This time they’ve gone too far.
The enemies of liberty have escalated their attack on Glenn Greenwald – the Guardian journalist whose reporting on Edward Snowden’s revelations has provoked an international movement against the Surveillance State – in a way even I never thought possible. They have targeted his longtime partner, David Miranda: en route home to Brazil, where he and Greenwald presently reside, Miranda passed through London’s Heathrow Airport, where he was detained by officers and questioned for nine hours. They claimed authority to do so under the terms of the "Terrorism Act 2000," which allows them to detain terrorist suspects at airports and border crossings at will. Miranda had been visiting friends in Berlin. After confiscating his laptops, his cell phone, and all electronics, they finally let him go.
From news accounts of what happened at Heathrow, it looks as if the Brits dearly wanted to arrest him, or at least get clearance to hold him longer – and only the energetic efforts of the Brazilian embassy managed to just barely get Miranda out of there and home to a free country.
As of this writing, we don’t know exactly what the interrogation entailed, but it isn’t hard to imagine: Miranda had been staying with Laura Poitras, the American documentary filmmaker who has been instrumental in Greenwald’s reporting. Poitras has herself been stopped, detained, and interrogated over forty times at various airports in the course of her reporting career, which is outrageous in and of itself, but this latest move by the cretins who rule our destiny is a serious escalation of their attack on the free press. As Glenn pointed out in his amazingly calm account of the matter, "Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they feel threatened by."
Although Greenwald is increasingly the target of a concerted attack on his character and journalistic credentials, the authorities have so far left the dirty work to their journalistic Praetorian Guard, the David Gregorys, the Walter Pincus types, and the Mike Grunwalds of this world. This action by the British government – and does it make me a "conspiracy theorist" to think this was carried out at the direction of their Washington overseers? – crosses a very distinct line, the boundary between a free society that recognizes the rule of law and an authoritarian state that manipulates the law to serve its own purposes.
Miranda is not a journalist. His identity and his relationship to Glenn has only recently been revealed by the spotlight shown on his partner: a recent New York Times profile of Ms. Poitras was set in the Miranda-Greenwald household, in Brazil, when Poitras was visiting. To target Miranda is to cross into Soviet territory: the KGB, in their war on dissidents, also victimized loved ones, often sending entire families to the gulag.
By citing the "Terrorism Act" as justification for their actions, the Brits violated their own procedures, as this paragraph from their Code of Practice makes clear:
"The purpose of questioning and associated powers is to determine whether a person appears to be someone who is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. The powers, which are additional to the powers of arrest under the Act, should not be used for any other purpose."
What have Miranda and Greenwald to do with "terrorism"? Are the Brits (and, standing behind them, the Americans) saying that he – and, by implication, Greenwald – is affiliated with or sympathetic to some Al-Qaeda-like group, and is actively involved in plotting terrorists acts? Of course not. What they are saying is that anyone involved in the practice of real journalism – as opposed to the professional shills like David Gregory and Walter Pincus – and who exposes their secret machinations will be dealt with by any "legal" means necessary.
The message to journalists everywhere is ominous indeed: if you report things the US government and/or its overseas vassals don’t like, not only you but your loved ones will be unmercifully harassed and quite possibly arrested until we make you stop. How is this different from what Josef Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and other world-infamous despots did to earn a prominent spot in history’s rogues gallery?
This incident was clearly meant as a warning shot aimed directly at Greenwald, who has publicly expressed his desire to return to the United States. He and Miranda have been living in Brazil, up until this point, due to the immigration restrictions previously put on spouses in same-sex relationships. Now that the Supreme Court has decided that straight people have to start treating us like human beings, Glenn has said he intends on returning to the US with Miranda soon rather than later. He has no illusions about the danger he faces. As he told Salon:
"Given that the Obama DOJ has adopted theories that would criminalize journalism in both the WikiLeaks Grand Jury proceeding and the investigation of James Rosen, given that it has waged what most observers agree is an unprecedented war on whistle-blowers, and given that several prominent political figures and journalists have called for my prosecution, I obviously take the risk seriously. But I take more seriously the Constitution’s guarantee of a free press in the First Amendment. So I have every intention of entering the U.S. as soon as my schedule permits and there’s a reason to do so."
If I were Glenn, I would stay in Brazil: there is no obligation to make oneself a martyr. I say this not because I’m so presumptuous as to offer him public advice on a highly personal matter (although I am that), but in order to make a political point: the guarantees of basic rights enshrined in the Constitution are simply no longer operable. It is admirable to take the Constitution seriously: for that reason, it is necessary to take the enemies of the Constitution just as seriously.
These people mean business – and quite a dirty business it is, too. They don’t care about the rule of law: as Greenwald spent a whole book explaining to us, today the law is applied in a grossly unequal manner, and this degeneration of our legal system has occurred over a long period of years. The vast secret surveillance apparatus he has so thoroughly exposed in his reporting shows this degenerative process is almost complete.
In short, no one is safe – and that is the hallmark of an authoritarian society, now isn’t it? No, not journalists, not the Guardian, not Antiwar.com – our power-crazed political class will stop at nothing to preserve its prerogatives and privileges. And if Greenwald thinks the Constitution will prove to be an obstacle in their path, then why is it that up until now they’ve used it as a doormat?
Nothing short of a revolution is going to stop this power grab: hopefully it will be like that which overthrew the old Soviet Union – relatively bloodless and nonviolent. That’s what I hope for – but I’m not betting the farm on it.
No, it isn’t too late to bring about peaceful change: but the hour is getting damned late. Which is why I fear it is going to take a lot more than a few bills in Congress – or even the victory of civil libertarians at the polls – to derail this coup d’etat against the rule of law and restore the Constitution.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.