Hero, traitor, whistleblower, controversial, and brave are all words that have been used to describe Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old Private First Class of the U.S. army who leaked classified U.S. military documents to Wikileaks. Manning – who has 22 charges labeled against him including aiding the enemy – pleaded guilty to 10 of 22 charges in late February of this year. The controversy surrounding Manning is nothing new; since being detained in May 2010, Manning has sparked a nation-wide debate over government transparency and the happenings of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the recent passing of the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion, many have written pieces detailing the false pretenses in which the Bush administration justified its invasion of Iraq. As a result, some have claimed that Manning is a hero who revealed the corrupt relationships between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, while others have deemed to label him as a traitor. Yet, despite these opposing views, very few of have actually addressed what Manning’s true intent was when he decided to turn the sensitive documents and cables over to Wikileaks.
On the 28 February Manning gave his first statement since his imprisonment on why he decided to leak the documents (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/12/bradley-manning-tapes-own-words). Manning stated he “believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.” During his statement, Manning described the kind of person he is and why this made him take action. Manning stated that he is “the type of person who likes to know how things work. And, as an analyst, this means I always want to figure out the truth.” And Manning did discover many dark truths about U.S. government dealings in Iraq; truths that he deemed the U.S. public should be aware of.
Manning was exposed to a large amount of information that detailed the corruption occurring in the Iraqi government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Specifically, Manning was exposed to documents that showed how 15,000 Iraqi deaths had been essentially unaccounted for and that U.S. military was purposely avoiding investigating human rights and torture allegations against the Iraqi government. Essentially, Manning came across information that U.S. officials were keeping from the American public, information that Manning believed would alter public discussion on U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, others have tried to question Manning’s background and character in an attempt to illuminate Manning’s “character flaws”.
On 20 March Kevin Gosztola from The Nation (http://www.thenation.com/article/173447/bradley-manning-tried-warn-us-about-crisis-iraq-will-we-listen-him-now#) wrote an article discussing the Manning ordeal. In the piece, Gosztola writes, “Since his arrest, the media has focused on Manning’s mental problems, his poor relationships with family members, his sexual orientation, and the fact that he considered becoming a woman. Such a caricature, of an unstable youth rather than of a soldier with a conscience, has enabled the government and other detractors to maintain that Manning had no clear and legitimate motives when disclosing the information.” These so-called “character flaws” have nothing to do with Manning’s intent to expose U.S. documents and cables to Wikileaks. These criticisms of Manning’s character are an attempt by critics to make irrational excuses on why Manning acted in the way that he did. In reality, Manning felt what he did was right and that the American people deserved to know what their government was up to in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning struggled with his decision to steal the documents, but in the end he felt compelled to take action and expose the secrets he had come across.
In hindsight it is clear that Iraq contained no WMD’s and that the invasion was justified on false grounds. Whether the intention was to outsource private defense contracts, take advantage of Iraq’s oil, or merely settle a score from the original invasion by Bush Senior in the early 1990’s, the public was lied to about the U.S. governments motives and intentions for invading Iraq. Under military law, Manning may be guilty of taking certain actions that he was not authorized to do. However, when one looks at his intent to find the truth and create public discourse on government actions, one finds it difficult to condemn a man whose intent was to acknowledge and share with us that U.S. policymakers were making costly errors and supporting a corrupt Iraqi government.
At the end of his article Gosztola concludes, “It is about whether Americans are going to allow the government to persecute an individual because he or she had the courage and audacity to reveal corruption that government officials wished to keep hidden out of sight.” Many of us like to think we live in a society full of transparency, but in reality the people we elect and trust to run our country often have their own agenda. The government holds us accountable for our actions, and if we truly live in a free and democratic world, isn’t time that we started holding the government accountable for theirs?
Bradley Manning seems to think so.
A contributing writer for Y-Axis Magazine, Ty Hooper has a Bachelor of Arts in history and English from Carleton University, and a Master of Arts in history from the University of Waterloo. His blog is http://tyhooperw.wordpress.com/.