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In his correspondence with Adrian Lamo, the man who betrayed him, Manning said he wanted people "to see the truth, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public." He wrote that he hoped his disclosures would lead to "world-wide discussion, debate, and reform."
Manning's first disclosure that came to light was the Apache helicopter gun-barrel video, with sound, showing the indiscriminate murder of a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists and the wounding of two little children. The incident was duly "investigated" by the Army, and the shooting was deemed to be consistent with what is permitted by the Army's Rules of Engagement.
Whoa! Official Washington cannot tolerate such disclosures if it remains intent on waging aggressive war, with its accumulated evil, in secret. So the Obama administration set out to make Bradley Manning an object lesson about what will happen to anyone tempted to divulge these sorts of secrets.
For such truth-telling, this is what you can expect: solitary confinement, cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment; and a very long wait before being brought to the military pre-trial charade that I watched with others at Fort Meade, Maryland, last weekend.
President Barack Obama, commander-in-chief of Bradley Manning, and those trying him have already said Manning "broke the law" -- and be damned with the countervailing moral imperative of truth-telling when faced with clear evidence of unpunished war crimes.
Command influence, anyone? What's wrong with this picture? Quick. Someone explain to me how those subordinate to the commander-in-chief can be expected to hold an impartial inquiry, since they already know Manning "broke the law." The top boss said so.
What About the Damage?
Still, whatever the measure of Manning's technical "guilt," the government's hand-wringing over the alleged damage from the disclosures of diplomatic cables has been "significantly overwrought." How do we know? Defense Secretary Robert Gates said so, in those words. And this time he was telling the truth.
Gates mocked the professional alarms sounded by officialdom and dismissed the negative impact of the disclosed cables as "fairly modest." He had learned a lesson from the earlier WikiLeaks disclosures of documents about Afghanistan and Iraq, when normally sober folks like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen were accusing Manning of having "blood on his hands."
When Sen. Carl Levin, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, asked Gates to provide proof in writing of such claims, Gates could adduce no evidence that actual people -- as opposed to reputations -- had been harmed.
It's also instructive to see how selective prosecutions work in Official Washington. Manning may face life imprisonment for exposing the slaughter of civilians and other serious crimes (as well as revealing the absurd over-classification of U.S. government documents).
However, when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney confess that they ordered waterboarding and other acts that have long been regarded as illegal torture, they and their subordinates are spared prosecution, presumably because to do otherwise would stir up a political mess.
Suddenly, clear violations of the law must be set aside as being outweighed by larger national considerations, i.e. political comity in Washington. But no such balancing act is available to spare Pvt. Manning possible life imprisonment for truth-telling, even when many experts believe much good has come from the disclosures, including inspiration for the Arab Spring's ouster of dictators whose brutality and corruption were frankly described in the WikiLeaks cables.
Daniel Ellsberg has called Bradley Manning a hero, and that's what he is. We need to find ways to tell the American people the full story. These days, they are not going to get the whole truth (or anything close to it) from The New York Times.
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