The Political Animal

This Is Bradley Manning’s Idea of Whistleblowing


This is his defense.

According to the defense, Manning was motivated “to do something, something to make a difference,” after arriving inIraq in 2009 and hearing of the carnage that was going on around him.

But Army prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow outlined how the short, bespectacled Manning fell into a partnership with the silver-haired media celebrity Assange. He said they quietly exchanged personal contact information and crafted Internet chat logs as they exposed about 700,000 pages of classified material, including secrets in the fight against terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Coombs said Manning’s decision to release classified documents came in late 2009, when he was new to Iraq and learned to his horror that a family of five had been grievously injured in a roadside bomb attack.

On Christmas Eve 2009, Coombs said, a vehicle with two adults and three children pulled to the side of the road to let an Army convoy pass, only to hit a roadside bomb. “All five of the occupants were taken to the hospital,” Coombs said. “One died en route.”

What troubled Manning more, Coombs said, was that U.S. soldiers cheered because their convoy had missed the hidden bomb. “He couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

He noted that Manning placed the word “Humanist” on the back of his dog tags, signifying his religion, and said the decision to leak material was his, not Assange’s. “He felt he needed to do something, something to make a difference, from that moment forward,” Coombs said. “He started selecting information he believed the public should see and should hear, and that that would make the world a better place.

A young army PFC discovers that in war innocent people horribly, randomly die. “He started selecting information he believed the public should see.”

Rather than clear knowledge of specific wrongdoing, we have one young man with an emotional response to what he witnesses in war. On this basis he substitutes his judgment for that of the American people, their system of government, and their elected leaders. His defense says he “started selecting information.” He passed “700,000 pages of classified material” to Julian Assange. One wonders if court documents include the written, considered protocol by which each of the documents were “selected” by Manning and Assange and judged suitable for declassification and public exposure. One does not wonder too long.

The nature of this defense account is fitting. This is what defenders of Manning so often represent as well – an emotional response to political realities they do not like. In place of the constitutional rule of law and over two centuries of legislative and judicial history, they offer their sense of righteous indignation. Give them the keys to the file lockers.

Along with their moral indignation, one encounters the incoherence of their thinking about nations and governance, openness and secrecy, the nature of order and of moral responsibility. They think Manning should be hailed as a hero. They find the government’s prosecution of him an affront. They often like to recall Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the Pentagon Papers. Said Daniel Ellsberg,

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney began working on “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” with the intent to make his film about Julian Assange. It did not work out that way.

Gibney penetrated the dense circle of agents, lawyers and journalists who surrounded Assange with the help of one of his film’s executive producers, activist Jemima Khan, who had posted some of Assange’s bail in a case involving allegations of sexual abuse by two Swedish women.

After months of discussions about Assange’s possible participation in his film, Gibney flew to England, where his subject was living under house arrest in a country estate, for a six-hour meeting. According to Gibney, at that meeting Assange told him the going rate for an interview was $1 million. When Gibney said he didn’t pay for interviews, Assange asked if instead the director would tell him what others interviewed in the documentary were saying.

“He didn’t see the irony at all,” said Gibney, 59, an unusually prolific filmmaker who often has multiple projects proceeding at the same time. “To him, he was … being attacked by big and powerful forces and he should have the right to do whatever is necessary to protect himself. The idea that spying on other interview subjects would be ironic for a transparency organization didn’t occur to him at all.”

Assange chose to keep what he knew to himself.


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