On Trial: Private First Class Bradley Manning

June 6, 2013 1:06 pm

The court-martial of PFC Bradley Manning began on Monday the 3rd of June, three years after his initial arrest. Manning, who is responsible for one of the biggest leaks of classified documents in history has already pleaded guilty to 10 of 22 charges.

Bradley Manning, Whistle-blowing hero or law-breaking traitor? The answer depends very much on who you ask. To some he is a soldier with a conscience that revealed the dark underbelly of the US military. To others, however, he is seen as a dangerous, gender confused enemy of the state that should be treated in the same way as any other “enemy combatant”. The charges he currently stands accused of range from espionage and embezzlement to aiding the enemy (a charge that carries the death penalty or a possible life sentence if he is found guilty of it although the court has stated that they will not be seeking the death penalty). At the start of the trial a prosecutor even went as far as to claim that the now (supposedly) deceased Osama Bin Laden had received leaked information, but so far this remains unproven.

Supporters wearing Anonymous masks

Supporters wearing Anonymous masks

During the opening statements made at a military courtroom in Fort Meade, Maryland, the prosecutions Capt Joe Morrow described the case as an example of what happens when “Arrogance meets access”. They would also state that Manning “Systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information on to the internet into the hands of the enemy” and will try to prove this was done in a malicious way to harm the interests of the American government. The defence, quite obviously denies this. Manning’s lawyer David Coombs claimed in their opening statement that Bradley was “young, naive and good-intentioned” when he first arrived in Iraq.

But this did not last long. On Christmas eve of 2009 Manning was called out to investigate a roadside bomb attack on a passing military convoy near the base. After the incident in which five civilian Iraqis were also caught up, one women being injured then later dying on here way to hospital, Bradley became disillusioned when his comrades began celebrating that there were no US soldiers injured. Afterwards the 25 years old intelligence analyst began to struggle. He kept thinking about the family caught up in the bombing as well as having his own internal conflict with his gender. Manning began to develop a need to “make a difference in the world” and began collecting sensitive material that he thought when released into the public domain would “make the world a better place”.

The prosecution disagrees claiming that during his time in Iraq Manning searched for the open information website Wikileaks over 100 times and was trying to collect documents on the now infamous Wikileaks “most wanted list”. It also states that these actions were in direct violation of his training and that he was essentially dumping secrets into the hands of adversaries and enemies. The defence argues this point by claiming Manning had access to millions of classified documents yet the fact that only 700,000 were leaked in total proves he was being “selective” and only choosing material that would not aid the enemy or cause direct harm to the United States. Manning claims he merely wanted “open up the debate of how we regard human life” and that the actions of his fellow soldiers troubled him.

When asked about the trial, former computer hacker and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange labelled it a “show trial”. The Manning defence was also keen to point out that at no point was Bradley ever taking orders from Wikileaks or Assange despite the prosecution aiming to prove the opposite via web chat logs between Manning and someone they hope to prove was Assange. The prosecution has already used evidence from a chat log with another former hacker, Adriano Lamo, who had originally alerted the authorities to Manning. They quoted Manning as to say “If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day, seven days a week, eight-plus months, what would you do?”.

Which is a valid point from Bradley, If you had access to hundreds of thousands of documents some of which showed the abuse and murder of innocent civilians or explained how the first world exploits the third in graphic detail from an insider’s perspective what would you do?

Assange Manning

Julian Assange shows his support for Bradley Manning

The helicopter airstrike video that displayed the intentional killing of two Reuters journalists as well as several civilians with two little girls being among those injured displayed the trigger happy nature of the American Military for all to see. Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the University of Maryland’s college of journalism has stated that In the past reporters from the media who managed to obtain classified information would go on to negotiate the details they would publish with senior government officials. Manning, She said, “uploads it to an anonymous site and it goes around the world almost instantly. They see that and say, ‘Oh my God, we are screwed.’”

Whether Bradley Manning is proven guilty or not no longer really matters any more. He has never denied leaking the documents. He has already exposed the guilt of the US military in the unethical way they go about their foreign policy and the complete disregard for human life that would appear, in the eyes of Manning, to be abundant among its staff. Whatever they sentence him will be wrong anyway. How he has even come to stand trial for doing things that some consider to make him a true patriot is beyond the majority of us that still try to believe that good will eventually conquer all evil. The guy did nothing more than show the American people what is being done in their names overseas and without people like Manning and Assange there is not much hope for transparency in areas such as this.

One thing is certain though, should Manning have the book thrown at him it could have dire consequences for civil liberties and freedom of speech not just overseas in America, but also around the world. The world needs people watching the watchers. The world needs people who are willing to go to prison to expose corruption and injustice in whatever form they may take. The world needs people like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange to shine a light on the things that are intentionally kept in the dark.

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  • Guilherme Joshua Fantini Blake

    The whole thing is incredibly depressive. Whatever happens from now on, Manning (already a pretty fragile guy) has already suffered pain and humiliation I don’t think he could ever completely recover from. He was silly, lacked caution and broke the law, but still…poor dude.

    • It is definitely depressing. His treatment has already been called harsh from the military judge residing. Although he did break the law I don’t think he did wrong. It’s a real shame he’ll probably go down for a long time.

  • John Barkworth

    Whilst I voted no on the poll (I certainly do not think he deserves life in prison), I do think his actions were reckless and potentially could have endangered other peoples lives. It is very easy for us to feel sorry for him on the grounds that essentially he was just trying to give us information about stuff that might be politically bad or wrong – but even so, laws are laws and the guy must have known that before he did what he did. He should pay for his actions, however noble, or however stupid, but I reckon 3-5 years would more than suffice and actually I would say 3 years would be about right, with bail after 2.

    • Guilherme Joshua Fantini Blake

      I’m inclined to agree. Unfortunately I don’t think the USA government will ever let him be, but in an ideal world he’d get any treatment he needs, pay his time and then move on with his life.

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