Addressing confusion about PFC Bradley Manning’s case
This article is a reference both for those who have just begun learning about PFC Bradley Manning’s case, and those who have been following it for awhile. It addresses several common misconceptions about the case. As an advocate for Bradley Manning, you can use the information in the article to educate others, whether speaking to them in-person or sharing relevant excerpts online.
Bradley Manning fits the definition of a whistle-blower (not a traitor).
In online discussions attributed to PFC Bradley Manning, he says that he hopes his actions will spur “discussion, debates, and reforms” and that he “want[s] people to know the truth, no matter who they are, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” This is the classic definition of a whistle-blower (a person who tells the public about alleged dishonest or illegal activities/misconduct occurring in a government department).
Unfortunately, the government is charging PFC Bradley Manning with “knowingly [giving] intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means,” under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — an allegation of treason and a capital offense. By this rational, scores of service-person-posted blogs, photos, and videos, would now be punishable by death—simply because they are accessible on the Internet. The charge against Bradley Manning appears to be about sending a message to other would-be whistle-blowers.
The Founding Fathers restricted the definition of treason in the U.S. Constitution to, “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort….” They did so because they wanted to prevent a repeat of England’s abuse of power.
It is inappropriate and abusive to attempt to use the Espionage Act against PFC Manning.
PFC Bradley Manning was given access to classified documents (of various levels of secrecy) as a military intelligence analyst. In the course of doing his job, it appears that he became aware of information that was classified not for legitimate purposes, but for purposes of political convenience. Releasing such information fits under the classic definition of whistle-blowing, not “spying.”
Espionage is associated with spying on, or for, potential or actual enemies, primarily for military purposes. No one believes that PFC Bradley Manning engaged in any such activities.
In the chat logs which recorded a conversation between PFC Bradley Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo—these chat logs serve as the primary known evidence in this case—Manning expresses a desire for the information to be in the public domain, as opposed to it being used to benefit any nation at the expense of another.
Bradley Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious
Bradley Manning: i could’ve sold to russia or china, and made bank?
Adrian Lamo: why didn’t you?
Bradley Manning: because it’s public data
Adian Lamo: i mean, the cables
Bradley Manning: it belongs in the public domain
Bradley Manning: information should be free
Bradley Manning: it belongs in the public domain
Bradley Manning: because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge
Bradley Manning: if its out in the open… it should be a public good
Bradley Manning: i couldn’t be a spy…
Bradley Manning: spies dont post things up for the world to see
The legality (or illegality) of releasing classified documents isn’t black and white.
In the United States, there is no Congressional law regarding the leaking of classified documents. Documents are classified, or declassified, according to Executive Orders, which apply only to those working for the government.
Furthermore, according to the 1971 Supreme Court Case New York Times Co. vs. United States, as well as President Obama’s Executive Orders, documents may not be classified to conceal embarrassing activity or violations of law, but only for national security reasons:
“In no case shall information be classified… in order to: conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency… or prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.”
—Executive Order 13526, Sec. 1.7. Classification Prohibitions and Limitations
There were many documents released by WikiLeaks that were clearly not classified for reasons of national security. In fact, when asked about the leaks in November 2010, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is this awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”
In the United States, the release of classified information is not, in general, illegal. A ‘patchwork’ of different laws criminalize disclosing certain types of classified information, and then only under certain circumstances.
PFC Bradley Manning faces a military court martial under the rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, primarily Articles 92 and 104. Article 92 generally covers any “failure to obey order or regulation”, and Article 134—generally known as the “catch all” article—criminalizes everything that would “prejudice good order and discipline… or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.”
However, had Bradley Manning performed his job by continuing to hide information which could constitute evidence of human rights violations, he would have then been engaged in illegal activity according to international law (which the United States helped create after WWII). Nuremberg Principle IV states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
Should one person be able to make the decision on what is classified and what is publicly released?
Which documents are classified, and which that are not, rests on the judgment of individuals most of the time. Thousands of U.S. government workers possess the power to classify documents at the “classified” and “secret” levels, the highest levels of secrecy of the documents released by WikiLeaks. Seventy-six million classification decisions were made in 2010 alone, eight times as many as in 2001. Additionally, The Information Security Oversight Office conducted a survey in 2009 in which they estimated that approximately 35% of documents which had been classified that year did not meet classification requirements.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows citizens to request declassification of documents that no longer must be kept classified. However, because of the large number of requests relative to the staff and resources available for reviewing the classification statuses of documents, this process can take years.
Upon enlisting in the armed forces, Bradley Manning took the following oath: “I, Bradley Manning, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same….”
This oath assumes that individual service people will act on their conscience to defend the U.S. Constitution, which holds government transparency and democracy as core principles.
In instances where there was a reasonable belief that crimes were committed and covered up, service members have an obligation to come forward with that information—regardless of conflicting rules and regulations. The “Collateral Murder” video is only one such example of evidence being hidden from view by classification for no legitimate reason. Yet Bradley Manning faces decades in prison for releasing that video alone!
Did Bradley Manning endanger lives?
To date, the government has made no allegation that any U.S. soldier, citizen, ally, or informant has been physically injured as a result of the revelations.
Many facts that the leaks brought to light about U.S military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, for example, were already well known by citizens of those countries, experiencing the reality at their doorstep. The leaks served to inform the American people of aspects of the U.S. governments’ actions abroad that are not frequently covered by domestic mainstream news outlet (for example, the number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the fact that there is an official military policy to ignore torture in Iraq).
The Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary were comprised of years-old field reports written by combat troops in the midst of battle. Names of local persons are spelled phonetically in these reports, usually with general descriptions of region or cities. The majority of these names were redacted by WikiLeaks prior to release. The U.S. State Department has declared that of the non-redacted names, there was not enough identifying information released on any individual to justify taking preventive action.
Meanwhile, scores of U.S. and foreign citizens continue to die on a daily basis in these occupation zones due not to Bradley Manning, but due to the controversial policies that he exposed.
Did the documents reveal anything new or important?
While some of the revelations in the documents were previously suspected by academics or human rights advocates carefully studying these topics, the documents uncovered many details that were previously unknown. The documents give American citizens greater insight into the reasoning behind U.S. foreign policies than they have ever been privy to before. It is one thing to suspect something is occurring, but is another thing to have it confirmed by primary sources in the government.
At the end of April 2011, The Atlantic Wire published a study in which they found that for the first four months of 2011, nearly one-half of New York Times editions cited one or more of the leaked cables in their news stories. Many facts brought forth in the documents are of great significance to those working in the fields of foreign policy and human rights advocacy.
The leaked documents include information about the following:
1. There is an official policy to ignore torture in Iraq.
2. There is an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives.
4. The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.
5. The U.S. Government withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and
innocent Iraqi civilians.
6. The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.
7. The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali.
8. U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan.
9. The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.
10. The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing
11. Known Egyptian torturers received training from the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.
Please download our factsheet to learn more.
Did Bradley Manning leak documents “indiscriminately”?
PFC Bradley Manning held a Top Secret clearance while working as an army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Yet the vast majority of documents he leaked consisted of low-level classified documents—about half of the documents were even “unclassified”. Of those that were classified, most were simply “Confidential.” About 11,000 documents were “Secret.” None of the released documents were “Top Secret,” the highest classification. Bradley Manning clearly had access to a much larger number of documents than what was leaked.
President Obama encouraged the perception that Bradley Manning leaked documents indiscriminately when he declared in April, 2011 that Bradley Manning “dumped” information. He then went on to mistakenly declare that now widely-respected Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg was “different” than Bradley Manning because Ellsberg didn’t release information that was classified in the same way. The fact is that Ellsberg released “Top Secret” information when he gave information to The New York Times, while Manning has only released lower-level classified information. Daniel Ellsberg has also stated in interviews that alongside critical revelations the Pentagon Papers contained thousands of pages of information of little to no public significance. Like many other whistle-blowers, Ellsberg had to trust media organizations to do some of the sorting of an immense amount of data.
In the chat logs between Adrian Lamo and Bradley Manning, Manning described the documents he leaked, along with some reasons why he felt they needed to be public:
Bradley Manning: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
Bradley Manning: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter…
Bradley Manning: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people
Bradley Manning: say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?
Adrian Lamo: What sort of content?
Bradley Manning: uhm… crazy, almost criminal political backdealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises… uhm… all kinds of stuff like everything from the buildup to the Iraq War during Powell, to what the actual content of “aid packages” is: for instance, PR that the US is sending aid to pakistan includes funding for water/food/clothing… that much is true, it includes that, but the other 85% of it is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis
Bradley Manning: theres so much… it affects everybody on earth… everywhere there’s a US post… there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed… Iceland, the Vatican, Spain, Brazil, Madascar, if its a country, and its recognized by the US as a country, its got dirt on it
Adrian Lamo: what kind of scandal?
Bradley Manning: hundreds of them
Adrian Lamo: like what? I’m genuinely curious about details.
Bradley Manning: uhmm… the Holy See and its position on the Vatican sex scandals
Adrian Lamo: play it by ear
Bradley Manning: the broiling one in Germany
Bradley Manning: im sorry, there’s so many… its impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million… and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized
Bradley Manning: Apache Weapons Team video of 12 JUL 07 airstrike on Reuters Journos… some sketchy but fairly normal street-folk… and civilians
Bradley Manning: at first glance… it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter… no big deal… about two dozen more where that came from right… but something struck me as odd with the van thing… and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory… so i looked into it… eventually tracked down the date, and then the exact GPS co-ord… and i was like… ok, so thats what happened… cool… then i went to the regular internet… and it was still on my mind… so i typed into goog… the date, and the location… and then i see this http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/13/world/middleeast/13iraq.html
Adrian Lamo: what do you consider the highlights?
Bradley Manning: The Gharani airstrike videos and full report, Iraq war event log, the “Gitmo Papers”, and State Department cable database
Should Bradley have gone through the chain of command in his attempt to report misconduct?
In the chat logs, Bradley Manning references an instance in which he had previously tried to alert his commanding officer about a war crime, and was reportedly told to “shut his mouth.”
Bradley Manning: i think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything
Bradley Manning: was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently
Bradley Manning: i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…
Having tried to utilize the proper chain of command already, PFC Manning would have had compelling reason to believe that similar efforts would have been equally unsuccessful. Because the controversial policies PFC Manning is accused of revealing were made at various levels within the military and State Department, it would have been difficult, if not impossible to determine an appropriate level of authority that could have presided objectively over the information.
Did PFC Bradley Manning leak the documents because he was angry at the military about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy?
PFC Bradley Manning seems to attribute his growing interest in politics to his experience as a gay man living under the Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. Most people, of course, begin looking at larger issues from their own personal perspective. However, no one has presented any evidence that indicates that PFC Manning was motivated by vengeance about DADT.
The chat logs PFC Manning mentions serving alongside many other gay service people. For example, he told Adrian Lamo:
Bradley Manning: DADT isnt really enforced
Bradley Manning: top interrogator here has a civil union in NJ
In conversations with gay activist Zinnia Jones, Bradley Manning has expressed a desire that the military become a more welcoming place for all sorts of minorities to serve their country:
Bradley Manning: i actually believe what the army tries to make itself out to be: a diverse place full of people defending the country… male, female, black, white, gay, straight, christian, jewish, asian, old or young, it doesnt matter to me; we all wear the same green uniform… but its still a male-dominated, christian-right, oppressive organization, with a few hidden jems of diversity
In the Lamo-Manning chat logs, Bradley Manning discussed reasons for his changing views on U.S. foreign policies that are completely unrelated to his sexuality. For example, one pivotal experience for him was described above, a situation in which he was being asked to help arrest Iraqis making innocent critiques of corruption in their government.
Should Bradley Manning be punished, even if it was morally correct to release the information?
While Bradley Manning appears from the chat logs to have been aware of the risk of being imprisoned for life for his actions, that doesn’t mean that he should spend life in prison for doing the right thing. Due to a popular movement against the Vietnam War and misconduct by the presiding administration, Daniel Ellsberg never spent a day in jail for leaking the Pentagon Papers. Bradley Manning, on the other hand, has been imprisoned since May 2010, and for the first ten months he was subjected to extreme and torturous conditions which were declared unconstitutional by 300 top U.S. legal scholars. Although he has yet to be tried, Bradley Manning has already been subjected to substantial punishment for an alleged act of “civil disobedience” This is why we have no qualms about demanding Bradley Manning’s freedom.
PFC Bradley Manning’s alleged actions make America stronger.
Bradley Manning’s actions place him firmly alongside Daniel Ellsberg and other prominent American whistle-blowers, which is to say Bradley is an American hero who stands accused of making our government officials more accountable to the public whom they serve. In these trying times, Americans would do well to remember the intentions of our forefathers. As founding father Patrick Henry stated in 1775, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”