“I wouldn’t want to end up like Bradley Manning.” Those words were the beginning of an outpouring this week by an associate of mine who claimed to have experienced government and corporate corruption that many only read about in alternative media reports. I sat for hours listening to stories of unbridled corruption on the taxpayer’s dime, conspiratorial advances of arms industries into consumer markets, sexually predatory behaviors deemed an acceptable part of institutional culture, and a resulting pessimistic world perspective that would make a seasoned peace activist cringe.
Having ostensibly had higher security access than common America, yet not nearly as open access as either our high-ranking politicians, our official military personnel, or some war-contracting corporate executives, my associate’s proclaimed experiences were tame in comparison to what’s likely happening at the very top, he explained. Although he felt morally inclined to report the abuses, he insisted he didn’t want to “end up like Bradley Manning.”
Among notable whistleblowers, Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, on suspicion of leaking diplomatic cables, war logs and video footage of civilian murders by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to Wikileaks, remains a steadfast example of what happens when one blows the whistle on the American government. So, how did Bradley Manning end up? What would my associate so desperately wish to avoid?
Manning has been locked in detention for 1000 days without trial. One thousand days without due process, 1000 days without having his voice heard―arguably a fundamental human need―1000 days without the comfort of his friends and family. Birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, New Year celebrations missed because his government, and fellow countrymen, declared him an enemy of the state―and, for what? For doing exactly what our foreign and domestic security policy demands: See something? Say something.
How did Bradley Manning end up? Enmified. He’s been called a traitor, treasonous. He’s dehumanized; as my associate says, “Bradley Manning is a rat.” How did he end up? Betrayed. His own country threw him into a deep dark cellar along with his supposedly God-given constitutional rights. Likely, it’s the same deep dark cavern where we place our collective guilt and shame for compliance in the very crimes he helped expose: the state-sanctioned murder of unarmed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No, I don’t believe I’d like to end up like Bradley Manning, either. Then again, I have no whistles to blow. I am not suffering under the weight of my conscience every time I witness an abuse of power, war crime or illegal act that my acknowledgement of would lead to certain vilification. For those Americans who continue to witness the corruption and abuses our government officials commit on a daily basis, where do they turn? Supposedly, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 provides a buffer from reprisal, despite the blatant weakening of a later “enhancement” in 2009. And yet, in the gutters of our hearts we all know this and other protections are as thin as the veil of propaganda that suggests our country is simultaneously and constantly in imminent danger and altogether safe.
We are living in an America where front-page headlines squawk of FBI sexting and CIA prostitution scandals, secret drone kill lists and indefinite detention bills. Completely ending government abuse and corruption is, of course, incredibly important. Until that dream is realized, we can at least take care of those fellow citizens who, feeling just as betrayed by those “in charge” as we are, have the integrity to identify wrongdoing and the courage to speak out. We can at least, in addition to upholding whistleblower protections and our constitutional rights, make certain that we care for such people and their families. Heroes and hero-enablers, respectively. We must yearn for an America where citizens are not afraid to report abuse for fear of “ending up” betrayed, enmified and isolated for 1,000 days―with the possibility of decades in a military prison cell, something we would loudly scorn and label tyrannical if done by North Korea or Cuba.
We could all end up like Bradley Manning. We don’t know what transgressions may arise in our presence. We don’t know if or when our “clearance” will offer us a glimpse into worlds, normally veiled in secrecy, that benefit few and harm many. But, should that day come, wouldn’t we like to know that our fellow citizens, leaders, and families supported and protected us?
Give Bradley Manning his due process – that’s the least of what he deserves. Better yet, free him. Show the world that America stands for accountability, integrity, and human rights. Unlike depriving a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, whistleblowing is not, and should not be, a crime.
Erin Niemela is a graduate student in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University and a PeaceVoice syndicated journalist.