The US and the UK governments go around the world threatening people all the time. It’s their modus operandi. They imprison whistleblowers. They try to criminalize journalism. They threatened the Guardian with prior restraint and then forced the paper to physically smash their hard drives in a basement. They detained my partner under a terrorism law, repeatedly threatened to arrest him, and forced him to give them his passwords to all sorts of invasive personal information - behavior that even one of the authors of that terrorism law says is illegal, which the Committee for the Protection of Journalists said yesterday is just “the latest example in a disturbing record of official harassment of the Guardian over its coverage of the Snowden leaks”, and which Human Rights Watch says was “intended to intimidate Greenwald and other journalists who report on surveillance abuses.” And that’s just their recent behavior with regard to press freedoms: it’s to say nothing of all the invasions, bombings, renderings, torture and secrecy abuses for which that bullying, vengeful duo is responsible over the last decade.
But the minute anyone refuses to meekly submit to that, or stands up to it, hordes of authoritarians - led by state-loyal journalists - immediately start objecting: how dare you raise your voice to the empire? How dare you not politely curtsey to the Queen and thank the UK government for what they have done. The US and UK governments are apparently entitled to run around and try to bully and intimidate anyone, including journalists - “to send a message to recipients of Snowden’s materials, including the Guardian”, as Reuters put it - but nobody is allowed to send a message back to them. That’s not a double standard that anyone should accept.
1. Misuse the concept of a Top Secret government document (say, the date of D-Day) and extend classification to trillions of mundane documents a year.
2. Classify all government crimes and violations of the Constitution as secret
3. Create a class of 4.5 million privileged individuals, many of them corporate employees, with access to classified documents but allege it is illegal for public to see leaked classified documents
4. Spy on the public in violation of the Constitution
5. Classify environmental activists as terrorists while allowing Big Coal and Big Oil to pollute and destroy the planet
6. Share info gained from NSA spying on public with DEA, FBI, local law enforcement to protect pharmaceuticals & liquor industry from competition from pot, or to protect polluters from activists
7. Falsify to judges and defense attorneys how allegedly incriminating info was discovered
8. Lie and deny to Congress you are spying on the public.
9. Criminalize the revelation of government crimes and spying as Espionage
10. Further criminalize whistleblowing as “Terrorism”, have compradors arrest innocent people, detain them, and confiscate personal effects with no cause or warrant (i.e. David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald)
Presto, what looks like a democracy is really an authoritarian state ruling on its own behalf and that of 2000 corporations, databasing the activities of 312 million innocent citizens and actively helping destroy the planet while forestalling climate activism
Americans will soon be locked into an unaccountable police state unless US Representatives and Senators find the courage to ask questions and to sanction the executive branch officials who break the law, violate the Constitution, withhold information from Congress, and give false information about their crimes against law, the Constitution, the American people and those in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. Congress needs to use the impeachment power that the Constitution provides and cease being subservient to the lawless executive branch. The US faces no threat that justifies the lawlessness and abuse of police powers that characterize the executive branch in the 21st century.
Impeachment is the most important power of Congress. Impeachment is what protects the citizens, the Constitution, and the other branches of government from abuse by the executive branch. If the power to remove abusive executive branch officials is not used, the power ceases to exist. An unused power is like a dead letter law. Its authority disappears. By acquiescing to executive branch lawlessness, Congress has allowed the executive branch to place itself above law and to escape accountability for its violations of law and the Constitution.
National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper blatantly lied to Congress and remains in office. Keith B. Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency, has also misled Congress, and he remains in office. Attorney General Holder avoids telling Congress the truth on just about every subject, and he also remains in office. The same can be said for President Obama, one of the great deceivers of our time, who is so adverse to truth that truth seldom finds its way out of his mouth.
If an American citizen lies to a federal investigator, even if not under oath, the citizen can be arrested, prosecuted, and sent to prison. Yet, these same federal personnel can lie to Congress and to citizens with impunity. Whatever the American political system is, it has nothing whatsoever to do with accountable government. In Amerika no one is accountable but citizens, who are accountable not only to law but also to unaccountable charges for which no evidence is required.
Blogging last week, Mr Afra Raymond, the President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry highlighted a 12 July 2013 affidavit filed by the Ministry of Finance in response to his Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests of 2012 and 2013.
His requests were for information connected to CL Financial. Requested documents included audited financial statements, presentations to Parliament, and a list of creditors.
There is much to dwell on in the official Government response. The tactics to thwart Mr Raymond requests for transparency are themselves suggestive, as is Mr Raymond’s question – “what is the big secret?”
For those interested in the official correspondence and more details of the case, Mr Raymond’s blog can be found here http://afraraymond.wordpress.com/
The legal drama playing out between the two parties is reminiscent of work the anthropologist Marilyn Strathern did in pre-1975 Papua New Guinea. There she asked a similar question: “what does visibility conceal”?
By this she meant transparency is never accomplished. Yes, transparency implies clarity, visibility and openness. But transparency in Government, organisations and amongst the powerful is more ritual than outcome. Not to mention that what might be seen and transparent for some, can often be off-limits and opaque for others.
In this sense transparency – the supposed watchword for good governance – is a negotiation. And as a negotiation transparency plays out in ritual forms. In our own society this means a dance through the courts with lawyers, various forms, and shifting goal posts. And this is where Strathern’s work is revealing.
In her studies of tribes in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea, she wrote about how the big men of the tribes had competitive public ceremonies of gift giving and dancing. They put themselves on display in grand regalia and special decorations to counter the “scepticism and doubt” many villagers had about their benevolence and trustworthiness.
Strathern said such ceremonial displays were a competition between big men designed to “engage an audience,” and the spectators seemed to believe that what was shown on the outside – power, generosity and goodwill – was a representation of the person inside.
This public display or negotiation was meant to turn people into witnesses. With spectators evaluating the competing claims of the big men, about who’s power was greatest, through their outward appearance.
In this way spectators gained a sense of power being transparent. The crux however is that this was never real transparency, and over months the spectators – who’s lives changed little with the selection of each new big man – came to realise this too. Yet the ritual played out again and again.
Legal dramas over transparency in Western Governments and specifically FOIA requests can be understood in a like manner.
Yes, Governments and professional bodies appeal to the morality and importance of “transparency.” This is seen around the world where many such institutions decorate themselves as “open for business.” Offering a new transparent type of governance, where there are “checks and balances,” legal avenues to request Government documents, and ways to hold members “accountable”. In this way what was previously invisible – power through bureaucratic action – is supposedly made visible.
Yet in reality these Governments and organisations engage their own congregations in a similar grand display and ritual as the big men of Papua New Guinea. Governments purport to show the public the ethical and moral insides of their administration of power. And we as spectators come away with our ears full of the right language and words: witnesses to the will for disclosure.
But are we really witnesses to transparency? As Mr Raymond is experiencing, and many local Graduate students can attest, submitting FOIA requests rarely ends in the “transparency” promised or hoped for.
So another way to think about the issue of transparency then is to recognise the word as a cultural ritual.
Understood on Strathern’s terms Western Governments, organisations and professionals that now pay much lip service to their “transparency” and support it with the right language are less concerned with making the invisible visible, and more with acknowledging and tempering a more general feeling of mistrust amongst the general public.
Just as in Papua New Guinea our big men and women make grand displays of their own trustworthiness and openness in order to counter cynicism and get votes. The rituals of transparency – the courts, the language of full disclosure and more – are used to conceal the visible because appearance rather than substance is the logic of the negotiation.
Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
The recent revelations in the Washington Post and UK Guardian concerning the US Government’s ‘Prism’ program raise the question, when is a conspiracy theory not a conspiracy theory?
For a long time some persons around the world claimed the US government was monitoring all our electronic communications in a Big Brother quest for world domination. Without evidence this belief was labelled a conspiracy theory, those with such beliefs disparaged as cuckoo.
Now there is evidence the US government is involved with monitoring (or at least recording for future analysis) much of the electronic information each of us produces. Does this new evidence dissolve the conspiracy theory?
First some facts. What is a conspiracy theory? Conspiracy theories correlate to times of social anxiety. They give meaning to dramatic and vague occurrences. Providing narrative to the relations between events, individuals, and larger social institutions.
Conspiracy theories fall under the study of myths and rely on a cultural logic that says the absence of evidence is evidence. From an anthropological perspective conspiracy theories – or narratives concerning plots, hatched by a real or imaginary power and groups – are universal. Found in all cultures and stages of human history.
The cargo cults of Melanesia and the millennialist movements of colonial societies such as the Ghost Dance of Native Americans and the Xhosa cattle-killing of South Africa, are good examples to look up.
Now before anyone thinks it is only crazies or the exotic who believe in conspiracy theories it’s worth recognising that the “War on Terror” itself is a conspiracy theory produced and embraced by the US political class.
Any discussion of the long history of US atrocities, policies, and the destabilisation of elected foreign Governments during the 20th century was and is ignored. Instead Bush and his cronies fed the world a story about a singular demonised enemy – Al Qaida – out to attack American exceptionalism. First led by Saddam, and then Osama.
Under Prism the enemy could now be any of us. Even people who believe they have nothing to hide. By recording our electronic communications the US Government can now take that information, search through everything we’ve ever done, and paint any of us as villains.
Who’s crazy now? The US Government is itself lost in a conspiracy theory about the rest of the world, all potentially out to get them. That isn’t necessarily a surprise. Academics have been writing about a “paranoid style of American politics” since the 1960s.
The thing about conspiracy theories then is that they leave us with an explanation of events that is more often than not rooted in paranoia rather than hard evidence. As such, a useful way to understand conspiracy theories is as fissures to identify power struggles in society over meaning and morality.
So rather than Obama as Dr Evil, or the complete innocence of the US Government, conspiracy theories suggest we should be looking somewhere in between for truth(s).
For example, which is more likely, that the US Government believes they act in their country’s interests, or that a group of people – including everyone in the NSA, FBI, CIA etc. – is engaged in a vast conspiracy for their own benefit (or Dr Evil’s), with no one on the inside ever exposing it? Not even Edward Snowden.
The problem the US Government has and in particular its various wings like the NSA, is they cannot be the judges of their own actions. Their oversight must be transparent. Yet due to the secret nature of its business supposedly no one else can monitor them.
So the NSA grew its power, always believing, as it was the good guy, anyone seeking to restrict it needed to be opposed. All in the public interest of course. In other words the NSA drank their own Kool Aid and became both architect and purveyor of conspiracy theories.
This brings us back to the question, “when is a conspiracy theory not a conspiracy theory?” A conspiracy theory is not a conspiracy theory when it is the cultural logic directing realpolitik.
Once paranoid myth making becomes the engine of political action Governments no longer make decisions based on evidence, instead they run on evidence of things unseen, using fear and moral panic to maintain power.
Philosophically, it raises a similar analogy to that scientific story about turtles and “infinite regress”. But instead of the complexity of the cosmos resting on “turtles all the way down”; we see the complexity of the endless War on Terror rests on conspiracy theories all the way down.
Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
What kind of world do we live in when young men are so proud of violating unconscious girls that they pass proof around to their friends? It’s the same kind of world in which being labeled a slut comes with such torturous social repercussions that suicide is preferable to enduring them. As a woman named Sara Erdmann so aptly tweeted to me, “I will never understand why it is more shameful to be raped than to be a rapist.”
And yet it is: so much so that young men seem to think there’s nothing wrong with—and maybe something hilarious about—sharing pictures of themselves raping young women. And why not? Their friends will defend them, as they did in Steubenville, tweeting that the young woman was “asking for it” and that the boys were being unfairly targeted.
Women and girls are the ones expected to carry the shame of the sexual crimes perpetrated against them. And that shame is a tremendous load to bear, because once you’re labeled a slut, empathy and compassion go out the window. The word is more than a slur—it’s a designation.