from the this-is-how-we-handle-inconvenient-truth dept
The prosecution wanted 60 years and the defense asked repeatedly for lenience. "Don't take away his youth." The final verdict will likely appease the prosecution but puts Manning in prison for longer than he's been alive.
This is how the government has chosen to handle someone who exposed wrongdoing -- with a sentence that might see Manning hit the age of 57 before he's allowed to walk free. He exposed war crimes and the pettiness and deceit behind international diplomacy. He exposed the ongoing torture at Gitmo done in the name of fighting terrorism. His leaks propelled Wikileaks into the public eye.
Despite the fact his opponents testified no lives were lost because of the leaks and that most, if not all, potential damage was mitigated by Wikileaks' handling of the documents, the government still wanted him locked away. 35 years for embarrassing the republic. 35 years for not minding his own business. 35 years for attempting to show Americans what its government was actually doing under the pretenses of fighting terrorism and diplomacy. Meanwhile, those who actually performed illegal actions walk free.
As you may have heard, Bradley Manning took the stand at the sentencing part of the trial and issued an apology.
First, your honour I want to start off with an apology. I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I'm sorry that they hurt the United States.
At the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing and continuing to effect me. Although a considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions.
I understood what I was doing, and decisions I made. However I did not fully appreciate the broader effects of my actions.
Those factors are clear to me now, through both self-refection during my confinement in various forms, and through the merits and sentencing testimony that I have seen here.
I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.
There's more to the apology, but that's basically the first half. There's just one problem with it. There remains no evidence that he hurt anyone or the United States. We've discussed some of this before, but Rainey Reitman, over at the Freedom of the Press Foundation has a detailed breakdown of how the US government admits, quite clearly, the lack of any real damage or harm from Manning's actions:
Even when the WikiLeaks hysteria was in full swing, government officials from the State Department briefed Congress on the impact of the Wikileaks revelations, and said that the leaks were "embarrassing but not damaging." U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that, while some of the information may have been embarrassing, "I don't think there is any substantive damage."
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has admitted the leaks caused no serious damage, telling Congress that the reactions to the leaks were "significantly overwrought." He went on to say: "Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest."
At the same time, Reuters reported that other officials were admitting in private that they were exaggerating the damage that resulted from the leaks in order to bolster the legal efforts against WikiLeaks and Manning.
This has born out in Manning's trial and sentencing hearing. It's why the government fought so hard to keep its official WikiLeaks "damage assessments" from being revealed in court. It's why, despite all the government's overwrought pronouncements early on of "blood on the hands" of those responsible, a U.S. official was forced to admit under oath in Manning's sentencing hearing that not a single person died as a result of the releases.
In fact, she notes that Manning's original assessment that he was trying to help not hurt is borne out in what actually happened thanks to his leaks:
The truth is, the public has benefited tremendously as a result of Manning's disclosures to WikiLeaks. Over the least three years, the disclosures have helped shape an international discussion about America's foreign policy. They showed Americans the true face of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- from accurate body counts in Iraq to journalists killed by American soldiers to the government blocking investigations of CIA extraordinary rendition to U.S. turning a blind eye to torture in violation of the Geneva conventions. They've exposed corruption and lawbreaking in dozens of countries around the world. They contributed to democratic movements in the Middle East, and helped spur a movement in defense of free speech online. One State Department cable was even instrumental in helping precipitate the end to the Iraq war.
Her concluding paragraph makes the point quite clearly. Embarrassment may feel like "harm" but when that embarrassment is from doing something wrong and exposing that wrongness is part of the necessary process of stopping it, that's not "harm" at all. That's the process of helping:
Bradley Manning didn't hurt us any more than a dentist hurts a patient when removing an abscessed tooth. The brief discomfort that resulted from the WikiLeaks disclosures was necessary to begin the process of healing and reform. It is a process that we do not yet know will be successful, but which began with Manning's decision to leak vital documents to WikiLeaks. And for that, we owe Manning thanks; no apologies necessary.
Obviously, the apology is effectively Manning throwing himself on the mercy of the judge -- a last gasp effort to prevent having to spend most or all of the rest of his life in jail. But, as Kevin Gosztola points out, while there are people who should have to plead for mercy from a judge, Manning should not have to, given the total lack of harm, and the tremendous help that came out of his leaks.
The conviction of Bradley Manning will go down in history as an embarrassment for the US -- much more harmful and embarrassing than anything that he leaked. The prosecution and conviction show a country that doesn't stand up for its own principles and looks to massively and disproportionately punish whistleblowers who call attention to government and military wrongdoing and coverups.
One of the key talking points against Bradley Manning was how his leaks "put people in danger" and we've even seen some of the defenders of his prosecution claim that people had lost lives because of them. In fact, Army Chief of Staff Mike Mullen had directly stated that Manning (and Wikileaks) "might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family." Guess what? That was all FUD. As Manning's sentencing hearing kicked off, a key government witness admitted that there were no deaths that were attributable to those leaks. That came straight from Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, who was in charge of the response to the leaks. Among other things, he also noted that since the names did not appear in Arabic, it was unlikely that our enemies would have figured out who they really were anyway.
The retired general added that some of these contacts could not be found, others had died before the WikiLeaks disclosures, and others had been insurgents rather than cooperators with coalition forces.
Carr acknowledged that none of the names of Iraqi and Afghan contacts appeared in the original Arabic.
To this point, Manning's military defenders, Maj. Thomas Hurley, asked: "We don't share an alphabet with either of those countries, do we, Sir?"
"No," Carr replied.
Hurley also prompted Carr to concede that Iraqi and Afghan nationals tend not to be "not as plugged in" as Westerners.
The report also notes that while, in the past, some have claimed that an Afghani man killed by the Taliban was a result of those leaks "the supposed informant the Taliban claimed to have executed was not in fact named in the leaked materials." In other words, all the talk of people dying because of his leaks? Not true. Yet why do we trust the government every time there's a leak when they insist that everyone's lives are at risk?
Update: Over the weekend, Glenn Greenwald received confirmation from Snowden that the piece was written by him. It sounds as though someone at Wikileaks screwed up in posting it. Still, given the political nature of what's happening, it seemed like a fairly reasonable question to ask.
On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic "wheeling and dealing" over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.
This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.
For decades the United States of America have been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.
In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.
Of course, some quickly noted that the choice of phrases is a bit odd. Farhad Manjoo correctly points out that it's quite unlikely for any American to write "the United States of America have been..." An American would say "has been" not "have." It's a much more European use of English to say "have been." It's entirely possible that someone else "edited" the statement, or perhaps it was a mis-transcription of spoken words, but it at least calls into question how much of the statement is actually from Snowden.
Given everything that's been going on, there has been growing concern that Snowden is quickly becoming a pawn of a variety of other political actors with a variety of other motivations. It does seem odd that Snowden has aligned himself with Wikileaks (a site he's mocked in the past). Hopefully, the full statement can be confirmed in some manner, because that language choice really does raise some serious questions about its authenticity.
Update: And... just as I finished this post, Manjoo tweeted that they'd changed the text to "has been." However, that's not what it was originally. Here's a screenshot of it from my screen with the wrong "have been" in there.
People like to debate whether or not Wikileaks is or is not a "media property," but I can't see any definition of a media property under which Wikileaks would not fall. Yes, it publishes leaked documents, but so do many other media properties. Yes, it has a strong ideological viewpoint, but so do many other media properties. So it's rather stunning to read about the fact that a Wikileaks insider apparently spent some time as a paid informant for the FBI, handing over a variety of internet information on things happening within Wikileaks. Imagine if this was the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal, and it came out that an employee was getting paid by the FBI to reveal what those newspapers were working on. People would be up in arms, just like they were over the DOJ's spying on AP reporters and a Fox News reporter. Except, this wasn't just spying on a reporter, this was flat out paying off an insider to share internal information. That's incredible.
The entire story from Kevin Poulsen at Wired is worth reading, about how Icelandic teen Sigurdur Thordarson was taken under Julian Assange's wing and given a fair amount of autonomy within Wikileaks. The details suggest that Thordarson abused that position in many ways, including setting up a t-shirt sales site, supposedly to benefit Wikileaks, but where all the money went directly to his own bank account. But, that's really minor considering the key point: that the FBI actively worked with and continued to push Thordarson to get more info from Wikileaks, even after he'd left the organization. The DOJ is supposed to have rules about investigations of media properties for a variety of reasons, and paying off an insider seems like it goes way, way beyond what's appropriate.
Here's a tip to the NSA: if you're going to lie, at least make those lies sound somewhat believable. The latest is that General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, was asked a question about Wikileaks while on TV, leading to
the following exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: The final point that Pierre made, the question about some government officials are asking whether WikiLeaks is a legitimate journalistic organization or an enemy of the state, where do you come down on that?
ALEXANDER: I have no opinion on WikiLeaks. I really don’t track them. I don’t know — I really don’t know who WikiLeaks are, other than this Assange person.
Of course, this comes out at about the same time as the federal government confirmed that several government agencies are still investigating Wikileaks. To think that the NSA would not be a part of that is somewhat unbelievable, especially given their mandate for foreign surveillance and anything that might lead to terrorism. While I think it's ridiculous that people think Wikileaks helped terrorists in any way, that has been the position stated by many in the government, so it's almost certain that the NSA is involved in any such investigation.
With all the attention on NSA surveillance, the Bradley Manning trial has faded a bit into the background (and it already wasn't getting nearly the coverage it deserved). And yet, this should be a reminder of why sites like Wikileaks are so important. The big revelations over the past week on NSA surveillance both came from internal leaks. And, given the Obama administration's laser-like focus on punishing anyone who leaks anything marginally embarrassing, it's not difficult to see just how hard the administration is likely to come down on whistleblower Ed Snowden for leaking this information. And yet, this information is important for the world -- and especially Americans -- to understand how the government appears to be twisting the law over and over again to expand their ability to spy on everyone.
As the Bradley Manning trial officially kicks off today, it's interesting to see famed Constitutional scholar and Harvard professor Laurence Tribe speak out against the case. As The Guardian notes, Tribe taught Constitutional Law to President Obama when he was in law school.
Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be the foremost liberal authority on constitutional law in the US and who taught the subject to President Barack Obama, told the Guardian that the charge could set a worrying precedent. He said: "Charging any individual with the extremely grave offense of 'aiding the enemy' on the basis of nothing beyond the fact that the individual posted leaked information on the web and thereby 'knowingly gave intelligence information' to whoever could gain access to it there, does indeed seem to break dangerous new ground."
Tribe, who advised the department of justice in Obama's first term, added that the trial could have "far-reaching consequences for chilling freedom of speech and rendering the internet a hazardous environment, well beyond any demonstrable national security interest."
I know that some people have pre-convicted Manning, but the charges here are simply crazy. He's already pled guilty to certain charges, but this trial focuses on whether or not he was "aiding the enemy," which would require to show that he did this knowing that it would help Al-Qaida and [classified enemy]. The supposed "proof" of this is going to be the fact that Osama bin Laden apparently had Wikileaks documents in his compound in Pakistan. But that's ridiculous. Under that theory, anyone reporting information that terrorists found useful would be guilty of violating the Espionage Act and could face the death penalty. As others in the article note, this would create a tremendous chill on investigative reporting.
A few days ago, the former executive editor of the NY Times, Bill Keller wrote about the Bradley Manning situation, in which he discusses Manning's revelation that he originally tried to go directly to the NY Times and the Washington Post, but was ignored, leading to the decision to approach Wikileaks. Keller's piece is basically an attempt by the NY Times to rewrite history to make Keller and the NY Times feel better. I wouldn't say that Keller lies necessarily, because he might just be very, very ignorant, but there is no doubt that he blatantly misrepresents what Manning said and did.
Specifically, Keller argues first, that Manning was trying to dump all of the information he had, indiscriminately, and the wise reporters at the NY Times would have figured out what was really important: "If Manning had connected with The Times, we would have found ourselves in a relationship with a nervous, troubled, angry young Army private who was offering not so much documentation of a particular government outrage as a chance to fish in a sea of secrets." Furthermore, he argues that Manning's motivations in making his speech to the court last week somehow contradict the only other clear statement into Manning's motivations: his 2010 chat logs with Adrian Lamo that Lamo turned over to the government, leading to Manning's arrest. Those chat logs were leaked to the press, and Keller argues that Manning's reasoning for leaking the material is not clear, summarizing it as:
His political views come across as inchoate. When asked, he has trouble recalling any specific outrages that needed exposing. His cause was "open diplomacy" or — perhaps in jest — "worldwide anarchy."
Furthermore, Keller insults the many people who have supported Manning by suggesting that Manning has created his current views based on what his supporters have told him.
However, as multiple people shot back, this is simply untrue. Author Greg Mitchell points out that Keller is flat out "wrong" and that if he actually read the chat logs, Manning lays out his reasoning, which is entirely consistent with his statement in court. He points out that contrary to Manning "having trouble recalling any specific outrages," Manning has no problem doing so, pointing to examples of corruption in favor of Iraqi prime minister Maliki (rounding up dissidents who were just exercising basic free speech rights), along with the now famous Collateral Murder video. Mitchell points out that for Keller to claim that Manning had not mentioned anything specific, is simply wrong:
More from the Lamo chat log: It virtually opens with Manning saying he had seen evidence of "awful things" such as at Gitmo and Bagram. Then he mentions "criminal political dealings" and cites the "buildup to the Iraq war." He details what he saw on the "Collateral Murder" video and why he wanted it released ("I want people to see the truth"). He wants to get this and much else out (he IDs more) because it might "actually change something." As for the State Dept. cables, he hopes they will spark "worldwide discussion, debates and reforms." Yet Keller claims this was all "vague."
When Nathan Fuller, a supporter of Manning, emailed Keller about all of this, Keller doubled down and stood by his original assessment, saying nothing more than that he believed his characterization is "fair." When pressed, Keller reveals his general attitude towards Manning's supporters, claiming that they have "assembled a coherent political motivation by fishing here and there in the Lamo file." As opposed to Keller who quoted five whole words from the transcripts and took even those out of context?
Meanwhile, Daniel Ellsberg, who probably identifies with Manning more than anyone else in the world, having famously given the Pentagon Papers to the NY Times decades ago, has responded angrily to Keller (video) stating that: "It shows him as an arrogant, ignorant, condescending person. A very smart person who manages to be stupid in certain ways.... What we've heard are people like the NY Times who have consistently slandered [Bradly Manning]."
Ellsberg goes on to point out that there was a ton of material that Manning had access to, but which he chose not to disclose. He first mocks Keller's description of Manning as a "boy" who was "indiscriminately dumping" files, and notes that the evidence shows otherwise:
He, personally, had access to material higher than top secret, higher than Bill Keller has ever seen.... He chose not to put out the top secret communications intelligence, to which he clearly had access. He put out only material that he felt would be embarrassing [rather than harmful], and which, three years later we can say, only was embarrassing.
You may recall that in its quixotic attempt to go after Wikileaks, the US government has been snooping through the private communications of a bunch of folks they're trying to connect to the organization, including Icelandic politician Birgitta Jonsdottir and Jacob Appelbaum, who gets detained and harassed every time he re-enters the country. All of this came to light only because Twitter actually stood up to the US government and refused to just hand over info that was requested using the obscure 2703(d) process. Twitter also got the court to allow it to reveal the existence of the order (something that every other company which has received one has kept secret). A court eventually ruled that Twitter had to hand over the requested info.
Following this, Jonsdottir, Appelbaum and one other person, Rop Gonggrijp, (represented by the ACLU and the EFF), chose not to challenge that ruling, but did appeal concerning the secrecy around the order -- asking the court to have the specific 2703(d) order unsealed -- arguing that they have the right to access judicial documents about themselves. However, last week, an appeals court rejected that appeal, and basically said that the feds can sniff through your digital data without your knowledge, and, well, too bad if you don't like it.
Even though the court did find that 2703(d) orders are "judicial records," which could make them subject to a right to access, they then claimed that, well, when the government investigates things, it should be able to do so in absolute secrecy, and who really cares about pesky little things like oversight or a right to know about it.
Subscribers' contentions fail for several reasons. First, the record shows that the magistrate judge considered the stated public interests and found that the Government's interests in maintaining the secrecy of its investigation, preventing potential subjects from being tipped off, or altering behavior to thwart the Government's ongoing investigation, outweighed those interests.
Further, we agree with the magistrate judge's findings that the common law presumption of access to § 2703 orders is outweighed by the Government's interest in continued sealing because the publicity surrounding the WikiLeaks investigation does not justify its unsealing. The mere fact that a case is high profile in nature does not necessarily justify public access.... Additionally, Subscribers' contention that the balance of interests tips in the public's favor because the Government approved the disclosure of the existence of its investigation by moving the district court to unseal the Twitter Order is adequately counterbalanced by the magistrate judge's finding that the "sealed documents at issue set forth sensitive nonpublic facts, including the identity of targets and witnesses in an ongoing criminal investigation."
The government gets to peer deeper and deeper into our lives, and we're less and less able to even know about it.