Updated There is one part of this I have not addressed, one interested party who I have not considered. He is in some ways the "forgotten man" in the whole business, the central figure whose name often doesn't come up.
He is Private First Class Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst now held in the military prison at Quantico, Virginia on suspicion of being an American hero.
Manning, of course, is the man suspected of leaking documents to WikiLeaks including not only cablegate but the earlier documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars including the notorious "Collateral Murder" video. He was arrested in July.
In the media, he has been subjected to the typical combination of amateur psychoanalysis and subtle smears that always get inflicted on those who do not act in accordance with our sterilized "don't make waves, trust your betters" social norms.
He grew up, we've been told, and I emphasize that all that follows here is just a sample, "teased" and "taunted." He "had trouble fitting in at school," we hear. He was a high school dropout, "adrift," as he "hopscotched through various jobs" (including at a pizza parlor which for some reason was found relevant enough to specify) before enlisting.
But, the tale goes on, the military provided "no respite." He felt "alone, invisible," that his life was falling apart. He felt "he had no future." He was "anguished." "Isolated." And of course, of course, as just everyone seemed to think was starkly-stand-out relevant, he was a homosexual "bridling" under the demands of DADT.
"With doors closing all around him, Private Manning searched for a window." And so this "troubled young man," "fuelled by vanity," "used his proximity to sensitive documents to inflate his own sense of importance" and single-handedly destroyed, destroyed I say, the whole of international diplomacy.
And his reference to a hope that the leak might "actually change something?" That wasn't a reference to US foreign policy, oh no. It was a forlorn reflection on the conditions of his personal life.
In the face of all that, there's only one thing to do: We must tch-tch our way to sympathy for this obviously disturbed young man of the troubled childhood, the troubled adolescence, and the troubled young adulthood, the troubled soul who acted out of emotional desperation. Because, clearly, clearly, no sane person would do what he did. And we say that out of compassion, being unlike - and quite superior - to those who would have him killed as a traitor.
Or so we are by clear implication told.
In Quantico he is held in solitary confinement and is under a suicide watch, a status most often used as an excuse to humiliate a prisoner by stripping them of their belt, shoelaces, and anything sharp or breakable while implying (to them and to anyone outside) that they are not in their right mind.
But, it should be noted, there is another view of Bradley Manning, one that appears in the reporting of Denver Nicks. In it, he describes an incident that took place while Manning was still in school.
Bradley Manning, still effectively a boy, had few friends, and his family had all but fallen apart. In a time before Facebook and sustained long-distance friendships, he was leaving his two best friends for what could easily have been the last time.... He didn’t need to tell them he was gay in order to confess a hidden affection, to explain a behavior or even to allow his friends to know him better–in a short time he would be gone. And yet, presumably for no other reason than that he was who he was and wanted to live honestly in his own skin, he felt compelled, in a conservative, religious town, to confide in his friends that he was a homosexual. Not only must it have taken tremendous courage for such a young man, it displays a crucial aspect of Brad’s personality. As his Facebook profile still says today, “Take me for who I am, or face the consequences!”Nicks also punched holes in the "disturbed young man" theory of why Manning leaked the documents. He first demonstrated that Manning was likely the source of the so-called Reykjavik13 memo, published by WikiLeaks on February 18, 2010.
The timing debunks the overarching narrative in the media that Brad was an anti-social outcast lashing out at the world and crying for attention when he decided to leak military secrets,as this was several months before the exchanges with Adrian Lamo, the creep who turned him in and whose last name, if there is any justice in the world, is pronounced with long vowels.
Over the next several months[ after February], when Brad may have leaked most of the documents, he appears happy and carefree,Nicks reports.
In his own words, Manning hoped the cables would spur “worldwide discussion, debates, and reform.”
I want people to see the truth[, he said,]… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.Combine that and Nicks' reporting with the frequent media references to Manning's "liberal" or "progressive" Facebook entries and you have the makings of the psychological profile not of a "troubled young man" but of a variety of '60s radical, someone who grew up believing in the US of the civics classes but who ultimately was faced with proof that could not be denied that the US they had believed in was not the US that stood before them. Given the opportunity to act on that realization, he took it.
So, bottom line, as expressed by Sheldon Richman, writing in the Christian Science Monitor: "What are we to make of him?"
Is he a hero or a villain?I'm with him. Bradley Manning is an American hero. And he deserves to be recognized and supported as such.
I say hero. When a government secretly engages in such consequential activities as aggressive wars justified by at best questionable and at worst fabricated intelligence, covert bombings and assassinations, and diplomatic maneuvering designed to support such global meddling, the people in whose name that government acts – and who could suffer retaliation – have a right to know.
Be aware, however: There can be a price to be paid for that support, at least if you're vocal about it, as Glenn Greenwald has shown:
In July of this year, U.S. citizen Jacob Appelbaum, a researcher and spokesman for WikiLeaks, was detained for several hours at the Newark airport after returning from a trip to Holland, and had his laptop, cellphones and other electronic products seized -- all without a search warrant, without being charged with a crime, and without even being under investigation, at least to his knowledge. He was interrogated at length about WikiLeaks, and was told by the detaining agents that he could expect to be subjected to the same treatment every time he left the country and attempted to return to the U.S. ...The government is expanding its intensifying campaign against WikiLeaks to include those who have supported Bradley Manning. That, however, should not be taken as a sign to back off but to step up.
November 3, David House, a 23-year-old researcher who works at MIT, was returning to the U.S. from a short vacation with his girlfriend in Mexico, and was subjected to similar and even worse treatment. House's crime: he did work in helping set up the Bradley Manning Support Network, an organization created to raise money for Manning's legal defense fund, and he has now visited Manning three times in Quantico....
So I say Free Bradley Manning! No, I have no expectation that will happen. But some things should be said just because they should be said, not because you expect them to happen. Free Bradley Manning! Free the American hero.
A Footnote: In a footnote because it refers to someone who deserves to be no more than a footnote. It is frequently mentioned that it was in conversations with the Lame-o guy where Manning described how he obtained the documents he leaked. What I have yet to see mentioned anywhere other than a Glenn Greenwald piece (if it's out there, someone tell me) is that Lame-o lied to Manning, getting him to open up by telling him he was a journalist and he continued to pump him for details even after he - that is, Lame-o - had informed federal cops what Manning had said.
Lame-o, himself a convicted hacker, sanctimoniously allowed as how he hopes that Manning has "the same chance" to "reinvent" himself as he did - such "reinvention" apparently to include becoming a government snitch.
One other Footnote: Sheldon Richman, it develops, is a real right-wing/libertarian type, one of those who believes laissez-faire capitalism is the answer to everything and rails against "collectivism." It bears repeating yet again: Issues surrounding personal privacy, government secrecy, and civil liberties mark an area where left and right can combine and overlap in unusual ways.
Updated to say that in comments, Sheldeon Richman says my description of him is incorrect; he describes himself as a "left-libertarian, an anarchist" who "reject[s] historical capitalism as a system of inexcusable privilege." I stand corrected.