Bradley Manning is a US soldier who was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed classified military material to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Assigned to an army unit based near Baghdad, Manning had access to databases used by the military to transmit classified information. He was charged with 22 offences by the US government, including those of communicating national defence information to an unauthorised source and aiding the enemy. A military judge on July 30 2013 acquitted Manning of the most serious charge against him, aiding the enemy, but convicted him of most of the other charges including espionage, theft and computer fraud.
Bradley Manning conviction will inspire others to follow
Sreeram Chaulia says the conviction of US military whistle-blower Bradley Manning on spying charges for telling the truth makes a mockery of justice
The conviction of Private Bradley Manning on charges of espionage by a US military court is a huge setback to the honourable practices of whistle-blowing and political dissent. Manning, who leveraged his position as an intelligence analyst in the US army in Iraq to let out thousands of classified reports and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks organisation, spoke truth to power but suffered persecution dressed up as military justice.
The establishment had decided a priori that he was a "traitor" for exposing its egregious crimes in Iraq and elsewhere. To brand conscientious whistle-blowers as spies is a miscarriage of justice. What axe was Manning grinding? He saw himself doing a service to humanity by blowing the cover on illegal impunity of the US military which was violating the Geneva Conventions.
The chilling video of the American helicopter assault in Baghdad which wantonly killed innocent civilians in 2007 was one of several episodes contained in the WikiLeaks dossier that put the lie to the liberation rhetoric used as a pretext to justify the illegitimate war in Iraq.
Manning has been crucified to drive fear into insiders within the American security apparatus not to contemplate future leaks. In the murky underworld of the Pentagon, "leakers" have become a menace to the arbitrary power that has accumulated in the hands of a vast and privatised military intelligence complex.
The soldier had to be severely punished because he upset the logic of raison d'etat for the hawks in the US government and their private contractors to make merry under the cloak of "national security".
But the fire Manning lit is not easily extinguishable due to popular disillusionment in America with foreign military misadventures. The former National Security Agency contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden is absconding from American kangaroo courts. Like Manning, who was moved to act by the indignities of war, Snowden opened our eyes by revealing the control mindset that permeates the US security mandarins and their allied private military firms.
The main reason the US government is desperate to get Snowden extradited from Russia is to preserve the institutional dominance of militarism in the public sphere. Yet, with Manning all set to be locked up in jail, the American state is confronting a public relations disaster. The next time an American president or secretary of state lectures a foreign interlocutor about human rights or political prisoners, why would they not retort that Manning and Snowden too were hounded for dissenting?
A succession of whistle-blowers (there are many recent cases of leakers of sensitive US government data that did not draw international headlines) is muckraking more frequently than ever before due to technological advances of the internet age. It is placing a question mark on the very meaning of democracy and free speech in America.
The harsh crackdown that the American state is deploying to rein in free thinkers who have access to confidential information is manufacturing martyrs. The next Manning and Snowden is just around the corner. She or he will be inspired, not cowed.
Sreeram Chaulia is a professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India