Nat Hentoff: Our liberties can survive Obama
From back in our history, Ronald Reagan gave a very apposite warning to those of us insistent on protecting our self-governing republic:
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States, where men (and women) were free."
While one generation is too soon for us to lose all of what distinguishes us from the rest of the world, we are heading that way. There is, however, an urgent awakening going on. I pay attention to people’s letters to the editor in all media I read, and there have been more quotes like this one from Rein Virkmaa, taken from the June 15 edition of the New York Post (owned by Rupert Murdoch, no warrior for civil liberties):
"If the only way to save our freedom is to destroy it, then what is there left for the terrorists to do? We’ll have destroyed ourselves."
Also, consider the penetrating national — indeed, global — impact of 30-year-old Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the U.S. government’s ceaseless, massive spying on us. A former contractor for the National Security Agency, Snowden has "opened an unprecedented window on the details of surveillance by the NSA, including (dig this!) its compilation of logs of virtually all telephone calls in the United States and its collection of emails of foreigners from the major American Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Apple and Skype" ("Leaker Charged With Violating Espionage Act," Scott Shane, The New York Times, June 22). (There are more than just emails from foreigners from these Internet sources.)
Why did he do it? Snowden — now supported by Glenn Greenwald (who broke the deeply clarifying story in The Guardian), John Whitehead, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Daniel Ellsberg and this reporter — came to realize that We The People are constitutionally entitled to know who is stealing our identities.
Snowden, who was charged with criminality and violating the Espionage Act by Barack Obama, exclaimed in an online chat on The Guardian’s website: "All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."
And when he said, "This country is worth dying for," he reminded me of my father, an immigrant who was gassed brutally and repeatedly during his Army service in World War I. He also felt that way.
Moreover, Snowden has defined himself against Obama and his other critics: "I did not reveal any U.S. operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure, such as universities, hospitals and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong, no matter the target" ("Edward Snowden: NSA whistleblower answers reader questions," guadian.co.uk, June 17).
This raises the question among more and more Americans: When will Obama be held accountable — under oath, with full due process — for his criminal acts against us?
Snowden will not be intimidated, despite the scalding attacks on him as a traitor in the media. More of the citizenry are now finally valuing the Bill of Rights (not only the Fourth Amendment) as parts of their very being. I was heartened to see in Glenn Greenwald’s column that:
"U.S. polling data, by itself, demonstrates how powerfully these revelations have resonated. Despite a sustained demonization campaign against him from official Washington, a Time magazine poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe Snowden did ‘a good thing,’ while only 30 percent disagreed. That approval rating is higher than the one enjoyed by both Congress and President Obama" ("Edward Snowden’s worst fear has not been realized — thankfully," Greenwald, guardian.co.uk, June 14).
Furthermore, Greenwald wrote that "on the more important issue — the public’s views of the NSA surveillance programs ... a Gallup poll ... found that more Americans disapprove (53 percent) than approve (37 percent) of the two NSA spying programs revealed ... by The Guardian."
Meanwhile, there is an extraordinary rumbling to expose and make accountable Obama’s gluttonous contempt for the Constitution’s separation of powers. The United States is not yet a kingdom. But as Daniel Ellsberg recently emphasized: "Congress has given the president virtually a free hand in deciding what information they will know as well as the public.
"I wouldn’t count on the current (Supreme) court with its current makeup making the same ruling with the Pentagon Papers." (In 1971, Ellsberg startlingly released the Pentagon Papers and was put on trial for it because they revealed deep, dark secrets about the U.S. government’s conduct of the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court later cleared Ellsberg in a historic free-speech decision.)
If We The People don’t take back our country, Ellsberg warned, "not only Obama but the people who come after him will have powers that no previous president had.
Abilities on surveillance that no country in the history of the world has ever had" ("Daniel Ellsberg: ‘I’m sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case,’" Timothy B. Lee, The Washington Post, June 5).
As for Snowden’s response to those citizens who are passively part of "the new normal" and say, "I haven’t done anything worth being tracked by any part of the government":
"Remember that just because you are not the target of a surveillance program does not make it okay."
Snowden is now looking for defense attorneys to deal with charges of violating the Espionage Act.
But I should also add that, in avoiding U.S. arrest, he is, as of this writing, reportedly seeking refuge in Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. These countries are proudly part of the "anti-imperialist" Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America, or ALBA. ("U.S. warns countries against Snowden travel," James Pomfret and Lidia Kelly, reuters.com, June 23).
But are these countries home to the kinds of self-governing citizens you prize, Mr. Snowden? You may have brought light to our constitutional separation of powers, but you need to look more closely into new havens.
Nat Hentoff is a renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.