Shoot the messenger, kill the story

Jun 20, 2024
Concept image Whistleblower in red amongst white and grey heads

Daniel Everett Hale killed lots of innocent people. He went to jail, not for killing people – he was paid to do that by the US government – but for revealing the truth behind it. Recently released, he has an astonishing story to tell.

We should care – and care deeply – that all around the world the brightest and best of our truth tellers – whether they be journalists, academics, whistleblowers or politicians – are being eliminated, either physically or by one of the other 50 Ways to Kill the Story. It profoundly impacts the society you and your children live in and which we ignore at our collective peril. Europe’s tilt to the far-right should trigger alarm bells because it is a by-product of this.

Daniel Hale served in Afghanistan and elsewhere as part of the US’s global drone assassination programme. Hale’s first day on the job involved being part of a hit on someone who had a cellphone linked to the Taliban. They tracked the mobile to a hillside where a group of men were making a pot of tea. Without the slightest information of who these other people were, the missiles were fired, the hillside turned purple and red.

Around this time, President Obama assured the world the drone programme meant “with near certainty” that civilians weren’t in harm’s way. After taking part in lots of these killings, witnessing mothers pulling dead children from cars, farmers trying to harvest their own guts after being struck, and the like, Hale went on a personal journey and eventually decided to leak secret documents that proved the opposite: about 90% of the victims were innocents.

Charged under the Espionage Act, Hale wrote a moving 11-page letter to the judge. In it he said: “I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take — precious human life. I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend that things weren’t happening that were. Please, your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.” He was sentenced in 2019 to 45 months in prison. He got out recently and his ankle bracelet will be removed next month.

Chelsea Manning witnessed footage of an Apache helicopter crew massacring journalists and civilians in Baghdad and shared it with the world. The killers went free, Manning went to jail.

Daniel and Chelsea are heroes in a branch of journalism known as leaktivism or data journalism. The state will go to immense lengths to punish such people – Julian Assange and Edward Snowden being shining examples. Their treatment, and the shameful complicity of the governments of Australia and the UK, are classic examples of what Voltaire observed in Candide: it’s good to execute people from time to time pour encourager les autres (to encourage the rest).

When Mark Antony (yep, Cleopatra’s lover) wanted to make clear that there were new bosses in town he tracked down the great writer, statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero. Antony’s henchmen killed him, chopped off his hands and nailed them to the rostrum of the Senate. It sent a powerful message: this is what happens to people who write stories we don’t like. How many of our journalists have heeded this message and, worried, perhaps more for their paychecks than their hands, have adopted the dominant narrative, often going after truth tellers in their own ranks.

Others have paid with their lives: the car-bombing of Daphne Anne Caruana Galizia in Malta in 2017 for her investigations into the Panama Papers; the execution of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper in 2022; Anna Politkovskaya, the courageous journalist gunned down in central Moscow for her trenchant reports on the Kremlin.

Fire or de-platform them

Earlier this week another truth-teller was dealt to by the powerful; fortunately being only fired, not worse.

Briahna Joy Gray, a really insightful and gutsy journalist on The Hill was shown the door for her insistence on telling the truth about the US-Israeli war on Gaza. She was one of the first Americans to question the “beheaded babies narrative”, the failure of the media to go after Biden for lying about having seen evidence of this, challenging the now-discredited systematic rape stories, and shining a spotlight on Western complicity in the ongoing genocide. She’ll keep working but on platforms that have a fraction of the reach of The Hill’s two million followers.

Drive them to suicide

Earlier this year I wrote an article about the self-immolation of US serviceman Aaron Bushnell outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Daniel Hale was similarly moved by that sacrifice and said shortly after:

“The weight of guilt for the many crimes against humanity perpetrated by our own government hangs heavy over every veteran. Aaron succumbed to the most pervasive wound in the U.S. military – a moral wound.”

Smear them 

MEP Clare Daly, a critic of US and EU policy in Gaza and Ukraine, lost in the recent European elections. Who can argue with democracy: the people have spoken … but not before Daly was subjected to a blizzard of character assassination and hit stories by the Guardian, BBC, RTÉ, Politico and other outlets, smearing a courageous voice for peace in a blood-crazed Europe. The bad guys won, Europe has lurched to the right, and all Daly could do was snap at ‘journalists’ who cornered her at the counting session in Dublin: “You had no interest in talking to me for five years, so I have no interest in talking to you now.”

Who gets to be heard is vitally important. Many of the sharpest minds in the world when it comes to analysis of the Gaza conflict, the Israel lobby, AUKUS, China-US competition and the NATO-Russia war in Ukraine are largely banned from appearing on the major networks or in the newspapers of the mainstream media (MSM). Professor Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, Medea Benjamin, Mouin Rabbani, Ambassador Chas Freeman, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Jeffrey Sachs, Yanis Varoufakis, Jeremy Corbyn, and countless others are seldom if ever invited to share perspectives that would challenge the dominant narrative. Professor Mearsheimer’s lectures, for example, have been viewed by tens of millions worldwide but CNN, BCC and the others prefer to hear from those who have been consistently wrong but politically “correct”, like Generals Petraeus and Hodges.

Protecting journalists, such as Julian Assange, whistle blowers, such as Daniel Hale and other truth tellers like Briahna Gray is critical to preserving our societies. These are the people who help the population understand when crimes are being committed, what governmental powers are abused, how elites misuse military power, and what is really at stake in the current explosive environment. The narrowing of debate to a tightly controlled few enables the malice and the insane brutality we are witnessing globally to continue.

Maybe it’s time to go out and buy a whistle.

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