The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) voted overwhelmingly to present the 2014 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.
On February 19, 2014 Pvt. Manning – currently incarcerated at Leavenworth Prison – was recognized at a ceremony in absentia at Oxford University’s prestigious Oxford Union Society for casting much-needed daylight on the true toll and cause of civilian casualties in Iraq; human rights abuses by U.S. and “coalition” forces, mercenaries, and contractors; and the roles that spying and bribery play in international diplomacy.
The founders of America – fresh from a war of independence from King George lll – were particularly fearful of concentrating power. James Madison wrote that “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”(1)
To address these concerns, the founders of America actively took steps when drafting the Constitution and ratifying a Bill of Rights-including protections echoing the Libertarianism of John Locke-to ensure that no person be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
More recently, though, since the rise of the national security apparatus – after a brief hiatus between the fall of the Soviet Union and the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center – the American government has been pursuing an unprecedented amount of secrecy and power consolidation in the Executive branch, under the President and the Cabinet.
When drafting Article III of the American Constitution, the founders were rather leery of accusations of treason, and accorded special protections for those accused of such a capital offense, providing that “[n]o person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”
For those of you familiar with the American Constitution, you may notice that this provision is under the Article concerning the Judiciary, Article III, and not the Legislative or Executive Articles, I and II respectively. And, historically, when the American government accuses an American of such crimes, it has prosecuted them in a federal criminal court.
In a recent Freedom of Information Act case(2) – a seemingly Orwellian “newspeak” name for a statute that actually exempts categories of documents from release to the public – a federal district court judge ruled against the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Times and the ACLU argued that documents regarding the practice of “targeted killing” of American citizens, such as the radical Sunni cleric Anwar Nasser al-Aulaqi were in the public’s interest and were being withheld improperly.
The government first refused to acknowledge the existence of the documents, but later argued that their release could harm national security and were therefore exempt from disclosure. The court, however, felt constrained by the law and “conclud[ed] that the Government [had] not violated the FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and [could not] be compelled . . . to explain in detail the reasons why [the Government’s] actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
However, the judge also wrote candidly about her frustration with her sense that the request “implicate[d] serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States,” and that the Presidential “Administration ha[d] engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of [American] citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways.” In other words, it wasn’t that she didn’t think that the public didn’t have a right to know – it was that she didn’t feel that she had the “legal” authority to compel disclosure.
This case, like too many others, presents a critical problem that can also be seen in several recent cases, including my court-martial. For instance, I was accused by the Executive branch, and particularly the Department of Defense, of aiding the enemy – a treasonable offense covered under Article III of the Constitution.
Granted, I received due process. I received charges, was arraigned before a military judge for trial, and eventually acquitted. But, the al-Aulaqi case raises a fundamental question: did the American government, and particularly the same President and Department, have the power to unilaterally determine my guilt of such an offense, and execute me at the will of the pilot of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle?
Until documents held by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel were released after significant political pressure in mid-2013, I could not tell you. And, very likely, I do not believe I could speak intelligently of the Administration’s policy on “targeted killing” today either.
There is a problem with this level of secrecy, obfuscation, and classification or protective marking, in that they supposedly protect citizens of their nation; yet, it also breeds a unilateralism that the founders feared, and deliberately tried to prevent when drafting the American Constitution. Now, we have a “disposition matrix,” classified military commissions, and foreign intelligence and surveillance courts – modern Star Chamber equivalents.
I am now accepting this award, through my friend, former school peer, and former small business partner, Aaron, for the release of a video and documents that “sparked a worldwide dialogue about the importance of government accountability for human rights abuses,” it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the dangers of withholding documents, legal interpretations, and court jurisprudence from the public that pertain to the right to “life, liberty, and property” of a state’s citizens is as fundamental and important to protecting against such human rights abuses.
When the public lacks the ability to access what its government is doing, it ceases to be involved in the governing process. There is a distinct difference between citizens, in which people are entitled to rights and privileges protected by and from the state, and subjects, in which people are placed under the absolute authority and control of the state. In essence, this is the difference between tyranny and freedom. To echo a maxim from Milton and Foes Friedman: a society that puts secrecy – in the sense of state secrecy – ahead of transparency and accountability will end up neither secure nor free.
CHELSEA E. MANNING
1 – Federalist Papers, No. 47 (1788).
2 – NewYorkTimes v. United States Department of Justice, 915 F. Supp.2d 5O8, (S.D.N.Y.,2013.01.03).
Edward Snowden on Chelsea Manning and Over-Classification
Hello. Thanks for joining us in congratulating Chelsea Manning on winning the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence.
The Sam Adams Associates tonight will be discussing the merits of Chelsea Manning’s revelations and how she came to be selected for the award.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there tonight.
I am going to comment generally on an issue that she raised of public prominence that is very important but less well acknowledged. That issue is over-classification.
Over-classification, where the government uses the state secrets privilege to withhold information from the public that is not related to national security and is otherwise unjustified, has become a serious problem.
Just a few days ago, we saw the Prime Minister of Australia argue that the price of shrimp and clove cigarettes in Indonesia is a matter of national security – a “security matter” in the Australian state.
In the last year, the White House told us that 95 million records had been created, classified, and withheld from the public in the year 2012. That is more than any other year on record, and shows a trend where the government is withholding more secrets than ever – and this is not unique to the United States – many other Western governments are on the same trajectory.
Now, this is a concern because documents that we received from Manning showed us that some of this information is unambiguously necessary for public ends. For example, how can we vote without evidence of the true costs of the wars in which we are involved; instances of public corruption, official corruption in nations that we support and ally ourselves with; or even national participation in torture programs and rendition programs, and unambiguous war crimes? All of these were represented in the Manning leaks.
The foundation of democracy is the consent of the governed. After all, we can’t consent to programs and policies about which we were never informed. When we follow this to its logical conclusion, we see a corollary, which is that the decline of an open government, the decline of democracy, begins when the domain of government expands beyond the borders of its public’s knowledge. Because, when a public is no longer aware of the actions of its officials, is no longer aware of what is going on behind closed doors, it can no longer hold the most senior members in society to necessary account for serious wrongdoing – because the evidence of that wrongdoing is itself a secret from them.
Now, I believe we have to remember that the distinguishing strength of a democracy is self-correction. That, no matter how bad things get, the public in partnership with a free press can detect and correct the mistakes of policy by well-intentioned but misguided officials. It is this self-correcting, self-determined form of unapologetically American government in which Chelsea Manning so valuably participated. And, it is for this extraordinary act of public service, at an unbelievable personal cost, for which we grant this award and our moral sanction to Chelsea Manning.