American Hero Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years

by on August 21, 2013 · 14 comments

in American Empire, Civil Rights, Military, War and Peace, World News

Bradley ManningComparisons between WikiLeaks and Pentagon Papers cases raise serious questions about government and judicial discretion.

By David Gespass/Military Law Task Force

Today, Bradley Manning was sentenced to thirty-five years for the “crime” of revealing the seamy underside of US diplomacy and war-making. The sentence is substantially less than sixty years the prosecution asked for, but greater than what the defense requested. It was predicated on alleged damage done to the US, though it remains unclear what actual damage, aside from embarrassment, occurred. Indeed, the idea that transparency is damaging is one that should shock the conscience of any patriot, if one defines patriotism as something other than blind obeisance to whatever one’s government says.

Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, told the court that “(his) biggest crime was he cared about the loss of life he was seeing and was struggling with it.” That, in fact, is what drove the government in its excessive and relentless attacks, inside and outside the courtroom, on Bradley Manning. That is what Barack Obama’s promise of the “most transparent” administration in history has devolved into. Everyone in the country; nay, everyone the world over, should be outraged at his prosecution and sentence. But for Manning, Reuters still would not know what happened to its correspondents, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, the day they were gunned down by an American air strike. And the world would not know the callousness of the Americans doing the killing, who had no regrets about also shooting a man and a young boy who came to assist the wounded and dead.

So, what is the legacy of Bradley Manning, his prosecution and sentencing? It dates back some forty years and tells us more about the shift of power to an ever-more-secretive, imperial and imperious government from a population that has become less resistant and more pliable.

What should become an iconic photograph of Daniel Ellsberg shows him in front of his bookcase with a handwritten sign in large letters saying “I was Bradley Manning” and, under that, in smaller letters, “Pentagon Papers 1971?” There are striking parallels between Ellsberg and his collaborator, Anthony Russo, and Bradley Manning and now, Edward Snowden. All had security clearances giving them access to classified information. All became disillusioned, or at least disaffected, by the US government’s failure to level with the American people about issues critical to their lives. All became the targets of aggressive prosecutions with the president leading the charge.

There are, however, significant differences as well. The information Ellsberg and Russo leaked was more highly classified than that leaked by Manning and Snowden. The New York Times and the Washington Post responded to Ellsberg and Russo and determined to publish the Pentagon Papers in the face of lawsuits from the government. Only Wikileaks would take Bradley Manning’s calls. The Times and Post stood behind Ellsberg and Russo but the Times, even after publishing some of Manning’s revelations, abandoned him under cover of its dispute with Wikileaks. Most importantly, the prosecution of Ellsberg and Russo collapsed and the charges were dismissed in the light of government misconduct. While it remains to be seen what happens to Snowden, Bradley Manning was tried and convicted despite his being proclaimed guilty by his commander in chief before charges were even brought and being subjected to what the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, found to be “at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture (emphasis added).”

One must ask, what has happened in the last 40+ years that has led to such widely disparate outcomes. Is it simply a matter of the particular facts of the cases or is it something else? While there are certainly differences, and every case should be resolved on its own merits, I must suggest that the changes that have taken place in the United States in the last two generations are of overriding importance and cannot be ignored in any complete analysis of the outcome in Manning’s case.

Shortly before Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, and the New York Times and Washington Post published them, an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania was burglarized. The main fruit of the burglary, a clearly felonious act, was the discovery of FBI documents revealing its Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). The FBI tried to discover and prosecute the burglars, but the media spent its time exposing and condemning COINTELPRO, not delving into the particulars of the investigation and identities of any suspects. While there was a brief flurry of reporting of their contents when Wikileaks released the documents it had received from Manning, that focused more on how it would affect US prestige than whether it was moral.

After Manning was identified, the significance of the revelations of government depredations was abandoned in favor of exploring Manning’s psychological makeup. It is hard to imagine that, if COINTELPRO were exposed today, it would be so universally condemned as it was back then. Rather, one would expect media outlets to report endlessly on the damage to government, rather than invasion of the lives of citizens. The proof is in the reaction to Edward Snowden’s revelations. The outrage over what is euphemistically referred to as government “overreaching” died down in a matter of a couple of weeks, replaced by incessant reporting on Snowden’s whereabouts and the likelihood of his arrest.

Not entirely incidentally, hardly a word has been said about Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who unquestionably perjured himself in testimony before the Senate. He was asked, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” His answer: “No sir, not wittingly.” Within weeks that claim was exposed as a lie. No prosecution has resulted, though the Justice Department chose to prosecute Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds – without much success – for lying to Congress about their use of performance enhancing drugs. If Clemens and Bonds were high-ranking government officials, their alleged perjury would presumably have been defended as patriotic and intended to “protect Americans.”

After the COINTELPRO revelations, Ellsberg and Russo were indicted. When it was revealed that the government may have lost or destroyed evidence and that President Nixon had authorized a break-in of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, the judge presiding over the case dismissed it. The court then would not countenance such government misconduct. Manning’s treatment by his captors and his commander-in-chief’s declaration of his guilt were of a different nature than the prosecutorial wrongdoing connected in the Ellsberg case, but it is difficult to argue that torture and condemnation by the commander-in-chief are less serious. Yet, Judge Lind could not bring herself to dismiss the charges as Judge Byrne did forty years earlier.

In the Pentagon Papers case, Justice Black held: “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively explore deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.” Two things are essential to ensure such a “free and unrestrained press.” First, reporters must be free to publish and able to protect their sources. Second, they must be willing and able to do so. The former is under constant attack today, and there are precious few reporters who meet the latter criterion and fewer corporate media empires that will allow them to do so.

Today, it appears, the specter of “terrorism” trumps everything else. Due process, privacy, free expression, all are limited by the US government under the pretense of keeping our citizenry safe. By contrast, from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s through the massive antiwar protests of the Vietnam era, Americans rose up in the millions to assert their rights and forced the government to recognize and respect them. It is long past time to revive the resistance of those years – years that expanded rights of ordinary people and limited the power of government. If we do not, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out centuries ago, we will neither have nor deserve either security or liberty.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

unWAShedwalmartThong August 21, 2013 at 11:15 am

And so the police departments & the U.S. government now need to redefine one of their favorite terms:SWAT.

They should now be speaking through their forked tongues: So,We Are Terrorists.


Craig August 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Thank you for the article as not enough is being written about this landmark horrible decision today.

This marks a sad day in our history. That CNN had the Manning sentenced to 35 years listed as 8th, in their stories today, speaks volumes of how sold/tied the mainstream media is to this poor excuse of a president. A Partridge family member getting arrested was number 2 – and what does that say about CNN. Disgusting.

I didn’t like Bush either by the way, so don’t take my rant for an anti Obama notion. Calls for a pardon from Obama will fall on deaf ears, despite the well wishers. It would seem only time and history will reward this young man for his courage, and proper place in history.


Goatskull August 22, 2013 at 8:57 am

As I’ve stated on other posts about Manning here in the Rag, there seems to be a lack of understanding how military law works. First off there is no such thing as whistle blower protection in the military. There never has and there never will be. Second this is not necessarily a whistle blower issue. Pvt Manning was an intelligence specialist and as such he had a legal obligation not to publicly divulge any type of classified information to the public, even if said classified information/documentation was of fellow service members committing war crimes. Is that morally wrong? I think so but it doesn’t matter what I or anyone else thinks. Like it or not that’s just how military law works and we have no control over that. None. This is not the same as him seeing fellow members of his unit committing war crimes and using the proper channels to report it to his superiors. Pvt Manning knew what he was doing and knew this would possible lead so prison time. Whether he did this for truly altruistic reasons or some personal vendetta (which a lot of people feel is the case) we’ll probably never know. Considering at one point he was facing the death penalty and then the possibility of life in prison and then 60 years, 35 with the possibility of parole after only 8 isn’t really that bad. You could argue it shouldn’t be anytime at all but again that’s just not how it works.


Chris August 22, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Military whistleblowers are in fact afforded protections under the law.

I’m not saying the law is perfect as written or as applied (or even would have applied to Pvt. Manning), but there are legal protections for Military Whistleblowers.


Goatskull August 23, 2013 at 8:04 am

I stand corrected on that. But yeah I’m not sure if it applies to Manning or not.


cahlo August 22, 2013 at 4:52 am

hero? I think not………


Craig August 22, 2013 at 9:42 am

He had no choice – or do you not understand that proper channels do not work. The entire machine is corrupt and rotten within. To say otherwise is just absurd and not in touch with reality. He is certainly a hero to millions world wide whereas you are what exactly? Cahlo – really – crawl back underneath the rock.


Goatskull August 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I do understand that often proper channels do not work. I’m a vet myself and worked in administration during my military career so believe me I know. Corrupt or not will not be a saving grace for someone in his situation, and that was pretty much my point.


Craig August 22, 2013 at 6:46 pm

I’ll choose what I think suffices for an American hero, and you are free to do the same. We clearly see this different. That his “Chelsea” thing gets huge exposure from mainstream media, rather than the absurd sentence he received, speaks volumes about this country.

An unprincipled entity in the end, will always fail.


Goatskull August 23, 2013 at 3:31 pm

His sentence has been gotten plenty of coverage but the fact his there’s just not a lot of outrage amongst Americans. I work on a military base and quite a few people I’ve overheard talking would like to put a bullet through his head if they could get away with it. Many of those very same individuals have indicated hopes that Manning’s family is emotionally suffering. These are by and large good people but have a lot of misguided hatred and maybe are a bit full of hot air.
The Chelsea thing just seems like odd timing and using that as a possible defense for his actions is beyond questionable, and that adds to my doubt that he did any of this for noble reasons.
Hey I completely agree that he has exposed some atrocious crimes being committed by U.S. Military personnel but again the wrongness of it has no bearing on his sentence as we can clearly see. Then again he’s eligible for parole in 8 years and I have a feeling he will probably walk when that time frame comes.


Craig August 23, 2013 at 4:03 pm

What the hell does that say about the fuck ups that are in the military. Most join the military for what – they enjoy getting shot at – nah. They have little to no other options. It isn’t surprising our nation’s lowest denominator would say that kind of thing. He exposed criminal children and now you would tell me a story of more criminal children. I guess one of those brave brainiacs would like to put a bullet in my head to for thinking the way I do – too bad.

Should we start discussing the amount of rape that goes on in today’s glorious ethical American military. Your comments are moronic as are your notions. I’m done here military blowhard. Go preach your fucking criminal gospel elsewhere.


Goatskull August 23, 2013 at 9:45 pm

You sound bitter.


Goatskull August 26, 2013 at 7:58 am

BTW Craig, assuming you live in San Diego and more specially OB then you know at least a few people who are either still in or have served in the military. It’s just not possible to live here are any significant period of time and not know anyone. You can’t say that all of these people fit this lowest common denominator persona claim. Sure some do as I can attest for that myself. Also I didn’t say all military people I’m around think that way. I said many do, not all. That doesn’t even mean most. I’m just telling you matter of fact what I’ve overheard and discussed. As to those who do have a very hatful opinion of Pvt. Manning try to understand things from their point of view. I don’t agree with them but I understand where they’re coming from. Some of those men and women have experiences that make accepting Manning as a hero a hard pill to swallow, even if it can be truly said that he is. And where in the world do you get the impression they want to put a bullet through your head or bring any harm to you for your view? Because they said that about Manning you assume they want to do the same to everyone else? Plus I stated it’s probably just a lot of hot air. After what some of them have been through I think they’re entitled to it. Agree with me or not all you want because as you stated that’s your right.


Goatskull August 26, 2013 at 9:09 am

Oh and the rape thing. Yeah by any standard it’s out of control and top leadership by their own admission recently have done an atrociously bad job of addressing it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the overwhelming majority of male service member have never committed any such act. Also most female members have never been victims of it either. Yes too many have (well really even one is one too many), but again most have not. Take the time to actually talk to some (female service members). They’re not hard to find.


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