According to professor Robert Jensen of the School of Journalism, “As long as the United States is an empire, government officials will try to keep the public in the dark about the nature of the empire.”
Given the 865 military bases abroad, the euphemistic “Overseas Contingency Operations,” and the military strategy of “full-spectrum dominance” that the United States oversees, our country is without a doubt the global hegemon of the day. Given the us vs. them framework that is propagated by our politicians and mainstream media outlets alike to simplify, or outright falsify, the nature of our imperial ambitions, the powers that be are without a doubt attempting to keep the U.S. citizenry out of the know.
The most infamous tactic that governments use to alter the public mind in their favor is propaganda. In America, where the synergy and consolidation of private interests dominate both the medium and message of information dissemination, the existence of propaganda is blatantly visible.
However, the empire has another powerful, much less discussed tool in its arsenal: censorship.
Upon understanding that, as Jensen states, “excessive secrecy is an intrinsic feature of the concentrations of power necessary to run an empire,” it should come as no surprise that the United States implements censorship tactics. In the 21st century, one of the most controversial methods of free speech suppression in America has been the state secrets privilege.
Since the seminal case of United States v. Reynolds in 1953, the government has, in theory, invoked the state secrets privilege in civil litigation to prevent the courts from disclosing information that might threaten national security. In the ruling, the Supreme Court proclaimed that the privilege “is not to be lightly invoked.” From 1953 until Sept. 11 2001, the government upheld that recommendation.
Yet with the onset of the ‘War on Terror,’ the privilege was invoked 22 times between 2001 and 2005 (in comparison to the 55 times that it was put into effect during the 48 year span prior to 9/11). Instead of applying the privilege just for issues of national security, the Bush administration used the rule to cover its tracks, dismissing entire cases in response to accusations of criminal conduct in the government.
Take for example the case of Edmonds v. Department of Justice. Although you may not have heard of Sibel Edmonds, the plaintiff of the case, she was once described by the ACLU as “the most gagged person in the history of the United States.”
Edmonds worked for the FBI as a translator, and became a whistleblower after being fired for reporting misconduct in the agency. She is regarded by many to be a reputable source, having been publicly backed by Senate Judiciary Committee members Pat Leahy, D-Vt, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and appraised in a Department of Justice inspector general report that asserted her allegations are “credible,” “serious,” and “warrant a thorough and careful review by the FBI.”
Despite such authoritative support – or most likely because of it – Sibel Edmonds was silenced. Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the state secrets privilege for her case and issued gag orders upon Edmonds, which rendered her mute.
However, after years in obligatory silence, Edmonds was finally allowed to provide a deposition under oath in August 2009. This rare reversal offers us a glimpse of what the government might be trying to hide from the public eye through censorship practices like the state secrets privilege.
In the November 2009 issue of Pat Buchanan’s The American Conservative, Edmonds asserted that factions of the U.S. government continued relations with the Mujahedeen throughout the 1990’s and beyond, the U.S. bureaucratic system is plagued with foreign espionage, and that factions of the U.S. government have been involved in drug trafficking schemes in Central Asia in recent years.
It’s little wonder that Daniel Ellsberg has proclaimed that Edmonds’ information is “far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers.” If committees with real subpoena power were established to investigate these crimes of apparent treason, the political landscape could be seriously altered.
Yet, despite campaigning against the “secrecy that dominates government actions,” President Barack Obama and his administration have embraced the clandestine Bush status quo and continue to invoke the state secrets privilege. Public records lawsuits filed against the government have actually increased in number since Obama took office last year.
But, what else are we to expect? Regardless of who is at the helm, the United States will rule as an empire. As George Orwell foresaw in “1984,” in a state of empire, where war is peace, ignorance is strength.