Major media outlets throughout Canada and the USA are focusing their attention on Edward Snowden; not, as one would hope, because of the massive and illegal State surveillance program he has helped to expose, but because of his personal characteristics. This should not be surprising to anyone familiar with the history of whistleblowers.
Approximately 40 years ago, whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was labelled by the USA as the “most dangerous man in America”. Ellsberg was wanted for leaking the Pentagon Papers that disclosed some of the war crimes perpetrated by the USA in South-East Asia and some of the most egregious human rights violations since the end of the Second World War. Much like today’s attacks on Snowden, the State response was to break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to steal private medical records in an effort to discredit Ellsberg. In retrospect, Daniel Ellsberg is lauded for his brave, determined and principled actions in the face of extraordinary pressure including threats of torture and death for treason.
A similar story has unfolded for alleged War Logs and Diplomatic Cables leaker Bradley Manning. Wikileaks, with data allegedly received from Manning, disclosed innumerable atrocities, deceits, and commentary thereon, committed by Western (predominantly the USA but including Canada and European nations) personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The Manning and Wikileaks revelations were instrumental to the democratic revolutions seen throughout North Africa and the Middle East in recent years.
Our response to these whistleblowers reveals the strength of our love for liberty, democracy and freedom. Those who focus on the personal characteristics of the whistleblowers and condemn them for violating State security interests (without a shred of evidence to support such a claim) accept being kept in the dark and entrust the running of society to our self-appointed betters. Those who believe in enlightenment principles of transparency, free speech, democracy and of government of, by and for the people, will question why they permit their State to hide behind veils of secrecy, always telling us that these issues are too complex and sensitive for our overly inquisitive minds.
Snowden ought to be praised for his courage in the face of the World’s only super power, where calls for his extra-judicial torture and murder are being regularly made by State officials. Those who ally themselves with transparency advocates like Snowden, Manning, Wikileaks and Ellsberg need to raise their voices and demand transparency from those who purport to govern in their name.
The recent revelations of the Canadian Government having conducted nefarious medical experiments with First-Nations’ children in the 1940s after having witnessed similar experimentation by German officials on Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals during World War Two, is further evidence of the problem with secrecy here in Canada. After revelations of the Residential Schools crimes, one is left to wonder what other barbarous and inhuman atrocities have been committed by our State and in our name against First Nations peoples (see for example, James Daschuk’s “Clearing The Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life”). The crimes of our government, including widespread and systematic ethnic cleansing and genocide (the remnants of which remain to this day) ought to be brought out into the open and reparations ought to be made.
Open and transparent government fosters accountability. Progressive voices ought to have an opportunity to debate the merits of policies and actions which may contravene civil liberties and fundamental human rights. Democratic governance is an evolving concept and freedom of speech and transparency are crucial to its operation and evolution. We should encourage transparency advocates like Snowden, Manning and Wikileaks despite the best efforts of State officials and the mainstream media to demonize them and scare us into accepting a Big Brother corporate-state.
By Rajinder Sahota
Rajinder S. Sahota is a lawyer and provides expert legal advice to a wide range of clients.