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United States

Aug 1, 2013

Manning and whistleblowing in an age of persecution and indifference

The indifference of the US media to the case of Bradley Manning hasn't prevented him from exposing the security state or influencing other whistleblowers.

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So US Army private Bradley Manning didn’t “aid the enemy”, according to his military judge. Why, we don’t know — we haven’t seen the judicial reasoning yet. It might be that the charge itself — that publishing anything confidential that happens to be seen by someone with whom the United States is at war falls under the Espionage Act — was regarded by Judge Denise Lind as absurd. Or she might regard the charge as appropriate, but not proven, in Manning’s particular case.

That has, however, allowed nearly all of the US mainstream media to get on with ignoring the Manning case, something they’ve done since word that he’d been arrested leaked out in 2010. The trial was conducted at Fort Meade, in Maryland, not too far from Baltimore-Washington Airport — not exactly difficult to get to for the east coast US media, but mainstream media attendance at a trial at which the media was an unindicted co-conspirator has been scant. Independent journalists like Alexa O’Brien who have attended have been subjected to absurd and highly restrictive conditions.

Manning was, however, found guilty of “wanton publication”.

“Wanton publication” is a charge invented purely for this case by the US government. Go and google it — the only existence of the phrase before Manning’s trial was in the 19th century when “wanton” was used in a different and more lascivious sense. If journalists, American or otherwise, think it’s a relief that a whistleblower wasn’t deemed to be “aiding the enemy”, they ought to wonder exactly what “wanton publication” could amount to.

And, yes, Manning is a whistleblower. For all the efforts of WikiLeaks’ critics, and those who so passionately loathed Julian Assange that anyone indirectly linked to him became a target of contumely as well, to suggest Manning simply tipped gigabytes of secret material onto the internet — indeed, published them “wantonly” — bear in mind what he revealed. He showed us war crimes, demonstrated by the “Collateral Murder” video (in relation to which, the only person to be jailed has been Manning), a video Reuters had been trying to obtain through freedom of information for years; he gave us the Iraq war logs, which revealed the horrific official body count of the invasion and occupation of that country and abuse and torture by US forces; the Afghan war logs, which revealed instances such as US contractors engaging in child trafficking and special forces operations inside Pakistan that had been denied by the US government; and, in painfully embarrassing detail, the systematic use of the State Department around the world to engage in espionage, promote the interests of US corporations at any cost and support regimes that even the US acknowledged were corrupt.

How many people died as a result of Manning’s revelations? The US government initially claimed he had placed large numbers of people in danger around the world. But under oath yesterday at Manning’s sentencing hearing, Brigadier General Robert Carr, who headed the taskforce investigating the impact of the WikiLeaks material, admitted that after exhaustive work the taskforce could find no one who had been killed or injured. One of his former subordinates, however, claimed that there had been “some unpleasant comments directed at me and at the US” by allied officials.

Indeed, as former defense secretary Robert Gates said, the harm alleged to have ensued from the documents’ release was “significantly overwrought”.

Why the prosecution for espionage, the attempt to establish that good journalism could be treason, the psychological torture and physical abuse of Manning during his incarceration? It’s all designed to send a powerful signal to any other whistleblower who might be tempted to reveal war crimes, or torture, or the actions of diplomats serving as corporate shills: this is what will happen even if you merely embarrass us.

The pursuit of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the increasingly bizarre attempts by the United States to secure him, including having the Bolivian President’s plane forced down, and assuring the Russians the US wouldn’t kill or torture him if they handed him over, serve the same purpose, as have the pursuit of Fox and Associated Press journalists. As I’ve explored previously, this form of exemplary punishment is consistent US policy, especially in relation to online activism.

Perhaps this aggressive pursuit and persecution of whistleblowers — and the Obama administration has pursued unofficial leakers more aggressively than any previous administration, and indeed more than all previous administrations combined — has deterred some whistleblowers from speaking out. It didn’t deter Snowden, who knew exactly what fate awaited him when he decided to reveal the extraordinary extent of secret US internet and telecommunications spying. He went ahead, kicking off a debate that, inter alia, brought the House of Representatives within a few votes of choking off NSA funding, caused the author of the Patriot Act and many other congressional figures to declare that the surveillance exceeded the legal authority provided by Congress, and resulted in the establishment and libertarian wings of the Republican Party hurling abuse at each other over whether surveillance was justified.

Snowden’s revelations didn’t emerge through WikiLeaks, but through the mainstream media — The Guardian (albeit via Glenn Greenwald, who has been pursuing these issues for years in other media) and The Washington Post. Such is the Stockholm syndrome prevalent in parts of the US media that the Post‘s role in breaking the story was criticised by its own editorial board, while other journalists appeared to endorse calls for Greenwald to be prosecuted.

Given those extraordinary reactions to a story that has prompted such extensive debate in Congress, the US media’s lack of interest in the Manning case, even when it involved such high stakes for them, starts to become clear.

Even so, whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden — heroes both — have exposed the security state in all its absurdity and horror, both in their revelations and in their subsequent treatment, whether the US media wants to know or not.

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23 comments

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23 thoughts on “Manning and whistleblowing in an age of persecution and indifference

  1. klewso

    “Wanton publication”? ……. “Fux News”?

  2. zut alors

    As for aiding the enemy, that was only part of the US govt’s concern. Manning did the unforgivable by affording an ugly insight to not only his countrymen but to US allies.

  3. Keith Thomas

    Manning showed unusual maturity in recognising the wrongdoing he saw for what it was and taking action about it. None of the participants in the “collateral murder” video, for example, appear to have demonstrated contrition or remorse in public.
    The reports we read of Manning’s mistreatment in the long period leading up to his trial sickened me, but his treatment appears to be so normal that all we can do is express disapproval: charges and prosecution of those who ordered, committed and condoned his mistreatment are mentioned nowhere. Punishing prisoners before they are tried is so commonplace in the US that it escapes comment.

  4. klewso

    “Enemies”:”allies”, “black”:”white”, what’s the difference nowadays?
    “It’s not personal. It’s only business” – from the original Godfather.

  5. AR

    Anyone recall the premise of the 80s TV show Max Headroom (NOT the white bread amerikan series that followed)? That the mere exposure of malfeasance (to the public, however degraded/deluded/”doped with religion, sex & TV..”)would magically right the wrong/s.
    Even at the time (seems to be the Stone Age now..) it seemed to me the last gasp of the idealistic belief in rigorous intellectual honesty.
    These drear daze?Pfftt…. Only tabloid meeja deals with the rilly, rilly important ishews,miracle diets,dole bludgers & where to get the cheepest petrol & booze. All else is vanity.

  6. Serenatopia

    Bernard—thank you for this article…and to think that Australia is a primary ally of the US! The treatment of Manning is like a crystal-ball into the future of this civilization—I read an interesting article the other day that war and bloodshed is a recent invention of this civilization and contrary to popular and religious opinion, the pyramids were not built by slaves but by competitive teams of workers…who were well fed and well treated! That global knowledge was shared to the Aztecs and Mayans across the other side of the world as proven by parallel structures…what legacy will this civilization leave except its own self-destruction?

  7. Russ Hunter

    “the US media’s lack of interest in the Manning case… starts to become clear”

    Call me a weak intellect, but I can’t say it’s clear to me. Is the inference that the media is afraid of being persecuted by the government, or that they are comfortable with the persecution for some reason? Or that bad types are controlling the media?

    Can Bernard Keane or anyone else elaborate for me?

  8. Gavin Moodie

    Yes, I also found that comment inscrutable. I think this is BK’s reasoning.

    1 The Washington Post’s own editorial board criticised the Post’s role in breaking the story and some journalists appeared to endorse calls for Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald to be prosecuted.

    2 This is evidence that most of the mainstream media are sympathetic to the defence and security bodies that restrict or ‘capture’ them: ‘. . . the Stockholm syndrome prevalent in parts of the US media . . .’.

    3 As a result of this capture most of the msm are more sympathetic to the defence and security interests than to the public’s right to know about what their government does in their name, or, indeed, to their government’s illegality and the rule of law.

  9. Gavin Moodie

    4 Hence the msm has under reported the Manning case which exposes the faults of the defence and security interests.

  10. Chris Williams

    Very good article by Bernard. I am genuinely interested to know who the journalists are who he says “appeared to endorse calls for Greenwald to be prosecuted.” I think journalists of that ilk need to be exposed and condemned by name by journalists of integrity. Anyone?…

    Russ (9) good question. Bernard won’t say it because he knows the ton of bricks that will come down on him. A great writer and braver than most he doesn’t risk the wrath of calling it like it is. So allow me to…

    Jews have taken control of the American establishment – political and banking power, Harvard, and they totally dominate the US media and entertainment industries. Any non-Jews still a part of that establishment – including the US President and Rupert Murdoch – know that in order to keep their jobs – or businesses – they must sign up to the Zionist agenda.

    As this kind of comment inevitably leads me to receive accusations as being anti-Semitic – often I suspect from some of the thousands of ‘Hasbara trolls’ employed by Israel to dam-up such leakages in their media matrix – I suggest people with open minds look at some Jewish sources which are unabashed about making the same point. There are many possible references but a good place to start is:

    1. JJ Goldberg’s book Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment.
    2. Joel Stein’s article in the LA Times in 2008: How Jewish is Hollywood? http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-stein19-2008dec19,0,4676183.column

    Or go to the websites of brave Jewish dissenters such as Norman Finkelstein, Gilad Atzmon, or Paul Eisen where you will find them making the same point with supporting evidence.

    Finally read the short work of the late great Professor Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion, the Weight of 3000 years.

  11. Russ Hunter

    Even as a complete ignoramus on the subject, that Jewish stuff sounds terribly far-fetched to me. I’m also not sure how it can conceivably explain the US media’s lack of interest in the Manning case.

    I’ll put my money on the Stockholm syndrome mentioned above, although I think there must be more to it than that. Perhaps it’s largely about the US psyche post-9/11: anything goes now from the security state and whistle-blowers are out in the cold. The US seems to be forgetting some of the values it was founded on, in my opinion.

    Having said that, I think ‘leaking’ information can go beyond ‘whistle-blowing’ and I havn’t followed the Manning case close enough to know where he fits in.

    I just don’t like a lot of what I hear coming out of the US, and elsewhere, when it comes to these issues with Wikileaks, Assange, Manning, and now Snowden.

  12. Russ Hunter

    Here’s Alexa O’Brien’s opinion, from an interview with Harry Shearer, on why the rest of the press isn’t covering this:

    “I think this has multiple layers to it. I think on one sense, if we look at it purely from the bottom-line perspective, is that WikiLeaks represents a challenge to the market power that the mainstream media organizations have over audiences. And of course you know it costs a lot of money up-front to produce news and especially investigative journalism and entertainment. It costs relatively little in the digital age to distribute it. And so therefore control of audiences is very, very important as these media organizations enter this new era. So I think that they’ve taken a defensive posture towards WikiLeaks because of that fundamentally, and I think also it’s a question of access to information. I mean, WikiLeaks, the reason why it’s so revolutionary is that it allows the janitor to leak and not simply the high-level Obama administration authorized leak to, you know, Bob Woodward, so to speak, to sell war or a particular political agenda of the elites. So there’s a lot going on here that is reason for them not to cover it.”

    Sounds reasonable and interesting.

  13. Chris Williams

    Russ (13 and 14) Alexa O’Brien’s ‘explanation’ strikes me as the explanation one has when one doesn’t have an explanation. The idea that the US media is not covering Manning because they don’t have enough money to do the investigative reporting is farcical. Manning had effectively done all the expensive investigative journalistic leg-work for them!

    All that ‘Jewish stuff’ as you put it which you so airily and quickly dismiss explains what is going on in the middle east and why the people in control who support that agenda have been so concerned to censor from the American public the true situation.

    Please do yourself a favour and consult some of the sources I have listed earlier.

  14. Russ Hunter

    Chris (15), I think you have either not understood or misrepresented Alexa O’Brien’s thoughts, and you seem capable of comprehension.

    You strike me as someone with an agenda.

  15. Chris Williams

    Russ (16) – Alexis O’Brien who you quote (but who I confess I have not previously seen quoted as an authority in this area) says that the mainstream media are “defensive” about WikiLeaks because 1. their high level upfront production costs makes it “very, very important” for them to control their audiences and 2. Wikileaks has revolutionised the ease by which leaking can be done “so there’s a lot going on here that is reason for them not to cover it.”

    Wikileaks may have flooded the internet with leaks from many sources, but that has nothing to do with the overwhelming silence across the US media about the dramatic revelations that Wikileaks sourced through Bradley Manning, which Bernard Keane highlights briefly in his article. These leaks were ones which were subsequently covered in news programs in many parts of the world but conspicuously not the US media – or surrogates like the News Limited Press where mention is usually in the context of the alleged danger of the leaks to Western security. For the same reason, the fact that some US mainstream news services may have expensive upfront production costs cannot explain why Manning’s revelations have been so comprehensively ignored or downplayed in the US compared with anywhere else.

    The simple fact is that Manning’s leaks have exposed the propaganda of US policy in the middle east. The reason they are not aired in the US is because the same people who have control of US policy have ownership and control of the US media. As I mentioned previously – in case you hadn’t noticed – they also control of the US banking and financial system. These are the same people who provide the majority of funding to both the Democratic and Republican parties. They have crushed open discussion of the crimes of Israel against Palestine to an extent that most Americans don’t even know about these crimes and so blithely continue to imagine the Zionist state a beacon of democracy!

    I’ve spent the greater part of half a century believing what I was spoon-fed by mainstream media and other orthodox sources. It was only last year through the aid of new non-orthodox web-based news and information sources that I was able to see just how conned I had been. My agenda – and I’m not sure why I should need to have to justify this – is to bring to discussions about the middle east the understanding about events which has so recently come to my attention. To the extent that I have one, therefore, it is the same agenda as the key Jewish authors I discovered last year and which I have urged you and anyone else who claims to have an open mind to read.

    But look, each to his own. I find the explanation of Ms O’Brien which you find so ‘reasonable and interesting’ to be neither of these things but if you find it satisfactory you stick with it.

  16. Russ Hunter

    Chris (17), I believe Alexis O’Brien is about the only journalist who has followed the trial closely and expressed concerns about it and the lack of coverage, so I’m interested in her opinion. I’d be surprised if her “authority in this area” does not exceed yours.

    Your interpretation that she thinks “the US media is not covering Manning because they don’t have enough money to do the investigative reporting”, seems completely off the mark to me.

    I believe O’Brien was saying the media landscape is changing and the msm is not necessarily happy about it. They don’t have much time for Wikileaks or Manning and are happy to see them go down.

    I must admit that this idea, and/or the Stockholm syndrome, does not explain the media’s lack of interest in the case to my satisfaction. I don’t have the answers, which is why I ask the question.

    However, I do not feel at all drawn to your mother-of-all conspiracy theories, which Bernard Keane and his ilk apparently dare not speak of.

  17. Chris Williams

    Russ (18)- my goodness is Alexis O’Brien actually a journalist! And she wrote that incoherent waffle?

    Stick to your orthodoxies – remain unconscious. Serfdom is probably your lot.

  18. Russ Hunter

    Thanks Chris, but you can keep that particular red pill.

  19. Chris Williams

    Russ (20) – I repeat, the pill you don’t want to take is not mine. It is the pill of a number of extremely brave Jewish dissident writers and activists who have put their lives on the line – especially in the case of Finkelstein, Atzmon and Shahak – to pursue the uncomfortable truths the establishment and fanatical supporters of the orthodox don’t want aired.

    Don’t imagine your fear of looking into their telescopes makes you morally superior to them.

  20. Russ Hunter

    I wonder where the Hasbara trolls are?

    Not to fear, we can always use our electromagnetic pulse to disable them.

    That is, until they become self-replicating: then we will be in trouble…

  21. Chris Williams

    Russ (22) – hey that’s not bad for someone who thinks media self-censorship is literally explained by Stockholm syndrome!

    Enjoy your mushroom.

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