The Public Is Now “The Enemy”

Newly leaked documents show that a US Air Force network operations manager was investigated last year after expressing sympathy for Wikileaks and for Pfc. Bradley Manning, under a charge of “Communicating with the Enemy”. This charge is technically punishable with death.

Glenn Greenwald reports on the case here, but I want to explore a curious element of it. For the charge of “Communicating with the Enemy” to hold water, the servicemember in question would have to have done the following:

“(a) That the accused, without proper authority, knowingly gave intelligence information to the enemy; and
(b) That the intelligence information was true, or implied the truth, at least in part.”

“Enemy” is further defined as including:

“organized forces of the enemy in time of war, any hostile body that our forces may be opposing, such as a rebellious mob or a band of renegades, and includes civilians as well as members of military organizations. “Enemy” is not restricted to the enemy government or its armed forces. All the citizens of one belligerent are enemies of the government and all the citizens of the other.”

The obvious question is: who is the “enemy”?

The simple answer is that the US government now sees Wikileaks itself as a non-state enemy organization, perhaps along the lines of SPECTRE in the James Bond movies with Julian Assange in the role of Count Blofeld; or, as a real-world analogy, like the bloodthirsty fanatics of al-Qaeda. It’s unprecedented for the US government to class as an “enemy” an organization that does not advocate, promote or use violence to further its aims, and the USAF documents themselves show the ridiculousness of the charge:

Air Force investigators were unable to come up with any actual victims that would result from helping Wikileaks, so they simply listed under “VICTIM:”, “Society” itself. This is further proof that the current exercise of American power is alien to the spirit of the Constitution. If there was no definable harm, why was there an investigation at all?

Let’s add into the mix the risible letter from NSA last month responding to Sen. Ron Wyden’s request to fund out how many US nationals’ communications were being spied upon, and saying that to inform Sen. Wyden of that would “violate the privacy of US persons.”

I ask again, who is the “enemy”?

Wikileaks is, like the New York Times, a mechanism for getting information out to the public, whether in America or elsewhere. The real “enemy” is not Wikileaks; it’s the American people itself. We have to be saved from ourselves. If we come to know too much – if information that embarrasses the American government were allowed to spread unchecked – then it would significantly undermine the ability of the American government to project its power unilaterally both at home and abroad.

Imagine a world where the government couldn’t take the country to war based on manufactured evidence, or a world where people realized that the use of American power in certain poor and Muslim areas of the world kills many innocent people and creates more new terrorists than are killed.

The real crime here isn’t “Communicating with the Enemy [sic]” We need a new term, and fortunately history gives us a clear precedent. So, in honor of the Soviet dissident Solzhenitsyn, I’m christening this crime “Anti-American Agitation”, or Triple-A.

We have got to get over the fact that there will always be, somewhere on the Earth, people who are harboring negative thoughts about the United States. Such feelings are a natural corollary of empire. We can’t stop people feeling that way by showering them either with propaganda or with bombs. We can, however, act to undermine anti-American sentiments by not actively supporting oppressive and undemocratic governments. For some reason, though, this cheap, safe, and effective alternative to current American policy never seems to occur to people in power.

To those who seem to be hastening to have America emulate the might and decadence of Rome: empires always fall. Rome fell, the British Empire fell, the Soviet empire fell. Trying to control too much engenders rebellion, and efforts to suppress rebellion make people lose faith in the empire’s reason for being. Let us not therefore, O Lord, become like the empire Tacitus describes, in the mouth of a British rebel:

“The terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace.”

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