Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Let’s hope the US courts see sense and let off Bradley Manning with nothing more serious than a slap on the wrist and the advice next time to look before he leaps

UPDATE (on Aug 22): I understand that Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years, but could be out within ten, and that he now feels he is really a woman and wants to be called Daisy or Betty or something (I wasn’t paying that much attention to the news broadcast). All of that notwithstanding, I feel what I wrote a night or two ago below still stands, with the poor chap’s gender confusion making some of my comments all the more pertinent.

One of the items on the news tonight was the Bradley Manning’s lawyers have petitioned President Barack Obama to pardon the lad. And I bloody hope he does so. Reports from the trial suggest Manning is looking at a minimum of 60 years in jail. Before he went to trial and admitted some offences, there was even talk that he faced the death penalty. That, it seems, is no longer likely.

One of the details about the case, which to me is - obliquely - pertinent is that Manning passed on 700,000 documents to Wikileaks and run by who I regard as an arch-fraud Julian Assange. Does anyone really suspect that Manning had the slightest idea what he was doing? Does anyone really think that his motives for passing on those documents was somehow to damage the United States. And, crucially, does anyone really think that Manning even knew the importance of what was in some of those documents, let alone read the whole lot. I repeat, he passed on 700,000 (according to the news).

Manning, we now know, was a confused young man who was having trouble coming to terms with the fact that he was gay. That, in itself, is no excuse for ‘treason’, if you want to regard and describe what he did as ‘treason’. I rather think the poor chap did not have the faintest clue what he was up to. I have no way of knowing how bright he is, but I also suspect that he is not, in the sense of being a man of the world, all that bright.

There can be no doubt that he caused the United States, both the present administration and the previous administrations, a great deal of embarrassment. Publication of the content of the documents he leaked have also, I have to admit, entertained us a great deal. But I do feel rather sorry for all those embassy staff around the world whose candid reports from the country in which they were serving were made public. They were asked for their informed opinions of the governments and leading figures in those countries and, assuming that their views were confidential, gave honest accounts.

Admittedly, among the many documents that were leaked were some quite shocking accounts of criminal misbehaviour by, for example, US troops in Iraq. But for those who oppose the US, those accounts - remember the previous and unrelated reports from Abu Ghraib, will not have come as a great surprise. In fact, Manning is on record as saying that one such shocking account, of a helicopter targeting, then murdering innocent Iraqis who just happened to be in the way, was the catalyst which set him on course to do what he did. To but it bluntly, there is a strong smell of fish about it all.

Manning, in my view an innocent abroad, was used by Wikileaks and Assange, and by the Guardian. That paper likes to present itself as some kind of social conscience and there is some truth in that. But it is also just another newspaper in the business of making money, and the documents leaked by Manning to Wikileaks who passed them on for publication to the Guardian will have seemed like all their dreams come true.

Here, dear reader, was another opportunity for the Guardian to demonstrate its oh-so-holy chops. And if by doing so it could damage what it regarded as the opposition to boot, so much the better. Manning was, of course, the prime mover in all this, but there is no suggestion, as there is, perhaps, in the case of Edward Snowden that what he did was a matter of principle and undertaken after he great deal of thought. And even the whole Snowden affair is not quite as straightforward as the Guardian would have us believe.

Manning now faces spending more or less the rest of his life in jail purely because - in my view, I had better repeat - he was a confused young chap who didn’t have much of an idea as to what he was doing and was cynically used by those who should know better. Soon we will know what the courts decided will be Manning’s future.

Ridiculous as it might sound to some reading this, I would simply like to see him let of with a suspended sentence and then allowed to get on with the rest of his life, perhaps a little wiser. Will it happen? Well, writing this tonight, I don’t know. But, sadly, I rather doubt it. To quote Alexander Pope and use a phrase previously used in a Times leader when it commented on a drugs trial involving those arch ‘rebels’ the Rolling Stones, ‘Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?’ I hope to God it isn’t the US in all its outraged vigour. There are other ways to deal with being made to look rather foolish.

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