Cover-Ups and Truth Tellers

Lawrence Davidson finds a reversal of values — in who gets punished and who does not — when whistleblowers and publishers expose immoral behavior by governments.

By Lawrence Davidson 

In a May, 22, 2019 appearance in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump declared that “I don’t do cover-ups.” Various news outlets immediately started to enumerate a long list of bona fide cover-ups associated with the president.

What can one say about this bit of Trumpian nonsense? Can you accuse a person of lying who actually seems not to know the difference between truth and untruth? Trump’s inability in this regard is demonstrated daily, and The Washington Post fact checker puts the running count of presidential lies at 10,111, with no end in sight. When it comes to reality, the president appears to be a malignant version of Walter Mitty

Trump delivering State of the Union address, Feb. 5, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (White House/ D. Myles Cullen)

Unfortunately, Trump’s behavior is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cover-ups. One can surmise that just by virtue of being the head of the U.S. government, the president — any president — must be directly or indirectly associated with hundreds of such evasions. That is because, it can be argued without much paranoia, that every major division of the government is hiding something —particularly when it comes to foreign activities.

Of course, being cover-ups by the government may make them appear acceptable, at least to a naive public. Many of them are rationalized as necessary for the sake of national “security.” And, of course, everyone wants to be “secure,” accepting the notion that “people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

The fact that much of this violence is done to other innocent people trying to get a peaceful night’s rest is “classified” information. So woe be it to the truth tellers who defy these rationalizations and sound off. For they shall be cast out of our democratic heaven into one of the pits of hell that pass for a U.S. prison—or, if they are fleet-footed, chased into exile.  

Melodramatic, Except … Assange and Manning

Well, that sounds a bit melodramatic — unless you happen to be Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks, or his notable informant, Chelsea Manning, or, taking one step back from the firing line, the Freedom of the Press Foundation. 

The Trump administration is now seeking, via the “Justice” Department, to destroy Assange and Manning. Both are truth tellers or, if you want, whistleblowers who, by revealing the truth about government behavior during the Iraq War, badly embarrassed Washington. The rush to punishment is being carried out with a maliciousness for which this president and his bureaucratic minions seem temperamentally well-suited. Always keep in mind that there are plenty of unethical professionals, in this case operating in the guise of government lawyers, available to serve the disreputable purposes of disreputable bosses. 

Wikileaks’ “Collateral Damage” video.

Julian Assange has been charged with an 18-count indictment alleging that he “unlawfully obtained and disclosed classified documents related to national defense.” It goes on to allege that Assange accomplished this when he “conspired with Manning and aided and abetted her in obtaining classified information … to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation.” Manning’s sentence for these “offenses” was subsequently commuted by President Barack Obama, but she is now in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Assange.

The attack on Assange and Manning has brought into question the viability of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the notion of a free press — seminally important matters. Here is how the Freedom of the Press Foundation describes the implications of the indictment against Julian Assange:

“Put simply, these unprecedented charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the most significant and terrifying threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century. The Trump administration is moving to explicitly criminalize national security journalism, and if this prosecution proceeds, dozens of reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere would also be in danger. The ability of the press to publish facts the government would prefer remain secret is both critical to an informed public and a fundamental right. … Anyone who cares about press freedom should immediately and wholeheartedly condemn these charges.” 

Given these circumstances, one might be surprised, and very disappointed as well, to know that a concerted opposition to this threat from the so-called Fourth Estate (the press and news media) has yet to materialize. 

Too Few Protecting Journalism 

In Washington, D.C., the Newseum’s monument to the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly, petitioning government for redress of grievances. (dbking, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The truth is that, beyond fact-checking the statements of a pathological president, too few journalists are willing to go out on a limb on the issue of a “free press,” or, if you will, for the integrity of their own profession. As it is, most of the American mass media more or less toes a government line and has done so for a very long time. They do this because their owners and editors are either in agreement with the government, see it as economically necessary to appear as traditionally loyal Americans to their readership, or have selectively hired reporters and other staff who are too passive to resist government pressure. Thus, episodes such as the 1972 reporting about the Nixon-inspired break-in at the Watergate and the revelation of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, along with the occasional local investigative expose, are exceptions rather than the rule of journalistic behavior. At best, if a newspaper or TV station wants to appear politically risqué they will confine the effort to a supposed “balanced” editorial page or segment. 

If the journalistic establishment appears hesitant, civil liberties organizations such as the ACLU readily agree with the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The ACLU Director, Ben Wisner, notes that “For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information.” The key words here are “publisher” and “truthful information.” Wisner goes on to say that “It establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets.” In other words, Trump and his minions are taking a step in the direction of dictatorial censorship. 

Two Opposing Issues

Wisner’s comment suggests that there is often a real tension between what the government wishes to keep secret and issues of public morality and common decency. Indeed, Manning’s stated motive in dealing with WikiLeakswas to “remove the fog of war and reveal the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare.” Hence, in 2010, Manning, after being rebuffed by The New York Times and The Washington Post, sent WikiLeaks some 750,000 classified or otherwise “sensitive” military and diplomatic documents. Much of this material showed the U.S. waging a cruel and lawless operation in Iraq that any normal American should find troubling. This is probably part of the reason why this revelation was judged by Washington to be injurious to the U.S.

Manning: Refusing to testify. (Manolo Luna via Wikimedia Commons)

Manning: Exposing “fog of war.” (Manolo Luna via Wikimedia Commons)

We have two issues here and they are in opposition.

First, there is the formal issue of the government (actually all governments) having made it illegal to acquire and make public, in an unauthorized fashion, classified information. However, it is clear that information is often classified not only because it might be militarily or diplomatically harmful but because it is likely to be found repulsive by a government’s own citizens. This proved to be the case with at least some of Manning’s revelations.

That brings us to the second issue — what are the proper behavioral standards to which we want to hold our government, our military, and our diplomatic corps? How are we to know if they are meeting those standards when they have the advantage of legally keeping official behavior secret? 

So it is a conundrum. As libertarians like to put it, “all that which is immoral for men acting individually is equally immoral for men acting in association.”

However, no one seems to have both the legal clout and the courage to demand moral standards for the government, at least not when it comes to foreign policy. Oddly enough, there are domestic laws that make it a criminal offense to withhold incriminating information from the police. But those laws have no application here, though they really should. So the entire situation is managed for the sake of one side of the dilemma — the government. On the other side, the casualties continue to pile up. 

Most of us are told that our government is the best, most progressive one in existence — a model for all the world. And, if you go along with the likes of Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the U.S. government takes a seat at the right hand of God.

However, what happens when truth tellers who notice starkly immoral U.S. government behavior reveal that fact to the public? With but rare exception, what happens is that you get a reversal of values. To name the operatives of the U.S. government as criminals, you often must reveal “classified” evidence. It is that revelation that instantly becomes the primary offense. What the revealed information might say about government wrongdoing recedes into the shadows, and it is the truth teller who becomes the primary criminal. 

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

19 comments for “Cover-Ups and Truth Tellers

  1. Will
    June 14, 2019 at 16:45

    did you forget to mention Reality Winner or just is it that her crime goes counter to the CN Russia meme?

    • Rochelle
      June 15, 2019 at 02:40

      The poor woman who leaked material showing intelligence assessment admitting essentially a “maybe” about the GRU being involved, which was then posted on the faux-progressive website financed by Pierre Omidyar that sometimes posts good articles on Palestine, domestic, and environmental issues but take a no-holds-barred neocon stance on Syria, which then led to her exposure and arrest?

  2. Em Sos
    June 14, 2019 at 10:28

    Some timely Analogies
    What one fails to understand is: how incessantly pointing out a known proactively contributes to altering its dimensions.
    DT is a self-serving, narcissistic, lying conman. Okay! What else is new?
    What are we actually able to do about it while the system is actively being deconstructed from within? All that intellectualized writing is achieving, in the world of today, is comparable to spitting in the wind blow-back, against an unassailably entrenched power structure.
    We have been, masterfully, psychologically conditioned to forever await a next election, wherein we blindly believe we can simply ‘throw them out’ of office and all will be well again.
    If we have the mental capacity to recognize that we are all Julian Assange, Charlie Hebdo, or Palestinian, or any other phrase expressing solidarity, then why are we incapable of recognizing too, that the ‘leaders’ and politicians we elect in the first place are us.
    How has one’s blind faith belief in his/her own ‘democratic’ systems institutional exceptionalism served us – we, the entirety of the people – so far; looking back over only these past seventy-plus years?
    Repeatedly demonizing the despicable doesn’t alter the facts of our powerlessness in the face of the injured beast. Taunting a wounded bear only intimidates it to further attack. It viscerally knows it is in a fight to the death. Talking to it, negotiating ‘deals’ with it are futile.
    We, however, continue to act like mere onlookers to the attack, gloating over the spectacle, not even recognizing ourselves, in toto, as the injured party.
    Anyone recall the definition of the Stockholm syndrome – we identify with our attackers? We simply wait, and watch, jabbering amongst ourselves, as death plays itself out in front of our eyes. Then we quietly disperse into our individual hedonism’s while continuing to chase illusions.
    We have been psychically enfeebled, from birth, through years of subliminal nurturing – programming, to delude ourselves from the one truth – humanity is a universal species. This self-delusional ‘unthinking’ is a causative of our acting against the universal – acting against our own best interests.
    Change the system from within!
    History repeatedly tells that we appear to be incapable of recognizing, let alone acknowledging, necessary truths, prior to full systemic collapse. We, those of the new millennium, will definitely not be the first, but may very well be the last, given our advancement in all ‘things’ inessential, for species continuance.
    We have developed an immunity to the disease corroding us from within.
    The converse medical analogy would be: We are NOT the host! We are the malignancy that is relentlessly eating the body – Earth, which we are destroying, in the name of anthropomorphic vanity; not aware enough to realize that once the body dies all that remains is perpetual space-time consciousness.
    The inhumane Empire has begun its descent, and is beginning to implode in on itself.
    The name of the disease entity is oligarchic, unbridled capitalist plutocracy, reigning supreme. The power in its destructive capacity is that it is relentless. It will not cease until it has utterly destroyed itself, and all of us with it.
    It is an addiction we have no interest in weaning ourselves from. The drug is too all powerful!
    Just some personal thoughts!
    No worries, as was the cultural idiom in Australia, and which now seems to have spread around the globe, thanks to the universal media brainwash.

  3. Turtle McGeode
    June 13, 2019 at 20:21

    I’m no lawyer, but it seems that if the Supremacy Clause makes entered treaties the law of the land, and if the US violates treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, then the criminals are those who do so. As well as those who decline to prosecute those who do so, if a duty to do this is also in those treaties. I think it is in some of them.

    And I don’t know what legal weight the military or other such oaths have, but if it does then an oath to “uphold the Constitution” would mean (if the above were valid) that every soldier would be required to abide by those treaties and refuse orders that would violate them.

    So, the criminals would be Bush, Obama, the helicopter gunners, any soldier currently in Syria, any Congressperson who funds any illegal war, etc. The ones abiding would be Manning, and anyone refusing to comply with illegal orders.

  4. Josep
    June 13, 2019 at 18:44

    via the “Justice” Department

    The same spineless Justice Department that let Microsoft go scot-free after Bush became president? With 90% of home computers in the entire world running Windows, and with Microsoft Office the default office suite, thanks in no small part to Microsoft’s anti-competitive bully tactics, the incompetence of the Justice Department is a danger not only to 300 million US citizens, but the citizens of every other developed country in the world. And it’s going to get worse when support for Windows 7 (which I’m typing this on) gets discontinued next year.

    • Anonymous
      June 18, 2019 at 22:07

      It isn’t incompetence if you stop taking their name at face value. Perhaps “popularity contest department” would be more suitable?

      • Josep
        June 26, 2019 at 04:06

        I don’t see why not. Then again, that is a symptom of the moribund state of the US government that I shared.

  5. Deborah Andrew
    June 13, 2019 at 14:08

    I am struck by your focus on Trump and his administration’s attempts to extradite Assange and bring charges against him under the Espionage Act. It was the Obama administration that began all this. It was Obama who brought charges against 8 whistleblowers, more than all former presidents combined, and far more viciously. Why do you join others in avoiding calling Obama to account for his violations of the Constitution and International Law? For his abominable treatment of whistleblowers while claiming transparency? In my view, Obama was one of the great tragedies of our time. He had a mandate to govern such as most covet, coupled with a Democratic Congress. His first acts were to bring in the bankers to the fold, and it went downhill from there. While attractive in many ways, Obama’s absence of integrity and character covered over by his pleasant demeanor and manner contributed and led to much of the power that, having begun with GW Bush, is now in Trump’s hands. You above all would seem in a position to understand the enormous costs of ignoring the truth and preferring myth.

    • Gregory Herr
      June 13, 2019 at 19:20

      So very much agree Deborah. Groomed Wall Street/CIA tool sent to fix the bankers scam, let Cheney/Bush off the hook, and then double-down on the New American Century. To my sensibilities, moral and otherwise, Obama is just another in a line of jackals and traitors like Johnson or Poppy or Cheney.

    • Lucius Patrick
      June 13, 2019 at 23:04

      I totally agree with your point that Obama gets a free pass from the media and that he actually played a terrible role in many things. Besides using the espionage act to prosecute journalists more than all previous presidents combined, he also went after Edward Snowden who was a great American hero. The anger that Obama had at the Russians for providing political asylum to this persecuted whistleblower was fuel to the fire in regards to Obama restarting the Cold War with Russia; but I blame HRC more for the cold war restart for her role in appointing Robert Kagan’s wife Victoria Nuland to run European affairs and thus bring about the illegal coup in Ukraine which really sealed the Cold War restart. In addition to his administration’s terrible role in restarting the cold war, Obama also dropped more bombs than Bush/Cheney, and we ended up involved in more wars under his administration, which is particularly notable given the fact that Obama ran as the peace candidate: Bush Wars: Afghanistan, Iraq (with additional bombings in Pakistan and Somalia).
      Obama Wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria (with additional bombings in Pakistan and Somalia). –The destruction of Libya is particularly noteworthy because Obama did it (again, major HRC role) after we had the brilliant example of regime change failure in Iraq, and also because of the use of foreign fighters and support of Jihadists which birthed ISIS; and because it was us aiding the Saudis, which we were doing when we went after the legitimate government of Syria (note the common factor of an important Russian Naval port there, in Tartus, just as Crimea had an immensely important Russian Naval port); just as it was us aiding the Saudis when we participated in daily bombing runs by the Saudis on Yemen (Obama’s America providing daily refueling of the Saudi jets (which HRC pushed so hard for them to get) as well as us providing the Saudis intelligence (which makes one wonder, why so many civilian targets?). Interesting that Trump got us out of refueling the Saudi bombing jets. Long Story short, Obama was no great cup of tea, HRC supporters have no room nor right to voice ANY opposition to Trump, they’ve done enough damage.

  6. Lucius Patrick
    June 13, 2019 at 09:34

    This article appears to be trash. The first paragraph is all anti-Trump, and when I clicked on the active “bona fide lcover-ups” link in the second sentence of the first paragraph I am immediately whisked away to a CNN site talking about hush money payments to porn stars or some such. News Flash: hiding some non-marital sexual affair from the public and/or the wife may not be complementary or admirable, but it is certainly not a government coverup or something I’m interested in reading. I’m not going to look at paragraph two. Shame on you for using CNN as a footnote or citable news source–would you accept such shoddy work from one of your students? Come to think of it, you would probably give the kid an A, since quality is not what you are interested in while you try to bash Trump. Many of us in this country are disgusted with the media’s blatant anti-Trump bias and stance, and consider it to be part of a soft coup against the President of the United States by the intelligence agencies, the “liberal” establishment, and the “liberal” media. These quote/unquote liberals were just fine fielding a war monger candidate like HRC and only now seem to be concerned with ethics– and the best they can do is accuse the president of sexual indiscretions and false flag conspiracy theories like Russian collusion etc. Wake up, the guy may be one of the best presidents we’ve ever had, and we’re not going to find out if we don’t give him a chance. As a construction worker I am all for hiring as many illegal aliens as we can to replace teachers and “professors” at high schools and colleges all across the land, to reduce costs at our colleges and universities (yes, right now you all only allow illegals to keep the costs down in menial labor positions, how commendable of you with all your high-falutin’ morals to be keeping the costs of your gardeners, food servers and labor force below market value). Actually, if we hire illegals to fill teaching positions, it will create a huge group of teachers chanting “Build the Wall” and “Trump in 2020!” Meanwhile, peddle your CNN drivel elsewhere please.

    • Carl de Villar
      June 13, 2019 at 17:19

      Looks to me, Lucius, like you were so blinded by the anti-Trump sentiments of the first couple of paragraphs that you were unable to understand the main point of the piece, or perhaps to even read it.

      • Lucius Patrick
        June 13, 2019 at 22:23

        You are right that I did not read it. The first paragraph threw me. If someone is so deranged by Trump syndrome/mass media, I’m not thinking I’m going to find something new there. Is the author capable of adding two plus two? Certainly, but I’m not going to trust him much further than that.

  7. nietzsche1510
    June 13, 2019 at 07:58

    Bradley Manning: the genuine hero of our time. the example to follow if the Republic is to save.

    • June 13, 2019 at 12:22

      I agree, but it’s Chelsea Manning.

      • Steve
        June 14, 2019 at 11:06

        She’s Chelsea Manning now, but at the time she leaked to Wikileaks, he was Bradley Manning.

        I have no problem addressing trans folks by their preferred pronouns and name, but I’m not a fan of going back and retroactively revising the historical record. Bruce Jenner won gold at the 1976 Olympics, not Caitlyn, and Bradley Manning leaked those documents, not Chelsea. All the press reports and legal documents at the time of those events use their birth names. Ditto for cisgender folks getting name changes (Cassius Clay won gold in the 1960 Olympics and beat Sonny Liston to win his first Heavyweight title, but everything after that was all Muhammad Ali.

  8. DW Bartoo
    June 13, 2019 at 06:52

    On Wednesday, June 12, 2019, Sajid Jarvid, Brit Home Secretary, signed the “request” for the extradition of Julian Assange to the U$.

    The order will go before Brit courts on Friday and the hearing may be held at Belmarsh Prison.

    • DW Bartoo
      June 13, 2019 at 06:54

      Sajid Javid – chell speck has a problem with names, apparently.

  9. Monte George Jr
    June 13, 2019 at 03:15

    “Put simply, these unprecedented charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the most significant and terrifying threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century…”

    The charges certainly are a terrifying development, but by far not the worst among the current threats to the 1st amendment. The championship goes to the “hate speech” laws and the criminalization of “antisemitism”. The persecution of Assange punishes revelation of official secrets; the “hate speech” and “antisemitism” laws criminalize expression of unsanctioned opinions (crimethink) – the latter is the ultimate Orwellian nightmare.

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