Why Bradley Manning Matters

Bradley Manning Before Quantico

By: Grainne Rhuad

In the wake of all the coverage of Julian Assange it seems we have collectively swept US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning under the rug.  In fact in everyday conversation on the issue of Manning, his incarceration and treatment, many people admit they don’t know anything about him and haven’t heard of him.

What they have heard about however is the video he managed to download and send to Wikileaks which has come to be known as The Collateral Murder Video.  For the benefit of those who maybe haven’t seen it the link is HERE.

It’s interesting that in this time of concern over human rights in places like Egypt where journalist are being abused and South Africa where women are being raped under the guise of punishment for being lesbian we are hearing next to nothing on what is going on in the Bradley Manning Case.

Bradley Manning is a 22 year old Private First Class.(Pfc.) He took one or two commercial music CDs (allegedly Lady Gaga) and overwrote them with tens of thousands of classified military and State Department files and mailed those discs to Wikileaks, through a military post office in Kuwait.  Other than the information leaked by Wikileaks we do not at this time know exactly what was included in the rest of the classified documents.

He has not completed his obligation to the military so he falls under military law.  When people hear this their minds automatically shift to something along the lines of “Oh well, he’s military, they take care of their own criminals.”  Interesting how once one finds out he is both incarcerated and military they assume there must be a good reason and protocol is being followed.

However Bradley Manning’s case is different for several reasons.  For one thing he is a dual citizen.  His father was military and stationed in Britain where he met his mother.  Manning was born on U.S. soil, in Oklahoma to be exact, but after a divorce left with his mother to Britain where he finished his schooling and took his exams.  He then returned to the U.S. where he signed up for service.

Also Bradley Manning happens to be Gay.  There has been much speculation that his homosexuality contributed to him psychologically not being able to handle the job of intelligence to which he was assigned.  He did join prior to the repeal of “Don’t ask don’t tell.”  And some people feel that his dissonance around his gay-ness led to him having a vendetta against the U.S. Military.   In fact members of the gay community on both sided of the issue have made statements and held rallies.  Matthew Tsien, Former Air Force Captain, openly called Manning a traitor and an embarrassment for Gays hoping to serve openly in the military in an op-ed published by South Florida Gay News. Other GLBT groups have rallied calling Manning a hero holding vigils and writing letters.

In the end it seems his sexual orientation probably has very little to do with his actions.  In fact the accusations that they are somehow connected come from a pretty unstable and unreliable source.

Enter Adrian Lamo, “The Homeless Hacker” who turned in Bradley Manning after Manning contacted him via IM looking to confide in someone.  (P.S. rule #1 in espionage-Do Not Tell!)

Lamo himself a big name in both the GLBT and Hacker community is notorious for exploiting security holes in companies and agencies and who also has been homeless, overdosed on amphetamines and most recently was institutionalized on a 5150 in a facility in Woodland,Ca.  It was there he was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome.  Aspergers doesn’t automatically make him unreliable, but it does call into question his ability to differentiate social contacts from say…contacts regarding espionage.

In addition Lamo clearly lied to Manning.  Lamo told Glen Greenwald of Salon that “Lamo told me (though it doesn’t appear in the chat logs published by Wired) that he told Manning early on that he was a journalist and thus could offer him confidentiality for everything they discussed under California’s shield law. Lamo also said he told Manning that he was an ordained minister and could treat Manning’s talk as a confession, which would then compel Lamo under the law to keep their discussions confidential (early on in their chats, Manning said: “I can’t believe what I’m confessing to you”). Clearly Lamo explicitly gave Manning the impression that their discussions would be confidential — perhaps legally required to be kept confidential — only to then report everything Manning said to the Government.”

It was after such assurances via IM chat with Lamo, wherein Manning disclosed a variety of issues from struggling with his sexual identity to alluding to espionage that Lamo turned Manning in to U.S. Army authorities.  Based on the report Manning was detained and ultimately sent to Quantico.

The real problem is that Manning is being held in conditions that violate many human rights agreements.  Since being interred at Quantico in June 2010 there have been reports of him being kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. He has been denied sheets and a pillow. He may or may not be denied access to news and other media; there are conflicting reports about that. He is being denied outdoor exercise. There have even been allegations that Manning is kept naked while in his solitary cell. According to his friend David House, Manning is showing signs of physical deterioration. To claim that Manning is being treated this way to avoid him committing suicide is disingenuous, as this kind of solitary confinement has been shown as far back at 1890 (Supreme Court decision In re Medley) causes suicide. Prolonged solitary causes mental disorders, a fact that has been proven repeatedly in the past 120 years.

His treatment is a direct violation of European Union Human Rights Commission standards for incarceration. To prevent an extradited prisoner being subjected to the same treatment, the EU could refuse extradition.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has announced an investigation to discover whether or not the United States should be called into question for torturing Pfc. Manning.

Manning is charged with violating not only Army regulations but also the Espionage Act of 1917, making him the fifth American to be charged under the act for leaking classified documents to the media. For the Full list of charges see HERE

Marine and Army officials claim that Manning is being treated like any maximum security prisoner – in his cell 23 hours a day, allowed reading material, allowed one hour of television and an hour of exercise consisting of walking figure 8’s in a small room. They failed to mention the lack of a pillow, sheets, outdoor exercise or contact with anyone, being awakened if he rolls over towards the wall while sleeping.

They also failed to explain what determines maximum security status. Is it specifically linked to a type of crime Manning has no history in or out of the military of violence or even disruptive behavior, has never been a threat to anyone’s life or safety, does not need protection from a potential assassin in prison, is not an escape risk, is not psychotic and has not committed a particularly heinous violent crime, the usual reasons a civilian ends up in maximum security.

But the few people who have been allowed to see and or talk to Manning tell a different story.  This is supported by the report given by the aforementioned David House who visited him in January stated that he seems close to the breaking point, has lost a lot of weight and is in poor health.

With regards to Manning being held in protective custody Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell stated on Jan 26, 2011 “He is charged with very serious crimes.  That’s why you isolate someone behind bars.  That’s why you confine someone, so that they cannot escape, cannot possibly commit the crimes that they are alleged to have done again.”

This seems a little like closing the barn after the horse has left.  There is absolutely no chance that Manning is getting on another government computer and he is clearly not a hacker.

The charges run contrary to other statements that have been expressed: In 2005, General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters: “It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member [in Iraq], if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to try to stop it.” This, in other words, was the obligation of every U.S. service member in Operation Iraqi Freedom; this remains the obligation of every U.S. service member in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It is a duty that Pfc. Manning has fulfilled.

There is also the fact that more than 50 years ago, U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10 incorporated the Nuremberg Principles, among them Principle IV: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” This remains the law of our land and of our armed forces, too.

Manning is also seemingly protected under the Military Whistleblower’s Protection Act. (MWPA) The MWPA not only allows an even wider array of government officials to make disclosures of classified information; it also broadens the scope of what sorts of disclosure a soldier can make. It expressly allows disclosures of classified information by members of the armed forces if they have a “reasonable belief” that what is being disclosed offers evidence of a “violation of the law,” “an abuse of authority,” or “a substantial danger to public safety.” In other words, the purpose of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act is to protect soldiers just like Pfc. Manning who report on improper — or in this case, patently illegal — activities by other military personnel.

Anyone who has viewed at least the video will be able to draw conclusions regarding the illegality of the military decision to gun down civilians who are clearly unarmed and not in the midst of a military action.

Attorney General Eric Holder is still pursuing the possibility that the leaks represent a violation of the espionage laws.  In order for Espionage Act charges to stick, it is required that Pfc. Manning had the  conscious intent to damage the United States or aid a foreign nation with his disclosures.  This is probably the most damning bit in Manning’s case because a case could actually be made for this.  Manning was depressed, lonely and clearly reaching out to Lamo and others.  He seemingly found himself disillusioned with the cause he had signed up for and from all reports he was alone a lot.

But what is so important about Pfc. Manning?  Why on earth is it taking so long to build a case against a 22 year old with median computer skills who left a neon trail regarding his actions?  For one thing Julian Assange.

While Assange insists he never knew about Manning stating: “I had never heard of the name Bradley Manning before it was published in the press. WikiLeaks technology [was] designed from the very beginning to make sure that we never know the identities or names of people submitting us material. That is, in the end, the only way that sources can be guaranteed that they remain anonymous.”   The government is hoping that isn’t true.  The U.S. wants Assange very badly. He has embarrassed them and according to the U.S. government “Put covert operations at risk.”  The U.S. is hoping Manning breaks and spills the information they need to extradite Assange.

However eight months later, this still has not happened and with the information we have on psychological processes as noted above, it would seem clear that there is no information to be had.

This case is also important because it tests the extent to which we as civilians, journalists, military personnel, and innocent bystanders can stand up and say “Hey, that’s not right.”  Today Manning is in Quantico, tomorrow it may be you.


*Manning is currently imprisoned in the brig at US Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Virginia, awaiting trial. If convicted, Manning faces up to 52 years in prison, dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and benefits and unspecified fines.

Since his arrest, Bradley Manning has issued no formal public statements. Daniel Ellsberg, the famed whistleblower behind the Pentagon Papers, has heralded Pfc. Bradley Manning as a hero.

As of publication Pfc. Manning has been imprisoned for 268 days.