Looking Backward on Bradley Manning

Exclusive: A military judge sentenced 25-year-old Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents including evidence of U.S. war crimes and proof the U.S. public was being manipulated. Yet, the perpetrators of the crimes and lies face no accountability in an upside-down case of moral justice, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In 2009 – faced with undeniable evidence of major war crimes by President George W. Bush and his administration – President Barack Obama famously chose to “look forward, not backward,” a political calculation, not a rational argument for jurisprudence.

For his decision not to prosecute his predecessor, Obama received many kudos around Official Washington, especially among the “talking heads” who had cheered Bush on when he was committing his worst war crimes, especially the unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003 which inflicted hundreds of thousands of deaths on the Iraqi people.

President Barack Obama.

Bush’s torture policies also elicited excuses from Washington’s “wise men,” who suddenly saw all the grays of moral ambiguity about practices like waterboarding, stress positions, wall-slamming, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, etc. These acts of torture – at least when U.S. enemies used the techniques – were now points for abstract discussion, certainly not cause for prosecution.

Yet, on Wednesday, when Pvt. Bradley Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for exposing damning details about those war crimes, some voices even on liberal-leaning MSNBC were adopting a firm law-and-order stance. By releasing 700,000 classified documents – even if many disclosed government wrongdoing – Manning had violated the law and deserved punishment, they said. Indeed, one pundit said that was the price for wanting to be a hero.

Some pundits intoned how necessary it was to establish a precedent to discourage other low-level military analysts or government bureaucrats from deciding that some evidence of wrongdoing needed to be shared with the American people.

Yet, the pundits didn’t seem to feel that it was necessary to put Bush and his underlings in prison to discourage future acts of aggressive war and torture. To do that, in Official Washington’s view, would simply have fanned the flames of partisanship with Republicans resenting that “their” president was being prosecuted by his successor. No one suggested that Bush might like to spend several decades in jail to prove his heroism.

Thus, the conventional wisdom in 2009 — and even today — has been the need to “look forward, not backward” regarding Bush’s crimes. But there is no credible way for President Obama or anyone else in Washington to continue insisting that we live under a system of laws, not men – or that justice is blind to a person’s social and political standing.

If your friends are powerful or intimidating enough, you can apparently get away with mass murder. If you’re just an average guy (albeit Bradley Manning displayed extraordinary integrity), you can expect the book to be thrown at you.

Rather than all the technicalities being arrayed to prevent your conviction and punishment, you will be held to account for every detail of your “offense,” with little or no attention to the larger context, that you found yourself in the middle of an historic war crime and tried to do something to stop it.

And, Manning’s actions did have powerful effects. His disclosure of the “Collateral Murder” video showing U.S. helicopter gunners in 2007 casually mowing down civilians, including two Reuters journalists,  on the streets of Baghdad contributed to Iraqi government resistance to allowing a U.S. military stay-behind force. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Moral Imperative of Bradley Manning.”]

His revelation that the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency had been installed by the United States and was meeting secretly with Israeli officials with the goal of hyping nuclear allegations against Iran alerted the public to a possible propaganda trick that could have plunged America into another Mideast war. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Did Manning Help Avert War in Iran?”]

Yet, while Manning is punished for his service to peace and to the principle that high officials should be held accountable, Bush and his subordinates walk free despite their crimes against peace and their reckless disregard for the human consequences of their rush to war.

Perhaps this is a time for President Obama to neither look forward nor backward, but into his conscience.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here

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10 comments on “Looking Backward on Bradley Manning

  1. fosforos on said:

    The manifest bad faith and conspiratorial behavior of the US and British governments demand the immediate publication in unencrypted and unedited form of all the documents liberated by Manning and Snowden! No more “responsible” accommodations to the tyrants!

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Almost fifty years ago, one of America’s greatest patriots warned that, “If the American people do not demand the truth, our Republic will not survive”. An eloquently described, carefully researched and factually irrefutable case was laid out for the American people. Names, dates, places, phone numbers, correspondences, official documents, photographs, expert testimony, eye witnesses and the U.S. Government’s own published account of the facts were shown to faithfully corroborate this narrative. Witnesses died mysteriously. Others were intimidated. Government documents were withheld. Offices were bugged. Documents were stolen or destroyed. The U.S. Government interceded to prevent officials from testifying. But he did not give up. As the years pass, corroborating evidence continues to surface.

    That American patriot was maligned, slandered, pilloried and subjected to an incessant coordinated disinformation campaign through the coordinated efforts of media lackeys in radio, television and the press. In nearly fifty years, not one judicial review, scholarly investigation or historical interpretation has successfully discredited the case he made. There was one conviction. It was never overturned.

    Sadly, the words of that great American patriot, in view of events outlined in this article and elsewhere, have proved prophetic. He said that, if we did not demand the truth and hold our legislative and executive branches accountable, not only would our Republic fall, but we would have only ourselves to blame. His prescient verdict is not likely to be overturned either. We have lost the will to resist tyranny, and Judge Jim Garrison knew it. State crimes against democracy have become the rule rather than the exception. E Pluribus Unum? Not hardly. Our new motto is Justus Subsequens Ordo, “Just Following Orders”.

  3. Manning betrayed his oath to the Constitution when he joined the Army. These leaks gave al queda and other radical islamist terror groups valuable information. The sentence is deserved, and all the hand wringing propaganda slanted towards radical islam, and benign regiemes including iran can’t whitewash what Manning did.

  4. Ron Harwell on said:

    Expecting Obama to look to his conscious is expecting the sun to rise out of the west. He expanded his wars out of Iraq and Afghanistan into Yemen, Syria (covert), Egypt (covert), Pakistan (covert and overt)–Feel free to add to this list. He expanded on the Patriot Act, signed off on the NDAA. NSA as supposed to be looking globally and not nationally. That was expanded under Bush 2 illegally and Obama went nuclear with surveillance on all Americans as well as all out attacks on journalists, truth tellers, all dissenters, free speech, freedom of the press, violations of international laws–it’s a very long list. He is a sociopath and cannot apologize as he has seen nothing wrong in anything he has done to destroy the Constitutions and our liberties. He is a propagandists dream come true.

  5. Otto Schiff on said:

    The prosecution and imprisonment of Manning is merely proof of the crimes
    of George W Bush. Presents are permitted to commit capital crimes without
    accountability. This is reminiscent of past kings and emperors.
    Shame on our judicial system.

  6. Mr. Parry, I enjoy your writings and historical perspectives. However, let me point out that practically ever President that ever held office has been a borderline war criminal and to expect the FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT to prosecute the previous administration for war crimes might be asking a bit too much. Or maybe that’s exactly what the FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT should have done to set the bar, I don’t know.

    If justice can’t come from within through the courts or THE PEOPLE then justice needs to come from outside of the US. Such as the International Criminal Court. I realize the US is not a member of the ICC. Funny how those things work.

  7. WMcMillan on said:

    Yes, I expected the first Black President to do exactly what he campaigned for, Change. When he made the statement of wanting to look forward not backwards, I knew we were in for Bush’s 3rd term.

  8. I hear you WMillan but why stop with Obama? Why didn’t Nixon go after LBJ for the Gulf of Tonkin lie? Why didn’t Carter prosecute Nixon for the treasonous deal making with S. Vietnam in the 1968 election?

    Why didn’t Clinton go after Bush the Elder?