Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Truth & Consequences

A few of our regular readers have quietly noted since our series of commentaries and cartoons focusing on the NSA leaks in early June, we've generally stayed away from in-depth discussions of the government's spying programs this summer.

With the sentencing today of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, and the events of this past weekend in the UK, we've decided to open up that topic again and let things fly, as several of the issues surrounding Private Manning, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and the U.S. government's spying programs have new information - but really haven't changed our positions.

As we noted in June, nothing that has come out about these government programs has truly surprised us. That Mr. Greenwald sent his significant other from their home in Brazil to Europe, to effectively be a document mule - and then somehow seemed shocked when his partner was stopped by U.K. officials looking for digital data that might contain "highly sensitive stolen (government) information" - also didn't surprise us. The behavior of both Greenwald and the U.K. authorities offended us, just as we're sure some of what the folks at the NSA have seen and heard might have offended them. It didn't shock us, though.

The latest stories about U.K. security officials trying to play the heavies to The Guardian newspaper weren't shocking either. Sadly, stories like this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's ever had any significant knowledge of what really goes on in government and in corporations at the highest levels.

While we remain in solid opposition to most of the PATRIOT Act, and the U.K.'s "Schedule 7," what most critics of either law seem to have forgotten this summer is that both are, in fact, laws - and have been for over a decade. That doesn't make either law ethically right. But railing against the two laws as unconstitutional or illegal at this point in time makes those using that kind of opposition look like idiots or fools.

If either law needs changing or repeal - and both do, desperately - the people to blame aren't the Executive branches of either government who are operating under those flawed laws. It's the Legislative branches of both the U.S. and U.K. governments that must be forced to take their oversight roles seriously and change those laws.

We still have little respect for Edward Snowden, the impatient coward who remains hiding in Russia, even as further facts come out that continue to impugn his credibility. At least Private Manning did the honorable thing, standing to face the crimes he knowingly committed.

The key difference between Manning and Snowden is indeed one of honor, for us - and it's one of the reasons we fervently hope PFC Manning is sentenced far more lightly than he might be otherwise, had his intentions been malicious or self-aggrandizing. The treatment that Bradley Manning has received at the hands of his own government while being detained for trial has also been shameful and deplorable, even by international standards. In our collective opinion, Private Manning deserves some modicum of payback - especially as he's generally remained respectful and even apologetic for his actions.

Private Manning could be locked away for effectively the rest of his life, or he could be sentenced more humanely, as an example both to Mr. Snowden and the world that our American government is not vindictive.

We're somewhat less than certain that will happen, though.

We are still certain of this: There are some things the average American simply does not need to see or know regarding national security.

Just because Americans believe they have a right to demand certain secret government information doesn't make those demands legal - and it doesn't make those Americans any more able to handle the truths those secrets might reveal.