Manning and Snowden Acting on Their Conscience: We Must Act On Ours

by Jill McLaughlin | June 16, 2013

On the afternoon of Sunday June 9th the internet was abuzz with news that the person who leaked information on the depths and true nature of the NSA spying apparatus had come forward. We learned it was Edward Snowden. It was one of those moments in history, and I think especially for people who have long been opposing and resisting the crimes of this government in the post 9/11 era, that was one of awe, hope, and fear.

We were in awe of such courage, we hoped that people would be galvanized by this and wondered if and hoped more whistle blowers would come forward, and we feared for Snowden’s safety and wellbeing. From the beginning there were many calling him a hero. Rallies to support and stand with him were quickly organized.

There too was the onslaught of slander, name calling, and calls for his prosecution by those in the highest offices of this government and mainstream media. As with Bradley Manning, whose trial incidentally started the week previously, the media and these same public officials wildly speculated as to what motivated Snowden. None of them on the mark, but as usual when government crimes are exposed painted him as some kind of creepy narcissist who did this out of purely selfish reasons or worse branded him as traitor and accused him of espionage. I can’t think of anything more narcissistic than deflecting from what is the reality of one’s wrong doing- in this case the government’s wrong doing and pointing the finger and attacking the person who brings it to light.

We have, however, Manning’s and Snowden’s own words that reveal exactly why they did what they did. It basically comes down to this-they acted with a morality based on the reality that they saw.

From his own personal testimony at a pretrial hearing we learned the impact of the U.S. war crimes on his conscience. In one instance he talks about a moment in which he is rebuffed by his superior over a matter he found objectionable and when he mentioned it to his fellow soldiers they sympathized but he found he was alone in wanting to do anything about it. He was motivated to risk everything in exposing the truth. highlighted some of Manning’s statement. Read what motivated Manning to release these files here.

Edward Snowden as well has been slandered and again there has been much conjecture as to what motivated him and he too talked to those around him in his work about what he thought was objectionable but was told to not worry about it.

Edward Snowden, too, was guided by his conscience to reveal to the world the crimes of government. In an interview in The Guardian he is very straightforward about why he decided to leak this information.

“I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

There is one critical point that doesn’t get discussed often enough as to what also motivates people like Manning and Snowden and that is they want us to take the truths they’ve told us and act on them. What they reveal to us should shock our conscience and spur us to act to stop these crimes. The courage they exhibit through their actions should bolster our courage which brings me to this point. We cannot let the darkness of these twisted crimes by our government paralyze and immobilize us. We cannot let the repression of our government that comes down on whistle blowers silence us…it would be a disservice to them and most of all it would be a betrayal to people who suffer the most from our government’s crimes- the Guantanamo prisoners who are in their 129th day of the hunger strike, the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen who are terrorized by U.S. drones, and those who are on a growing list of those targeted for assassination without due process that has no end in sight as Jeremy Scahill reveals in his film Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield.

We must recognize these events as openings where we can effect change. These are moments for us to be talking with people and struggling with people to come forward to resist and oppose what they know is wrong. We must be willing to do this at times when it seems nothing is happening, no one is listening, or more challenging when it is least popular to do so. We must come to understand and help others to understand that revelations like these point to the fact that the rulers of the U.S. do not have it all sewn up. The fact that the only answer they have to dissent, resistance, and opposition to their crimes is repression says a lot about how worried they are about the genie coming out of the bottle and what contradictions their own wrong doing have created for them. What we do now in this moment matters greatly. As a recent post in Revolution Newspaper points out

“The forces of repression are powerful, but they are not all powerful. Yes they have massive repressive technology, but their power ultimately depends on people.

People like Bradley Manning, people like Edward Snowden—people who start out believing that America is trying to do good all over the world, and then find out the truth. This is an Achilles' heel of this system. In the '60s, the fact that thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and finally millions stood up against the Vietnam War (in which the U.S. killed between two million and four million Vietnamese people, according to the then Secretary of Defense) and said that THIS IS WRONG and condemned that war as immoral and as having utterly NO justification, had an impact on those who were charged with carrying out that criminal war. And many of those people felt compelled and able to refuse to carry out or be complicit in war crimes, even at great personal risk and sacrifice. And as time went on, all this impeded the ability of the government to continue that criminal policy and carry out those crimes.”

On Wednesday June 19th in New York City World Can’t Wait is hosting an Emergency Forum: We Will Not Be Complicit, We Do Not Consent at 7:00 pm The Great Hall, Cooper Union 7 E. 7th Street New York City. I encourage readers to go to this event to be inspired and to learn what you can do to play your role in resisting and opposing the crimes of our government. Remember all you need is your heart, your conscience, a sign, a corner, and what you know to be right…so hold an action to Shut Down Guantanamo Now!, to support Manning and Snowden, to demand No more Spying and demand No More of Obama’s Drone Warfare!