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Millennium Post

Truth at any cost

Truth at any cost
Julian Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past two years. He hasn’t seen the light of the day and has developed significant health issues pertaining to the heart and the lungs. Assange in his press conference has suggested that he may soon want to leave, only if he is guaranteed that he won’t be arrested and extradited to the United States. WikiLeaks spokesperson, Kristinn Hrafnsson though later clarified that Assange will not leave the Ecuadorian embassy till the British government promises him safe passage to Ecuador.

It is interesting that Britain has spent close to 6.4 million pounds to keep permanent vigil on the Latin American nation’s embassy in Knightsbridge area of London. Britain, a staunch ally of the US and Sweden, which is part of PM David Cameroon’s alleged ‘Northern Alliance’ considers Assange as someone who is evading law in spite of his involvement in the Swedish molestation case. The 43 year old founder of WikiLeaks, an Australian national has been left to fend for himself after the then Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard denounced the actions of the not for profit journalistic organisation when it leaked classified US documents by saying, ‘I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website. It's a grossly irresponsible thing to do and an illegal thing to do.’

In the wake of this sensitive position, it must be noted that Australia is a US ally and its first overseas mission except London was opened in Washington DC in 1940. Assange had allayed fears that his parent nation would do anything to support the US campaign to get him extradited to that country. He has had no consular contact with Australia since 2010. It is believed that he has not visited home in Melbourne since 2006, when he established WikiLeaks.

Edward Bradley Manning was inducted into the US Army in 2007. In 2009, he landed in Iraq as an ‘intelligence analyst’ having access to classified databases of the US army. In early 2010, Manning gave WikiLeaks its largest set of confidential documents of the US army. Much of the material was published on the WikiLeaks website and its media partners between April and November, 2010.

Manning was convicted in July 2013 in relation to the violation of the Espionage Act, 1917 for leaking classified documents to the public. He was handed a 35 year prison term and also discharged from the army with ignominy. In the eyes of the United States he remains a traitor and a spy.

Edward Snowden, a former system administrator for the Central Investigating Agency (CIA) came into the public eye when he released clandestinely kept files of the National Security Agency (NSA).
Snowden later went to work for the private intelligence contractor Dell, inside a National Security Agency (NSA) outpost in Japan. In March 2013, he joined the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton inside the NSA center in Hawaii. These were the two places Snowden chanced upon the documents that spoke extensively about how US snooped on major political leaders including that of India, Germany and Brazil. On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii and shared the classified files with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. On 9 June, 2013, four days after the first programme on NSA was released, Snowden revealed his identity in a video made by Poitras and published by Guardian.

The US department of Justice, post the release of the files charged Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property. The sentence was deemed to be 30 years in prison. On 22 June, Snowden’s American passport was revoked by the US department of State and on the next day, Snowden flew out to Moscow’s, Sheremetyevo International Airport. It was alleged by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin that Snowden met agents from the world’s largest country during his stay at Hong Kong. He remained stranded in the airport transit zone for 39 days applying for a safe place to stay in 21 countries before Russia came to his rescue.

Snowden lives in an undisclosed location in Russia and is seeking refuge in the European Union. On 7 August, 2014, six days after his asylum expired, his Russian lawyer announced that Snowden had received a three year renewable residency permit and could travel freely within the country. For the world Snowden remains a hero but for the United States, Snowden is a traitor, dissident and conspirator.

Evading arrest to uphold his freedom, he may never be able to return to a country he called home.
There is a lot of reason why I have chosen to mention the names of these three extraordinary men of our generation. These men have defied not only the world’s most powerful nation but also their levels of grit and exemplary courage. In a world dominated by countries who have assumed too much power, these men have shown us the light that truth at any cost must and should prevail.

Whistleblowers have been hounded internationally from the longest time we can think of. Nobody wants to protect them; nobody gives a damn if they even exist. Massive protests happened in nearly every part of the world when Assange and Snowden were pursued to cave into United States’ demand to turn coy. These men however chose not to belittle their contributions in this world controlled massively by a nation, which became the absolute power when USSR disintegrated.

In its pursuit of the traitors however, the United States forgot a very significant motive. It could not fathom the public outcry that erupted in support of these men of iron nerves. In its tunneled-vision, it saw itself as the emancipator of the American voice which without any hesitation can also be touted as the voice of the world. However, emaciated Americans who were exposed to another side of their largely un-democratic nation chose to rally behind Manning first, Assange midway and Snowden the last.

US excesses in the theatres of war, Iraq and Afghanistan were proof enough of their complete disrespect for the lives of the billions and billions of human beings living in other parts of the world. The tortures at Guantanamo Bay and the illegal snooping activities on leaders worldwide brought them enough hatred. Scurrying uni-directionally to impose their supremacy over other nations, the United States has earned enemies, some more sharp and some meek. When news broke out about NSA surveillance on German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and Brazilian Prime Minister, Dilma Rousseff, they reacted severely by saying that such nonsense was unacceptable to them. However, in the same dock was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and very regrettably I may have to write that the government of India offered the meekest explanation ever. However, much the media must project, India has never been able to make a strong exception even when its global reputation has been tarnished -- ‘left right and centre’.

All this debate however, makes me ask my readers a question, what happens to the people who decide to put their lives at stake for the benefit of the entire mankind? If I may be confused with a rhetoric aimed at the defense personnel, I’d like to correct that this one is for the whistleblowers who can exist anywhere and in any setup. These people suffer abjectly to bring truth out; their nations start calling them dreadful adjectives, their families are made objects of antagonism, not being able to return home, they themselves start living life in complete isolation and justice is never really delivered.

If we happen to look at the types of legal protection available to such messengers, we will be forced to develop a false sense of thought, if for nothing else. While in the United States, which drafted its first law on the subject on 30 July, 1778, there now exist a mélange of fragmentary laws which cut across departments. The United Kingdom on the other hand initiated in October, 2013, a Whistleblowing Commission to foresee if any other aspects of the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998, governing open disclosures may not be encouraging them to come forward about wrongdoing.

The Netherlands, one of the world’s most developed nations, has a whistleblower advice centre (Adviespunt Klokkenluiders) and the parliament recently proposed to set up a safe haven for people who seek truth. In addition to this on 9 September, 2013, the Dutch media organisations came collectively forward to announce the launch of Publeaks, which provides a secure website for people to leak documents to the media.

Having been exposed to the coldness of the Australian government to protect Julian Assange, the citizens have rallied behind an organisation called Whistleblowers Australia, which started as early as 1991 and was then called Whistleblowers Anonymous. India took notice of the forever impending hassles for whistleblowers as late as 2003, when the Law Commission recommended the adoption of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Act, 2002. Much later in August 2010, the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010 was introduced into the Lok Sabha. The Bill got the cabinet’s approval in June, 2011 and the standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice renamed it as The Whistleblowers' Protection Bill, 2011.

The bill was passed by Lok Sabha on 28 December, 2011, Rajya Sabha on 21 February, 2014 and got the presidential nod on 9 May, 2014. It is another matter though that people who seek to expose truth are hunted more often than not and in a country riled with massive corruption as ours they also risk the grave jeopardy of being eliminated.

Take for example the cases of Manjunath Shanmugham, Satyendra Dubey, Lalit Mehta, Amit Jethwa and Narendra Kumar. All these men were eliminated when they tried to bring to book government stooges who in connivance with various political mafia and corporate cronies indulged in siphoning truckloads of Indian tax payer’s funds for interests too notorious. In a country where there is absolutely no regard for pursuit of truth, it becomes a little hard to believe that there are examples of people like Akhil Gogoi, Sanjeev Bhatt and Teesta Setalvad among others who have survived the continuous onslaught from power hoarders. Whether or not would these people of principle be saved, is a question that the government of India will have to answer.

However, ironic is the fact that Bhatt and Setalvad gave much evidence about a man who is believed to have then orchestrated one of the worst pogroms in India’s history and who later was let scot-free by the Supreme Court of India to become one of the most powerful leaders, India has ever seen.
This debate can rage forever as nobody wants to heed truth. In the hindsight though, each of us craves for equality but when there is talk about collective efforts to make powerful government’s take responsibility, we shy away for want of getting purged. Bradley Manning’s identity and sentence could have been saved, had Adrian Lamo, a person he considered a confidante revealed his true identity and not turned him in for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to harass him to give in.

Protect whistleblowers, for if you won’t, you’ll never realise the veritable face of the forward looking men and women in power whom you so astonishingly endorse.
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