Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and the freedom of the press

If Glenn Greenwald isn’t given a Pulitzer Prize for helping the Guardian uncover the biggest surveillance program in the world and expose the NSA and government lies about the extent of their eavesdropping on US citizens and foreigners, it will only serve to highlight what he and other independent media have been saying for years about the mainstream media: that the journalistic establishment in the US has gone to the corporate dogs.

Notwithstanding (New York’s grandstanding Republican Congressman) Peter King’s calls for him to be charged with espionage and thrown in jail, most sane American politicians are fully aware that, as a member of the fourth estate, Greenwald is entitled to the protection of the first amendment. He can’t be prosecuted for basically doing his professional and moral duty to shine a light on secretive government agencies that operate in the grey area of the law and are only accountable to their political masters, rather than the people.

That said; don’t expect any more integrity from either the jackasses in the Democratic Party or those elephantine dicks in the Republican Party in this affair. The fact is they are currently falling over themselves in their attempts to look tough on terrorism by supporting the Obama’s administration’s PRISM program and his attempts to bring Edward Snowden, the whistleblower at the centre of this firestorm, back to the US to face trial for violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property for the purposes of disclosing classified information. But that’s not all, he’s also been charged with “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person” under the same act.

Snowden is facing up to 30 years behind bars, should US authorities successfully repatriate him. The question as to whether Snowden should be prosecuted by the state, unlike the case of Greenwald, is by no means clear-cut. The truth of the matter is that he has violated any number of federal laws in acting the way he did and is not protected by the constitutional right to freedom of the press, the way the journalists who broke the story are.

nsa yes we scan

Therefore, the question becomes more of a moral dilemma, than a legal one: should a man who has flagrantly broken the law in the name of the public interest be spared punishment? Were Snowden’s action those of a political dissident engaged in a selfless act of civil disobedience? Or were they the actions of a dangerous egotistical subversive unwittingly playing right into the hands of terrorists and America’s enemies?

One things for sure, many of the people eagerly labeling him public enemy number one just so happen to be those with the most to hide themselves from the public. As Snowden himself said in a recent online chat arranged by the Guardian: “to be called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honour and American can be paid.”

Perhaps Greenwald summed up my own feeling on the matter best when he tweeted: “How is leaking to a newspaper and informing one’s fellow citizens about secret government behaviour espionage?”

As far as we know, Snowden didn’t sell these power point slides (if you’re reading this NSA spooks, please use more eye-catching graphics next time) to the highest bidder. Nor did he release all the classified documents at his disposal unilaterally and indiscriminately without the help of an internationally renowned newspaper, which, had his intention been to cause maximum damage to the US national interest, he could have easily done. As he said himself, to the Guardian readers “If I were a Chinese spy wouldn’t I have flown directly to Beijing? I could be living in a Palace petting a phoenix by now.”

As for the argument that so many right wing hacks and politicians of all stripes are peddling on Fox news right now, that he has revealed America’s greatest weapon in the war against Al-Qaeda and other terrorists, give me a freaking break! No terrorist worth their fertilizer would ever trust the security of cell phones or the internet for communicating their nefarious plots against us.

In a recent debate on Democracy Now about the threat to civil liberties and the work of journalists posed by the growing security state surveillance apparatus, journalist Chris Hedges made the point that people like Snowden are the only thing standing between the independent media’s ability to challenge the government and it’s violations of our basic right to privacy on the one hand and the expanding intrusions of the state into almost every area of our private lives in order to fight its quixotic “war” on terrorism, on the other.

The way we treat the Snowden case will say a lot about which side of this debate is actually winning in our society at the moment.

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