Manning’s courage at war with Obama administration’s fear

President Barack Obama does not want you to know what he is doing in the White House. He does not want you asking questions, particularly about his lies, and he really dislikes it when someone goes behind his back and tells you the truth. Those who dare to reveal the administration’s secrets, most notably U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, have been subject to relentless persecution. Manning has languished in prison and been branded a traitor by the nation he served, but all he did was tell us the truth when we desperately needed to hear it.

Bradley Manning was arrested in 2010 for leaking classified documents and materials to WikiLeaks, including the infamous “Collateral Murder” video. This video depicts U.S. soldiers in a helicopter, laughing and joking while they gun down a pair of Reuter’s journalists and several Iraqi civilians, including children.

“The most alarming aspect of the video . . . was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the aerial weapons team — they appeared to have,” Manning testified at a military hearing. “They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life . . . congratulating each other on the ability to kill . . . in large numbers.”

Manning’s actions resulted in the largest unveiling of state and military secrets in American history, exposing atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Since his arrest, he has been imprisoned by the military for more than 1,000 days without trial, spending several months in solitary confinement. As court proceedings finally begin to move forward, Manning faces 22 charges, including “aiding the enemy,” which could potentially lead to life in prison. All this is the result of the crime of revealing accurate information to the public.

While aiding the enemy is the most serious charge against Manning, he’s also being prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Conceived by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 and passed by Congress in 1917, this law criminalizes the transfer of information that might hinder a U.S. military operation or in some way help a U.S. enemy. In his 1915 State of the Union address, Wilson revealed his justification for the act.

“There are citizens of the United States . . . who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life, who have sought to bring the authority and good name of our Government into contempt . . . to destroy our industries . . . and to debase our politics to the uses of foreign intrigue,” Wilson said. “Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed out.”

It’s no coincidence the Espionage Act was followed a year later by the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to criticize the government in any way. The Sedition Act was later repealed as unconstitutional, but the Espionage Act remains, though its own constitutionality has been hotly contested over the years. Wilson used it to imprison Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, to discredit and jail film producer Robert Goldstein and to deport the legendary anarchist Emma Goldman.

Despite its controversial legality, the Espionage Act has only rarely been invoked to prosecute whistle-blowers who take their information to the media. Before Obama won the presidency, there had only been three such prosecutions, the most notable one being of Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Since Obama has been in office, no fewer than seven whistle-blowers have faced charges under the Espionage Act, including Manning. Another example is John Kiriakou, who confirmed the U.S. practice of water boarding prisoners to the press. Only one person went to jail as a result of the new public information: Kiriakou.

The free press is often invoked as a cornerstone of any functional democracy. The importance of whistle-blowers, people who stand for truth and justice in the murky, secretive realm of government and the military should likewise be held up as fundamentally necessary. Barack Obama’s actions expose him for what he is: a coward who wakes every night in a cold sweat from dreadful nightmares of a knowledgeable, educated American citizenry.

Originally published in The Lumberjack (


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