DALLAS, January 10, 2012 – PFC Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old
Observers disagree on nearly every philosophical and political point, each side presenting equally compelling arguments to support the outcome they see in Manning’s future: death, prison or freedom. Under the surface of these arguments lay timeless, complicated philosophical questions that inspire passionate rhetoric from each side: what are the state’s rights to secrecy versus rights of the people to know their government’s actions committed in their name? In times of war, what is the value of an oath versus the moral obligation to act on one’s conscience in the face of atrocities? Can a nation fight against human rights violations while also violating human rights? And if the government wages expensive wars its citizen’s finance and warriors fight, should it be accountable for errors when they are made? If not, who watches the watchers? Answers to these questions reveal a growing political divide along statist and civil libertarian lines.
Government officials, many military members of all ranks, and civilians that passionately support the military believe Manning was a traitor who put American lives in harm’s way by leaking classified documents without a concern for the military consequences. This wholesale breach of secrecy was conducted through slow, methodical operations belying intent to inflict as much damage as possible to the government, the military, and the integrity of the War on Terror. Regardless of his motivations, Manning committed treason by breaking his oath of loyalty and abusing his trusted access, and therefore must suffer the consequences of his actions. If unpunished, Manning’s example could encourage future incidents of security breach with potentially unfathomable consequences.
When discussing the actual material leaked, hard-lined statists within both the civilian and military community believe that international diplomacy is a war of nationalism, so the American government can be trusted to act in
Civil libertarians inside the military pay close attention to this subject, and often both agree and disagree with the statist perspective. Most live and breathe government bureaucracy and see the need for government checks and balances. However, they often understand that transparency risks turning what once would have been inconsequential military incidents into strategically significant events. For a Private First Class to intentionally leak information that could have cost American lives and jeopardized their missions is unforgivable.
However, many were relying on the prosecution to prove Manning aided the enemy with the leaks and somehow endangered their fellow warriors; despite internal pressure from
They acknowledge that the Iraq War logs did reveal war crimes committed by members of the military, also how bureaucrats hindered the military’s progress. The brutal nature of the Iraqi provisional government against its own people was also made clear, and in some cases, the helplessness experienced by military leadership caught in the maelstrom of occupation and nation-building for a hostile population. The leaks also led to reforms in the military, which increased security and fortified weak procedures preventing future breaches, making
While most civilian statists agree with the military statist perspective, civil libertarians in the civilian community do not completely agree with their military counterparts, and are further divided between left and right extremes. On the right, the belief in limited government is strong, so while support for the military is absolute, the intentions of the bureaucrats that started War on Terror is questionable. Philosophically, many view terrorism as a tactic and waging war on it a way to perpetual war for perpetual peace. They believe secrecy equates unchecked power, and if a government is at war with a tactic or a brand of religious fanaticism that exists in the minds of individual men tied to no nation-state, endless war funnels power from the people to the state, transitioning republics into empires.
In terms of the case specifically, they point out that despite extreme political pressure, the prosecution failed to prove the material was harmful to the military. Asserting Manning should spend his life in prison or die because enemies could have used the leaked material sets a dangerous precedent for prosecuting political enemies of the state. Many charge that terrorists will use anything for propaganda means, and by General Stanley McChrystal’s own math, the crimes committed were more likely to recruit terrorists than a video referring recruits to WikiLeaks. It was, however, embarrassing to the bureaucrats of the world, which were caught deceiving each other and their own people. Most civil libertarians advocate either release or a minimum prison sentence of 10-20 years.
On the left, liberals portray Manning as a hero, freedom fighter and patriot. They see the entire affair through a political lens with WikiLeaks and Manning as architects of truth for revealing the moral depravity of
This loyalty comes from the belief that Manning’s actions revealed how corrupt world leaders lie to the people for their own benefit. Most do not support the military, the War in
When President Obama declared Manning guilty without trial, many saw the statement as an authoritarian streak unconcerned with due process. As bureaucrats launched grand jury investigations on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in an unsuccessful effort to uncover evidence of criminality, that demonstrated that corrupt government will reach far and wide to destroy their opponents. When confronted with charges of torture, a respected State Department spokesperson resigned after slamming the Pentagon over Manning’s treatment, calling it “counterproductive and stupid,” indicating Manning was not treated as if he was innocent until proven guilty. Leftists see this as proof of inhumane treatment. They march and rally for Manning’s release every few months and plan to demonstrate in mass if he receives anything less than exoneration.
The above views are all perspective-oriented, political and philosophical, however, a distraction from the larger issue. Instead of debating unanswerable questions about oaths and conscience, or bickering about the political semantics of the case, Americans have an unprecedented opportunity to engage in a clear, unemotional review of the functioning habits of our own government. “All worthwhile information in Washington is ‘classified’ one way or another. The functioning of our republic has come to depend upon government that leaks “secrets” like radioactive uranium spins off electrons. Excessive secrecy and the countervailing need to share information only exacerbate and complicate the situation,” Christopher Hitchens wrote six years ago. Manning proved him right.
Respectable agencies tasked with protecting America must guard our secrets very well, but politicians also dispense these “secrets” to the media and the public to suit their needs. Under the Obama Administration, this has escalated. Multiple expose-style reports have documented how the national-security establishment uses state secrecy to manipulate the world-wide media and its citizenry beyond levels conducive to maintaining democracy. Now with the National Defense Authorization Act (signed into law as of January 1st) establishing unprecedented Constitutional breaches allowing for indefinite detainment of citizens simply suspected of a terrorist act, we should be incredibly alarmed. Knowledge and information is power, and while a functioning military must have confidentiality, a government of free people, must be held accountable to the court of public opinion.
Perhaps Bradley Manning should be punished if he violated his oath - otherwise there is no value in the oath - but instead of allowing politics and ideology to divide us, the American people should use this opportunity not to characterize PFC Bradley Manning as either an idealistic whistleblower or narcissistic turncoat, but to evaluate our relationship with our own government. Rarely do we have such an opportunity, where the classified information is already public record, for an honest, open dialogue regarding the national-security state. And whether it is still operated by the citizen, for the citizen, both civilian and military.
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