The Public Struggle of Private First Class Bradley Manning
When international institutions fail to pursue the path of justice, the people must speak truth to power. International alliances of cyber activists, or “hacktivists” such as Anonymous and LulzSec, are capable of jeopardizing the State’s aura of invincibility with the click of a mouse. In 2008, Julian Assange’s website Wikileaks, armed with evidence provided by U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, initiated a confrontation that pitted the Internet's freedom of information against world governments and their secretive monopoly on knowledge.In one transcribed conversation released by Wikileaks as part of the “Kissinger Cables," former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger states, “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, 'The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer. [Laughs].'" The nature of legality and constitutionality is no source of humor for Manning, who has been incarcerated for nearly three years. According to UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez, Manning has suffered months of “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment. For 11 months, Manning was confined to his cell 23 hours a day and often forced strip naked at night. Such conditions are not uncommon for a convicted criminal; however, Manning has yet to be tried for his alleged crimes, which constitutes a major violation to America's longstanding presumption of innocence policy, as well Article 16 of the Geneva Convention against torture.
Working as an intelligence specialist at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Afghanistan, Manning testified against military footage of a helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians in 2007, an event now known as “Collateral Murder.” The footage shows an attack helicopter gunning down a dozen Iraqi men, including two Reuters' journalists, as well as injuring two children. All the while, the helicopter crew laughs and refers to those killed as “dead bastards.” Reuters issued a futile Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the film, and the captured footage risked entering the government-fed blackhole of censored data and historical amnesia.
Furious with the injustice of such damaging censorship, and fueled by a belief that “access to information…could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy,” Manning uploaded the footage along with hundred of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks, ending in the largest leak of classified military and diplomatic documents in U.S. history.
Last month, Manning pleaded guilty to a series of offenses relating to the incident and now faces 20 years in prison. The most serious charges lie ahead, including a potential life sentence for “aiding the enemy.” Should the prosecution succeed in locking Manning up for life, our cherished freedom of the press will suffer a colossal blow, threatening journalists, their sources and publishers with life imprisonment for releasing controversial classified information.
If our media were truly concerned with justice and the continuation of a legitimate democracy, the angle would not be Manning’s sexual orientation, size or relationships with family members, but rather the nature of political morality and the brutal incongruence of an image of rockets cascading towards a group of unarmed civilians and the calm laughter of those watching in the helicopter above.