Inside Story America

Bradley Manning: A whistleblowing hero?

We discuss Private Bradley Manning’s motives for leaking thousands of classified US documents.

For the first time since he was detained more than two and half years ago, the world has been allowed an insight into the motives of Bradley Manning, the US soldier who leaked hundreds of thousands of military documents to the anti-secrecy website, Wikileaks.

I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground …. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.

– Bradley Manning, the US soldier who leaked military documents to Wikileaks

At a court hearing last week, the 25-year-old read a 35-page statement, in which he said he wanted to expose, what he called “the American military’s disregard for human life” and provoke a public debate about US military and foreign policy.

Manning also conveyed his relief at having given the documents to Wikileaks before going back to Iraq.

“I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan every day,” he said.

Among the files Private Manning gave to Wikileaks was the now notorious cockpit footage, known as “Collateral Murder” of a US attack helicopter crew killing a group of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

Manning, who had access to the documents through his work as a military analyst in Iraq, explained how he initially offered the information to The New York Times and the Washington Post, before turning to Wikileaks.

His acceptance of 10 of the charges against him has appeared only to further energise his support base, especially internationally, where he is often seen as a whistleblowing hero.

“I think this aiding the enemy charges is the most serious, but it is also the most ridiculous, it’s as if we are prosecuting Nike shoes for aiding the enemy if it turned out that some al-Qaeda operative favoured vintage air Jordan. Its overreaching and I think it’s one in four chances that it will stick and if it does stick it will be a dangerous erosion of press freedom in the United States.”

–  Chase Madar, an attorney and author of The Passion of Bradley Manning       

However, the US government, is still pursuing 12 more serious charges, including the capital offence of “aiding the enemy”.

Also last week, the US Senate dropped an investigation into the government’s cooperation with the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, a Hollywood film about the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. 

It has been criticised for suggesting torture led to the operation’s successful outcome. Alongside the Obama administration’s routine use of leaks of confidential national security information to journalists, the accusations of hypocrisy in Manning’s prosecution have once again been raised.

What can we learn from Private Bradley Manning’s explanation for leaking US documents? Is Manning a hero or a villain?

To discuss this on Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, are guests: Chase Madar, an attorney and author of The Passion of Bradley Manning; Joe Glenton, a British army Afghanistan veteran, writer and filmmaker; Jesselyn Radack, a national security and human rights director at Government Accountability Project; and JD Gordon, the former US Defense Department spokesman.

“I think there was some pressure brought on the government about why aren’t you doing enough about Bradley Manning? If you look at the context at what he has done, and the enormous damage he did to national security and our prestige around the world, throughout most of history somebody like that would be executed.

In fact there are members of the US Congress who call for his execution. So I think when people thought that he has a plea bargain where he is looking for 20 years, that is not sufficient. So I think there was pressure on the government to bring forth additional charges so they can get additional time and a life sentence.”    

– JD Gordon, the former defence department spokesman