Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Civil Disobedience and Uncivilized Punishment: Run Edward and Keep Running

Edward Snowden's father recently gave an interview in which he rejected the idea that his son should come home to face US punishment (read the full story in the Guardian here):
He is going to be thrown into a hole. He is not going to be allowed to speak." The 52­year­old said he had been as "surprised as the rest of America" when his son, who worked for a contractor, was revealed as the source of the leaks about surveillance by the National Security Agency to the Guardian. "As a father it pains me what he did," Snowden said. "I wish my son could simply have sat in Hawaii and taken the big paycheck, lived with his beautiful girlfriend and enjoyed paradise. But as an American citizen, I am absolutely thankful for what he did." 
With Bradley Manning facing the likelihood of dozens of years in prison, despite no evidence he harmed anyone, I could not agree more.  There was once a tradition in this country of people breaking the law for principled reasons, typically to protest or expose even greater moral wrongdoing, but accepting their lawful punishment as a way of underscoring their personal commitment to the polity and its laws.  However that belonged to a time when America believed in civilized punishments that had some proportion to the crimes committed.

In the age of Bush and Obama, American punishments reflect a level of viciousness and degradation that no principled person should be willing to accept for themselves or others.  Bradley Manning, even before he was convicted of anything, was subjected to treatment that would be considered a human rights violation in any civilized country but raised hardly a word of concern from press or politicians today.  While criminals on Wall Street who have ruined the lives of millions receive no punishment and indeed the solicitude of the Obama Administration, ordinary and political criminals in this country are subject to punishments that are cruel, degrading, often amount to torture, but are by no means unusual (in fact they are routine).

Given that fact, the days of sacrificial civil disobedience are behind us.  Put principle and pious appeals to come home aside Edward, and follow your Dad's wise advice.  Run Edward, run, run, run....

1 comment:

Unknown said...

great piece, Jonathan, and right on.