Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.



August 2013

Bradley Manning is No Hero

Written by , Posted in Foreign Affairs & Policy

Bradley Manning was recently found guilty of 20 charges (and acquitted of “aiding the enemy”) stemming from his decision to release hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks. Many, even some bright and sensible people, have defended Manning’s actions and portrayed him as a brave whistle-blower exposing government misconduct. But this view is misguided and not supported by the facts.

The basis for holding up Manning as a hero seems to stem from his exposure of the so-called “Collateral Murder” video, which showed two U.S. helicopters killing 12 Iraqi’s, but also 2 Reuters employees. Perhaps this video was worth exposing. I don’t know all the facts surrounding the event – the military found no cause for discipline due to the reporters’ “close proximity” to “armed insurgents.” But that could just be cover.

The thing is, it doesn’t really matter what the facts are in the video because Manning didn’t expose only it. Evaluating whether or not it was an egregious crime for which he was justified blowing the whistle thus misses the point. Even if it were, it doesn’t absolve him of his decision to release hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables that he could not possibly have read. And since he did not bother to determine what was on them, he can claim no valid reason to release them. Rather, he showed a clear disregard for the damage they could cause – to agents identified by the documents, for instance.

That is not the behavior of a hero.

There is always tension between the need for operational secrecy as part of the government provision of defense – a primary purpose for the state – and  the need to hold government accountable. So it’s understandable why many question whether leaking classified information should always been condemned, even if it is a crime. Exposing governmental abuses, for instance, is a valid reason to leak classified info. But that’s not what happened in this case, and the indiscriminate release of sensitive information is not done to hold government accountable, but rather to harm both it and its citizens. Except for those who take the absurd position that nothing should ever be classified, there is no sound defense of Manning’s actions.

P.S. It’s worth noting that the question above is entirely separate from that of Manning’s treatment while in custody leading up to his trial, which has been deplorable and for which there was no excuse.