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Monday, July 08, 2013

Liberal Hero Ellsberg Continues to Point Out Similarities to "Liberal Villain" Snowden

Daniel Ellsberg in the Washington Post:
Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America... After the New York Times had been enjoined from publishing the Pentagon Papers... I went underground with my wife, Patricia, for 13 days. My purpose (quite like Snowden’s in flying to Hong Kong) was to elude surveillance while I was arranging -- with the crucial help of a number of others, still unknown to the FBI -- to distribute the Pentagon Papers sequentially to 17 other newspapers, in the face of two more injunctions. The last three days of that period was in defiance of an arrest order: I was, like Snowden now, a “fugitive from justice.” Yet when I surrendered to arrest... I was released on personal recognizance bond the same day... [F]or the whole two years I was under indictment, I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures... There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today... White House actions against a defendant that were clearly criminal in Richard Nixon’s era -- and figured in his resignation in the face of impeachment... are today all regarded as legal (including an attempt to “incapacitate me totally”)... There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado. He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.) ... Snowden’s contribution to the noble cause of restoring the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution is in his documents. It depends in no way on his reputation or estimates of his character or motives -- still less, on his presence in a courtroom arguing the current charges, or his living the rest of his life in prison. Nothing worthwhile would be served, in my opinion, by Snowden voluntarily surrendering to U.S. authorities given the current state of the law. I hope that he finds a haven, as safe as possible from kidnapping or assassination by U.S. Special Operations forces, preferably where he can speak freely. What he has given us is our best chance -- if we respond to his information and his challenge -- to rescue ourselves from out-of-control surveillance that shifts all practical power to the executive branch and its intelligence agencies...
I agree with Ellsberg's every word here (and other things he said, too, for all of which follow the link above). To this, let me add that had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., been treated like Bradley Manning was and Edward Snowden surely would be, he would not have been able to publish the Letter from the Birmingham City Jail. Those who point out the indispensability of accepting arrest and prosecution for traditional nonviolent civil protest are refusing to grasp the specificity of arrest and prosecution in connection with the particular evils Snowden is seeking to resist. The continuing arrest of activists in the North Carolina Moral Monday protests is still legible within the terms of the familiar model of protest from women's suffrage to the 60s civil rights struggle to more recent protests against DADT and DOMA. If protestors associated with these causes were covertly arrested and disappeared rather than released to draw attention to their sacrifice and their trials deployed in turn to put the policies they protest on trial their model of protest would have to adapt to reflect these changed realities, too (as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina did). Sensitivity to differences in context is necessary for both effective and legible protest. I can be and am inspired both by what Snowden is doing and what Moral Mondays are doing. The differences in their methods impugn the motives of neither of these protests. I no more see the need to declare either the more righteous than I see the need to declare the palpable evils each combat as the more heinous. In making these assessments I can't say that I much care whether I might not think everything all the protestors have done in their lives were as admirable as what they are doing in the protests themselves or whether some of them seem occasionally unlikeable or frivolous or mistaken in their private lives, public conduct, or other opinions. Too many self-identified liberals seem to be eager to indulge in character assassination of Snowden the better to align themselves with the assumptions and aspirations of a surveillance and policing state that is simply off the rails. This is profoundly misguided and unbecoming and, the say the least, illiberal.

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