It all began with Bradley Manning and the grainy video of that US gunship attack on civilians and journalists in Baghdad, leaked to WikiLeaks in early 2010. It caused an international sensation and put WikiLeaks on the map as a central media player for a full year as leaks about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and then Cablegate, emerged.
James Spione decided to make a short film about the video and a central figure in it—a US soldier who helped steer to safety a youngster injured in the US attack. The soldier, Ethan McCord, became an eloquent critic of the US war effort. I was perhaps the first to write about the making of the film, Incident in New Baghdad, which went on to gain an Academy Award nomination for best short doc.
Now Spione is completing a kind of follow-up, called Silenced, on whistleblowing, federal government crackdowns and the war over information. He’s currently seekng completion funds via Kickstarter (a process that proved vital with his previous film). Here’s the current trailer:
Spione told me this week, “In many ways, Silenced is a natural follow-up to Incident, the making of which got me interested in the whole war over information, and the disturbing trend in this country towards more and more draconian official responses, particularly to disclosures to the press.”
A release for the film reveals that it will include exclusive first-person accounts from ex–CIA officer John Kiriakou (currently much in the news and headed for prison), “as well as Jesselyn Radack, the former Justice Department lawyer who stumbled onto the Bush Administration’s nascent detainee torture regime; Thomas Drake, the former senior official at the National Security Agency who blew the whistle on an enormous, illegal warrantless wiretapping program aimed at American citizens; and Peter Van Buren, the former State Department envoy whose recent book detailed extraordinary ineptitude, waste and mismanagement during his tenure as head of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq.”
Each of these whistleblowers “has had his or her brief moment in the national media spotlight,” says Spione, “but never before have they revealed their ordeals in such intimate detail. And when you look at their stories over time, you can really start to see a disturbing trend. Whistleblowers have been increasingly singled out over the past few years for punishment, prosecution, even Espionage Act charges. It appears that the federal government has become more and more hostile to dissenting voices, especially those coming from within the national security establishment.”
I suppose I should note that my first book, way back in the early 1980s, profiled seven whistleblowers, with the apt title, Truth and Consequences.
At his Kickstarter page, Spione elaborates:
What does it take for an individual of conscience to speak out in this environment? What kind of courage and character does it take to challenge the national security policies of the most powerful nation on Earth? Though Incident was not directly about Manning, the experience of making it got me to thinking about the power of information: who controls and classifies it, who is allowed to release it, who is rewarded for its use and who is punished.
The targeting of whistleblowers raises profound questions that have implications far beyond the fates of the individuals profiled in this film. In an age where the spectre of terrorism is deemed an appropriate reason for the Executive branch to claim greater and greater powers, can the United States government maintain a commitment to the rule of law? How can a democracy that purports to champion human rights simultaneously attempt to quash criticism from within its ranks? What is the effect on our First Amendment right to dissent—and on the whole idea of a free press—when those in power single out whistleblowers for prosecution?
More good documentary work on government malfeasance in the “War on Terror” is being done by Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, Greg Mitchell writes.