Just the mere act of obtaining and publicizing an unedited recording of what is supposed to be a closed hearing is a tribute to Private First Class Bradley Manning. Yet, there’s more here to consider.
AMY GOODMAN: …After downloading those SigAct [(“Significant Activities”)] tables, Manning said he began to think about what he knew and the information he had in his possession.
BRADLEY MANNING: I began to think about what I knew and the information I still had in my possession. For me, the SigActs represented the on-the-ground reality of both the conflicts—of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I felt we were risking so much for—we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and hatred on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provided context of what we were seeing on the ground.
In attempting to conduct counterterrorism, or CT, and counterinsurgency, COIN, operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and on being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our host nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions.
I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables, this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the debate—that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment every day.
By pleading guilty to these military—violating these military regulations, which he almost surely did, he’s freed himself to speak out now as to what exactly he did do and why he did it. If he can, of course, explain why he did what he did while he was still pleading not guilty and putting the burden of the proof on his actions on the government, that was his right to do, but it prevented him from saying that he had done the things, the acts, they were charging. In other words, he’s in exactly the same position I was in at the beginning of my trial, when I took full responsibility and I stipulated to all the facts that were presented in the trial. There was nothing to argue about, about what I had done.
The issue in my case was whether any law had been broken. Apparently, The New York Times never got to understand how I was pleading not guilty when I had indeed admitted to exactly what I had done. Bill Keller, obviously, the later executive editor of the Times, has never come to understand the problematic nature of the charges I was faced with and that Bradley Manning is faced with. I know them by heart: 18 U.S.C. 793 paragraphs (d) and (e). The best legal advisers at the time, like Mel Nimmer, said that those acts were unconstitutional, those portions, as applied to a leaker, instead of being applied to someone who had secretly given information to a foreign government or an enemy, the espionage that the Espionage Act was named for. To use them against someone like Manning or me who gave information for the benefit of the American people was not at all the intention of Congress, never was the intention of Congress. And so, whereas I did what I did, essentially, in my era, the comparable acts to what Manning did, the argument is very strong, legally, that we had not broken any law that could hold up as constitutional.
Now, actually, in the 40 years since, we have had, under Obama, not just six, but seven, people prosecuted under the Espionage Act now. Six would be twice as many as all previous presidents, and he’s actually added a seventh, of which, I would say, the Times seems to be ignorant. I don’t think they’ve made any mention of James Hitselberger, who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act four months ago and got new charges under it today. So there have been seven.
Now, Hitselberger’s lawyers are arguing exactly what we argued at the beginning of our case 40 years ago, that the passages of the so-called Espionage Act, U.S. 18 793 (d) and (e) are unconstitutionally broad and vague when applied to leaking to the American public. They chill speech. They stop, they censor free speech and free thought and free press in exactly the way the founders wanted to prevent. And that argument was made by our judges, and I was just recently—by our lawyers. I was just recently told by the law clerk to Judge Matthew Byrne in my case, in the district court case, that his recommendation, on studying this first case, was that he should accept that brief and ruled that part of the Espionage Act unconstitutional, and that his impression was that Byrne pretty much agreed with his argument, but didn’t want to start his very first case on the federal bench by calling a major law unconstitutional. So he deferred judgment on that, to the disappointment of the prosecutor. If he had judged it right away, they would have appealed it. But as it was, he deferred it ’til he had heard the facts of the case. And it did become clear to us that that first case did demonstrate that this law was not at all suitable in a democracy with a First Amendment.
I thought I was breaking a law that would put me in jail for the rest of my life, and indeed I was made those charges. And yet, in fact, what my lawyers discovered was that such a law had never been used to criminalize the release of such information. To this day, 60 years—40 years later, the Supreme Court has never ruled on that opinion. And the best judgment is that we have not passed a law that criminalized release of all classified information. Congress did pass such a law in 2000, and President Clinton vetoed it. Obviously, President Obama would not veto it now. Bill Keller is under the mistaken, stupid impression that it exists right now, so that the law was broken.
Beyond this legal battle, in the moral sphere, what these transcripts reveal is a conscientious young man who, like many of us in intelligence, entered quite naively into a political cockpit believing that a convenient kit of Army-supplied guidelines would suffice in a bureaucratic process where the facts on the ground would prompt an unquestioning loyalty to the command line. Instead, Manning applied his intelligence and came out with skepticism, and then moral outrage.