Many Americans see Pfc. First Class Bradley Manning as a traitor who betrayed the United States by leaking classified military information. History will judge him differently. It will show that, far from being a turncoat who lashed out against his own country, he is a hero who struck a blow for freedom and human rights around the world.
Today though, he faces up to 60 years in jail despite being one of the most important whistle-blowers of modern times.
Manning was an intelligence analyst stationed near Baghdad. He has admitted leaking to WikiLeaks military reports and diplomatic communications, in addition to a now famous 2007 video of U.S. soldiers firing on civilians in Iraq from an Apache helicopter. His acquittal on the most serious charge – aiding the enemy – brought some relief, but his conviction on 20 counts, including espionage, came as no surprise as Judge Denise Lind favored the prosecution in this show trial.
It was apparent from the start that the proceedings against Manning would not be fair or just. Part of the trial was conducted behind closed doors. Lind allowed the prosecution to parade more than 140 witnesses before the court. Defense lawyers were not permitted to produce evidence about Manning’s honorable motives as a whistle-blower. The young private had aimed to spark public debate and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the trial’s last day, after all the witness statements, the prosecution altered the charges with Lind’s permission. Reporters covering the trial told of military personnel monitoring and intimidating them toward the end of proceedings. On top of these irregularities, the Obama administration spuriously promoted the judge to a higher court in the middle of the trial.
Manning, a whistle-blower who has done a tremendous service to humanity, has suffered appalling injustices. He revealed information of unparalleled public value, provided insights into the underbelly of the U.S. government and how it carries out its foreign-policy objectives, and shined a light on U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What Manning exposed will take years to come fully to light. Thanks to him, we now understand better and more deeply U.S. military and diplomatic maneuvers around the world in the post-9/11 era.
Manning has also inspired others. More leaks are coming out, most notably the revelations of Edward Snowden concerning U.S. government surveillance not just of its own citizens, but of the whole world.
Prosecutors in the case against Manning failed to show that the information revealed helped enemies of the U.S. or made Americans less safe. The military court found no harm had come to any person as a direct result of these leaks. Despite finding no evidence of direct harm, and being acquitted of “aiding the enemy,” Manning eventually issued an apology, made under duress following 1175 days of ill treatment.
The United Nations has called Manning’s treatment at the hands of the American authorities tantamount to torture. At the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, he was placed in solitary confinement in a six feet by eight feet cell with no window for 23 hours a day. The U.S. has damaged its own global reputation by mistreating Manning. The conditions of Manning’s detention and the trial proceedings have revealed serious shortcomings in the U.S. justice system and vengefulness among the Washington political elite.
As for how American citizens view Manning, I am confident that in time, the general public will come to understand the vital importance and contributions of his work. We saw what happened with Daniel Ellsberg in the early 1970s when he released the Pentagon Papers. He was labeled a traitor by the administration and called the “most dangerous man in America” by then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Gradually though, the American public began to grasp the importance of the information he revealed and its role in ending the Vietnam war. Most Americans now consider Ellsberg a national hero.
I’m certain Bradley Manning will also assume his rightful place in history. When that day dawns, people will look back on 2010, the year of Manning’s arrest, as a turning point on the path toward a society that values openness and truth over state secrecy and lies.
Kristinn Hrafnsson is the spokesperson for WikiLeaks. He has been named Journalist of the Year three times by Iceland's National Union of Journalists.
This commentary originally appeared at The Mark News (www.themarknews.com).