The Manning Trial Rests
Moral courage – not afraid to say or do what you believe to be right.
-Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, The Memoirs of Field Marshall Montgomery, 1958
The farce is done, and one might say that the farce has ended – at least for now. An interregnum of unclear and sinister stupidity has descended in Fort Meade, Maryland. Certainly, Rabelais would express considerable disgust at the folly that has been the Manning trial, a show of a state’s indifference to the human credentials of the accused. Draw the curtain, the farce is played.
The story of WikiLeaks, the most modern and most daring of journalistic projects, is very much a story of the link with this young man. That is where the farce continues, thudding and pulsating away in the briefs of prosecutors who are desperate to get their mitts on the organisation and supporters. The Manning-WikiLeaks bond is a bond, part holy, part profane, a mix so terrifying to establishment security that it has brought the vulgar and brutish out to play.
The target lies well and beyond Manning. Lead prosecutor Major Ashden Fein was clutching at straws in his summing up. Julian Assange, first placed candidate for the WikiLeaks Party for the Australian Senate, potentate of the new publishing, was facilitating perfidy on the part of Manning. Assange was “the enemy” who had been aided by a wobbly anti-patriot. “Your honour, he was not a whistleblower, he was a traitor.”
The WikiLeaks outfit itself was deemed anarchical in its disposition to information, a situation that might well make a few beam with pride, but missed the point, yet again. Every despot, or rigid intelligence structure, will regard any entity or individual keen to shed light on its abuses as radical and unduly anarchistic. The unaccountable have such thin skins.
As Philip Dorling of The Age (Jul 27) reminds us, “more than 20 direct references to Mr. Assange and many more to WikiLeaks” were made during the final presentation. Indeed, he notes Major Fein’s words that Private Manning “knew that WikiLeaks, and specifically Julian Assange, considered themselves the first intelligence agency for the general public” as it did “everything an intel[ligence] agency does.” In the battle of ideas, one’s enemy often supplies you with the best description. An intelligence agency for the general public is radical democracy in action, anathema for any imperial Republic and its unimaginative satraps.
Daniel Ellsberg, that durable mandarin of security disclosures, reminds us that, if “the ‘aiding the enemy charge is permitted to stand, this case will forever change the ability of journalists to reveal the most important crimes of the state”. This will have another more striking consequence: the immunisation of U.S. foreign policy from critique and exposure. The cyclopean giant, already blind, will have no other eyes to keep watch over its failings.
This strategy is being written on walls in high places. Find the whistleblower. Find the journalist and recipient of the material. Link them in the co-conspiracy chain as plotters against the state, the anti-patriot in communion with the hostile enemy. As Assange himself has argued, a conviction on the charge of aiding the enemy will “be the end of national security journalism in the US” (Associated Press, Jul 27).
Manning’s charges and trial is indicative about what the modern surveillance state entails. It is not the orthodox Stalinist killer in khaki, the overlord of soul and country; it is the invisible, all pervasive presence of a monitoring system that is explained as benign, a soft padding necessary for “safety”. It only remains solvent in the face of apathy.
This is a farce which has had a corroding effect on Manning. But beyond Manning, the chill, the freeze on overall journalistic enterprise, may be incalculable. Washington is not so much clenching its fist as tightening a noose. And yet, for all of this rough handling we will still see those leaks as they spring forth from the font of moral conscience. We will see disclosures from citizens within organisations bitten by the bug of corruption. As Field Marshal Viscount Slim noted in a broadcast on his days in Burma fighting the Japanese, “Moral courage is a higher and rarer virtue than physical courage.” It is here to stay, an obstinate, determined presence beyond executive fiat or military trial.
Binoy Kampmark was as Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org