Le vrai Citoyen préfère l’avantage général à son avantage.

The true Citizen prefers everyone’s benefit over his own benefit

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Oliver Stone may direct a thriller called Snowden, telling the heroic story of the whistleblower. In anticipation of it, I sought to read Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files (2014) – the main source for the film – in hope of producing a good quality review for publication.

Poster for “Citizenfour”, the award-winning documentary film by Laura Poitras, one of Snowden’s first media contacts

Snowden’s story, and the story of the journalists who took significant risks to aid him, is one that cannot be ignored, especially by the majority of the youth whose formative politics are largely shaped on the Internet. Snowden is recognized to be part of a new political generation fundamentally challenging an unwieldy and rigid state, and possibly the first such challenger to have become a “leader” and a household name. If Snowden’s philosophy and actions reveal anything, it is that modern liberal states have all become too slow and clogged with corruption to make any promises of social change. Barack Obama is an example of that problem. As enlightened as he may be as a man, as a politician he is nothing but a useless, obstructing person to change in America. This was the view of Snowden, and it convinced him that only taking the initiative personally could really shake up the system and force it to reform. This was a stunning success, with Obama only conceding that the debate was “overdue” after the leaks made public the scale of the US government’s indiscriminate surveillance of its citizens.

Still, the Obama administration continues to do nothing about the crisis facing civil liberties in the US, just as it has continually failed to close Guantanamo Bay as it promised. Obama has also astonishingly gotten the US involved in even more wars than George W. Bush did. America had a chance to move beyond torture, military aggression, and other abuses that its government carried out in the paranoid climate after the 9/11 attacks, yet Obama did nothing. Even the Senate’s torture report was too little too late. Not only was it released after innocent people had already died or been driven basically insane by their treatment at the hands of the US government, but most of the facts about it are still classified to protect US “national security”.

“National security” has historically been used to defend many horrible things, including war crimes and authoritarianism. However, it is only in recent years that the arguments have been used to justify to censoring the truth on the grounds that truth is harmful in its own right. This is what the argument against revealing the full details of the US government’s torture program amounts to. The idea that the US government should be allowed to shield the public from the truth because it might harm “national security” admits to the fraudulence of the idea of national security itself. National security is supposed to refer to protecting the “nation” – a body of associates usually with a common heritage who have consented together to form a country, but the whole idea can be discredited as Nineteenth Century nonsense. Even if we go by the Nineteenth Century understanding of it, it is clear that hiding the truth from the nation doesn’t create security for the nation at all, but causes the nation to die.

How can any group of people survive, if information essential to their lives and revealing why their mortal enemies are attacking them is being withheld from them? What the government is doing, by not disclosing the whole truth about torture or surveillance, is blindfolding the nation so its own government can beat it with a stick and whisper lies in its ear about “terrorists”. If a government violates its own constitution and the apparent rights given to the citizens, and then blindfolds the people so they don’t know the scale of the abuse, the government is undermining not just national security but the sovereignty of the people. We must remember that governments are not nations, nor do they have any sovereignty in their own right, so for them to conflate their own security with “national” security is offensive to everyone who elected them.

By Harry J. Bentham

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