After reading Jeff Cohen’s piece about the Ecuador embassy being threatened by Britain for granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, my frustration with the way in which western governments target whistleblowers and the press for exposing truths necessary for the maintenance of democracy was only heightened. During the credits of the new Snowden movie I saw just a couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s statements on what should be done to Edward Snowden were played, both of them calling for his return to the U.S. and subsequent imprisonment, or in Trump’s case, his execution. The only candidate who seemed to get it right was Bernie Sanders, and it just baffles me how government officials can so often sacrifice moral understandings of what actually warrants charges of espionage versus what doesn’t.
Of course these inaccurate understandings of what actions warrant espionage charges are only perpetuated and expanded by the mainstream media. With every famous whistleblower, the mainstream media has been a tool for the government to convince the American public that whistleblowers are criminals, when in reality whistleblowers are the ones actually serving the public interest. After only consuming mainstream media for much of my life, I myself believed that espionage included leaks of classified information to the general public, as opposed to just the enemy, even though in history classes we learned otherwise. The mainstream media has a way of distorting the realities of our laws to protect government interest in a manner that is simply undemocratic.
Assange’s case is particularly troubling, as it has gotten many governments involved, threatening the stability of diplomatic ties that are essential to maintaining peace. Reading that the UK was willing to dismiss its diplomatic relations with Ecuador just so it could capture Assange is mind-boggling and utterly preposterous. Imprisoning Assange will not remove the classified information he has already released from public knowledge. And it is not going to stop whistleblowers from continuing to do what they do, because as much as the government aims to suppress it, there will always be dissent as long as governments are involved in truly criminal activity.
For nations that so pride themselves on their democratic ideals and practices, the war on whistleblowers makes it clear that they really are not democratic at all. If you can criminalize people who, by sharing information with the public, increase the public’s stake in the government, how can you call yourself democratic? The public is entitled to information about its governments’ wrongdoings, for it is this kind of information that led to the creation of “great” democracies in the first place.