If Bradley Manning Is A Villain…What Am I?

3d Nobel Peace Prize

There’s a chance you’ve heard of Bradley Manning.  He’s the Army Private First Class who stands accused of “aiding the enemy” by leaking hundreds of thousands of military/diplomatic documents to Wikileaks.  Now, after a pre-trial detention period of over 1000 days, PFC Manning sits in a military courtroom in Fort Meade, Maryland awaiting his fate, to be determined by a “speedy trial.”  Assuming this trial is publicized as much as the Jodi Arias trial, America will be treated to daily accounts of Manning’s courageous actions as a “whistleblower,” and/or cowardly betrayal as a “traitor.”  We’re sure to hear about his gender-identity “issues,” purported “mental instability,” and perhaps even the conditions of his prolonged detention while in military custody.  What I’m not so sure we’re going to hear about is exactly why PFC Manning claims to have released these documents for the world to see.  To be sure, Manning’s defense team will belabor this aspect of the case, but, as evidenced since the release of the aforementioned documents, America will not hear it.  It will be on the internet, in print, and perhaps even on television, but America will not hear it.  What won’t “we” hear, and why?

Bradley Manning claims he intended to rouse a national debate about American foreign policy, exposing the “bloodlust” and wanton disregard for all humans living in combat zones.  The information Manning revealed was more than capable of inciting that debate.  It did not.  The most well-known, and shocking, revelation made by the Manning–Wikileaks “scandal” was a video called “Collateral Murder.”  The video, viewed over thirteen millions times, is 17 minutes of Apache gunship footage showing the United States military killing or seriously wounding about a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, and a van full of civilians (including children) who rushed to the scene of the shooting to aid a dying victim (a Reuters camera assistant).  The video is extremely graphic, both for its overwhelming physical violence, and chilling language.  Arguably the most heinous scene in the video is when a wounded Reuters camera assistant named Saeed Chmagh is shown struggling to reach safety after being shot by two AH-64 Apache helicopters.  His labored efforts to get to his feet prove exceedingly difficult to watch.  A palpable feeling of relief washes over your body when a van arrives on the scene, and two men quickly attempt to load the ailing man into what’s sure to be an his best shot at surviving the massacre.  Hope turns to horror as it becomes apparent that the American soldiers pleas to “engage” the van will be met.  A hail of gunfire pummels the dirt-covered Baghdad road until an artificial cloud hides the grisly remains of what’s become the most-well known depiction of what’s now an institutionalized American war crime:  KILLING FIRST RESPONDERS.

Recall the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Try to imagine being on the scene that fateful day when two explosive devices ripped through a crowd of unsuspecting spectators, forever altering the lives of many, ending the lives of some.  The mainstream media wasn’t hesitant to show the American public graphic images of the wounded as they were hurried away from the scene by courageous first responders.  Recall the efforts our society has made to highlight the heroism, the selflessness, of those valiant first responders, both civilian and professional, who rushed, without hesitation, towards a perilous scene to provide essential life-saving services.  Americans have come to know some of these brave souls.  Men like Carlos Arredondo, known to most as “man in cowboy hat,” have had their harrowing account of that day told, and re-told, to a receptive, sympathetic, grateful nation.  Tragedy has a way of bringing out the best in man.  The empathetic nature of man asserts itself in instances when emotions like fear would seem nearly impossible to trump.  We identify with the pain, and suffering, other living beings experience, and seek to remedy it..even at great personal risk.  Those first responders didn’t know the particulars of the situation in Boston.  None of the victims were identified at the scene of the bombing.  Concepts like “guilt” or “innocence” were peripheral at best.  Humans saw ailing humans, and responded.   Boston put man to the test, and man didn’t disappoint.


Imagine that dozens and dozens of those brave first responders had been on scene in Boston when auxiliary explosives were detonated.  Imagine watching in horror as those who would rush towards danger are met with cruelty of an unspeakable nature..being targeted for their selflessness.  Imagine the cowardice involved in consciously deciding that a human who seeks only to offer aid should be slaughtered for their actions.  Try to imagine a word to better describe that act that “terrorism.”  Now, imagine that you’re enabling that action.  Imagine that you voted for that action.  Imagine that you enthusiastically campaigned for the perpetrators of that act.  Imagine that you funded that act.  Imagine that someone informed you of that act, and you did nothing.  If you’re able to imagine the atrocity I’ve attempted to depict, you surely have an idea of the impulse which Bradley Manning contends drove him to leak documents.

The United States of America is killing civilian first responders with hellfire missiles fired by unmanned aerial vehicles in a tactic disgustingly referred to as a “double tap” drone strike.  While not officially disclosed by the United States, an image of the tactic has emerged though media accounts and direct observation of the strike scenes.  I’ll provide a more detailed picture:  The Obama administration is employing a tactic known as a “signature strike” in its effort to suppress global terrorism.  A “signature strike” “permits” the CIA/US military to target a human for assassination based on what it perceives to be a qualified assessment of his/her threat level based on various means of surveillance.  Now, forget for a moment that a September 2012 Stanford/NYU law school report found that only 2% of US drone strike causalities were “high-level” militants.  Instead, focus on that fact that the Obama administration redefined the word “militant” to include ““all military-aged males in a strike zone.”  This is KEY, as it “permits” the Obama administration to claim that innocent people being targeted in “double tap” drone strikes, applying life-saving aid to people the United States SUSPECTS may be bad guys, are merely “militants” when the bodies are counted.  This was the case in the “Collateral Murder” video that Bradley Manning disclosed to the world.  The occupants of the van who are seen being slaughtered while attempting to rescue a wounded Reuters camera assistant were merely traveling to see a relative.  They happened upon an ailing man, and, like the heroic first responders in Boston, set aside all concern and acted like human beings.  They were murdered for their concern.  They were murdered for their refusal to let fear dominate their lives.  Two children in the van, ages 6 and 9, were seriously injured, and left with only memories of their brave father.  The US military claimed that all killed in the incident depicted in that nauseating video were “insurgents.”  We know this is not true.  We know, and, as evidenced by the shamefully absent outrage at the attempt to imprison Bradley Manning for his entire life, WE DON’T CARE.

For whatever faults Bradley Manning the person might have, Bradley Manning the idea is what all humans should strive to be.  His case highlights an attempt by humans to subvert, and criminalize those qualities which make us human: that which we can feel, and know..which transcends language.  Some humans are attempting to subvert human action.  Human instinct.  Knowing.  Bradley Manning knew that he witnessed a crime in that video.  He knew that he witnessed an assault against humanity.  An injustice.  Just as Saleh Mutashar, the man who imperiled (and lost) his life to aid wounded Reuters employee Saeed Chmagh, knew what he had to do.  Just as Carlos Arredondo (“the man in the cowboy hat”), a heroic first responder in the Boston Marathon bombing, knew what he had to do.  He knew, just like the countless, faceless first responders we’ve allowed our government to tell us were “militants” or “insurgents.”  Bradley Manning knew right from wrong.  He acted.  He acted, just like the heroic first responders we honor, and kill.  Just like the first responders he’s aiming to honor with recognition, and a national debate.  My instinct is to act.  I see an injustice.  I want this debate.  I’m ready for this debate.  Are you?


7 responses to “If Bradley Manning Is A Villain…What Am I?

  1. I would be shocked if Bradley Manning’s fate isn’t already decided. I feel like this court case now is just going through the motions so that when they do find him guilty, the government and the media can say, “Well we gave him a fair trial” when in reality I think the outcome is already predetermined.

    • They definitely want to discourage whistleblowing…so it seems unlikely he’s getting off the hook. I figure the best shot at a lesser sentence is massive public outrage. Leaks like this NSA thing can only help!

  2. Leaks and especially whistleblowing are a healthy and important part of a democracy. There is a need for transparency about the crimes and injustice that occur behind closed doors. However, there is also a need for a certain level of ‘confidence,’ of secrecy and yes…privacy for public and private individuals to conduct their business without having a fear that everything they will say or do will be broadcast across the world. Although governments certainly attempt to, there is no real way to stop people from either spying or breaking one’s commitment to keep certain matters under the radar. Every day individuals make decisions to expose or not to expose secret information based on their moral intuitions, their relationship they have with the source of that secret information, and their willingness to risk the consequences of their exposure.

  3. I would argue that Bradley Manning was justified in some of his but unjustified in other instances. Obviously, his first act of exposing the video was an act of noble heroism (and I would like to see more sources about this “double-tapping” as a strategy, it sounds to me like a misjudging of potential or suspected ‘terrorists’ or ‘militants’). But Manning did not stop there. He apparently thought it was important and appropriate to expose the American government for failing to come to the aid of Iceland against the economic hegemony of larger Western European powers…a moral issue certainly but not the kind of issue that people take to the streets about. (There is of course the other side of the argument of not getting entangled in these kind of foreign affairs anyway….and furthermore, in this case Manning was rather unsuccessful in “rousing a national debate” about the issue). For this exposure, I’m not sure if Manning was justified or unjustified about it. It seemed like an issue that was unresolved and if that were the case, by exposing the information, he may have (although by a long shot) decreased the chances that Iceland would receive aid from America.

  4. Where I cannot find enough justification from either my own perspective or from Manning’s own testimony was the leaking of over 100,000 classified diplomatic cables from the State Department. Yes there were certainly morally impermissible actions that Manning discovered (I think on one activist website, there were about 5 or 6 of them), but why with as much analytical skills he apparently posses, was he so indiscriminate in exposing that information. Perhaps he was politically motivated to the extent that you say in “rousing a national debate about U.S. foreign policy” and perhaps not the content of what was exposed as much as the sheer volume of the exposure did actually accomplish that. But to me, that seems like more of an after-the-fact rationalization. As you say, Manning the person, had many faults, and one of those faults I would argue was his disregard for workplace privacy (who doesn’t complain or make snarky remarks about their clients at least some of the time) over his insatiable craving of power… power to access almost anything he wanted from international classified sources and bring it to the consciousness of the global citizenry. Wikileaks was a timely enterprise and the perfect opportunity for him to do that.

  5. Bradley Manning was clearly very talented and resourceful with accessing, analyzing, and interpreting vast quantities of data, but he did not have the temperament of the kind of officer needed to protect US interests and security abroad. I would even argue that regardless of his virtues, he didn’t even have the temperament to be a true advocate for his cause… more rational advocates would have done everything they could to remain anonymous and be more selective in their deeming when exactly and what kinds of exposures were truly worth the risk. Yes you can make the case that Manning was a hero, but it’s also important to consider how dangerous he could possibly be (if he felt like his political message wasn’t getting across enough). For that reason, he needed to be stopped. Personally, I think that a discharge from the military and brief period of house arrest and psychiatric care would be enough, but the government also wants to send a message to would-be exposers of government secrets. Unfortunately, their desire to send that message conflicts with their desire to ‘resolve’ the Bradley Manning issue with as little public attention as possible (as gray as I find this issue is, Dan, one thing you are absolutely wrong about is that this will be a ‘Jodie Arias’ kind of trial). Perhaps the recent leaking of the NSA violation of privacy concerns was intentional on behalf of the government to take attention from Bradley Manning and his trial ….because is this carry-over over from the Bush administration (considering everything else that has been carried over) really that surprising to anyone?

  6. I am going to close my long-winded remarks with my experience at a Flobots concert this past week. The Flobots, a softer and more pretentious version of Rage Against the Machine, are surprisingly appealing to me because they are the kind of act that brings out my inner boyhood…..my rebelliousness combined with my genuine life purpose to make the world a better place. They’re the kind of energetic and inspiring band I wish was at their peak 15 years ago….instead I was stuck with the Bloodhound Gang, which distorted my view of the world and with women to the point at which I became a weird combination of a feminist and a misogynist. But I digress…

    Anyway, one of the songs at the show was dedicated to Bradley Manning with lines like “My world will end if I cannot be with you.” and “It was like a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.” and “we can turn this world inside out” you get the sense of the song as an obituary for recently deceased friend. They disregard the fact (not only that Manning is still alive) that Manning is somewhat responsible for his own suffering. Their message also contradicts the message of their popular hit “Handlebars,” which is that the power young people foolhardily believe they have is analogous to the power our government exercises at the expense of privacy and human life. Couldn’t the lyrics of “I see the strings that control the systems, I can do anything with no assistance, I can lead a nation with a microphone”
    and “My reach is global…My cause is noble, My power is pure” be turned around from a criticism of the government to a critique the foolhardiness of Every Man[ning]?

    Governments are people my friend…governments are people..

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