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Mar 3, 2011

Rundle: with WikiLeaks, Manning erred in being human

Just at the point when the WikiLeaks saga was collapsing into final absurdity, US soldier Bradley Manning faces 22 additional charges, including that of aiding the enemy, which attracts the death penalty.

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Just at the point when the WikiLeaks saga was collapsing into final absurdity — with Julian Assange’s apparent outburst about a Jewish conspiracy, his attempt to trademark his name (to be fair, this is to protect him from false endorsement claims, etc), and the announcement that Steven Spielberg has bought the rights to  The Guardian book and the tell-all by former WikiLeaker Daniel Domscheit-Berg — something comes along to tip it into tragedy again, and that is the charging of US soldier Bradley Manning with 22  additional crimes, including that of aiding the enemy, which attracts the death penalty.

The other charges include wrongfully obtaining classified material, fraud, and illegal transmission of defence information. The capital charge relates specifically to the presence of names of informers in many of the leaked documents, and the argument that such release may have led directly to deaths in Afghanistan.

None of the charges mention WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks claims that it has no way of knowing who its sources are — or were , when it had the capacity for people to submit material — but it is usually supposed that Manning is the source for the “Afghan” and “Iraq” war logs, and the entire “Cablegate” archive. Manning, a low-level military information operative in Iraq and then back in the US, copied the archives over eight months from the US US SIPRNet network, and passed them on to WikiLeaks — or so he claimed to Adrian Lamo, a well-known hacker, who shopped him to the authorities. Lamo already had criminal convictions on hacking charges, and was terrified of massive retaliation by the authorities.

That retaliation has now fallen on Manning, who has been held virtually incommunicado, save for lawyer contact, for the past 10 months. Despite being innocent until proven guilty, even under military law, his extended remand has been a bloody-minded application of every regulation associated with US “supermax” prisons — he is in permanent solitary confinement (even his one hour/day exercise), under permanent surveillance, must make a verbal response to a query every 10 minutes, and if he attempts to take exercise in his cell — push-ups, for example — he is physically prevented from doing so. Visitors — including former Salon journalist Glenn Greenwald and Congressman Dennis Kucinich — have been prevented from visiting him.

The clear intent of such a process is to break Manning down to a pitiful state of desperation, and persuade him to incriminate Julian Assange as an active conspirator (although even then, it would be difficult to charge a non-US citizen with espionage charges). In his online chats with Lamo, Manning talks of some contact with Assange but it would be up to the prosecution to prove that this was something more than idle chat.

Whether it achieves that or not, it may well overshoot the mark and drive Manning completely and irrevocably insane. Such forms of confinement are unquestionably torture, but they are torture of a very specific kind — a sort of paradoxical torture. If the aim of torture per se is to make the prisoner’s body rebel against their soul — have animal pain and terror fill the consciousness until any principle, belief, or commitment is undermined — then the “supermax” regime is the opposite — it dissolves subjectivity by removing all that is most basically human, from diversion to human connection.

This is the point made most famously by Foucault: that the notion that neat antiseptic prison regimes are more humane than physical punishment is the founding conceit of modernity. In many ways they can be worse. Solitary confinement and the microcontrol of a prisoner’s behaviour are designed as a form of total annihilation, because they exert enormous energies in ensuring that the prisoner goes on existing, while depriving him of anything resembling life. That division of existence from purposeful life is effectively a standardised and routinised way of producing despair.

Not surprisingly, it is a particularly American form of human annihilation. The “supermax” prisons, and such total regimes, are the descendants of the first modern prison schemes, the penitentiaries established by the Quakers in Pennsylvania in the 1830s. Where other prisons housed prisoners collectively in squalor as part of their punishment, the Quakers believed that this merely bred criminality. The object was to make a prisoner repent (as the name suggests) by developing a relationship with God — and the only way to do that was to deprive a prisoner of a relationship with anyone else.

Thus, prisoners in the penitentiary were ideally utterly isolated from anyone else — they even had separate corridors so they couldn’t see each other. Eventually through their screaming isolation they would seek and find God. The gentle and peaceful Quakers thought that this invention was a force for good; many of those who observed it, such as Charles Dickens, thought it was a horrifying nightmare. But someone who never saw a problem with it was Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in America was based on the trip he took to the US to report on this marvellous new prison system, for the French government.

Much of Democracy in America was devoted to trying work out what the problems of the new American society might be. He never realised that the answer was the very thing he was sent to study — the penitentiary was the other side of American depthlessness, an indifference to the full humanity of others hidden from oneself by following correct procedure and affirming goodness of heart.

The penitentiary is bad enough when it’s part of a God-centred culture; when part of one — even the US — where God is a shaky notion, then it’s a literal Hell. Its deeply anti-human nature does achieve what the Quakers sought, since many prisoners become believers out of the sheer need for someone to talk to, but it’s a counterfeit conversion, won through psychological warfare.

With 2 million Americans in prison, many of them in semi-penitentiary style incarceration, the prison system mirrors key aspects of American life — in particular the substantial atomisation and isolation of everyday life.

It even reflects much of the case at hand. Manning, a gay man, joined the military out of lack of direction, and found himself in a situation where he had to live the shadow-life of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. It was a relationship in Boston that brought him into contact with hackers such as Lamo — and the end of that relationship that plunged him into the loneliness and despair that prompted him to blab to Lamo. Lamo himself writes as a floating child of the aether — an isolated, disconnected depressive and chemically enhanced. There’s no doubting the genuineness of Manning’s outrage at much of the material he saw, but nor is there any doubt that the chaotic and unstable way in which this has all come about is a much a measure of the age, as is the content of the cables themselves. Their lives, and the punitive regimes Manning is under are of a piece with the war he was exposing, where a high-tech obsessed with notions of its own virtue could — as illustrated by the “collateral murder” video — distance itself from any consequences of individual action, any basic shared humanity.

What options there are for Manning now is anyone’s guess, but he’s in a tight corner. The WikiLeaks process has been part of an argument that governments should be more open, that power relations should be reconstructed in a new era. That’s not the same as saying that individual operatives should have the legal right to distribute as they wish. At some point, the prosecution of such an act becomes an act of decorum essential to the state’s existence, and to suggest that a massive classified document leak could be ignored is simply unreal. For Assange and WikiLeaks, a defence is clear and absolute. Manning erred in being human; his only hope may now lie in finding a quality of mercy. Judging by his treatment to date, that is a long way off.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Guy Rundle is Crikey's correspondent-at-large. He was co-editor of Arena Magazine for 15 years, and has written four hit stage shows for Max Gillies, two musicals, numerous books and produced TV shows including Comedy Inc and Backberner.

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33 thoughts on “Rundle: with WikiLeaks, Manning erred in being human

  1. Acidic Muse


    Michael James is talking absolute rubbish.

    Only a handful of US citizens held in US Military prisons are held in segregation (solitary confinement) prior to trial

    As Salon Magazine reported in Dec

    “Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a “Maximum Custody Detainee,” the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.”

    Currently Manning is the only detainee being held in Maximum (MAX) custody and under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch. Every other detainee at that Quantico Brig (stockade is the Army equivalent) are being held in Medium Detention In (MDI) and without POI watch restrictions. Therefore, unlike Manning, every other detainee is allowed outside of their cell for the majority of the day

    Article 13 of the US Code of Military justice actually states:

    No person, while being held for trial, may be subjected to punishment or penalty other than arrest or confinement upon the charges pending against him, nor shall the arrest or confinement imposed upon him be any more rigorous than the circumstances required to insure his presence, but he may be subjected to minor punishment during that period for infractions of discipline.

    So segregation is punishment for infractions or coercion meted out to those deemed Maximum Custody Detainees, not standard practise at all.

    It is abundantly clear that Manning is being held in breach of Article 13. The problem for his Defence team is that the issue of whether there is a violation of Article 13 can only be litigated at a pretrial motion hearing. At this hearing, the defence may call witnesses and the accused may testify concerning the nature of the pretrial confinement conditions.

    After more than 9 months in solitary confinement, Manning is STILL awaiting that pre-trial hearing mostly because the case against him is still too weak to guarantee Mannings conviction nor the extradition of Assange

    Despite being a US citizen yet to be proven guilty of any crime, Manning is being treated in much the same deplorable manner as the “enemy combatants” at Gitmo. Sadly the Obama administration is just as quick to run roughshod over both the Bill of Rights and a few very basic human ones in pursuit of it’s ideological goals as the Bush Cheney Blood for Oil Junta was.

    As Gore Vidal once so accurately stated, the USA has two right wings of the same political party .. who do their level best to hide the fact they pretty much pander to the same special interests to the detriment of the common man …and if more Australian’s don’t start paying as much attention to how we are governed as they do Master chef and Shane Warne’s sexual conquests, we’re probably all heading to hell in the very same hand basket

  2. Tony Kevin

    Thanks, MLF. We agree on most aspects of this issue.

    It is a detail, but I am not sure whether your statememt “”One is whistleblowing – although not of the nature that we are used to, but the other is not” implies that your view is that for a US serviceman to leak State Dept diplomatic cables may be more acceptable than leaking war records from Iraq and Afghanistan: or the reverse? You might like to clarify and amplify .

    My analysis of the issues here was obviously more focussed on whether Bradley Manning may have felt a moral obligation to release the war diaries and the video of the Iraq helicopter killings? His alleged responsibility for this body of leaked material must presumably be the US Army’s main grievance against him.

    I don’t know whether the charges relate to all the leaked US Govt material including the US State Dept cables. I would guess they do. To me, these are a lesser-order issue.

    However a moral obligation of release could be held to attach to diplomatic cables too, if those cables reveal important true information relating to a state’s duty to protect human life, which contradicts what its government is saying publicly. I can think of such cases, eg any allied WW2 cables regarding allied responses to the Holocaust .There are no doubt some examples of such matters in the 250,000 Wikileaks diplomatic cables. But nothing has surfaced yet to compare with the impact of the video of the Iraq helicopter shootings, as released to world media by Wikileaks and shown recently in full on SBS, in an excellent Swedish-made documentary film about Wikileaks ( well worth seeing).

  3. Michael James

    @Twobob. I served in the military and understand the basis for military discipline, something that most of the people here don’t.

    If Manning had handed to the Chinese secret police the online records and emails of members of anti-Chinese dissident groups, would you be so accommodating of his actions? I think not.

    When you sign up to the military you sign up to a code of conduct and a military code of discipline which is at variance from the more permissive norms of civil society, for the simple reason that civil society does not require its members to go out and put their lives on the line on a regular basis to prevent other people from visiting their particular brand of ideology on our society.

    You may not like that, however you have the luxury to be a member of a siociety where dissent is protected. We have seen what happens when someone dissents from the Taliban or Al Quaida. Personally I prefer our system, and wore the uniforn to defend our system from theirs.

    Manning broke the law, no matter how much people here may try to place it into some sort of grey context, he signed up to a defined code of conduct, with strong penalties for breaking that code, and then proceeded to break that code. Not surprisingl, he is paying the penalty for it.

    Manning will be tried in a military tribunal for the offences of passing classified information to someone not authorised to receive it. That may be considered spying, it may not, depends on the specific legislation, however he will, if found guilty, be incarcerated for some time.

    Break the law, get caught, be convicted and do the time. Thats how it works for Manning, the same as you. You steal, you get caught, you get tried and if convicted pay the penalty.

  4. Elan

    I wish I could just watch the telly. I like telly, some people don’t, but it’s the only thing that relaxes me-if I could just stay out of these discussions. But I can’t. I just can’t.

    I’ve said this before,-either here, or elsewhere. And MICHAEL JAMES, you would have some idea about my reluctance for detail.

    I was third generation military. I followed my father and brothers into the Service. Suffice it to say, I worked in military aviation. Just like the Pater I followed the trend and went into law afterward. Pathetic really, but that was the way it was. (Having watched Immigration Nation last night, I count my blessings that this was in the UK. I doubt that White Australia would have let someone of my skintone into service in the OzMil,- they were reluctant to let me into the country as it was!)

    I know the military. Three generations of service added up to nearly 100 years for our family!!
    My father before his death, was one of the ex. military that tried to stop the Iraq invasion. He and many others wrote to Blair (grief!! I wrote that ‘Bliar’ the first time. Very Freudian!).

    I have long argued that (in modern history. How far do we go back?),-the military has been used as an Attack Force and not a Defence Force. To that end I will NEVER go with the ‘he was a soldier, he should follow orders-he is therefore a traitor….’.

    I know the old man was VERY perturbed about the nature of engagements in the latter part of the 20C. He was appalled at the rationale for the Iraq invasion. And I am absolutely certain he would endorse what I’m saying.

    If you want to argue the rationale that:- ‘once you put on a uniform, you do not question anything. You do not feel. You do not get emotionally involved. You follow orders. Because you are wearing that uniform’,-then I am more than comfortable discussing that at some length.

    I can match and raise you on military experience, I suspect.

    It has become imperative to question. It has become critical to stop the humanitarian abuses that the West seems to get away with, but that the East is so rightly condemned for.

    IF..if Manning has done what he is accused of, then he is a very courageous human-being. I hold Manning as FAR more courageous than the Assange team, if Manning has done what he is accused of.

    In your enthusiasms to condemn Manning,-you choose to ignore his disgraceful treatment. A cold calculated and deliberate attempt to break him. This behaviour is being carried out ‘in plain sight’ by an allied country. A country that dragged smaller nations into its revenge engagement by using a very subtle force over them. A country with the blood soaked stain of Abu Ghraib,-of Guantanamo-and countless breaches of human rights.

    And Manning is a bad guy!!

    The distinction I make between Assange and Manning, is that Manning has received a fraction of the attention that has Assange. That is an outrage.

    But BOTH are necessary. Both are very courageous. Both have been long overdue.

    I will repeat it again and AGAIN: there are those who control,-and those who do their will. It is the global World Order. It has led to the innocent deaths of millions as time has passed.

    “Do not question what we do, for we know what is good for you.
    Do not seek to ask us why, for ours is but to do, and yours is but to die”

    Perhaps there was a time; a feudal time when we obeyed. We did as we were told. But this is the late 20 early 21C and now we are starting to ask WHY?

    Manning was asking WHY?
    Assange (and importantly all his group) are asking WHY?

    Not before time. We have gone too far. World Order still demands that the poor get poorer; the rich get richer.
    …………………………..that we do the bidding of powerful men (women?),- and a superpower becomes omnipotent and countless lives are lost.

    Not least the families of service personnel who must-MUST be proud of their family member when they are handed a f.ucking flag in exchange for their life. For these types of unjustifiable engagements.

    I would never;-could NEVER decry the job a military man/woman has to do,-BUT, the ethic of their Government-or the palpable lack of ethic IS starting to show in the ranks. Some of these personnel are vicious bloody thugs!

    There is an incalculable amount at stake here. What is at stake is the principle that I wrote that ‘poem’ over.

    It is requisite of those that control, that we MUST do their bidding. It is how the world has turned. But WE pay; NOT them!

    If the alleged actions of Bradley Manning ore true then that young man has my undying respect.
    Assange has also, because he broke the journalistic embedded style of hack reporting-he kicked the sh.it out of it.

    Both of these men, BOTH are remarkable. And this global society has suffered, and will continue to suffer if their like are subjugated, are suffocated; are stopped.

    My father served with honour. My brothers served with honour. I served with honour.

    What our compatriots are being asked to do today is NOT honourable., and it is turning many of them into cold blooded killers.

    DON’T give me ‘the terrorists are killers thing’. We KNOW it. We condemn them. We do not need to turn into them.

    No damned apologies for the length of this post.

  5. Elan

    ‘Fundamental disconnect’ ?

    “He passed clasified material to a person not authorised to receive it,…”


    “The trial will determine if he did in fact steal classified material…”

    Now THAT is a ‘fundamental disconnect’!

    THAT is the type of statement that differs with itself,because the initial statement is to condemn-which IS your focus MICHAEL JAMES, and then the reluctant concession to ‘due process’!

    Both are wrong!

    It is somewhat galling to spend time explaining what is so ‘fundamentally’ wrong about this, – have it blithely dismissed with that absurd phrase,-and THEN make the bald assertion that Manning didpass classified documents!!


    ………..and further: ‘the trial will determine’ ??!! Will it now! I suppose we could agree on those first four words, but for completely different reasons….

    Manning is a marked man. Do you think the West incapable of show trials? Have you seen any evidence that the USA does notconduct such trials?

    Trot out the same blind obedience rationale if you must MJ- it has been seen for what it is for quite some time now. I see no loyalty; no integrity in the military man who subsequently defends brutality with the ‘I was just following orders’ thing. Many captured N.azi’s used the same rationale.

    NO military person I have ever known has been comfortable serving alongside men and women who could not think for themselves.

    So spare me your military by rote logic. It has caused so much damage to its own and to others.

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