The case of Private Bradley Manning raises legal issues about his pre-trial detention, freedom of speech and the press, as well as proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Putting aside Manning's guilt or innocence, if Bradley Manning saw the Afghan and Iraq war diaries as well as the diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks what should he have done? And, what should be the proper response of government to their publication?
A high point in the application of the rule of law to war came in the Nuremberg trials where leaders in Germany were held accountable for World War II atrocities. Justice Robert Jackson, who served as the chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials while on leave from the U.S. Supreme Court, said "If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us."
One of the key outcomes of the Nuremberg trials was that people who commit war crimes or crimes against humanity will be held accountable even if they were following orders. This is known as Nuremberg Principle IV which states: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him." The Nuremberg principles were enshrined in a series of treaties.
How do the Nuremberg Principles and other laws of war apply to Bradley Manning?
What is a person who does not want to participate in war crimes or hiding war crimes supposed to do when he sees evidence of them? If Manning hid the evidence would he not be complicit in the crimes he was covering up and potentially liable as a co-conspirator? These were questions that Bradley Manning allegedly wrestled with. According to unverified chat logs Manning, talking with Adrian Lamo on email, asks: "Hypothetical question, if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time" say, 8-9 months" and you saw incredible things, awful things" things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC" what would you do?"
In Iraq, Manning was ordered "to round up and hand over Iraqi civilians to America's new Iraqi allies, who he could see were then torturing them with electrical drills and other implements." Manning questioned the orders he was being given to help round up Iraqis and brought his concerns to the chain of command. He pointed to a specific instance where 15 detainees were arrested and tortured for printing "anti-Iraqi literature" he found that the paper in question was merely a scholarly critique of corruption in the government asking "Where did the money go?" He brought this to his commander, who told him to "shut up" and keep working to find more detainees. Manning realized he "was actively involved in something that i was completely against""
He wrestled with the question of what to do. According to the unverified chat logs with Lamo Manning told Lamo that he hoped the publication of the documents and videos would spur "worldwide discussion, debates, and reform." He went on to say, "I want people to see the truth" regardless of who they are" because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." The command structure would not listen, so Manning went beyond them to the people who are supposed to control the military in our democratic republic. He wanted Americans to know the truth.
In the chat logs, Lamo asked Manning why he did not sell the documents to a foreign power. Manning realized he could have made a lot of money doing so, but he did not take that path. He explained: "it belongs in the public domain - information should be free - it belongs in the public domain - because another state would just take advantage of the information" try and get some edge - if its out in the open" it should be a public good." These are not the words of a traitor, of someone out to hurt the United States, these are the words of someone trying to improve the United States, trying to get the country to live up to its highest ideals.
Manning is charged so far with three counts of unlawfully transferring confidential material to a non-secure computer, i.e. leaking state secrets. Manning faces up to 52 years if convicted of these crimes and it is likely that he will be charged with additional offenses. The charges against Manning end stating that Manning's "conduct being prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces and being of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces."
Well, what exactly did the materials Manning allegedly leak show?
The video that is the focus of these initial charges is
known as the Collateral Murder video.
The video shows American soldiers in an Apache helicopter gunning down a group
of innocent men, including two Reuters employees, a photojournalist and his
driver, killing 16 and sending two children to the hospital. The video, which
has been viewed by millions, shows initial blasts at the group killing and
wounding people. U.S.
forces watch as a van pulls up to evacuate the wounded. The
soldiers again open fire from the helicopter, killing more people. A crew
member is heard saying, "Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards." But, that was
not the end, journalist
Rick Rowley reported that the man who they drove over had crawled out of
the van and was still alive when the tank drove over him, cutting him in half.