One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The situation with Edward Snowden, the most-wanted NSA leaker, puts to the test every one of my beliefs, convictions and capricious thoughts. On the one hand, the quixotic side of my polygonal being applauds his impetus for freedom. The part of me that is happy for the capture of the Boston Marathon bombers, however, wonders…
As someone who grew up in Cuba, where the notion of privacy – to say nothing of individual freedoms and civil liberties – is completely foreign, I have had to educate myself to be intellectually outraged when the ACLU or Rand Paul says our privacy was violated. I mean, it is not the gut-wrenching outraged I feel when, say, an American bomb falls on a wedding in Afghanistan and men, women and children are killed.
Back to Snowden, I feel slightly less offended that he did not finally request and receive asylum in those bastions of transparency and press freedoms that are Cuba, Ecuador, China or Venezuela. However, the fact that he is requesting and getting it in Putin´s Russia, where good journalists have an uncanny tendency to drop dead apparently by the force of gravity, makes my blood boil.
There is a particularly painful and incisive irony in the fact that the Amnesty International’s representative who brokered the asylum deal had to flee Russia not too long ago due to threats to her life. Putin has a radical way to deal with criticism.
The left in America (among which I count myself) – perhaps not all the left – has been supporting what Snowden did as an act of unparalleled bravery, but saw no problem in the fact that the list of countries vying to lend him refuge reads like a who´s who of the latest graduation of the Dictatorship for Dummies online seminar. “China, Ecuador, Cuba, Venezuela and Russia walk into a bar to meet Snowden and the bartender asks: where is Syria?”
That is the saddest irony, that what the left and Snowden are saying is what the left in the rest of the world always criticizes of the United States: at the end of the day, Americans are only concerned with the violation of the rights of Americans. Snowden is no fool. He knows full well he would be hanging from his thumbs if he had pulled that 007 play in any of the aforementioned countries.
Moreover, the Cuban people want to be supportive of Snowden but they are still trying to figure out exactly what was his heroic deed. What was it he uncovered again? Because as Cubans, we don´t even have a word for spying on your citizens. The idea that we are living under a watchful eye is imprinted on us at the time they cut the umbilical cord, perhaps before. So, the idea of Snowden discovering that the government spies on its citizens sounded to Cubans as the discovery of the Galician prostitute who was crying because she found out the others were charging for the services.
The case of Ecuador is different. According to the newly minted communications law, the spying work will be done directly by the media outlets which will be forced to gather intelligence – means to trace back and identify – those who comment on their pages, lest they be responsible for the commentary. Just to mention one lovely example of the expansion of freedoms the Assange-protecting government has brought about.
I´d say something about Russia, but why bother?
I do realize that Snowden’s choices are similar in breadth to those of Sophie (Meryll Streep), but I guess he didn’t think this would be a walk in the park when he decided to put his life on the line to defend those civil liberties he deems so precious. Are they only precious for Americans? Are they only precious when the offender is the U.S. government? Are the privacy and rights of Cubans, Russians or Ecuadorians not as precious, so we don’t have a problem allowing those governments to use Snowden to attack the Big Bad Wolf while their own citizens wouldn’t have a chance of playing Snowden?
As I said, the Snowden case puts all my beliefs to the test and the more I think about it the more questions I have.
So, anyone with a security clearance can/should begin making individual judgments about what information to divulge? Make notice of the should because if we believe Snowden was right, then, we should encourage that behavior. Isn’t that what we do with heroic behavior, to encourage more of it?
What happens if someone agrees with the Syrian government and decides to divulge to them information that U.S. is using to, say, help the rebels? If we all act according to our conscience, if that person agrees with Assad then he/she is following his/her conscience and so is right?
If you want to follow your conscience, what you do not do is taking an oath to keep secrets for a government you already know is acting wrongly and then break it. And if you so firmly believe that what you did is right, then face the music. If you purposefully sign up for it in order to expose it, well, yes, that’s called spying. Then, yes, do go run and protect yourself, but do understand that any government will use all its power against spies. Period. In my idyllic realm, spying won’t be necessary… but we ain’t there yet. But, please, don’t go and run to places where people who do half of what you did have a tendency to defy the laws of physics and gravity and mysteriously fall from grace and buildings, sans a previous stop at a court of law.
But let’s explore further the acquiring of information. What if it was information that would prevent an attack?
I do have a significant problem – despite being Cuban and have my privacy and freedom muscles quite atrophied – with the government listening in my communications and reading my emails. And, no, I don’t subscribe to the theory that it shouldn’t matter if you don’t have anything to hide.
But we also would have to honestly decide what we want. We cannot pretend to be outraged with the government spying on us, but have no problem when that spying leads to stopping the next plot… and forget terrorism for a second, since it has been so manipulated that it elicits strong rejection. Let’s think other scenarios.
How many of us can honestly say: I rather a bomb to explode in my children’s school than to allow the government to use the information from a listened-in phone call to stop it? I know I am not able to say that.
Can you all honestly say that if, while listening illegally to a conversation, the plan of the guy in New Haven, Connecticut, was discovered and we could have prevented all those kids’ deaths you would say: “can’t use it. It was obtained illegally?” I know I wouldn’t mind if they got it while tapping the guy having sex with his girlfriend: Use it, darn it!
Let’s go a step further and say: then, they use it to prevent the carnage in the school, but they cannot use the evidence against the guy because it was illegally obtained. Then, they will have to continue for the rest of the guy’s life illegally wiretapping him because they know this is a guy who would like to go on a killing rampage in a school. Do you see a problem here?
And I am, however, quite able to say I don’t want torture use in ANY circumstances. I don’t care if it works. I don’t want it used because it is wrong…always wrong. I want to believe I would never do it. I want to believe my children would never do it. I cannot live with myself accepting that someone else’s child is torturing people on my behalf and with my tacit consent.
But are Americans even willing to reject torture in all circumstances? I was against the war in Afghanistan, let alone Iraq, because I don’t believe war makes us safe and I believe is wrong. Period. But I distinctly remember that a majority of Americans were in favor of both wars. Exactly how do we think the intelligence part of those wars is fought?
If we are ok with those ends by any means, we shouldn’t feign be so scandalized when the means are revealed.
I am totally against illegal wiretapping and spying. Key word: illegal. I believe that’s the discussion we must have openly in a democracy: in the current state of affairs, what are we willing to tolerate? What are we willing to give up? We cannot pick and choose when to accept illegality; nor can we live happily with its fruits – if we ended up saving some kids, for instance – but then yell bloody murder in a vacuum.
Spying, obviously, happens in secret. But we need to agree as a society as to how much spying we are wiling to tolerate and under which circumstances. We need to stop the hypocrisy and stop the discussion in a vacuum.