Friday, 29 March 2013

From Daniel Ellsberg to Bradley Manning

When I post a blog entry I like to have something more to say than just a rehash of known facts.  But today I don't.  I write out of rage for the treatment of Private Bradley Manning, a hero who has put his freedom in jeopardy for principles that all of us who value honesty and decency should share.  Manning is currently on trial for sending to Wikileaks material about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The most infamous disclosure was footage of a US helicopter firing on civilians in Baghdad with a voice-over from the operators whose vicious delight in killing their victims is evil and sickening.  The material he released seems not to be compromising to US military strategy, nor to endanger the lives of serving personnel; but it gives a perspective on US thinking that must be deeply embarrassing for the High Command.

In my opinion Manning's actions should be applauded.  But, not only has he been put on trial, he has been treated with cruelty out of all proportion to the nature of the offences - including over a year of solitary confinement under brutal conditions.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  Over forty years ago another whistle-blower, Daniel Ellsberg, was arraigned by the US courts.  His crime was to have leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers that contained the damning revelation that the US government had known years earlier that the Vietnam war almost certainly could not be won, had lied to the public and had continued to wage the war causing tens of thousands of US deaths.  At Ellsberg's trial it came to light that, in an attempt to discredit him, the US administration had broken into the office of his psychiatrist and had installed illegal wiretaps.  As a result of this incredible persecution the judge threw out all charges.

Both Ellsberg and Manning broke the law.  Yet with the perspective of history the vast majority of us on all points of the political spectrum applaud Ellsberg.  Without his courage we would not have known about the crimes of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and there would have been no Watergate.  But at the time Ellsberg was excoriated in the same terms that Manning is now suffering.  I am absolutely sure that history will judge Manning just as favourably as we now judge Ellsberg.

Finally, an interesting and uplifting postscript.  Daniel Ellsberg has had a distinguished career as a proponent of open government and in March 2011, two weeks before he turned 80, he showed that his passion for social justice burned just as brightly: he was arrested in a protest demonstration against Manning's incarceration.

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