4 Reasons Bradley Manning Deserves the Medal of Freedom
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We still don’t know if he did it or not, but if Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old Army private from Oklahoma, actually supplied WikiLeaks with its choicest material -- the Iraq War logs, the Afghan War logs, and the State Department cables -- which startled and riveted the world, then he deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom instead of a jail cell at Fort Leavenworth.
President Obama recently gave one of those medals to retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who managed the two bloody, disastrous wars about which the WikiLeaks-released documents revealed so much. Is he really more deserving than the young private who, after almost ten years of mayhem and catastrophe, gave Americans -- and the world -- a far fuller sense of what our government is actually doing abroad?
Bradley Manning, awaiting a court martial in December, faces the prospect of long years in prison. He is charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. He has put his sanity and his freedom on the line so that Americans might know what our government has done -- and is still doing -- globally. He has blown the whistle on criminal violations of American military law. He has exposed our secretive government’s pathological over-classification of important public documents.
Here are four compelling reasons why, if he did what the government accuses him of doing, he deserves that medal, not jail time.
1: At great personal cost, Bradley Manning has given our foreign policy elite the public supervision it so badly needs.
In the past 10 years, American statecraft has moved from calamity to catastrophe, laying waste to other nations while never failing to damage our own national interests. Do we even need to be reminded that our self-defeating response to 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia) has killed roughly 225,000 civilians and 6,000 American soldiers, while costing our country more than $3.2 trillion? We are hemorrhaging blood and money. Few outside Washington would argue that any of this is making America safer.
An employee who screwed up this badly would either be fired on the spot or put under heavy supervision. Downsizing our entire foreign policy establishment is not an option. However, the website WikiLeaks has at least tried to make public scrutiny of our self-destructive statesmen and -women a reality by exposing their work to ordinary citizens.
Consider our invasion of Iraq, a war based on distortions, government secrecy, and the complaisant failure of our major media to ask the important questions. But what if someone like Bradley Manning had provided the press with the necessary government documents, which would have made so much self-evident in the months before the war began? Might this not have prevented disaster? We’ll never know, of course, but could additional public scrutiny have been salutary under the circumstances?
Thanks to Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosures, we do have a sense of what did happen afterwards in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just how the U.S. operates in the world. Thanks to those disclosures, we now know just how Washington leaned on the Vatican to quell opposition to the Iraq War and just how it pressured the Germans to prevent them from prosecuting CIA agents who kidnapped an innocent man and shipped him off to be tortured abroad.
As our foreign policy threatens to careen into yet more disasters in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya, we can only hope that more whistleblowers will follow the alleged example of Bradley Manning and release vital public documents before it’s too late. A foreign policy based on secrets and spin has manifestly failed us. In a democracy, the workings of our government should not be shrouded in an opaque cloud of secrecy. For bringing us the truth, for breaking the seal on that self-protective policy of secrecy, Bradley Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.