Page 2 of 3

Why Bradley Manning Is a Patriot, Not a Criminal

An opening statement for the defense of Private Manning.

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 2:07 PM PST

If you convict Bradley Manning, you will also potentially be convicting the father of Army Specialist Adam Winfield.  In February 2010, Winfield informed his father, Christopher Winfield, a marine veteran, via Facebook, of a homicidal "Kill Team" at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, that was murdering civilians.  Winfield's father tried to sound the alarm via phone calls to the Army Inspector General's 24-hour hotline, to Senator Bill Nelson, and even to members of his son's command unit in Fort Lewis.

Both father and son went beyond the "proper" channels to stop the murder of innocent Afghan civilians.  Spc. Winfield is now on trial for possible complicity in the "kill team" murders, but no charges have been filed against his father.  Tell me, then: Is Winfield's father guilty of damaging his country because he tried to warn the Army about a homicidal "kill team" in the ranks?  Whether you like it or not, whether you care to or not, this is something you will decide when you render your judgment on Bradley Manning's actions.

The Espionage Charges

The most outlandish entries on the overachieving charge sheet are those stemming from the Espionage Act of 1917. After all, Pfc. Manning is just the fifth American in 94 years to be charged under this archaic law with leaking government documents.  (Of the five, only one has been convicted.)

The Espionage Act was never intended to be used in this way, as an extra punishment for citizens who disclose classified material, and that is why the government only carts it out when its case is exceptionally desperate.

In order for Espionage Act charges to stick, it is required that Pfc. Manning had the conscious intent — take note of that crucial phrase — to damage the United States or aid a foreign nation with his disclosures.  Not surprisingly, given this, you are going to hear the prosecution spare no effort to portray the release of these cables as the gravest blow to America's place in the world since Pearl Harbor.

I hope you'll take this with more than a grain of salt.  For where is the staggering fallout from all the supposed bombshells in these leaked documents?  Months after the release of the State Department cables, not a single American ambassador has been recalled.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who commands far more budget and power than the Secretary of State, publicly insists that these leaks — the Iraq War logs, the Afghan War Logs, and the diplomatic cables — have not done any major harm.  "Now I've heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer and so on," said Gates. "I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought."  Significantly overwrought?  "Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve," he added, "and it has for a long time."

So what happened to the biggest blow to American prestige since the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam?  And keep in mind that the Secretary of Defense is by no means the only official pooh-poohing the hype about the WikiLeaks apocalypse.  One former head of policy planning at the State Department looked at the cables, shrugged, and said that the documents hold "little news," and that they are "unlikely to do long-term damage."  A senior Pentagon spokesperson, Colonel David Lapan, confessed to reporters last September that there is zero evidence any of the Afghan informers named in the leaked documents have been injured by Taliban reprisals.  Tell me, where is the Armageddon that this 23-year-old private has supposedly loosed on our American world?

Of course, there's no denying that some members of our foreign policy elite have been mightily embarrassed by the State Department cables.  Good.  They deserve it.

Their fleeting embarrassment is nothing compared to the shame they have brought down on our country with their foolish deeds over the past decade, actions that range from the reckless and incompetent to the downright criminal.  It's no secret that America's standing in the world has been severely damaged in these years, but ask yourself: Is this because of recent disclosures of civilian deaths and war crimes —most of which are surprising only to Americans — along with diplomatic tittle-tattle?

I suggest to you that the damage to our nation, which couldn't be more real, has come not from the disclosures of a young private, but from our foreign policy elite's long pattern of foolish and destructive actions.  After all, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have cost rivers of blood.  The price tag for our current foreign wars has now officially soared above the trillion-dollar mark (and few doubt that, in the end, the real cost will run into the trillions of dollars).  And don't forget, the invasion of Iraq has inspired new waves of hatred and distrust of our country overseas, and has provided an adrenaline boost for Islamic terrorists.

Needless to say, our political, military, and media elites have not lined up to take responsibility for this series of self-inflicted wounds.  Before they try to pin a nonexistent catastrophe on Pfc. Manning, they ought to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think about the real damage they've done to our nation, the world, and not least the overstretched, overstrained U.S. military.

Just imagine: if only someone like Bradley Manning had leaked conclusive documentation about Saddam Hussein's supposedly deadly but nonexistent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, the excuse for our invasion of Iraq.  Such a disclosure would have profoundly embarrassed Washington's foreign policy elite and in the atmosphere of early 2003, the media would undoubtedly have called for that whistleblower's head, just as they're doing now.

Such a leak, however, would have done a powerful load of good for our nation. Four thousand four hundred and thirty-six American soldiers would not be dead and thousands more would not be maimed, wounded, or suffering from PTSD.  At the very least, more than 100,000, and probably hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi civilians would still be living.  These are the consequences of policy-making by a secretive government that wants the American people to know nothing, and a media that is either unable or unwilling to do its job and report on facts, not government spin.

You all are old enough to have noticed that the health of our republic and the reputations of our ruling elites are not one and the same.  In the best of times, they overlap.   The past 10 years have not been the best of times.  Those elites have led us into disaster after disaster, imperiling our already breached national security, straining our ruinous finances, and tearing to shreds our moral standing in the world.  Don't try to blame this state of affairs on Private Bradley Manning.

The Nuremberg Principles Mean Something in Our Courts

Our soldiers have a solemn duty not to obey illegal orders, and Pfc. Manning upheld this duty.  General Peter Pace's statement on a soldier's overriding duty to stop the torture and abuse of prisoners, whatever his or her orders, is not just high-minded public relations; it's the law of the land.  More than 50 years ago, U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10 incorporated the Nuremberg Principles, among them Principle IV: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."  This remains the law of our land and of our armed forces, too.   

I suspect the prosecution will have other ideas.  They will tell you that the Nuremberg Principles are great stuff for commencement addresses, but don't actually mean anything in practical terms. They will tell you that the Nuremberg Principles are of use only to the Lisa Simpsons of the human-rights industry.

But know this: some 400,000 of your fellow soldiers died in the Second World War for the establishment of those principles.  For that reason alone, they are something that you in the military ought to treat with the utmost seriousness.

And if the judge or prosecutor should tell you that the Nuremberg Principles don't mean a thing in our courts, they would be flat wrong.  Courts have taken the Nuremberg Principles to heart before, and more and more have done so in the past few years. In 2005, for example, Judge Lieutenant Commander Robert Klant took note of the Nuremberg principles in a sentencing hearing for Pablo Paredes, a Navy Petty Officer Third Class who refused redeployment to Iraq, and whose punishment was subsequently minimized.

Similarly, at his court martial in 2009, Sergeant Matthis Chiroux justified his refusal to redeploy to a war that he believed violated both national and international law, and was backed up by expert testimony on the Nuremberg Principles.  The court martial granted Sgt. Chiroux a general discharge.

A long line of Supreme Court cases, from Mitchell v. Harmony in 1851 all the way back to Little v. Barreme in 1804, established that soldiers have a duty not to follow illegal orders.  In short, it is a matter of record and established precedent that these Nuremberg Principles have meant something in our courts. Yours will not be the first court martial to apply these principles, fought for and won with American blood, nor will it be the last.

Page 2 of 3
Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.