Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sentence First, Verdict Later

The trial of Bradley Manning finally began yesterday, and today Democracy Now! reported:
Army prosecutor Captain Joe Morrow accused Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy, including Osama Bin Laden, who allegedly accessed some of the classified State Department cables after they were published by the website WikiLeaks. Morrow said, quote, "This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy—material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk," he said.
I take for granted that governments and the military will lie, but this lie seems remarkable, since the government's case is that Manning did not dump documents indiscriminately onto the Internet: he gave them to Wikileaks, which in turn published them selectively: first with corporate-media partners in the US and the UK, then by itself.  But the bulk of the material remains unpublished to this day.  (I suspect that many of those who have been throwing tantrums about Manning and Wikileaks believe that everything Wikileaks has released in the past few years came from Manning, though material like the Kissinger documents surely didn't.)

Now, this is not a secret, nor does it take much intelligence to notice that, if Manning wanted to dump all those documents onto the Internet, he didn't need to give them to Wikileaks in the first place.  The function of Wikileaks is not just to publish material passed along to them by whistleblowers -- it is to protect those whistleblowers from retaliation by their organizations, be they corporate or military or governments.  Manning wasn't betrayed by Wikileaks, he was betrayed by a hacker, a rat named Adrian Lamo.

Despite the obviousness of this lie, it's popular in the corporate media and elsewhere.  (Thomas Friedman declared in the same piece that he doesn't "want to live in a country where they throw whistleblowers in jail. That's China."  Actually, that's the US too, and Manning isn't the only imprisoned whistleblower here.)  Captain Morrow's deployment of the lie stood out for me because someone was spamming comments with it last night at another site.  I wrote some comments correcting the falsehood, a bit surprised that it was still current.  I shouldn't have been.  I know as well as anyone that governments lie, the military lies, corporations lie, and many citizens pass along those lies voluntarily.

What ought to be done about indiscriminate dumping of government secrets is a valid question, but I'd have to see an actual case first.  It's easier to talk about the indiscriminate creation of government secrets by the government, which is happening now and has been happening for a long time; but you don't see many complaints about it in the corporate media.

I had the fleeting feeling that it was almost as if Captain Morrow wanted to create reasons for a guilty verdict against Manning to be overturned, but that's too easy.  A more plausible conspiracy theory would be that our government and military want to show their power by conducting an illegal trial on bogus charges, and making a guilty verdict stick -- just because they can, and to remind other potential whistleblowers and critics who has the power around here.  But even that ascribes too much intelligence to them; they're just doing what feels right to them, squashing the disobedient and dissident, because they can.  Let me quote Daniel Ellsberg again: "It is inexcusable to take what [government officials] say at face value. You are not talking to pathological liars, you are talking to professional liars who should be looked at as skeptically as used-car salesmen or Pfizer or Merck spokesmen" (Myra MacPherson, All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone [Scribners, 2006], 456.) Wouldn't you think, though, that professional liars would do a better job of it?