The passion of Bradley Manning

Many have questioned Manning’s sanity for allegedly releasing US military files, but who’s questioning military tactics?

Bradley Manning
Author questions why Manning is being punished for doing ‘precisely what Barack Obama swore he would do on coming into office: increase government transparency and highlight the constructive role of whistleblowers in society’ [EPA]

Fethiye, Turkey – When American civil rights attorney Chase Madar told me he was writing a book entitled The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story of the Suspect Behind the Largest Security Breach in US History, I knew right away that Madar was mentally ill, abusing a range of pharmaceuticals and possibly also epileptic.

My diagnosis was confirmed with the book’s release this month. What else would compel a lawyer to suggest that there is “an injustice hardwired within the system of laws itself”?

A studious ignorance

As Madar demonstrates in The Passion, similarly scientific methods of diagnosis have been employed in the case against Manning, the 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst from Crescent, Oklahoma who is accused of transferring hundreds of thousands of documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

As a result of the leaks, the world has learned more about topics ranging from the etiquette of US soldiers operating Apache gunships in Iraq to US State Department machinations to prevent an increase in the hourly minimum wage in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, from 22 to 61 cents.

Quoting extensively from segments of the chatlogsascribed to Manning – which, in the words of Madar, reveal the young man’s “intent is conscious, coherent, historically informed and above all it is political” – the author notes that the information contained therein has “for the most part been studiously ignored by a mass media determined not to comprehend Bradley Manning’s motives”.

“Manning is guilty of precisely ‘what Barack Obama swore he would do on coming into office.’

– Chase Madar, civil rights attorney

In the chatlogs, Manning offers a variety of straightforward justifications for leaking government material: “[I] want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” As Madar documents, however, the possibility that a rational human being has made a decision in accordance with his own rational principles is categorically dismissed by media pundits who prefer to expound ad infinitum on the sexual, emotional, psychiatric and pharmacological reasons for Manning’s behaviour.

One of these pundits is “Joy Reid, a Harvard-educated blogger, commentator and Obama loyalist” who invokes Manning’s homosexuality and transgender aspirations in her analysis of the Army whistleblower as “a guy seeking anarchy as a salve for his own personal, psychological torment”.

Obama: paranoid schizophrenic?

Madar argues at the start of the book that Manning is guilty of precisely “what Barack Obama swore he would do on coming into office”: increase governmental transparency and highlight the constructive role of whistleblowers in society.

One has to wonder about the implications for said society when the entire political and media establishment has unleashed its impromptu expertise in the field of psychoanalysis against Manning while not even the liberal-left cares to scrutinise a president who, as Madar writes, “has preserved, streamlined and often intensified his predecessor’s bellicose foreign policies” and “has presided over more leaks prosecutions under the Espionage Act of 1917 – a use that the statute’s authors never intended – than all his predecessors combined”.

Madar’s debunking of efforts to pathologise Manning’s actions is meanwhile accompanied by his own replacement diagnoses such as that “[r]ight now, classification is the disease of Washington, secrecy its mania and dementia its end point”. With the help of tragicomic details such as that Washington managed to classify approximately 77 million documents in 2010 and that it took the National Security Agency until 2011 to declassify documents from 1809, Madar outlines the perils of over-classification, especially given the post-9/11 “elephantiasis-like expansion of state apparatuses intended to ensure the control of information”: “If a society like ours doesn’t know its own history, it becomes the great power equivalent of a wandering amnesiac, not knowing what it did yesterday or where it will end up tomorrow.”

As for the classification of information such as that the Strait of Gibraltar is a vital shipping lane, Madar wonders: “Have we in America become so infantilised that tidbits of basic geography must now be state secrets?”

The Sovietisation of the US

Regarding the nine months of pre-trial solitary confinement to which Manning was subjected at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia – during which time he was denied any form of exercise in his cell, required to respond every five minutes to his guards and forced to sleep naked after pointing out that he could conceivably kill himself with his underwear – Madar poses the question: “Why was Manning treated like the inmate of a Soviet psychiatric prison?”

As the author goes on to demonstrate, however, Manning’s treatment was not nearly as foreign, in terms of “legal and penal norms”, as many would believe. Citing horrifying statistics on the number of US inmates being held in long-term solitary confinement, an arrangement far more conducive to psychosis than rehabilitation, Madar comments:

“Manning’s isolation cell at Quantico Marine Base was anything but an anomaly. It was an invisibly normal feature of the American landscape, just like baseball diamonds and strip malls… Long-term solitary confinement, even of pretrial suspects, is just one of the things the American government does, like paving roads and delivering the mail.”

Madar also exposes as false and naïve the notion that atrocities associated with Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other landmarks of the War on Terror constitute a “colossal and shameful exception to our laws and customs”, when they are “at base a simple extension of our everyday ‘normal’ way of doing criminal justice”.

Details of abuse and torture at domestic detention facilities, referenced by Madar, suggest that Guantanamo is indeed a shining testament to “American values”. As for the international utility of racial profiling policies in out-Sovieting the Soviets, it is useful to review the following passage from The Passion:

“It is no coincidence that many of the public figures who have pointed out the essential congruence of the Global War on Terror with US domestic criminal justice – journalists like Margaret Kimberley and Bob Herbert, and law professor James Forman, Jr – are African American. Black Americans, whose overall incarceration rate today is probably higher than that of Soviet citizens at the peak of the gulag, have long had ample reasons[,] and now as much as ever, to doubt the fundamental rightness of the American justice system.”

An indictment of the law

After a review of the impunity with which certain international actors are permitted to break the law – as in the case of the United Nations charter, which should have precluded war on Iraq in 2003 but which “was as gleefully flouted as if it were an archaic town ordinance prohibiting jump-rope on the Sabbath” – Madar’s treatise ultimately evolves into an indictment of the law itself:

“We lawyers tend to think that law is by nature something good and just and that it’s dirty politics that fouls everything up. But the WikiLeaks disclosures reveal something far more troubling than violations of the rule of law; [what] they reveal is the pathology of the laws themselves.”

For example, the infamous “Collateral Murder” video allegedly leaked by Manning – in which a US helicopter fires on Iraqi civilians and then on the van, complete with children inside, that arrives to rescue the wounded – did not elicit a condemnation from major international human rights organisations. Explains Madar: “The reason for their silence is disquietingly simple: the gunship’s actions were, under the Rule of Law as codified and accepted in international humanitarian law (IHL), perfectly legal.”

In a recent article for TomDispatch, Madar meanwhile notes that the Manning chatlogs indicate that “[t]he young private saw very clearly what so many professors and generals take pains to deny: that the primary function of the laws of war is not to restrain violence, but to justify it, often with the greatest lawyerly ingenuity.”

Humanity as crime/disease

Incidentally, one of Manning’s chatlog comments provides the very psychological motivation that his army of volunteer psychoanalysts has been tripping over itself to produce:

(03:35:44 PM) bradass87: i think ive been traumatized too much by reality, to care about consequences of shattering the fantasy

Components of the “reality” to which Manning refers include not only incidents such as that portrayed in the “Collateral Murder” video but also his witnessing of US complicity in the detention, by the torture-happy Iraqi Federal Police, of nonviolent civilians who had printed a scholarly critique of the Iraqi regime. In the chatlogs, Manning expresses his hope that the release of 260,000 State Department cables “explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective… might actually change something”.

He subsequently writes:

“i feel connected to everybody… like they were distant family”, and “we’re human… and we’re killing ourselves… and no-one seems to see that… and it bothers me”.

Manning’s humanity, all the more notable for its cultivation in the context of a dehumanising military system, stands in stark contrast to the “sudden geyser of concern” among the US military and media that – as Madar notes – accompanies WikiLeaks’ failure to redact all names of local informants and collaborators from the Afghan War Logs. Drawing attention to the conspicuous lack of a similar geyser with regard to civilian casualties of drone strikes, not to mention the Department of Defense’s admission that there were no reports of reprisals against named informants, Madar concludes: “But why dwell on the vulgar certainty of real casualties when you can keen and wail for the civilian deaths that might be caused someday, hypothetically, by WikiLeaks?”

The deployment of effective rhetoric throughout The Passion of Bradley Manning (see also “[S]ome three million Americans have a security clearance: did none of these people who came into contact with the ‘Collateral Murder’ video see fit to release it to the public?”) underscores the soundness of Madar’s final diagnosis:

“If the [WikiLeaks] disclosures have failed to alter American statecraft, then the fault lies not with the whistleblower, but with a society incapable of receiving this great gift of knowledge.”

It meanwhile remains to be seen whether the ever-versatile Espionage Act of 1917 can be used to prosecute lawyer-scribes who endanger US national security by pointing out that manic over-classification endangers US national security.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is an editor at PULSE Media, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, CounterPunch, Guernica Magazine, and many other publications.

Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez