Bradley Manning and the Ones Who Walk Away From Obama

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Glenn Greenwald scolds Obama supporters still sitting on their hands over the treatment of Bradley Manning. He also describes that treatment in detail:

Let’s review Manning’s detention over the last nine straight months:  23-hour/day solitary confinement; barred even from exercising in his cell; one hour total outside his cell per day where he’s allowed to walk around in circles in a room alone while shackled, and is returned to his cell the minute he stops walking; forced to respond to guards’ inquiries literally every 5 minutes, all day, everyday; and awakened at night each time he is curled up in the corner of his bed or otherwise outside the guards’ full view.  Is there anyone who doubts that these measures — and especially this prolonged forced nudity — are punitive and designed to further erode his mental health, physical health and will?  As The Guardian reported last year, forced nudity is almost certainly a breach of the Geneva Conventions; the Conventions do not technically apply to Manning, as he is not a prisoner of war, but they certainly establish the minimal protections to which all detainees — let alone citizens convicted of nothing — are entitled.

Manning is getting far worse treatment than Timothy McVeigh, Jared Loughner, or your run-of-the-mill serial killer. It’s important to remember here that Manning didn’t covertly leak classified information to a foreign enemy. He leaked classified information to a website knowing that all of it would eventually be published. That’s an important difference. Manning  knew that the U.S. government would know what information was leaked, and that it would know who would have access to the leaked information (everyone). The U.S. government has also conceded that it’s unlikely Manning’s leaks did any substantial harm.

That’s a much less serious offense than that of, say, Aldrich Ames, who secretly turned classified information over to a hostile nation, and whose treachery resulted in the deaths of CIA assets. Moreover, the government didn’t know the extent of the information Ames had sold, making the actual harm quite a bit worse. Yet Manning is also getting far worse treatment than Ames ever got.

So why is that? Here’s my guess: McVeigh, Loughner, and Ames merely killed people, or caused people to be killed. Their transgressions were despicable, but they didn’t splash any embarrassment back on the government itself (although you could argue that Ames embarrassed the government to some degree, at least in that it took so long for him to be discovered). Manning, on the other hand, embarrassed the government. In the community of people who believe government to be the noblest, most honorable, most vaunted possible calling, that’s a far worse offense. It’s probably the worst offense.

Manning embarrassed the Pentagon by revealing how easily a relatively low-ranking soldier could steal and pass off reams and reams of classified information. He embarrassed the State Department because the documents he leaked showed just how petty, vindictive, and underhanded U.S. diplomacy can be—for example, they showed that our Secretary of State ordered U.S. diplomats to spy on and collect DNA samples from leaders of other countries, including our allies. Manning also showed just how manipulative, back-stabbing, and ugly diplomacy can be in general. He exposed the personal peccadilloes and private lives of foreign leaders, and revealed that our own diplomats frequently gossiped about all of that. In short, Manning pierced the veil of high-minded sanctity in which high-ranking diplomats and heads of state tend to cloak themselves.

I don’t think Manning is the hero some have made him out to be. If he had leaked information to blow the whistle on some specific government wrongdoing, I’d be right there with the people celebrating him. But this seems more like a vindictive, reckless act undertaken by a guy who by all appearances had a grudge to bear—not to mention some likely psychiatric problems. He did break the law, and because what he did was more of a petulant information dump than genuine whistle-blowing, I’m fine with him being prosecuted for the laws he broke.

That said, he should only be prosecuted for the laws he broke, not the trumped up charges the military is now piling upon him. The government’s treatment of Manning is absolutely shameful. But it’s also revealing. Murder a government official, bomb a federal building with the aim of starting a violent revolution, covertly sell off national security secrets to America’s primary global enemy—for all of these acts you’ll be treated like a conventional criminal. Which is to say mostly humanely, with the same constitutional protections as those accused of less heinous crimes. (Unless they tag you as a terrorist.)

But make the wrong, self-important government officials look foolish, and boy will there be hell to pay.

Headline explanation here.

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112 Responses to “Bradley Manning and the Ones Who Walk Away From Obama”

  1. #1 |  Julian | 

    Your explanation for his treatment is flat-out wrong. I realize that, as a libertarian, you would love more than anything for government service itself to be responsible for this vile behavior, but it simply isn’t. He’s receiving the treatment he is for a few reasons.

    1) He’s an army guy being held by the Marines and the Marines, being perhaps the purest example of a secret little boys’ club ever to exist, can get real vindictive towards anyone they see as having broken the “rules” of being part of their club, even a part they consider an inferior branch. That Marines are trained to despise members of every other service makes his chances for decent treatment even less likely.

    2) Manning is a means to an end. The gov, and the Pentagon particularly, has made it plain for years now that their real target is Wikileaks ans its founder, Assange. If they can get Manning to say Wikileaks put him up to this and provided him with tools to effect the leak, then they can go after them for conspiracy. What we are seeing here is not “punishment” (he hasn’t even been convicted, afterall); it is an attempt to break a potential witness using techniques pioneered by Stalin(I wish that were an exaggeration). It is torture for the sake of show-trial testimony.

    3) They don’t actually have much of a case against Manning. They’ve been holding the guy for almost a year now without trial; not exactly what I’d call “speedy”. When prosecutors feel they have a solid case, they rush it; when they don’t, they stall for time. From everything that has been said publicly about his case one would think it open-and-shut, but that’s just your typical trial-by-media propaganda; the simple fact that they have delayed so long leads me to suspect that, like with the Guantanamo detainees, the government prosecutors have a real fear that they can’t make the charges stick. All they really have is the word of a felon/informant with a history of mental illness (Adrian Lamo), some easily fakeable chat logs, and the assurances of 1) another felon/informant (Lamo’s handler at Wired), and 2) an ex-FBI vigilante NSA contractor who happens to be the guy who busted and flipped Lamo’s handler, and has a personal interest (his salary) in ginning up digital spying fears. Given the treatment he has received, any confession Manning has made is likely suspect, and given the nature of the crime physical evidence is likely scant. His defense attorney need only ask that the prosecution prove that the person calling himself Manning in the chat logs is Manning to show how weak this case is.

    So while the treatment he has received is undeniably despicable, the idea that he is receiving it because his tormentors love and respect government service so much is simply laughable. There are real and obvious reasons for the illegal treatment he has received; one’s that do not further your political agenda.

  2. #2 |  witless chum | 

    After 911, bush decides to nuke Mecca. Is that brave? What if he sent someone in w/ a suitcase nuke, is that person brave?

    Bush is not brave.

    The guy who walks into Mecca with a suitcase nuke, says his prayers, and presses the button, obliterating himself along with his target damn well is.

    I don’t understand the objection to this. Brave does not equal praiseworthy. Plenty of brave Nazis and cowardly Jews were around in the 1940s, after all.

    You can respect bravery, like you respect honesty, IMO, but they’re empty of moral content.

  3. #3 |  James J.B. | 


    You didn’t answer the first – soldier burns village.

    As to the first – why is he brave – because he followed orders? Aren’t all of the SWAT officers brave by that definition? IsnT storming a home at 4 am a scary prospect?

    More to tge point – Would he be more brave if he publicized the plan as an immoral act by his state, instead of just killing millions b/c someone said so.

    Yes. There is a certain level of resolve that both killers and honorable soldiers possess. The difference is how they used that resolve. Bravery has a positive honorable component to it. If not, why aren’t ordinary killers brave? They “break the rules” challenge the status quo and risk it all for their goal.

    Hugh Thompson – brave. The men he stopped were US soldiers who were killing civilians in war. Those men were not brave. But, I imagine those men were doing it all, putting their lives on the line to fight a war- yet I say that they were not brave.

  4. #4 |  albatross | 


    Hey, I object to the idea that someone we’ve been reliably told by government and media sources is guilty might be innocent. Why, next you’ll be telling me that Steve Hatfill didn’t mail the anthrax letters, Richard Jewel didn’t set off that bomb at the Atlanta Olympics, and Wen Ho Lee didn’t really sell secrets to the Chinese.

  5. #5 |  Justthisguy | 

    As someone who used to have a security clearance, and promised not to tell anybody what I knew by virtue of that, I think he is guilty of violating that promise.

    Aside from that, I think he really was acting from his conscience, though not having thought through all of the consequences. If he’d said something like, “This is what I must do, though I hang for it!” I’d have thought better of him. His Oath to the Constitution is senior to all of his other obligations.

  6. #6 |  witless chum | 

    “You didn’t answer the first – soldier burns village.”

    If uses himself as the match, a la the 9-11 hijackers, I’d say yes. Otherwise, not especially.

    I think you’re using your own esoteric definition for bravery. And Hugh Thompson was brave in both the usual sense of physical courage and in the definition you’re using.

  7. #7 |  Deoxy | 

    Rob in CT,

    Yes, “Bush the Younger” was a terrible diplomat, I completely agree. Obama still manages to be significantly worse. That was pretty much my point, actually.

    It’s pretty sad when saying “they both stink”, but then pointing out that Obama manages to stink worse (his most impressive accomplishment, really) is a “right wing talking point”. Heck, Bush only won re-election because the idiot Dems put up an even bigger loser then him – Bush had low approval ratings because the RIGHT didn’t like him, either, OK?

    Gitmo is indeed, a bad place. Only compared to the known alternatives is is “pretty good” (which is what I was pointing out).

    And no, the socialized healthcare systems in most Western countries do NOT work as well as the US (I’ve been to several of them)… unless you have “connections”, of course. The very best are about as good as ours, unless you need some really cutting edge stuff, then the US is still better. This isn’t a “right-wing talking point”, it’s simply the truth as I’ve experienced it in extensive travels.

  8. #8 |  The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » Duh, Winning! | 

    […] this special agent Dodson won’t receive the “Manning Treatment” for being brave enough to expose this to the media and the American […]

  9. #9 |  When the whistle is too big | The Blog Farm - A Growing Blog Community | 

    […] Know Your “True Self” »When the whistle is too bigB Psycho has contributed 18 articles.Radley Balko recently noted the big fat Does-Not-Compute of Bradley Manning’s treatment while being held under […]

  10. #10 |  Morning Links | The Agitator | 

    […] Obama administration. Meanwhile, Bradley Manning rots in a cell, still without so much as a trial. I’ve written this before, but I think Manning’s real crime was that he embarrassed politicians. Digg […]

  11. #11 |  30 year lawyer | 

    Is he in military or civilian custody? If military, the FM governing confinement facilities appears to be violated.

  12. #12 |  When the whistle is too big « The Jefferson Tree | 

    […] the whistle is too big March 7th, 2011 | B Psycho – Psychopolitik has contributed 128 articles. Radley Balko recently noted the big fat Does-Not-Compute of Bradley Manning’s treatment while being held […]