Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chelsea Manning, Dianne Feinstein and the Far Right's Magic "T" Word

by Nomad

Formerly known as Bradley, Chelsea Manning turned 27 years old earlier this month. He really doesn't have a lot to celebrate. Without a presidential pardon, the military whistle-blower who was convicted on 20 of 22 counts cannot expect to be a free person until he reaches the age of 63.

His crime is familiar to all of us now. He dared to disclose to the public that the US army, the CIA and Iraqi and Afghan forces committed human rights violations.
That was something that Manning never denied. When investigations tracked him down, he admitted to sending Wiki Leaks more than 700,000 confidential files, including U.S. embassy cables, Guantanamo detainee profiles, and footage of airstrikes that killed civilians. 

Unlike many famous spies of the past, his rationale wasn't based on ideological support of America's enemy, like the Rosenbergs or Jonathan Jay Pollard, and it wasn't based on some financial motive, like John Anthony Walker, Jr
In many ways, Manning is a prisoner of conscience.

A Price to Pay
In an appeal for a pardon from the president, Manning said that the decision to blow the whistle was made "out of the concern for my country and the world that we live in."
Although he initially had supported the methods and aims of the war in Iraq, after seeing the situation first-hand and after reading secret military reports on a daily basis, he had begun to question the morality of what America was doing there. 
"It was at this time that I realized that our efforts to meet the risk posed to us by the enemy, we had forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability."
Manning goes on:
In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror
Quoting Howard Zinn, Manning stated that "there is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people." Perhaps not, but the flag provides a lot more coverage than you'd expect. 

Yes, he said, his actions violated the law. He knew that and he also regretted if his actions had hurt any individual or harmed the United States. It had not been his intention. In fact, he had exposed the truth out of "a love for his country and a sense of duty to others.

If the request for a presidential pardon was rejected, he said, then so be it. If this was the price of living in a free society, then he would "gladly pay that price." 
In exchange for his dream of a more free society, Manning will pay a hefty price of 35 years of his life without freedom. much longer than any punishment given to any previous US government leaker. 

In fact, his sentence was a questionable form of mercy by the court. The prosecution had requested that Manning serve 60 years in jail. The maximum possible sentence that the judge, Colonel Denise Lind could have handed down was 136 years.

Blood on Their Hands
When the Manning hysteria was in its full blossoming, one of the key talking points of the Republicans was that the release of classified data "put people in danger." 
It was a common refrain and so constantly repeated that many people simply assumed it was true. 

One top military official, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared on CNN to reveal that  whistle-blowers like Assange, Snowden and Manning "might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family." 
The matter of right and wrong and the greater good, said Mullen, was unimportant under those circumstances. 

As it later turned out, a key government later admitted that there was no evidence to support Mullins claims. As one source puts it:
Three years of journalistic scrutiny into the effects of the leaks could not uncover a case of an intelligence source who was killed or injured because of the disclosures.
In any case, on the scale of insincerity and abject hypocrisy in Mullen's statement ranks busted the meter. Manning's  Collateral Murder video was enough evidence that when it came to innocent causalities, including children, the US military considered it an unfortunate but unavoidable price of war.
The general attitude was that openness and complete exposure were luxuries in peaceful but deadly during war. Under the threat of a terrorist attack, the public's right to know came secondary.  Maybe even last. 
And that was very convenient because there were a lot of things that both the CIA and the US military thought the public shouldn't worry itself about.
*   *   *
Many Americans, but particularly conservatives, dismissed Manning's idealistic defense. Doing good was exactly not what Manning had done. He had undermined the objectives of the US foreign policy.

The leaks, claimed ex-President George W. Bush caused "great harm to the United States." Much more harm than, for example, breaking international law by initiating an illegal and unnecessary war.  

In 2011, Senator John McCain declared the Manning/Wiki-leaks fiasco was "the greatest, most damaging security breach in the history of this country."  Divulging this information, he said "literally puts their lives in danger." He could not cite any specific examples.
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell said.
"We’re already talking about this entirely too much out in public as a result of these leaks, and it’s endangering our efforts to make Americans more secure."
On Meet The Press, when the revelations were just breaking, McConnell said that the leaks  had caused "enormous damage to our country and, and to our relationships with our allies around the world.” 
Interestingly he blamed the exposure of the truth and not the content of the information.

In the end, the question whether keeping secrets of crimes committed in the name of the war on terror was a price America must be willing to pay remained unanswered.

At the end of Manning's trial, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement. Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said:
A legal system that doesn't distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability... This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it's also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistle-blowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate."
How, after all, can there be a national debate on things done in our name without the public being fully informed?

The Ugly Truth
That debate about exposure and the greater good was never answered. The American public was quite ready to forget Manning, forget the wars and forget all that went on "over there." 
Then this month  the Senate dropped a bombshell when it released the CIA torture report.  The 500-page summary revealed a list of interrogation practices that apparently crossed the line into outright torture.   

Many Republicans dismissed the Senate report as mere partisan politics and not an investigation that needed serious attention. (Like, for instance, the Benghazi consulate attack.)
The  future majority leader, Mitch McConnell waved off the inquiry, claiming that it was done simply to give Democrats a "political advantage."
"It doesn't tell us much that we didn't probably already know anyway, but significantly endangers Americans around the world."
(Is he admitting that he had previously known about the CIA possibly committing war crimes and human rights violations?)

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, refused to criticize "anyone who did their job in trying to acquire information that would protect American lives and prevent a terrorist attacks."

Even if that included detainees being subjected to near drowning, or water-boarding, driven to delirium by days of sleep deprivation, threatened with mock executions and threats that their relatives would be sexually abused. Even if that included non-medical rectal feeding. None of that matters because, Rubio believes, the ends justifies the means. 

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he had "mixed feelings" about the report but also questioned whether it was necessary or helpful to go into "all the gory details" of the torture allegations. Imagine, trying to report possible instances of torture without mentioning the "gory details." 

Upon the official release of the Senate Report on CIA torture, Senate committee Chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein explained why public needed to know the full story.
There are those who will seize upon the report and say “see what Americans did,” and they will try to use it to justify evil actions or to incite more violence. We cannot prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say “never again.”
The "T" word
Other Republicans saw the release of such damaging information in the Senate report as a threat to national security. They even dared to use the "T" word. Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said:
“We are less safe than we ever have been with regard to our overseas personnel and our nation’s military and their ability to do their job,”
He added
“I think she’s as much a traitor to this country at this point as I thought about Edward Snowden and his release of information about other investigations and abilities from an intelligence stand point.”
(He later- in the conservative tradition- apologized for the tone of his remarks.)

And yet, the irony doubles back upon itself. 
Today Feinstein- champion of open government and the public's right to know- might be under attack for being a traitor for assisting in the release of what some see as sensitive information. Information that government official would prefer to be kept classified until the end of time. Information that could harm America and damage our image in the world.
However it wasn't so long ago that Feinstein herself was making similar claims.

Only last year, the very same Dianne Feinstein was declaring that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was neither a hero nor a whistleblower. Snowden's revelations about government illegal spying on its allies and even its own citizens could not be condoned, she said.
"He violated the oath, he violated the law. It's treason.”
Defending NSA programs, she had used exactly the same excuses that CIA interrogation supporters are now using.   
"Here’s the rub: the instances where this has produced good — has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks, is all classified, that’s what’s so hard about this.”
Keeping things classified means keeping the public remains ignorant of the things they might find morally- reprehensible.    

Our Values as a Nation
The same people who argued that release of classified information by Snowden and Manning endangered lives have  attempted to make the same case for the release of the CIA Torture Report.

The Obama administration didn't want to hear that line again. White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, tried to nip that defense in bud by telling reporters:
There are some indications that the release of the report could lead to a greater risk that is posed to U.S. facilities and individuals all around the world," White House spokesman said Monday. "So the administration has taken the prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place at U.S. facilities around the globe."
Earnest also said that the White House supported the release:
The president believes that, on principle, it's important to release that report, so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired."
Earnest added releasing the information was vital so that "something like this should never happen again." In light of the Manning case those important -some on the left would say, hypocritical- remarks.

Later, President Obama said that the "harsh interrogation techniques" (he hesitated for legal reasons to call it torture) "were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counter-terrorism efforts or our national security interests."
It was important to make the information public, the president said, because release of the facts shows that when the U.S. makes mistakes it admits them.
"I think that any fair-minded person looking at this would say that some terrible mistakes were made in allowing these kinds of practices to take place."
"Our values as a nation" is a delicate - but empty- phrase. What does that phrase really mean? Whose values? Which national values are more important than others? In such a divided nation as America, it could mean nearly anything in a divided America. 
Can we actually agree on a meaning of the phrase when a a large portion of the nation can so easily dismiss what the UN and the International Criminal Court would consider a war crime? 

Conservatives would argue, that after 911, the rules changed. Our national values had to be re-written. The one value that had to override all others was the duty to protect the nation by any means possible. Including the loss of privacy for the innocent, including the abolition of civil legal protection like the right to due process and habeas corpus. And, as the Senate report demonstrated, the use of brutality to achieve security.

That is a very dangerous path to tread for any nation but especially one as powerful as the United States.

As Chelsea Manning said. the trauma of  911 could not, must not be used as an excuse to rationalize crimes and outrages. As Obama implied, the US shows its inner strength by admitting its mistakes.
That's  something that Chelsea Manning  agreed with:
Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism and the Japanese-American internment camps—to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.
America was allowed to make mistakes but it also had a duty, as Feinstein said, to face ugly truths and say “never again.”  

At the end of the day, we cannot allow a false definition of patriotism to warp our judgment about right and wrong. In Manning's statement requesting a pardon from President Obama, he also said:
Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power.