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On August, 21, 2013, Pfc. Bradley Manning made a statement as read by defense attorney David Coombs at a post sentencing press conference. Here is some of what he had to say: “The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war…. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.”
“The only person prosecuted for the crimes and abuses uncovered in the WikiLeaks’ releases is the person who exposed them. That alone proves the injustice of one more day in prison for Bradley Manning.”
– Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
In 2010, Bradley Manning revealed more than 700,000 truth documents to the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks – the largest leak in US military history, and no one was harmed by it. Yet he has now been sentenced to 35 years in prison. For every document that Manning revealed, the US War on Terror has claimed at least one life. Yet no one in this country has been held accountable for it.
In a three-minute unsworn statement that he gave last week during the sentencing phase of his trial, Manning said in part, “I am sorry. I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I am sorry that it hurt the United States…. When I made these decisions I believed I was gonna help people, not hurt people…. I look back at my decisions and wonder, ‘How on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better over the decisions of those with the proper authority?’ In retrospect I should have worked more aggressively inside the system…. Unfortunately, I can’t go back and change things. I can only go forward…. Before I can do that though, I understand that I must pay a price for my decisions and actions…. I want to be a better person…. and to have a meaningful relationship with my sister’s family and my family…. I want to be a positive influence in their lives…. I hope you can give me the opportunity to prove…. that I am a good person…. Thank you your Honor.”
In response to Manning’s statement, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said, “Mr. Manning’s apology is a statement extorted from him under the overbearing weight of the United States military justice system. It took three years and millions of dollars to extract two minutes of tactical remorse from this brave soldier…. He remains a symbol of courage and humanitarian resistance.”
Alexa O’Brien, who, since 2012 has produced the only available transcripts of Manning’s otherwise obscured prosecution, argued that his statement on Wednesday is consistent with others he has made in court. She also said that, “Manning’s apology is not a zero-sum game. To understand Manning, one must see his acts in light of his moral, not political, agency. Defense has argued at trial that Manning is a humanist. Manning did not want to hurt anyone; in fact, he wanted to inform the American public.”
Col. Denise Lind, the judge presiding at Manning’s court marshal, declared last week that his conduct had been “wanton and reckless.” Perhaps the biggest irony is that this sort of heavy prosecutorial language being aimed at Manning could be used to describe American-style democracy as well. Indeed, just imagine that the tables were turned and it was the U.S. government that was forced to apologize. That apology should go something like this:
“We are sorry. We are sorry that our actions killed people. We are sorry that it killed hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are sorry that they are continuing to die. When we made the decision to go to war, we believed that we were gonna help the people of these countries, not kill them. We look back at our decisions and wonder, ‘How on earth could we, the most powerful country in the world, and a democratic one at that, possibly believe we could win the hearts and minds of the people of these countries by going to war with them, instead of making peace with them?’ In retrospect we should never have killed so many innocent men, women and children, and destroyed their homes, farms, environment, and economy. Unfortunately, we can’t go back and change things. We can only go forward. Before we can do that though, we understand that we must pay a price for our decisions and actions. We want to be a better country, and to have a meaningful relationship with the people of the countries we have invaded and occupied. We want to be a positive influence in their lives. We hope you can give us the opportunity to prove that we are in fact a democracy. We want to apologize to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan for all the horrors our policies have poured upon them. We want to stand up and take responsibility for our actions and hold ourselves accountable. Thank you, your Honor.”
Through Manning’s whole secret roller coaster ride, from the day he was arrested in May 2010, throughout his unconstitutional, far-from-speedy trial, up until a few hours ago, when judge Lind sentenced him to 35 years in prison, one thing has been clear. The US government lacks vision, both globally and locally. Globally, it prefers to extend a hand holding a gun rather than extend a hand in peace. Locally, it projects its own narrow vision for resolution on its own young citizenry. Our government is either incapable of recognizing the potential for positive, conscience-driven decision-making that resides in some young soldiers like Bradley Manning, or it is afraid of that potential.
According to the Bradley Manning Support Network, defense attorney Coombs is “applying for a Presidential Pardon, and the case will be brought to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, to address several deprivations of Manning’s due process rights.”
Questions of legality are central for Mr. Coombs because his role in this case, his only job, is to deal only with such technical issues. But that shouldn’t apply to the rest of us as American citizens. Our focus has to shift away from what the law says and toward deeper moral issues that our laws are not addressing adequately or justly. That’s what we should be doing.
On September 20, 2011, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama stated, “We’ll work to reform and expand protections for whistleblowers who expose government waste, fraud and abuse.” But in the real world, it is as though the US government has chosen to hold a whistle in its mouth but suck the air in instead of blowing it out. But I think that government officials are finally realizing that they can’t keep sucking it in indefinitely. The Mannings, Snowdens and Ellsburgs of this country have been making sure of that—even when it means sacrificing long stretches of their lives. They need our support and understanding to keep this momentum going.