© Josh Sager – May 2013
Since the arrest of Bradley Manning for his release of classified military cables and files, there has been a great deal of discussion over whether Manning is a traitor or a whistleblower. Many in the government and media would label Bradley Manning a traitor, simply due to the fact that he released documents that the military had labeled classified. On the other hand, numerous reporters and activists have staked the position that Manning is anything from a patriotic whistleblower to a national hero and candidate for the Nobel peace prize.
Personally, I find myself firmly on the side of Manning and those who believe that the release of the videos and cables to the press served a greater purpose. If we simply let our government label all of its crimes as “state secrets” and brush them under the rug, there is no real possibility for accountability—the public will never be told about the crimes perpetrated in their names.
In my mind, Manning is a whistleblower who, while he does deserve a discharge from the military for his actions, does not deserve to be criminally charged. His actions broke the military’s rules, but they improved the public’s knowledge of things that had been hidden to avoid embarrassing the powerful and have exposed war-crimes.
To illustrate just what separates Manning from an actual traitor, I will use the example of William Colton Millay, a US army MP who attempted to sell secrets to the Russians in 2011. Through comparing and contrasting the cases of Manning and Millay, I hope that I can make clear to those who would condemn Manning just why they are wrong in calling Manning a traitor to the United States.
The Traitor: William Colton Millay
Labeling somebody a traitor is a loaded term but, in this case, it is one that is both entirely factual and entirely fair. William Colton was caught attempting to sell military secrets, confessed to his crimes, and has been sentenced to 16 years in jail—given this, there is no doubt that he is, in fact, a traitor to the USA.
William Colton Millay, 24, was stationed in Alaska as a military police officer (MP) with the 164th Military Police Company when he attempted to contact Russian officials with an offer to spy on the United States.
Millay is a white-supremacist, as proven by literature recovered from his possessions and the fact that he had several tattoos associated with neo-Nazis. While we don’t know many specifics of his personal grievance with the USA, he openly displayed disgust with the US government during his meetings with the FBI and stated that he had no problem causing the deaths of American soldiers, just as long as he receives money.
During the summer months of 2011, Millay made several attempts to contact Russian officials, at least one of which was noticed by the FBI and acted on with a sting operation. In September of 2011, FBI agents impersonating Russian intelligence agents set up a meeting with Millay, during which they recorded his discussing terms to sell US military secrets to the Russians.
In exchange for monetary compensation, Millay offered to sell technical secrets of the Warlock Duke anti-IED system for military vehicles and the F-22 Fighter Jet, as well as confidential information about base personnel (easily accessible for him due to his MP position). While Millay openly displayed his dislike of the US government, he even offered to re-enlist for five more years if the Russians agreed to pay him a significant sum.
After this meeting, the FBI set up a drop point for money and information. Still unaware that he was part of a sting, Millay dropped classified technical information about the Warlock Duke system and picked up $3,000 in cash and a disposable cell phone.
The FBI arrested Millay in October and held him for 10 days before formally charging him with a variety of crimes, including: attempted espionage, soliciting another to commit espionage and communicating national defense information. Just these crimes—disregarding the other lesser charges Millay was facing—could carry a sentence of life in prison.
In April 2013, Millay was sentenced to 16 years in a military prison, stripped of his rank, and forfeited all monetary compensation for his military service.
The Patriotic Whistleblower: Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning is a US Army Private who released a tremendous number of classified documents to the press and to the site Wikileaks in 2010. Manning’s document release led to his arrest and detainment by the US military, under a variety of charges.
As an intelligence analyst with access to massive quantities of confidential information, Manning had easy access to the information that he would later leak to the press; he simply loaded the cables onto a removable SD card for his personal camera and walked off of the base with the information.
After leaving the base with the information, Manning attempted to contact numerous print publications, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. For unknown reasons, both of these publications declined to accept the information and Wikileaks was the only one to take an interest in Manning’s documents. We simply don’t know what the exchanges between Manning and Wikileaks consisted of (or even if he talked to Assange), but the result of these discussions was Wikileaks’ posting of the information on their site.
While many of the documents released by Manning were benign, some exposed extremely embarrassing exchanges between world governments and a few included evidence of terrible misconduct by the United States government.
Of the more egregious things exposed by these leaked documents, videos of American attack choppers killing unarmed civilians in Iraq (the “collateral murder” videos”) and communications discussing the torture program of detainees were probably the most embarrassing to the US government. These files had been covered up by the government because of their damaging nature and nobody knew about the true extent of this misconduct.
Manning’s access to confidential information led him to be exposed to facts that made him extremely disenchanted with the Iraq War. He believed that the revelation of crimes that were hidden from the public—like the American Air Force’s killing of civilian reporters or the Iraqi president’s use of American military power to suppress his political opposition as terrorists–would better allow Americans to assess the war in general.
In his online discussions with his friend Adrian Lamo (a hacker who would later turn him in), Manning discussed his reasoning for leaking the information to the press. Manning was directly asked by Lamo why he wasn’t selling this tremendously valuable information and was simply offering it to the media. In response, Manning stated that selling the information would make him a “slimy intel collector” and that “if its out in the open… it should be a public good.”
Rather than selling this extremely damaging information to interested groups to make huge amounts of money, Manning gave the information away because he believed that it would be a social good; people would be able to see the true actions of their government and would be better able to make choices in public policy.
At the time of his arrest in 2010, Private Manning was detained in the brig at Quantico. For 11 months after his arrest, Manning was held in solitary confinement under “suicide watch,” despite the fact that nobody thought that he was suicidal. Manning spent these 11 months in a 6×12 windowless cell, barred from exercising, stripped of his clothing, and denied any contact with the outside world.
The conditions endured by Manning are classified by our government, as well as civil rights groups, to be forms of “non-touch torture” that are banned by international agreements. In March 2012, the UN confirmed that their investigation indicated that Manning was suffering from “cruel and inhumane treatment” at the hands of the US military.
After months of being held, Manning was arraigned in a military court on 22 different charges in February 2012. Of these charges, the most serious is that of “Aiding the Enemy,” which carries a potential death sentence.
In February 2013, Bradley Manning entered a naked plea (a plea without a sentencing deal), confessing to 10 of the 22 charges alleged against him. Despite this plea, the military is going along with the trial and is attempting to convict him under the Espionage Act and of Aiding the Enemy. At this point, it appears that Manning will not be given the opportunity to plead out and will be facing either life in prison or the death penalty.
What Separates the Two?
Now that we have gone over the basic facts of both the Bradley Manning and William Colton Millay, we can start comparing and contrasting the two. I don’t think that anybody argues that Millay isn’t a traitor, and I seek to use this agreement to illustrate the case as to why Manning is nothing like a common traitor—he is, in fact, a patriotic whistleblower.
The differences between the Manning and Millay cases are extraordinary, not just in what the individuals did, but also in the government’s response to the two leakers.
A superficial view of the cases of Manning and Millay might lead some to conclude that they committed similar crimes—they both distributed classified material to foreign nationals, in violation of secrecy laws and their orders from superior officers—but, in reality, the cases are actually very different.
First of all, the material released was dramatically different in both cases. Manning released diplomatic communications and videos of American soldiers killing civilians, while Millay conspired to release technical documents for the US Army’s anti-IED measures. Revealing evidence of war crimes serves a vital societal interest (ensuring that the government isn’t covering up violations of the laws of war), while selling one government’s weapon specs to another is simply espionage.
The information released by Manning may be embarrassing and a threat to those in command of the soldiers who killed civilians, but it is not a danger to the troops on the ground; in fact, this information had no legitimate reason to be classified and is simply a case of the military covering up war crimes (killing civilians). To this day, not even those trying Manning in court are able to point to a single death caused by his actions.
In contrast with the information that Manning released, Millay was intending to expose to foreign powers the technical specifications of life-saving military technology. If information about the Warlock Duke anti-IED system were leaked, it would be much more likely that terrorists and foreign powers would be able to counteract the system and deliver IEDs successfully onto our vehicles. Such a leak puts the lives of innumerable soldiers in danger and has no purpose beyond enriching the leaking party.
Second, the motives of Manning and Millay couldn’t possibly be more different: Manning leaked his information in an attempt to improve government accountability, while Millay attempted to leak his information to get rich quick.
A person who sells secrets for a profit is a spy, while a person who gives secrets away in furtherance of exposing a crime is a whistleblower.
Manning put himself at dire risk, with no hope of a personal gain, just to expose the terrible things happening in Iraq and he is a textbook example of a whistleblower—in any fair system, he would be shielded from criminal consequences (but not discharge from the military) by the Whistleblower Protection Act. Just as Daniel Ellsberg exposed war crimes during the Vietnam War with his release of the Pentagon Papers, Bradley Manning exposed war crimes during the Iraq War.
In fact, Daniel Ellsberg himself is a supporter of Bradley Manning and an advocate for his classification as a whistleblower.
William Colton Millay attempted to sell secrets for cash—there is little to say to this other than it is both illegal and a violation of his oaths to our military. In exchange for a payday, Millay was willing to put his fellow soldiers in danger by leaking information that could be used to harm them. Unlike Manning, Millay is the textbook example of a traitor.
Third, the recipient of the leaked information was different: Bradley Manning attempted to leak his information to numerous news sources, while Millay attempted to leak his information to a foreign power.
Providing evidence of military crimes to press organizations, whether the organization is the New York Times or Wikileaks, is the exact opposite of leaking secrets to another country’s military.
Giving the US military’s technological secrets to a foreign power gives a strategic advantage to the foreign military and risks leaks to non-governmental enemies. Such leaks don’t serve to improve accountability and serve no societal good that makes them protected under the law.
On the other hand, whistleblowers who leak evidence of the government’s wrongdoing to the press are providing a societal good and are protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The press exists to increase accountability to the government and a free press depends upon sources like Manning in order to report on the true actions of those in power.
Actually, the most amazing thing about this situation is not that Wikileaks published Manning’s leaked documents, but that the New York Times and Washington Post refused to. These leaks were incendiary, but they were also highly reputable in their provenance (there is no doubt as to the legitimacy of the information) and they represented a very large news story. The refusal of these “reputable” news sources to report on the crimes revealed in Manning’s leaks speaks volumes about how far the media has fallen from its station as the thing that keeps government honest.
After being caught disseminating classified information and being accused to traitorous activity, both Manning and Millay were held in the custody of the United States Armed Services on military bases. Given the similarities in their supposed crimes and the fact that they were being accused by the same administration, one would assume that they would have been held in similar conditions and for similar amounts of time—this assumption would be wrong.
William Colton Millay was taken into custody in late October 2011 and was charged after ten days of uncharged detainment. He was afforded every right of an American service member accused of a crime and was held in the brig at Joint Base-Lewis McChord in Washington State.
As previously mentioned, Bradley Manning was arrested in 2010 and had his rights severely violated by the US military. Originally held at the military base in Kuwait, Manning was transferred back to the USA in July 2010 to await trial. While at Quantico, Manning was held in solitary confinement for 10 months and was subjected to inhumane treatment (nudity, isolation, constant light, etc.).
In addition to being subjected to inhumane treatment, Manning was detained before being charged for over 400 days—the military’s own regulations mandate that all accused soldiers must be charged in fewer than 120 days, as they have the right to a “speedy trial.” When the Manning legal team attempted to have the charges dismissed based upon this violation of Manning’s rights, a military judge rejected the argument and offered a sealed judgment (a legally binding ruling by a judge, where the public has access to the ruling but not the reasoning behind the ruling) that allowed the charges to be sustained.
Disregarding the argument that Manning is a whistleblower rather than a traitor, the military clearly treated him in a manner that is unusually harsh even for those accused of treason. After all, Millay was accused of treason by the very same military that was persecuting Manning, yet Millay never suffered in solitary or got stripped down every night.
Manning was treated far worse than others accused of similar crimes and it is important that we question just why this happened.
In my opinion, Manning was treated so badly by the military for the simple reason that he exposed their crimes to the world and embarrassed the powerful. Millay may have tried to sell secrets that could kill soldiers on the ground, but his leaks did nothing to threaten or embarrass those giving the orders—it is this key distinction that led those in power to throw the book at Manning, while they simply treated Millay as a simple criminal.
The Bradley Manning trial has been an exercise in government secrecy and abusive over-sentencing by prosecutors.
Bradley Manning is facing numerous charges, the most severe being an “Aiding the Enemy” charge that could carry a death sentence. The use of this charge is the very definition of prosecutorial overreach, as there is no way to argue that leaking information to the media can be considered leaking it to an enemy force. The media is an instrument of accountability, not an enemy entity, and the simple fact that they may report on leaked information of crimes—thus informing everybody, including enemies of the USA—does not allow the military to charge leakers with this capital offense.
In support of this charge, the military is seeking to introduce evidence from the Bin Laden compound that Bin Laden read press reports from our media about the Wikileaks. In introducing this evidence, the military is trying to say that the fact that an enemy of the USA was able to read about the leaked information in our press is equivalent to Manning giving the information directly to Bin Laden. This argument is patently absurd and has huge accountability ramifications.
Charging Manning with aiding the enemy under this justification is the exact equivalent to charging Daniel Ellsberg with the offense, simple because the Viet Cong may have had access to a copy of the New York Times. Unfortunately, the country’s security apparatus is far larger and more powerful now than it was then, and leakers have begun to face charges that would have been inconceivable in previous generations.
If an investigator or leaker can be charged with a capital crime for providing information to the press about war crimes that have been covered up by being labeled classified, then the military can simply annihilate accountability. They simply need to classify all of their crimes, and charge anybody who dares report them with a crime that can send them to the death chamber.
Like Manning, Millay faced numerous charges, but nobody ever considered charging him with an “Aiding the Enemy” offense. This disparity is particularly telling because Millay fits the offense of aiding the enemy far closer than Manning ever did—he leaked documents that compromise vital technology to a foreign power, while Manning released evidence of crimes to the mass media.
If you are willing to charge somebody who leaked evidence of war crimes to the media with aiding the enemy, what possible justification is there for not charging a man who leaked technical information to a foreign power? Put plainly, Manning released things that embarrassed the government and they want to punish him in order to set an example for future leakers.
This is supported by the fact that, after several months of trial, Millay was allowed to plead out on lesser offenses while Manning attempted to do the same and was blocked. Manning has actually admitted to his “crimes” and has entered a naked plea (an admission without a sentencing deal) that could result in his imprisonment for decades, yet the government is still pursuing the top charges. The fact that they won’t let him plead to lesser offenses and go to sentencing indicates that the military wants to make an example of Manning and send him to jail for life or to kill him.
If Millay, who sold out his country for money, can plead down to 16 years for his offense, what justification is there for pursuing life without parole of death for Manning? The military’s prosecution of Manning is not only wrongheaded, but it is unusually harsh even if one considers Manning a traitor—as demonstrated by the disparities between the treatment of Manning and an actual traitor.
If there were any justice, Manning would receive a full pardon from the government and be let free today. Unlike the traitorous William Colton Millay, Manning risked everything to become a whistleblower in an attempt to better inform all of us as to the conduct of our government. He may not be able to stay in the military after his leaking of classified information, but he does not deserve to rot in jail simply for exposing the inconvenient truth that our government committed war crimes.
Ironically, while Manning is on trial for his leaking of evidence of war crimes, none of the people who committed those crimes, tortured detainees, or lied us into war have ever seen the inside of a jail cell. Apparently, we can “look forward, not backward” for all crimes, but the terrible and capital crimes of embarrassing the powerful and exposing government misconduct.
FREE BRADLEY MANNING!