Hong Kong refused June 23 to extradite document leaker and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to face the spy charges that the United States had announced two days previous. Hong Kong permitted Snowden to fly to Russia to find sanctuary in another country, reputedly Ecuador.
Meanwhile, the Afghanistan-rooted Taliban lashed out against the United States on two fronts after Secretary of State John Kerry, right, sought negotiations. Separately, Kerry committed the United States to join 10 other nations in a “Group of 11” to topple Syria's government by escalating Syria's civil war.
This column summarizes the recent global difficulties for the United States on these issues. An appendix below includes commentaries that focus especially on the Snowden case and the efforts by the “Group of 11” to ramp up military efforts.
Over the weekend, a White House official requiring anonymity from the media demanded that Hong Kong comply with the “rule of law” by delivering Snowden forthwith to the United States to respond to a three-count criminal complaint June 14, unsealed a week later.
Hong Kong promptly replied with an announcement that the Untied States request failed to comply with Hong Kong's minimum legal requirements intended to protect accused persons from political prosecution. Therefore, Hong Kong stated that Snowden was free to depart. Accompanied by WikiLeaks advisers, Snowden motored to an airport to fly to Moscow. The United States revoked Snowden's passport, but Hong Kong and Russian authorities permitted his travel.
A number of United States officials from both major parties have called Snowden a “traitor,” and otherwise expressed their outrage for his claims that the federal government collects and stores virtually all electronic communications from all Americans, and has the ability to retrieve the information if authorities desire to drill down on an investigation of someone.
NBC “Meet the Press” Host David Gregory asked author and journalist Glenn Greenwald June 23 whether authorities should not indict Greenwald for “aiding and abetting” Snowden in breaking the story. Greenwald responded in his charactertic blunt manner by suggesting that if Gregory were a real journalist he would want to inform the public by breaking news, not “publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.”
Overall, the events underscore challenges for United States authorities in trying to control world events by rhetoric advocating freedom, peace, transparency, democracy, and civil rights — while also pursuing a new Mideast war in Syria without widely recognized legal authority and by continuing what is alleged to be widespread domestic suveillance rubber-stamped by a special court system that operates under secret law. Court rules prevent ordinary Americans from accessing the court or any of its rulings, or challenging the legality of any of its decisions. The court is appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican who has created a tribunal with 10 of its 11 judges fellow Republicans.
Most members of Congress defend the system, as do the war and security contractors who operate the guts of the system under recent privatization policies favored by both parties to transfer much of the surveillance to private hands, such as Snowden's employers. Snowden, 30, who lacks both a high school and college degree, said he gave up a high-paying job at Booz Allen Hamilton, owned by the powerful Carlyle Group, because he did not think it appropriate under American traditions that that private communications should be so accessible to someone like him and his employers.
Although Snowden has been widely attacked for his view, he has also been defended by more experienced NSA veterans who say his disclosures are the only route for critics of privacy abuses because anyone who knows anything would get in trouble by complaining.
More than a decade of Mideast wars involving the United States and its allies have coincided with this kind of warrantless surveillance over Americans, United States covert paramilitary actions worldwide, drone attacks on Mideast nations without a declaration of war,and crackdowns on American leakers, reporters, and dissidents.
The trend appears to illustrate a rapid deterioration of constitutional or international law as a commonly accepted neutral body of principles. Hong Kong's rebuke to Kerry and the Obama administration is one of several recent embarrassments for United States officials that are unusual in modern times, if not unprecedented, aside from a journalist's shoe-throwing at President George W. Bush during a December 2008 press conference in Iraq.
Most of the setbacks have arisen because of United States attempts to control events in the Mideast. Another factor is domestic and international concern about the United States global spy network, including widespread secret surveillance of the United States population in ways long regarded as illegal until the advent of secret courts and secret law that rubber-stamp virtually all White House initiatives with no ability for anyone in the public to learn specifics.
All major nations spy on each other and most spy upon their own citizens to varying degrees. But the recent revelations have embarrassed powerful players, thereby attracting unusual attention to surveillance practices long known to experts. Recent disclosures that the Obama administration targeted reporters at the Associated Press and Fox News set the stage for wider news coverage of Snowden than he might have received otherwise.
Regarding war making, the Western powers and Gulf-led alliance have claimed that their increased weapons supplies to rebels will serve humanitarian and democratic goals.
Yet, as the UK-based Reuters described in a recent special report, the rebellion is increasingly led by jihadists, many of them drawn from foreign nations, who want to install a radical Islam government in the mold of the Gulf monarchies that severely limit civil rights, especially of women and foreigners. “The moderates, often underfunded, fragmented and chaotic,” Reuters reported in Syria's Islamists seize control as moderates dither, “appear no match for Islamist units, which include fighters from organizations designated 'terrorist' by the United States.”
In response, Kerry committed the United States to help allies supply rebels with arms and ammunition in addition to the vast secret help, reputedly well over a billion dollars and fighters from many nations, that they have been providing already.