Update on Bradley Manning

Any government that engages in willful wrongdoing, such as the US government now routinely does, must also by necessity simultaneously retaliate against those who would reveals such acts. This explains why the Obama administration has been engaged in the most vicious persecutions of whistleblowers and the case against Bradley Manning provides a prime example.

Yesterday the government, after subjecting Manning to the extremely harsh treatment for an extended time, got a partial victory. He admitted to some offenses.

Under a plea arrangement, Manning pleaded guilty Thursday to 10 criminal charges of misusing classified material, including unauthorized possession and willful communication of information from military databases. He is expected to be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge from the military.

But Manning also pleaded not guilty to 12 far more serious charges, including aiding the enemy and multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act. He is scheduled to face a court-martial beginning June 3. If convicted, he could face a life sentence.

But Manning also had the opportunity to make clear in his statement why he did what he did and that was because he saw the US government as “obsessed with killing and capturing people” in wars that were never-ending, and committing atrocities in the process. He thought that exposing its practices were the only way to spark a national debate and bring this wrongdoing to end.

He initially tried to get the mainstream media like the Washington Post and the New York Times and Politico interested in his material but they were not responsive which is why he uploaded them to WikiLeaks. This is a good thing because we know that those media are extremely subservient to the government when it comes to issues of major wrongdoing and would have been unlikely to publish the dossier or would have only released selectively after getting government approval. That is the way the ‘free media’ works in the US.

I suspect that the Obama administration will continue to push for convictions on more serious charges and will likely succeed because it has created a ‘legal’ system where it is almost guaranteed to win. It wants its pound of flesh from Manning in order to deter anyone else from even thinking of revealing its criminal acts.

Glenn Greenwald has been following the Manning case closely and has a must-read post about the significance of what Manning did.

Without question, Manning’s leaks produced more significant international news scoops in 2010 than those of every media outlet on the planet combined.

This was all achieved because a then-22-year-old Army Private knowingly risked his liberty in order to inform the world about what he learned. He endured treatment which the top UN torture investigator deemed “cruel and inhuman”, and he now faces decades in prison if not life. He knew exactly what he was risking, what he was likely subjecting himself to. But he made the choice to do it anyway because of the good he believed he could achieve, because of the evil that he believed needed urgently to be exposed and combated, and because of his conviction that only leaks enable the public to learn the truth about the bad acts their governments are doing in secret.

Heroism is a slippery and ambiguous concept. But whatever it means, it is embodied by Bradley Manning and the acts which he unflinchingly acknowledged today he chose to undertake.

I believe that the verdict of history will be much kinder to Manning than it is now. He will be seen as this generation’s Daniel Ellsberg, while president Obama’s treatment of him will come to be seen as a shameful blot on the nation’s history.


  1. ollie says

    One thought: when you join the military, you are warned that releasing classified information to the public is a crime. You might think that you are doing the right thing if you break the law, but many times, you lack the perspective to make that judgement.

    Our military isn’t going to work when people are allowed to release classified information when they think that it is a good idea to do so.

  2. nichrome says

    @ollie – When you join the US military you also “do solemnly swear (or affirm) that [you] will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”

    So what is a soldier to do when she/he sees/learns of illegal & unconstitutional activities?

  3. Ulysses says

    But Manning also had the opportunity to make clear in his statement why he did what he did and that was because he saw the US government as “obsessed with killing and capturing people” in wars that were never-ending, and committing atrocities in the process. He thought that exposing its practices were the only way to spark a national debate and bring this wrongdoing to end.

    So letting people know that the U.S. Ambassador to Italy thought that Berlusconi and Putin were personally corrupt would stop the U.S. government from killing people?

    The people who are against government actions were already against them. Those who support those actions will continue to support them no matter how much gossip about Berlusconi is revealed. The majority of people who don’t care still don’t care.

    Manning doesn’t appear to have given any real thought about why he gave the data dump to Assange.

  4. ollie says

    That is a difficult nut. You are supposed to report upward.

    So on one hand, the government sometimes does unethical stuff; no doubt about that. On the other hand, those toward the bottom of the totem pole are rarely in a position to make that judgment, and you can’t have people leaking classification because think it is the right thing to do.

    I have no good answer here.

  5. PeterG says

    One thing I haven’t seen discussed, but perhaps I missed it?

    NYT was ferocious in its attacks against WIKILEAKS. I wonder if some of that had anything to do with the fact that they rebuffed Manning, and so he went through them?

    Bill Keller, specifically, seems to have a vendetta against Assange. But maybe that’s simply because both were the figureheads of their respective organizations at the time.

  6. Mano Singham says

    This issue was discussed quite a bit in the early days. At that time it was suggested that the NYT and other groups were embarrassed by the fact that WikiLeaks was exposing the lousy job they did in ferreting out important information and being deprived of their traditional gatekeeper role of deciding what the public should know.

    This new revelation suggests that what you say may also have been a factor.

  7. says

    And when the chain of command fails? Or is itself complicit in unethical, illegal, or outright morally repugnant acts? The chain of command works for mundane issues. By its very nature however, it is not an effective avenue to correct widespread, systematic acts of abuse that the command structure itself is responsible for.

    I understand your basic point, and I agree that whistle-blowing in the military is a complex issue with no easy answers. There are often no bright-lines between right and wrong. But I think this is a case where we should look at the totality of the situation rather than a strict interpretation of legal definitions. Manning was enmeshed in a set of circumstances that the average person would have a hard time understanding. The evidence released publicly seems to support a picture of a caring and conscientious soldier who felt that morally wrong and even illegal acts were rampant. This is a case where motive is very relavent.

    So far as the lower level personnel being in a position to make a judgement: That seems rather condescending. The upper echelon in the military are just as likely to be motivated by myopic concerns and a culture of confirmation bias, as well as lack of perspective, as the lower echelon are to be lacking in perspective.

  8. says

    That is an unfair characterization. The Berlusconi nonsense was latched onto by the media; they are the ones who made it a Big Deal. There is no reason to suggest that Manning thought what you suggest.

    I do agree that people who unquestioningly support military action continue to support it even in light of the leaks, and those who are against all military action were always against it regardless of the content in the leaked materials. That is a good point. But I think you underestimate or ignore the impact that revelations of bad conduct have on public opinion. Not everyone is unreachable by new information. People have had their opinions of these conflicts changed by what was revealed. This whole affair has had a direct impact on my own opinions of military intervention and the supposed need for so much secrecy.

  9. left0ver1under says

    You’re clueless. You think the oath soldiers have to swear means they can should “I was only following orders”.

    Wrong. The oath says that conscientious objectors can refuse to follow illegal orders. And that includes war crimes.

    Or maybe you’re right. The US is all talk, and actually has no intention of living up to the principles is claims to uphold. Guantanamo and two illegal wars prove that.

  10. peter henry says

    About Manning – don’t forget he was a very young man when he made his life-changing decision, based on his own conscience, to obtain and release the documents, evidence of extremely embarrassing government malfeasance. His youth and naivete may have made it harder for him to ignore the contradictions of his knowledge of corrupt military activities and he may have felt compelled to take this action, in a way that older and perhaps wiser people might be reluctant to do. What he did was an act of supreme courage, perhaps with foolhardy disregard for consequences to himself. How many of those reading this would have been able to do what he did? His actions so far have helped change the world. How many of us can make the same claim?

    Regarding Assange and Wikileaks, I think the reason the NYT (and the Guardian) attack Assange is he is not a member of the club. He is not an insider, and he called them to account, and he was not humble about it. He demanded to be treated as an equal on his own terms, and that is just not done.

    This country is becoming more and more corrupt. The press is playing the role of the emperor’s courtiers. Access is valued above all else. The NYT and Washington Post play this role to the hilt. They still do some good journalism around the edges, but they are very reluctant to embarrass those who occupy seats of power, privilege and authority. I don’t think they are angry at being beaten at their own game. They no longer take pride in being truly independent – they are mad that anyone had the temerity to crash the party. Assange is an enemy because he is an outsider.

  11. ollie says

    Uh, no I am not clueless. There is a difference between refusing to follow an illegal order and giving out classified information and I am sorry that you can’t tell the difference. The difference is not subtle.

  12. ollie says

    “So far as the lower level personnel being in a position to make a judgement: That seems rather condescending”

    It probably sounds that way to you, but it really isn’t. Here is why:

    1. the lower on the totem pole you are, the more compartmentalized the information you see.

    2. The lower ranking people tend to be very young (teens or early 20’s) and it is a fact that parts of the brain aren’t fully developed at that age.

    3. there is also the “experience issue”; there is no substitute for that.

    Of course, the higher ups can be corrupt and sometimes are, as you point out.

  13. Ulysses says

    I’ve looked at the material posted in wikileaks. There were some things like the helicopter gunmen shooting at civilians which were actually relevant to whatever point Manning was trying to make. However the vast majority of the material was along the “Berlusconi is corrupt” and “Bulgarian soccer clubs are used by organized crime to launder money” lines. Anyone whose news sources are more indepth than MSNBC or Fox News would know these sorts of things.

    Manning broke the law. You may not like the law. I certainly don’t like the legal harassment Manning has undergone. But the matter is quite simple. Manning divulged classified material to someone who was not authorized to receive it. What’s more Manning signed a paper telling him quite specifically what the legal ramifications of communicating classified material to unauthorized people were.

    I was in the U.S. military some 20 years ago. I had security clearances more restrictive than Top Secret. I had to sign papers describing what exactly would happen if I were to give unauthorized people access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) even inadvertently. Manning’s disclosure was not inadvertent. As a result, he will spend many years in substandard accommodation, just as he was told would happen.

  14. Ulysses says

    Assange is an unpleasant, narcissistic egotist suspected of rape. There are other reasons to dislike him besides professional jealousy.

  15. says

    Your sneering aside, I’m not sure what your military background has to do with anything i wrote. I was in the military too, much more recently. Had security clearance also.

    I don’t care for black and white thinking. Just because something is illegal does not mean I accept it as immoral. Please note that people are allowed to discuss the moral and ethical implications of this, not just the legal aspects.

    So far as the material is concerned: is was a mass dump of docs. Whatever the logistics of that choice were, and I hope the reasoning does come to light, that isn’t relevant to the point I made. The characterization you made was unfair and pins the media’s obsession with salacious stories on Manning.

  16. peter henry says

    To Ulysses,

    Everything you say about Assange may be true. One does not have to be a personally appealing person to have a positive effect on the world, and Wikileaks has released more imortant secret embarrassing documents in the past few years than all the rest of the world’s press combined.

    Assange is indeed wanted for questioning on suspicion of rape. He has, of course, agreed to return to Sweden to face the sex crime allegations but has not received assurances from Sweden he won’t be immediately extradited to the U.S. to face hidden charges.

    That has no bearing on the claims I made. I am not lionizing him, I am only indicating why I think the press which at one time worked with him has turned on him.


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