Defensive America's Contempt for Full Court, Press
“The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.” – André Gide
“WikiLeaks has shown there is an America in civics textbooks and an America that functions differently in the real world.” – James Moore
Sixty-two years ago, on December 10, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration, to which the United States is undoubtedly beholden, affirms:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Well, except for WikiLeaks, of course.
Internet giant Amazon.com, which hosted the whistle-blowing website, dropped WikiLeaks last week, “only 24 hours after being contacted by the staff of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate’s committee on homeland security.” Lieberman’s call for censorship was also heeded by the Seattle-based software company, Tableau, which was hosting some informational, interactive charts linked to by WikiLeaks. These graphics contained absolutely no confidential material whatsoever and merely provided data regarding where the leaked cables originated and in what years they had been written. Nevertheless, for fear of government retribution, Tableau removed the charts, explaining,
Our decision to remove the data from our servers came in response to a public request by Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, when he called for organizations hosting WikiLeaks to terminate their relationship with the website.
But Lieberman hasn’t stopped there. A few days ago, the Senator suggested that the New York Times could potentially be charged with violating U.S. law by publishing the leaked diplomatic cables. “To me, New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship,” Lieberman said, during an interview with Fox News. “And whether they’ve committed a crime, I think that bears very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department,” he continued.
Direct connections can, and should, be made to the 2006 revelations in the New York Times about the Bush administration’s widespread domestic surveillance program, when then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested that “the government has the legal authority to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information.”
In addition to being a perfect example of the exploitation of state power to protect unflattering, revealing, and possibly damaging information about the government, Lieberman’s censorship crusade is also amazingly ironic considering statements he has made in the past regarding internet freedom. Lieberman is a member of the less than nine-month-old “Global Internet Freedom Caucus,” founded in late March 2010 by Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Ted Kaufman (D-DE) in an effort to further demonize countries that occasionally push back against American imperialism and hegemony.
In his announcement of the new caucus, Brownback proudly declared, “Walls of oppression today are built out of networks and software as much as bricks and mortar. In China, Iran, and around the world, authoritarian governments censor information, suppress communication, and persecute free speech. Just as we stand against physical brutality of oppressive regimes, so too we must stand against this new digital tyranny that violates human rights and threatens all free nations.”
Not wanting to be outdone, Lieberman chimed in, saying, “Cyberspace is a critical battlefield in the global struggle for human freedom. The United States has both a strategic interest and a moral imperative to ensure that the Internet works to empower people everywhere to secure their inalienable human rights – rather than allow the dictators who hope to use new technologies to achieve greater control and stifle dissent.”
Apparently, according to Lieberman, these “inalienable human rights” do not include knowledge of one’s own government’s war crimes and whitewashing. Serial violations and violators of human rights abuses are to be unconditionally protected from exposure, scrutiny, investigation, prosecution, and punishment, while those who reveal the truth are crucified on the altar of vital state secrecy and false cries of national security threats.
The hypocrisy of the U.S. government was yet again on display with characteristic oblivious-to-irony and self-unawareness on Thursday, when State Department spokesman and professional liar P.J. Crowley posted this on Twitter:
No country believes in press freedom more than the United States. We practice what we preach.
Crowley, whose lies about whether or not the U.S. was responsible for illegal drone attacks in Yemen that killed dozens of civilians were exposed in the first round of leaked diplomatic cables (spoiler: the U.S. was of course responsible for the attacks, despite Crowley’s straight-faced denials to the press), was tweeting with regard to the State Department’s announcement that the United States will host UNESCO’s 2011 World Press Freedom Day event in Washington D.C. The statement, released by Crowley himself on Tuesday December 7, contains the following:
New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information.
If only someone could identify which authoritarian, secretive, and oppressive governments would do such a thing! Maybe Joe Lieberman knows.
Recent American history contradicts Crowley’s tweet. Though the United States is without a doubt the world’s leading preacher on the fundamental necessity of human rights and transparency, its actions reflect somewhat different priorities. As the 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote in On Anger, “Saying is a different thing from doing; we must consider the sermon and the preacher distinctly and apart.”
On his first full day as president, Barack Obama signed a memorandum on Transparency and Open Government which stated his supposed commitment to a new level of openness in government. The memo stated, “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.”
In what ways these pretty words square with the recent, petty efforts of Obama’s own Attorney General, Eric Holder, to try and threaten WikiLeaks with criminal charges is unclear and most likely not forthcoming. Holder, in the most honest example of the Obama’s administration openness, explained, “We are looking at all the things we can do to try to stem the flow of this information.”
This past September, in front of the United Nations General Assembly, Obama declared that “the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments,” continuing that “the arc of human progress has been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble and by organizations outside of government that insisted upon democratic change and by free media that held the powerful accountable…Open society supports open government, but it cannot substitute for it.”
Nevertheless, the Obama administration has relentlessly prosecuted those who have sought to publicize government wrongdoing, while simultaneously refusing to even investigate those in the previous administration for domestic spying and authorization of torture.