The Sunday Leader

Bradley Manning: Martyr To Freedom Of Expression Or Traitor?

Bradley Manning, Galileo Galilei, Giordano Bruno and Julian Assange

By Gamini Weerakoon

Will the 25-year-old Bradley Manning, former First Class Private of the US Marines, now being tried for leaking the biggest ever trove of diplomatic and military secrets of America to the web site Wikileaks, in the future be considered a 21st Century martyr to the freedom of expression on the lines of scientific martyrs such as Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei or jailed for life as a traitor? Bruno the Italian philosopher and astronomer was burned at stake by the Roman Inquisition for going against the traditional belief held by the Roman Catholic Church that the sun and universe went round the world whereas Bruno’s observations led him to declare that the world went round the sun.
Galileo another Italian astronomer and scientist too held similar views but was saved from being burnt alive when he recanted ‘to his errors’ and was placed under house arrest for life.

To compare the fate of Manning to these greats in history may be hyperbolic but this young American marine has dared to confront the mightiest military power the world has ever known in the most sensitive of all aspects of governance, national security. He is today being tried in an American military court for leaking confidential information and ‘aiding the enemy’. Manning was only 21 years when he committed the offence.

Manning shows the difference

This ex-American Marine brings out the marked contrasts of the proclaimed American policies and its marked idealism with the deviations in actual practice – not only in conflicts with Third World countries but in the treatment of Americans like Manning himself who falls foul of the establishment.

On his arrest for leaking out classified information he suffered immense torture. This frail bespectacled man had at various stages of his incarceration being held in solitary confinement for 23 out of 24 hours for five months in succession in an 8 foot by 6 foot cell, forced to sleep naked, being woken up to three times a night by a suicide watch among other forms of torture.

The UN Special Rappoteur on Torture Juan Ernesto Mendez who had been called in to report on Manning has held that he had been ‘subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’.

Manning is far removed from the gung-ho image of the strapping US marine which people the world over are familiar with. According to a biographer, the frail five foot two inch young man had a torrid time in his youth. He was a homo-sexual and beginning to show trans-sexual tendencies and made friends with a few partners. However he had been excellent with the computer and was taken into the army and soon promoted as a Private First Class with security clearance. Despite his poor service record he was given access to top secret material and transferred to Iraq.

Arab Spring

The deeply disturbed 21-year-old when he had access to the top secret US military and diplomatic reports was moved by the manner in which his government dealt with people of the Third World. He was moved to do something about it. He had written: ‘I want the people to see the truth……regardless of who they are because without information you can’t make informed decisions. He had hoped that he could ‘spark worldwide debate, discussion and reforms’.

Some political analysts believe that Wikileaks exposures which Manning helped to expose resulted in the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The people suspected what the corrupt kleptomanic rulers of their countries were doing. Wikileaks reports confirmed them. Many of the Wikileaks reports were those of American Ambassadors sent to the US State Department about what’s going on – at times related by the regimes’ leaders themselves!

Although Bradley Manning and Julian Assange who is heading Wikileaks destroyed the confidentiality of reports of US envoys they did what the US government was – at least on paper – supposed to do – getting rid of corrupt regimes. But the crackdown on Manning and Wikileaks indicates the gulf between US foreign policy and practice: A dependable dictatorship is preferable to an unstable democracy.

Military blunders

Much more hurting would have been exposure of military blunders such as the video that exposed the shooting down of two Iraqi reporters by an American Apache helicopter in Iraq.  The two reporters were mingling with the crowd just after an exchange of small arms fire between Iraqi activists when an American helicopter arrived over the spot. US troops in the helicopter, probably believing the camera in the hands of one journalist was a weapon, fired killing them both and some were wounded.

The voice of US personnel in the helicopter says: ‘Look at those dead bastards’, the other says ‘nice’. A van which arrived to rescue the injured is also shot at injuring some more. Both personnel in the helicopter were exonerated on the ground that they did not know whom they were shooting at. Bradley Manning who exposed it all is in jail probably for his lifetime.

Obama’s teacher

Britain’s The Guardian quotes Harvard’s professor and foremost authority on Constitutional Law in the US, Laurence Tribe (who had taught Barack Obama the subject): The trial could have far reaching consequence for freedom of speech and rendering the internet hazardous environment well beyond any demonstrable national security interest.

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