The government has it right. Chelsea Manning is guilty – but not for the crimes they convicted her for. If her crime was defending democracy, guilty. If her crime was defending justice and morality, guilty. Exposing the truth, guilty.
Pvt. Manning broke the military chain of command because her conscience, her understanding of the Constitution, the Military Code of Ethics, her sense of democracy, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Principles told her she should.
Now, that chain is a set of manacles she may wear for most of her life.
Are we the only ones uncomfortable pledging allegiance to a state whose primary goal is not the common good or justice or human rights, but, rather, the protection and maintenance of its own power with arbitrary law? The conviction of Manning has all the moral elegance of a pit bull shaking the body of a hapless chipmunk. Manning was trying to warn us (and did!) of crimes being committed by our government and by our soldiers. She should be embraced and honored for her service to us all, to our law, to our ethics, and instead she is being shut away for being the unwelcome messenger.
Why does power punish the messenger? Because the messenger exposes corruption. Because she shames power with its own hypocrisy. Because it can.
When one looks into our history to find parallels for Pvt. Manning’s case, there is, sadly, no shortage. Whether it’s Frank Serpico being shot by his fellow policemen in New York City for exposing corruption, or Daniel Ellsberg facing life in prison for publishing the Pentagon Papers, or, more recently, the host of courageous whistleblowers (Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden, etc.) being prosecuted by the Obama administration. But, we think the most apt parallel to Manning may be any of the heroic Native Americans like Chief Joseph who tried 150 years ago to warn this country that the crimes being committed against them in the name of Manifest Destiny, and the desecration of the environment in the name of profit, would come back to haunt us all. The powerful can imprison the messenger, but the message itself is an escape artist. The truth of the message is everywhere for us to see. It is its own messenger. Imprisoning Manning is a self-righteous and self-defeating exercise in denial. In fact, US soldiers did laugh as they shot civilians from a helicopter in Iraq and then shot more civilians as they came to help the wounded. The fact is the message. How do we imprison that fact?
Whether we’re told by Chelsea Manning or by Edward Snowden or our own eyes and ears, is there anyone who doubts that our government is lying to all of us? That the “consent of the governed” is a privilege now only available to people with security clearances? Using the “law” to suppress the truth and deny facts is a fool’s errand – worse, a form of suicide.
It was painful to hear Manning’s lawyer excuse her actions by saying she was young and naive. Young, yes, but that’s irrelevant. Naive, no. She was, and is, idealistic and courageous. Some people would maintain that to be idealistic is to be naive. If so, then Martin Luther King, Jr, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Cesar Chavez, Frederick Douglass, Helen Keller, Rachel Carson, and Samantha Smith – all heroes of our professed values – were naive.
It was also painful, but not surprising unless one is truly naive, to hear that the judge in Manning’s case, Denise Lind, had been offered a promotion to the appellate court during the trial. We wonder why?
Manning has been nominated for the third straight year for the Nobel Peace Prize. This year, we think she and Edward Snowden should be the joint recipients. As was recently pointed out by a Swedish professor, giving that award to Manning would restore some integrity and dignity to the prize.
This post has been updated to reflect Manning’s 2013 announcement that she identifies as female, choosing the name Chelsea.