This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com
Dick Cheney got one (as secretary of defense), so did Donald Rumsfeld (back in 1977), not to speak of Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, and General H. Norman Schwartzkopf (for Gulf War I). Of course, so did Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and (posthumously) Cesar ChÃ¡vez, not to speak of Estee Lauder. President George W. Bush hit the trifecta in a single ceremony, awarding one to General Tommy Franks (who commanded U.S. forces in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and who, the president said, "led the forces that fought and won two wars in the defense of the world's security and helped liberate more than 50 million people from two of the worst tyrannies in the world"), another to George Tenet (who oversaw the CIA through the torture and black-sites era), and a third to L. Paul Bremer III (the American proconsul in Baghdad during our ill-fated occupation of Iraq, whom the president praised for "work[ing] day and night in difficult and dangerous conditions to stabilize the country, to help its people rebuild and to establish a political process that would lead to justice and liberty"). More recently, Barack Obama bestowed one on former British Prime Minister (and Iraq War enthusiast) Tony Blair and, in a surprise move barely a week ago, to "one of the nation's finest public servants," retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
I'm talking, of course, about America's highest civilian honor (even if it can be awarded to generals), the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Gates award was bestowed unexpectedly at a Pentagon retirement ceremony for the Secretary of Defense who, visibly moved, ad libbed, "It is a big surprise. But we should have known a couple of months ago that you're getting pretty good at this covert ops stuff." It was the same week that unnamed "American officials" leaked the latest covert ops news to the New York Times -- that "the clandestine American military campaign to combat al-Qaeda's franchise in Yemen is expanding to fight the Islamist militancy in Somalia" and that a U.S. drone aircraft had attacked militants there for the first time since 2009. Consider this the seventh war the Obama administration is now pursuing in the Greater Middle East.
Of course, some American "warriors" just naturally deserve medals, just as some have carte blanche to leak information about secret or "clandestine" U.S. operations without fear of penalty; others get nothing but trouble for their patriotic leaking activities. Such is the case of Army Private Bradley Manning whose sad saga Chase Madar continues to cover for TomDispatch.com. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
Bradley Manning, American Hero
Four Reasons Why Pfc. Bradley Manning Deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Not a Prison Cell
By Chase Madar
We still don't know if he did it or not, but if Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old Army private from Oklahoma, actually supplied WikiLeaks with its choicest material -- the Iraq War logs, the Afghan War logs, and the State Department cables -- which startled and riveted the world, then he deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom instead of a jail cell at Fort Leavenworth.
President Obama recently gave one of those medals to retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who managed the two bloody, disastrous wars about which the WikiLeaks-released documents revealed so much. Is he really more deserving than the young private who, after almost ten years of mayhem and catastrophe, gave Americans -- and the world -- a far fuller sense of what our government is actually doing abroad?
Bradley Manning, awaiting a court martial in December, faces the prospect of long years in prison. He is charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. He has put his sanity and his freedom on the line so that Americans might know what our government has done -- and is still doing -- globally. He has blown the whistle on criminal violations of American military law. He has exposed our secretive government's pathological over-classification of important public documents.
Here are four compelling reasons why, if he did what the government accuses him of doing, he deserves that medal, not jail time.
1: At great personal cost, Bradley Manning has given our foreign policy elite the public supervision it so badly needs.
In the past 10 years, American statecraft has moved from calamity to catastrophe, laying waste to other nations while never failing to damage our own national interests. Do we even need to be reminded that our self-defeating response to 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia) has killed roughly 225,000 civilians and 6,000 American soldiers, while costing our country more than $3.2 trillion? We are hemorrhaging blood and money. Few outside Washington would argue that any of this is making America safer.
An employee who screwed up this badly would either be fired on the spot or put under heavy supervision. Downsizing our entire foreign policy establishment is not an option. However, the website WikiLeaks has at least tried to make public scrutiny of our self-destructive statesmen and -women a reality by exposing their work to ordinary citizens.
Consider our invasion of Iraq, a war based on distortions, government secrecy, and the complaisant failure of our major media to ask the important questions. But what if someone like Bradley Manning had provided the press with the necessary government documents, which would have made so much self-evident in the months before the war began? Might this not have prevented disaster? We'll never know, of course, but could additional public scrutiny have been salutary under the circumstances?
Thanks to Bradley Manning's alleged disclosures, we do have a sense of what did happen afterwards in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just how the U.S. operates in the world. Thanks to those disclosures, we now know just how Washington leaned on the Vatican to quell opposition to the Iraq War and just how it pressured the Germans to prevent them from prosecuting CIA agents who kidnapped an innocent man and shipped him off to be tortured abroad.
As our foreign policy threatens to careen into yet more disasters in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya, we can only hope that more whistleblowers will follow the alleged example of Bradley Manning and release vital public documents before it's too late. A foreign policy based on secrets and spin has manifestly failed us. In a democracy, the workings of our government should not be shrouded in an opaque cloud of secrecy. For bringing us the truth, for breaking the seal on that self-protective policy of secrecy, Bradley Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
2: Knowledge is powerful. The WikiLeaks disclosures have helped spark democratic revolutions and reforms across the Middle East, accomplishing what Operation Iraqi Freedom never could.