The Political Prosecution of Chelsea Manning

The woman formerly known as Bradley Manning.

The woman formerly known as Bradley Manning.

This past Wednesday transgender U.S. Army whistle-blower Chelsea Manning (formally Bradley Manning) was sentenced to 35 years for leaking classified material. The 25 year old former intelligence analyst has spent the past three years in a military jail awaiting trial, a year of which in solitary confinement under conditions which the UN special rapporteur formally declared as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” after a 14-month investigation. The material that Chelsea Manning led to a wide array of disturbing revelations on U.S. foreign affairs and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These revelations range from unrestrained violence from military contractors, that the US has held more than 150 innocent people in Guantanamo for years due to a lack of proper investigation, and that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton authorized diplomats to spy on UN leaders in violation of international law. Through Manning’s leaks the world has been granted access to vital information on the motivation and actions of the most powerful military and economic force in the history of mankind.

Despite furious condemnation by government officials and claims that Mannng’s leaks would lead to the deaths of coalition troops and informants, and even speculation in some corners that the leaks could lead to war; none of this has come to pass. Even a prosecution witness who lead the task force in the response to the Manning leaks, Ret. Brig. General Robert Carr, was forced to admit that there is no conclusive evidence that anyone has been harmed as a result of the leaks. Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on record stating that the descriptions of the leaks have been “significantly overwrought”, and on the leaks themselves, “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest”.

So if the leaks provided by Manning have been so benign to the US, why is she facing the prospect of spending the next 35 years of her life in prison?

Because this prosecution of Manning has nothing to do with the prospect of “harming national security” or “putting the lives of civilians and soldiers” at risk. It has everything to do with the fact that Chelsea Manning has embarrassed powerful people and has threatened the interests of the ever growing national security state. Agencies such as the NSA, the CIA, the DoD; and corporations such as Haliburton and Academi (formerly Xe Services LLC, and before that Blackwater), have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not want the possibility that their officials could be held accountable, even if their actions are blatantly illegal and immoral. This emerging form of an American police state not only does not want it’s actions to remain secret, but it does not even want their to be a public debate on whether their tactics are compatible with a democratic society. The 35 year sentence is a strong message by those operating in positions of authority, and that message is “pay no attention to the men behind the curtain”.

Democrats and other such supposed “moderates” have claimed that Manning deserves her sentence, as in the words of president Obama: “We’re a nation of laws, we don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.” These arguments assert that even if Manning’s decision was morally valid, that her actions are still illegal. The fact is that government employees in military and intelligence agencies have extremely limited recourse to so-called “proper channels” to expose government misconduct. Even worse is what channels do exist are fraught with danger for the whistle-blower. Case in point is former NSA analyst Thomas Drake. After attempting to utilize protections afforded under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act in regards to a software program he believed was being promoted for political reasons and potentially violated the fourth amendment, the government alleged he “mishandled documents” and was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act. Despite most of the charges being dropped Drake was forced to undergo a paramilitary raid of his home, years of trial and legal fees, and was blacklisted by the federal government. He now is an extremely overqualified wage worker at an Apple store in Oregon.

What is particularly outrageous about Obama’s statement in regards to Manning is that his own administration doesn’t seem to mind foregoing prosecution if their backers on K street or wall street break the law. When the bank HSBC was caught knowingly laundering drug money for violent Mexican drug cartels, who unlike Manning have been linked to innocent (and not-so innocent) people being killed, the justice department under Obama appointed Eric Holder simply declined to prosecute anyone. Apparently we are a nation of laws, unless you’re too big to jail; in which case we’ll let you off the hook and let you keep breaking the same law.

It is still possible for Obama to provide clemency for Chelsea Manning, and there is a petition urging him to do so being put forward by Amnesty International. It is now up to the Obama administration to finally do the right thing, and free Chelsea Manning.

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Why President Obama Should Pardon Whistle blower Pfc. Bradley Manning

On May 2010, Private First Class Bradley Manning was arrested while on duty in a military base near Baghdad.  It would eventually be revealed that the 22 year old intelligence officer had managed to release 260,000 classified cables detailing US activity in Iraq, Afghanistan, and US embassies from around the world to the pro-transparency organization Wikileaks.  In the coming months, five major newspapers from around the world would chronicle the troubling contents of these cables to the world and an American public kept purposefully in the dark by their own government as to its action’s abroad.  Among the many revelations found in the quarter-million highly classified documents is evidence of US meddling in the internal affairs of foreign democracies such as Haiti and India, the use of American diplomats as spokespeople and spies for corporations such as Monsanto and Boeing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on American diplomats to spy on their UN counterparts, and the US military covering up the deaths of two reuters journalists shot by an American gunship.  Manning’s trial is scheduled for sometime between February 4 and March 15 of next year, where the former intelligence officer faces a possible life sentence.

Bradley Manning was only twenty two when arrested for exposing rampant and unnecessary secrecy within the US military, diplomatic, and intelligence communities. The response of the US military justice system was brutal, placing Mr. Manning into 11 months of solitary confinement under conditions which the head of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Juan Mendez referred to as “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. Mr. Manning was transferred out of solitary confinement as a result of coordinated protests by the likes of the Bradley Manning Defense Network and Firedoglake.

Ever since 9/11, the American government has shown a dangerous increase in the level of obfuscation, willingness to violate US citizen’s civil rights in the name of national security, and complete lack of accountability for high ranking officials.  Whereas in 1991 the US government classified 6 million documents, by 2010 that number had ballooned to 77 million.  Information in these secret documents has been shown to contain blatantly illegal activity by the US government such as the NSA’s warrantless and indiscriminate wiretapping of US citizens (a fact itself disclosed to the New York Times by a government whistle blower).  All of this has developed despite the fact that pre-9/11 intelligence was already aware of a planned attack on the world trade center.

The charges against Manning include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, transmitting national defense information and theft of public property or records.  However, despite the charges high ranking US officials such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Vice President Joe Biden, have downplayed the damage of the leaks, with Mr. Biden going so far as to say, “I don’t think there’s any damage.  I don’t think there’s any substantive damage, no.” in a televised interview with MSNBC’s Adrea Mitchell.  With such high ranking insiders, one is forced to ask not only how Mr. Manning aided the enemy (and if the ‘enemy’ includes the American public), but as to why the information was classified in the first place.

Upon being elected president Obama promised to run the most transparent administration in US history. Since 2009, he has presided over the administration with the highest level of classified documents and the most prosecutions of whistleblowers.

Lost in the debate has been not only that no one has been reported to have been harmed by the leaked cables, but on the obviously altruistic motives displayed by Manning, common to all whistleblowers.  Fellow whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, famous for his release of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war has come to Manning’s defence stating that the release of the cables was “exactly the right thing to do”.  It is for these reasons that President Obama should pardon Bradley Manning, and I believe the argument on why to do so is best expressed by Manning himself in his conversation with the man who turned him into the government, “I want people to see the truth…regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public”.