of justice is even possible. It’s been correctly observed that the rise in public awareness of police discrimination, brutality, and murder of Black and brown people in the US is not representative of an increase in such abuses, but an increase of exposure. Cops harassing, hurting, and murdering people of color largely with impunity is not a new phenomenon. Anyone from an affected community could say as much. They have been, always. The difference today is that people are able to film these abuses. Lying and suppressing information are less effective tactics when eyewitnesses can share recordings of criminal police actions with the world. The case of Laquan McDonald is an example of the criminal behavior of individual officers, the attempts that the police establishment makes to cover up their crimes, and the power that information in the hands of citizen activists has to challenge them. No sooner had Van Dyke murdered McDonald than his department was already coming to his defense and working to protect him from repercussions. And they’d have gotten away with it too, had it not been for meddling community activists armed with video evidence showing that McDonald was not a threat to officers or civilians and that Van Dyke executed him in cold blood.
It’s a good thing that our contemporary society has dedicated activists who’ll work to see that injustice is not so easily swept under the rug, and that modern technology helps make their efforts possible. But it should not fall on regular citizens, particularly when they are, in financial and social terms, the least powerful among us, to hold police accountable. Particularly not when the powerful, in this case the police, are paid with public funds, and theoretically meant to be working for the safety of people, not murdering them. True, the protect and serve mantra has never been more than a selective fraude. The idea that government, the military, law enforcement, are organs meant to work in our service and for our interests (of, for, and by the people) is one that’s always been a lie in practice, but it’s a lie we should strive to realize. We can’t do that without fighting and without the knowledge of what we’re fighting for and against.
No one has ever been better off for knowing less. The old ignorance is bliss adage is one tempting to invoke when discussing the shady, fucked up things the government, military, and law enforcement do, and the ways they cover it up and hide from public scrutiny. Don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt better for knowing less. I want to know everything, the good and the bad. We have a right to know.