Proud to be an American: We Won’t Torture Edward Snowden!

Never have I been prouder to be an American, a citizen of the country that virtually invented freedom of speech, press, and the sanctity of one’s home. Eric Holder, our erstwhile Attorney General, has assured Russia that if Edward Snowden returns to the U.S., he won’t be given the death penalty or be tortured! I am sure our Great Leader, The Rising Star of Hope, President Obama, approves this message of justice and compassion. For when so many of us voted for him in 2008, we hoped that he would indeed end the indecent pornography of pain that George W. Bush, the CIA, the Pentagon, and the song and dance team of Dick (Cheney) and Don (Rumsfeld) had inflicted upon this nation.

For worse than any flood of Internet porn, the most indecent pornography is that of torture. Torture is the staple of North Korea, China, and according to Amnesty International, well over a hundred other countries. Only since George Junior’s presidency has it become a staple of our own.

I voted for Obama with no illusions. During the 2008 primary season, he was way down the list of my preferred Democratic candidates. But I did believe that his real mandate, the one that most of us considered possible, was to erase the hideous violation of the U.S. Constitution and the core notion of American identity: that there are are some violations of humanity we cannot condone because our foundational idea is human life’s innate worth and dignity.

Torture’s goal is to obliterate that dignity and, with it, an individual’s identity. A country based on the integrity of the self, on a Constitution designed to establish a protective bubble around one’s identity, cannot long survive the continual violation of that contract. The Bush administration sent us spinning down that path, along with all the self-lies and twisted rhetoric that justify torture as state policy.

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This American fall has classical tragic dimensions. Not that we haven’t used torture in other wars, most notably in Vietnam, through proxy rulers in so many countries (Chile, Greece, Iran, El Salvador, etc.) and over a century ago in the Philippines. The State in any form is a merciless engine. The miracle is that any population should still hold to the idea that their state can behave better than others, that the effort of maintaining some ethical standards is all that keeps us from sliding into complete savagery. That was one of Obama’s missions, almost explicit in his 2008 campaign. For who could doubt that his entire persona and message were framed to reassure us that, at the very least, Obama would restore some level of decency to government? Here we are five years later and no official has been called to account for our treatment of prisoners of war, or whatever type of violence we’re perpetrating “over there.”

Meanwhile, the trial of Bradley Manning continues, a man tortured by the Obama administration (yes, dear liberal friends for whom the light still somehow shines, Obama could have ordered an end to the multi-year abuse of Manning). Obama is commander-in-chief of a military establishment that still prosecutes, harasses, and dishonors those who complain of sexual abuse at the hands of their fellow soldiers. In this, they are not so different from the authorities of Dubai or Saudi Arabia, who have jailed rape victims for having unauthorized sex outside of marriage.

So while the U.S. government presses to have Manning convicted of a capital crime for providing a measure of transparency to our secretive government (no troops or personnel were threatened by the documents he leaked), our Attorney General assures Russia that if they turn Snowden over to us, we won’t torture—or kill—him. Considering Russia’s record on human rights, Holder’s assurance has all the appearance of one thug assuring another that, in this negotiation, they can both take Plan A off the table. Of course, Russia has about as much concern for Snowden’s well-being as it does for its own dissidents, but they know a good political narrative when they see one and they do love pissing in Uncle Sam’s hat.

But of course it was our own government that put its hat in that position. Polls show that tens of millions of Americans agree with Snowden’s leaks, and after weeks of non-stop government and mainstream media denunciations, we’re still split pretty evenly between agree, disagree, and not sure. Can Americans be so confused over a crime of alleged treason? Or do they recognize that Snowden has triggered a vital nation-wide debate over government surveillance that goes to the core of the rights that define a free citizenry.

Before Snowden’s leaks, it was common knowledge that the NSA and other government agencies were conducting massive data-collection sweeps of one form or another. Snowden just put a personal stamp on it—”my Verizon account!?”. Sure, a majority of Americans say they’re not so bothered by the surveillance. We’re kind of lazy that way and frankly cavalier about long-term consequences. But many Americans also have more pressing problems to worry about. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to know about the surveillance, which is basically what Snowden affirmed if one weren’t already paying attention.

It’s impossible to buy the hysterical chatter from politicos that Snowden represents a serious national security threat. Neither he nor Manning nor Julian Assange revealed anything more than the sad, tawdry reality of so much of the modern intelligence game: frequently mis-targeted, highly paranoid, often a political football, and driven by technology for technology’s sake. Thus billions of conversations and correspondences a day are fed into the maw of servers crackling and barking below-ground in Utah and elsewhere, devouring money that should be spent on bridges, hospitals, schools, and jobs. It also diverts anti-terrorism resources better spent on real investigative work and the often low-tech, strategically coordinated devices most likely to prevent armed attacks.

Instead, we have come to a place where the Attorney General has to finally agree not to torture or execute someone whose only crime was enlightening the American people as to their government’s violation of the Constitution and the spirit that inspired it. But perhaps, in the eyes of an administration that displays a witch-hunter’s mentality towards whistleblowers, enlightening the public was Snowden’s true crime, and, in their eyes, taking torture and death off the table is truly a generous offer. Generous, perhaps, but certainly not reassuring.

1 Comment

  1. November 29, 2013  12:18 am by Wayne Jensen Reply

    Yes I agree with you Snowden is a definitive public servant for outing the NSA's data mining..

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