Whistleblowers Are Patriots Who Sacrifice for Their Country
Whistleblowers who attempt to rectify the disastrous policies of their nation are not criminals. They are patriots, and eventually are recognized as such. Bradley Manning is by no means the first American to serve his country in such a way.
Today, Daniel Ellsberg is famous as the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, a secret internal history ordered up by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara himself that candidly recounted how a series of administrations systematically lied to the nation about the planning and prosecution of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg's massive leak of these documents helped end that war and bring down a criminal administration. How criminal? Midway through Ellsberg's trial in 1973, the Nixon administration offered the judge overseeing his treason trial the directorship of the FBI in an implicit quid pro quo, a maneuver of such brazen corruption as to shame any banana republic. The judge dismissed all the government's charges with prejudice and now Daniel Ellsberg is a national hero.
Those born after a certain date may be forgiven for assuming that Ellsberg was some long-haired subversive of an "anti-American" stripe. In fact, he had been, like Bradley Manning, a model soldier.
At the Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Ellsberg graduated first in a class of some 1,100 lieutenants. He served as a platoon leader and rifle company commander in the Marine 2nd Infantry Division for three years, and deferred his graduate studies so he could remain on active duty with his battalion during the Suez Crisis of 1956. (You will note that deferring graduate school in order to stay on active military duty is the exact opposite of what so many of our recent, and current, national leaders did in those decades.) After satisfying his Reserve Officer commitment, Ellsberg was discharged from the Corps as a first lieutenant, and leaving the military went on to a distinguished career in government.
Daniel Ellsberg was a model Marine, and later a model citizen. His courageous act of leaking classified information was only one more episode in a consistent record of patriotic service. When Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers he did so out of the profoundest sense of duty, knowing full well, just like Bradley Manning today, that he might spend the rest of his life in jail.
Ellsberg calls Pfc. Manning his hero and he is a tireless defender of the brave Army private our government has locked away in solitary.
Vandals trash things without a care in their hearts, but real patriots like former Lt. Ellsberg and Pfc. Manning do their duty knowing that the privilege of living in a free society does not always come cheap.
"Frankly and in the Public View": The American Tradition of Diplomacy
Today, Ellsberg himself is lionized, even by the U.S. government, as a national hero. The State Department recently put together a traveling roadshow of American documentary films to screen abroad, and front and center among them is an admiring movie about Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. But then it is only appropriate that the government recognize Ellsberg and his once-controversial disclosures as part and parcel of the American tradition.
After all, demands for more open and transparent diplomacy are as American as baseball and Hank Williams. World War I-era President Woodrow Wilson himself insisted on the abolition of secret treaties as part of his 14 points for the League of Nations; in fact, it's the very first point: "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view."
How can foreign policy be democratic if the most serious decisions and facts — alliances, death tolls, assessments of the leaders and governments we are bankrolling with our tax dollars — are all kept as official secrets? The "Bricker Amendment" was an attempt by congressional Republicans in the 1950s to require Senate approval of U.S. treaties, in large part to open up public debate about foreign affairs. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat who served as representative to the U.N. for Republican President Richard Nixon, was also a severe critic of government secrecy and the habitual over-classification of state documents. These American statesmen knew that if foreign policy is crafted in secret, without the oxygen and sunlight of vigorous public debate, disaster and dysfunction would result.
For the past 10 years, we have had exactly such disaster and dysfunction as our foreign policy. Our leaders have plunged us into a dark world of secrecy and lies. Tell me: Is this Private Bradley Manning's fault?
Let me be clear as I bring this opening statement to a close: for all the complexities this case holds, your job will in the end prove a simple and basic one. It's your task not to let our leaders, or the prosecution, pin the horrendous state of affairs into which this country has been thrown on Pfc. Manning. I am confident that you will see him for the patriot he is, a young man with a moral backbone whose goal was not self-aggrandizement or profit or even attention and glory. His urge was to shine a bright light on his own country's wrongdoing and, in that way, bring it, bring us, back to our nobler national traditions.
It is Pfc. Manning, not our fearless national leaders, who has sacrificed much to restore the rule of law and a minimal level of public oversight to American foreign and military policy. "Frankly and in the public view": this once would have been called a reasonable description of the American character, something that set us apart from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto von Bismarck's Prussia, or Imperial Japan. Whether our government has any responsibility to conduct its affairs frankly and in the public view in 2011 and beyond — this is something else you will decide in your judgment on Pfc. Manning.
As soldiers, you know well that most Americans have insulated themselves from the last decade's foreign-policy disasters. Even as we spend a trillion dollars on foreign wars, our taxes are cut. If you're making decent money, the odds are it's not your kids, grandchildren, brothers, or sisters who are off fighting, killing, and dying in our foreign wars. Most Americans, thanks in part to the media, have little idea of what you and your peers have lived through, the weight you have shouldered.
This is not true of Pfc. Bradley Manning. He came face to face with this disaster. He saw, and participated in, the roundup of Iraqi civilians to be tortured by their own national police force. Tell me honestly: Was this what Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to accomplish? Is this why you, his jury of peers, enlisted in the military?
Pfc. Manning saw this misery and rampant illegality with his own two eyes, and then, online, he discovered more of the same — much, much more — and he did something about it, knowing full well the penalty. "I wouldn't mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn't for the possibility of having pictures of me […] plastered all over the world press," he confided to the informant who betrayed him. Manning knew the stakes and the risks when he leaked these documents, but still he loyally performed his duty, both to the United States Army and to his country.
As one of Manning's childhood friends from Crescent, Oklahoma, has testified, "He wanted to serve his country." It's up to you to decide whether he did.
You have a duty as a fully informed jury of free citizens. You are not an assortment of rubber stamps pulled out of a judge's desk drawer. You are as important a part of this court as the judge, prosecutor, and the accused himself.
Whichever way you decide in your verdict, you will not face the consequences Bradley Manning already endures, but your judgment will have great consequences, not just for him, but for the honor and future of the country you have taken an oath to serve.
Now, go and do your duty.
Chase Madar is an attorney in New York and a member of the National Lawyers Guild. He writes for TomDispatch, the American Conservative magazine, Le Monde Diplomatique, and the London Review of Books. (To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast video interview in which Chase Madar explores Manning's case and his defense, click here, or download it to your iPod here.)