National Commentary

The Post Discovers Bradley Manning

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Kudos to the Washington Post for belatedly acknowledging the existence of a diminutive 5 ft. 2 in. young American gay man subjected to almost a year of cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of the U.S. military for allegedly rendering data to which over a half-million Americans have had access to the public domain.

Kudos to the Washington Post for belatedly acknowledging the existence of a diminutive 5 ft. 2 in. young American gay man subjected to almost a year of cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of the U.S. military for allegedly rendering data to which over a half-million Americans have had access to the public domain.

U.S. Army specialist Bradley Manning of WikiLeaks fame is no longer being held in solitary confinement in the Marine brig at Quantico, restricted since last summer to a six-by-12 foot cell for 23 hours a day and otherwise subjected to unusually debasing circumstances. But although transferred to Leavenworth, Kansas, last month he still faces 22 charges, including “aiding the enemy,” potentially punishable by death.

Ellen Nakashima’s extensive biographical profile of the 23-year-old Manning published in the Post’s Sunday magazine May 8 was comprehensive, based on interviews with more than 30 of Manning’s relatives, friends and colleagues.

But still, it shields the Post, as a bastion of the free press in America, from weighing in on the merits or demerits of the WikiLeaks based on “the public’s right to know.” The major media has been timid, to put it mildly, in response to the entire issue – allowing to go unchallenged for example, as Nakashima’s article notes, the notion that, for the first time, placing of information in the public domain constitutes “aiding the enemy.”

Some activists compare Manning’s purported role in the WikiLeaks revelations to that of Daniel Ellsberg, whose Pentagon Papers were brought to the nation’s attention through the bravery of the New York Times during the Vietnam War. This time, while the WikiLeaks reveal what Manning, himself, came to feel strongly were grievous injustices in the U.S. conduct of the Iraqi occupation, there has been no acknowledgment of their efficacy from the major media.

In fact, the recent pattern of the major media, of a slavish, unquestioning obedience to the authority of U.S. political, military and foreign policy leaders is nothing new since 9/11. Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas was excoriated by her journalistic colleagues when, in 2006, she published a book entitled, Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public.

It was written in response to the fact that, as she told me, not only would the Bush administration consistently lie and stonewall about its claim, among other things, that “weapons of mass destruction” were being harbored by Saddam Hussein, but that her colleagues in the White House Press Corps ridiculed and derided her for her persistent insistence on pressing the issue.
So, no wonder now the hushed silence in the face of so much overwhelming evidence of official American mendacity and duplicity, perpetrated against the U.S. public as well as its allies, revealed by WikiLeaks.

The document pool that Manning allegedly tapped, the “Secret Internet Protocol Router Network,” or SIPRNet, can be accessed by over a half-million people, Nakashima reported. If the information revealed by WikiLeaks was really so damaging, why was it available to such a broad spectrum of people to begin with?

The responsible American media has seldom had a problem protecting the virtual strategic interests of the U.S. in wartime, respecting the World War II dictum, “Loose lips sinks ships.” But that shared interest has also frequently been strained, and the media has justified its willingness to sometimes break that bond when it soberly assesses that it is in the overriding U.S. public interest to do so.

That kind of thing is what the media is supposed to do, and had it been on its toes, instead of its knees, during the lead up to and invasion of Iraq, countless lives and billions of dollars could have been saved. There is no need to rehearse here the after-the-fact revelations that have rendered the whole Iraq adventure a shameful blot on the history of the nation.

Perhaps in the WikiLeaks case, the major media is chagrined by not having had control of the decision to make the revelations public. But evading responsibility for a serious public dialogue on the merits and liabilities of the case has served no one well.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]