By Cory Hooker, Editorial Intern
While the U.S. government considers Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning a villain, the rest of the world considers him a hero.
In 2010, Manning leaked more than 750,000 documents pertaining to the recent wars in the Persian Gulf. In a pretrial hearing, on Feb. 28, Manning said that he released those documents to “expose the American military’s disregard for human life.”
Among the documents Manning released was the video of a helicopter gunship attack on two Reuters journalists in 2007, which injured two children and killed civilians. Manning learned that Reuters was seeking a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act before his document release, but were being stonewalled by the federal government. Manning likened the development captured by the video “to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”
“I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [Iraq and Afghan war logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Manning, in a 35-page statement that he read during the pretrial hearing.
Manning had unsuccessfully offered the files to the New York Times and the Washington Post before anonymously uploading the war logs to whistleblowing website Wikileaks from a Barnes & Noble in Maryland on Feb. 3, 2010.
“I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare,” he read.
On the day Manning delivered his statement, he pled guilty to 10 of the 22 counts he was charged with in February 2013 in military tribunal. One of the capital offenses for which he was charged — aiding the enemy — carried a potential life sentence. He pled not guilty on this count.
Manning’s attorney, Chase Madar, told Al Jazeera that this charge is “the most ridiculous” of all.
“It’s as if we are prosecuting Nike shoes for aiding the enemy if it turned out that some al-Qaeda operative favoured vintage Air Jordans,” Madar continued. “If it [the charge] does stick it will be a dangerous erosion of press freedom in the United States.”
The government’s main evidence was Osama bin Laden’s computer, which was recovered during the 2011 raid on his compound. The computer allegedly contained Manning’s leaked documents. Oddly enough, this charge was issued months before the raid took place.
Manning was arrested on May 26, 2010. He spent more than 10 months in solitary confinement where he was kept naked in a cell that was lit 24 hours a day to deprive him of sleep. The Geneva Convention, which establishes the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of war, categorizes this type of treatment as torture. Legal scholars found his treatment so appalling that 295 of them in the United States sent an open letter to the Justice Department in April 2011 in protest of Manning’s treatment.
Former Pentagon military analyst Daniel Ellsberg had a similar experience to Manning. Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, was never convicted for his actions. The Pentagon Papers documented the United States’ political-military involvement in Vietnam and exposed that the Lyndon Baines Johnson Administration had not only lied about the national interest to the public but also Congress. Ellsberg says that he released the papers to end what he perceived as “a wrongful war.” He calls Manning “heroic.”
“If Bradley Manning did what he’s accused of, then he’s a hero of mine,” Ellsberg said on the show, The Colbert Report. “I wish I could say that our government has improved its treatment of whistleblowers in the 40 years since the Pentagon Papers. Instead, we’re seeing an unprecedented campaign to crack down on public servants who reveal information that Congress and American citizens have a need to know.”
As a candidate, President Barack Obama expressed his support for whistleblowers because he believed it was courageous and inline with the best traditions of American patriotism. But as president, his actions contradicted his rhetoric.
Obama has revived and prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act than every other president combined since 1917 when the law was enacted. One of those prosecuted was John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who exposed the prior administration’s use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.
Manning’s future is still unknown. Military prosecutors have made it clear they are out for blood. They plan to call 141 witness, including 15 who will say that Manning has harmed national security. For now, Judge Denise Lind closed the court hearing to the press and public until Manning’s next hearing, from April 10 through 12.