Yesterday, Chris Hedges came to American University to discuss the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers and the targeting of journalists.
He began, “Over my own lifetime, 30 years as a reporter, I started covering the war in El Salvador in 1983, you’ve seen an assault against not only the press but basic civil liberties that make a free press possible.” This is something, Chris explained that goes across administrations. It was while writing during the Reagan administration that he saw the huge pushback from the government when you are writing or revealing a narrative that the government doesn’t want people to see.
“As a foreign correspondent who has covered the outer reaches of Empire for 20 years, writing the narrative of what’s real – what’s happening in Gaza, what’s happening in South Eastern Turkey, what’s happening in the marshes of Southern Iraq – wherever it is, almost inevitably runs into conflict with the official narrative that is peddled for political reasons to a domestic public.”
Today, more than ever, journalists are harassed and surveilled by state power. It began with the FISA Amendment Act (2008) (thought it had been happening for decades) which saw an explosion of whole-sale state surveillance. Every correspondence – every email, every phone call – is investigated by the government. This, Hedges said, is the end of investigative reporting. Add to that the use and abuse of the Espionage Act of 1917 – passed to prosecute those who give state secrets to the enemy – it is now the case that the American public is the enemy. The act has been used seven times by the Obama administration against whistleblowers who reveal fraud, waste, abuse, illegal surveillance programs, war crimes, unreported civilian deaths by the likes of Kiriakou, Manning, and Snowden. It is, as Hedges stated, a weapon to reinforce the fact that we have little or no power to expose government wrong doing and “shine a light” on their actions. It is this fact – government prosecution of whistleblowers and the government Panopticon that reads and saves all of our metadata – that spooked a would-be whistleblower who had planned to reveal a US attack on Iran to provoke a response. The man had reached out to Hedges with information, only to later hang up on him and tell him never to call again. This, he said, is supremely dangerous. It allows the Empire “carte-blanche” to do whatever they want. “I covered the Stasi in East Germany,” he said, and the lack of response to this totalitarian state surveillance is “mystifying.”
Now take the National Defense Authorization Act – signed into law by President Obama, which allows the executive branch to condemn a US citizen to death without due process or evidence and allows the military to cease American citizens and hold them indefinitely in one of our many black sites around the globe – “until the end of hostilities” – a time that will never come in the age of perpetual war. Hedges suit against the Obama administration for the NDAA was successful for a time – but was ultimately thrown out of court, saying Hedges had no standing because he had no explicit evidence that the law would have an impact on his work. And yet, from the story above, it already has.
We live in a period of instability, Hedges explain, and it is this instability – this fear – that allows the government to continue to use these draconian legal tools to shut down dissent and opposition. The “fake liberalism that characterizes the Obama administration” has only served to neutralize democratic, black, and liberal opposition while he continues the very same policies put in place by preceding administrations. “We need people to block the damn streets!” This is the only way we can make change. The channels we should have through the government to make change have all but disappeared. The only chance we now have is through mass civil disobedience.
We have the power to empower the people.”