A newspaper journalist recently wrote a piece with a headline that I thought was extremely thought provoking. It said who is Bradley Manning? and why should we care?
These are two questions that I happen to think are worth taking the time and the trouble to answer here on this blog.
So let me begin with the who question.
Bradley Manning is a private in the U.S. military. He was an intelligence analyst. I say was, because he faced a raft of extremely serious criminal charges for deliberately leaking quite a lot of what he saw and read while doing his job.
Maybe I am understating it just a tad.
In fact he was responsible for the biggest leak of intelligence information in US history.
Manning is a diminutive, nerdy, ordinary looking man with glasses who comes from a town nobody’s ever heard of in Oklahoma. He has a lot of personal demons but is lucky to have a family that loves him.
He is also in prison for a very, very long time for what he has done.
Which brings me to the next question: Why should we care?
it might help by knowing precisely what Bradley Manning stands accused of in the leaking department.
He admitted to sending more than 470 thousand American Army battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, 250 thousand U.S. State Department diplomatic cables and a lot of other material including a number of battlefield video clips to the whistle-blowing website, Wikileaks, which later published most of them online.
Manning said at one point during a pre-trial hearing that his reason for deciding to leak the material was because he wanted to expose the military’s “bloodlust” and its complete disregard for human life irrespective of whether they were friend or enemy.
He also wanted to expose what he described as American diplomatic deceit.
Manning said he deliberately chose information he believed would do no harm to the United States but might spark a public debate on foreign policy and the military.
Heavy duty stuff.
The next question that needs to be asked: Was Bradley Manning justified in doing all of this?
And here’s where it gets interesting.
Manning is the source of the leak of the so called “Collateral Murder Video.”
This was a video shot in 2007, from a U.S. Apache helicopter that fired on a group of civilians in Baghdad killing nine people including a Reuters photographer and his driver. Apparently the geniuses flying the helicopter mistook cameras for grenade launchers.
And if that isn’t bad enough. The tapes also show soldiers firing on a van that stopped to rescue the injured. The van was carrying two children and their father. All three were killed.
Now this video was released by Manning in 2010 but it was shot in 2007. So why, you might ask, did it take so long to reach the public domain? The answer is because American Army officials tried to suppress it for obvious reasons. In fact the Army claimed to have lost the video.
Manning said he discovered the footage in a judge advocate’s directory. Other documents released by Manning included one concerning a U.S. air strike that killed 147 civilians.
Manning’s revelations included evidence that the U.S. military was paying money to Afghan news services to run stories that favoured the US. and that contractors working for the U.S. Department of Defence hired child prostitutes.
Manning was ultimately betrayed by a convicted computer hacker and then faced a multitude of charges including the extremely serious offence of aiding and abetting the enemy.
He is lucky he wasn’t facing the death penalty.
A judge acquitted him of that charge but Manning was been found guilty of many other charges which means a large portion of the rest of his life will be spent in prison.
Clearly the authorities in the United States want to make an example of him. I suspect partly for revenge but more importantly to act as a deterrent to anyone else who might be tempted to follow in Bradley Manning’s footsteps.
I’d like to throw in a couple of other important questions of my own: Is he a traitor or a hero? A victim or a criminal? Does Bradley Manning deserve to have the book thrown at him? Well, does he?