The Passion of Bradley Manning:
The Story of the Suspect Behind the Largest Security Breach in U.S. History
OR Books, 2012.
Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism… should be encouraged rather than stifled. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that… whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process +
The Obama Biden Plan, 2007
Daniel Ellsberg may not have been the American beau idéal, but he came pretty close. Ellsberg served as an infantry lieutenant in the Marine Corps with real battle experience in Vietnam, a PhD in economics from Harvard, and a held gig as a defense analyst for the Cold War giant, RAND. In short, Ellsberg was a poster-child of our cherished meritocracy, righteously flung far into the empyrean of the military industrial complex.
A Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning is not, though the obvious parallels exist. Both military analysts, who, despite the ubiquitous insistence on the “fog of war” and its impenetrability, felt themselves duty-bound, to make lucid and public what, either by means of apathy or mendacity, their comrades in arms let go unspoken. In Chase Madar’s new book, The Passion of Bradley Manning, he makes the obvious yet disturbing point that “some three million Americans have a security clearance: did none of these people who came into contact with the Collateral Murder video see it fit for public release?” Both Ellsberg and Manning have had their character and motives impugned, not by serious argument or riposte, but by rather vicious campaigns of calumny and slander.
In his essay The Art and Arts of Howard E. Hunt, Gore Vidal imagines the condemning exchange between Dr. Fielding and Ellsberg, the one that would prove the Cold War syllogism of contra-Washington pro-Moscow:
Doctor Fielding, I have these terrible headaches. They started just after I met my control Ivan and he said, ‘Well, boychick, it’s been five years now since you signed on as a controlled agent. Now I guess you know that if there’s one thing we Sovs hate it’s a non-producer so….’ Doctor Fielding, I hope you’re writing all this down and not just staring out the window like last time.
Unfortunately, this type of fabrication would have been a marked improvement on the current discourse concerning honesty, which has taken a pathological tone. Take the writer Joy Reid, whose exegesis included the admittedly original notion that Manning was “a guy seeking anarchy as a salve for his own personal, psychological torment + )” These comments oblige the reader (or viewer; Reid is an MSNBC contributor) to think not in terms of right or wrong, but psychic instability where unstable types like Manning commit acts of which most law abiding, sexually resolute people would not even dream. He has also received condemnation, in the pages of OUT Magazine from James Kirchick, a contributing editor to The New Republic, who proffered the idea that Manning was one of those gay soldiers who will “act out their emotional problems by leaking classified material to individuals with an explicit agenda of harming the interests of the United States and its allies.” These points are not without historical precedent. Neocon pundit Norman Podhoretz tells us that, post-defeat in Vietnam, the United States should look back and contemplate the horrors of pacifism precipitated by a secret buggery-loving lobby (his historical precedent was the enervated 1930’s war effort in England, again, the onus of responsibility sits with some type of vague anti-masculine mentality).1
Bradley Manning was born 17 December 1987, in the town of Crescent, Oklahoma. Manning’s mother Susan hailed from Wales and his father was in the navy, stationed at Cawdor Barracks. He was mildly precocious, excelling in reading and mathematics from a very young age, refusing to say under God during a recitation of the pledge of allegiance. By all accounts his childhood was a tempestuous affair: he was bullied constantly, switching from his mother’s house in Wales to his father’s house in Oklahoma. He was unable to hold down a job at Zoto, a Tulsa based software company, and a series of fights with Manning’s father and his new wife eventuated in his flight from home. He then began an itinerant life, living out of his pickup truck, moving from Tulsa to Chicago and finally settling with his aunt in Washington DC. After working a few menial jobs, Manning did the “last thing anyone would expect a 5’2’’ openly gay nineteen-year-old with a fierce independent streak” to do, “he enlisted +”
One might in fact wish that this were, for the sake of Manning, not the case. It does not take much imagination to think that Manning, as a soldier in Fort Leonard Wood so tersely phrased it, “took it from every side.” He was swiftly placed in the discharge unit, which is tantamount to military expulsion. One problem: The all-volunteer army was about as robust as the Coalition of the Willing, so the young Manning was “recycled” to a field that fit him well — military intelligence.
After a small stint of intelligence training in Arizona, he was moved cross-country to Fort Drum in New York State. By 2009, after some deliberation he was deployed to forward operating base Hammer (FOB Hammer), deep in the desert 35 miles west of Baghdad. FOB Hammer resembles the odd dysphoric vision of any secluded military base, ‘a large windowless warehouse full of computers and desks and power cords’ where ‘they loved to watch…clips of Apaches [helicopters] gunning down people and whatnot’ (quoted from FOB-stationed Jimmy Rodriguez). By this time, Manning had access to SIPRNet, The Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, the system that the Department of Defense uses to ferry classified information. The Pentagon approximates that nearly 500,000 people and a short list of allied nations have access to SIPRNet. Manning also had access to Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, or JWICS — the interagency database that included the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State and Justice.
Madar notes that the moment of permutation and disillusionment did not come immediately.2 Two events, or insights, proved to be the catalyst for his later disclosures. In the first, he was made to carry out an investigation regarding some anti-Maliki dissident literature which asked “Where did the money go?”. Manning:
i immediately took this information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it…he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
This was all part of a furtive and continuous policy of abetting Iraqi authorities use of torture, a practice that was prescribed for terrorist actions, bringing into question the honesty of the American regime: Donald Rumsfeld had issued fragmentary order 242, which “set out a specific policy of non-interference in Iraqi torture.” The second event, an aerial video, shot on 12 July 2007, captured an AH-64 Apache helicopter shelling a congregation of Iraqis who were mingling with insurgents. By the end, 11 people were killed, civilians greatly outnumbering the insurgents. The video, later released by Wikileaks to the National Press Club, which was aptly named “Collateral Damage”, provides a pointillist dot, one of the thousands needed to fill the La Grande Jatte scope of what Christopher Hitchens called “the postponed liberation of Iraq.”
At 3:07:01 pm Manning told Lamo that he “could not let these thing stay inside of the system… inside of my head.”
At 3:11:07 Manning said, “i kept that in my mind for weeks… probably a month and a half… before I forwarded it to them”.
The second event was the Collateral Murder video, and the “them” was the already known, but not yet renowned Wikileaks organization. Collateral was the trickle in what would become a deluge of information. Wikileaks would subsequently divulge 91,731 of the Afghan War Logs, 391,832 of the Iraq War Logs and 251,287 State Department Cables. The much neglected, or suppressed, fact is, in contrast with many other moments in the history of exfiltration, none of the documents were classified as top secret.
In an unflustered and honest assessment of the history and treatment of leaks and leakers entitled Whistleblowers and Their Public, Madar simultaneously places Manning in the pantheon of Whistleblowers and tries to answer Alex Cockburn’s question — What ends wars? — as well as deal with his answer: One side is annihilated, the money runs out, the troops mutiny, the government fails or fears that it will. His incipient example is Adam Smith — who, in charting the mercantilist policies of colonial powers, used classified information provided by the French Crown, detailing the use of torture by the French Republic in Algeria. Madar’s history finally leads to John G. Eikenberry’s cable (leaked to the New York Times ) that stated the surge was the wrong policy, and that the Department of Defense’s counterinsurgency policy should be defenestrated. These facts should be taken contrapuntally, against the fact that Manning believed in the idea of a public that, upon receiving this previously undisclosed information, would take action. In short — information leads to action.
However, Madar does not paint a wholly monochrome picture. Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst, gave the author two examples of leaks that may have had an appreciable impact in war planning. The first is a much-lesser-known document given by Ellsberg to Robert Kennedy, detailing plans to use ‘small tactical nuclear bombs’ and increase the troop count by 26,000. Kennedy raised his voice on the senate floor and rallied a strong opposition3. In 2007 the National Intelligence Estimate — on the purported nuclear designs of Iran (namely, that they were not developing weapons) — were made public. The administration allowed for this because it believed a leak to be inevitable, so it chose the declassification road instead. Madar closes with a sensible point: information is not exactly toothless (evinced by the punitive actions taken against Manning), however, without the proper network and movements behind it, it is very likely to make an “inaudible thud on impact.”
So, what of the leaks, a question that takes up the second largest chapter of the book? What have we learned? Madar reports that there is no exact count of documents that are made classified every year, however 77 million documents were classified in 2010. Documents from Madison’s presidency are just ascending, etiolated, from an internment that has lasted over two centuries. However, as we have learned from Judith Miller and Barack Obama, leaking is not always bad, sometimes it can lubricate a war-weary nation, or make the president seem tough on terrorists. Madar makes audible the vast and idiotic cacophony of laughter and forgetting that is our intelligence classification and dissemination services. He does this not to call for stricter controls, but for a harsh examination of the present system.
A multifarious group, ranging from Slavoj Žižek (“The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises”) to Robert Gates has, for sometimes diametrically opposing reasons, gainsaid the importance of the leaks. Gate’s syllogism, which cannot be blithely dismissed, goes as follows: it was maybe an ugly blunder, however the U.S. is the still the hegemon, therefore, other countries will stay in line. Žižek maintained that we “knew” everything already, that there were no real disclosures to speak of; only a change in the way in which the flow of information, and thus power, is structured. This seems nearly half correct. While it is true that Wikileaks mode of disclosure is nearly sui generis, it seems that Žižek is trying to enliven what is an otherwise apt description (the change in structure), with the rhetorical gambit (downplaying the content of the documents). In short, his mistake is to confuse the potential with the actual, the confirmation with the assumption (ironically, Žižek has chided the Iranian jurists who banned the wearing of metal heels, for fear of exciting their male compatriots — he assumes the jurists conflated the potential of male arousal with the assurance that upon being stimulated, men would descend into an unstoppable sexual rage).
Madar is punctilious in the charting department. We have learned the body count in Iraq was about 15,000 more than previously known, making the total count something like 150,000, eighty percent of which is civilians. We have learned about fragmentary order 242, a strictly non-interventionist, although expressed as non-isolationist, policy regarding the use of torture by Iraqi police and military personnel. We have learned about, or rather confirmed the shameful detention and treatment of the prisoners at Gitmo. We learned that King Abdullah has been trying to push the U.S. towards a pugilistic confrontation with Iran. We learned about the de facto U.S. support for the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras. We learned that, in another fit of Monroe Doctrine nostalgia, the U.S. colluded with Hanes, Levi-Strauss, and Fruit of the Loom in Haiti, to ensure the minimum wage did not rise, bravely not allowing the people to rise from penurious to destitute.
In the second half of the book, Madar tries to tackle an issue that is now de rigueur among the moderate American Left: the fairness of international law, in particular the treatment of prisoners, both domestic and alien. In his conversations with Lamo, Manning makes a seemingly simple point, one that may serve as a guide to Madar’s approach towards dissecting the legitimation of American action: “just because something is more subtle, does not make it right.”
“I might well advise a client to ten years in the communal wing of Guantanamo over three years in the solitary at the super-max in Florence,” says Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney at the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights, seems astonishing at the least, and like a dereliction of a counsel’s duty to a client at worst. Maybe Kadial is a CIA agent incognito, because, as every well-informed American knows, Guantanamo is the superlative example of incarceration as hell. The fact a client would do well to heed this advice, or at least seriously contemplate it is something that is practically unspeakable. Maybe it is structurally impossible; we can label black-sites like Guantanamo as heinous excesses, their potency being draw from the fact that they are the exception (and thus manageable; even agreeable)4 .
Christopher Glazek’s recent essay for n+1 clearly states a point towards which Madar moves only symptomatically. The torture of Bradley Manning is not an aberration, attributable to political visibility and expediency. Rather, a great number of prisoners, being punished for a great variety of crimes are treated in a manner that is either strikingly similar or exponentially worse. Manning’s torture and confinement (the two, as in all long-term solitary confinement cases, are axiomatically linked) serves as a dual indictment. There are currently more than 25,000 prisoners in long-term isolation in the United States. This is a fantastic number, considering the effects of what Atul Gawande described as:
After a few months without regular social contact, however, his experience proved no different from that of the P.O.W.s or hostages, or the majority of isolated prisoners whom researchers have studied: he started to lose his mind. He talked to himself. He paced back and forth compulsively, shuffling along the same six-foot path for hours on end.
This was, and is not the only option. In 1980, the Supreme Court came close to abolishing long-term solitary confinement, and:
In June of 2006, a bipartisan national task force, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, released its… It called for ending long-term isolation of prisoners. Beyond about ten days… practically no benefits can be found and the harm is clear—not just for inmates but for the public…
“Every American prison functions as a black site,” says Glazek. The righteously contemptible features of prisons upon which progressive critics stake their livelihood are present in their domestic, uncontroversial counterparts — not as moments of overzealous guards or instances of “poor planning,” but as fundamental features and habitual practices. So, about a year ago, Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School and Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School sent off a missive to the New York Review, cataloguing the way in which Manning is subjected to “degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.” There is no doubt the case, however, is not an isolated one.
In 1963 Hannah Arendt fired off a series of long dispatches from Jerusalem covering the Eichmann trial for New Yorker. The articles precipitated a small mushroom cloud of controversy, with the attending fallout5. In a chapter entitled Duties of a Law-Abiding Citizen, it is noted that Eichmann claims something rather astonishing, “He had lived his life according to Kant’s moral precepts…according to a Kantian definition of duty+” Arendt lucidly maps the distortions and perversions that accompanied the nazification of the categorical imperative. What was meant, as the means for moral integrity was comprehended as a manual for perfect immorality. However, as she follows up by reminding the reader “Eichmann did indeed follow Kant’s precepts: A law was a law, and there could be no exception.” I have no intention of drawing histrionic parallels (the catch of “law is law” is a excuse far too common). However, Madar quotes a response given by President Obama to a group of Manning supports, “I have to abide by certain rules of classified information … we are a nation of laws.” Rules are rules.
The “rules” truism, in Madar’s estimation, is a cover for misconduct all throughout the international field. The Geneva Conventions take a less than stalwart stand on the responsibility of occupying armies, the is especially important with respect to fragmentary order 242, not to mention the lacunae that, for obvious logistical/historical reasons, are the rules and punishments for aerial bombardment. Basic morality, so goes the standard assumption, is imperfectly intagliated on our system of law. Evidence of the basic amoral, if not immoral structure of our current international legal regime gets a particularly pointed treatment in Madar’s account. It is not only that the foundational documents of international law and armed conflict are sometimes woefully incomplete, their governing body, The International Committee of the Red Cross, has lost the power to interpret laws with Vatican-esque finality; there now exists a profusion of bodies, many of them with competing interests and ideologies ready to stake a claim to legality. The result is a capricious application of the law in some instances, porous laws in others.
The fate of Manning is, in all probability, sealed. He lingers on our consciousness like a dissipated mist, rising above the trees and disappearing into the seemingly unadulterated morning of the future. He will be convicted and condemned to live, just as we are condemned, only lacking the conviction.