Must Read: How the US Government Strikes Fear in Its Own Citizens and People Around the World

In a recent speech, Glenn Greenwald discussed how the government and media treatment of WikiLeaks is symptomatic of a total lack of respect for the law and government transparency by the secret consortium of government and corporate power that runs the United States.

[Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the  transcript of a speech delivered by Constitutional lawyer and Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald at the Lannan Foundation on March 8. The speech was transcribed by the blog Contumacious. Please visit AlterNet to read the entire speech.]

by Glenn Greenwald

...[P]olitical controversies and political issues never take place in isolation. They're always part of some broader framework, that drives political outcomes, and that determines how political power is exercised. And so it doesn't really matter which specific topic, or which specific controversy of the day you want to discuss, the reality is, you can't really meaningfully discuss any of them without examining all the forces that shape political culture, and that shape how political outcomes are determined. So, in order to talk about any issue, you end up speaking about these same, broad themes, that are shaping, and I think plaguing, the political discourse in the United States.

This is something that I first realized when I started writing about politics in late 2005. One of the very first topics on which I focused was the scandal about the Bush administration eavesdropping on American citizens without the warrants required by law. This was first exposed by the NYT in December of 2005, so it happened around six weeks after I began writing about politics. I had this very naïve idea that this was going to be very straightforward and simple political controversy. The reason I thought that in my naiveté, was because what the Bush administration got caught doing [eavesdropping on Americans without warrants from the FISA court] is as clear as could possibly be a felony under American law. You can actually look at the criminal law that existed since 1978, when FISA was enacted. It says that doing exactly what the Bush administration got caught doing, is a felony in the U.S., just like robbing a bank, or extortion or murder, and that it's punishable by a prison term of five years or a $10,000 fine for each offense.

The report that the NYT published was that there were at least hundreds and probably thousands of instances where American citizens were eavesdropped on illegally and in violation of the law. So, I thought that this was going to be a fairly straightforward controversy, because I had this idea that if you get caught committing a felony, and the NYT writes and reports on that and everybody's talking about that, that that's actually going to be a really bad thing for the person who got caught doing that. I know it was really naïve. I'm actually embarrassed to admit that I thought that, but that really is was I thought at the time. I also thought that basically everybody would be in agreement that that was a really bad thing to do....that thing that the law said for 30 years was a felony and punishable by a prison term and a large fine. And, as it turned out (and I realized this fairly quickly) none of that actually happened. It wasn't a really bad thing for the people who got caught committing that felony.

And, not only did everyone not agree that that was a bad thing, very few people actually agreed that that was a very bad thing. So, what I thought I was going to be able to do was to take this issue and write very legalistically about it, and demonstrate that what the Bush administration had done was a crime, that it was a felony under the statute and that the legal defenses for it that they had raised were frivolous and baseless and that would be the end of the story. Crime committed, investigation commenced, punishment ensues. So what immediately happened, when I realized that none of that was really going on, of course then the question became why. Why was my expectation about what would happen so radically different than what in fact happened?

So, then I needed to delve into that dynamic, that I began by referencing that determines political outcomes. I had to examine the fact that we have a political faction inside the U.S. [the American Right] that is drowning in concepts of nationalism, and exceptionalism, in tribalism that leads them to believe that whatever they and their leaders do is justifiable inherently because they do it, and in a complete lack of principle...this is the same faction that impeached a democratically elected president not more than 10 years earlier on the grounds that the rule of law is paramount and we can't allow our presidents to break the law. And, yet, here they were defending it.

Please read the entire address at How the US Government Strikes Fear in Its Own Citizens and People Around the World by Glenn Greenwald (AlterNet 2011-03-21).

Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional law attorney and chief blogger at Unclaimed Territory. His forthcoming book, How Would a Patriot Act: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok will be released by Working Assets Publishing next month.

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