April 2, 2012
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning — the man accused of blowing
a whistle so loud it’s still reverberating through the world
two years after the fact — will return before a judge for his
court-martial proceedings this month.
Manning, 24, faces 22 charges, including "aiding the
enemy" and violating the 1917
Espionage Act, for allegedly transferring more than 700,000
classified and sensitive government documents from a ostensibly
secure Department of Defense/State Department network
to WikiLeaks, including what we know now as the Iraq
War logs, the Afghan
War logs, and the State
Department diplomatic cables. He has been incarcerated since May
2010, and may never see the light a day again if the prosecution has
It might be too easy to invoke Manning as martyr two days after
Palm Sunday, when Christians observe the betrayal, humiliation and
crucifixion of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. While it is not
our intention to compare Manning to the Christian Son of God, who
according to Gospel,
rose from the dead, humanity’s sins forgiven, on Easter
Sunday, author Chase Madar lays out a deft argument that Manning has
indeed sacrificed everything for his country’s sins in his
aptly entitled new book, The
Passion of Bradley Manning.
"I wanted to write a full-out defense of his alleged deeds — a political and moral defense," Madar told Antiwar.com
in a recent interview. And he has. As Madar points out, there are
"many people in history who have died and sacrificed for their
cause." The Passion makes an industrious case that
Manning did what he did for a cause: to give the people the
information they need and deserve about what their government is
doing in their name. Transparency — Robin Hood style.
"What I find remarkable and praiseworthy is, he was not —
despite having this terrible time getting bullied and messed with
constantly — leaking these things to get revenge," Madar
said. "He was a true believer in patriotic duty and military
service, I think. If you look at the chat
logs, he was very clear about his motives for leaking, that this
was what the public should know, so that we as a country could make
"Transparency in statecraft," is what Madar called
it in the book, and it "was not invented by Julian Assange. It
is a longstanding American tradition that dates back to the first
years of the republic."
While the government and the mainstream media have endeavored to
make Manning an emotionally conflicted young man whose alleged
transgressions followed years of peer abuse and tortured sexual
identity, Madar stands to make the case that Manning’s journey
began with a scrawny bespectacled kid who questioned his teachers,
toward disillusionment and a tortuous struggle with the truth, and at last,
walking in the footsteps of great whistleblowers like Daniel
Ellsberg (who is a fan and supporter of Manning’s).
In other words, where the establishment sees a freak and a
miscreant, Madar offers to us an American hero.
"We need to know what our government’s commitments
are. Our foreign policy elites have clearly demonstrated they cannot
be left to their own devices …Thanks to the whistleblowing
revelations attributed to Bradley Manning, we have a far clearer
picture of what our country is doing," Madar writes,
going so far as to say this was a "gift to the republic,"
deserving of a Medal of Freedom, and not the 50 years-to-life
sentence (which Manning could receive) in a federal brig.
"Releasing the war logs and the diplomatic cables was a
practical solution to a severe problem of government
obfuscation…government secrecy and distortion have played a
major role in this blood-soaked mess" that is the war
overseas, Madar argues in the book. "Only with some knowledge
can the course be corrected."
From Manning’s live chat logs with FBI informant Adrian
Lamo, now part of his prosecution:
(02:28:10 am) bradass87 (Manning): I want
people to see the truth …regardless of who they are …
because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a
(1:11:54 pm) bradass87: and …its important that it gets out …i feel,
for some bizarre reason
(1:12:02 pm) bradass87: it might actually change something
Madar, who is a civil rights lawyer by trade, is a contributing
editor for The American
Conservative (I also write for the magazine) and has been
published by Counterpunch,
Review of Books and TomDispatch.
After a string of reports and commentaries about the plight of
Manning in federal custody, he said, TomDispatch publisher
Tom Engelhardt encouraged him to write the book and became a
It is of course, not the only tome written on the subject. The
Nation’s Greg Mitchell has just published his second book
on Manning, written with Kevin Gosztola, Truth
and Consequences: The U.S. vs. Bradley Manning. Denver
Nicks, who has been writing exhaustively about the soldier’s
case for The Daily Beast, is set to release Private:
Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Biggest Exposure of Official
Secrets in American History in May.
Unlike Nicks’ book, however, Madar freely admits his is
not a journalistic exercise. His goal is one of a defense attorney’s
brief — defending not only the actions of Manning but of all
government whistleblowers. And though he might have considered
footnotes rather than the sweep of links in the endnotes, Madar
attributes and makes tidy work of other’s capable reporting,
weaving in his own interviews with legal experts, former military
and government sources.
He then posits that Manning was in fact doing his job, as an
American, and as a man who once swore an oath to the U.S.
"A great many of the approximately 700,000 leaked
documents are not classified at all; many should be covered by the
Whistleblower Protection Act," Madar writes.
"But many would not be so covered, and Manning — or
whoever it was — deserves all the more credit for this act of
civil disobedience…Bradley Manning’s alleged act was an
act of intense political courage."
This was not born out of idealism or utopianism, as suggested by
critics and naysayers, Madar insists, but of a simple principle
Manning has lived by at his own peril: "do the right thing."
Manning’s "alleged act" began with his leaking of
what was later referred to by WikiLeaks as the "Collateral
Murder" video. In it, a U.S. Apache
gunship is seen shooting down Iraqi civilians, including children,
in 2007. The military tried to keep the video hidden. "I just
couldn’t let these things stay inside the system … and
inside my head," Manning told Lamo during their online chats.
The trove of documents he allegedly then sent to WikiLeaks told
us that the U.S. military was hiding the number of civilians killed
in Iraq (after being told officially "we
don’t do body counts"). They told us the military
Iraqi torture of prisoners, that there was a secret U.S. military
assassination team engaging
in extrajudicial justice in Afghanistan, that
our government pressured other countries not to prosecute our
rendition practices, and of course, catalogued all sorts of cozy
relationships with creepy dictators and questionable diplomatic
While the leaks have "added to our store of knowledge of
how American foreign policy works, and that is a good thing,"
said Madar, "Washington has learned absolutely nothing from
the failure of prolonged war … instead you have a lot of
pretending that the real damage to our country and our prestige as a
nation is because of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks."
Madar’s wants to turn that thinking on its head.
To do that he asks the reader to step back from two years of the
mainstream conventional thinking about Manning’s alleged
catastrophic behavior, assumptions created in great part by what
Madar calls the government "hypochondriacally groaning about
the damage done by Manning’s alleged leaks," which has
turned out to be a lot of bluster. "Not a single death has
been traced to Pfc. Manning’s alleged leaks," writes
As for the diplomatic fallout of the leaked State Department
cables, "the real diplomatic shakeup has been, on the surface,
quite minor — a small price to pay for this treasury of
It is of no surprise, really, that the mainstream media and the
establishment it serves have largely ignored the blistering
revelations in the leaks themselves. Doing otherwise would have
complicated the simple narrative of boy-does-treason. It would have
forced the public to answer the ultimate question: what is more
important, the fact Manning allegedly broke the rules regarding
classified information (which official Washington does all the time
when it suits), or finally getting the truth about all the spying,
torturing, killing and other pernicious if not completely immoral
deeds going on in secret, and largely without the consent of our
elected representatives in Washington?
"The leaks themselves have almost been swallowed up by the
story of the leaks," Madar laments.
If we are ready to consider the more sober realities of
Manning’s case, Madar suggests beginning with the
classification system itself. Some 77 million government documents were
classified in 2010 alone, a 40 percent increase over the year
before. Experts agree there is a problem with over-classification in
that it keeps the public out of the decision-making process. Even
then-candidate Barack Obama promised to tackle the issue of
transparency in government when he was running for president.
Yet conversely, classification has been used under the Obama
Administration to censor and punish whistleblowers — like Tom
Drake and Peter
Van Buren — and to keep information endeavored to be
shared by whistleblowers, out of the public domain. It’s
gotten so that documents and reports are no longer classified
exclusively to keep the nation safe, but to keep our leaders safe
from embarrassment — and accountability. They’ve even
started to classify things
In other words, we may never know how much of the cache Manning
let loose should have been classified in the first place.
But Manning broke the rules, right? And "rules are rules."
Manning is accused of stealing public records, tampering with
government computers, knowingly publishing intelligence information
on the internet where it could "aid the enemy,"
transferring defense information in violation of the Espionage Act.
But as Madar points out, "elite leaks of classified material
to the media are frequent and routine — an accepted means for
official Washington to communicate with the public."
If a rule is only selectively enforced it ceases to be a rule
and becomes something else — an arbitrary instrument of
authority, a weapon of the powerful — but not a rule….
There is no legal distinction between the leak of, say, the
classified drone strike procedures by some unnamed CIA official and
what Bradley Manning allegedly did … when official Washington
decides to leak, the law fades away…
Sadly, Americans seem more forgiving when the government lies
about weapons of mass destruction to get us into war, engages
in and denies the rendition and torture of terror suspects,
classified information to cover its tracks or kills
American citizens abroad under the rubric of "the war on
If Bradley Manning had launched a war that slaughtered
hundreds of thousands; if he had tortured prisoners, if he had shot
dead Iraqi civilians: if he were a lawyer, justifying all of the
above, or some general or cabinet level official whispering state
secrets to Bob Woodward over a martini — he’d emerged
Of course he’s none of those things, he’s Pfc.
Manning, unconnected and against odds too great to even contemplate.
His lawyer, David E. Coombs, has
filed a series of motions, one of which asks that all charges
against Manning be dismissed. Coombs claims the government — surprise — is
withholding evidence the court needs to adjudicate Manning’s
case fairly and effectively, including official damage assessments
of the leaks. And at least two outside groups have filed letters to
the military court complaining about the lack of access to what
should be public court filings.
Manning’s case has become a waning sideshow, kept alive
only at the periphery of our mainstream attention span by a very
vocal support network, and not surprisingly, the foreign
audience. But as Madar points out, "ignorance is not just a
matter of information supply, but of demand." Today’s
Americans care less about "the truth," much preferring
celluloid rebels and the formulaic black and white tension of The
Lorax and The
Hunger Games to the ethical and moral complexities
associated with flesh ’n blood risk takers and truth-seekers.
"The paucity of public-spirited citizens speaks poorly of
American rebelliousness," writes Madar. "After all, what
country can remain free if its citizens no longer have any 'issues
Manning may indeed become a martyr to his cause, but he is far
from being widely accepted as an American hero. Madar in his own
small way, is trying to change that, one page at a time.