Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Would a future administration entertain the idea of making a fundamental break from some of the misdeeds of administrations past? That it would be substantial, or not, remains to be seen. One such topic for discussion can be the issue of Bradley Manning.
As most of the readers here are aware, Bradley Manning is a soldier who is imprisoned for his alleged leaking of vast numbers of diplomatic cables concerning the United States diplomatic service’s sensitive correspondence along with equally vast numbers of logs relating to the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has plead guilty to ten of these charges and is awaiting a verdict on several others having severe penalties such as Aiding the Enemy. Those documents found way to the website WikiLeaks and then to the public in various avenues, causing much embarrassment and alarm on behalf of the US Government and military.
A full spectrum of thought encompasses the reaction of this, with very vocal groups labeling him from a hero to a whistleblower to a traitor, often using the same information as supporting evidence. But with regard to a Greater Good, should Bradley Manning receive a pardon?
It is clear from what is alleged the information distributed was secret. And there are varying opinions as to whether it was damaging or beneficial in the long term. In short one can look at the effects of what releasing information might encompass. In one example we can look at a “typical” espionage case as most traditionally view it; the case of Aldrich Ames.
Ames was formerly a CIA counter-intelligence office who was convicted in 1994 for spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. In exchange for large sums of money he provided information to these nations revealing, among other secrets, the identities of CIA informants in those nations and the spy efforts of the United States. It is almost certain this led to the arrest and deaths in many cases of those informants and disrupted the CIA in its mission.
Ames was probably bested by Robert Hanssen who for 22 years routinely provided information to the Russians about signal intelligence systems, lists of American double-agents, et al. Hannsen is currently serving a life sentence at USP, Florence in the ADX unit. A death penalty prosecution against him was considered by the US Attorney’s Office.
It is clear from these two men aforementioned they damaged the United States by providing military secrets to a foreign state for profit. And most in the US would agree their conviction was just, but what of Bradley Manning’s alleged actions?
An even cursory review of Bradley Manning’s experience in the Army was for him from the start filled with strife and belittlement. Resulting from this, and probably also was a disposition to emotional difficulty and conflict with others, he clearly found many things to be objectionable for him and what he perceived to be war crimes perpetuated by some in the allied front it could be argued this, and other things, led him to allegedly obtain the secret information and pass it along to others through various contacts in the “hacker” community for which he found kinship. WikiLeaks obtained many of this information such as various combat action videos, the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, and diplomatic cables. The resulting events after this information release was among other things regarded as the spark that led to the Arab Spring changes in the Middle East, the reassignment of US Government personnel and sources, information revealed on the Guantanamo Bay detention center and at the very least much upset among US Government officials.
Many certainly will not argue the charges against Bradley Manning are serious and the actions if proven would constitute crimes, he does face life imprisonment for some of these. But a fundamental difference can be argued between Robert Hanssen & Aldrich Ames and Bradley Manning: Whistleblowing.
On balance it can be argued if there is true altruism. If Bradley Manning was to have provided this information the exchange was for what he believed to be satisfaction in what he had done, that could be from one point of view just as valuable to him as money was to Ames and Hanssen. Both obtained consideration for violating espionage laws. Yet, is it less offensive to justice when a defendant believes the US Government is perpetuating illegal activities on its own, and a young, troubled man with no other outlets to voice his concerns and frustration resorts to a revelation of all that he considers bad? Some might argue the reporting of a crime is not a crime.
Do we need as a society to consider the greater good of what resulted as a mitigating factor in sort of an upside-down Machiavellian situation? (For the greater justice, it is necessary to break the law). Consider this. What might have been the resulting view of Bradley Manning have been if he had instead wrote a magnificent book of stories and anecdotes describing the situation in the Arab World and that book was so revered it resulted in the same effect of heralding the overthrow of several autocratic regimes in the Middle East exactly in the same manner that was sparked by the WikiLeaks issue? Would it have been likely Bradley Manning could be elevated to a Nobel Laureate for his literary influence and contributions?
Yet, it could also be articulated there was a great price to be paid in the release of these diplomatic cables in that it resulted in many deaths from the strife that ensued where more time and diplomacy might have averted such horrors in the lives of many ordinary people swept up in the conflict resulting. If this was directly resulting from Bradley Manning’s actions, should that be included in his punishment? It is a hard burden to shoulder the aftermath of a regional conflict upon the conscious of one young man.
Yet, should we make a precedent where the release of secret information is defensible by the conscious of the person releasing the data unlawfully? If that was the case would we want to open an avenue for those having security clearances to be less deterred?
Any meritorious society is constantly asking itself, how do we go from here? With all the outrages perpetuated by political types of this and prior administrations as to hegemony, military adventurism, wars started under dubious pretentions, spying on ordinary American Citizens, foreign allies, and indefinite detentions of prisoners who have been denied basic constitutional rights, has a time come to put these issues behind us with more than just talk and the status quo but real change along with symbolic gestures. If that is the aim of a subsequent administration could a case be made to request commuting the sentence or even a pardon of Bradley Manning?
It certainly is not without precedent in presidential authority. President Ford in pardoning President Nixon proclaimed he felt this was best for the country, to move on. He also conditionally pardoned those evading the draft who fled to foreign countries and a full pardon was later grated for these men by President Carter. The Iva Toguri (Tokyo Rose) Treason conviction and subsequent pardon by President Ford certainly can come to mind. Other more recent presidents have granted pardons, some meeting great disagreement as to whether this constituted more favoritism than justice. But yet a precedent has been set in which a nation or perhaps a government can atone for its ill deeds by allowing itself to take a better path to do better next time, and not in doing so continue to imprison the man, Bradley Manning, who for right or wrong brought to light these misdeeds that a future administration might endeavor to correct. Is Bradley to be a hero for risking everything, and losing his liberty, to reveal what he believed to be great injustices, or is he to be a scapegoat of the empire, or to be “sacrificed” as a deterrent to others in revealing classified material, rightly or wrongly.
If the Arab Spring is to be in several years regarded as such a liberation of ordinary people in several countries akin to that equal of the fall of the Iron Curtain for Eastern Europeans, and the jubilation of those who may now enjoy what we proclaim to be our mission to spread freedom in the world, is it right to continue to imprison the man that could be regarded as the instigator of this liberation? Could it be argued he indirectly performed his duty as that of a liberator?
With these issues in mind, is it right to at some time in the near future pardon Bradley Manning?