Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Dilemma of Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning is the Army Private accused of releasing classified documents to Wikileaks that created a global scene in the past few months. He has been kept in a military prison for over 215 days. No doubt, we should speak out that he be treated humanely and not be subject to any cruel and unusual punishment. We should also be vocal in our support that he be given a fair trial, and not be a scapegoat for something much bigger. But at the same time, I think it is important that we, as Friends, not blindly join in calling Manning a hero for being a whistle-blower in the name of justice. There is much more to the story of Manning himself and to the consequences of the information he has released that should concern us.

The first wave of information that Manning supplied to Wikileaks was about questionable military tactics in Iraq that resulted in civilian casualties. From the "whistle-blower" world, the military is denounced for violating the rules of engagement that call on the military to only attack opposing forces in uniform. Unfortunately, the opposition in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not playing by these rules but are, instead, specifically hiding among civilians. I abhor war as much as the next person, but given the current state of affairs in this region of the world, it's actually surprising that there are not more civilian casualties.

It is because of my abhorrence of war that I am most concerned about the efforts to put Manning on a hero's pedestal. Other than the leaked video, the rest of the Wikileaks have not been in the "whistle-blowing" category. They have not exposed anything subversive or shocking. They have been full of, basically, gossip in the form of private communications among diplomats. The information itself is, for the most part, nothing new or shocking, but rather personal opinions among diplomats to help prepare for meetings and further diplomacy. It's the kind of stuff we all do - paint broad characterizations of people to help others prepare for interactions. Some of it is really no news at all - such as news that Berlusconi of Italy is a womanizer. Much of this has been amusing stuff from the outside; from the inside, the damage is not to the military but to the world of diplomacy and it is in the diplomatic world that we have our best hopes to avoid military conflict.

I would love to know what motivated Manning to release documents that are not at all related to "whistle-blowing" but only serve to hamper diplomacy. According to this Washington Post piece, there is a biographical narrative that seems to indicate he was driven not by moral outrage at his government, but something more personal.

I have seen flyers at a few Quaker Meetings and among writings of Friends calling for the unconditional release of Bradley Manning. I think it is easy for us to jump on this bandwagon because of our dislike of military action and this can be an outlet of moral outrage. But it seems to me that Pvt. Manning was not motivated by the same outrage. The State Department leaks are not of that nature. In these leaks, it seems to me that Pvt. Manning violated confidentiality by confiscating information that had nothing to do with government wrong-doing, and the result is embarrassing at a minimum and, more troubling, harmful to diplomacy. I think we have a responsibility, as Friends, to look more deeply at the issue rather than risk being over-reactive anti-military but uninformed or inconsistent with our values. Our integrity calls on us to ask for humane treatment and a fair trial, but also that we understand the difference between whistle-blowing of blatant wrong-doing and violating confidentiality for less clear reasons.

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