The Hollowness of Bradley Manning

As the split verdict shows, Bradley Manning's leaks were neither noble and important nor traitorous.

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Patrick Semansky / AP

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Tuesday, July 30, 2013, after receiving a verdict in his court martial.

Not all leaks of confidential information are created equal. Those in the media have a terrible tendency to treat every government informer as performing a noble and important service for the country. Those who would preserve national security at all costs are just as wrong to portray every government leak as existential.  And that’s what the curious case of PFC Bradley Manning shows.

Three years and 700,000 leaked documents later, the military judge in her split decision took a step toward clarifying the relative importance – or lack of importance – of what Manning did. He violated his commitments to his country and committed crimes by downloading all those confidential files and handing them over to Wikileaks. Even he admits as much. But despite its best efforts, the government could not prove that Manning actually “aided” our enemies.

(MORE: Bradley Manning Acquitted of Aiding the Enemy, Guilty of Espionage)

Some would like to make this into a titanic struggle between the forces of good and evil—whether the “good” is national security or the “good” is holding the government accountable. But it doesn’t turn out to be the equivalent of either publishing the Pentagon Papers or giving the Soviets the secret plans to build an atomic bomb.

For those who would liken Manning to a Daniel Ellsberg-type hero, it’s not at all clear exactly what wrongdoing Manning thought he was revealing by handing all those files over to Julian Assange for publication.  He provided the world with graphic video of civilians being killed by a U.S. military helicopter, but the video itself shows that the soldiers manning the helicopter at least believed they were firing on men armed with AK-47s and RPGs.  Seeing this video is disturbing, but it doesn’t show the need for any sweeping reform in the military – and it hasn’t triggered any such reform.  And, by the way, the judge refused to hold Manning guilty on the charge related to the video.

All those confidential cables from the State Department reporting on communications with foreign officials and assessments of the internal workings of foreign governments may be embarrassing to have out in the open.  But they don’t really show us any more than that our diplomats were doing the job we’d expect them to do.  Surely it doesn’t come as a big surprise that Putin’s Kremlin shows a “modern brand of authoritarianism” or that a Chinese official told one of our diplomats that North Korea was acting like a “spoiled child” trying to get our attention by firing rockets over Japan. The very fact that Manning’s revelation included 700,000 documents tells us that he couldn’t have been focusing on any particular wrongdoing he’d seen within the U.S. government.

For those who would paint Bradley a traitor, it’s hard to see that all these embarrassing revelations materially helped our enemies.  Even after the revelations, foreign officials continue to meet with our diplomats, our diplomats continue to pull together information and analyze what’s going on in foreign capitals, and we continue to execute military missions with a ruthless efficiency that would give any of us civilians pause.  Our friends may hesitate for a time in talking openly with us for fear it may end up on the Internet, but given human nature, I expect even this reluctance will fade with time

(MORE: The Geeks Who Leak)

The government acts well within its rights to enforce the law as an important deterrent to those – particularly those wearing the uniform – inclined to reveal things they’ve pledged to keep secret.  The many serious offenses Bradley Manning stands convicted of should provide plenty of that deterrence.  But it was excessive to charge that he was actively seeking to aid our enemies, and that’s just what the judge found.  Whatever some might say, we don’t want to set up a system that prevents important revelations about serious wrongdoing within our government.

There are two much more difficult questions that the Manning case doesn’t pose:  Should the press be deterred from publishing government secrets they’ve come by lawfully?  What should be done to those whose leaks both materially affect national security but also reveal government programs raising substantial issues?  These questions will have to wait for another day.  Maybe the day that Mr. Snowden returns to U.S. soil.

MORE: Bradley Manning and Our Real Secrecy Problem

16 comments
DavidKennerly
DavidKennerly

You should be so hollow, Mr. Westin! And as a journalist you should be ashamed! You journalists who fall all over themselves to toady up to the powerful and the despotic! You! You are the traitor!

JimKittel
JimKittel

It doesn't matter if the most explosive document contained, was President Bush's favorite recipe for Brownies. He needs to serve serious time. This moron gave oaths of service to not only protect anything deemed classified or secret, but also to the Army and his Country. (All of which he broke) In addition, he signed his understanding of these oaths upon enlistment, (where great detail is listed of the possible reperusions of breaking these oaths)...  To do anything less, to give him time served, will only serve to encourage every 19 year old dirtbag on the verge of being kicked out,  to make decisions on and risk national security when they want to go out with a bang, knowing they will probably get off grab the media's spotlight and possibly recieve a book deal in the end.

GySgt USMC

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

The US is sinking fast when they torture and imprison a person for telling the truth. I am so dismayed to see Americans who do not care one bit about the truth and are supporting the immoral wars around the planet. In the end all we have is our self respect. There is no respect in the way that the US and other political leaders around the world are behaving putting their own people in harms way. The media has the ability to speak up about the atrocities being perpetrated around the world and have chosen to support the leaders and corporations that are doing grievous harm. One young man stands up and the media says he deserves this. How very sad for planet Earth. When will the media find the moral fortitude to start speaking the truth that what is happening around the world is wrong and we have to start living with dignity and honouring ALL life. It saddens me to no end how much deception and hatred there is to be found in the media while people that have no voice are doing whatever they can to make the lives of people on this planet better. I can only hope that the voices of peace rise above this horrible deception and violence.

DanBruce
DanBruce

I agree that Manning himself is a silly little person with a warped sense of patriotism. However, his actions deserve serious condemnation by the entire nation. He disregarded his oath to uphold the Constitution, our founding document that sets us up as a representative government in which the people collectively elect those who will govern. He short-circuited the system established by the Constitution (elected officials in both the executive and legislative branches, judicial oversight by the judiciary branch, and laws that set out how to challenge the government's actions, either by participating in elections or filing complaints with those entrusted with oversight, in Manning's case the Inspector General of the Army). Manning had legal options, but chose instead to break the law by running to a foreign newspaper and Julian Assange to wreak his havoc.He is certainly not a hero in any sense of the word.

Trudy
Trudy

It's odd if Manning's whistle-blowing was "not important," but at the same time worthy of months of torture in a tiny cell and worthy of as many as 130 years in prison.  

JimStarowicz
JimStarowicz

The Military should be thanking Manning, many of the records released may be the only records they have for those who served in, and veterans issues from, as well as for the history of the conflicts, not kept under the two bushes, and more:
>There were 700,000 documents. Not all of those were crimes. The vast majority of them were routine reports, diplomatic exchanges, details about U.S. operations.<
>ProPublica and The Seattle Times Nov. 9, 2012 - Lost to History: Missing War Records Complicate Benefit Claims by Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans
DeLara's case is part of a much larger problem that has plagued the U.S. military since the 1990 Gulf War: a failure to create and maintain the types of field records that have documented American conflicts since the Revolutionary War."<
>Army Says War Records Gap Is Real, Launches Recovery Effort<

The 'guilty of aiding the 'enemy'' were those who gave the orders to abandon the main missions, to invade and destroy another country and it's people, and the country quickly walked away from any and all accountability as they were leaving the government!

Those within the country, media included, and their constant condemnation of others and the religious ideologies of as they cheered on the breaking of ours and international laws on torture and more, which built the blowback and spread of al Qaeda style criminal terrorism that killed and maimed troops in theater and civilians in criminal terror attacks in many countries since.

As they fully supported all that came from those elected and not elected leaders at that time while condemning others that have and still do the exact same in many countries to their innocent citizens of who they also condemned.

They and everyone have yet to pay for these wars and especially the results from, Deja-Vu all over again, a decade plus added to the previous decades and wars from and the underfunded VA, the rapid deficit rising and rubber stamping started Before 9/11 continuing with both wars and much more!!

Give the kid 'time served', and under the reported conditions he was held, and let him start reliving his life!!

USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

lambda
lambda

Manning is not criminal, he just have done what justice should be

Loving
Loving

I'm sorry Weston, what on earth gives you the moral competence to comment on what this young man did???

ellenpowell23
ellenpowell23

"Bradley Manning's leaks were neither noble and important nor traitorous." I will never forget watching that video of those people getting mowed down in Iraq shortly after it came out. To me, getting this out to the American public to see what is being done in our name is noble and important. I agree with the author that it isn't traitorous. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nH5vaaarpqk



sjsamuel71
sjsamuel71

@DanBruce This really is strange logic Dan. You say he disregarded his oath to the Constitution, short-circuited the system established by the Constitution (elected officials in both the executive and legislative branches, judicial oversight by the judiciary branch, and the rest.

Did that same Constitution allow for the killing of Iraqis by the hundreds of thousands, did it also envisage an invasion of a far off country on a false pretext, without UN authorisation, destruction of its infrastructure, not to speak of displacement of millions and possibly a civil war? Were the 
executive and legislative branches hand in glove with this crime? Did the judicial branch attempt (or could it?) to curb any of this overreach (you could argue of course that it's not the judiciary's job)?

But boy, this Manning fellow committed the worst of crimes by not adhering to his oath by possibly listening to his conscience. Let's condemn him, let's show him how despicable he is, let's jail him for 136 years. And why? Because our Constitution, our army, our values are inviolable and cannot be wrong. Too much wrong-headed patriotism Dan. Far too much of it. And i don't blame you for it too. With a pliant media (such as this article), this is to be expected.
(An aside: If i remember correctly, just before the Iraq war, the opinion polls said that almost 80% were in favour of the war; there should have been another poll asking how many of this 80% knew where Iraq was, or for that matter where the Middle East was. An example of the pervasive power of the corporate media.) 

And while i don't consider Manning a hero who changed the world, i applaud his actions. It took courage to do what he did. And at the very minimum, it at least opened the eyes of many Americans to what was being done in their names, to the terror an occupied people have to undergo and to the essential dehumanising nature of war (remember the glee with which the copter pilots were popping the guys down below). It might not change your views, but it would have succeeded in making a lot of Americans question wrongly held assumptions. And that's a positive.

BrianHollander
BrianHollander

@Trudy It is very unlikely that he will get the maximum sentence, and that "130 years" includes sentences that can be served concurrently.  My bet is he will get somewhere in the nature of 10-15 years and perhaps get out in seven or eight, with time off for good behavior and parole.

DanBruce
DanBruce

@ellenpowell23 I assume it was just an innocent oversight that you forgot to mention your horror at seeing the videos of the collapse of the World Trade Center, the aftermath of the bombing of the Khobar Towers, the destruction of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the senseless beheading of Nick Berg, the execution of Daniel Pearl for trying to cover the news, and the dozens and dozens of evil deeds done by those from whom we are trying to protect our citizens and out national interests. Let's keep some perspective, okay? 

DanBruce
DanBruce

@sjsamuel71 @DanBruce Does all of that mean I can go out and rob a bank? None of that justifies law breaking by Americans. Manning broke the law. He is guilty of espionage. He admited so himself. End of trial. Now let's put him in jail for a long, long time. Same for Snowden.

sjsamuel71
sjsamuel71

@DanBruce @sjsamuel71 I love your perceived sense of righteousness, your lack of doubt when you say 'End of trial', but i do wish you extend this crusade to Bush and cronies (now Obama and his) who broke international law and lied to the American public (but hey lying is not unlawful per law).

It'll be some day when a court in America rules that what Manning did was wrong by law but right by the principles of truth, morality and greater public good. The way America is headed now that day seems another country. Until then slogans such as God bless America and land of the free would need to be employed. Regards Dan.