Servants of the truth

Adam Bates Policy Analyst, Cato Institute Project on Criminal Justice
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While the proceedings against both Pfc. Bradley Manning (who leaked thousands of classified documents regarding the U.S. government’s war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan) and former CIA agent John Kiriakou (who leaked classified information about the CIA’s torture regime) have generated a wealth of opinions regarding the moral merit of government whistleblowing, a crucial bit of context is sorely lacking from the national discussion: how much we now depend on such leaks for any semblance of the truth about what the U.S. government is doing in our name and with our money around the globe.

Considering just how difficult it has become for the American people to find out anything about the U.S. government’s vast national security and military complexes, we must acknowledge that, whether they are to be named traitors or heroes, people like Bradley Manning and John Kiriakou, through their willingness to disseminate what the government would hide, have become virtually the only source of unadulterated truth remaining on our national political landscape.

The traditional means by which light is shed on the government’s actions have utterly collapsed as the security state has expanded. With the abdication of our traditional fact-finding institutions (the government, the courts, the media, etc.), the need for agents of the state to come forward (even in violation of the law and at great personal risk) is magnified.

As another treasonous soul once declared, “To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world:”

We currently have a president who, despite claims of “the most transparent administration in history” and a promise to champion “patriotic and courageous” government whistleblowers, has, by dredging up from the depths of history the Espionage Act of 1917, prosecuted more government whistleblowers than every single one of his predecessors combined. Not only has President Obama suppressed government whistleblowing at home, but he has also been instrumental in reprisals against foreign journalists who creep too close to the truth for the White House’s liking.

The American judicial system, too, has failed to support and protect the conveyance of truth. In issues of law enforcement and national security, the courts have so completely rolled over in deference to the executive branch that the recent attempt of an American citizen to prevent the government from murdering his American son was dismissed both as a non-justiciable “political question” and as a prayer that would “inappropriately” force the government to publicly disclose its murderous designs toward the American people. When the courts hold that the government’s interest in secrecy is weightier than the rights of American citizens not to be tortured or killed without due process, what chance does our interest in knowing the truth behind our government’s behavior stand in front of such judges?

The refusal of the media to engage in even the most basic modicum of journalism and truth-finding is just as galling. The New York Times once fought the U.S. government all the way to the Supreme Court to assert its right to reveal the secrets of the Pentagon Papers; now the same paper can barely even be bothered to attend Manning’s court proceedings. In fact, according to Manning himself, many prominent newspapers refused to accept his disclosures for fear of the government’s wrath. Many liberal media outlets dare not criticize a sitting Democratic president, even when he embraces policies that progressives once found abhorrent, and the conservative media simply considers every corpse generated by the Obama administration in the name of national security a validation of the conservative worldview.

So who is left? Those few who know the truth are forbidden, under the threat of confinement, torture, and death, from disclosing it, while those traditionally charged to pursue and disseminate the truth refuse, whether out of cowardice or partisan complicity, to discharge their duties while Barack Obama sits in the Oval Office.

Without the immense personal risks taken by men like Bradley Manning, John Kiriakou, and other whistleblowers around the world, would we know the extent of our government’s willingness to torture its prisoners? Would we know that Barack Obama believes he has (and has exercised) the authority to kill any person (including American citizens), anywhere in the world, based solely on the secret deliberations of executive branch officials under his direct control?

Who was going to reveal those truths to us, if not the people who did?

Even if you maintain, for whatever reason, that the actions of Bradley Manning and John Kiriakou were wrong or even treasonous, you must also acknowledge that we are all closer to the truth because of them.

Bradley Manning may be unfit to serve in the U.S. Army and John Kiriakou may have sold out the CIA. But in demonstrating their failings as government agents, these men demonstrated themselves to be servants of the truth at a time when such service is dangerous, reviled, and desperately necessary.

All of us who value the truth more than we value politics or the will of the government owe these “traitors” a tremendous debt.

Adam Bates received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Miami (FL) in 2007, and a J.D. and M.A. in Middle Eastern & North African Studies from the University of Michigan in 2011.