On the court-martial of whistleblower Bradley Manning


Pfc. Bradley Manning will stand trial on 22 counts and could be imprisoned for life if convicted of the charge of aiding the enemy, for allegedly giving more than 700,000 secret US documents and classified combat video to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks for publication.  At a Manning defense rally on December 17, 2011, during his pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, speakers and demonstrators gave a ringing defense of Manning as a patriotic whistleblower:

More commentary below.

Washington Post/Associated Press, February 4:  Army general orders court-martial of US soldier Pfc. Bradley Manning in WikiLeaks case

At the time of Manning’s pre-trial hearing in December, lawyer and author
Glenn Greenwald, who has written a number of pieces on the Manning case, wrote in the Guardian (read the full text here: “Bradley Manning deserves a medal”):

Though it is Manning who is nominally on trial, these proceedings reveal the US government’s fixation with extreme secrecy, covering up its own crimes, and intimidating future whistleblowers.

None of the leaked documents were classified at the highest level of secrecy – top secret – but rather bore only low-level classification.

By contrast, the leaks Manning allegedly engineered have generated enormous benefits: precisely the benefits Manning, if the allegations against him are true, sought to achieve. … By exposing some of the worst atrocities committed by US forces in Iraq, the documents prevented the Iraqi government from agreeing to ongoing legal immunity for US forces, and thus helped bring about the end of the war. Even Bill Keller, the former New York Times executive editor and a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credits the release of the cables with shedding light on the corruption of Tunisia’s ruling family and thus helping spark the Arab spring.

In sum, the documents Manning is alleged to have released revealed overwhelming deceit, corruption and illegality by the world’s most powerful political actors. And this is why he has been so harshly treated and punished.

Despite pledging to usher in “the most transparent administration in history”, President Obama has been obsessed with prosecuting whistleblowers; his justice department has prosecuted more of them for “espionage” than all prior administrations combined.

The oppressive treatment of Manning is designed to create a climate of fear, to send a signal to those who in the future discover serious wrongdoing committed in secret by the US: if you’re thinking about exposing what you’ve learned, look at what we did to Manning and think twice. …

And, excerpted from an imagined ‘Opening Statement’ for the Defense of Bradley Manning, Soldier and Patriot – an eloquent and powerful whistleblower defense statement of some length, written a year ago, that should be read in full:

[A]sk a few questions about what’s really been going on in this trial — and in this country. After all, when we reward lawyers in the Justice Department who created memos that made torture legal with federal judgeships and regular newspaper columns, while locking up a whistleblowing private, you have to ask: What country are we now living in?

When we let the aerial slaughter of civilian noncombatants pass without comment or review, when a reported 92 children die from an American air strike on an Afghan village and 18 civilians are shot dead on a Baghdad street without the slightest accountability, except when it comes to locking up the private who ensured that we would know about these acts … the honor of your country and mine is at stake and at risk. …

Our Whistleblower Laws Protect Pfc. Manning

[T]he Whistleblower Protection Act is designed to protect a government employee who exposes fraud, waste, abuse, or illegality to anyone inside or outside a government agency, including a member of the news media. This is well supported by case law. (See Horton v. Dep’t of Navy, 66. F3d 279, 282 (Fed. Cir. 1995)]. Isn’t that exactly what Pfc. Bradley Manning has done?

As a fallback argument, the prosecution is sure to suggest that WikiLeaks is not a real media entity in the way that the New York Times is. Any one of you who has ever gotten the news and information from the Internet knows otherwise.

The prosecution will also be eager to inform you that the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA) does not apply here…. [But] the purpose of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act is to protect soldiers just like Pfc. Manning who report on improper — or in this case, patently illegal — activities by other military personnel. …

[W]e’ve never seen a whistleblower disclosure as massive, vivid, and horrific as this one. We are in uncharted territory. If the plain language of these whistleblower protection laws is unclear, legal convention dictates that we look at the laws’ intent. Clearly Congress meant, and legislative history supports this, for the whistleblower protection laws to protect whistleblowers, not — as this administration seems to think — to prosecute them.

The Espionage Charges

The most outlandish entries on the overachieving charge sheet are those stemming from the Espionage Act of 1917. … In order for Espionage Act charges to stick, it is required that Pfc. Manning had the conscious intent — take note of that crucial phrase — to damage the United States or aid a foreign nation with his disclosures. Not surprisingly, given this, you are going to hear the prosecution spare no effort to portray the release of these cables as the gravest blow to America’s place in the world since Pearl Harbor.

I hope you’ll take this with more than a grain of salt. For where is the staggering fallout from all the supposed bombshells in these leaked documents? … Of course, there’s no denying that some members of our foreign policy elite have been mightily embarrassed by the State Department cables. Good. They deserve it. … [T]he health of our republic and the reputations of our ruling elites are not one and the same. …

Whistleblowers Are Patriots Who Sacrifice for Their Country

Whistleblowers who attempt to rectify the disastrous policies of their nation are not criminals. They are patriots, and eventually are recognized as such. Bradley Manning is by no means the first American to serve his country in such a way.

Today, Daniel Ellsberg is famous as the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, a secret internal history ordered up by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara himself that candidly recounted how a series of administrations systematically lied to the nation about the planning and prosecution of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg’s massive leak of these documents helped end that war and bring down a criminal administration. …

When Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers he did so out of the profoundest sense of duty, knowing full well, just like Bradley Manning today, that he might spend the rest of his life in jail.

Ellsberg calls Pfc. Manning his hero and he is a tireless defender of the brave army private our government has locked away…

© 2011 Chase Madar


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3 Responses to On the court-martial of whistleblower Bradley Manning

  1. Linda Schreiber says:

    “Espionage Act of 1917. … In order for Espionage Act charges to stick, it is required that Pfc. Manning had the conscious intent — take note of that crucial phrase — to damage the United States or aid a foreign nation with his disclosures.”
    I am reminded by this of Grover Norquist who uses pledges to not raise taxes as a way to destroy our country by “drowning it in a bathtub” and of the Republican do-nothing congress that wants to destroy Obama so much so that they refuse to allow the functioning of government. THAT IS A CONSCIOUS INTENT TO DAMAGE THE UNITED STATES!

  2. Anne says:

    Prediction: Bradley Manning will go down in history as a crucial litmus test of how human beings, in our country and at this time, value openness versus secrecy. This is no simple matter, at all. The complexities are more than any one person can grasp. But, to the extent that all Americans can get their minds around what happened here and make their own personal determination about whether this young man deserves to be silenced forever or be given a fair shot at a fair trial, we will all be better off as a society. The sad truth is, he is being shut up and contained, because the truth he let out of Pandora’s box can never be put back in, and the simple action he took pissed off a whole lot of people who needed their secrets to be kept. That’s the thing about honesty. It always comes out, one way or another.

    My humble opinion is that the entire whistleblower community needs to step up and get this boy’s back. He’s been grossly mistreated by our own military, put in solitary confinement, denied access by those who should have been granted access including Members of Congress. In a slightly different time and place, he would have been executed without due process, back against the wall. In my view, this young boy, a mother’s son, a father’s son, someone who grew up in a neighborhood close to mine and attended schools near my own son’s, someone who possibly made a mistake, possibly didn’t — this boy deserves some cover, more than he’s been afforded so far.

    And as for the damage incurred in the uncovering, the people who created the situations that needed covering up should self-examine and re-evaluate. After all, that’s what good whistleblowing is all about, isn’t it?

    Kudos to CSW for posting on this. As, Manning, besides exposing embarrassing state secrets, also exposed the type of behavior that prevents us from honestly dealing with global climate disruption. And somewhere in our hearts and minds, we all know this.

  3. Tony O'Brien says:

    Overall my opinion of the State Department and other government bureaucracies improved out of sight after reading the leaked documents. Understanding of nuance and complexity that is just not evident in press releases.

    Other than a relatively few things that should not have been released, the leaks have been good for the US. It is simply reflex that leads to everything being classified. Yes governments do need to have some secrets, but not everything.

    Similarly Wiki leaks released everything, not withholding those few that have put lives at risk and damaged Wiki leaks reputation. Wrongdoing should be exposed, but some items did put lives on the line.

    I suspect Bradly Manning would be in just as much trouble even if he had deleted critical items. Goverments just love their secrets way too much.

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