Greenwald’s New Documentary

Glenn Greenwald has done a great job of critiquing the National Security State in print and Robert Greenwald (no relation as far as I know) has a new documentary out called War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State. Steven Rosenfeld discusses the documentary on AlterNet.

Whistleblowers are not spies or traitors, as the Bush and Obama administration’s lawyers have alleged. They are patriotic and often conservative Americans who work inside the government and with military contractors, and who find unacceptable—and often life-threatening—or illegal behavior goes unheeded when they report it through the traditional chain of command. They worry about doing nothing and feel compelled to go to the press, even if they suspect they may lose their jobs. What they don’t realize is that their lives will never quite be the same again, because they underestimate the years of government persecution that follows.

The documentary portrays the whistleblower as a special kind of American hero—one whose importance is easily forgotten in today’s infotainment-drenched media. Since the Vietnam War in the 1960s, whistleblowers have been part of many history-changing events: questioning the war in Vietnam by releasing the Pentagon Papers on military’s failings; exposing the Watergate burglary that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation; exposing the illegal nationwide domestic spying program by the George W. Bush administration after 9/11; revealing the military’s failure to replace Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan with better bomb-deflecting vehicles, leading to hundreds of deaths and maimings; revealing how the nation’s largest military contractor was building a new Coast Guard fleet with ships whose hulls could buckle in rough seas and putting radios on smaller rescue boats that wouldn’t work when wet…

A key element of War on Whistleblowers is the number of nationally known journalists who speak out collectively and for the first time in reaction to the government’s attacks on their sources and their reporting. The film features many respected mainstream investigative reporters, including theWashington Post’s Dana Priest, the New Yorker’sJane Mayer and Seymour Hersch, USA Today’sTom Vanden Brook,New York Times’ media critic David Carr and former Times editor Bill Keller, among others.

Still, the documentary leaves a lingering impression that the system—many government agencies and their embedded codes of secrecy, self-interest and self-protection—endures in the long run, even if whistleblowers stop or slow their agenda. Indeed, the film makes a powerful case that Obama has been seduced by the nation’s spymasters, which is why his prosecutors have tried to intimidate and punish these messengers more than all recent presidencies combined.

This has long been the case, of course. Despite mostly-ignored legal protections for whistleblowers, most of them continue to be treated as Daniel Ellsberg was. Ellsberg should be a hero for leaking the Pentagon Papers, which showed that the government knew from nearly the very start of the Vietnam war that the war was essentially unwinnable and that it would produce far more casualties than the public was ever told with almost nothing to show for it. Daniel Ellsberg is a patriot, as are most other whistleblowers, but they are hounded, persecuted, prosecuted and worse.

The war on whistleblowers is part of a larger campaign to prevent the public from ever finding out what the government has done in the name of national security and preventing anyone from ever getting justice. The use of standing challenges and the State Secrets Privilege are other components of that campaign. Together, this leaves us with an essentially unchecked executive branch and a military-industrial-intelligence complex that violates the constitution at will with almost no recourse whatsoever, thanks to a largely compliant judiciary, to enforce the constitution or secure justice for the victims of these abuses.

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  • thumper1990

    The whole idea that whistleblowers are traitors stems from the fact that most self-described patriots have got their prioroties backwards. The Government is not the country; the people are the country. Loyalty to the country means loyalty to it’s citizenry, and anyone who stands up to the Government in an effort to improve things for the people is a patriot. Anyone who supports the Government’s “right” to withold information from the public and generally do what they like, and villifies those who undermine that percieved “right”, is not a patriot; they are an authoritarian.

  • kermit.

    Yes. Authoritarians are driven to punish those who do not recognize the authority of government. Ironically, most authoritarians in the USA these days find Obama so unpalatable that they have to cling to bizarre explanations for why he is not the True King – um… I mean President.


    Despite the effort they put into punishing the disobedient, authoritarians seem to act to punish (from muttering under their breath to lynching) without trying, while those more liberal have the psychological disadvantage of seeming to act to protect the innocent almost as an act of civic duty, which requires decisions, the sacrifice of time and energy. and risking reputation and security.