Obama was no angel either: WikiLeaks and the Honduran Coup

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Photo credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

During the divisive and uncertain climate of the Trump presidency, it’s easy to look back nostalgically on the “good ol’ days” of the Obama administration. However, we can’t let nostalgia give us amnesia. The Obama administration had corruption, too.

Advocacy group, Nebraskans for Peace’s article, Wikileaks Revelations Show Obama Administration Complicity in Honduras Coup reminds us about documents revealing the Obama administration’s compliancy in the illegal July 2009 Honduran military coup.

The article discusses how even after WikiLeak’s 2009 release of this information, the Obama administration did not admit to its role in perpetuating the upheaval the coup caused. It also made no effort to condemn it. Nebraskans for Peace makes a good point: While many condemned WikiLeaks for espionage, very few expressed concern about the documents revealing our government taking part in the illegal removal of an elected official.

Wikileaks’ unauthorized release of thousands of classified State Department documents has provoked moral outrage from pundits and politicians over this breech of national security.

Sadly, however, that moral outrage has not extended to the content contained in the documents.

History:

Before we get into the moral debate of leaking, here’s a refresher on the 2009 Honduran coup and U.S. involvement in it, consolidated from a Huffpost article: 

  • Manuel Zelaya was democratically elected as president in 2006. He came from a wealthy background, but was very liberal during his time in office, which upset the wealthy elites.
  • In July 2009, a military coup led by Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez,  captured Zelaya and brought him to Costa Rica.
  • Zelaya’s administration had planned a non-binding referendum on whether a constitutional assembly should take place to replace the 1982 constitution. It never happened, as Zelaya was abducted that day. The military put Congressional Speaker Roberto Micheletti in office.
  • The military’s actions were illegal and unconstitutional.
  • The Obama Administration refused to acknowledge the coup’s illegality, and worked to strategize elections in Honduras, preventing Zelaya from returning.
  • Since the coup, many indigenous people, peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, judges, opposition political candidates, human rights activists, etc. have been killed.

(To be clear, no evidence supports that the U.S. was directly involved in the coup– it just played a significant role in preventing Zelaya’s return to office.)

Analysis: 

Espionage is an interesting concept, as it requires balancing our First Amendment rights with the expectation of public safety. In the 1919 case, Schenck v. United StatesCharles Schenck was found guilty of espionage for handing out anti-draft flyers during WWI. The government believed that because he was protesting during wartime, he put the public in danger. This case is where we get the “fire in a crowded theatre” idea of limiting free speech.

But what’s worse? Leaking a government’s documents, or what those documents actually reveal?

People condemn President Trump for wanting to prosecute leakers, but Obama did the same thing (…just with a lot fewer tweets…) In fact, more people were arrested for espionage under Obama than anyone else. A Washington Post article says:

Of the 13 people who have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act for leaking secrets, eight were arrested under Obama’s administration, according to Alexandra Ellerbeck, senior Americas and U.S. researcher with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Eight out of thirteen. One president.

We have to ask if leaking these documents really put Americans in danger, or if it just embarrassed those in power. But one thing we can be sure of: what did put people in danger was the Honduran coup.

 

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