There's something wrong with a government "secrets" case when millions of people have access to those same "secrets."
The pre-trial hearing of PFC Bradley Manning is underway at Ft. Meade, MD -- though you'd hardly know it given overall media inattention. Manning, of course, is being tried for allegedly releasing some 250,000 diplomatic cables, as well as a huge cache of documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the leak site Wikileak.
Just to sum up where we are in the process, the AP writes:
Manning is seeking dismissal of all charges due to what he claims were excessively harsh conditions during his nine months in the brig.
Brig commanders say they kept Manning confined 23 hours a day, sometimes without clothing, to keep him from hurting or killing himself.
He's charged with 22 offenses, including aiding the enemy. He could get life in prison if convicted.
I've been looking at reports about the hearing, about Manning's defense and the government's case. I confess to finding myself torn over certain aspects, but I firmly believe a life sentence would be beyond draconian. Hasn't Manning been punished enough? Has Manning been punished enough? Are those the proper questions to ask? What about the law of the case? What about national security? What about the people's "right to know"?
This right has been disappearing throughout our era of shrinking free speech, which for me is the all-important political context to the Manning case.
Is free speech political?
In theory, no. But in practice, free speech is the source of liberty, and liberty is the enemy of organized control -- whether such control takes the form of a dictatorship, a socialist bureacracy (which includes every Western nation to varying degree), or an Islamic state.
At this point on the road to "socialism with an American face," the United States still supports freedom of communication; hence, our continued support for an unfettered Internet. The US, in fact, is currently fighting to stave off seizure of Internet control by nation-censors of the world currently gathered at this month's UN’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. (Why in no-free-speech-Dubai? I guess the same reason the Green-bots met in Doha, Qatar.)
This latest UN censorship drive includes a drastic draft measure, as The Hindu newspaper reported today, "to place [the Internet] under government control, with authorisation for extensive state surveillance and content regulation." Not at all incidentally, we only know about this draft measure -- proposed by Russia, UAE, China, Sudan, Algeria, Brazil (Brazil later tweeted it was not involved) and immediately supported on the floor by Bahrain, Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Sudan and Burkina Faso -- courtesy the leak site WCITLeaks. The meeting may in fact collapse over this draft proposal. Let's hope.
The defense of a free Internet notwithstanding, the US government itself remains a chilling force on, for example, speech critical of Islam. Arguably, with the maker of "Innocence of Muslims" now serving one year in jail for "parole violations," the US government has successfully prosecuted its first Islamic-anti-blasphemy case. (There may be others.) I would like to know whether at the third official meeting of the "Istanbul Process" in London last week this verdict was showcased as an ingenius example of American sharia-compliance without openly crossing the First Amendment (get 'em on something else, like Al Capone). Ambassador for Relgious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook and Ambassador Mike Kozak represented the US at this conference on "implementing UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18," as the State website put it, but the proceedings remain completely secret. The State Department hasn't released a single statement, not a tweet. I have seen nothing in the media, either.
A trend? You bet. Every day, the US government becomes more hyper-proprietary (paranoid) about its own information, its own deliberations. From the macro point of view, this control-freakishness has become colossal. In 2011, Uncle Sam classified over 92 million documents, billing the 50.5 percent of us who still pay federal taxes $11.36 billion for the privilege of not reading our own records.
A few observations.
1) Manning's supporters are on the edgier Left, including Occupy types. The MSM, meanwhile, are inexplicably indifferent, largely relying on the Associated Press to provide trial coverage (the NYT had to be publically prodded even to send a reporter to the proceeding last week). Why? Bob Woodward's low interest level is probably typical. He thinks "the story" is the fact that Manning had access to so many documents, not what the documents say, let alone what the government's treatment and prosecution of Manning says.
As an aside, I couldn't disagree with Woodward more. Here is my own ad hoc queue of Wikileaks-based stories, which, limited as it necessarily is, still goes a long way to reveal US deceptions, self-deceptions, and perfectly shocking attitudes toward enemies, allies and even American core principles.
"No amount of money" will stop Pakistan from supporting the Taliban, LeT, etc., our ambassador wrote many billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan ago.
The US government secretly prevailed upon Denmark and Jyllands-Posten not to reprint the Mohammed cartoons, with the ambassador bemoaning the Danish government's having "hardened its view on the absolute primacy of free speech" -- a devastating insight into our officials' corrupted, dhimmified stance on freedom of seech.
Then there are cables noting the Iraqi intell officer who worked with the Taliban, serving a liaison between Iraq and Afghanstan (hmm), how Russia delivered 1,800 SAMs to Venezuela in 2009, and Western knowledge of the barbarous criminality of Kosovo officials.
Wikileaks also provided much information about Libya, Qaddafi and the "rebels," and served as the basis for this occasional series about the late Amb. Christopher Stevens.
Checking around, I realize also that Wikileaks provided the outlet for the email dump that unmasked the East Anglia climate-fixing brigade.
Julian Assange, on the other hand, credits Wikileaks for the US withdrawal from Iraq, the advent of "Arab Spring" and much evidence of American evil-doing, some of which I see, some I don't. What I find most jarring about Assange is his apparent inability to recognize that the existence of the USA's First Amendment is what serves as the ultimate backstop for his own work -- not the United Nations, the entity he tends to credit with his free speech rights as far as they go these days as an asylum-seeker inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. To consider the UN the bulwark of free speech is to ignore the onoing war on free speech waged by the Islamic bloc and assorted despot-nations such as Russia and China, along with EU bureaucrats and other "soft" despots -- all of whom are now in Dubai, as noted above, with some openly attempting to strangle the Internet on which Wikileaks relies.
Back to Manning.
3) Like the MSM, the Right is strangely silent about the Manning case. This is odd, especially given the bloodthirsty public calls for executions that went around a couple of years ago. (I commented at the time here.)
4) I remain attuned to the argument that publishing secret information can result in loss of life. We have seen no evidence this happened as a result of Wikileaks. To date, the government has brought forward no such evidence, either.
5) I remain equally attuned to the stunning fact that literally millions of Americans had access to the same networks of information (SIPRnet) that Bradley Manning had. How can it something be a "state secret" if millions of government-anointed ones know it, too?
But is this trial really about state secrets? I don't see how the government can make that case, as it did, for example, with regard to the Rosenbergs. What we are really looking at instead is a challenge to government control of information -- control that represents further undermining of the people's right to know. The US government remains intent on expanding and enforcing restrictions on that all-important right in order to exercise its power as secretly as possible -- power that would likely prove unpopular or even unlawful.
As we try to assess the trial, it's simply not correct to consider Bradley Manning the only alleged breaker of law or trust here. By conducting its affairs in secrecy, the US government has been breaking laws and destroying bonds of trust for decades, all the while creating that hardened and colossal safehouse of secrets Wikileaks has been trying to crack in the first place.
In this larger context of government overreach if not lawlessness, PFC Manning becomes a free speech vigilante, doesn't he?
Answer to come.