Pfc Bradley Manning, an ordinary member of the United States Army, is accused by the government of having effectuated the largest leak
of classified information in U.S history.
Manning has already admitted to the leaks, and has pled guilty
to a slew of lesser charges related to them. But it turns out that is not enough for the hungry Obama administration, whose insatiable thirst for the persecution of whistleblowers is truly staggering given the president’s campaign-trail description of whistleblowing
as “[an act] of courage and patriotism.”
Campaign Obama—a man who bears little resemblance to the one now leading the United States—was critical of his predecessor’s treatment of whistleblowers, arguing that they "should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration." As is characteristic of this president, however, rhetoric proved divorced from reality; under President Obama, the Espionage Act has been used more than under all previous presidents
combined for the purpose of crushing “patriotic” and “courageous” whistleblowers. This is how Mr. Obama “encourages” them—by threatening them with exile or life imprisonment.
The individual case of Bradley Manning has been the highest profile and perhaps most egregious example of Obama’s hypocrisy about whistleblowing. Beginning in 2010, Manning, who was 23 at the time, was detained by the US military and placed in confinement for two months at a jail in Kuwait and then transferred to an army base in Virginia where he remained for three years. The conditions of his confinement
, in Kuwait and in Virginia, were nothing short of deplorable.
Despite never demonstrating an affinity for violence or disobedience, Manning was considered a maximum security prisoner from the outset of his detention, and was kept in solitary confinement--which is one of the most inhuman punishments that can be visited upon a person--virtually 24/7. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, solitary confinement has “devastating” effects
on those subjected to it:
"The devastating psychological and physical effects of prolonged solitary confinement are well documented by social scientists: prolonged solitary confinement causes prisoners significant mental harm and places them at grave risk of even more devastating future psychological harm. Researchers have demonstrated that prolonged solitary confinement causes a persistent and heightened state of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, insomnia, lethargy or chronic tiredness, nightmares, heart palpitations, and fear of impending nervous breakdowns. Other documented effects include obsessive ruminations, confused thought processes, an oversensitivity to stimuli, irrational anger, social withdrawal, hallucinations, violent fantasies, emotional flatness, mood swings, chronic depression, feelings of overall deterioration, as well as suicidal ideation."
So terrible are the effects of solitary confinement that the practice is typically reserved for the most violent, anti-social convicts. Manning, of course, was subjected to this “inhumane, personality-erasing
, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing” punishment for “many months,” without ever having been convicted of any crime. During his confinement, Manning was even given regular anti-depressant medication to prevent the destruction of his mind from the pre-conviction punitive conditions in which he was being held.
Simply put: the US government’s treatment of Pfc Bradley Manning, who was just a suspect at the time, was absolutely outrageous and an insult to justice. It was also not surprising, given the large number of indefinite detentions currently underway—some many years old —at Guantanamo Bay, and other vicious facilities put in place by the US government during its ill-fated—and probably never ending—“War on Terror.”
Given the government’s extreme abuse of Manning, who eventually tried to commit suicide during his confinement, one would expect that his crimes were of the highest order—unforgivable, as well as heinous. One would be wrong. As noted above, Manning is accused of—and has admitted to—causing the largest leak of classified documents in American history. His motive
? According to Manning, who witnessed the evil of the Iraq War first-hand, he could not stand that the public was being lied to. By leaking classified material he hoped to service the goal of combating an excessively secretive US government by informing the American people of truths about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were being kept from them. He hoped this might stimulate debate and that reforms might ultimately result. Essentially, Manning was a young man who saw an ugly war the truth of which was unknown to the people paying for and supporting it. He wanted to change that. And the question must be incredulously asked: what is the state of justice in a country where a presidential administration goes unpunished after misleading its constituents into a disastrous and illegal war which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, while a young soldier with noble motives is tortured and threatened with life imprisonment just for telling the truth about that same war?
Indeed, it is hard to imagine Bradley Manning as a criminal when one considers the kind of information he leaked, most of which should never have been classified in the first place. Perhaps the best example was a classified video depicting US soldiers opening fire on civilians
in Baghdad in 2007 from an Apache Helicopter. The video thus depicts a War Crime which the US government hoped to cover up by concealing the evidence. No one familiar with the nature of wars of occupation will be surprised that these barbaric atrocities have occurred during the Iraq War, but Manning’s conviction was that the public should know about them. Manning believed that the video, as well as the other classified material from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars that he leaked, constituted information the American people had a right—and a need, as citizens of a democracy—to know. Obviously, he was right; debating this point would be absurd. As American taxpayers pay for the guns and the soldiers necessary to wage wars in the first place, it cannot plausibly be argued that they should be kept uninformed about what occurs while they are being fought. The public is the principal, the government the agent; responsible principal’s must exercise oversight of their agents. There is no way to do this if the public is denied access to critical information.
But the explicit position of the US government is different: the American public should be kept in the dark about whatever the government decides to classify, whenever it decides to classify it. And for daring to disagree? Manning was tortured and now faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him: “aiding the enemy.”
It is difficult to imagine a more Orwellian, fascist-sounding crime than “aiding the enemy.” And when one scrutinizes the government’s legal theory about how Manning committed the offense, things only get more disturbing. According to prosecutors, because Manning knew that America’s enemies use the internet, leaking classified information to the internet constituted sending “aid” to them. Accepting this airtight logic, the judge presiding over the Manning trial recently denied the defense team’s motion
to dismiss the “aiding the enemy” charge. Following the judge's ruling, the ACLU pointed out
the absurdity of the government’s theory, noting that if it were applied to public remarks by Donald Rumsfeld in which the former Secretary of Defense stated on television that US army convoys were vulnerable to IEDs, Rumsfeld would be guilty of “aiding the enemy” by the same logic. He would have delivered potentially damaging information to enemies of the US through a medium to which he would know they have access: television.
According to The Nation, Amnesty International put it another way:
“The charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ is ludicrous.” And, “What’s surprising is that the prosecutors in this case, who have a duty to act in the interest of justice, have pushed a theory that making information available on the internet—whether through Wikileaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of The New York Times—can amount to ‘aiding the enemy.’” (http://www.thenation.com/blog/175355/judge-refuses-throw-out-key-aiding-enemy-charge-against-pfc-bradley-manning#
These commentaries demonstrate appropriate outrage over the baffling overreach of the government’s legal theory.
As the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has vigorously argued in recent days, the Obama government’s appalling lack of respect for freedom of information, and its pathological insistence on secrecy, could bring about the end of investigative journalism.
So, while the government’s treatment of Bradley Manning has been reprehensible given the noble motives with which he released information that should already have been public, it is the broader implications of the government’s conduct here that are truly disturbing. President Obama, while ostensibly a liberal advocate
of transparency and openness in government, and of the “courage” and “patriotism” of whistleblowers who engage in conscientious leaks of classified information, is in reality something very different: a vindictive opponent of the free press willing to target journalists for doing their job and exposing government secrets to the public.