We need more Mannings and Snowdens

So Bradley Manning will go to jail for telling the world what the US government is doing. I suspect that it was his release of the Collateral Murder video, in which US troops in a helicopter gunship shot people (including two Reuters journalists) walking along a street and then also gunned down passersby who stopped to help the wounded, all the while exchanging gleeful comments and congratulations at this act of cold-blooded murder, that triggered the desire by the Obama regime to have him punished as severely as possible. They now have their pound of flesh from Manning and seek to get the same from Edward Snowden.

Even though Manning’s defense lawyer says that he will be eligible for parole after about seven years, and he and others are calling for a pardon, I think it is highly unlikely that the government will allow that to happen unless there is a massive change in public opinion that leads a new government without so much blood on its hands coming into office, the way that Jimmy Carter was able to unconditionally pardon Vietnam war draft resisters on his first day in office in 1977.

Alexa O’Brien, who has been tirelessly covering the trial, has provided a verbatim account of Manning’s statement made at his sentencing hearing. In it, he apologizes for the “hurt” he caused other people and the US, that he did not intend to do so, and that it was the unintended consequence of him not thinking things through. The statement had the eerie flavor of the forced ‘confessions’ one hears at political show trials of opponents of repressive regimes.

But as Rainey Reitman of the Freedom of the Press Foundation says, no such apology is warranted.

For years now, the government may have attempted to paint a dire picture of WikiLeaks’ potential impact, but they’ve also admitted, quietly but repeatedly, that the results have been more embarrassing than harmful.

Even when the WikiLeaks hysteria was in full swing, government officials from the State Department have briefed Congress on the impact of the Wikileaks revelations, and have said that the leaks were “embarrassing but not damaging.” U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that, while some of the information may have been embarrassing, “I don’t think there is any substantive damage.”

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has admitted the leaks caused no serious damage, telling Congress that the reactions to the leaks were “significantly overwrought.” He went on to say: “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”

At the same time, Reuters reported that other officials were admitting in private that they were exaggerating the damage that resulted from the leaks in order to bolster the legal efforts against WikiLeaks and Manning.

This has born out in Manning’s trial and sentencing hearing. It’s why the government fought so hard to keep its official WikiLeaks “damage assessments” from being revealed in court. It’s why, despite all the government’s overwrought pronouncements early on of “blood on the hands” of those responsible, a U.S. official was forced to admit under oath in Manning’s sentencing hearing that not a single person died as a result of the releases.

Kevin Gozstola says that Manning weighed very carefully the consequences of his actions. As Manning himself earlier said of the murder video, “The most alarming aspect of the video to me was the seemingly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have… They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote ‘dead bastards’ unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”

But of course, no one who was involved in those murders or any of the people involved in the entire extensive program of torture or approving torture has faced any prison time.

“When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system,” said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”

Indeed, the architects of the torture justifications under the Bush/Cheney regime have gone on to have careers as professors of law (John Yoo) or Appeals Court judges (Jay Bybee) instead of having to answer for their actions. Nowadays, the worst crime is to embarrass the US government by revealing the crimes it is committing.

What irks me are those who knowing this, still say that Edward Snowden should have ‘followed the rules’ and taken it up through the proper channels. This article describes what happened to others who did, how they suffered for their acts of conscience. [UPDATE: Commenter Pteryxx informs me of another case of persecution of a whistleblower who went through the proper channels.] Snowden knew much of this history and that influenced why he did what he did. And he was perfectly justified in doing so.

Now another whistleblower has come forward, this time it is Sabrina De Sousa, a former CIA agent, who tells her version of what really happened in the case of Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA agent who was convicted in Italy for kidnapping a Muslim cleric Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr off the streets of Milan in Italy in 2003 and then ‘rendering’ him to Egypt to be tortured. Sousa was one member of the 23 CIA agents who, along with Lady, were convicted in Italy of that crime and is now speaking out.

Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy news service points out that what is significant about De Sousa’s revelations is that the US government has never acknowledged that they were involved in the kidnapping and torture of Nasr. Now someone who was part of that operation has gone on the record with that information. This is the valuable service that whistleblowers provide. They force the government to acknowledge their actions and not hide behind a shield of secrecy that allows them to deny their crimes.

In his statement, Manning said “How on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better over the decisions of those with the proper authority?”

I believe that he has changed the world for the better and that hope for the future lies precisely with lower level people like Manning and Snowden who have not had their ideals corrupted by their desire for career advancement in order to reach the levels of ‘the proper authorities’ and become like the despicable Yoo and Bybee.

And for that, I salute them.


  1. embertine says

    Hi Mano, just in case you haven’t seen, in the last half hour or so Manning has come out as transgender and has asked to be referred to as Chelsea.

    Thanks for all the reporting on these issues, by the way. I don’t often comment on your blog but I always read.

  2. 2up2down2furious says

    A point of clarity on Manning: she has now decided to publicly identify as a woman. I will be using female pronouns in reference to her in the future and encourage others to do so as well. http://www.today.com/news/bradley-manning-i-want-live-woman-6C10974915

    Shame on any journalistic hack who seizes on Manning’s apology as evidence that his revelations caused harm. Do these people honestly not realize that the apology was delivered so she didn’t spend effectively the rest of her life behind bars?

  3. ollie says

    You might read about EVERYTHING that Manning released; if it were just the video of the killing in Iraq (which happened in 2007) I doubt if the punishment would have been this severe.

    Yes, it was horrible but I don’t know of a war, anywhere, where incidents of this type didn’t happen.

    He released a lot more things, many which were damaging to others (beyond mere embarrassment). For example, in the leaked documents, names were not redacted which could have opened individuals to retaliation.


  4. 2up2down2furious says

    Heaven forbid the Iraqi people know the names of people who committed war crimes against them! Because few of the soldiers who committed crimes against the Iraqi people received court martials and NONE were tried by an Iraqi jury, I think releasing their names is pretty mild.

    I agree that Collateral Murder wasn’t the most explosive revelation on the cables. Indeed, we see US involvement in the 2009 coup in Honduras (as well as state department officials recognizing that it was a military coup in private, which they did not acknowledge in public), we see use of “civil society” organizations as a Trojan horse to undermine the democratically-elected governments in Latin America, we see the United States engage in arm-twisting to stop South Africa from allowing Aristide (the democratically-elected president overthrown and exiled by the United States) from even entering Haiti.

    I think Jeffrey Toobin has most cravenly presented the argument that the cables have compromised the life’s work of State Department employees. It’s worth remembering that much of that work is not service in the public interest, but rather coups, subversion of democracy, and a cynical defense of power. Thank goodness Manning released those documents.

  5. lochaber says

    I really don’t think it mattered what Manning leaked, the U.S. government is just trying to make an example of her as an intimidation tactic to silence future whistleblowers.

    I was also under the impression that before being released by Wikileaks, that there was some attempt to communicate with the U.S. government in order to get anything harmful/risky towards individuals redacted, but the U.S. refused any communication/cooperation. Not even sure where I heard that, let alone how accurate it is, so I can’t post a link or anything.

    Any harm to the U.S. about these leaks is the fault of the U.s., not Manning. The U.S. is the entity that did the wrongdoing, Manning just brought knowledge of that wrongdoing into the public sphere.

  6. weaver says

    Manning released no evidence of war crimes – only selective, dishonest, deliberate editing of the material later released as the “Collateral Murder” (which you should really stop linking to; it’s utter dishonesty makes your arguments much weaker) made it seem as such; honest appraisal of the entirety of the information from the incident shows it was a horrible mistake of war, but not cold-blooded murder and not a war crime. Additionally, even Manning’s defense team says the info regarding the video had been released prior to Manning giving it to Assange (along with instructions on how to edit it to place things in the worst possible light). If this is true, then Manning had no justification to adopt the mantle of a “whistleblower”.

    Manning was not a whistleblower, certainly not exposing blatant, deliberate wrongdoing as Snowden has. All Manning did was steal hundreds of thousands of files and dump them, without screening or analysis, to a pseudo-journalist whose only desire in throwing them to the world was to try to embarrass the US by exposing the messy reality of lawful war, and the personal comments of diplomats engaging on ordinary conversation on secure networks.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Just how on earth, without a great deal of selective editing & interpolation, can you present the videotape of a helicopter crew – not under fire for a second – gunning down civilians and then coming back to butcher those who came to their aid, as anything but gleeful and gratuitous murder?

    … lawful war…

    Whatever you’re smoking, please toke up the whole stash so that no other brain gets ruined by exposure to it.

    … steal hundreds of thousands of files and dump them…

    You do know, I hope, that just about any English-speaking Iraqi officer had access to the same data, no questions asked? Many of said officers’ loyalty to the US-installed occupation regime compares only to that of ARVN officers to the Saigon government – the US Army might as well have printed it all out and distributed it across Sadr City.

    The entire war against Iraq was both cold-blooded murder and a war crime.

  8. weaver says

    First of all, just because the helicopter crew wasn’t personally under fire doesn’t mean that their engaging what they had reason to believe was an enemy element was somehow murder. They were in support of ground forces in the area who WERE under fire. The helicopter crew had reason to believe the people they engaged were armed and involved in the attack against the ground forces. That makes it a lawful act of war – despite the horrible fact that they were, in fact, civilians in the war zone.

    Secondly, no, Iraqi officers did not have access to the SIGACT data, to the diplomatic cables, or to the other material contained on System High that Manning stole. No foreign national, no matter how many languages he speaks, has access to Top Secret resources.

    You are completely factually wrong.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    If pedestrians were casually walking around the neighborhood, those “ground forces who WERE under fire” cannot have been very close.

    The “reasons” the helicopter crew had to believe the people they gunned down were armed were (a) the people were carrying things (camera equipment, as it turned out) and (b) the crew was psyched up to kill, kill, kill! (as easily determined from their voice recording).

    Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.

    Nice. …

    Come on, let us shoot! … Ha ha!

    According to text added to the video, citing a Washington Post report, US ground forces drove in at the scene 8 minutes after the slaughter – doesn’t sound like “in the area” by any reasonable definition.

    Numerous reports after Manning’s arrest had it that Iraqi officers, civilian contractors, & others, were allowed to access terminals and punch up whatever they wanted, without US personnel supervising or monitoring.

    No foreign national… has access to Top Secret resources.

    None of the released documents were “Top Secret,” …

    weaver’s assessment of factuality carries about as much weight as Bush’s or Obama’s.

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