Ridiculing Bradley Manning

As the main focus on the Afghan War Logs, the Iraq War Logs, and Cablegate shifts from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to Pfc. Bradley Manning, there is a remarkable tendency in the media to highlight his private life and his troubles in his times with the US Military.

Two recent documentaries deal in full length with Bradley Manning’s homosexuality, his alleged mental instability, his social and personal problems. Even if one grants that this is done using the format of a human interest story to bring Pfc. Bradley Manning closer to the audience’s understanding, these documentaries and infomercials serve nothing else than to belittle Bradley Manning. You really don’t need any enemies if you have friends like The Guardian that in a 20min video paints Bradley Manning as a troubled, mentally disturbed, sociopathic and dangerous person. The Guardian‘s feature is a character assassination on Bradley Manning, pure and simple. It paints him as a wacko, a goof, a person that should rather have spend some time in a mental institution; a troubled person that needed help from society but instead was bulldozed under the wheels of a military culture that picks on the weak and small in its own ranks and files.

PBS Frontline‘s documentary isn’t that much better but at least has the benefit over The Guardian‘s travesty that it not only tries to describe the circumstances of his upbringing and socialization but also the intellectual and cultural ambience in which Bradley Manning felt comfortable. At least PBS Frontline tries to depict some of the ethics and political demands of a hacker culture that allegedly lead to the breach of security regulations, to the download of 250.000 documents, and to their leakage to WikiLeaks.

The media’s sensationalism and trivialisation of Bradley Manning as a person and his alleged actions is not only disgusting but also harmful in at least two ways:

(1)   it depicts the download and leakage of confidential information as an act or consequence of mental instability;

(2)   by focusing on the personal problems of one person it distracts from the circumstances and policies that were necessary and in place in order that any download and leakage of confidential information could even be possible.

To call Pfc. Bradley Manning mentally disturbed, troubled, etc., is a strange way to explain why a person – any person – could do what Manning is said to have done: browsing the US Army’s databases for over eight month, downloading 250.000 documents und storing them on removable data-carriers like CD-RWs. That the material was downloaded and leaked for political and ethical reasons is not only ignored, this possibility simply doesn’t count as a valid reason at all why a person can come to think it necessary to plunder the databases of the US Army, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and US embassies around the world (all linked via the SIPRNet). But there are good political, juridical, humanitarian, moral, and ethical reasons to leak such information. The Collateral Murder-video, showing the killing of two Reuters journalists and several Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, recorded by the camera of an Apache helicopter, was necessary to be released in order to show, e.g., how the US Military violated the Geneva Convention. Likewise no-one has ever qualified the much earlier publication of the pictures of the abuses in Abu Ghraib as an act of mental disturbance. But even if that had been such, that would have had no relevance at all because the moral and ethical implications of the abuses (and the pictures of them) were and are quite independent of the psychological state of mind in which these pictures were accessed and published. The mental or psychological circumstances of the acquistion of incriminating material are totally irrelevant for the penologic meaning, value, and significance of material such acquired and provided to the public.

Not only is any mental state of a person who acquires incriminating material irrelevant to the significance of the material. Focusing on the (alleged) leaker’s personality and his state of mind has the aim to distract from any other circumstances, conditions, persons, and institutional failures that may have contributed to a situation that had made it possible for a person like Pfc. Bradley Manning to download and leak all that confidential material. And here the character assassinations by media like The Guardian and PBS Frontline starts bordering on complicity in an attempt to cover up the real scandals. 

Partly responsible for the leakage, e.g., was over-classification (combined with “derivative” classification) since the Executive Order 12958 of former President Bill Clinton. It necessitated security clearance for over 2.5 million people to grant them access to classified information. [1] Another component was the “imperative” at the end of 2008 from then Head of Central Command, General David Petraeus, and others, to allow the use of removable data-carriers like CD-RWs to download and store classified information from the SIPRNet. Such data-carriers were needed in order to upload this information on other computers with access to networks of the Allied Forces. [2] Had this “imperative” not been in place, no-one, neither alleged leaker Bradley Manning nor anybody else could have transported the confidential material out of the US Army base in Baghdad to a place where it could be sent to the WikiLeaks server. But nearly nowhere do we find investigations and reportings by the media of this carelessness and gross incompetence of the US Army. In fact, having a human interest story fulfills the task of shielding General Petraeus and others from any deeper investigation.

Ridiculing Bradley Manning is not only shameful. It not only belittles him as a decent human being with morality, ethics, politcal conviction, intelligence, and integrity. It is not only irrelevant to the question of how such a huge security breach (that had taken place solely inside the US Army) could have happened at all. Far more, it is an undertaking of direct complicity as it supports the attempt to place the burden of the incident on one fall guy. Frameing the download and leakage as an act of a loony loner simply distracts from the important question of why aiding and abetting this 9/11 of US American security breakdown isn’t persecuted and its culprits reprimanded. But instead of facing serious questions General Petraeus is promoted to become the new head of the CIA. (As likewise no-one beside a few fall guys was ever convicted in the case of Abu Ghraib.) In an eerie way this makes terrible sense. As does the change of The Guardian from a once liberal voice to a member of the yellow press.


[1]  For details see my The Missed Absurdity of Cablegate
[2]  For details see [1] and my Free Manning, Arrest Petraeus!


Update 2011.05.29 : To give The Guardian some credit, the article WikiLeaks accused Bradley Manning ‘should never have been sent to Iraq’ as well as the video The madness of Bradley Manning? point to a security environment in Forward Operation Base Hammer in Iraq (where Manning was stationed) that borders on the grotesque: Many computers with connection to the SIPRNet had their passwords posted on sticky notes on the machine or nearby. No security oversight was in place, many people came and went, logged on and off the SIPRNet-connected computers. The video explicitly reports that service members whose clearances weren’t checked accessed the computers for fun and entertainment. – Given this environment, how is it possible to place the burden of the leakage on just one soldier? How could this even possibly be verified or proved? It literally may have been anyone.


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