Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can Pfc. Bradley Manning Have It Both Ways?

I’ve been wondering about Pfc. Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of passing hundreds of thousands of military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks.

It can’t be good news for him that we rarely hear a peep about his status. It’s peculiar that a person has to look for news of the case that created such a colossal commotion just a few months ago.

It’s almost as if the US Government, and the mainstream media, “disappeared” him.

But of course we’ve had vital news items draw our attention and energy: Schwarzenegger’s baby-gate. Gingrich’s vacation-gate. And a favorite: Weiner’s wiener-gate. With such noteworthy and historically relevant events at the forefront, it’s a wonder newspapers have any column inches available for all the wars and financial quagmires we’re slogging through, let alone a follow-up on Pfc. Manning.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, released a statement saying no one around the globe has come to harm because of the information Manning and he released. Maybe that’s the real story and it’s just not juicy enough to get a headline.

The courts will decide if Pfc. Manning meets the standards to be considered a true and honest whistleblower.

A legitimate whistleblower has several attributes, follows certain protocol, and has noble goals for taking such radical actions. We don’t yet know if Manning rises to those standards.

A true, red-blooded whistleblower has an altruistic intent: to right a wrong, to assist the weak in their battle against the government (or corporate) machine, to protect the defenseless, to alert the public to fraud or large-scale waste.

Did Pvt. Manning have a particular piece of wrongdoing on his mind to correct? He seems to have released a flood of information about a myriad of topics in a rush of emotion. There are multiple pellets to chase down from his scattergun.

The material he turned over to WikiLeaks is so wide ranging as to defy categorization. If he wanted us to know that government and military operations are ugly and deceptive, OK, but it’s old news. That diplomats are diplomatic to your face and tacky behind your back? Got it.

According to Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller, avenues are available for whistleblowers to report wrongdoing, even in classified matters, “and we encourage people to use them. But people cannot make unilateral decisions to publicly release information that jeopardizes national security. When that happens, the government has an obligation to act.”

There is no evidence – which we’ve been allowed to see anyway – that Manning followed the procedures set out in the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, which provides these methods for employees to bring malefactions to light without compromising security. But, neither can we be sure he acted unilaterally.

Did he speak to his superiors about the egregious infractions wearing on his conscience? If he were thwarted there, did he attempt to draw the attention of his congressman? Again, we haven’t been allowed to know.

Is Manning a true whistleblower, a hero who put himself at risk for the benefit of others, or the “conflicted” young man, “prone to emotional outbursts and impassioned by his beliefs,” profiled in the Washington Post?

With the dearth of information, we cannot know for sure. This is ominous for him, and perhaps for others who hold dark secrets and wish to bring them to light.

It is ominous for us as well. Is our government so insecure that it must squelch anyone who dares challenge its mode of operating?

The conditions under which Manning was detained at a marine base in Quantico, Va., and the resignation of Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley after criticizing the Defense Department’s treatment of Manning, do not bolster confidence in the government’s stance.

That Manning was moved to a medium-security prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, after President Obama assured us “the terms of his confinement [in Quantico] are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards” makes us uneasy.

Did Pfc. Manning attempt to dodge the consequences of his actions by remaining anonymous? The Wall Street Journal says an honest whistleblower, with the courage of his convictions, engages in classic civil disobedience, breaking a law openly, specifically to call attention to that wrongful law. He accepts the consequences of his actions by doing so publicly.

Democracy thrives on the truth and transparency. We must have it. Therefore, the impact of the release may outweigh the circumstance. The ends may justify the means.

Otherwise, he only blew the whistle on himself.