Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Private first class Bradley Manning was apprehended three years ago for leaking almost three quarters of a million classified and confidential US documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. He was responsible for the worst theft of classified information in history, including hundreds of thousands of Army and diplomatic cables.
It was discovered that Manning specifically copied documents to suit his own agenda. Prosecutors refrained from calling him a terrorist? Instead, they called him an anarchist and a traitor. They stressed correctly that he was not just a simple whistle-blower. In their argument, he was a terrorist aide. They pushed charges too far that he “aided the enemy.” That charge would require an evil intent and a genuine sympathy for enemy combatants. Manning demonstrated that he was sympathetic to the non-combatants in theater, not to al Qaeda, for example.
Manning claimed that he wanted to “spark a debate about foreign policy” and “show the true cost of war.” This was his reason for criminal action. He saw himself as a ideologue humanist defending the world. Defense said he wanted to “make the world a better place.” Many commentators described him as a naive young Private. For all intents and purposes, Manning appears to be a globalist soldier, but not really a “national” American one willing. And yet, he wore the uniform.
Revealing America’s publicly damaging secrets in political wars like Iraq is a matter of individual conscience. The longer the war lasts, the more Americans, including soldiers, are likely to turn against it. Edward Snowden, a security contractor, is different matter if not for the reason he is seeking refuge in hostile territory with classified information. Exposing atrocity or abuse is actually a duty but there are proper channels in the military and security professions in order to prevent sensitive and harmful information from reaching enemy hands. In other words, there are people legally entrusted to classify the right information. These political dissidents effectively make a case that what they release as abuses should not be covered up in classification. That they have a right to reveal anything they do not like or disagree with.
Judge Colonel Denise Lind, who presided over the case, acquitted Manning of the aiding the enemy charge. Manning was convicted of 20 out of the total 22 charges stemming from fraud, theft, and espionage.
When placed in the brig at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia, Manning was forced in solitary to remain naked for 23 hours a day. This is clearly cruel and unusual punishment. It was unconstitutional and uncalled for. In April of 2011 he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
The trial outcome has been seen as both just and unjust. Punishment was warranted but human rights violations were present in his treatment while in detention leading up to trial. Nevertheless, the Defense request to stay the trial on these grounds was perhaps deservedly denied. Manning was still found guilty and pleaded guilty himself to 10 of the 22 charges.
The sentence for Manning could be up to 136 years of prison. This would be a tad too high, considering his cruel treatment in detention during pre-trial. The death punishment would have been way overboard; especially considering what he leaked was not putting Americans in direct harm. On the other hand, the difficulty as to what incites non-state transnational enemy to kill more Americans is in large part based on a negative American image. On the other hand, Manning exposed abuses and behaviors unfitting for American soldiers that do not represent the US military or the nation. Determining the harm of leaks and damage done to the US and US personnel is difficult to determine. At least some of those reports revealed details that could have caused harm and should have remained secret. The American people have a right to know what their government is doing when it does not jeopardize lives and criminal abuses are present but the greater world does not have this right at all and certainly not the enemy.
Bradley Manning was a short 5 foot 2 inches, 105 pound, 25 year old, gay, gender dysmorphic, intelligence analyst for the US Army. He is hardly the stereotypical six foot American [infantry] soldier that smokes cigars, works out in the gym, and carries a rifle slung over his shoulder. Yet he and Edward Snowden represent the real heroes and villains of the future American national security complex. The security professionals and soldiers that can do America the greatest harm, either through international politics, intelligence, or military operations will likely be the intelligent computer/science types like these. Our laws are not really designed around a digital world and our newer non-state enemies, either and in this way, the apprehension, conviction, and sentencing is so far very much a process of trial and error.
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