The sentencing of Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison came because he leaked government documents, mostly with a low level of classification that probably shouldn’t have been classified in the first place. Some of the leaked documents showed the US government or other governments behaving badly, in ways the American people had a right to know about. . Do we really want our government opposing a rise in the minimum wage in Haiti, or supporting Big Oil against green energy, or supporting unlabelled genetically modified crops or expensive US pharmaceuticals in markets where people are poor? Shouldn’t we know what our government’s policies are?
The sentence given Manning was much harsher than that he would have received in democratic countries. And the government took us another step down the road to authoritarian government by convicting him on espionage charges, confusing leaking with spying for the enemy. If the government could have, it would have convicted him of aiding al-Qaeda (yes), but the judge laughed that one out of court.
Meanwhile, Dick Cheney and his staff, who tried as hard as they could to out Valerie Plame as a CIA field officer working against Iran’s nuclear program, in which they indirectly succeeded, went mostly unpunished. Plame’s dummy company and everyone ever associated with it were burned.
And of course almost none of the US war crimes in Iraq or Afghanistan have ever been punished. Unlike Mylai, Americans mostly never heard of Haditha.
And while Manning is jailed for letting us read the ambassadors’ email, the NSA is allowed to spy on us and to read ours and to lie to the FISA judges about it with impunity.
I of course wish Manning had been more selective in the leaking so that only crimes were revealed. It is also a matter of regret that at some point Wikileaks broke with its media partners and put up the unscrubbed documents, which mention the names of people to whom the US embassies were talking and who provided them with sensitive information. That irresponsible info-dump, however, is on Wikileaks and not on Manning.
Manning was tortured for nearly a year, and that should have been sentence enough. Without him, we might not even know about the Panopticon of total suveillance in which we are living. Manning helped spark a new civil rights movement. He deserves Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize in a way the president does not.