The long, long reach of Bradley Manning

Did Bradley Manning help end the Iraq War?

Bradley Manning’s trial continues today with the defense succeeding in getting the judge to force the prosecution to release the government’s damage assessments:

A military judge has ordered the state department to release into her hands official documents that assessed from the viewpoint of the US government how damaging the leak of state secrets to WikiLeaks had been to American national interests.


For months Manning’s defence lawyer, David Coombs, has been pressing the soldier’s military prosecutors to hand over in the discovery stage of the trial the official damage assessments. The assessments, carried out by several federal agencies including intelligence bodies, could have a crucial bearing on any sentence handed out to Manning should he be found guilty.

There have been suggestions that the assessments show that in the official opinion of the US government, WikiLeaks did very little to harm US national interests around the world. That could prove invaluable for the defence in mitigation.

Required reading: Kevin Gosztola was at the trial and has some up-to-date information.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Manning would probably be convicted. After all, it is a trial where the judge’s boss is the Commander-in-Chief who already decided before any trial began that Manning broke the law. It is not really that far-fetched to say that best outcome out of this would be for Manning to wither away in jail instead of being executed for daring to embarrass the Empire. I would ask “Why go through all this trouble of wasting resources conducting a mock trial? Why not just execute Manning and be done with it?” but then I already know the answer.

Anyway, I had the opportunity a few of weeks ago to attend a presentation by Jeff Paterson of the Bradley Manning Support Network. Him and another staffer are traveling the country giving updates to concerned citizens about how eager the government is to make an example of Manning.

Paterson is not only a project director for Courage to Resist, but a fellow Marine artilleryman as well. As part of his presentation, he recounted his own antiwar stand during the first Gulf War as one of the first group of servicemembers who refused to fight that war. He ultimately spent several months in jail before being discharged from the military, after which he disappeared from the public eye. It must be noted that his stand was not an attempt at activism, but a lone protest motivated by a deep moral objection to war.

And because of this action, he has more credibility than most of us could ever hope to achieve. Unlike him, when I joined the Marine Corps in 2006, Iraq and Afghanistan was already well underway. My lack of knowledge is a poor excuse and that I honestly believed the propaganda is irrelevant. The fact that I was a willing cog in the war machine forever discredits me and there is nothing I can do — now or any time in the future — to redeem myself of this complicity.

Which brings me to the Army specialist who found a way to redeem himself: Bradley Manning.

Paterson’s backstory is very important, because it explains his involvement with the Manning case. As he explained in his presentation, he became involved with the military resistance movement at the beginning of second Iraq War. From those efforts came Courage to Resist, a network of veterans, military families, and activists supporting many military resisters defy the War Machine. When it came to light that an Army specialist by the name of Bradley Manning was central in the government’s investigation of Wikileaks, Paterson knew that he had to do something or as he puts it, “before they disappear [Manning].” Within two weeks of Manning’s arrest, Paterson was able to persuade several people to publicize Manning’s plight including establishing the Bradley Manning Defense Fund. To say that Paterson was “involved” with the Manning case is to understate how important he was to this cause. If it were not for his early efforts, who knows what might have happened to Manning?

Paterson’s presentation began with the infamous Collateral Murder video, the release of which firmly embedded the name “Wikileaks” in people’s radars. Manning is accused of leaking the video and also many other documents, including the Iraq War Logs and hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables. If the accusations are true and that Manning is to be credited for the leaks, that would make his singular action of leaking classified information the most significant catalyst of change in modern history.

There is some evidence that the classified information Manning allegedly provided to Wikileaks influenced and might have contributed to the Tunisian uprisings, which itself became the fount from which the Arab Spring continues to flow. Could it be that Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, Khaled Mohamed Saeed’s death, and Manning’s reckless bravery are all to be equally credited for the changes sweeping the Middle East? According to Amnesty International in their 2011 report, Wikileaks’ revelations were “catalysts” in the Arab Springs:

While the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia would not have happened without the long struggle of brave human rights defenders over the last two decades, support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the Wikileaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger. In particular, some of the documents made clear that countries around the world were aware of both the political repression and the lack of economic opportunity, but for the most part were not taking action to urge change.

So, while one cannot fully credit Manning and Wikileaks for the Arab Spring, there were fundamental to its strength and ultimate success. Additionally, the Arab Spring’s strength and success served as inspiration for the widespread protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Scientists might stand on the shoulders of giants, but modern revolutionaries apparently stand on the shoulders of a 110-pound Army specialist. Some might write about how Wikileaks is changing journalism, but in reality without Manning and his trove of classified information, Julian Assange and his outfit would have a lot less to leak.

So, Manning’s leak might have started revolutions in the Middle East, inspired a social movement in the United States, and changing the journalism itself, but could it have ended a war as well? Paterson asserts that the account of atrocities in the Iraq Wars Logs is what finally pushed Iraqi legislators to grow a spine and refuse granting immunity to American troops from prosecution in Iraqi courts. This refusal was the “deal breaker” that finally led to the Third End of War in Iraq (Obama’s second). If that is the case, then Manning’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination is well-deserved.

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