The recent developments in the United States and the United Kingdom have ramifications beyond the conventional Western world. The democratic deficit in these two major nations, especially in dealing with whistleblowers and independent media, will hurt the rest of the world more. According to agency reports, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison last week for providing a trove of classified documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, a military judge ruled. Judge Denise Lind also dishonourably discharged Manning (25) from the military at the court martial at Fort Meade, a U.S. Army base in Maryland. Around the same time, The Guardian (U.K.) Editor, Alan Rusbridger, drew our attention to the events in a London Heathrow transit lounge and The Guardian offices, to alert us to the real and growing threat to journalism.
Manning’s letter seeking a presidential pardon is a lesson on conduct in public sphere. It is pertinent to look at the operative part of that letter to understand his motives and actions. First he debunks the exaggerated notion of patriotism: “Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically based dissension, it is usually the American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived mission.”
From there he proceeds to locate these excesses in a historical perspective: “Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy — the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps — to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light. As the late Howard Sinn once said, there is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
Then he takes both moral and legal responsibility for his action: “I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.”
And finally, he exhibits a rare courage to pay the price for a conscientious service: “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.”
Firmly grounded case
Many are sceptical about his chances of getting a presidential pardon. But, Manning has a case that is firmly grounded on fairness, transparency, democracy, respecting sovereignty of smaller states, limitation of military actions and more importantly a place for informed dissent.
The scene is scary: Manning is in prison, Edward Snowden is in exile, Julian Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, security experts land in The Guardian office to oversee the destruction of hard drives that contained material on the NSA surveillance, David Miranda was detained at the Heathrow transit terminal. Nothing of this magnitude happened even when the Washington Post pursued the Watergate story during Richard Nixon’s time.
Last Wednesday, this newspaper carried Rusbridger’s article on the unprecedented pressure his newspaper was subjected to by the U.K. government. He wrote: “The detention of Mr. Miranda has rightly caused international dismay because it feeds into a perception that the U.S. and U.K. governments — while claiming to welcome the debate around state surveillance started by Mr. Snowden — are also intent on stemming the tide of leaks and on pursuing the whistleblower with a vengeance. That perception is right.” But he is not willing to be cowed down by these threats. He wrote: “We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Mr. Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Mr. Greenwald’s work. The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that.”
The fate of Indian whistleblowers is much more stark. There are not only number of threats and harassments but murders also. Along with Rusbridger’s article, this paper carried a story on Ashok Khemka. In 2003, a young engineer, Satyendra Dubey, was killed for exposing corruption in the highways department; in 2005 S. Manjunath, an IOC official, was killed for sealing a petrol pump that was selling adulterated fuel; in May 2012 an audit official from Karnataka, Mahantesh, was murdered for drawing attention to illegal land allotments by cooperative societies. These are serious crimes that undermine the wellspring of a democratic framework. Incarcerating whistleblowers is incarcerating democracy; murdering them is murdering democracy.