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Miranda’s detention: Intimidating journalists and their families new norm?

Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City and the founder of StopImperialism.com.

Published time: August 20, 2013 15:30
U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald stands with his partner David Miranda as they wait for the lift at Rio de Janeiro's International Airport August 19, 2013 (Reuters / Ricardo Moraes)

To everyone’s regret, given the current state of secrecy and political repression, the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner seems to have become the norm, rather than the exception.

David Miranda, at London’s Heathrow airport earlier this week, is yet another example of the use of draconian “anti-terror” legislation in the US and UK to intimidate whistleblowers, journalists and their families, and anyone confronting the surveillance/police state directly.

Not just another flight delay

Early Sunday morning, while attempting to connect to a British Airways flight home to Brazil, Miranda was detained by British security officials under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000.  The law, ostensibly put in place to aid law enforcement in terrorism-related investigations, allows security officials to seize, search, and hold without charge anyone or anything they suspect as being connected in any way with terrorism. 

Despite there being absolutely no suspicion of Mr. Miranda’s involvement in any such activities, he was held for the maximum, legally allowed nine hours.  During his detention, Miranda had his belongings, including his mobile phone, laptop, and other electronic devices, seized. At the same time he was prevented from speaking with any legal representation.  Though this is legally permissible according to the Terrorism Act, it flies in the face of the accepted rule of law in the Western world.

Regardless of the pretext, it immediately became clear to Miranda, Greenwald, and the legal representatives dispatched by the Guardian, that this was a politically motivated detention designed to intimidate Greenwald and all other journalists and whistleblowers. Those who might dare to speak the truth about Orwellian surveillance tactics that has been instigated in the US, UK and other Western nations. 

As Greenwald noted in his column of August 18th, “The stated purpose of this law, as the name suggests, is to question people about terrorism…but they obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with any…terrorist plot…Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well as the content of the electronic products he was carrying.”

The political climate for journalists has become increasingly oppressive as the state and its intelligence arms have begun to emerge from the shadows of their covert surveillance, crossing over into overt intimidation.

Demonstrators hold placards featuring an image of former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden as they take part in a protest against the US National Security Agency (AFP Photo / John Macdougall)

The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, wrote on August 19th:

“A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister…he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on…there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favored a far more draconian approach. I received a phone call from the center of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back”."

This sort of conduct is typical of police states and authoritarian governments which seek to control the flow of information at all costs, particularly that information which sheds light on the nefarious activities of those in power.  
In the supposedly free societies of “Western democracy”, such tactics were rightly thought of as immoral and inherently undemocratic. However, given the current state of secrecy and political repression, these sorts of tactics have become the norm, rather than the exception.

These latest incidents demonstrate the degree to which the intelligence establishment and political elite are frightened of the continuing stream of information emanating from the Snowden revelations.  Moreover, it shows the lengths to which the US and UK will go to suppress this information: from violating the norms of international relations by grounding the flight of Bolivian president Morales, to threatening powers such as Russia and China with boycotts or worse. Washington and their puppets in London are showing their true colors.

Those who fail to learn from history…

Such tactics as were employed in the detention of David Miranda are nothing new.  In fact, they have been used repeatedly by authoritarian governments throughout recent history: Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, East Germany under the Stasi, and others.  However, the respect for freedoms and basic human rights which supposedly have separated Western democracies from such regimes seem to have become merely anachronisms – vestiges of a bygone era when the United States and its allies could present themselves as just and righteous.

A few hundred people take part in a protest outside a US National Security Agency (NSA) listening station in Griesheim near Darmstadt, Germany (AFP Photo / DPA / Boris Roessler / Germany out)

An obvious historical example is the use of intimidation and imprisonment of the families of so-called “enemies of the people” or “enemies of the state” under the repressive regime of Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin.  As a means of legally justifying his horrendous purges of all political dissenters (and those suspected of harboring dissident views), Stalin initiated the infamous NKVD Order No. 00486, which came to be known as the “Order about Family Members of Traitors to the Motherland.”  This order was designed not only to stamp out any semblance of dissent or criticism, but to create the legal framework by which Stalin’s dictatorship could be maintained through intimidation, imprisonment, or worse.

It is important to note the use of the term “traitor” in the language of the order, as it presupposes that anyone expressing views or ideas contrary to the dictates of Stalin and the ruling establishment was a traitor to the Motherland and the people, thereby making dissent and treason somehow equivalent.  Interestingly, this is precisely the same language employed in the US by those attempting to denigrate the heroic actions of Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, other whistleblowers and political prisoners.

One certainly should not compare the horrific purges carried out under Stalin with the temporary detention of David Miranda because that would be an insult to the countless number of individuals and families that perished under Stalin’s rule.  However, one cannot help but note the striking parallels in the language and, perhaps most importantly, mentality that justifies such actions.  That totalitarian mentality has today taken on a much softer appearance and voice, using terms like “human rights” and “democracy” as levers of power.  But the unmistakable stench of authoritarianism is present throughout the US and UK’s handling of so-called “national security” matters.

Ironically, at almost the exact moment that Miranda was being detained in London, I myself had my own run-in with the ever-expanding police state.  The New York Police Department employed a road-block on a major artery in lower Manhattan, stopping each and every car, confiscating driver’s licenses and “running background checks” on each individual.  Despite my understanding of the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, I also have witnessed the extraordinary brutality of the police and so, in the interest of others in the car with me, did not “make a fuss.”  Naturally, I do not hold up my short encounter with the unconstitutional and fascistic NYPD tactics as being equivalent to others much worse experiences.  I merely mention it to illustrate the normalization of these practices in a supposedly free and open society – all under the guise of “protecting the people against terrorism.”

As the United States lectures countries like Russia and China about their human rights records and treatment of journalists, one must think of David Miranda, sitting in some anonymous room in a London airport for hours, with no access to his lawyers, his partner, or anyone outside the confines of the airport.

One must think of Bradley Manning facing the likelihood of life in prison for simply informing Americans of the crimes committed in their names.  Only when one considers each of these examples, and the thousands of others that don’t make the headlines, can one begin to see the continued descent into the abyss of a police state.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.