As writers we expect to be able to write about pretty much what we want without being harassed by the State or by secret police. This isn’t a realistic expectation everywhere, and I suppose those of us old enough to remember the Cold War think of the Soviet bloc first, closely followed by the continuing repressive regimes of places like China, Saudi Arabia and Iran amongst others. Write what you like there and there will be dire consequences.
We don’t normally think of the USA as being in the same stable as those sorts of ideological prisons. On the contrary, the US enshrines freedom of speech in her constitution – and a good thing too. I admire the USA in so many ways that it hurts when something like this case rears its head.
The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave apparently isn’t so keen on freedom of speech when one of her brave boys, who made them proud, does the All American thing and makes some money out of his efforts.
As I said, I like Americans and the USA, and think that they and it stand for many great things. The way they treat their ordinary heroes can leave a lot to be desired though. Ira Hayes was a well known case in point, and if you don’t know about him you should: he was one of the US Marines in that iconic photograph of Old Glory being raised on Iwo Jima, but he didn’t do so well after the war. That was mainly down to neglect and casual racism, Hayes was a Pima Native American, but the US Government is also, it would seem, capable of deliberate vindictive pettiness towards America’s heroes.
Matt Bissonnette, under the pen name of Mark Owen, wrote ‘NO EASY DAY’, a first hand account of his experience with US Navy Seal Team Six that attacked and killed Osama Bin Laden. Writing this account was, apparently, a major crime which brought the full weight of the US state system to bear on him. His fault, supposedly, was breaching a ‘non-disclosure agreement’ with the US Government regarding his actions in the Navy.
That may be the position in strict fact, but the way the Government has reacted makes them look petty, vindictive and frankly elitist. When and if President Obama and/or his senior advisers and generals write about this incident, you can bet they won’t be hounded through the courts to bankruptcy.
The argument is that Bissonnette should have passed the manuscript to the Department of Defense for approval but he didn’t. The DoD and Navy argue that the book revealed things that were prejudicial to the security of the USA. Bissonnette refutes this accusation. Faced with the threat of criminal proceedings, which he was unlikely to win given the self interest of the state in the proceedings, Bissonnette ‘negotiated’ a deal.
He won’t get put away for life if he hands over all current and future proceeds of the book to the state. He forfeits the rights to any film deals from the book and any money from talks he has given regarding his activities. I can see that there may be a case for making it plain that in future clearance should be sought directly of the US Government (he was advised by a lawyer that there was no need). However, to take the man’s means of making a living away from him in its entirety makes the US State look positively evil. The disclosures, if any, are still out there, but the main interest of the US State appears to be to ensure that it gets all the cash involved.
If this were Russia the US would be up in arms, Congressmen would be falling over themselves to castigate this massive injustice and state bullying.
It is a huge and vindictive attack on freedom of expression. We fought a Cold War, with the US on the side of the Good Guys, in part at least, to protect the individual from state oppression, to enable the little guy to write the truth, free from the oppressive power of the state.
What happened America?
Did the ‘End of History’ mean the end of humanity and justice? Here was a little guy, not an ordinary guy by any means, but not one of the power elites, who the USA asked, on its behalf, and the behalf of the Western democracies, to put himself in danger. He did it willingly and successfully. When he returned he exercised that freedom of speech he thought was part of the package of values he was fighting for. And it was snatched away from him. This is a travesty of western values. The administration and judicial system in the US should be ashamed of this one. I had hoped, and still hope, for better things from what I continue to think of as the bastion of western democratic freedom.