Democratic Underground

The Daily War Watch
The Trouble With Censorship
November 3, 2001
by J B

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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 secrets.

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 prevent embarrassment.

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 indefinitely.

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, that is.

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 press.

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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