Thursday, December 16, 2010
It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American crimminal class except Congress.
— Mark Twain, Following the Equator
The question that has come to mind watching members of Congress during the past few weeks is “What are the similarities and differences between the United States Congress and Wikileaks?” The similarities are that both create chaos. The differences are that creating chaos by illuminating some of what goes on behind the scenes is the purpose of Wikileaks whereas creating chaos is not the task the founders of the country thought they had assigned to members of Congress. It just happened that way over time. Another difference, of course, is that Wikileaks is very good at what it does and the United States Congress is abysmal at doing what it does.
Ron Paul (R-Texas) has come to the defense of Wikileaks and in so doing has set himself apart from members of his own party who consider him something of a heretic. They are probably the same people who disagreed with him in 2002 when he was one of the voices in defense of the constitutional prerogatives of Congress with respect to declarations of war.
In 2002, Mr. Paul was a member of the minority in both Houses of Congress that opposed the 2002 Congressional resolution authorizing George Bush to invade Iraq. Mr. Paul said, at that time, that the resolution was not a declaration of war. Instead, he said, the “resolution transfers the Constitutionally-mandated Congressional authority to declare wars to the executive branch. This resolution tells the president that he alone has the authority to determine when, where, what, and how war will be declared. It merely asks the president to pay us a courtesy call a couple of days after the bombing starts to let us know what is going on.” (In taking a stand against the resolution, Mr. Paul was following in the footsteps of Senators Wayne Morse (OR) and Earnest Gruening (AK) who were the only members of Congress to oppose the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. When the resolution was debated in the Senate Senator Morse said: “[H]istory is going to record that Senator Gruening and I voted in the interests of the American people this morning when we voted against this resolution. And I’d have the American people remember what this resolution really is. It’s a resolution that seeks to give the president of the United States the power to make war, without a declaration of war.”)
In a speech in the House of Representatives discussing the leaks of the cables to assorted media by Wikileaks, Mr. Paul said: “The hysterical reaction makes one wonder if this is not an example of killing the messenger for the bad news. Despite what is claimed, the information that has been so far released, though classified, has caused no known harm to any individual, but it has caused plenty of embarrassment to our government.” He went on to say that the American people deserve to know the truth about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. (Among other things some of the cables disclose that unbeknownst to American citizens, bombings in Yemen for which the Yemeni government claimed to be responsible were in fact undertaken by the United States, and the Yemeni government took responsibility so the United States could continue to surreptitiously bomb members of al Qaeda in that country. After an attack on December 24, 2009, Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, told General David Petraeus, then the head of the US central command: “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”)
Mr. Paul asks whether Wikileaks disclosures, “lying us into war” [read Iraq and Vietnam] or the release of the Pentagon Papers was responsible for the greater loss of American lives. He asks why people are upset with Wikileaks for disclosing that the government is unable to protect classified information and whether the upset over Wikileaks is more about maintaining “a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security.” He questions whether we’re getting our money’s worth for the $80 billion a year spent on intelligence gathering. Perhaps most importantly, he asks what the implications are for the first amendment if Julian Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information he did not steal. And finally he observes it was once considered an act of patriotism to stand up to the government when it was wrong.
Those in Congress who call for Julian Assange’s execution or imprisonment make no attempt to conceal the chaos they are creating. Unemployment is close to 10% and millions of people face the prospect of their unemployment benefits disappearing just as Santa Claus makes his appearance. For the last two months Congress has tied providing additional unemployment benefits to providing tax cuts for the very wealthy, both dead and alive. Mitch McConnell has said that governing the country is not important-all that matters for the next two years is making sure that Barack Obama is not reelected. All the foregoing and countless other congressional antics suggest is that Congress is no better than Wikileaks-just different.