Time to Reevaluate the Importance of Bradley Manning’s Alleged Leak?

Back when WikiLeaks leaked the Collateral Murder video, I was agnostic about the value of the leak. Surely, exposing the cover-up of the killing of the Reuters journalists was important. But I thought the response focused too much on the soldiers who had been trained to respond the way they had, and too little on the architects of the policies that put them in that dehumanizing position.

I personally didn’t delve much into the Afghan cable dump, so I never really assessed its value. And with the sole exception of the Iran hiker cable–which the NYT left dangerously unredacted to make one of its pet points–I found the Iraq cables to be redacted beyond the point of usefulness.

And so it was that in the early days after the State cable release when Joe Lieberman was intervening to try to prevent publication of WikiLeaks, Joe Biden was calling Julian Assange a high tech terrorist, and Sarah Palin was advocating hunting down WikiLeaks like al Qaeda, I was somewhat agnostic on the value of the massive leaks WikiLeaks released. When Floyd Abrams was trying to distinguish “good” leaker Daniel Ellsberg from “bad” alleged leaker Bradley Manning, I knew there had been revelations important to my issues, but I wasn’t sure how Manning’s alleged leak would measure up across time.

That seems like a long, long time ago.

And while we don’t yet know how the State Department cable leaks will weather history, the importance of the leak now seems beyond question. Consider the way the NYT–the Administration’s mole in the press corps–continues to rely on the cable leaks even while it disdains Julian Assange as a bag lady. Indeed, on some stories the NYT is getting scooped on by their former reporters, they use cables as a crutch to catch up.

The NYT is not alone; it seems news outlets around the world have grown accustomed–and downright happy–that these sources are all out there to help them do their jobs.

And consider the range of stories we’ve seen. We’ve seen American pressure on allies to put counterterrorism policies–both data collection and torture–ahead of democracy. We’ve seen how our troops in Iraq knowingly turned over Iraqis to be tortured. We’ve seen our allies in the Middle East promising to cause democratic elections not to take place. And while I definitely don’t think WikiLeaks “caused” the Middle Eastern uprising, they did make it hard for Western elites to defend their former client dictators once the uprisings started.

Over time, I think one of the most damning lessons from the State cables will be evidence of the tolerance for bribery and looting that rots our foreign policy. Thus far, we’ve seen details of our allies’ oil bribery, our disinterest in doing anything about Hosni Mubarak’s or Muammar Qadaffi’s or the Saudis’ looting, We’ve also seen how our government apparently threw its investigation of rich tax cheats to get Switzerland to take three of our Gitmo detainees. Our government complains about the corruption of other countries. But as WikiLeaks makes clear, those complaints are mostly just for public show.

Our government may hate all these disclosures. But they are disclosures we, as citizens, need to demand our government deliver on its promise of democracy.

After all this time, it seems, El Pais editor Javier Moreno seems to have had the right read on these leaks.

A democracy comprises diverse elements: institutions and rules; free and fair elections; independent judges and a free press, among others. At the bottom of all this there are legal procedures. When these are flouted, all the rest is put at risk.

We have come to accept the difference between the government that we elect every five years, and the military, bureaucratic, and diplomatic apparatus that it is sustained by, but that all too often it fails to control. The WikiLeaks cables have confirmed this beyond any doubt.

Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers proved our government systematically lied about the war in Vietnam. The WikiLeaks dumps have proved that our government systematically lies about democracy.

  1. bobschacht says:

    A thoughtful piece, EW.

    Has truth become a commodity? Useful to have, useful to use, but fungible?
    Has the word “honesty” become a lame, somewhat outdated word, along with “integrity” and “accountability”?

    Welcome to the Gray World, where there is no black or white, just shades of gray.

    How do Republicans deal with that, while exhibiting moral certitude?

    Bob in AZ

  2. PeasantParty says:

    Anytime the media is blacking out and especially our government, it means there is something to hide.

    The thing that bothers me the most about this is that Manning is being treated like a terrorist and has not even had a trial or real hearing yet.

  3. WilliamOckham says:

    NBC Breaking News – U.S. Army charges Pvt. 1st Class Bradley Manning with 22 charges of downloading and transmitting classified information

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      A protection racket for corporatists. Mr. Manning may have violated certain laws, though the government has been slow to charge him, let alone prove them, but quick to hold him virtually incommunicado and under extreme, tortuous, mind-altering conditions. He seems unlikely, however, to have violated their spirit or the spirit of democracy, and more likely to be due the protections we claim to afford whistleblowers.

      It no longer seems perverse – viewed from the perspective of an administration that confuses the kaleidoscope for the telescope – that prosecutors have indicted an octogenarian for handing out leaflets outside the courthouse in lower Manhattan, reminding passersby that the right of jury nullification is a centuries’ old tradition beloved of our Founding Fathers. Mr. Manning, though, will have no civilian jury.

      The death penalty or long incarceration are absurd penalties for Mr. Manning’s “crimes”. The administration is really aiming at hundreds or thousands of would be Mannings, long frustrated during the darkness of the Cheney years, and laid low by the continuation of his excesses by a president that ran for office as a constitutional scholar. There is much that they have to tell, and a public hungry to hear it.

      Consequently, this is another “big stick” that the un-Rooseveltian Obama is swinging in the glass factory of democracy against would be revealers of government excesses, wrongdoing and crimes. Cartoonist Walt Kelly had it right all along:

      We have met the enemy and he is us.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      God forbid that anyone ever be convicted for treason for outing a CIA agent; especially a CIA agent tracking WMD. Apparently, WikiLeaks is far more dangerous.

      On a more encouraging note, guardian.uk is reporting that Dreamworks has purchased movie rights to WikiLeaks. Looks like Alex Gibney may also be using his talents to help explain WikiLeaks.

      And as someone who has neither time, nor resources, to dig in to all of the WikiLeaks docs that I might like to, just a shout-out to EW and Jane for helping me understand their larger significance.

      However, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if we ever discovered that part of the pressure to screw Manning is coming from oil company exec suites, hedge fund managers, and bankster execs. I think there are plenty of private interests who’d like to villify Manning, and they’ll do their utmost to ‘send a message’ and make everyone else cower.

    • MadDog says:

      Per the website of Manning’s lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel David Combs:

      This is the Military Judges’ Benchbook instruction on the elements of the offense of Article 104.



      (1) That (state the time and place alleged), the accused, without proper authority, knowingly gave intelligence information to (a) certain person(s), namely: (state the name or description of the enemy alleged to have received the intelligence information);

      (2) That the accused did so by (state the manner alleged);

      (3) That (state the name or description of the enemy alleged to have received the intelligence information) was an enemy; and

      (4) That this intelligence information was true, at least in part.


      “Intelligence” means any helpful information, given to and received by the enemy, which is true, at least in part.

      “Enemy” includes (not only) organized opposing forces in time of war, (but also any other hostile body that our forces may be opposing) (such as a rebellious mob or a band of renegades) (and includes civilians as well as members of military organizations). (“Enemy” is not restricted to the enemy government or its armed forces. All the citizens of one belligerent are enemies of the government and the citizens of the other.)

      • MadDog says:

        I wonder if this particular charge against Manning is an indication of the US government’s categorization of Julian Assange.

        Namely, that Julian Assange, for the purposes of the US Government, is considered an “Enemy”.

        I wonder if that is “under the laws of warfare” or merely the “criminal code”.

      • Teddy Partridge says:

        Does this

        All the citizens of one belligerent are enemies of the government and the citizens of the other.

        mean that I, as a citizen of the United States, am the enemy of every Pakistani, every Yemeni, every Somali, every Iraqi, and every citizen of Afghanistan? Sounds like it.

        • MadDog says:

          And the US government wonders why the rest of the world looks at us with, at a minimum, suspicion.

          The divergence between our own self-image and the rest of the world’s reality is a gap that can’t be spanned by any ruler.

      • sona says:

        what does it all mean?

        that assange is an enemy? if so, the cia has the carte blanche to off him as it sees fit? does australia know about this? more importantly, do australians? if they did, jg is burnt toast, she hasn’t yet recovered from her previous gaffe

        how does any body become a citizen of a belligerent who does not control a state?

        given that assange is australian and now declared an enemy, are all australians enemies now? particularly since assange’s popularity has soared among ordinary australians in defiance of political windbaggery

      • MadDog says:

        Assholes charged him while I was out looking for an apartment.

        You’re moving again? Not fun!

        …they’re just playing to the cameras.

        I still wonder if this move on Manning presages already made US government decisions regarding Wikileaks and Assange.

        As in: Must place heavy-duty charges against Manning in order to buttress any and all heavy-duty tactics/charges against Wikileaks and Assange.

        As in: We can’t declare Wikileaks and Assange unlawful enemy combatants/terrorist organizations (and hence no extraordinary renditions and Gitmo indefinite detentions) unless we first lay the groundwork by charging Manning with “aiding the enemy”.

        • emptywheel says:

          Still looking for a permanent place. We spent a long time contemplating buying, before I realized the banks have ruined private property. Spent a long time believing I needed to live close to the beach (the mistake I made when I first moved to SF). But we’re looking in Grand Rapids now. We’re close. I’ll be a much happier camper when I can walk places again.

          • MadDog says:

            I’ve always thought that living out in the boonies would be so appealing until you find out that going for essentials like groceries is almost a day long traipse.

            • emptywheel says:

              It’s sort of the conflict here. There’s superb farm land. So I gotta choose whether I want a farm in a fairly conservative culture or an urban place with diversity.

              I told Mr. EW that if we got the farm, we were gonna get a goat. So i think we’re going urban.

              • marymccurnin says:

                If you moved to Sonoma or Napa you could have both the countryside and the sophistication. It does get a little creepy sometimes. It is hard to be all cool in that urban way when you are stepping in cow shit.

          • CTuttle says:

            *heh* I know of some beachfront property, M’dear…! Poor old Roseanne Barr just got hit with a No Permit fine from the County, in which she’d hired some guys with a Bobcat to move some earth for her(I swear to god) ‘Nut Farm’…! *g*

      • bobschacht says:

        You were out looking for an *apartment*? Whoa! What’s going on here?
        …Sorry, I shouldn’t be prying. Oh, I see your answer @28. Good luck!

        Bob in AZ

      • skdadl says:

        Do you think? It’s my understanding that if the penalty is there as a potential, the judge may impose it, whether the prosecution seeks it or not.

        This is very hard for me to believe, just very hard. As I understand it, Manning may have violated a professional oath, but if he did that (and we still don’t know), he did it out of allegiance to a more important oath, to uphold and defend the constitution, and to principles of international law that are also American law.

        I think it’s time for an all-out offensive against the legal coteries at DoD and DoJ. Something is wrong there, very wrong. Is Karl Rove still running the place?

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers proved our government systematically lied about the war in Vietnam. The WikiLeaks dumps have proved that our government systematically lies about democracy.

    Writing and a comparison worthy of a successor to Izzy Stone.

  5. whitewidow says:

    Many individual revelations in the diplomatic cables have been important, but when you see what the big picture looks like, even when only 2m or so of the cables have been published, it’s clear what our “diplomacy” is actually about:

    1)Protecting and furthering the interests of powerful corporations above all other considerations

    2)Arms and military equipment sales

    This is not news to many who pay attention, but when you see it illustrated over and over, along with the hypocrisy and betrayal of democracy and “American Values” it’s pretty stunning in scope.

  6. Margaret says:

    Not a peep, not a whisper about Manning over at Daily Kos. Think they’d be so silent about the topic if Bush was still president? Yeah, neither do I.

  7. eCAHNomics says:

    What would the USG need to prove to convict Manning, assuming for the moments the court was honest?

  8. darkblack says:

    The WikiLeaks dumps have proved that our government systematically lies about democracy.

    Continuously, and for quite some time too – if one is inclined toward pattern analysis.


  9. waynec says:

    Margaret @ 22

    Do you suppose Assange has been quited about Manning by Assange’s attorney?

    • skdadl says:

      No. I know of no WikiLeaks supporter who isn’t a vocal supporter of Manning, and that’s a lot of people.

      WL have an ethical problem, and probably a genuine technical problem: they truly do not know who their sources are (unless that comes out by some other route), and the whole system depends on that. If they acknowledge any source as a source, they’re finished — no other whistleblower is going to trust them. So they don’t know, and even if they did, they couldn’t say. They can support Manning for his principled stand and they do, but that’s it.

  10. ACounter says:

    To me, the timing of the announcement and scope of charges, coming on the heels of UKs ruling to allow extradition indicates intent to ratchet up Assange’s fears for his future. Dark, dark stuff.

  11. jaango says:

    Had the Fourth Estate been doing their job constructively, Wikileaks would never have come to the forefront or even existed.

    In my last duty station while in the military, I worked exclusively with a variety of classied information, and had even greater access to more information. Thus, my security clearance was through the roof, and yet, I had the Common Sense for rejecting the prevailing Conventional Wisdom, and which led me to write that all this brouhaha is all about “classified” Gossip, and nothing more. People are desperate for creating their CYA Program. But the El Pais, a Spanish newspaper had the best editorial ever on this subject area.