Snowden’s Ironic Refuge

By A. G. Moore 7/2/2013
Statue of Liberty, the “Mother of Exiles”
Photo by Chan Kok Hoi
Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons
I contemplate Edward Snowden’s refuge in Putin’s Russia with a sense of dramatic irony. Presently, Putin’s judiciary is in the process of trying a dead man for corruption: Sergei Magnitsky was imprisoned in 2008 after exposing corruption of high government officials; he died 11 months later under suspicious circumstances. Not content to let the Magnitsky affair rest with death, the Russian government went ahead with his trial. This extreme prosecution can only be viewed in one way: it is a warning to all who resist or offend the government that overwhelming retribution awaits them.And how should we view the current circumstance of Edward Snowden except in the same light? The U. S. government has brought all of its powers to bear against one man in order to send a message: there will never be escape, never be refuge, anywhere, any time.Even I’m surprised by the government’s single-minded and absolute assertion of  authority. I find this not merely chilling, but oppressive. We are, it seems, truly in the age Orwell envisioned, and Big Brother has achieved dominion not on some foreign shore, but in the U. S. heartland.In 1971 Daniel Ellsberg “leaked” a secret government study which came to be called The Pentagon Papers. At the time the U. S. tried Ellsberg for violating the Espionage Act. However, a judge threw the case out of court because Ellsberg had been wiretapped illegally. Today Ellsberg contrasts his case with that of Bradley Manning, who so far has been imprisoned for three years.  Manning, who also “leaked” secret government documents, will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. It is Ellsberg’s belief that had he released the Pentagon Papers today, he would also be facing  a lifetime prison sentence.In considering the loss of civil liberties Americans have tolerated since the World Trade Center attack in 2001, some people suggest the terrorists have won: it was because of terrorism that so many freedom-curtailing statutes were passed and it is because of terrorism that Americans are willing to give up personal freedom. But I think blaming the terrorists for loss of civil liberty is wrong; I think sloth and poor education are the victors.  Most Americans are so poorly informed about how they gained their freedom that they don’t bother to protect it; and most Americans are ignorant of how easily citizens of other nations have lost liberty. The theft of freedom is usually insidious, gradual and seemingly innocuous–at first. That is, until the moment it’s too late, the moment when freedom is gone.The U. S. may be at that moment; I’m not sure. One bright sign for the people is that government still fears an informed citizenry. Information can motivate; the government knows an inflamed people may demand change.We have to take this moment in history very seriously.  We have to consider the charges against Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. Their offenses are that they informed us. The terrorists likely learned nothing from these two, for it is certain they already knew about U. S. surveillance techniques. Only I, and other average Americans, think this is news. Are we not entitled to this information? How can we make responsible decisions as voters in a democracy if we do not have information, if we are so shielded from policy that we don’t know what is going on?Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning are unlikely heroes of democracy. I am grateful to them because they have given me the tools–the information–with which to be a responsible citizen. I do not acquiesce to their imprisonment. If the government can silence them, can banish them, who will speak up for me, for us? Who will let us know that freedom is threatened not only by people who would fly airplanes into buildings, but also by our own elected representatives?

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