News & Politics

Making Citizens Enemy Combatants: Glenn Greenwald on Bradley Manning and the NDAA

Constitutional lawyer and blogger Glenn Greenwald speaks to Amy Goodman about the Manning hearings and the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens.

Photo Credit: AFP

AMY GOODMAN: We go right now to Rio, Brazil, where we’re joined by the Salon.com writer, blogger, attorney, Glenn Greenwald, who has expressed criticism of Adrian Lamo for revealing the contents of his correspondence with Manning to the military.

Glenn, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what’s happening right now at Fort Meade.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what’s happening at Fort Meade is that the individual who is most responsible for having informed the world of more journalistic scoops than every single media outlet combined, who even Bill Keller, the very anti-WikiLeaks executive editor of the New York Times, said was responsible substantially for helping to trigger the Arab Spring—this is, of course, if he’s actually has done what the U.S. government has accused him of—and, as well, has helped to bring about the end of the Iraq War, not just by showing that Apache helicopter attack video, but also by publishing documents about a U.S. air strike on a home that killed six children—or actually, they did a night raid that killed six children, and the U.S. then air-bombed that house to destroy the evidence so that they could lie about what took place, which is what the Iraqi people learned about with the release of these cables, that caused the Maliki government to refuse the release of immunity—has done more to inform the world about so many things that we ought to have known than any single person alive.

If he’s alleged to have done what he’s doing, he now faces possibly the death penalty. Although the government is not seeking it, he could still have it imposed on him if he’s convicted, as well as a lifetime in prison at the age of 23, all as a result of one of the most shameful acts of deceit and treachery we’ve seen in the last several decades, which is this individual, who he had the misfortune of befriending, assuring him on multiple occasions—go look at the chat—that nothing he was saying would ever see the light of day, that as a journalist and a minister, he could offer him complete secrecy, and then even assured him later on in the conversation, quote, "Remember, nothing—none of this is for print," and then turned over everything Bradley Manning allegedly said to the United States government. It’s an extraordinary tragedy, what has happened to Bradley Manning. The criminals whom he’s exposed have suffered no consequences. The only one who’s suffering consequences is the person who exposed these grave crimes to the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And Adrian Lamo saying you don’t have any proof that he didn’t hurt people and that he did commit a crime?

GLENN GREENWALD: Think about how incredibly insultingly stupid that is. The United States government has been trying for the last year to justify why it is that they’ve been putting Bradley Manning into conditions so severe that Amnesty and the U.N. are investigating and condemning it. Their own State Department spokesman resigned in protest over it. They’re trying to justify why these leaks that WikiLeaks helped facilitate, that they’re now trying to prosecute them for, are so harmful. And even, they came out at first and said that WikiLeaks has blood on their hands, and then when media outlets like McClatchy started investigating, they were forced to admit that not a single person has been attacked or lost their lives as a result of the Afghanistan war documents that they originally claimed had blood on their hands. The benefits that these leaks have generated for the world are so enormous that we wouldn’t have time to discuss even a fraction of them. And there’s been virtually no harm. And the idea that there might have been harm, but the U.S. government is just too shy or modest about pointing to it, is really too absurd for words.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, the issue of the sexuality of Bradley Manning being raised in this hearing and what that means?

GLENN GREENWALD: You know, I think the important thing to keep in mind is that we, as journalists, or people who have an interest in this story, are looking at Bradley Manning as a hero and as somebody who has done important things for the world—at least that’s how I see him. But at the same time, he is a 23—he just turned 24. His birthday was yesterday. He’s a 24-year-old, young kid, essentially, who really does face a lifetime in prison. So he is—and I don’t blame him at all—trying to do whatever he can to avoid having his life destroyed, either being killed by the state or locked up in a cage for the rest of his life. And presumably, his attorney—and a lot of—all the Manning hearings have been shrouded in secrecy. Politico reported that there’s actually more transparency in Guantánamo hearings than there has been for the Manning tribunal, so it’s hard to know exactly what the evidence is or what’s taking place. But presumably, his lawyer believes that one of the best ways that they have to keep him out of prison for the next six decades is to argue that he had diminished capacity by virtue of emotional distress over the gender struggles that he had over his sexual orientation being in a military that had a policy of banning those who were openly gay. And so, part of this emotional distress that they’re raising is designed to say that he should be excused from his actions because they were not the byproduct of full choice. 

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Glenn, I wanted to ask you about a not wholly unrelated issue, and that is the issue of the military authorization bill that President Obama threatened to veto if it continued to contain the provisions about the treatment of terrorism prisoners, people who could be picked up, Americans in the United States, without trial, without hearing, and held indefinitely. President Obama has dropped the veto threat, saying the changes have satisfied him. Your thoughts?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, let’s remember that under the status quo, because of the way that the Bush and Obama administrations have interpreted their own powers in the original 2001 authorization to use military force, they already claim, the executive branch does, the power to indefinitely detain people. That’s what’s happening right now at Guantánamo. It’s what’s happening at Bagram and several other facilities. And the Obama administration has vehemently defended this power to put people into prison without any trial or charges for as long as they want to keep them there. Additionally, they—the Obama administration claims the power to target even American citizens as enemy combatants, and not just to detain them indefinitely, but to kill them, as well. That’s what they did with Anwar al-Awlaki, far from any battlefield, based on this theory that they already have this power, even before this bill is passed.

But what this bill will do, and it will be signed into law now by President Obama, as you indicated, is that it will be the first time that the United States Congress has codified the power of indefinite detention into the law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s. The 1950 Congress passed a bill saying that communists and subversives could be imprisoned without a trial, without full due process, based on the allegation that they presented a national threat, an emergency, a threat to the national security of the United States. President Truman, knowing that the bill would—the veto would be overridden, nonetheless vetoed it and said that it made a mockery of the Bill of Rights. That law was repealed in 1971 with the Non-Detention Act, that said you cannot hold people in prison without charging them with a crime. The war on terror has eroded that principle, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, but Congress is now, with the Democrats in control of the Senate and a Democratic president, is about to enact into law the first bill that will say that the military and the United States government do have this power. It’s muddled whether it applies to U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, but it’s clearly indefinite detention, and there’s a very strong case to make that it includes U.S. citizens, as well, which, as we know, the Obama administration already claims anyway, and that’s what makes it so dangerous.

Glenn Greenwald (email: GGreenwald@salon.com) is a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator and is the author of two New York Times Bestselling books on the Bush administration’s executive power and foreign policy abuses. His just-released book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, is an indictment of America’s two-tiered system of justice, which vests political and financial elites with immunity even for egregious crimes while subjecting ordinary Americans to the world’s largest and most merciless penal state. Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!.