Bradley Manning and Freedom of the Press
George Orwell said that “in an age of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Even he could not have foreseen how true these words would become. The Wikileaks cables helped catalyse the Arab Spring by confirming the suspicions of the Arab people regarding their autocratic leaders. These revolutions have shaken the entire world, with aftershocks that will dictate the fate of millions of people for years to come.
In the West however, rather than the perpetrators of the crimes being censured, the vitriolic condemnation has instead been directed at those who have exposed the crimes. The world’s gaze is firmly fixed on the court case against the founder and poster boy of Wikileaks, Julian Assange- a plot that so easily could have been a Hollywood script (and indeed will be- Jeremy Renner is rumoured to be taking on the part of the silver haired scallywag).
Meanwhile Private Bradley Manning faces possible lifelong incarceration for leaking classified US material to Wikileaks, or as the prosecutors say, for “aiding the enemy”, amongst other charges. The 24 year old has been held, awaiting trial, for over two years. UN torture chief, Juan Mendez, has called the conditions in which Manning has been held as “inhumane” and “cruel”- almost a year of his pre-trial detention was spent in solitary confinement.
The truth is that the repercussions in the US of these revelations have not been particularly large. It has not led to the resignation of the incumbent President. There have not been any incidences where the security of American citizens has been “jeopardised”; there has been no attack on American soil since the cables were released, nor any resultant attack on American nationals abroad. The Afghans and Iraqis hate the American soldiers just as much as they did before. They already knew of the secrets the cables contained when their mothers, fathers and children were murdered- the war logs were no secret for those who had been suffering, but rather a summary of reality.
The cables were peppered with mildly humorous anecdotes that read like the twitter timelines of bored diplomats; Gaddafi’s nurse was a ‘voluptuous blonde’ and the President of Turkmenistan pined after an ‘Abramovich-style’ yacht. Then there were the unsurprising revelations such as ‘Mexico is losing the drugs war’, ‘Russia is a Mafia state’ and Prince Andrew is a bit of an embarrassment, no doubt winning the 2010 award for stating the obvious.
However to claim that Wikileaks did not disseminate anything important would be disingenuous. Of course it did. For starters, the publication of 391,832 United States Army field reports from Iraq and 91,731 documents from Afghanistan, in what collectively came to be referred to as “The War logs” detailed countless civilian and military deaths, injuries and wanton destruction. It is often proclaimed that we do not have a right to see classified documents or top-secret government files, but we do have a right to know what our governments are doing in our name and with our taxes. Democracy is built on transparency; it’s a pillar without which the whole system would crumble.
US Justice Hugo Black said about the Pentagon papers leak: “The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.”
As children we are taught that lying is wrong. Full stop. When we get a little older we learn that everything is not so black and white, there are “grey areas” and “white lies”. Governments the world over seem to have gone a step further and like philandering partners tell us that they lied to “protect us”. The Obama administration, like its predecessors, seems to have lifted and adopted the famous lines from A Few Good Men as its mantra; the “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH” card has been in play for decades.