Army Analyst Linked to WikiLeaks Hailed as Antiwar Hero
For antiwar campaigners from Seattle to Iceland, a new name has become a byword for anti-establishment heroism: Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning.
Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst, is suspected of leaking thousands of classified documents about the Afghanistan war to the Web site WikiLeaks.
The breach has elicited a furious reaction from national security officials, who say it has compromised the safety of U.S.-led forces and their Afghan allies.
Yet, since his arrest in the spring, Manning has become an instant folk hero to thousands of grass-roots activists around the world, some of whom are likening the disclosure to the unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers or the anonymous tips that helped uncover the Watergate scandal.
Neither Manning nor his attorney have commented on the WikiLeaks dump -- and WikiLeaks has not identified Manning as its source. But chat logs released by an online confidant suggest that the intelligence analyst was as disturbed by U.S. foreign policy as many of the strangers now supporting him.
In the logs, Manning said he had seen "incredible things, awful things" in classified government files. It's "important that it gets out . . . I feel, for some bizarre reason," he said.
The Pentagon has played down the significance of the files disclosed by WikiLeaks. But that has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of Manning's supporters.
Phillip Bailey, an Italian IT specialist living in Croatia, set up a Facebook page to support Manning after he learned of the case. In less than a week, the page had more than 6,000 members.
"When I read [Manning] had been arrested, I knew I had to do something to help the guy," Bailey said. "For me, he has done something really incredible. He did something brave, with a big risk."
Like Bailey, Mike Gogulski, a U.S. citizen living in Slovakia, has never met Manning. He has, nevertheless, set up the Bradley Manning Support Network, a Web site devoted to the cause.
"The story grabbed me," Gogulski said. "It seems to be a new kind of cause. You've got a charismatic young whistleblower being linked to what I've heard called the story of the decade."
Although most of those who contact the Web site are in the United States, Gogulski said he has also received calls from Spain, Germany, Canada, Australia, Italy and Britain.
The group co-coordinating Gogulski's campaign, Courage to Resist, has developed a line of Manning memorabilia, replete with images of the boyish-looking private. There are "Save Bradley Manning!" badges, posters and T-shirts. The products' tagline: "Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime."
Jeff Patterson, head of Courage to Resist, said the group has set an initial goal of $50,000 to support Manning's defense and has already raised $33,000.
The campaign extends beyond the Internet. More than 100 supporters gathered at a hastily organized rally Sunday in Quantico, where Manning is being held at the Marine Corps base. Another took place Thursday night in Oklahoma City, the capital of his home state. Plans are being drawn up for an international day of solidarity.
Andrew Burgin, spokesman for Britain's Stop the War Coalition, said that whoever disclosed the classified material to WikiLeaks had done the public a favor.
Although Manning has not been charged in connection with the more than 90,000 documents leaked to WikiLeaks, he has been charged in the disclosure of U.S. combat video footage showing a helicopter attack that killed several civilians in Iraq.
Burgin said Manning should "be on a par" with Muntadar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at George W. Bush during a Baghdad news conference in 2008.
Peace campaigners hope that Manning's rising profile will spur interest in their cause.
"It is like the story of the boy who cried out that the emperor was wearing no clothes," said Gerry Condon, president of Seattle's branch of Veterans for Peace and a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
"He's really becoming a focus that could help revive what has been a somewhat weakened antiwar movement."
Daniel Ellsberg, who was imprisoned for leaking the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, said he felt "great identification" with Manning.
"He's a hero to me," he said. "I haven't seen someone make an unauthorized disclosure on this scale, that would lead to serious charges, for 40 years. It seems he believed, as I did, the stakes involved justified that kind of risk."