A letter to my family and friends about the NDAA and me
Dear friends and family,
I am reassured to know that you have my back, and that you have done everything to prevent the US Government from threatening to detain me indefinitely without charge for my work as a journalist and citizen.
I am not one for cultivating an exaggerated sense of self-importance. I think it takes more character and courage to live in reality. Anybody who knows me personally, knows that if this can happen to me, it can and will happen to you or someone you know.
Since January 2011, I have covered the WikiLeaks release of US State Department Cables, JTF memorandum known as the ‘GTMO files’, and revolutions across Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, and Yemen, as well as the legal proceedings against Bradley Manning and the US investigation into WikiLeaks. I have interviewed a preeminent US foreign policy expert on the Cambodia cables, and published hours of interviews with former GTMO guards, detainees, defense lawyers, and human rights activists, as well as WikiLeaks media partners: Andy Worthington, a GTMO historian and author, and Atanas Tchobanov, the Balkanleaks’ spokesman and co-editor of Bivol.bg.
Why do I do this work? Because it moves me deeply. Because I am compelled to learn and to understand. The positive results of some of my work also grants me a sense of common purpose in service to my fellow man/woman.
When the US Government said in Federal Court that they would not guarantee that I would not be indefinitely detained without charge under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act FY2012 for articles I had written on the ‘War on Terror’, you set aside partisanship. You realized that what is as stake is more than an election. What was at stake is the safety of your friend, your daughter, a fellow citizen or journalist, as well as this nation and people across the globe. The NDAA, after all, was passed with bi-partisan support, and signed into law by President Obama.
Court: These people have real things they are saying. These are not speculative or hypotheticals. These are people who have actually written articles that we have here. [The Court then held up the articles written by O’Brien and marked as Court Ex. 3.] We are trying to figure out, are these articles going to subject Ms. O’Brien to risk under § 1021? . . . .
Government: Again, I’m not authorized to make specific representations regarding specific people. I’m saying that ‘associated forces’ cannot extend to groups that are not armed groups at all.
Court: So we don’t know about the articles, it depends?
Government: Maybe they are an armed group.
Judge Forrest wrote:
“O’Brien has written a series of articles already–some of which relate to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or “associated forces” no matter how defined. The Government was unwilling to state at the hearing that O’Brien would not be detained under § 1021 for her expressive conduct in regard to those articles. Moreover, O’Brien testified that she has withheld at least two articles from publication because of her concerns regarding the potential for her expressive conduct in those articles to render her a “covered person” under §1021 and thereby subject her to military detention.”
Section 1021 of the NDAA FY2012 allows for the indefinite detention without charges or trial of anyone, including American citizens, who are deemed by the US Government to be terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. The institutions of civil society – the press and civic square – are now what our military terms an information environment in a global theater of war. The ‘War on Terror’, our military says, is fought with intelligence and information. And, the US Government has already detained journalists at Guantanamo Bay under the AUMF seeking to gain intelligence on media organizations. The President has already played a personal role in the imprisonment of a journalist covering the US ‘War on Terror’ in Yemen.
When Government contractors falsely linked a group, which I helped found – whose only purpose is to support campaign finance reform in the United States – to Al Qaeda, you were outraged.
When emails revealed that other private security contractors with ties to the US Government were “specifically asked to connect” the group that I helped found “to any Saudi or other fundamentalist Islamic movements,” you took action.
When US Department of Homeland Security bulletins declared in error that a group that I helped found was linked to so called ‘cyber-terrorists’, you contacted your representative and presidential candidate and expressed that their support of Section 1021 of the NDAA FY2012 had the consequence of your lack of support for their candidacy.
I am especially grateful to those individuals, including a fellow journalist, who warned me privately that there were other unpublished US Government documents and that US Government agents were focusing their sights on me. They cautioned me to take special care. They understood the consequences for me.
Citizenship is a public office, but who among us can risk engaging in the body politic authentically, when we have families to provide for? Who can risk publishing about the workings of Government, our alliances, and wars when you might end up in my position?
No matter what your party affiliation, Section 1021 of the NDAA FY 2012 violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the US constitution, the principles that safeguard the independence of our republic and any real freedom or lasting security for our citizens and all peoples.
If this could happen to someone like me, it can and will happen to someone like you or someone you know. None of us can afford that risk. Do something now.