Bradley Manning in a World of Cheneys, Hadithas, and NSA Domestic Surveillance

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.

49 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    If you were to post the postal address of Prisoner Manning at Fort Leavenworth, it would be interesting to see how many Christmas cards and Birthday cards he gets over the next thirty five years.

    UK comment suggests that with Parole he might be out in ten years. Does the Uniform Code of Military Justice recognise parole?

    • The UCMJ does recognize parole. The best estimates are that Manning will be paroled in less than 10 years. Wikileaks says it could be less than four and a half.

  2. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden deserve the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize as at great personal sacrifice they exposed to the world the danger of combining fear, power, and conceit with technology and the decline of a moral compass. It is quite possible the actions of both have damaged the United States in some way and put some undeserving people unnecessarily at risk. In that sense their actions were imperfect. But the revelation of a complex network of manipulation, surveillance, and abuse challenges Americans as never before to think about the values and mission of their country. And it may force countries and people abroad to think very hard about the extent to which they want to trust their futures to collaboration with a country that has so lost sight of its own.

    • No argument there; but I would also suggest the Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón. His courage is inspiring…

    • “He deserves Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize in a way the president does not.”

      Here’s a link to the page discussing how people are nominated for Nobel prizes:

      link to

      Maybe some of us could take action to remedy that situation?

    • “Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden deserve the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize…”

      Except it is unlikely that the Norwegians on that committee would have the audacity and moral courage to do such a thing.

  3. In My Lai, almost nobody was punished.

    The convicted ringleader, Lt. Calley received executive clemency from President Nixon and went on to become a jewelry salesman.

    I would venture most Americans today are unfamiliar with the My Lai incident.

    The Haditha prosecution was a disaster.

    In the incident involving Abeer Qasim Hamza the perpetrators in the U.S. Army recived long prison sentences and it inspired the Brian DePalma film “Redacted”.

  4. Wikileaks only put up the unscrubbed documents after the Guardian editor David Leigh published the password to the encrypted files in his book. See

    link to

    for wikileaks version.

    The full story is more convoluted. The best summary I’ve seen is

    link to

  5. “Without him, we might not even know about the Panopticon of total suveillance in which we are living.”

    Actually the Panopticon, conceived by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century, is the opposite of total surveillance. It was conceived as being a prison in which the inmates were in cells contained in a large, circular structure surrounding a guard tower in the middle. The guard tower was designed so the inmates could not see the guards, and thus they could never tell whether or not they were being watched.

    According to Bentham, this would allow the prisoners to be unguarded for periods of time because the guards could not be seen and, thus, need not be on duty all the time. But the prisoners, not knowing they were not being “watched,” would assume they were and act accordingly. In effect, the prisoners were psychologically “watching” themselves even though they were not under the total surveillance of the institutional “watchers” (guards).

    • Still a form of total surveillance (hardly its “opposite”!) implying the use of fear, coercion, and intimidation. A rose by any other name . . .

      • “Still a form of total surveillance…”

        More accurately, perceived total surveillance, rather than the reality of total surveillance.

    • Thank you for your summary of the Panopticon. The entire point of Cole’s usage of the phrase is that our surveillance state, and the creation of a public who internalize a national fear, IS essentially equitable to the total domination of the panopticon.

  6. It’s relevant to note that Manning did exactly as international law dictates; report war crimes and don’t follow illegal orders.
    Under international law he is obligated to do as he did.
    The question is; who will bring the real outlaws to justice?
    When the galoots are in charge, that question is relegated to irrelevance…

    What I do see is a dwindling gathering of supporters of U.S. policies worldwide; further evidence of empire crashing, albeit, in slow mo…

    • It’s relevant to note that Manning did exactly as international law dictates; report war crimes and don’t follow illegal orders.
      Under international law he is obligated to do as he did.

      Except he released a great deal more than evidence of war crimes. International law does not obligate an Army private to release hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables he never read, and which contain no evidence of wrongdoing.

      It’s an interesting counterfactual to think about what would have happened if Manning had limited himself to whistle blowing.

    • “…as international law dictates; … and don’t follow illegal orders”

      Which is what all of our military and naval personnel from the chiefs of staff down to the lowest-ranking grunt who participated in the invasion of Iraq violated. Only one officer (I won’t bring up his name to protect the anonymity he probably now prefers) objected to being assigned to Iraq because he believed it would have violated his oath to defend and uphold the Constitution.

      At his kangaroo trial, the defense wanted to make the legality of the war an issue, but the judge for understandable reasons to avoid embarrassment for the military ruled against that. Thereafter, it appeared the Army was glad to see the end of this trial and let the officer go with a comparatively light penalty.

  7. Let’s not forget about the two Israeli spies working for AIPAC that had charges of spying completely dropped, even though they had passed along top secret documents to Israel. This sentence is totally unjust.

  8. I guess the thing I can’t quite wrap my mind around is this; where’s the outrage that I grew up with when injustice was attempted?
    My view from a decade “outside” is one of horror at the complacency of the American public.
    The travesties against the people, the constitution, the indicting of the corrupt banking practices, the silence regarding institutional torture (of everybody), and all of the criminal behavior of the U.S. government in general.
    Nothing! The Occupy Movement? That was a joke! Fools who had no idea about the real world or any clue how to deal with it.
    You all are going to get the harvest of the seeds you have planted. But in fact, you do not even know what those seeds are/were, that you planted.
    You don’t think; you lack an innate curiosity; you have no idea what critical thinking is all about.
    Harsh? You betcha! Wake the hell up!
    You are about to lose everything…

    • “I guess the thing I can’t quite wrap my mind around is this; where’s the outrage that I grew up with when injustice was attempted?”

      I have made this point of moral apathy in Amerika in a variety of fora where whatever I wrote appears to have just vanished into the ether. Welcome to our little club, Arn.

    • Are you familiar at all with Central European Jewish folklore? Seems to me that we have raised us up a “GOLEM,” the kind that starts to get its own ideas about its mission in life. Who’s gonna be the one to try and obliterate one of the empowering letters of its name, and send it nav to being just a pile of mud? link to

  9. The latest revelation that NSA was unlawfully collecting domestic data, including E-mails between Americans, gives lie to the standard canard that the FISA Court is just a “rubber stamp” for NSA surveillance. It was the FISA Court that uncovered the unlawful collection of data between Americans, and as a result NSA ceased the practice.

    From the link above:

    “The three opinions include one from October 2011 by U.S. District Judge John Bates, who scolded government lawyers that the NSA had, for the third time in less than three years, belatedly acknowledged it was collecting more data than it was legally allowed to.”

    “The FISA court probed deeply and thoroughly into the issue. The government took strong appropriate steps to remedy the problem, and the court determined it had remedied and that the collection could continue.”

    It appears that the FISA Court is very much involved in ensuring that lawful procedures are followed in the collection of data, and that appropriate measures are taken when those procedures are not followed.

    • Bill, there have always been two parts to the “rubber stamp” argument:

      1) The judges on the FISC are obedient lapdogs who do whatever the intelligence community tells them to do.

      2) The structure of how the FISA works is so tilted towards the intelligence agencies that the FISC cannot provide an appropriate level of oversight.

      The released decision, and the desire of the court to release it, certainly do undermine point 1. Those judges sound pretty feisty and arms-length to me!

      But it seems to only bolster point 2, with the judges complaining about their dependence upon the applicants’ information.

      • I agree with both your points, Joe. But I think that the judges complaining about their dependence upon the applicants’ information serves as further evidence that the FISA Court judges are anything but compliant, acquiescent lapdogs for NSA, as the dominant Narrative would have us believe.

  10. After Manning´s mistreatement in prison and Miranda´s harassing,
    I´m really surprised the sentence was not death penalty or life in prison.
    I agree with the author, Mannig deserves Obama´s Nobel peace Prize.

  11. As we know, not all just rubber stamp, but there must have been consensus on the court. Was the consensus to follow the law?
    “and that the collection could continue.”
    Sounds like a rubber stamp, to me.

  12. arn: check the real world..reality tv,snowmobiles,jet skies,nascar,fast food…fat and happy..alfred e. neuman was right ‘me, worry?’

    • @ Nancy; I dumped my tv in ’94 because it was/is nothing but a great wasteland.
      Some things never change, yes?

  13. The story about the NSA and the domestic data was on page five of my local paper today. Page one featured a story about the death of dogs being transported for Border Patrol training.

    The public knows little of current events and remembers nothing of those in the past. And the pressure of searching for or keeping a job and managing a family, etc, leaves most of the previously-middle-class with little time or interest outside the immediate needs of their lives. It is hard to see much changing about that.

    As for peace prizes, our Orator-in-Chief has done nothing to promote peace, and any subsequent award was essentially trivialized as well. Until the committee withdraws it (!), we need some other way to honor those working for peace.

    • As for peace prizes, our Orator-in-Chief has done nothing to promote peace

      I remember when people on the left considered nuclear arms reduction to be a valuable cause.

      I guess I’m just old-fashioned.

      • Anyone who thinks this is an accurate statement of why the Committee made the award ought to read the actual announcement. What had and has Obama done about encouraging diplomacy, reducing world tensions, environmental threats and all that other stuff, including the still extant and targeted nuclear arsenals?

  14. Manning was offered a plea deal for less than 1,5 years in prison, but foolishly chose to protect the psychopath stalker/rapist Assange. Very misguided choice.

  15. This is from a summary of Chelsea Manning’s* statement after her sentencing as reported by Norman Solomon –

    ““Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy — the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps — to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light. As the late Howard Zinn once said, ‘There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.’”” link to

    To her* list we might add Eugene Debs, one of the first victims of the Espionage Act and the hysteria and hypocrisy that created it. Then there were … too many to add to the list.

    *In response to and respect for her request.

    • Anyone interested in learning something about transgender experiences will probably find “Conundrum” by Jan (formerly James) Morris of interest. Travel books written under both names were, and still are, very popular. “Conundrum” is about the operation and life shortly thereafter as Jan who now lives in Wales. The book is probably out of print but is available through used book dealers.

  16. If if weren’t for the dominant role hypocrisy plays, this would probably be time to delete “Honor” from the West Point military academy motto.

  17. Marine Corps Sgt. Clayton Lonetree was given a 30-year sentence for revealing far less than Manning, and was released after serving nine years in a military prison.

    I suspect “Chelsea” Manning will eventually be released after serving less than 10 years.

    The harsh sentence he received was needed to act as a deterrent to other servicemen who may disagree with U.S. policies.

  18. As President Obama said in another instance, “It’s time to look forward, not backward.”

    I agree. Give Chelsea Manning a bus or plane ticket to wherever she wants to go and forget the embarrassing exposure of our nation’s hypocrisy.

  19. “And the government took us another step down the road to authoritarian government…”

    It doesn’t appear we are any longer walking towards an authoritarian state – more like we are already there and this is another bolt locking the prison gates.

    It is only those of us in the minority on the fringe of society who are offended by this kangaroo trial. As for the appeals to Obama to pardon Manning or commute her sentence, they will just prove Obama is firmly fixed in his authoritarian mode. And that will be one of the few instances where he will enjoy bi-partisan support.

  20. She could be paroled in 7 years or earlier if the sentence is reduced on appeal. Be well Chelsea E. Manning, hero par excellance!

  21. In an earlier instance when chemical weapons were used in Syria on a small scale, the U.N. determined that the rebels were to blame (which explains why the atrocity didn’t get much press coverage). Unsurprisingly, both sides had blamed the other. In this case, too, naturally each side is blaming the other. But it’s important not to assign blame without an investigation.

    In this case, either side could be responsible. Prof. Cole: you did not consider the possibility of delivering chemical agents using artillery shells.

  22. Bradley Manning received a 35-year sentence but will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years. As he receives credit for three years already served, he will be eligible for parole in seven years. This seems about right for someone who was much more than a whistle-blower, having unlawfully downloaded and given to unauthorized sources in Wikileaks 700,000 classified documents and State Department cables.

    That said, Bradley Manning has demonstrated the courage of his convictions and a strength of character that Edward Snowden utterly lacked. Manning faced the consequences of his actions, conducted himself in an exemplary fashion, and will serve his sentence. Snowden, on the other hand, stole away like a thief in the night with his unlawfully downloaded, highly classified cache, taking it to that paragon of the freedom and openness that he claims to revere, China. He then continued on to Russia (More freedom? More openness?), where he and his Wikileaks handler got a little more than they bargained for. It is entirely appropriate that Snowden was hoist with his own petard.

    • Bull-feces!
      Also, try to imagine the Tower as “National
      Security” surrounded by everyone else.
      Remember, “You can watch some of the people
      all of the time, but you cannot watch all
      of the people all of the time”. – Snooping 101

  23. yes, well nothing in the Obama-Bush-Cheney era suggests
    Snowden would have received a modicum of fairness had he remained here.
    China? Russia? The world certainly needs a multipolar spread of power now, considering how US imperialism has misused its dominance.

Comments are closed.