Interview with Chase Madar on Bradley Manning and US transparency

In the final part of my interview with The Nation's Chase Madar, we discuss Manning's actions, and why people should learn more about him. Photo: Bradley Manning / File

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2015 –  Journalist Chase Madar of The Nation, is a civil rights attorney in New York and the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower (Verso). As an expert on the courtmartial of Bradley Manning, we previously spoke about the legal proceedings and allegations surrounding Manning.

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Madar seeks to explain who Bradly Manning is.  An intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, Bradley Manning was arrested, imprisoned in solitary confinement for nine months, and court-martialed for leaking nearly half a million classified government documents, including the infamous “Collateral Murder” gunsight video. 

The Crescent, Oklahoma native is 25-years-old and will most like never be a free citizen again if he is found guilty of “aiding and abetting a known enemy.”

In this next installment of our interview, Madar now explains the impact of the Army Private’s actions, asks why there is not more outrage from the American people concerning the government’s treatment of Manning.

Mostly, Madar addresses why Americans should learn more about the whistleblower in order to better understand why Bradley Manning is a necessary (one may say) evil in our fight for a better America.

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Kevin Kelly: Manning claimed that one of the reasons why he released these documents was because he wanted to spur a debate on actions taken by our government overseas. Do you believe he’s succeeded in doing that?

Chase Madar: In a way it’s too soon to tell because we’re still digesting these leaks. There has not been the kind of radical instant gratification that he might have hoped for, that I might have hoped for in a real course correction in U.S. foreign policy.

In a mass awareness of the damage that the Iraq War has done, that other policies have done, but those people that want to know whether its advocacy groups, journalists, concerned citizens, now have access to a lot more knowledge. It’s coming out in books, Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett’s new book about Iran, “Going to Tehran,” builds on the leaks. Very important book.

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David Keen’s “Useful Enemies.” Very important book. Jeremy Scahill, the great national security correspondent for The Nation magazine talks about how important the leaks are for his reporting. They have really nourished our understanding of how the world works.

If you look at real concrete effects you have the uprising in Tunisia in which the leaks played a small but important role in sparking things because people saw a very candid account from the U.S. Ambassador whom they trust as a reliable source about crazy levels of nepotism and corruption in the autocratic government there, and people rose up and threw out that government.

You see tangible benefits in Iraq where accounts of atrocities committed especially in Haditha, the Haditha massacre, which didn’t make much of an impact here in the United States, but in the country where they happened they make a much bigger impact. That’s to be expected. U.S. foreign policy of course has a much bigger impact in the places where we invade, conquer, occupy than it does here at home.

The effect of that news in Iraq was to stir up a lot of anger, a lot of justified anger I think against the U.S. military presence as a consequence when Washington was trying to keep combat troops in Iraq with the condition that they be granted legal immunity. The Iraqi government had to say no. There was too much public pressure and volatile pressure against granting legal immunity to American soldiers and other coalition soldiers after these news accounts of atrocities came out and really pissed off a lot of Iraqis, again, justifiably.

As a consequence they said no sorry we can’t grant you immunity, and the U.S. said okay well if you can’t grant our troops legal immunity then we have to get out of here.

That’s an entirely good thing. That’s something very much in line with what the American people and the great majority want, for people to get out of Iraq, to get the U.S. out of Iraq. That’s a good impact. It’s hard to gage exactly how much is due to Wikileaks, but I think we can give it some credit.

There are a lot of small things too around the world, political reforms in the Dominican Republic. It’s made front page news in India week after week after week because people are concerned about what they read there, and it has a bigger effect there than it does here. I think it’s kind of bratty to say oh these leaks haven’t done anything. The ball is in our court when it comes to doing something with these leaks.

The information is an end in itself, but it’s really a means to an end. We need to build our own political muscle, political organization, without which the political change in our foreign policy is going to be possible. Information doesn’t do anything unless there’s political muscle, and political organization to give it some power.

Kelly: Why do you believe more Americans are not mobilizing or outraged over how the government has treated Bradley Manning?

The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower by Chase Madar

The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower by Chase Madar


Madar: Two reasons. First of all, the propaganda from the government has been that this guy is a traitor, he helped bin Laden, he’s a national security threat, and a lot of people who are not acquainted with the issue are just going to believe that. That’s why we need media at every level from college newspaper, community newspaper, websites, and radio to get the word out.

To get the word out in a way that’s appealing to people that they can understand. That’s what I am trying to do, and I think that’s what you’re trying to do, to counteract this propaganda barrage. Second reason is that the - I write about this in a whole chapter of my book, the incredibly harsh conditions that Bradley Manning was held under for his first eleven months, this harsh punitive isolation, not even allowed to do exercise in his cell, stripped naked at the end of some nights and made to stand to attention that way, deprived of his glasses, having to respond every five of his waking minutes to a guard questioning him if he was okay.

This is torture. It’s psychological torture, and should be seen as such. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendes called it cruel and inhumane treatment. Which given the complicated politics between the U.N. and the United States I think that’s as far as he could realistically go. These conditions, harsh as they are, are not that exceptional in the United States.

I would love to tell you that these harsh conditions are a complete anomaly, are an egregious exception to American values and American penal culture and penal standards, but they aren’t. We have between seventy and one hundred thousand people in long term solitary confinement being driven insane slowly, and that is a form of torture. Our Supreme Court came within a whisker of recognizing that solitary is torture back in 1890.

I guess we’re just a lot tougher than our ancestors were in 1890. I say that sarcastically, but pretrial solitary confinement-that’s not the norm, but it happens. Usually without so much controversy or news, unless exotic or sensational cases. A lot of people are used to it and see it as the norm, and it shouldn’t be the norm. I learned about the extent or overuse of solitary confinement in the United States by learning about the Manning case. A lot of people have learned about it through the Manning case, and the real horror of the way Manning was treated isn’t that it was exceptional, but that it’s completely normal and deeply within the grain of how we do things in the United States right now, and that’s truly scary.

Kelly: With so much uncertainty in the world, what advice would you give to the young people of this nation/generation?

Madar: I’ll give some advice that’s related to this Manning case. You’ve got to know what’s going on. This idea that it’s some kind of special elite privilege to know what your government is doing-that’s complete bull.

If we’re ever going to have justice, if we’re ever going to have a functioning middle class society, then we need to know what’s going on.

People need to get their oars in the water in a rational way, and be plugged into politics. I don’t care if they’re libertarian or Democratic down the line voters or even Tea Party people, but there has to be some connection with reality. You get that by reading the news, you get that from talking to people, and you get that by thinking critically about things.

That’s what Bradley Manning represents.

I think this critical rational spirit, and in a way that’s why he is being punished. I think he did the rational thing by leaking these things. That may sound like a weird tepid phrase, but our foreign policy has just been dominated by irrational craziness.

Especially for the past dozen years after 9/11, and if we’re going to tame it and get it under control and stop perpetrating these disasters in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and perhaps down the line in Iran. We need to start thinking rationally using our heads, and Bradley Manning is an excellent kind of secular patron saint for that kind of spirit.

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Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is currently a college student majoring in History and Political Science. His writings have appeared in The Daily Local, Lew’s blog, The Washington Times,, and Freedom’s Phoenix Online Digital Magazine. He has been a popular guest political contributor to numerous national radio shows across the country, offering his perspective on a wide array of issues. 

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