Character Assassination: Weapon Against the Whistleblower
by Nicholas Morpus
Constitutional Freedoms, Personal Liberties
“Whistleblowing is an isolating act. It’s a courageous and phenomenal thing to do, but you are essentially doing something that your colleagues and friends would not want you to do, would not understand. It alienates you further from them.” - James Ball
Is it a crime to tell the truth? If your government was responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians or was engaged in the cover-up of its violations into the privacy of millions of American civilians, would you want to know? Do you have a right to know? In the cases of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and many other whistleblowers, exposing the truth about the abuses of those in power trumped the comfort of their lives so that freedom and transparency did not just become notions that were brushed over in history books.
What followed these exposures was nothing short of embarrassment for those in power now that their legitimacy and practices were being brought under fire. Unfortunately for these whistleblowers, these slights to those who wish to keep close control of the narrative of their behavior are not taken lightly and do not go unpunished. However, with the spotlight cast on primarily the State and the whistleblowers, punishment and silencing in order to preserve whatever shreds of secrecy and credibility they have are heavily scrutinized. The most effective weapon that the State and their defenders have to turn to is actually the simplest of attacks: character assassination.
Character assassination has been a powerful tool in the dispatching of truth seekers, as it was so easily used against those such as Julian Assange and his most famous source of leaks, Bradley Manning. Assange, armed with his platform of exposure, Wikileaks and Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning) with his access to classified military information, reports, and cables, were able to expose the true nature of the Afghan and Iraq wars. Assange and Manning were able to bring forward secret information such as the infamous “Collateral Murder” Apache helicopter strike on innocent civilians and the the true nature of the actions of our armed forces in the war in Afghanistan. These leaks exposed cruel and criminal actions as well as the intent and ability of our government to hide these events from the public eye.
Leaks of this proportion only led to prominent U.S. politicians and pundits, such as Newt Gingrich, calling for Julian Assange to be treated as an “active enemy combatant” and others shouting for him to be killed, such as neoconservative Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard. Many labeled him a traitor, despite the fact that Julian Assange was not even an American citizen. As for Bradley (Chelsea) Manning, the United States government spared no time incarcerating him under questionable conditions, including allegations of forced sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, and forced nudity in his cell during prisoner roll call. Manning’s incarceration allowed our government to engage in character assassination in the form of ad hominem attacks on his personality and behavior in hopes of distracting from the abuses of our military and the “classified” cover-ups that had taken place.
What better way for the spotlight to be taken off of the offenders than to attack the credibility and character of the messenger? After the revelations of the lies perpetrated by the NSA and its director, James Clapper, that they were in fact spying on and collecting large amounts of private information from American citizens, defenders of the surveillance state and the current administration began their smear campaign. The lawmakers and pundits quickly labeled Edward Snowden as a traitor and a Russian spy in an attempt to discredit him and build a narrative of distrust against his information. These character attacks have led to high positioned individuals, such as Secretary of State, John Kerry, calling on “cowardly” Edward Snowden to return to the U.S. as well as to “man up” and “face the music” for his “crimes.”
The issue with these charges is the fact that none of them were substantiated by facts, but were instead merely circumstantial charges based on the fact that Snowden had fled and sought asylum in any nation that would have him and not turn him over to U.S. authorities. It is simple common sense that Snowden would seek to evade U.S. authorities so that those who would seek to put an end to these disclosures would not silence him or subject him to the same treatment dealt to Bradley Manning.
The fact is, there is nothing traitorous about exposing violations to our rights and Constitution and seeking to continue this much needed campaign for government transparency and accountability. The reason these heroic acts have not deterred the true lawbreakers from engaging in outright slander and political imprisonment is to shift attention away from their misdeeds. In the words of former Congressman Ron Paul: “Truth is treason in the empire of lies.” Unfortunately for those who would keep the villainous actions of our government a secret, their empire of lies is crumbling by the minute due to the expanded transparency provided by the Internet and the courageous actions of whistleblowers as we hope that the free flow of information continues.