Bound by Moral Obligation!

Bound by Moral Obligation!
Surrendering the Moral High Ground

 Gary Hunt
Outpost of Freedom
November 7, 2013

Having touched upon the subject of Honor (Bound by Honor?), and Oaths (Bound by Oath!), we will now venture to the foundation of both Oath and Honor, the sense, or lack thereof, of moral obligation.

Whether morality is inherent, as some believe, or acquired, it is something that we all have; some with good values and others absent such values.  If the former, can it be extinguished by environment?  If the latter, then that upbringing is fundamental to the consequential development of moral values.  Regardless, however, of the source from which it emanates, by adulthood, it is most likely firmly established.

Honesty is, perhaps, the most demonstrable characteristic of good moral values.  This honesty, however, is not the consequence of being caught in an act, rather, is the up front, straightforward, admission of a fault.  This was demonstrated recently when 22 year old Matthew Cordle admitted to killing someone in a YouTube video.  He didn’t have to make such admission, though his moral character, regardless of the subsequent accusations that he wanted to get a lighter sentence, resulted in a frank and open admission of his guilt in the matter.

This is almost unheard of in our adversarial society, where “not guilty” is the standard plea, regardless of available proof, and legal efforts to suppress evidence and testimony.  After all, if everyone who was guilty of charges brought against them, and so admitted, then attorneys would be looking for their EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards.

Unfortunately, a society whose representatives in government are weaned on adversarial relationships, to go with conscience and admit guilt, absent overwhelming pressure, is an unacceptable mode of action.  Consequently, the talking heads of television and news services began their speculative denigration of Cordle, accusing him, not of honesty, rather, of attempting to sway the judicial process.  Ultimately, apparently, the judge agreed with the press, and Cordle was sentenced to serve 6 1/2 years (the Ohio average) of a possible 8 1/2 maximum sentence.

The primary purposes of imprisonment are retribution (vengeance) and rehabilitation.  Those who do not show remorse tend to have more severe sentences than those who show remorse.  Often, this is a result of a plea bargain, where the remorse is simply acted out to achieve that reduced sentence.  True remorse can only come from an un-coerced confession, without an agreed upon quid pro quo (this for that).  There is no doubt that the video confession was without coercion, unlike the plea form of remorse.  Further, the YouTube video is probably the most effective means of discouraging others from drunk driving.  However, this does not fit the societal norm.

So, let’s look at the societal norm.  First, however, let’s preface it with an observation.  In any business, the employees are, for the most part, a reflection of management.  If you go into a retail store where trash lays about, the floors are dirty, and the merchandise disarrayed, you can expect that the management does not give a damn, and that is reflected by the actions of the employees, often demonstrated by rudeness or inattention.  However, if you go into clean retail store, with the merchandise neatly stacked on the shelves, you can probably expect the service to be courteous and helpful.

Similarly, in society those “leaders” of the society — those elected to represent the people, set the example for, at least, business, especially in financial and moral values.  If the government sets the example of living in perpetual debt, many businesses will follow suit.  If the government is lacking moral values, then you can expect big business, again, to follow suit.

Back in 1972, under the direction of President Richard Nixon, a break in and theft of records from the Democratic Headquarters located in the Watergate Complex occurred.  Though there were no voluntary, as with Cordle, confessions, 19 people, staff and consultants, were convicted or plead guilty.  John Mitchell, Attorney General of the United States served 19 months in prison for his role.

It was about this time (1971) that Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, went public with what became known as “The Pentagon Papers”.  The “Papers” were designated “Top Secret”, though they had nothing to do with National Security.  They were first published by the New York Times, which was never prosecuted for publishing them.  They were primarily policy papers that demonstrated that the war (in Vietnam) could not be won, and would only result in much higher casualty rates, if the war continued.  They also proved that President Lyndon Johnson lied to both the public and the Congress, in his efforts to escalate the war in Vietnam.  Basically, the secrecy of the documents was to cover lies of government and poor judgment in policy, resulting in thousands of unnecessary casualties, and a policy that served no acceptable purpose toward the good of the country.  The war, however, was a boon to the Military-Industrial Complex, as warned of by President Dwight Eisenhower, and began a rampant escalation of national debt, that continues to this day.

Ellsberg released this information because of moral conviction — to stop an immoral war that was unwinnable and would only continue to cost many thousands of lives, both Vietnamese and American.

Ellsberg was charged with violation of the Espionage Act of 1917, though the charges were later dismissed, primarily as a result of the government’s (same players from Watergate) efforts to plant evidence to implicate Ellsberg.  Apparently, the administration felt that there were no grounds for a guilty verdict and endeavored to create both evidence and verdict.

Jump to the present.  In an operation known as “Fast and Furious”, the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, lied during Congressional hearings, which was substantiated by subsequent evidence implicating him as having knowledge of the operation.  Apparent there were ties to the White House, though the “Justice” Department has refused subpoenas from Congress to provide records, testimony, and other information, which may implicate the highest office in the country.

Similar to Ellsberg, we have modern day “moralists” that are concerned with covering bad practices under the guise of “national security”.  First, let’s look at a foreigner, an Australian, and his organization.  Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have made a name for themselves, and have incurred the wrath of the U. S. Government, which has brought to bear almost every political resource it has to bring Assange to the United States for, hopefully, just a trial.  However, considering that the government has determined that various tactics can be used against foreigners, it is quite possible that those tactics will be used against Assange, should he be handed over by another country.

What Assange has done is simply republish information provided to him by other sources, much like the New York Times in the Ellsberg matter.  However, with the Internet, the readership is significantly larger than the Times.

If you have taken the time to read any of the release by WikiLeaks, those that the government claims would expose operatives and risk lives, you will find that WikiLeaks has redacted them, repressing information that would expose secrets or people that might be of national security value, as opposed to machinations of the government process, most often quite contrary to what the public has been told — unlike the exposure of Valarie Plame (addressed in Bound by Oath!) by the government.

WikiLeaks was exposing information that was embarrassing to secretive governments, though there is no case that can demonstrate a threat to the true interest of national security.  Like Ellsberg, Assange and WikiLeaks saw something wrong with government, and chose to take the risk of exposing it.

Via WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning exposed information that he accessed in his role as an Army Intelligence Analyst.  The most well known exposure was the infamous Baghdad video of aircraft crews gloating over hitting ground targets that were not what they were claimed to be.  Two of those killed were members of the press, and in a follow up attack, two adults and a child that were trying to give aid to those injured were attacked.  Many thousands of other classified documents were released by Manning.  Manning subsequently signed a plea agreement admitting to 10 of the only 22 charges against him.  It appears that Manning had based his decision to expose the information on “removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare”, as well as saving both American and Iraqi lives.

Next, we come to Edward Snowden.  He was a former CIA (IT security) employee and then a NSA (National Security Agency) contractor.  In the latter capacity, he had access to information regarding extensive mass surveillance practices being conducted by NSA and other agencies.  Snowden later explained, “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens]… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded… My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”  Apparently, Snowden, unlike most of those in government, has read the 4th Amendment, prohibiting illegal searches and seizures.

Subsequent claims by the government are somewhat revealing.  They claim that personal information that is gathered is stored, though not accessed.  This, however, would allow subsequent searches, based upon subsequent warrants, to go back in time and find something that might incriminate someone.  They claim that the information is not accessed and used, unless there is a warrant.

The problem here is one of credibility.  Based upon actions by government, elsewhere, it is probably safe to say about the government’s claims, “bull hockey!”  Understand that for the government to use the information as evidence, it must have been acquired by a legal warrant.  That doesn’t mean that the government cannot use the information, so long as they “develop” a court case by other means — those means being made available by using the illegally obtained information.  Now, many will say, “my government wouldn’t do that.  That would be illegal.”  So, let’s see if “my government” would do that.

The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) routinely gathers information by covert means (wiretaps, intelligence intercepts, and phone records — those records readily provided by cooperating phone companies).  Of course, the information gathered would not stand the legal test required to make it acceptable as evidence, however, it is intelligence.  So, they share this information with other agencies, who must, on their own, “develop a case”, since the information provided by DEA cannot be exposed.

Now, we have two options in which to look at this practice.  First, that it is only the DEA (and the agencies that receive this information) that is involved in this illegal activity.  Or, Second, that this is a standard practice in most, if not all, government agencies.  Remember what was said, earlier, about the employees following the example of their management?  Now, make your choice.

So, we can see that those who act on moral values, from Ellsberg to Snowden, run the risk of subjecting themselves to persecution and prosecution, by upholding those values.  On the other hand, those in government, from Nixon to Holder and his boss, seem to have lost sight of any moral, or constitutional, values.  The former assumes a Moral Obligation (An Argument for Moral Courage), while the latter assumes a moral superiority (Social and Political Superiority).

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