This is a transcript of Edward Snowden’s tribute to Chelsea on the occasion of her being awarded the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. You can watch the video and read more about the occasion (including Chelsea’s acceptance speech) in this post.
with thanks to Free Chelsea Manning @FreeChelseaNet
Thanks for joining us in congratulating Chelsea Manning on winning the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence.
The Sam Adams Associates tonight will be discussing the merits of Chelsea Manning’s revelations and how she came to be selected for the award.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there tonight.
I am going to comment generally on an issue that she raised to public prominence that is very important but less well acknowledged. That issue is over-classification.
Over-classification, where the government uses the state secrets privilege to withhold information from the public that is not related to national security and is otherwise unjustified, has become a serious problem.
Just a few days ago, we saw the Prime Minister of Australia argue that the price of shrimp and clove cigarettes in Indonesia is a matter of national security — a “security matter” in the Australian state.
In the last year, the White House told us that 95 million records had been created, classified, and withheld from the public in the year 2012. That is more than any other year on record, and shows a trend where the government is withholding more secrets than ever — and this is not unique to the United States — many other Western governments are on the same trajectory.
Now, this is a concern because documents that we received from Manning showed us that some of this information is unambiguously necessary for public ends.
For example, how can we vote without evidence of the true costs of the wars in which we are involved; instances of public corruption, official corruption in nations that we support and ally ourselves with; or even national participation in torture programs and rendition programs, and unambiguous war crimes? All of these were represented in the Manning leaks.
The foundation of democracy is the consent of the governed. After all, we can’t consent to programs and policies about which we were never informed. When we follow this to its logical conclusion, we see a corollary, which is that the decline of an open government, the decline of democracy, begins when the domain of government expands beyond the borders of its public’s knowledge.
Because, when a public is no longer aware of the actions of its officials, is no longer aware of what is going on behind closed doors, it can no longer hold the most senior members in society to necessary account for serious wrongdoing – because the evidence of that wrongdoing is itself a secret from them.
Now, I believe we have to remember that the distinguishing strength of a democracy is self-correction. That, no matter how bad things get, the public in partnership with a free press can detect and correct the mistakes of policy by well-intentioned but misguided officials.
It is this self-correcting, self-determined form of unapologetically American government in which Chelsea Manning so valuably participated. And, it is for this extraordinary act of public service, at an unbelievable personal cost, for which we grant this award and our moral sanction to Chelsea Manning.