Last week, Matt Taibbi wrote a blog post for Rolling Stone in which he gave a scathing critique of the media coverage surrounding the court martial of Bradley Manning, the American soldier on trial for leaking state secrets to WikiLeaks. One of the articles Taibbi panned was a piece I wrote for Time, in which I argued that out of control state secrecy was the real crime, and the real story, in the Manning case.
Taibbi's article grossly mischaracterized my argument and Rolling Stone was good enough to run a brief response from me. What follows is my slightly less shrunken response to Taibbi.
Taibbi takes me to task for opening my essay by asking if Manning is a traitor or a hero. Mystifyingly, he leaves out that I follow that sentence by calling that question the least important question in Manning's case. Leaving aside that Taibbi did not, apparently, read much of my article before panning it (since my piece didn't even address the "lax security procedures" or "lack of good due diligence in vetting the folks" that are apparently the twin pillars of what he calls the "Nicks Thesis"), there's an important point to be made about this issue.
Taibbi says that this trial "comes down to one simple equation. If you can be punished for making public a crime, then the government doing the punishing is itself criminal." On this point he's partially correct, but he peters out halfway to the finish line.
What this case is about, beyond the narrow scope of the legal issues in question, is the delicate balance between democratic accountability and the need for secrecy in affairs of state, and over-classification -- that is, the "secrecy out of control" that I wrote about for Time -- is not incidental to this question, it is the toxin that poisoned the well. Secrecy sets the foundation for the war crimes and human rights violations that so troubled Bradley Manning and outraged the world when he revealed them to us. Secrecy, and the abuse of it, is the problem that has led to all the other problems. It's everything. It's the water from David Foster Wallace's graduation speech (where the fish asks the other fish "what the hell is water?"). It's so elemental that we have stopped noticing it's there.
To my shortened response in the Rolling Stone piece linked above, Taibbi responds: "Fair enough."
Fair enough, Matt.
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