If you’re like me, right now you want to reach out to Bradley Manning and thank him for his strength of character and lonely courage during a long ordeal. But it’s been a bloodbath for Manning in the mainstream media, with John Hockenberry of NPR lately describing him as a “disturbed” young man, after Bill Keller of the New York Times gave him permission, by saying that Manning is a “complicated young man” who suffered a “lot of personal unhappiness” and who was not a whistleblower, inasmuch as he did not try and fix the system from the inside, first.
Was Daniel Ellsberg a complicated young man when he was seeing a psychiatrist?
Didn’t Bradley Manning act, at that forward base in Iraq– serving in a war that the moralizing Bill Keller pushed us to pursue– only after he went to a higher-up and told him that young Iraqis who are leafletting were being imprisoned and surely tortured, and that superior told him to forget about it?
Thankfully, Michael Ratner and Glenn Greenwald have been standing up in mainstream venues for Manning, for performing the work that is essential to journalism. And John Judis at the New Republic, which cannot be hospitable to his words, has bravely said that “by revealing indiscriminate killings [and] diplomatic deceit, Manning was doing the country a favor.”
First the critics. Jeffrey Toobin says that he trusts foreign service officers to make judgments about what is public before he trusts Bradley Manning. My god, a journalist said this? A friend sends me the CNN video of an encounter between Glenn Greenwald and Toobin. Toobin, who works for the New Yorker and CNN, says that it was “not up to Bradley Manning to disclose any of this,” the rhapsodizes about government officials:
The people who composed these cables have devoted their lives to trying to make the world a better place… I admire the foreign service a great deal, and I trust their judgment about what’s a secret a lot more than Bradley Manning.
Greenwald points out that Toobin is striking at the heart of investigative journalism. “Who was Daniel Ellsberg to decide?” he says; Toobin’s line is the same as saying, “I trust generals a lot more than Daniel Ellsberg” about Vietnam.
Writes a friend:
What struck me was Toobin’s piteous appeal on behalf of the little people who work selflessly in government–(“low-level foreign service officials, on the street of foreign cities, risking their lives every day to gather information that might benefit this country”)–as the people who were betrayed: their life work endangered or anyway their jobs put in jeopardy by these leaks. He doesn’t mention generals or prison guards.
A fascinating specimen of identifying with power–in the guise of sympathizing with the self-sacrifice of individuals who work for official institutions. I’ve seen this deflection from other persons in government and in the higher circles.
It is quite unconscious. And goes with a reflex disparagement of dissenters and outsiders of lowly status.
At the Takeaway, Bill Keller was asked what he made of Manning, and he equivocated flipflopperishly. “I think he’s a complicated young man. I don’t think he’s either Benedict Arnold or Nathan Hale.” Manning’s motives, Keller went on, were a mix of a “somewhat vague” desire to fix the world, and “a lot of personal unhappiness.”
But Keller and the Times relied on Manning’s leaks to break stories. It’s hard to imagine greater contempt for a source.
Here is Michael Ratner thoroughly smashing that picture of Manning as a confused young man:
Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said he initially shared the perception that Manning was psychologically frail, but changed his view after hearing the private testify while pleading guilty to some of the charges leveled against him.
“I had an image that turned out to be completely false,” Ratner said. “I was shocked by his intelligence, his politics, the firmness of his voice. It showed a person with tremendous presence.”
“His plea was so moving,” Ratner said. “Someday maybe people will read it and begin to understand what it means to act on your conscience.”
Oh and here’s John Judis, who describes the Manning trial as a show trial and says he’s been punished enough for the guilt he accepts:
The trial itself should never have taken place. The military should have accepted Manning’s admission of guilt last February. In my opinion, he had already served long enough, and suffered sufficiently under brutal conditions, to pay for violating his trust as a soldier in military intelligence. But the military might still have exacted a few more years of confinement in a plea bargain. Instead, they sought to stage a show trial. The case they made that Manning had aided the enemy—replete with doctored quotations from emails—would have made Roger Ailes blush. But perhaps they knew what they were doing all along. By focusing attention on the truly horrific charge, they convinced the judge to support a charge that was merely god awful.