"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."
- George Orwell
Pfc. Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning's sentencing to 35 years in prison last week for leaking hundreds of classified documents of U.S. war crimes to WikiLeaks is proof positive of something I have long suspected of this country:
There is no democracy. There is only the illusion of democracy.
As Ned Beatty's Arthur Jensen, chairman of the fictional Communications Company of America in Sidney Lumet's Network explains to Howard Beale, "There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union-Carbide, and Exxon."
Manning, like Network's doomed Beale "meddled with the primal forces of nature,"--in this case the callous, murderous U.S. military industrial complex. And now, he too will be forced to atone.
From the beginning, Manning's trial was a rigged facade. The defense was prohibited from using any of the leaked documents as evidence in the trial. And, though the court ultimately failed to indict Manning on the specific charge, the prosecution nonetheless managed to convince the judge and the American public that her leaks somehow endangered U.S. security and "aided the enemy."
According to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll, 54 percent of Americans disapprove of Manning's actions, suggesting most still erroneously believe she somehow compromised U.S. security. Then again, the same poll also finds only 33 percent of Americans followed news of the trial closely-- compared with 67 percent who did not--which seems to negate the validity of the previous statistic.
Even before her trial began (indeed, long before she was formally charged with any crime), Manning was subjected to near-torture prison treatment, held for days in solitary confinement and forced to spend the night naked in her jail cell. Even former State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley called Manning's unwarranted treatment "counterproductive and stupid."
In nearly all of the commentary concerning Manning--whether from the right or the left--what is inevitably overlooked is the actual content of the military cables she leaked. This is, of course, no accident. When it comes to attacking and discrediting whistleblowers, the Obama administration and the corporate media employ the same tactic: Shoot the messenger, ignore the message. It is the same approach used with N.S.A. whistleblower, Edward Snowden.
So, let's talk about the war crimes Manning revealed.
Perhaps the most startling is the "Collateral Murder" video taken from a U.S. Apache helicopter as its pilot nonchalantly guns down nine innocent Iraqi civilians who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two of those killed were Reuters reporters. At one point, the soldiers indiscriminately fire on a van carrying children.
The blurry, black-and-white helicopter video log, combined with the soldiers' detached, indifferent back-and-forth exchange make the incident appear like something out of a video game. As our military weapons and instruments of war become increasingly automated with unmanned predator drones and the like, soldiers become more alienated from the actual horror of combat. Killing innocent human beings via remote control some 3,000 miles away is now as easy as sending an email.
This dehumanizing effect is further reinforced by the soldiers' crude, callous references to the civilians as "fucking pricks," and their exclamations to "light 'em all up." Marshall McLuhan, in his prescient if often inscrutable musings on technology, was right: "We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us."
Chelsea Manning was not responsible for these crimes--she merely exposed them. Yet, since her disclosure of these blatant war crimes, Manning has been treated--in both her trial and in the media--as the criminal. It is as if, upon reporting to your boss your discovery that a co-worker is stealing company funds, your boss promptly fires you.
Such is the warped logic under Barack Obama's administration, which has prosecuted more American whistleblowers, including journalists, under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. As Mother Jones' Peter Van Buren wrote in a story last year ("Obama's War on Whistleblowers," 06/12/2012), "The Obama administration has been cruelly and unusually punishing in its use of the 1917 Espionage Act to stomp on governmental leakers, truth-tellers, and whistleblowers whose disclosures do not support the president's political ambitions."
Conversely, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the other architects of the Iraq War--a war based on fabricated rationales--remain free citizens. The Democratic Party, upon reclaiming the Senate and the House of Representatives from a Republican majority in 2006, refused to impeach any officials in the Bush regime for such flagrant disregard for the rule of law and grossly deceiving the American public. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced impeachment as politically "divisive," and even went so far as to claim there was "no evidence" Bush had committed a crime.
The mainstream media, likewise, when it can be bothered to cover Manning's plight at all, has offered scorn and ridicule, painting her as a traitor. From the start the media used Manning's sexual orientation and gender identity issues against her in a disgustingly homophobic manner. Yet, gay rights advocacy groups--like Maine's prominent Equality Maine--raised no objections. Most LGBT groups, like those in the labor and anti-war movements, remain cloyingly loyal to President Obama. By their thinking, if Obama believes Manning is a traitor, then she must be a traitor.
(Curiously, Manning's coming out as transgendered the day after her sentencing seems to have generated more online support and praise from liberals than Manning ever received during her trial. In recent days, I have seen Facebook posts lauding Chelsea Manning's bravery and courage from people who previously seemed to have no opinion of her whatsoever. No doubt, Manning is a highly brave and courageous individual, but because of her actions--not her gender identity.)
Manning's sentence--the longest ever issued for a whistleblower--represents the last nail in the coffin for any remaining pretense of American justice.
It also sends a clear and chilling message to all investigative reporters: Be careful what you report on. Disclose any embarrassing state secrets, or evidence of torture or war crimes and you, too, will find yourself in Manning's shoes. As a result, according to the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, "Investigative reporting has come to a standstill."
To get a sense of the rank hypocrisy behind Chelsea Manning's sentence, consider the following quote from Secretary of State John Kerry concerning Syria's (alleged) use of chemical weapons:
"The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable."
Perhaps Kerry should have added to the second sentence, "Except when such actions are carried out by us. Then they are completely justified."
Indeed, in light of Manning's outrageous sentence, I propose we amend the Pledge of Allegiance accordingly. The final line should now read, "...with liberty and justice for some."