words and art by Ted Rall
Seven Stories Press 2015 $16.95
You may not have noticed this news, since it barely broke into the (American) MSM, but at the end of October, a federal judge ruled that the National Security Agency’s spying on Americans’ phone and internet use is illegal. I should say ‘again’ because this also was the ruling from another judge back in May. Apparently and supposedly, despite these rulings, nothing will be done, because the NSA’s ability to do so should, maybe, perhaps, end in November when a clause from the Patriot Act runs out.
The fact that we’re even able to know and talk about this is due mainly to Edward Snowden, who I’m sure you’ve heard of—though what you’ve heard might not be true, if you’re getting your info from said MSM, who are just churning out the lines our federal government (Democrats and Republicans) gives them. There have been times when whistle-blowers have been appreciated by the general public, but not a lot. Artist/write Ted Rall wades through the bullshit in his graphic biography, SNOWDEN to give us an easy-to-read (and understand) account of Edward Snowden, both what he did, and why.
SNOWDEN flows in roughly three movements. First Rall takes us through a basic summary of the Snowden controversy, which may or may not be news for readers. Probably you’ve heard something about Edward Snowden, though probably some of it was wrong, and probably you’ll hear some new stuff.
In the second movement, Hall backtracks to ask, Who is Edward Snowden? And how did he get to be the person who would reveal classified government secrets? Here we get a biography, from Snowden’s youth (his parents worked for the federal government too, and he grew up near Washington D.C.in a neighborhood where the NSA was one of the biggest employers), to his schooling, and on to his eventual disillusionment with our government working for both the CIA and the NSA.
The third section in part then delves deeper into what Snowden actually did, versus what was said about him, where, surprise, the federal government continued to lie. And here too is where Rall turns his graphic biography into more of an argument or opinion piece. And he’s not pussyfooting around either, putting forth the idea that, re: government and corporate spying on innocent American citizens (or innocent citizens of the rest of the world too) is illegal. That’s been proven, with Snowden’s help, and even before. But nothing is happening to those breaking the law:
Even if you trust the government and you agree with the NSA and its actions, there’s still the question of accountability. Like it or not, NSA officials broke federal law. The violated our constitutional rights. Some even lied under oath, to Congress. We could legalize NSA spying…but that doesn’t alter the fact that it is illegal now. Those who break the law now should be punished. Snowden? Perhaps. James Clapper, Keith Alexander, Brack Obama, George W. Bush, for sure.
The book SNOWDEN is small and thick, so that Rall can (mostly) treat each page as one panel, allowing for art plus in some cases large captions of words and explanation. His artwork is in the caricature mode. I’ve said this before about other graphic biographies (and in Rall’s case it’s even more true): the humorous touch in the art makes the information shared more accessible. That is, the fact that we’re living in a country in which our government collects all of our phone and internet use and then (still! still going on!) lies about it might cause one to despair, and/or at least stop reading, but a little visual satire softens the blow.
Not that SNOWDEN, or any graphic biography, is like a Reader’s Digest version of anything. It’s actually chock-full of both info and accusations. The politics of Snowden the man and SNOWDEN the book find common ground among progressives and libertarians, which is somehow not un-coincidentally the readership of comics and graphic novels, big and small.
And if you still are not on board with the whole Snowden thing, and think he should come back to America to face a fair trial, consider this:
The Snowden revelations are all over the internet. Legally, however, they’re still “classified,” so if Snowden were put on trial, a jury wouldn’t get to see them or hear testimony about NSA spying against Americans. Similarly, Snowden’s duties as an NSA and CIA contractor are all still classified. A trial wouldn’t be televised, so he wouldn’t be able to argue his case to the american people. A trial would focus on one question: Did Snowden break the law? The verdict was a foregone conclusion: Guilty.
Meanwhile the real criminals would remain free to continue breaking the law.
Sound fair? Oh and by the way, the panel containing that last line features a picture of President Obama.
Ted Rall’s website:
My movie review of CitizenFour, a documentary about Snowden, at our sister site, PSYCHO DRIVE-IN.
A Register article about the recent ruling on NSA spying.
And a Reuters one about the ruling back in May: