Pvt. Manning and Imperative of Truth

Exclusive: The prosecution of Pvt. Bradley Manning for inconvenient truth-telling is more proof of how hypocritical Official Washington is, especially when Manning’s case is compared to how Bush administration officials walked despite clear evidence that they sanctioned torture and other war crimes, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

When I was asked to speak at Saturday’s rally at Fort Meade in support of Pvt. Bradley Manning, I wondered how I might provide some context around what Manning is alleged to have done.

(In my talk, so as not to think I had to insert the word “alleged” into every sentence, I asked for unanimous consent to using the indicative rather than the subjunctive mood.)

A protester against Pvt. Bradley Manning’s prosecution

What jumped into my mind was the letter Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from the Birmingham City jail in April 1963, from which I remembered this:

“Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up, but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

I suggested that this is precisely what Bradley Manning did when he saw the need to uncover war crimes like the indiscriminate murder of civilians and torture he witnessed in Baghdad and read about in cables.

What he had become witness to was the inevitable result of aggressive war, which the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime,” differing from other war crimes only inasmuch as it contains within itself the “accumulated evil of the whole.” Was he to obey orders to keep his mouth shut? Or was he to follow his conscience and lance this ugly boil of accumulated evil?

What I especially admire in Bradley Manning is this: his ability, at the age of 22, to discern that there can be a hierarchy of, sometimes conflicting, values, and that from a moral standpoint some values dwarf others in importance.

Apparently, Manning saw in ending the mindless slaughter of aggressive war, with its accumulated evil, its torture and other pus-flowing ugliness, what ethicists define as a “supervening value,” one that outweighs lesser values like keeping a secrecy promise required as a condition of employment.

Manning chose to break that promise. And Dr. King, in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, addressed something analogous. King insisted “an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust,” and risks jail in order “to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”

When Generals Lie

Bradley Manning’s courage hits a personal nerve in me. At age 28, I had an opportunity to blow the whistle on the lies of the senior U.S. military in Saigon. The evidence was documentary (a SECRET/EYES ONLY cable from Saigon); indeed, it was hard for me to believe the generals would put their deceit so explicitly in writing, but they did.

Younger readers need to be reminded that, at the time (August 1967) there was no WikiLeaks, but The New York Times was an independent newspaper prone to publishing documentary evidence critical of the government. The Times had not yet gotten into the habit of seeking prior approval from the White House.

Six years older than Bradley Manning was when he summoned the courage to do the right thing, and with college courses in ethics in my moral quiver, I nonetheless, well, quivered.

I blew a unique opportunity to let Americans know that, duty, honor, country be damned, unconscionable corruption at senior levels in Saigon and in Washington had badly misled us on the war and that our GIs and the Vietnamese were being chewed up in a March of Folly.

And that opportunity came months before so many got chewed up in the January-February 1968 Communist countrywide offensive, ushering in the second half of the bloody war in Vietnam. I discussed this last year, in connection with the WikiLeaks disclosures. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How the Truth Can Save Lives.”]

As for Bradley Manning, he would not sequester himself in a moral vacuum. He had the insight and summoned the moral courage to follow his conscience and act with integrity.

Manning’s Motive

In his correspondence with Adrian Lamo, the man who betrayed him, Manning said he wanted people “to see the truth, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” He wrote that he hoped his disclosures would lead to “world-wide discussion, debate, and reform.”

Manning’s first disclosure that came to light was the Apache helicopter gun-barrel video, with sound, showing the indiscriminate murder of a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists and the wounding of two little children. The incident was duly “investigated” by the Army, and the shooting was deemed to be consistent with what is permitted by the Army’s Rules of Engagement.

Whoa! Official Washington cannot tolerate such disclosures if it remains intent on waging aggressive war, with its accumulated evil, in secret. So the Obama administration set out to make Bradley Manning an object lesson about what will happen to anyone tempted to divulge these sorts of secrets.

For such truth-telling, this is what you can expect: solitary confinement, cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment; and a very long wait before being brought to the military pre-trial charade that I watched with others at Fort Meade, Maryland, last weekend.

President Barack Obama, commander-in-chief of Bradley Manning, and those trying him have already said Manning “broke the law” and be damned with the countervailing moral imperative of truth-telling when faced with clear evidence of unpunished war crimes.

Command influence, anyone? What’s wrong with this picture? Quick. Someone explain to me how those subordinate to the commander-in-chief can be expected to hold an impartial inquiry, since they already know Manning “broke the law.” The top boss said so.

What About the Damage?

Still, whatever the measure of Manning’s technical “guilt,” the government’s hand-wringing over the alleged damage from the disclosures of diplomatic cables has been “significantly overwrought.” How do we know? Defense Secretary Robert Gates said so, in those words. And this time he was telling the truth.

Gates mocked the professional alarums sounded by officialdom and dismissed the negative impact of the disclosed cables as “fairly modest.” He had learned a lesson from the earlier WikiLeaks disclosures of documents about Afghanistan and Iraq, when normally sober folks like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen were accusing Manning of having “blood on his hands.”

When Sen. Carl Levin, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, asked Gates to provide proof in writing of such claims, Gates could adduce no evidence that actual people, as opposed to reputations, had been harmed.

It’s also instructive to see how selective prosecutions work in Official Washington. Manning may face life imprisonment for exposing the slaughter of civilians and other serious crimes (as well as revealing the absurd over-classification of U.S. government documents).

However, when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney confess that they ordered waterboarding and other acts that have long been regarded as illegal torture, they and their subordinates are spared prosecution, presumably because to do otherwise would stir up a political mess.

Suddenly, clear violations of the law must be set aside as being outweighed by larger national considerations, i.e. political comity in Washington. But no such balancing act is available to spare Pvt. Manning possible life imprisonment for truth-telling, even when many experts believe much good has come from the disclosures, including inspiration for the Arab Spring’s ouster of dictators whose brutality and corruption were frankly described in the WikiLeaks cables.

Daniel Ellsberg has called Bradley Manning a hero, and that’s what he is. We need to find ways to tell the American people the full story. These days, they are not going to get the whole truth (or anything close to it) from The New York Times.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A 30-year veteran of intelligence work in the Army and the CIA, he now serves on the Standing Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

15 comments for “Pvt. Manning and Imperative of Truth

  1. January 1, 2012 at 22:39

    In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

    – George Orwell –

  2. Regina Schulte
    December 22, 2011 at 16:07

    As a Catholic moral theologian, I find Ray McGovern’s description of basic moral principles to be fully accurate. His analysis of the case against Manning shows clearly the political dynamics being used by Obama and
    others in charge.

    Given that most of us who support Manning haven’t enough money to make a difference, and it’s a year before we can vote for accountability, in what ways can we help his cause now. If we communicate to him our support, by paper mail or email, will he be allowed to receive our messages? If so, will Consortium please provide addresses. Thank you in advance. Also, thanks to Ray McGovern for this reporting.

    • ray
      December 25, 2011 at 00:38

      Thanks, Regina. I think we have a mentor in common — a person who knows about truth and justice leading to peace. No?

      Happy Christmas,


  3. December 22, 2011 at 14:25

    Wonderful critique, Ray.

    • December 22, 2011 at 23:33

      thanks, Brian it was great to see you at Occupy Freedom Plaza I keep thinking of you. This time, who will lie on the tracks before the trains to Guantanamo? hope you have good holidays!


  4. Cliff Gieseke
    December 22, 2011 at 01:42

    Manning deserves to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

  5. December 22, 2011 at 00:04

    Manning does need to be released. Now, how will you do it?

    This means lots of time, money and expensive attorneys (unless someone will do it pro-bono for you). Who’s going to do it? What high-profile civilian attorney will help his military lawyers?

    Who’s going to support his defense fund? If any of his supporters do this, under Obama’s current powers, is that supporting a “terrorist”? Does this mean that Obama can have someone picked up or killed for doing the right thing? I don’t see any of the big “name” experts (Marjorie Cohen, Glen Greenwald, etc.) talking about this. Is it because they’re afraid they’ll get picked up if they do?

    In Assange’s case, these are the options. His Supreme Court appeal works and he’s freed. He loses and is deported to Sweden. The Swedish govt. gives into pressure from Obama to turn him over. A grand jury is ready to issue an indictment against him. Now, tell me that Obama and Holder won’t push to say he’s a “terrorist”.

    The MSM legal “experts” will gang up against the progressive ones. We’ll have endless legalese about just what is “belligerant” and what isn’t. Despite all that, none of it will save Assange in the current political climate.

  6. December 21, 2011 at 23:47

    The fact that Obama would consider pardoning Pollard doesn’t surprise me. Everything is being carefully orchestrated up to the election. One key element? Both main parties are counting on traditional voter apathy to remain. Thereby giving them another term.

    Instead of another we-must-all-act-now post, I’m going to take a different approach. Just like Manning made a choice, everyone else has to do the same thing. Also, in the end everyone has to live with the consequences of their words and actions.

    [email protected] gets more coverage at a demonstration? Ray McGovern or Jon Stewart? The reason Stewart does is because in many ways protesting in the States has become dumbed down. How many of these people know what the NDAA is? Earlier today, the House GOP cut the feeds to the House chamber. Look at this C-SPAN clip on You Tube. At least 40% of the comments have nothing to do with the content of the clip. Many think that Pelosi is great. She voted to give Obama indefinate power detention. She and other key Democrats knew about torture at Guantanemo (and actually wanted it to be worse). But she’s still a great politician.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    December 21, 2011 at 22:29

    The hypocrisy surrounding the case against this young man is stunning. Robert H. Jackson would turn over in his grave. Thomas Jefferson is no doubt spinning faster than the chain-gun feed on that Apache helicopter in the released video. Our politicians are playing footsies with the Israelis to release Pollard. The Intelligence Community thought Clinton might cave in, and they rebelled. Now, the same game is being played with Presidential hopefuls. Don’t believe me? Check out these open-source quotes:

    From JTA, The Global News Service of the Jewish People: Romney won’t commit on Jerusalem, Pollard December 20, 2011:
    “Romney also would not make promises on Pollard, the Israeli spy jailed for life, according to this account of his remarks. He said he was “open to examining” the issue.”

    Why Pollard Should Never Be Released (The Traitor)
    The New Yorker Magazine | :January 18, 1999, pp. 26-33 | SEYMOUR M. HERSH

    “The President’s willingness to consider clemency for Pollard so upset the intelligence community that its leaders took an unusual step: they began to go public. In early December, four retired admirals who had served as director of Naval Intelligence circulated an article, eventually published in the Washington Post, in which they argued that Pollard’s release would be “irresponsible” and a victory for what they depicted as a “clever public relations campaign.” Since then, sensitive details about the secrets Pollard gave away have been made public by CBS and NBC.”

    During the Nuremberg trial, the chief American prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, stated:
    “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

    War crimes are something America once took seriously. If Pollard is freed and Manning is convicted, then we have truly become the most hypocritical nation on earth. The public remembers the “crimes” hyped by the mainstream corporate media, but quickly forgets the most significant breach of national security in our history—and all because it is convenient for politicians who are afraid to offend the lobby of a foreign nation. That foreign nation, my fellow Americans, does not have your interests at heart. It is high time we put America first, relight the Beacon of Justice and Democracy, and regain the moral ‘high ground’ from which that beacon once brilliantly beamed. We can start by freeing Bradley Manning.

  8. December 21, 2011 at 16:24

    For Manning to be punished is needed for the controller class to remain in control. Those in the controller class are the people who themselves cannot accomplish the deeds and actions they order done. They really can’t. Nor are their thoughts original or valuable. This is not about morals or right and wrong. This is about control.

    As a former staff sergeant (68-72) in a tech squadron, the officers were officially in charge but they had no knowledge of what we did. Luckily we had a great CO who would get rid of the small number of new lieutenants who tried to mess with our work by commanding we do stuff totally screwy or hazardous to us.

    In other work I’ve seen enough MBAs and other such people imposed as “in charge” in companies when they knew nothing of the business itself from the ground up but had courses in management. It is always the people underneath who kept them afloat and saved their sorry parts. Because the places produced results on “order” they actually thought their orders made the place work. So, to get more, they ordered more. The line workers will always stretch as hard as they can but there are always limits where anything breaks. And of course who gets blamed and who gets fired or otherwise penalized is a matter of who is in control and who is not.

    In the case of the military, and here in particular, we are now a war-creating country. Not that we haven’t had our fingers in all the wrong pies for 200 years (since the start). But this constant and blatant war from the ugly and ignorant class (the controller class) is fairly new, but not sudden.

    This controller class will not doubt try to muddy the waters on Manning’s behavior and motives but in the end, every true hero has mixed feelings and motives. The young man is one of the few, true heros we can look to right now.

  9. rosemerry
    December 21, 2011 at 15:17

    With the draconian penalties now for truthtelling, Ellsberg said that Richard Nixon if he could return would find that all his alleged crimes would now be legal (like the present POTUS and his predecessor). Not many freedoms left for normal mortals.

  10. Jym Allyn
    December 21, 2011 at 15:12

    Manning has a better understanding of our Constitution, and what makes it sacred, than Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld combined.

    Unfortunately, it is likely that the careers soldiers that run our military will find Manning guilty. What will be a test of character and understanding of Constitutional Law is if President Obama pardons Manning much like Bush pardoned “Scooter” Libby (although it as actually a reward from Bush for hiding the crimes of Bush, Cheney Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove).

    Thank you, Ray, for your Good Works.

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