The Intellectual Cowardice of Bradley Manning’s Critics
After imprisoning Private First Class Bradley Manning for eighteen months, the U.S. Army this week finally began the preliminary stage of his court-martial proceeding, and that initial process ended on Thursday. Manning faces over 30 charges; the most serious — “aiding the enemy” — carries a death sentence (though prosecutors are requesting “only” life in prison for the 24-year-old soldier). The technical purpose of this week’s hearing was to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a full court-martial proceeding; the finding (that there is such evidence) is a virtual inevitability. Manning’s counsel, Lt. Col. David Coombs, spent the week challenging the Army’s evidence, suggesting that his client may have suffered “diminished capacity” by virtue of his gender struggles and emotional instability, and finally, forcefully arguing that the leaks were an act of political conscience and that the Army has severely “overcharged” Manning in an attempt to coerce incriminating statements against WikiLeaks (Kevin Gosztola and The Guardian were at the hearing and have recaps of what happened over the last week; my general view of Manning was set forth in an Op-Ed in The Guardian last week, and my specific view of the gender defense is here).
For the moment, I want to make one narrow point about Bradley Manning. I’ve made it before but it was really underscored for me by a debate I had on an Al Jazeera program Thursday night regarding Manning with Daniel Ellsberg and the neocon activist Cliff May, who vigorously defended the Obama administration’s treatment of Manning (the video of our segment is embedded below; it was preceded by a short interview of P.J. Crowley):
Ever since Manning was accused of being the source for the WikiLeaks disclosures, those condemning these leaks have sought to distinguish them from Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers. With virtual unanimity, Manning’s harshest critics have contended that while Ellsberg’s leak was justifiable and noble, Manning’s alleged leaks were not; that’s because, they claim, Ellsberg’s leak was narrowly focused and devoted to exposing specific government lies, while Manning’s was indiscriminate and a far more serious breach of secrecy. When President Obama declared Manning guilty, he made the same claim: “No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way.”
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