"Silenced," a documentary being shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a must-see.
In taking us through the aftermath of whistleblowing for three who dared speak truth to power, it becomes an odyssey through the dark byways within a secret government which most people don't know exists.
Featured are John Kiriakou, who revealed the U.S. use of torture and that it was not an aberration, but policy; Thomas Drake, who disclosed that the NSA had engaged in massive illegality with warrantless surveillance and had reversed its focus from "out," (foreign nations), to "in," (Americans); and Jesselyn Radack, an attorney in the DoJ who resigned over the department's violating the law by purging her files even as it was prosecuting Enron for destroying evidence. Subsequently she became the lawyer for John Kiriakou and Edward Snowden.
"Silenced" is an effort by James Spione, who had previously presented "An Incident in New Baghdad," about the video taken from a U.S. military helicopter as its crew machine-gunned countless civilians on the ground, killing two Reuters journalists, in an incident the government had previously denied. That film was nominated for an Oscar. Yet Bradley/Chelsea Manning, the army private who against regulations made the gunship video clip available to the public, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
In recounting the travails of Kiriakou, Drake, and Radack, the film shows the extremes to which the government will go to protect what it chooses, despite what many believe is the people's right to know. It shows, for example, the adamance of former vice president Richard Cheney to curtail "leaks" to a congressional investigative committee of evidence that the NSA possessed information which might well have averted 9/11.
As Radack explained, the 1917 Espionage Act was aimed at spies—agents secretly working for a foreign government. It is not applicable to whistleblowers, but is being used as a device for muzzling them. Because the penalties are so draconian the fact that it's difficult to convict under this law provides scant comfort: the accused must defend themselves and thus incur legal costs that crush them financially, bills that can be in the millions, according to both Kiriakou and Drake.
Kiriakou went broke. He said that after his wife told him there was no money to buy food they went to the Welfare Office and qualified for everything, including food stamps and Medicaid. (Radack is now representing him pro bono.)
Drake's family fell apart. We saw his wife's face when the federal agents entered the Drake home, and went through every drawer and shelf. He was financially ruined and could not get a job even after being cleared of all charges. This once senior-NSA executive now works part time in an Apple store.
The day Radack was informed she might be going to jail, this MS sufferer, wracked by stress, suffered a miscarriage.
The film is presented dispassionately. That said, it is deeply disturbing. While it's talky, as fact-filled features frequently are, there are wrenching scenes: Kiriakou's children clinging to him after they've been told he has to "go away"; and Radack's speaking of the terror she felt at having been "targeted" by the government and describing awakening in a blood-soaked bed in the throes of a miscarriage.
But the larger story is what has happened to the U.S. government post 9/11. In its efforts to hide unpleasant truths - "black holes" around the world where no law applies and where sometimes not even heads of state are aware of their existence, it's an intelligence agency-to-intelligence agency operation, according to Kiriakou, a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist. Radack claimed there is wanton violation of the Constitution, ignoring the First and Fourth Amendments.
Radack pointed to the prosecution being permitted in camera meetings with judges from which the defense is excluded. Materials essential to the defense being marked "classified," putting them out of reach.
Democracy relies on an informed citizenry and it is the news media who inform the citizenry. As Drake noted, "The final court is the court of public opinion." Thus journalists are also targets, most especially those using the information provided by whistleblowers. The ongoing case against James Risen, The New York Times reporter who is risking prison for protecting a source, is cited.
John Kiriakou, who did not torture anyone, who refused to take "enhanced interrogation" training, is the only one in the torture panoply to be sent to prison. The proponents of torture and those who perpetrated it roam free.
Prior to his leaving, to explain his soon-to-be absence, Kiriakou told his young children that he would be working in Pennsylvania teaching bad guys so they could earn their high-school diplomas. In what appears to be a gratuitous vindictive blow, the prison authorities did not allow the highly educated Kiriakou to teach and instead assigned him to be janitor of the prison chapel.
"Silenced" does not pontificate but, to me, the substance of what it portrays, convincingly and in documentary fashion, is a litany of outrageous and quite likely illegal persecutions orchestrated under government auspices to silence critics and to cover-up policies and campaigns that, one hopes, would never have been initiated and would certainly never have survived, in "sunshine." Yet many of these abuses are now widely known and public reaction has been, at best, muted. From where I sit, one of the most horrific tolls taken by the terrorism that has reached our shores was fully anticipated by the instigators. Instill fear. Encourage government paranoia. Fracture the American psyche to promote decay from within. We're seeing the success of that strategy day-after-day. "National Security" is now the banner under which laws cease to exist and "inalienable rights" are forfeited - or willingly surrendered. Secret courts, secret judges issuing secret rulings that serve to corrupt the Justice Department, the Executive branch and the viability of long cherished freedoms.
The film ends with a clip of Edward Snowden explaining why he believes that the U.S. is now a surveillance state.
Plans are under way for a general release of "Silenced" which debuted this month at the Tribeca Film Festival.