There is one thing that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama got right during his two terms at the White House. Even if he did wait until the curtain was coming down to before taking a bow.
That is, just three days before his presidential retirement — he granted Chelsea Manning clemency. Meaning that the whistleblower has this week stepped into the light after seven long years of incarceration. Some say that it could have been worse. The former US Army analyst, after all, was meant to serve 35 years; the longest ever sentence awarded to a whistleblower in America’s history. This was in retribution for dumping more than 700,00 files, also the largest leak of classified material in US history.
Some may say that the punishment fits the crime. We beg to differ.
The global superpower is a self-styled advocate of human rights and democracy. Yet it has instituted the most sophisticated system of surveillance, that, too, on its own citizens. If this is the brand of democracy that the US has been aiming to promote — then perhaps the countries of the south are justified in their rejection of a hypocritical power that pays lip service to freedom, while creating an order of Orwellian proportions. Yet there have been brave men and women who not only exposed the misdoings of the so-called liberal Obama administration that proudly spearheaded the surveillance project in the first place. Edward Snowden, perhaps one of the most famous exiled whistleblowers in the world remains an icon of our times. Like Manning before him, he, too, had the courage to show the way forward to American activists. He is an inspiration to global for global civil society advocating citizen freedoms — of which right to privacy remains the beacon light when it comes to guaranteeing individual freedom.
This makes news of Chelsea Manning’s release yesterday all the more welcome. For it is a sign that all is not lost in this Herculean battle against a totalitarian web of surveillance that spies on each and every one of us. For let us be clear. Every Internet user, every mobile phone user across the world is susceptible to the most brutal breaches of privacy all in the name of anti-terror protection.
We defend the right of citizens to uphold a life free for terror. But we must equally protest the meek submission to the US surveillance systems. Sadly, the Pakistan government has been an active partner in furthering this. Critics of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) have pointed out how vital citizen data is made available to certain members of the international community — most notably the US — if and when needed. It may or may not be the case that the Pakistani state renders such information accessible but since the days of General Musharraf’s rule — its complicity is but an open secret.
No. Further. Comment. *