My following article appears in New Matilda today:
Whistleblowers like Bradley Manning show us the true face of global power. The guilty verdict against him should stir journalists to challenge authoritarianism, writes Antony Loewenstein
The verdict was never really in doubt. Former US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was always going to be found guilty by a US military court. The only question was whether or not he would be viewed as “aiding the enemy”, namely Al-Qaeda.
Military judge Colonel Denise Lind decided he was not — but found Manning guilty on many other counts, including espionage, relating to the leaking of documents to Wikileaks. He is likely to face decades inside a US prison.
The Manning trial represents one of the most significant examples of American legal and political intimidation in our time. After being arrested in 2010 and brought to the US from the Middle East to await trial, the administration of Barack Obama subjected him, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in solitary confinement.
He was unable to communicate with the world. The reasons he leaked remained largely a mystery. Manning’s contribution to public knowledge of US foreign policy after 9/11 is profound, from war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, spying on the UN, abuses in Guantanamo Bay and countless details of corrupt US allies.
Manning’s motivations were never about financial gain nor destroying America; he is the ultimate prisoner of conscience, as his moving testimony proved during the trial. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange rightly said this week that Manning and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, both young men dedicated to risking their freedom in the pursuit of revealing truths about US power, should be seen as heroes.
Even after this week’s verdict, many in the US media continue to regard Manning as a sideshow and prefer, as independent journalist Jeremy Scahill told Democracy Now!, to focus on trivial stories. “There has been more coverage of the indictment of that Real Housewives lady and her husband than there has been of Bradley Manning,” Scahill said. “This is the state of media in this country right now, and it is just devastating that we don’t have a media culture that says this should have been gavel-to-gavel coverage.”
The precedent set by the Manning decision is clearly aimed at intimidating media outlets that dare to publish leaked information likely to embarrass the government. After all, White House-friendly stories appear every day after sanctioned drops to insider journalists. Witness the orgy of pro-Barack Obama yarns after the murder of Osama Bin Laden, where classified information was shared by officials when it was convenient to praise the heroic President.
Manning’s conviction was guaranteed because the US military and the security state could not allow a relatively low level intelligence official free without him paying a price as an example to others. The Obama administration wants Americans and the world to know that it prefers to prosecute whistle-blowers who reveal crimes than the perpetrators of the acts themselves. There have been no successful cases brought against government officials who ordered the torture, murder and assassination of innumerable civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and the “global war on terror”. Instead, Obama has pursued more whistleblowers than every previous US administration combined. This is what being a “liberal” President apparently means.
Sometimes unjust laws must be broken. This is what Daniel Ellsberg believed when he released the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s in an attempt to stop the brutal Vietnam War. Ellsberg has been a long-time supporter of Manning and this week said that the conflicts may have changed but the need for whistleblowers had not. “When I hear Bradley Manning and when I read what he said in the chat logs and whatever, I’m hearing myself when I was twice his age 40 years ago”, he said.
“I know my motives and I perceive the same motives in his case, in each case actually, to save lives, to shorten a wrongful, hopeless, stalemated war, and to do so by informing the public and challenging them to live up to the Constitution in an unconstitutional war, to live up to ideals of democracy and of nonaggression, rather than fighting an aggressive war, as Iraq, the war that Manning was involved in, was an aggressive war from start to finish”.
In a society that is increasingly monitored and recorded, recent revelations by Edward Snowden confirmed our worst fears about the US surveillance state, the role of whistleblowers and organisations like Wikileaks become even more important. Embedded journalism has left many global citizens in the dark about the actions of their governments since 9/11 (though encouragingly, latest poll figures in the US indicate a majority of people now oppose rampant state breaches of privacy). Adversarial journalism, ably assisted by leaks that shame the powerful, will not stop because the Obama administration wants them to. The internet doesn’t work that way and I believe it’s our responsibility, as citizens and journalists, to challenge the increasingly authoritarian streak of the Western state.
How should this happen? It’s equally relevant in America as in Australia. Whistleblowers here, including the recent expose on SBS Dateline by a former British multinational G4S employee detailing allegations of rape and abuse on Manus Island, should be praised and supported. In my own work, including new book Profits of Doom, I rely on explosive testimony from a senior Serco whistleblower who outlines the price-gouging, lack of care towards guards and asylum seekers and corruption within the corporation. This is an undeniable public service to the debate about warehousing refugees by private companies.
It is our responsibility as reporters, whether professional or amateur, to encourage the leaking of information from within corporations and the state that has no business remaining private. We’re beyond playing nice with authorities that are scared of material the public has the right to know. Let the leakers roam free.
The Manning verdict is a call to arms for the activists, journalists, whistle-blowers, hackers and citizens who refuse to accept that the only information we deserve to consume is given the tick of approval by a public relations office. Julian Assange remains a target for US prosecutors, arguably even more so after the Manning conviction. Washington will not tolerate an outsider, an Australian no less, releasing cables that reveal the dirty reality of the US empire.
It’s no wonder Edward Snowden fears returning to America and currently resides in Russia. Only a fool would believe the US Attorney General Eric Holder who was forced to recently issue a statement declaring the whistleblower would be treated fairly back home and not given the death penalty. The world laughed in response.
The true face of American justice has never been clearer after the Manning verdict. The Guardian writer Gary Younge tweeted the most perfect response.