On November 15, 28-year-old political activist Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release at the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. This was the maximum sentence he could receive after his non-cooperating plea deal. He admitted to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act with his participation in hacking the computers of private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor).
Before the sentencing hearing, an outpouring of support came from journalists, activists, and other whistleblowers recognizing his act as civil disobedience and highlighting his motives of conscience and his commitment to the public good. Jeremy Hammond's attorneys submitted over 250 letters addressed to the Judge asking for leniency. Along with friends, family, journalists and academics, the letters included one cosigned by 17 editors and journalists from international media outlets in fifteen countries acknowledging the importance of the material provided by Hammond.
I wrote one of the letters. In it, I summed up the essence of why I support leniency for him and I quoted the ending remark of a defining 2012 Rolling stone article, which read: "[Hammond] was an idealist who even after being jailed, kept fighting at every occasion and he never betrayed himself."
Hammond held an ideal for true democracy, where balance of power is an essential element and leaders are held accountable and working for the people. In pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy for hacking into the computers of Stratfor, he stated that "people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors" and indicated clearly that he did what he believed was right. He revealed hidden structures of power where private corporations collude with government and where governments use corporations to hide their own egregious abuse of power and violations of the Constitution.
To do this he broke the law. He did it in order to reveal larger crimes of the government that have become commonplace. At the sentencing hearing he stated his motivation:
"The acts of civil disobedience and direct action that I am being sentenced for today are in line with the principles of community and equality that have guided my life. I hacked into dozens of high profile corporations and government institutions, understanding very clearly that what I was doing was against the law, and that my actions could land me back in federal prison. But I felt that I had an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice--and to bring the truth to light".
Later he said, "The hypocrisy of 'law and order' and the injustices caused by capitalism cannot be cured by institutional reform but through civil disobedience and direct action. Yes I broke the law, but I believe that sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change". He explained how he approached bringing changes within the system, doing "everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest" and how he found that "those in power do not want the truth to be exposed". He spoke of his realization of the limit of legal and traditional systemic means. "When we speak truth to power we are ignored at best and brutally suppressed at worst", Hammond recognized how the system of justice is really broken and spoke of how "we are confronting a power structure that does not respect its own system of checks and balances; never mind the rights of its own citizens or the international community."
This echoes NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's sentiment when he described the reason behind going to Hong Kong and choosing not to go to his superiors through more official channels for whistle-blowing:
"First, the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That's not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it."
Hammond's act was carried out in a same spirit of whistleblowing. It was a non-violent act and he did not gain anything for himself. Jason Hammond, Jeremy's twin brother, stressed how his brother's act was not motivated by personal gain but rather driven by motives shared by other whistleblowers:
"If there were not people like Jeremy, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning exposing betrayals of people's trust, then we would not know today the extent to which private individuals' information is gathered, analyzed, and sold to private corporations and governments. We would not now be having the debate across the country about whether the NSA and private intelligence companies are going too far. That's the discussion that Jeremy wanted to encourage. The information that has been posted on WikiLeaks has been an eye opener for many, who are realizing they cannot trust the government to protect their privacy".
Like Snowden, Hammond's act was inspired by his forerunner. He noted Chelsea Manning and her courage in exposing the atrocities committed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan:
"She took an enormous personal risk to leak this information -- believing that the public had a right to know and hoping that her disclosures would be a positive step to end these abuses " I had to ask myself, if Chelsea Manning fell into the abysmal nightmare of prison fighting for the truth, could I in good conscience do any less, if I was able? I thought the best way to demonstrate solidarity was to continue the work of exposing and confronting corruption".- Advertisement -
Thomas Jefferson once said, "When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty". Civil obedience is a last resort of democracy. It is a sign that the system is so corrupted and that reform no longer is possible. It is deeply tied to the spirit enshrined in the First Amendment, namely the redress of grievances.
From Manning to Hammond and Snowden, in recent years we have seen waves of whistleblowers and individuals who act on behalf of transparency and the aggressive persecution of them that followed. This trend of civil disobedience and attempts to repress it is a sign of our final mile toward a police state.
On top of the spying by private corporations that Hammond exposed, his case itself shed light on a larger problem; that the justice system itself is broken and we live in a society where idealism and conscience are being devoured while corruption and Stasi-like suppression are normalized. The fact that the judge deciding this hacktivist's fate has an obvious conflict of interest (her husband was reported to be personally affected by the infamous hack), and her refusal to recuse herself from this case was never challenged except by the defense team and supporters. This shows how far we have gone down the road of unaccountable abuse of power.