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US Secretary of State John Kerry is sadly mistaken in his attempt to equate "justice" with "the American state." Defending that comparison is a losing battle.

Kerry's Latest Snowden Comments Are Moronic, Offensive, and Dangerous

Natasha Lennard

 by Vice.com

Secretary of State John Kerry repeated his line on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden Tuesday with the most moronic aplomb to date.

Snowden had commented in an NBC interview that he had not intended to take refuge in Russia, but was stuck there en route to Latin America when the US government suspended his passport.

Kerry responded that the whistleblower should "man up," adding: "The fact is if he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust in the American system of justice."

That our most senior diplomat still finds it acceptable to utter "man up" as a call to bravery is a misogyny-soaked problem enough to deserve its own column.

It carries a particularly grim resonance in the wake of Chelsea Manning's military trial and conviction. That whistleblower had to "man up" in the most literal of ways: She stood trial as Bradley Manning, her legal team determining it would do the case no favors to reveal her preferred name and gender identity during the court martial.

And, indeed, military psychologists testifying at the trial pathologized Manning's gender identity as a "disorder," a designation that even the DSM-5 has scrapped. Chelsea Manning remains in a male prison. The point being, US justice has a cruel way of insisting that its victims "man up." Kerry's use of the phrase is unwitting reminder of this.

Now to the meat of Kerry's argument: That if Snowden cared about America, he would return to it with faith that the US justice system is to be trusted. It would take tomes to list even a portion of the problems plaguing US justice.

To name a few: America incarcerates more of its population and more people per se than any other nation of earth and 95 percent of criminal cases don't even go to trial, but end in pleas because of the vast power held by prosecutors and vile minimum sentencing laws. Around 40 percent of our prison population is black (compared to 13 percent of the total population). The litany of harm is long and dark. No one, fugitive whistleblower or otherwise, should heed Kerry's call to "trust in the American justice system."

Snowden's allegiance is to that old myth 'America the free,' while Kerry aligns uncritically with 'America the State.'

Chelsea Manning's 35-year sentence, hacktivist Jeremy Hammond's ten-year sentence for his involvement in the Anonymous Stratfor hack, the jailing of former CIA analyst John Kiriakou for talking about torture all give Snowden ample reason for distrust. As, too, does the revelation this week that the White House Press Office accidentally released the name of a top CIA operative in Afghanistan — a potentially life-threatening leak, for which no one will be punished. The message rings loud from the executive: Do as I say, not as I do.

Kerry's words carry another troubling message. The underlying logic of his comment conflates "America" with the "American justice system." But if US justice is an avatar for America, it stands not as a representative but rather as an opponent to millions of Americans. And herein, I believe, lies a fundamental difference between those who see Snowden as hero and those who see him as an enemy.

It's a question of allegiance. The sort of care Snowden has exhibited towards the US is a care for its citizens: their rights, freedoms and access to knowledge about how their lives are watched and policed. His, one might say, is an allegiance to that old myth, "America the free." Kerry, meanwhile, shows his colors in aligning uncritically with "America the state."

Unlike Snowden, I'm no patriot. But the secretary of state's assumption that one cannot be patriotic while challenging the misdeeds of state institutions misreads care for a country's purported ideals with its institutional representatives. It's a dangerous logic that opens the door to any number of abuses and oppressions.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is a journalist, commentator, and a news editor at Salon. Follow her on Twitter: @natashalennard

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