Last night in a HuffPo comment thread, my (now anonymous) blogger account was besieged by “friends” of Bradley Manning who have never signed the paperwork necessary to get a security clearance from the United States Army. I have, but these people were telling me I don’t know what is on the paperwork (for instance, the National Security Act of 1947 cited as the source of authority). It’s a little bit like those conspiracy creeps who get in Neal Armstrong’s face to tell him what the Moon is “really like,” and my reaction is nearly his. So I think it’s time to say here what needs to be said among progressives: Manning is not special, he isn’t being punished, and he will probably spend many years in prison being actually punished.
Manning has not been convicted — yet — but there is nothing especially harsh or unusual about his conditions. The Rosenbergs were isolated. Aldrich Ames was isolated. There is no “plan” to drive Bradley Manning insane. He’s a prisoner accused of giving away his country’s secrets. Such prisoners are held in solitary confinement as standard counterintelligence protocol. Who wants a caught spy to tell the other side what you have sweated out of him in the interrogation room? Who wants him to be free to do more damage?
To whom Manning gave secrets, why, and whether Julian Assange asked him first are really not important questions here. When the military court convenes (and the delay is because his defense asked for it), the only question that will get answered is did Bradley Manning break the law? And the almost-certain answer is “yes.”
Giving away American secrets is against the law; the penalties are stiff. Manning knew that, but chose to give secrets away — and then got caught by bragging about it to strangers on the internet. That there are no other prisoners in Quantico accused of espionage is a happy accident: most American service members take their oaths as seriously as I did, and do. Manning didn’t. A justice system will adjudicate what that means, not Glenn Greenwald.
Put another way: there are something like 25,000 Americans enduring the same inhumane conditions as Bradley Manning, and while I would love to have a national conversation about prison reform this is not that.
As to the question of whether Manning is a whistleblower deserving protection: that sounds like a question about the definition of journalism, which I consider to be an honest search for the truth. Daniel Ellsberg once committed an act of whistleblowing leakage. From his WikiPedia entry:
Ellsberg allowed some copies of the documents to circulate privately, including among scholars at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Ellsberg also shared the documents with New York Times correspondent Neil Sheehan under a pledge of confidentiality. Sheehan broke his promise to Ellsberg, and built a scoop around what he’d received both directly from Ellsberg and from contacts at IPS.
On Sunday, June 13, 1971, the Times published the first of nine excerpts and commentaries on the 7,000 page collection. For 15 days, the Times was prevented from publishing its articles by court order requested by the Nixon administration. Meanwhile, Ellsberg leaked the documents to The Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. On June 30, the Supreme Court ordered publication of the Times to resume freely (New York Times Co. v. United States). Although the Times did not reveal Ellsberg as their source, he went into hiding for 13 days afterwards, suspecting that the evidence would point to him as the source of the unauthorized release of the study.
On June 29, 1971, U.S. Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska entered 4,100 pages of the Papers into the record of his Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds—pages which he had received from Ellsberg via Ben Bagdikian—then an editor at the Washington Post. These portions of the Papers were subsequently published by Beacon Press.
I know, I know. Manning is the bright new shining beacon of progressive fire, dogs, and lakes. But we know he is guilty of one thing, which is being an absolute dumbass and bragging to strangers on the internet while still in uniform. And we know this because of the very chat logs that a certain Salon writer won’t shut up about.
Ellsberg could keep his mouth shut for his own sake. That’s how he got to be an officer with rank; it’s how he was able to gain the assistance of contacts in Congress and the MIC to leak the Pentagon Papers. Manning is no Ellsberg — he’s not as smart and his connections to the halls of power are post-dumbassery.
Fine, I hear the firebaggers raving. So what if Manning wasn’t powerful and connected? So what if he was a dumbass? Which describes something like 99% of the prisoners in America. Like I say: he’s not special. He’s just getting lots of attention, and the media is once again driving the narrative.
ADDING: I just learned by the grapevine that a very good friend of mine was recently arrested for driving under the influence. Just to be clear, he’s a dumbass too. He got to sleep on a foam mattress with a built-in pillow, too — where are his Hamsherites?