Mr. Hedges emphasizes a critical component I mentioned in a previous piece, but from the perspective of a world-class journalist. He writes:
If the sweeping surveillance law signed by President Bush on Thursday -- giving the U.S. government nearly unchecked authority to eavesdrop on the phone calls and e-mails of innocent Americans -- is allowed to stand, we will have eroded one of the most important bulwarks to a free press and an open society.
In order for a free press to operate effectively, it has to be able to assure its sources that their identities will be protected. Otherwise, why would they risk their livelihoods, their homes, their families, possibly their very lives, to share information? And no, I am not over-stating the case here. Mr. Hedges, for 20 years, worked for the New York Times as a foreign correspondent, doing much of his work in the Middle East, and knows exactly the potential ramifications of which he writes. One important aspect that I had not even considered was this:
The law, passed under the guise of national security, ostensibly targets people outside the country. There is no question, however, that it will ensnare many communications between Americans and those overseas. Those communications can be stored indefinitely and disseminated, not just to the U.S. government but to other governments.
This law will cripple the work of those of us who as reporters communicate regularly with people overseas, especially those in the Middle East. It will intimidate dissidents, human rights activists and courageous officials who seek to expose the lies of our government or governments allied with ours. It will hang like the sword of Damocles over all who dare to defy the official versions of events. It leaves open the possibility of retribution and invites the potential for abuse by those whose concern is not with national security but with the consolidation of their own power.
(Emphasis Mine) I admit - it had not even occurred to me that the US government might be concerned about information about ITS actions, not just the actions of others. That adds a whole other layer to this unconstitutional law - that the US Government can use it to make sure we do not find out what the government is doing in our name.
With the passage of this new law, we are facing a dangerously slippery slope. What other rights will be taken from us? When they are taken, what is our recourse? Mr. Hedges writes:
I have joined an ACLU lawsuit challenging the new law along with other journalists, human rights organizations and defense attorneys who also rely on confidentiality to do their work. I have joined not only because this law takes aim at my work but because I believe it signals a serious erosion of safeguards that make possible our democratic state. Laws and their just application are the only protection we have as citizens. Once the law is changed to permit the impermissible, we have no recourse with which to fight back.
Exactly. We will have no recourse for actions taken against us by our own government if our rights have been systematically stripped from us.
Now, I am just sitting here in the comfort of my own home, and when I write, I refer to articles written by people like Mr. Hedges, a journalist who has gone to where the stories are. In fact, I rely upon these journalists for accurate information, with verified sources. Again, I had not considered some of the more insidious ways in which this new law affects ALL of us:
The reach of such surveillance has already hampered my work. I was once told about a showdown between a U.S. warship and the Iranian navy that had the potential to escalate into a military conflict. I contacted someone who was on the ship at the time of the alleged incident and who reportedly had photos. His first question was whether my phone and e-mails were being monitored.
What could I say? How could I know? I offered to travel to see him but, frightened of retribution, he refused. I do not know if the man's story is true. I only know that the fear of surveillance made it impossible for me to determine its veracity. Under this law, all those who hold information that could embarrass and expose the lies of those in power will have similar fears. Confidentiality, and the understanding that as a reporter I will honor this confidentiality, permits a free press to function. Take it away and a free press withers and dies.
And that's just it - if reporters cannot do their jobs, if they cannot dig for the information we need to have in order to make well informed decisions, in order to maintain checks and balances with our government, in order to protect ourselves, in order to determine who is best to represent us, in order to expose human rights violations, in order to expose wrong doing by our government or another - we need a free press, a press that can assure its sources that their confidentiality is protected. And now, we can no longer do that.
In the recent post I wrote on FISA, I included a juxtaposition by Andrew Sullivan on why he supports the new law on FISA, yet objects to torture. I, personally, thought it was a false distinction. Chris Hedges agrees with me:
I know the cost of terrorism and the consequences of war. I have investigated Al Qaeda's operation in Europe and have covered numerous conflicts. The monitoring of suspected terrorists, with proper oversight, is a crucial part of our national security. But this law is not about keeping us safe, which can -- and should -- be done in a constitutional manner and with judicial oversight. It is about using terrorism as a pretext to permit wholesale spying and to silence voices that will allow us to maintain an open society.
Exactly. It highlights the attempts by people like Andrew Sullivan (who was just shilling for Obama to give him an excuse for throwing any semblance of integrity, or respect for the Bill of Rights, aside) to justify this erosion of our rights as a necessary evil for National Security as the baseless argument it is. Chris Hedges knows better. He's been in the trenches, and he knows first hand the negative effects of silencing informants. He knows that when our right to privacy is taken away, when our phone calls and emails can be monitored without our knowledge, that we will no longer get the full story, that people will not take the risks necessary to expose our government, or other governments, when they engage in illegal activities. Mr. Hedges knows that eroding our civil liberties by monitoring our speech will mean less speech, less oversight, less accountability, and more repression. And that is simply unacceptable, simply UNCONSTITUTIONAL, for the United States of America.