December 21, 2010

Defend Bradley Manning

American Soldiers Should Be First in Line To Defend Bradley Manning
by Andrew Mason and Mark R. Crovelli

One of the most curious facets of the ongoing Wikileaks saga is the conspicuous silence of the American military about the Bradley Manning case. The military’s silence is absolutely deafening, for example, on the pages of Stars and Stripes, where only two articles in the turbulent month of December have even deigned to mention Mr. Manning. One would expect that, in a case involving the largest leak of classified documents in the history of the world, the armed forces would be staking out a concrete position on this case for the entire world, and especially the armed forces, to see. After all, it was one of the armed forces’ own who allegedly released the documents to Wikileaks, and other active-duty servicemen with access to classified documents may be considering doing the very same thing as Manning.

This silence emanating from the armed forces regarding Manning raises a fascinating and important question: What position should the armed forces take with regard to the Manning case? We all know what stance the Pentagon is likely to take, given that many of the embarrassing documents actually refer to people in the Pentagon, but the question that truly needs to be answered concerns the position the armed forces should take – especially the position that average soldiers should take on Bradley Manning.

The answer, it turns out, cannot be discovered by facilely pointing out that it is illegal under military law for soldiers to release classified information to the public. This is true, because the document classification system has been manipulated by political and military elites in a way that is extremely prejudicial to average soldiers. Ironically, this fact has itself been revealed by the Wikileaks releases, because it is clear that political and military elites are over-classifying documents in order to protect their own asses. They have been classifying documents "secret" even when they involve nothing more than gossip about foreign diplomats and royalty, for example. Peruse the Wikileaks files for two minutes and you will get a good sense of just how absurd the document classification system in the United States has become.

Insofar as the document classification system in the U.S. has been absurdly extended and abused, this has created a serious moral problem for conscientious soldiers in the armed forces. For, by over-classifying documents, political and military elites are able to hamstring their subordinates and make the exposure of what they are doing virtually impossible, unless it is leaked. Any unsavory, illegal, untruthful or even just plain embarrassing information can be hidden from public view simply by stamping the offensive document "secret." It is also a way for political and military elites to avoid prosecution for crimes in the United States by claiming that their defense involves "sensitive" or "secret" documents that cannot be revealed in open court. This strategy is so common in our corrupted day and age that it even has a name: "greymail."

In essence, then, the document classification system in the United States has warped into an instrument of intimidation against average, conscientious soldiers who might be appalled by their superiors’ words or deeds. Superior officers and civilian bureaucrats can preempt dissent by simply stamping incriminating documents "secret," and use that tiny word as a threat against conscientious soldiers that they had better keep their mouths shut – or else. This threat is all the more unconscionable while two wars are going on that are killing average American soldiers, not political and military elites, in droves. When lies are used to get American soldiers killed, and soldiers are intimidated to preempt the exposure of those lies, you have a recipe for tragedy on a massive scale.

It is important to bear in mind, moreover, that we are not talking about documents upon which the safety of the United States rests. No high-ranking officers would be stupid or reckless enough to share such sensitive documents with low-level officers and enlistees. If they were that mind bogglingly idiotic, then the entire Pentagon and officer corps ought to be forced to resign for incompetence immediately. In addition, the fact that people in Washington routinely leak documents to the press that are far more sensitive to national security than those Manning released, like the National Intelligence Estimate, testifies to the existence of a revolting double standard being applied to political and military elites as compared to the standard being applied to average soldiers like Mr. Manning.

Bearing these observations in mind, it ought to be obvious that average soldiers should celebrate Bradley Manning as a hero who stood up to this unconscionable intimidation from above. He didn’t just reveal to the world that the upper echelons of the political and military establishment are engaged in outright crimes and deception; he revealed and took a stand against conscientious soldiers being silenced by asinine document over-classification. He is, in other words, a defender of the honor and integrity of the average soldier and the Army’s own core values, which stands in stark contrast to the depravity of the political and military elites that we meet in the Wikileaks documents, and who are now trampling on the constitution even in their detention of Mr. Manning.

Thus, average soldiers ought to be the first in line to defend Bradley Manning. They ought to insist that he only be punished if it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the documents he released were indeed of vital importance to the security of the United States. If this cannot be proven, then Mr. Manning ought to be immediately and unconditionally released. (Proving this in Mr. Manning’s case will be extremely difficult, however, given that Defense Secretary Gates has already asserted that the documents have harmed no one, and the fact that the Pentagon didn’t even think it necessary to redact names from the documents). The assumption going forward, now that we know for a fact that documents are being over-classified in abundance by political and military elites, is that any released document is not vital to national security until conclusively proven otherwise. If average soldiers were to operate under this assumption, moreover, political and military elites would be forced to take the time to actually hide any truly sensitive documents from the view of hundreds of thousands of people, as they should have been doing from day one.

It was long overdue for someone to stand up against the practice of over-classifying documents in order to intimidate average soldiers. Bradley Manning has courageously done so, and all members of the armed forces should rejoice for it.

December 22, 2010

Andrew Mason is a former corporal in the U.S.M.C. Mark R. Crovelli [send him mail] writes from Denver, Colorado.

Copyright © 2010 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Share This