Tuesday, September 02, 2014

HEINTZ: Chelsea Manning: A flawed whistleblower

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 9/4/2013

[Editor’s note: The following column reflects the writer’s acknowledgement of and respect for soldier Bradley Manning’s desire to have gender reassignment procedures and be known as “Chelsea Manning,” following his conviction on espionage charges related to the Wikileaks scandal.]

I don’t approve of all of Chelsea Manning’s actions.

[Editor’s note: The following column reflects the writer’s acknowledgement of and respect for soldier Bradley Manning’s desire to have gender reassignment procedures and be known as “Chelsea Manning,” following his conviction on espionage charges related to the Wikileaks scandal.]

I don’t approve of all of Chelsea Manning’s actions.

The blunderbuss way the U.S. Army private provided classified documents to the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks was a grave mistake that could have put the lives of U.S. soldiers and Afghan informants in danger. Although no deaths have been linked to Manning’s leaks, she couldn’t have gone through all the documents to make sure they didn’t contain information that would put U.S. soldiers’ lives in great peril. So, the fact that no deaths have been directly linked to Manning’s leaks is a non sequitur; it misses the point. What’s relevant is she couldn’t have known the massive leaks wouldn’t have put the lives of soldiers and Afghan informants in danger.

That being said, I believe the Army private when she said she hoped the documents would spark “worldwide discussions, debates and reforms.” In fact, I commend her for her desire to provide the public with documents she felt — rightfully in some cases — the citizenry had a right to know about. Some of the information she divulged painted an unflattering — and more than a little disturbing — picture of the darker aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

If Manning only had leaked information that she had personally sifted through to make sure its publication wouldn’t pose a risk to U.S. soldiers, then she would have been worthy of applause for her brave acts of dissent against a morally ambiguous power. Unfortunately, Manning opted for another strategy and that’s why she’s undeserving of hero status. For her sheer recklessness alone, Manning deserves some type of comeuppance

Nevertheless, the 35-year prison sentence the army private received strikes me as more than a little extreme. Manning isn’t the hero some on the left have depicted her to be, but she’s not a traitor either. The impetus for Manning’s actions was never to hurt the United States or, even worse, to help some enemy country or extremist group in their efforts to weaken America. That’s why the U.S. military’s decision to charge Manning with aiding and abetting the enemy was so wrongheaded. The military judge who acquitted her of this charge deserves praise for his sage decision.

While one can disagree with how Manning went about leaking information to the public, it’s difficult to ignore the importance of some of the content found in those leaks. What Manning — through Wikileaks — made public included: the 2007 killing of two Reuters journalists and nine other Iraqis (the U.S. military said they were hostile forces); a secret order that the U.S. ignored the abuse and mistreatment of helpless prisoners by Iraqi forces including beatings, burning, electrocution and rape; Iraqi war logs that revealed 15,000 previously unlisted civilian deaths; and the U.S. pressuring Germany not to prosecute CIA officers for torture and rendition. In addition, the documents showed that top American leaders, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Commander George Casey, lied about the level of sectarian violence in Iraq after the bombing of a revered Shia shrine in the northern city of Samarra in 2006 that helped spark a civil war; that NATO forces had killed hundreds of Afghan civilians in unreported incidents; and that Washington lobbied against a minimum wage increase in Haiti, a desperately poor country.

Given the breadth of these disturbing revelations, it seems counterproductive to lock up Manning for 35 years when many of those guilty of the crimes and dishonesty the documents revealed remain free. Manning’s sentence should be cut down to two years and then she should be given the opportunity to rebuild her life. Given the scope of what she revealed, punishing her so severely could have a chilling effect on the next confidential source willing to expose governmental or military wrongdoings.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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