Michael Ratner: New York Times recognizing Snowden should spur backing of other whistleblowers
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this latest edition of The Ratner Report.
We’re now joined by Michael Ratner. He’s the president emeritus for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, American attorney for Julian Assange. He’s also a board member for The Real News Network.
Thank you so much for joining us.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s good to be with The Real News again in the new year.
NOOR: So, Michael, I know there’s been a lot going on surrounding the revelations leaked by Edward Snowden, formerly of the NSA. And The New York Times just came out on Wednesday calling for clemency, or at least a plea deal for Snowden. What’s your response?
RATNER: I woke up, I opened the paper–on January 2, actually–the first big editorial of the new year’s in The Times, half a page editorial of the editorial column, calling, as you said, Jaisal, for either clemency or a plea deal. And, actually, the title of the editorial: “Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower”, which alone says a lot.
So you have The Times really, right now, firmly behind Edward Snowden, getting clemency or a reduced plea deal, conceivably no time in prison at all.
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And what they said: they said that he’s given incredibly valuable information, he’s revealed abuse, he’s revealed criminality by government officials, and that that’s a whistleblower, and that he did so without actually causing any kind of grave damage to national security, and he did so because the normal channels were closed to him. On that basis, The Times says, the government ought to be making a deal with them.
Now, what’s really going on here is a bit unclear to me. One thing, of course, is his revelations have been incredibly important. Every one of us–you, I, my children, your parents–were all being surveilled constantly now by the National Security Agency. Serious revelations. Clearly, something has to be done about them.
But, you know, you also a few days ago saw a call for clemency by a man named Leggett–I think it’s Leggett. He’s in charge of the NSA task force looking at the effect of Snowden’s revelations. And he said, well, we might be interested in offering him clemency, and he said: because we want to basically shut him up. He may have a lot more information. He implied that Snowden did have more information (none of us, of course, know whether that’s true or not), and that maybe there’s a deal to be made with Snowden based on other revelations that he has that perhaps other journalists don’t have, and that deal would give Snowden some kind of clemency.
So there’s clearly something in the air. The American people are upset by the revelations. The journalists are upset by the revelations. The NSA thinks they can make a deal, and they’re making at least a lot of moves and a lot of noise around somehow giving Snowden some kind of either a reduced term or clemency.
I don’t have any issue about it. Of course Edward Snowden ought to get clemency. He’s a hero. He’s a whistleblower. He oughtn’t be prosecuted. The people who ought to be prosecuted are the people who carried out the illegal acts, the illegal surveillance, the illegal wiretapping on everything from our telephones to our computers to every communication. They ought to be prosecuted, not Edward Snowden.
The couple of negatives within that are, of course, if it’s true that Edward Snowden has a lot more information to reveal, it might be nice for the American people to know that information. He apparently at this point has decided not to do that, assuming he even has any, which I don’t know. But that might be nice.
And the second thing about Edward Snowden, which he said a few days ago, is that he considers his mission accomplished. Now, that’s an important statement. And his mission, as he defined it, if I understand, is to get the American people to understand what the NSA is doing and to begin to discuss it and to begin to put out some suggestions or eventually laws for legislative reform. So the president’s task force on the NSA came out with a bunch of recommendations, some congressional bills. And what Edward Snowden says is, in his view, his mission, which is to give this information to the American people, has been accomplished.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s been accomplished for all the rest of us or for me or for other people. In my view, the NSA mission or the mission will be accomplished only when the NSA is essentially ended as an institution of spying, surveillance on the American people and people all over the world.
And what worries me at this point is what we’re going to see in Congress and possibly other places is a papering over of what the NSA has done, some modest reforms that people find acceptable, which I don’t find acceptable, and therefore somehow it will go away, Snowden will get some kind of clemency, and that’ll be the end of the matter.
So that’s some of my concerns around what’s going on.
But I want to get to my major concern. My major concern here is, when I looked at that editorial in The Times, I said to myself, why are they only talking about Edward Snowden? Why is he the only person who The Times is putting forth as the person to get clemency or to get a reduced sentence? What about Chelsea Manning, the young soldier who revealed the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan war logs, the “Collateral Murder” video, Cablegate? What about Jeremy Hammond, who revealed the criminality of major private corporations and the spy networks set up by corporations? What about Barrett Brown, who is being prosecuted for just pasting a link related to what Jeremy Hammond had done? What about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, who have been the actual publishers of much of the information that we know from the Iraq War Logs, as well as the Afghan war logs and Cablegate? Why aren’t those people in the New York Times article as well?
And, you know, it’s difficult to know everything about why they’re not, but in fact, if you look at the Times‘ criteria for why they think Snowden ought to get clemency, you can apply those criteria to Chelsea Manning or any other of the people I’ve mentioned. They exposed government criminality. Obviously, we know that from Chelsea Manning’s work, whether it’s torture centers in Iraq, whether it’s the killings and the murders in the “Collateral Murder” video, whether it’s the 15,000 extra so-called collateral murders of civilians that took place in Iraq, whether it was the unauthorized war in Yemen. We could go on and on. So the other whistleblowers, the other truth-tellers, they fit that criteria, exposing government criminality and corruption.
They also fit the other criteria The Times put forward. They didn’t really have another way to get this information out. Chelsea Manning went to the people above him in his chain of command. They weren’t willing to do anything. And also, as is clear, Chelsea Manning’s material and the other material that’s been revealed by these sources did not hurt in any significant way national security. That came out at the Chelsea Manning trial when the government tried to prove it. In the end, their case fell apart.
So here you see the three criteria The Times applies to Ed Snowden. When they’re applied to Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Jeremy Hammond, Barrett Brown, those people ought to as well be getting editorials in papers like The Times. Give these people clemency. They’re whistleblowers or truth-tellers. They ought to get it.
So you have to question what’s really going on here. And in my view what’s going on here is quite straightforward. What Edward Snowden did, to his incredible credit, because it’s made this world very different than it was before he began, is tell us that the NSA is spying on all of us and a lot of world leaders and a lot of businesses and a lot of things all over the world. And people are very upset about it.
What Chelsea Manning did was tell us that the American military and our government are killing civilians all over the world, are engaging in torture all over the world. But what his revelations–or what her revelations do, what Chelsea Manning’s do, are speaking about not us as Americans, not what’s happening to me, but what’s happening to other people. And in this case the others, at least in many of the Chelsea Manning documents, are Muslims. They are the, quote, others. And my view is that in some way Americans care a lot more about what’s happening to them than they care about the fact that the United States and its military is carrying out war crimes, war crimes all over the world.
Now, some people would say, well, you know, Ed Snowden’s character is differen than Chelsea Manning’s or Julian Assange or Jeremy Hammond or Barrett Brown, and they sort of attribute the difference in treatment to, you know, the way they presented themselves, character defects, or that somehow Chelsea Manning, quote, dumped documents, Edward Snowden knew what he was taking. Well, you know, I think those are just excuses that you can apply that really have no application to what’s really going on here, because what’s going on here, as I said, is in one case it’s about what’s happening to us and not what’s happening to others.
My message, really, for this, particularly, segment of my report is that The Times and each of us ought to make sure that in fighting for clemency and for Edward Snowden, we ought to make sure that right up there in the pantheon of heroes we’re fighting for clemency for are Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Jeremy Hammond, and Barrett Brown. Only then will I begin to say perhaps there’s hope in this next year that the whistleblowers and truth-tellers would be treated as the heroes they are to all of us.
NOOR: Thank you so much, Michael Ratner.
RATNER: Jaisal, thank you for having me.
NOOR: You can follow us on Twitter @therealnews, Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.
Thank you so much for joining us.
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