In defense of Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning
Pfc. Bradley Manning

Several Cop Block readers have been appalled we would support Bradley Manning. At least one reader has stated that due to our Bradley Manning call flood post, he will never read Cop Block again. It is not clear why this post generated so much anger, but ultimately, our support for Mr. Manning is not in conflict with the goals of Cop Block and is entirely consistent with Cop Block‘s mission of accountability and justice for government officials.

Most of the Manning lynch mob operates on the assumption that a government must keep extensive secrets – not just secrets regarding troop locations or the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, but that there should be broad discretion in government secrecy over information – from trivial, mundane details, to intentional, governmental acts of evil and wrongdoing.

These people forget the government works for the people who pay them (at least in theory). It is the taxpayers’ money, and it the taxpayers’ right to know what monstrosities their funds are being put to. We would not accept a business deal or transaction in which we hand over our money to a handyman, a banker, or a wedding planner for services, who took the money, did whatever they felt like with it, with no guarantee of doing a good job, and refused to inform us of what precisely they were spending our funds on. Neither should we accept such a deal from the government.

Even if we agreed the government is entitled to broad discretion in keeping secrets, the hatred of Manning remains unwarranted. There are several reasons people set forth to justify the imprisonment, punishment, or execution of Bradley Manning. The first one is that he broke the law and/or committed treason. In fact, whether he actually leaked classified information is still not conclusively established. Even if it were, this should be applauded, not condemned.

Laws are only worthy of obedience if they are moral laws. We constantly stress this at Cop Block. We do not accept police, judicial and governmental immunities merely because they are deeply enshrined in the law. Likewise, we do not accept that one should be punished severely merely because he or she broke the law. It is the underlying action we subject to inquiry, not the mere act of violating rules written and enforced by people with questionable motives.

Mr. Manning’s underlying act was that of exposing gruesome government atrocities. Manning leaked a video (also see here) depicting American soldiers in a helicopter executing journalists and Iraqi civilians video game-style. In the video, the shooters spot a small group of journalists and Iraqis walking casually, unaware they are being watched.

The soldiers receive permission to fire and proceed to execute as many people as possible. The soldiers are high above ground, and are not in imminent danger or being threatened (even if the journalists and civilians were, in fact armed, they were so far away they could not have known they were even being watched). Amidst the killing, there are some chuckles from the soldiers, a “haha,” and a comment that a target is a “fucking prick.”

Still from the "Collateral Murder" video
Still from the "Collateral Murder" video (Source: CollateralMurder.com)

After they have killed several people, they follow a fatally injured individual who is crawling around on the street. Since the injured man appears to be unarmed, a soldier urges, “come on buddy, all you gotta do is pick up a weapon.” As a van (later identified as a good Samaritan, not a combatant) approaches to pick up the dead and wounded, a soldier declares over the radio that the van is “possibly picking up bodies and weapons.”  They again request permission to shoot, and impatiently sneer, “come on, let us shoot!” when the orders don’t come fast enough. As the van is slowly pulling away, they again open fire on the vehicle and the occupants who are trying to move a dead body and at the same time are attempting to flee from gunfire.

As ground troops roll in, the soldiers in the helicopter laugh because the tank rolls over a body. Two children were also badly injured in the fray.

If one believes shooting at children, journalists, and good Samaritans collecting dead bodies while laughing and cracking jokes is the kind of behavior the American military should be engaged in, then certainly the debate ends. There’s no need to even go further in discussing whether Bradley Manning did the right thing. However, most Americans would agree these actions by the US military are not morally justified, and the inevitable conclusion is that Mr. Manning was morally correct in leaking such a video.

Keeping a promise to abide by the law, or upholding an oath to keep certain information secret is not inherently something to be praised. It is the underlying action of the promise or oath that is of import. For instance, no one would judge a man for renouncing an oath he once made to the KKK. No one would give two hoots if someone broke a vow they made to scratch their head at 2pm every day. On the other hand, one might rightly be criticized for breaking a vow of loyalty to a spouse, or a promise to take care of their child.

Similarly here, Manning’s oath or duty to abide by the law ceased to be a moral one worthy of any regard when it required that he remain silent about horrendous war atrocities.

Another curious thing is that the Manning lynch mob focuses almost entirely on how he broke the law or committed treason, but is mysteriously silent on the war crimes themselves. It may be the case that Mr. Manning broke the law, but focusing on this, rather than the execution of innocent people, seems disingenuous and misguided. Such an attitude is an erroneous one of blaming the messenger. When someone learns from a friend that his spouse is cheating and the marriage is subsequently ruined, the cheating spouse is responsible for ruining the marriage, not the friend who revealed the information. In the same vein, it may be the case that Mr. Manning had a big mouth, but this is quite irrelevant and inconsequential compared to the fact that the American military is the entity responsible for shooting at children and journalists.

Another popular argument is that Mr. Manning’s actions have endangered and outright caused the death of innocent people, and as such, he should be executed. Dr. Q correctly pointed out there is no such source indicating a single person has actually been killed because of Manning’s actions. But even assuming people did die as a result of his actions – this is logically meaningless. Either an act of revealing government corruption is good, or it isn’t. Tangential consequences flowing subsequently do not change the morality of the action in retrospect. For instance, if one turned in a serial killer, and a victim’s family decided to take revenge, and ended up killing several innocent people associated with the serial killer, the act of initially turning in the serial killer does not then turn into an immoral act.

Finally, another angry commenter responded that while the United States’ efforts in liberating Afghanistan, restoring womens’ rights, and making it a better place had been largely successful, Manning’s actions unraveled great gains and would disrupt future progress.

Again, plenty of sources (here and here) indicate few, if any gains for Afghan women and people in general have been made (not to mention that the death of innocent Iraqis depicted in the Collateral Murder video would not be justified by Afghan liberation). But again, we’ll be generous – let’s assume a great stride has been made in freedom, women’s rights, and democratic progress because of the American military.

Even then, Manning’s actions must be viewed as necessary, not traitorous, because the American public does not have the right to play games with other people’s lives, no matter how noble the stated goal. Various estimates (here and here) suggest thousands of American soldiers have died, and 100,000+ Iraqis have died in the Iraq war. American casualties in Afghanistan is roughly at 1,100, and the civilian death count at about 7,000.

It should not follow, in any stretch of the imagination, that Joe Schmo or Busybody Jane in the United States has the right to decide that since women’s liberation and democracy are great goals, thousands of American soldiers should die, 100,000 Iraqis should die, and 7,000 Afghans should die.

Even assuming the stated goals of liberation and democracy have been achieved (which they have not), the American public has absolutely no right to order executions to promote a political agenda in a sweeping, “the ends justifies the means” manner, with no regard to the death of innocents and chaotic destruction. This is to say nothing of the ridiculousness of the concept of enforcing women’s liberation and democracy under threat of death and destruction.

What will be next? Perhaps the American public can vote to nuke all of China and North Korea, because they are pesky communists and the world would be better off without them. Perhaps the American public can vote to kill off half of the Americans so that there will twice as much food, resources, and jobs available for the remaining half. This is no different from saying that hundreds of thousands of dead people are worth the goals of shoving democracy and “freedom” down peoples’ throats with the force of guns and bombs.

So – to recap – assuming that government secrets are justified, assuming that Bradley Manning did break the law and/or commit treason, and assuming that goals of liberation were achieved in Afghanistan, none of which are sound assumptions – even then, Bradley Manning’s leak was completely and undeniably justified.

Any continued call for Manning’s imprisonment or execution is a call for chaos, animalistic vengeance, blind love for government even in the face of horrifying atrocities, and indeed, support for terrorism. There are few things more dangerous to civil society than people who supplicate at the government’s will even when confronted with evidence of torture and murder, and who are willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives to further their own ideals.

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Georgia Sand

Georgia (George) Sand is an attorney located in sunny California. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach, music, and chatting with her cats in her spare time.