Daily War Watch
The Trouble With Censorship
November 3, 2001
Let me preface this by saying that I now have independent
confirmation that when the Washington Post broke news that
American troops were in action on the ground in Afghanistan,
the troops were still on the ground and their mission was
ongoing. This apparently means that the disclosure, immediately
picked up by the broadcast media, could have endangered the
lives of the Delta Force members who were on their mission.
Of course, the far greater threat was the Taliban itself,
with its rapid reaction anti-special forces deployment that
shocked the Pentagon. However, the reaction from the source
of the independent confirmation, the widely respected retired
Col. David Hackworth, has been to urge those who value the
lives of American servicemen to pressure the media to shut
the hell up.
One specific point he makes is that the media argues that
it is the media's right to keep the American people informed.
(I have not heard of this. I thought the media argued that
it had a duty and a responsibility to keep the American people
informed.) He urges in a recent article that the media must
understand that the right to free speech is guaranteed by
the military, and, thus, they must censor themselves with
haste. Quoting another retired colonel, "It's the people's
right to know versus the soldier's right to live."
Well, this is kinda rich, coming from Hackworth, long accused
of giving aid and comfort to the enemy by highlighting the
flaws in America's military machine. He most certainly means
well, and I dearly respect the man for sincerely trying to
help America's military machine cut out the diseased portions
to leave the properly functioning components, thus enhancing
the safety of all Americans.
Let's contrast this with some news that at the time of writing
(Nov. 1) is hot off the presses. Bush has finally made his
ruling on the release of presidential secrets from the Reagan
Administration. This ruling is:
Release? What release?
Unless there is a demonstrated, specific need for the American
people to know what happens behind closed doors in their own
government, no presidential papers, even if the retired president
wants them to be public, can be even considered for release.
(Knowing bureaucracy, there will always be a reason for keeping
the papers secret.)
Thanks to Bush's executive order, not a single further government
secret will be released as part of an automated process. The
door is shut. Forever.
Congress, being unwilling to exercise its oversight, will
likely roll over and play dead. No one wants to be caught
protecting the public's right to know after the public scolding
that Bush gave them. This is the end of the right to political
That's right. Political.
Our right to know what the hell George Bush Sr. actually
said to the Saudis as Vice President, what Dick Cheney was
doing under Reagan, what Perle was pushing during the Gulf
War, these things are political in nature. They are only relevant
to national security inasmuch as there is the belief that
the United States is a nation whose diplomacy is not subject
to public view and whose special deals must remain secret
for all time, so that America may prosper. (Also so that the
individuals involved, such as Bush Sr. and his oil buddies,
prosper financially now that they have left office.)
The business of the Clan is the Clan's alone. It's not for
you, nor I, nor anyone else, to know. Period.
See what the danger of censorship is? It never stops with
just what is operationally necessary, because the point of
censorship is almost never to actually save lives. It is to
Is embarrassing the military (which couldn't keep this a
secret) a danger to America's national security?
Well, if it was, Hackworth would be in solitary confinement,
wouldn't he? Like that Israeli nuclear scientist who said
Israel has nuclear weapons. His freedom would be considered
a threat to national security, and thus, since the security
of the American people is at stake, he would be simply held
Don't think that a lot of generals and admirals wouldn't
do it in a heartbeat if they could get away with it.
So what of the political secrets that have less to do with
national security and more with personal financial security?
Is it all right to just allow these things to remain secret
for all time?
No, it's not. That would go against the core principles of
the Republic, which hold that the People are the ones in whom
these rights are vested, not the government, and that these
rights are, in essence, borrowed by the government with the
express permission of the public. It's a contract, in essence.
For the People, by the People, through the medium of elected
representatives constrained by law, tradition, and, when those
two fail, by sheer public anger at abuse of power.
Of course, the best way to insure that the government will
never suffer any consequences for governing against the People,
is to insure that the public anger will never exist, thanks
to simply keeping secrets in perpetuity.
As for demanding self-censorship by the media because they
might be giving the Taliban classified information, tell me,
is what the President of the United States ate for breakfast
today, on Nov. 1, 2001, classified? I'll bet it is. Are we
going to punish the disclosure of such classified information
by three years of prison at a high security federal penitentiary?
Don't think it can't happen here.
In many countries in the world, releasing such information
in blatant disregard of whatever act of government governs
state secrets can, and will, result in imprisonment and hard
labor, if nothing more, than to make an example of the dangerous
fool who is willing to endanger human life by the release
of classified material. Any classified material. Ever.
How long is it until the mere knowledge of classified information,
or the mere seeking of it, is a crime? Besides publishing,
Rumsfeld made a hefty speech after that raid about how the
leakers did so in total disregard for human life and in violation
of federal law. So let me ask you this, then. Why aren't the
executives of the Washington Post and every broadcast network
that broadcast this information while the mission was ongoing,
in disregard for human life, in chains? Right now? It's what
Ike would do, or so Hackworth said. If someone had done this
on D-day that is.
So why do these people still walk freely? Why haven't they
been charged with attempted murder, release of classified
information, and treason? Or some combination thereof. Perhaps
I'm missing something.
Or, maybe, someone decided that no amount of executive orders,
phoning in to the media to express displeasure, protests by
Freepers, or speeches by Donald "Mr. Media" Rumsfeld, can
change one salient fact.
In the United States, the People still believe in a free
How easily we forget.
P.S. The public is going to have a pretty hard time proving
a demonstrated, specific need to know what is in a particular
document without first knowing what the document contains.
That's the beauty of it, I guess.
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