Leaks, law and justice

My latest for Al Jazeera English is on the Chelsea Manning verdict:

In 2011, President Obama gave a statement to the press when questioned by a Manning sympathiser. “We are a nation of laws,” he said. “We don’t let individuals make decisions about how the law operates. [Manning] broke the law.”

Notably, “we are a nation of laws” is the same initial response Obama gave in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The reminder that we are a nation of laws serves to keep us from asking whether we are a nation of justice.

When institutions collapse, we are left with ideals. Law is an institution; justice is an ideal. But the media present the leaks largely as a question of allegiance – a battle between those who defend government and those who seek to destroy it.

“Tribal feelings determine how you view the significance of Edward Snowden’s revelations,” writes journalist Marc Ambinder, arguing that we cannot help but “side with the side we identify with: civil libertarians, journalism, or with the intelligence community, with policy-makers.”

There is a category left out of that equation: citizens. Manning reacted to war crimes as a citizen seeking reconciliation between law and justice. She wanted the American government to follow its own legal and moral precepts.

This is not an extreme position, nor is it a particularly libertarian one. It asks that those who abuse their power be held accountable. It asks that institutions – like the government and the military – behave as moral entities and take responsibility for the actions of their cruelest, most incompetent members.

But when institutions are eroding from within, far more offensive is the person who brings this fact to light. Manning’s 35-year sentence is more than that of other perceived enemies of the state, including John Walker Lindh, who received 20 years after fighting alongside the Taliban.

Manning’s sentence is a warning for those who pursue justice in a nation of laws.

Read the full article, Justice in a ‘Nation of Laws’: The Manning verdict, at Al Jazeera English.

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2 Responses to Leaks, law and justice

  1. No Racist Anthropology says:

    It would be great if you and/or Al Jazeera would write about the role of White male privilege in making whistleblowing possible: both for Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. There is an interesting disavowal of said privilege by both Manning and Snowden, though clearly for different reasons, but I think that it is important to be honest about the ways in which they’re being identified and identifiable as White males–even if these is a gender identity they reject–has made possible their ability to be seen as Serious Whistleblowers Worth Listening to, including by people like Daniel Ellsberg (also a White male, and raising larger issues of implicit identification(s)).

    In particular, I would draw your attention to Gleen Greenwald’s comments at a recent socialist conference in which he said that Edward Snowden came from an non-privileged, lower-middle-class background (Interview available here: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023142329). But we while Snowden may not have come from a background with financial/economic capital, he did have the symbolic capitale of White maleness, which goes quite a long way toward being seen as a (legitimate) whistleblower, and being listened to when one speaks out about illegality and wrongdoing. (Compare this subject position, for example, to the Black woman who spoke out about Berkeley covering up Title IX hostile climate violations and was ignored (and retaliated against and smeared as a violent ‘ghetto’ criminal, though she is clearly not) for years, only to have her complaints confirmed by Gloria Allred’s recent suit against Berkeley (along with Dartmouth, USC, and Swarthmore) in which Allred et al. complain about a years-long pattern of Berkeley (and the other institutions) covering up sexual assaults on campus, along with other incidents of sexual harassment and gender-based abuse).

    Yes, Manning’s sentence is certainly a warning to those who pursue justice in a nation of laws, and we should be more clear-sighted in realizing who these pursuers of justice are, and the role that race/gender/color play in being heard and seen as a legitimate whistleblower (v. just some crazy non-white person/woman ranting and raving for no legitimate reason).

    ‘Some of us are brave’.

  2. No Racist Anthropology says:

    Apologies for typos in previous comment.

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