The American “State of Exception”

By most accounts, the Obama Administration and congressional Dems have had a strong week: repealing DADT, ratifying START, and negotiating a health settlement for 9/11 first responders.  And while these are certainly praiseworthy (though relatively modest and, one would have thought, nonpartisan), there are a plethora of constitutional usurpations that remain unchecked, and have received little attention.

While employing the language of constitutionalism in today’s political climate evokes visions of crazed tea-partiers and conspiracy theorists, what I have in mind is a bit more troubling than any faux-populist paranoia over action on health care or global climate change.  Indeed, recent occurrences speak to the expansion of the national security apparatus and the simultaneous distancing of this bureaucratic structure from anything resembling transparency or accountability.

(*note: the previous link to a series of WP articles by Dana Priest and William Arkin is worth reading in its entirety)

As I’ve previously remarked, Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception seems more on target than ever. The so-called “War on Terror” is a purportedly emergency situation that is said to warrant the suspension of democratic principles in the very name of saving democracy.  The “War” knows no spatial or temporal bounds (Pakistan? Yemen?  What’s next, Mexico? Maybe), and – as the case of Bradley Manning and the indefinite detention of Guantanamo detainees demonstrates – those deemed threats to the stability of American empire are stripped of all political qualifications.  They are no longer seen as warranting any ethical concern or protection, but still subject to the coercive, often violent, intrusion of the sovereign power into the minutest details of their lives (this is particularly apparent with respect to Manning, but potentially true for anyone who uses email, telephones or laptops to discuss matters that just might be taken by someone within the national security cabal as “threatening”).  The line between democracy and totalitarianism is becoming so blurred that it’s tough to envision a concrete solution.

What does seem clear is that whistleblowers like Manning – who are doing a great service to anyone concerned with democratic accountability – are being subject to punishment that we’d associate with oppressive regimes of the past (rather than a state that assumes itself a beacon of democracy).  For those who haven’t kept up on the case, here’s Manning’s logic for leaking the classified documents (as reported by Glenn Greenwald):

…[J]ust recall some of what Manning purportedly said about why he chose to leak, at least as reflected in the edited chat logs published by Wired:

Lamo: what’s your endgame plan, then?. . .

Manning: well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] – and god knows what happens now – hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, than [sic] we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens – the reaction to the video gave me immense hope; CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded – people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . Washington Post sat on the video… David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here. . . . – i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

if i knew then, what i knew now – kind of thing, or maybe im just young, naive, and stupid . . . im hoping for the former – it cant be the latter – because if it is… were fucking screwed (as a society) – and i dont want to believe that we’re screwed.

Manning described the incident which first made him seriously question the U.S. Government: when he was instructed to work on the case of Iraqi “insurgents” who had been detained for distributing so-called “insurgent” literature which, when Manning had it translated, turned out to be nothing more than “a scholarly critique against PM Maliki”:

i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…

i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…

And Manning explained why he never considered the thought of selling this classified information to a foreign nation for substantial profit or even just secretly transmitting it to foreign powers, as he easily could have done:

Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious- i could’ve sold to russia or china, and made bank?

Lamo: why didn’t you?

Manning: because it’s public data

Lamo: i mean, the cables

Manning: it belongs in the public domain -information should be free – it belongs in the public domain – because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge – if its out in the open… it should be a public good.

It should, indeed, be a public good, but security concerns currently trump any concerns with democracy, justice, and….plain decency.

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~ by iamtomjoad on December 23, 2010.

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