Glenn Greenwald: The Heroic Bradley Manning Faces 30 Charges, Some Punishable By Death -- Why He Deserves a Medal Instead
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After 17 months of pre-trial imprisonment, Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old US army private and accused WikiLeaks source, is finally going to see the inside of a courtroom. This Friday, on an army base in Maryland, the preliminary stage of his military trial will start.
He is accused of leaking to the whistleblowing site hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, war reports, and the now infamous 2007 video showing a US Apache helicopter in Baghdad gunning down civilians and a Reuters journalist. 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.
Since his arrest last May in Iraq, Manning has been treated as one of America's most dastardly traitors. He faces more than 30 charges, including one – "aiding the enemy" – that carries the death penalty (prosecutors will recommend life in prison, but military judges retain discretion to sentence him to die).
The sadistic conditions to which he was subjected for 10 months – intense solitary confinement, at one point having his clothing seized and being forced to stand nude for inspection – became an international scandal for a US president who flamboyantly vowed to end detainee abuse. Amnesty International condemned these conditions as "inhumane"; PJ Crowley, a US state department spokesman, was forced to resign after denouncing Manning's treatment. Such conduct has been repeatedly cited by the US as human rights violations when engaged in by other countries.
The UN's special rapporteur on torture has complained that his investigation is being obstructed by the refusal of Obama officials to permit unmonitored visits with Manning. (Even the Bush administration granted access to the International Red Cross at Guantánamo.) Such treatment is all the more remarkable in light of what Manning actually did, and did not do, if the charges are true. For these leaks have achieved enormous good and little harm.
From the start, US claims about the damage done have been wildly exaggerated, even outright false. After the release of the Afghanistan war logs, officials accused WikiLeaks of having "blood on their hands", only to admit weeks later that they were unaware of a single case of anyone being harmed. That remains true today.
Even Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief, mocked alarmism over the diplomatic cables leak as "significantly overwrought", dismissing its impact as "fairly modest". Manning's lawyer is seeking internal government documents that, he insists, concluded there was no meaningful harm to US diplomatic relations from the release of any documents. 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. According to chat logs purportedly between Manning and the informant who turned him in, the private decided to leak these documents after he became disillusioned with the Iraq war. He described how reading classified documents made him, for the first time, aware of the breadth of the corruption and violence committed by his country and allies.
He explained that he wanted the world to know what he had learned: "I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." When asked by the informant why he did not sell the documents to a foreign government for profit, Manning replied that he wanted the information to be publicly known in order to trigger "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms".