Bradley Manning: Patriotic whistle-blower or American traitor? (+video)
The court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning began Monday. Manning has said the documents he sent to WikiLeaks served a valuable purpose. Others agree, but that might not help him legally.
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“The stuff I put out was ‘top secret,’ ” he adds, noting that the material Manning released was given the lower classification rating of “secret.”Skip to next paragraph
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What’s more, the Pentagon Papers “didn’t rise to the same level of war crimes that was revealed by Bradley Manning,” he argues. “Manning showed numerous violations of law, not only under [President] Obama but going back to [former President George W.] Bush,” including, Ellsberg adds, “continuing to hand people over in the face of likelihood of torture.”
This last point is one that Manning stressed in his pretrial statement in February. To illustrate it, Manning recalled an incident in March 2010 in which he was tasked by superior officers to look into a case of Iraqi police who detained 15 people for printing anti-Iraqi literature.
Manning was asked, he said, to figure out who these “bad guys” were.
As he dug into the case, Manning concluded that none of the individuals had ties to terrorist groups. He then received translations of the “anti-Iraqi” literature, which was a critique of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and detailed corruption within its cabinet as well as the “financial impact of that corruption on the Iraqi people,” Manning said in his pretrial hearing.
He forwarded this information to his superiors, noting the discrepency between the charges the Iraqi police were making and the translation of the actual materials. He was told to “drop it” and “find out where these print shops printing anti-Iraqi literature might be.”
He complained to his boss, who was sympathetic but unwilling to act, Manning said. “I knew that if I continued to assist Baghdad police, those people would be arrested ... very likely tortured, and not seen again for a very long time, if ever.”
But even if there were individual cases of misconduct, the indiscriminate nature of the WikiLeaks release – which included reams of embarrassing diplomatic cables – was highly damaging to national security and different from the specific nature of the Pentagon Papers, some critics argue.
Ellsberg, for example, decided to keep confidential the volumes of the Pentagon Papers that described the diplomatic efforts to resolve the Vietnam War, which included “derogatory comments about the perfidiousness of specific persons involved, and statements which might be offensive to nations or governments,” noted Floyd Abrams, who was the lawyer for The New York Times during the Pentagon Papers proceedings, in a December 2010 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Abrams also pointed to other differences. “The Pentagon Papers revelations dealt with a discrete topic, the ever-increasing level of duplicity of our leaders over a score of years in increasing the nation’s involvement in Vietnam while denying it. It revealed official wrongdoing or, at the least, a pervasive lack of candor by the government to its people.”
“WikiLeaks is different,” he argues. “It revels in the revelation of ‘secrets’ simply because they are secret.”
Manning argues that he was well aware of what he was releasing. He said that he began looking through documents related to detainments at Guantánamo because of President Obama’s campaign assertions that the facility is a stain on America’s reputation and should be closed.
“I’m the type of person who likes to know how things work and as an analyst this means I always want to figure out the truth,” he said. “I wasn’t satisfied with just scratching the surface and producing canned or cookie-cutter assessments.”
As he began reading diplomatic cables, he says, he agreed with Mr. Obama. He also noticed that the diplomatic cables had two levels of security classifications.
The first level was “not for distribution,” meaning the cables were highly sensitive. The second classification was for people who had access to the US military’s computer network, which included thousands of US troops, Defense Department civilian employees, and civilian contractors.