FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Convicting Bradley Manning

by BINOY KAMPMARK

“[I]t is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other the inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanours committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge”

Continental Congress, Jul 30, 1778

The state has not disappointed.  The U.S. military legal system has done badly, and it is scant comfort that it might have done something even worse. It was hard to expect that Army Colonel Denise Lind could do anything else.  Private First Class Bradley Manning’s head on the stake of institutionalised violence was wanted, and received. He now faces a 136-year jail sentence for leaking files to WikiLeaks.

That said, the judge was careful to reject the “aiding the enemy” charge, one as preposterous as it was dangerous.  Guilty of 19 charges, but not that vital one. The Manning family have every reason to be relieved that he wasn’t tarnished with that brush, tarnished as he might have otherwise been.  “The tortured logic behind the charge, if upheld,” wrote Rem Rieder of USA Today (Jul 30) “would have posed a serious threat to journalism and democracy.”  (That said, Rieder could still claim that Manning had been a foolish whistleblower, unlike his latest successor, Edward Snowden.)

This would have been a blow to the Obama administration, but victory was still assured over a broad front.  Investigative journalists in the digital world will not be out of the woods.  Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Centre for Justice makes the unmistakable point that the conviction of Manning is without parallel. “A lot of Manning supporters are breathing a sigh of relief that he was not convicted on the aiding-the-enemy charge, but it is important not to lose sight that this is really unprecedented that someone could go to jail for his life for disclosing information to the media.”

The policy of the Obama administration against whistleblowers is clear: if the “enemy” can read a disclosure of government activity, however abusive, the charge of aiding them will be made.  Lind’s decision has barely been a spanner to throw in the works, even if was a “striking rebuke” against the prosecution.

Even now, commentators find it hard to commune in the implications of what actually happened.  The Telegraph’s Peter Foster’s summary took a swipe before summarising the achievements of Manning’s disclosures.  “Manning has at times cut a weak, pitiful figure – bullied at school and in the army, and wrestling with gender identity issues”.  Woe to the whistleblower.

Then, Foster switches gears, moving to the implications of the leaks.  “From exposing the horrors of the Iraq war to helping ignite the Middle Eastern tinderbox by releasing diplomatic cables that spelt out the wealth and hypocrisy of the ruling elite in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Manning had an impact perhaps even beyond his own imagining.”

That has been the Manning story through the entire description of both act (not always positive) and person (never flattering).  The tactical dimension of the establishment – be it in terms of the security fanatics or the established journalists – is to demean and disable the discloser.  Discredit the person, heap filth on them, and hope no one else notices what has actually been revealed.

Let us, however, find in the steaming muck something of note.  Republican lawmaker Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has proclaimed it his aim to make the date of the Manning verdict a National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.  “Anything we can do to uphold whistleblowers and their protection is the right thing to keep government responsible.”

For Grassley, the violation of laws and the misspending of money requires patriotic correction. He should know, having been the author of the False Claims Act in 1986 and co-author of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989.

Both Grassley and co-sponsor Carl Levin have made it clear that July 30 is a significant day in terms of the whistleblower canon.  The Continental Congress was certainly aware of the legal duties inherent in disclosing abuse, though the quibblers will probably say that the key question was to whom.  But the story goes to show that even in March, 1777, when Marine Captain John Grannis revealed that Commodore Esek Hopkins of the Continental Navy had been responsible for torture against captured British sailors, the whistleblower was not merely vital but duty bound.

This element of public service is finding form in an international movement – the Pirate Party in Iceland, and now, the WikiLeaks Party in Australia.  The spirit of Manning’s achievements hover over them, the spectral reminder over why people make the critical decision to reveal the untenable and expose the unacceptable.

The platform of the WikiLeaks Party tells us what a democratic system should be: parties aware of the limits of state power; parties keen to engage in the democratic conversation. In recent years, there has not been so much a conversation as a choking silence, an addled consensus that the spy is worthier than the discloser; security better than regulation.  Revulsion against this, and a disposition to reform the culture, is what is required.

We know what we are up against in terms of changing minds.  The frenetic and demagogic Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called in U.S. “campaign heavyweights” including “Barack Obama’s digital attack dog” to defeat his opposition counterpart, Tony Abbott (Sydney Morning Herald, Jul 31). That particular campaign canine goes by the name of Tom McMahon, former executive director of the Democratic National Committee.  With that gloss of Obama mania, we can assume that the anti-whistleblower establishment will be emboldened.

The quest against that sort of establishment will have enormous challenges.  But whether it was an intrepid Grannis in 1777, a morally repulsed Manning in 2010 and a conscience stricken Snowden in 2013, they were the ones that took those steps. The costliest steps tend to be the first ones. Political will is now required to bolster them.

Binoy Kampmark was as Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail