Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bradley Manning is a Prisoner of Conscience

One of the most disgraceful elements of the corporate media’s campaign against whistleblower Bradley Manning has been the constant attempts at character assassination. The corporate media, when they cover Manning, constantly need to obsesses over gossipy details of Manning’s personal life. While that may be the grade of material tabloids thrive on it has nothing to do with Manning’s extraordinary act of conscience that will land him in prison for possibly the rest of his life.

    PBS’s Frontline* despicable episode on Bradley Manning is an excellent example of this. It gives extensive coverage of Manning’s personal life, which very well may have been slightly troubled (I imagine most of the readers of this have experienced troubled times during their life) and gives almost no consideration of possible political, moral, or ethical reasons for why Manning did what he did. The point of this media narrative is to diminish the rational behind Manning’s act. Manning leaked classified information, because he was a mentally unstable individual, a misfit, and a malcontent. Exposing war crimes at risk to one’s personal liberty is not a profound moral act exhibiting the best in human behavior, it is an anti-social act carried out by a disturbed individual looking for attention or an artificial sense of belonging.

    However, we know from Manning’s own words, both from the chat logs that led to his persecution and his statement in court what motivated him. He makes it very clear that his political consciousness developed through routinely watching the dehumanization of the Iraqi people and the senseless violence against them it allowed.

    Manning told Adrian Lamo, who assured Manning that as a “journalist and minister” Manning’s “confession or interview” would “enjoy a modicum of legal protection,” that “the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything” was

watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…

During his opening statement at Manning’s court martial his defense attorney David Coombs  recalled a story that illustrates Manning’s deep moral convictions. On Christmas Eve a roadside bomb went off. It was meant to target a US convey, but missed. Instead it killed an Iraqi civilian. Manning’s fellow troops went onto celebrate the escape, but according to Coombs Manning “couldn’t celebrate...He couldn’t forget about the life that was lost on that day. He couldn’t forget about the family lost on that Christmas Eve.”

    Manning suffered from the problem that he believed Iraqi lives were equal to American ones and that the loss of Iraqi life, the torture of the Iraqi people were grave moral wrongs. Moral wrongs that he wanted to right. This is what motivated Manning to become a whistleblower. As his lawyer explained, “When he decided to release this information, he believed this information showed how we value human life. He was troubled by it and he believed if the American public saw it they too would be troubled by it and maybe things might change”

    Or as Manning said in his own words at his trial

“I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I [Iraq War Diaries] and CIDNE-A [Afghanistan War Diaries] tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan”


He stated that he believed by his actions he was “removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare.” Daniel Ellsberg, possibly America’s most famous whistleblower, said at a Free Bradley Manning rally that asymmetric wars are wars that are
“the strong against the weak. What used to be called colonial wars. Wars asymmetric because one side has planes, helicopters, drones, napalm, artillery, tanks, and the other side has none of that--only suicide bombers if they’re fighting and IEDs--improvised explosive devices--so it’s asymmetric. And the result of that is the great slaughter of innocence which a war crime..”

    Mannning’s detractors have often pointed out that he not only leaked information detailing rampant violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, but diplomatic cables--thus proving that Manning is not a whistleblower, but an irresponsible attention seeker who dumped a large amount of information without forethought. However, Manning explained these actions to Lamo very lucidly as well. He stated that he had access to “crazy, almost criminal political backdealings ... the non-PR-versions of world events and crises” and that he believed the  diplomatic cables demonstrated “how first-world countries exploited third-world countries.” While much brouhaha has made over the sanctity of diplomacy and the importance of secrecy in carrying it out when one sees that the cables reveal things such  as how the most powerful country on Earth used its diplomats to try to bully one of the poorest countries in the world (Haiti) into not raising its minimum wage at the bequest of a private corporation it becomes very clear how the “first world” exploits the “third world.”

    What emerges here is a clear pattern. Manning’s actions and motivations are not that of a troubled individual, a misfit, or a malcontent, but someone who saw great crimes being committed, crimes that shocked his conscience. He believed that if the American public saw these crimes they too would be shocked, that they would make sure that they did not continue in their name.

    Sadly, this was not the case. The corporate media with its self-appointed role as gatekeepers of information has always censored and kept from the public at large the senseless violence implicit in US wars. It has also now marginalized Manning for failing to be what Prof. Cornel West has for years refereed to as “well adjusted to
injustice.”  It is because Manning refused to be “well adjusted to injustice,” that he saw slaughter and corruption and decided to follow his conscience to stop it that he is now imprisoned most likely for the rest of  his life.
  Bradley Manning is a prisoner of conscience. But we must not rest. We must not only continue to demand his freedom, to demand that those who commit war crimes be prosecuted, not those who blow the whistle on them, but we must also demand an end the senseless dehumanization of foreign people that allows our government to murder and exploit them.

*Certainly not the “corporate media” in a technical sense but this particular piece is most illustrative of a wider trend.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Manning Verdict In

After just a few hours my previous blog post on the ramifications of the worst potential outcome of the Manning trial is already outdated. And I can't say I am sorry as it means Manning was found not guilty of the most serious charge against him--aiding the enemy. He was also not found guilty of charges under the Espionage Act for his release of the collateral muder video.

 The Collateral Murder Video

However, today was not an overwhelming victory for Manning. In addition to the charges he pleaded guilty to earlier this year he was convicted of 19 counts, including violations of the draconian Espionage Act which was created during World War I and used at that time largely to criminalize the anti-war movement. Together, these charges means Manning could face up to 154 years in prison. The graphic below breaks down the charges, Manning's pleas, and the verdict.


 As someone who has followed this story from when the Collateral Murder video was first posted online, through Manning's torture and pretrial punishment, and finally the trial itself I have very mixed emotions about today. I am glad the worst that could have happened did not happen. Still, I am very disgusted that any whistleblower should be persecuted under the color of law while war criminals go free. As I take time to decompress what happened, I will be writing more about my thoughts on the verdict, Manning, the war on whistleblowers, and the unsavory history  of the Espionage Act.

What’s At Stake With Bradley Manning’s Verdict

In a matter of hours the military will decide whether Bradley Manning is guilty of aiding the enemy, amongst other charges. The corporate media has done a remarkably poor job of covering Manning’s trial (those outlets that have covered it all) so what is at stake in tomorrow’s verdict has been relatively obscured.
 I am certainly willing to debate anybody about whether Manning is a whistleblower and as a result deserves protection under the law not persecution under it, but that is ultimately not the issue of today’s verdict. Manning has already pled guilty to leaking classified information and will be serving 20 years in a military prison.  Even the most ultra-orthodox authoritarian should be satisfied since the absolute importance of maintaining the secrecy of information deemed secret by the government even if said information details criminal activity has been upheld. End of story.
 Instead Manning is being charged with the lunatic charge of “aiding the enemy.” Aiding the enemy not only carries life imprisonment, a truly sickening thought in this case, but it has serious ramifications for freedom of speech, freedom of press, and whistleblowers everywhere.
Manning did not seek to give information to a hostile terrorist organization or state in hopes of furthering their military campaigns against the United States. He did not leak troop positions, military strategies, and his leak has in no way endangered US lives or military actions. Instead, it embarrassed the government, documented violence against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, and exposed war crimes.
The argument is that because he put this information in the public domain bin Laden or other evil doers can access it. Because bin Laden has a lab top he can access Wikileaks or the New York Times and read about how the most powerful country on Earth used its diplomats to try to bully one of the poorest countries in the world (Haiti) into not raising its minimum wage at the bequest of a private corporation. He could learn that the United States keeps a causality count in Iraq or that they have found new ways of making sure Iraqis they don’t like are being tortured in a way that allows the US not to actually get its own hands dirty. None of this information helps the hypothetical evil doer in anyway really other than maybe confirming their preconceived biases against the United States or giving them new ideological capital. But if that’s the case should all wrongdoing or unflattering information about the United States should be hidden in case it might make people do bad things? Doesn’t it also have the power to inspire the American people to stand up and take charge of the government which is carrying out these distasteful policies in their name? To use their democratic process to say “Enough is Enough?”
 Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler,testifying for the defense during a hearing to dismiss the aiding the enemy charge, stated that if Manning can be found guilty of aiding the enemy so can any of media outlet publishing the information online (like The New York Times).
  The question is where is the line become drawn? If I read a New York Times article that has potentially embarrassing information about the United States government’s foreign policy and discuss it with a friend at a Starbucks should I be concerned than if an unknown evil doer is listening that I may be aiding the enemy? Should I be afraid to write about the case against Manning on my blog or mentioning information that I learned from its coverage in the New York Times, NPR, PBS, CNN, etc? After all, there is no device on blogger to block evil doers from reading this blog.
 And why stop just at foreign policy or even classified information? Don’t people who point out the buffoonery of the Tea Party Republicans in Congress embarrass the American government and make it appear weak and inept? Is that aiding the enemy?
 Of course, this nightmare totalitarian situation, while a logical extension of the case against Manning, is never going to happen. The New York Times will not be shut down and its editorial board will not be imprisoned. No one will be dragged out of Starbucks unable to finish their latte for discussing today’s headlines on NPR. However, this extension of what it means to aid the enemy will be used selectively and its victims will be those who oppose the policies of endless warfare and corporate domination. And that’s ultimately what this trial is about. If it was merely about protecting classified information the government would have quit when Manning pled guilty to essentially leaking classified information. Instead, they have forged ahead with this insane charge in hopes of fashioning a new tool to be used to intimated whistleblowers, journalists, and any dissidents who oppose global empire and neoliberal capitalism.
 As a result, we should be viewing this case not through the prism of whether Manning leaked classified information, but through the prism of one of the most important freedom of speech and freedom of press cases in decades. It is important that everyone understand what is at stake.