Cleared of aiding the enemy, Bradley Manning still faces a lifetime in jail. The very least we owe this heroic man is a debate on US foreign policy

Manning revealed the sordid realities of  war that the armchair warriors want sanitised

Share

Power has to be relentlessly fought. Without being constantly checked, exposed, harangued, mocked and driven back, it would swiftly devour all the rights that were won at its expense. There is invariably a cost. The powerful know that if those who chip away at their authority are not undermined, or humiliated, or even persecuted, others would be emboldened to strike blows at them, too.

And so it is with Bradley Manning. Although a military judge has found him not guilty of aiding the enemy, the guilty verdicts on other charges will leave him languishing in military custody for much, if not all, of his life: indeed, he faces a sentence of 130 years. Here is the sacrifice he has paid for exposing the secretive actions of a government that claims to act in the name of the US people.

Here's why. Over a decade ago, the US initiated two calamitous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with a terrible human cost that is still paid every single day. The then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared that the Iraq invasion was illegal; the country is today still awash with car bombings and gruesome sectarian bloodletting. It was always in the interests of the US elite to keep the consequences of their actions as far away from public consciousness as possible. The justification is that such secrecy is needed to protect the American people from the country's enemies. “It's for your own good” is the stock defence of every authoritarian. But the real aim is to stem opposition. Every US hawk still shivers at the photographs of naked Vietnamese children, faces contorted with panic, running with their skin burned after a napalm attack, which helped galvanise the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s.

By being responsible for the biggest leak of classified information in US history, Manning revealed the sordid realities of a war that the armchair warriors want sanitised. Like an Apache helicopter, bombing the life out of Iraqi civilians and a Reuters journalist, the corrupted pilots dismissing their victims as “dead bastards”. He found evidence of US-backed death squads and militias operating in Afghanistan. He helped reveal the rampant corruption of the US-backed Tunisian dictatorship, who basked in luxurious homes and extravagant lifestyles while their people suffered grinding poverty, providing ammunition for the revolutionaries who toppled Ben Ali.

It would have been a farce if Bradley Manning had been found guilty of aiding the enemy. After all, it was not Bradley Manning who funded and armed Afghan jihadis in the 1980s, some of whom evolved into al-Qa’ida elements; it was not Bradley Manning who propped up the thugs, thieves and murderers who dress themselves up as the rulers of the Middle East, provoking the fury of millions; it is not Bradley Manning who unleashed the bloody mayhem of Iraq, which attracted swarms of Islamist car-bombers and throat-slitters. The US government officials who doubled up as recruiting agents for al-Qa’ida remain at large.

Nonetheless, there is an important moral victory in the verdict. Manning is a whistleblower, not a traitor. If revealing information that was portrayed as playing into the hands of the enemy was officially declared to be treasonous, it could have had a crushing impact on investigative journalism and political dissent.

The US whistleblower Edward Snowden will have watched the verdict carefully from his banishment in a Russian airport. If he is unable to reach Venezuela, which has granted him political asylum, and falls into the hands of the US authorities, he too will face a lifetime of incarceration.

The US government will hope that an example has been set; that future whistleblowers will be deterred from uncovering injustices committed in the name of the US people without their knowledge or consent. That is why it is so important to offer gratitude and support for the Mannings and Snowdens of this world, when they sacrifice so much in the interests of openness, transparency and freedom. Only that will inspire other whistleblowers who know that – while their liberty is imperilled – millions will be cheering them on.

It should not come down to brave, one-off individuals, of course. The struggle for open governments, who are honest about what they do in our name, needs a mass movement to be truly successful.

Bradley Manning explained his actions by saying he wanted a debate about Western foreign policy. As this 5 foot 2 soldier continues a life without any liberty, we owe him that much. Even many of us who opposed or even marched against the Iraq war, then turned our eyes when the blood and chaos began: it was all too complicated, too distant, too unreal. We shrug off the support of our governments for dictatorships who torture, maim and kill as though it is simply a fact of life. Another shipment of arms for Saudi Arabia's ruling thugs; another Afghan wedding party reduced to a pile of shredded organs and charred bones; a former Prime Minister working for a dictatorship, as with Tony Blair and Kazakhstan's tyrant. Sometimes, it barely even registers.

We shouldn't pity Manning. We should admire his courage, and be inspired by it to scrutinise what our governments do both here and in distant lands without even bothering to consult us. For us all to do our bit in a struggle for a more just world order: that would be the ultimate show of gratitude to Bradley Manning.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent