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Making an Example

Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for being a whistleblower.

The prosecution argued for a 60 year sentence, specifically to make an example of him to deter others from leaking classified information.

Ironically, the example they are actually making is that being a whistleblower is considered as bad as being an enemy spy. The Brennan Center for Justice called Manning’s sentence “unprecedented”. “It’s more than 17 times the next longest sentence ever served” for providing secret material to the media. “It is in line with sentences for paid espionage for the enemy.” Indeed.

The ACLU pointed out the hypocrisy of his sentence. “When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system.”

Amnesty International has the best answer. “Instead of fighting tooth and nail to lock him up for decades, the US government should turn its attention to investigating and delivering justice for the serious human rights abuses committed by its officials in the name of countering terror.”

UPDATE: This case takes a bizarre new twist, as Manning announces that he is transgendered, and intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman. Manning’s attorney read out a statement on the Today show on NBC, saying “I am Chelsea Manning. I am female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”

UPDATE 2: I completely agree with this opinion piece in Politico. Read it. It proposes a set of rules for prosecuting whistleblowers that make a lot of sense:

  1. Government employees who expose misconduct should not be punished more severely than those who engage in misconduct. Among the more blatant injustices of the Manning case is that Manning was prosecuted more intensely, and punished far more harshly, than other soldiers (and their superiors) who authorized and engaged in war crimes, including the torture of prisoners and the killing of civilians.
  2. Not all leaks are the same, and the law should not treat them the same. … Indeed, unauthorized disclosures of information relating to government fraud, corruption, or illegal activities should not be prosecuted at all.
  3. The government should have to demonstrate that the leaked information had been properly withheld form the public. Rampant overclassification of information about critically important government activities is a chronic and widely recognized problem.
  4. The government should be consistent in its enforcement of criminal laws against leaking. … Even while the Obama administration has brought an unprecedented number of leak prosecutions, it has simultaneously provided favored reporters with vast amounts of classified information for the production of news reports and books that further its preferred narrative.


  1. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Hmmm, how to make myself understood (warning this is the Soldier side of me). First, Manning was not a whistle blower. He was a Soldier in a war theater performing a job to support the warfighters (the Soldiers actually doing the fighting, which Manning was not). He was more concerned about himself then those he supported and incidentally those who were protecting him from enemy attack. Commanders and warfighters need information and intelligence to save warfighter lives and prevent to the greatest extent possible the loss of civilian lives. Operational reports written after an operation or action has taken place (sometimes while) are crucial parts of the war time intelligence and battlefield planning process. War cannot and was never intended to be a clean process, ask Germany, England, Japan, China, Korea, Rwanda, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Somalia, USA or now Iraq and Afghanistan, or Syria or Egypt. War has to be something so terrible that it’s avoided at all costs, last resort, no other way out. I personally think our precision munitions have afforded us too much latitude to wage limited wars that go on forever and kill many more people. But, I digress.
    Manning, sold out his fellow Soldiers without regard or concern for their safety or lives. As one of the guys who was supposed to have “their backs” he was more concerned about his own pathetic little moral problems. Perhaps had he been with the warfighters and seen how the enemy goes after his fellow Soldiers (sometimes using children, women, disabled persons, animals) he would have felt differently. I’m certain that he would have wanted the Soldier in the rear who was supposed to be feeding him relevant good intel about an operational area to be spot on with their battlefield assessments because it would have been his butt hanging in the breeze.
    So do me a favor and don’t hang this loser from a flag pole and call him anything but what he really was, a self absorbed nobody who wanted to be somebody and figured the best way to do that was disclose information about operations he didn’t have the capacity to understand. Soldiers see lots of things, we can make bad choices in the heat of a moment, but we must be held accountable. If not, then discipline breaks down (we’ve seen a lot of that after almost 11 years), Soldiers start acting out and on their own and committing acts that go against all of values. As too the acts committed by others they didn’t put countless Soldiers at immediate risk, they were terrible, disgraceful and should not be repeated. But you cannot compare them to Manning, they are false equivalencies.

    Now that being said, the Army and his superiors should be brought up on charges or reprimanded for not removing him from his duty position, taking away his clearance and putting him out of the Army before he was able to do all this. I also believe that he should be release on his first parole hearing (in about 8 years), but keep the 35 year sentence. While he was a man, he was really just a kid in my eyes. Let him take his licks like a man, learn from it and move on.

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  2. Patricia wrote:

    PSgt, I understand your position as a “good soldier,” and it grieves me as Gen. Powell’s attempt to be a “good soldier” for W Bush.

    Something MUST be done to stop the growing (for lack of a better word) love affair with fascist rationalizations in the government of our country. Many soldiers have given their lives for the ideal of America, only to have their leaders betray those ideals. It has to stop somehow!

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  3. ThatGuy wrote:

    Essentially, what PSGT said.

    On top of all that, Manning did a lot of damage to our diplomatic capacity (you know, the one that is the best avenue for preventing war) with his indiscriminate release of diplomatic cables. It’s important that our Foreign Service Officers can relay accurate information home without fearing the release of their candid statements to their foreign counterparts. Is the fact that a foreign minister somewhere is a drunk important? Yup. Do we want them to know that we know they’re a drunk? Nope.

    I’d also like to point out a little dishonesty by the ACLU in their “killing civilians” bit. First and most generally: Manning broke the law. He should go to jail. People who indiscriminately kill civilians should go to jail too, but saying that Manning should walk because other criminals do is absolutely ridiculous.

    As part of that: the biggest example I’ve seen people using for this killing of civilians claim is the “collateral murder” video taken by an attack helicopter in Iraq that mistakenly killed two Reuters journalists. Their deaths are tragic, but they were in an area where combat had been going on and they were accompanied by armed men. Again, tragic, but journalists in war zones know what they are getting into. Further, this video was HEAVILY edited and editorialized by wikileaks prior to its release on the web, honest journalists they are not.

    Just to be clear, I’m not advocating or condoning killing civilians in war zones, nor am I excusing those who do it purposefully. I’ve just noticed that a lot of what comes out being sympathetic to Manning is pretty shortsighted in terms of what he did.

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  4. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Patricia, I agree with you. The civilian politicians elected by the people are supposed to be the keepers of the military. We however are still the keepers of our politicians. Special interest can throw money at politicans, but we still elect them.

    Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink
  5. Don in Waco wrote:

    I gotta agree with PSGT here. He took an oath. Also, Manning chose to give data to Wikileaks and not the press. The press tends to vet the material and release non-sensitive material and may even consult with military to confirm data and material and security. Wikileaks just does a data dump and consequences be damned. Manning likely knows the difference.

    Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  6. PatriotSGT wrote:

    On the update – that figures. Solidifies my assumption that he was just out for his own glorification. I don’t care what gender he is, if he’s happy good. But, to tell it to the world… he just wants attention. This young man has some serious self esteem and mental health issues. I hope he takes advantage of those services that I’m certain the military will offer him. Whether it’ll do any good is another matter.

    Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  7. Michael wrote:

    Like with Snowden, I’m kind of ambivalent regarding Manning. As I recall, DoD and the White House were fighting tooth and nail to reveal anything about the Reuters reporters’ deaths. (Had Obama been in office at the time the FOIA request was filed, I have no doubt that Fox News would have reacted just like they have with Benghazi.) Did Wikileaks manipulate the editing for propagandistic effect? Absolutely. But it’s hard to overcome the appearance that the Wikileaks story forced the eventual release of the full tape. So, for the supposed “Collateral Murder” release, I give a slight favor to Manning over the Bush and Obama administrations.

    As for everything else, though, nope. There’s no way in hell to justify the leaking of the diplomatic cables or the war diaries reports, etc. (Personally, I find it to be a bit of a stretch to suggest–as others have–that the diplomatic cable leaks were a catalyst for the Arab Spring; I’m not convinced they were that much of a factor.) That’s not whistleblowing, and Manning deserves to be in jail for it.

    Having said that, I do find the sentence, the prosecution, and the prolonged detainment and isolation to be troubling. It’s been over 3 years since Manning’s arrest until now. I’m not sure I would consider that a “speedy” trial. I find this to be another case in point of the Obama administration taking too much of a hard-line stance against leakers. And I don’t want to seem like a relativist, but it’s hard not to compare Manning’s sentence to the presumptive (i.e., recommended/typical) sentence for homicide, which is 10 years. Especially when you consider the fact that Manning clearly has mental health issues.

    Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    Thank you Michael. I’ve been waiting for someone to realize that my original post was not complaining that Manning was sent to jail. My problem is how the government went overboard attacking him and punishing him even before his trial, and tried to make an example of him, when actual spies working for the enemy who did far worse got far more lenient jail terms.

    It doesn’t matter if we think he was a whistleblower or not, because it is obvious that he wasn’t doing it specifically to harm his country. He didn’t do it for money or to help our enemy. He believed he was a whistleblower.

    It is a pattern. We treat our enemies far better than we treat our friends who betray us, even if the motive for the betrayal was to expose corruption. That is a bad recipe for a democracy.

    Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  9. Michael wrote:

    “We treat our enemies far better than we treat our friends who betray us.” This is a common theme in western civilization. The first example that comes to mind is Dante’s Inferno, which reserved the lowest level of Hell for traitors.

    Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    Read UPDATE 2 for this post, or just read this —

    Friday, August 23, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  11. Dusty Florbjord wrote:

    This may seem like a small thing, but it’s appropriate to refer to transpeople as the name and gender that they are. These identifiers are not something they prefer, but rather who they are. The media is doing a terrible job of covering Chelsea’s announcement by insisting on her birth name and sex. The rest of us can do better.

    Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink