BY JEREMY KUZMAROV
Pvt. Chelsea Manning is a free woman after serving more than six years in prison for leaking military battlefield logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department diplomatic cables through the website Wikileaks.
Manning originally was sentenced to 35 years – the longest in U.S. history for leaking classified information – though the sentence was commuted by President Obama before he left office.
In this age of great public cynicism and apathy, Manning however should be properly viewed as a voice of conscience who, as Noam Chomsky put it, holds to the principle that “it’s important the public should know what its government is doing.”
She decided to share hundreds of thousands of sensitive files, she explained, “out of concern for my country, the innocent civilians whose lives were lost as a result of war, and in support of … transparency and public accountability.” Manning grew up as a boy in Crescent, OK [she underwent a sex change operation while imprisoned in Ft. Leavenworth after her conviction].
According to Chase Madar in The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower [OR Books, 2012], she developed a critical thinking capability from a young age along with a certain sensitivity that came with being bullied because she was small for her age and gay.
In 2007, after working for some time in computers, Manning enlisted in the military to pay for college and because at the time she believed that the United States military was a global protector of freedom.
Her worldview began to shift while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq when she observed the arrest of Iraqi civilians for printing a scholarly critique of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki entitled, “Where did the Money Go?”
Manning said that she took this information to her superior officer who “didn’t want to hear any of it … he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the Iraqi federal police in finding more detainees” whom Manning knew would be tortured.
Manning wrote to a friend that “everything started slipping after that … I saw things differently … I had always questioned the [way] things worked, and investigated to find the truth … but that was a point where I was a ‘part of something’ … I was actively involved in something that I was completely against.”
In November 2009, Manning began transmitting classified documents to Wikileaks including video footage of a U.S. helicopter gunship firing on and killing 11 unarmed civilians while the crew members made wisecrack jokes. The “Collateral Murder” video went viral and shaped broad public opposition to the Iraq war.
Over time, Manning leaked tens of thousands of documents that exposed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, complicity in torture, corruption and government deception.
The “Gitmo files” showed the detainment of a Pakistani journalist for seven years because he uncovered ties between Muslim radicals and the Pakistani state, and U.S. government efforts to suppress a German criminal investigation into the CIA kidnapping of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent German citizen who was abducted and then rendered to Afghanistan for torture.
Other diplomatic cables exposed corruption in foreign governments, America’s support for authoritarian states in the Middle East, and the U.S. State Department’s strong-arming the Haitian government into blocking a minimum wage raise in multinational textile makers from 22 cents to 61 cents per hour as a result of lobbying by Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and Levi-Strauss.
Manning was turned into federal authorities by computer hacker Adrian Lamo and transferred to a stateside prison at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, VA where he was subject to a harsh regiment of punitive solitary confinement.
The torture, Mader writes, was designed “as a warning to other prospective whistle-blowers, and used as a way to break him, crush his spirit and force him to implicate Julian Assange [Wikileaks founder] and Wikileaks in espionage charges.”
Whistle-blowers throughout history have been subjected to public vilification and harsh demeaning treatment by authorities. As time passes, however, more and more come to acknowledge the courage of their conviction.
An Oklahoma original, Chelsea Manning will go down in history as a voice of conscience who in a dark hour of American history attempted to alert the public about state-sponsored atrocities and abuse of power. Whatever her imperfections, she will always stand for the principle of transparency in government – a pivotal cornerstone of functioning democracy.
– Jeremy Kuzmarov teaches at the University of Tulsa and is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century [University of Massachusetts, 2012] among other works. Photo By Tim Travers Hawkins, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59051881