(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) — The punishment should fit the crime. That’s what we’re taught to believe in this society. We’re told it’s a fundamental element of justice.
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Chelsea Manning’s crime, if you believe what she did was a crime at all, was to bring attention to an ugly situation. To shed light on behavior that ran counter to her moral compass.
For that act, the United States government threw her in a cage. Thirty-five years, it would’ve been, had an outgoing president not pardoned her in a symbolic gesture of goodwill. But that gesture doesn’t wipe away the seven years the soldier spent in prison.
So how should this society react if it were to discover that the entire justification for locking Manning up — that her leaking of classified material was harmful to national security — was a complete farce, and the government knew it all along?
It’s a question we, as the individuals who make up this society of ours, now have to ask ourselves, because it appears that’s exactly what happened.
From The Guardian on Tuesday:
“The publication of hundreds of thousands of secret US documents leaked by the Army soldier Chelsea Manning in 2010 had no strategic impact on the American war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, a newly released Pentagon analysis concluded.
“The main finding of the Department of Defense report, written a year after the breach, was that Manning’s uploading of more than 700,000 secret files to the open information organization WikiLeaks had no significant strategic effect on the US war efforts.
“The belated publication of the analysis gives the lie to the official line maintained over several years that the leak had caused serious harm to US national security.”
If you require a reminder of just how thoroughly Manning was villainized at the time, consider this statement made during her trial by Captain Joe Morrow, one of the government prosecutors:
“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.”
Or consider this recent one from former soldier and current Senator Tom Cotton following President Obama’s pardoning of Manning:
“When I was leading soldiers in Afghanistan, Private Manning was undermining us by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. I don’t understand why the president would feel special compassion for someone who endangered the lives of our troops, diplomats, intelligence officers, and allies. We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr.”
Despite the military’s previous claims and Cotton’s recent comments, the heavily redacted Pentagon report — initially obtained by Buzzfeed News’ Jason Leopold through Freedom of Information Act requests — states “with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq.”
As for Afghanistan, analysts found Manning’s data dump would have no “significant impact” on United States war efforts.
The Department of Defense task force that produced the report noted the “enormity of the challenge” in assessing the damage Manning did but was grateful to receive “tremendous support” from “affected federal departments and agencies.”
This sounds, to this observer, like there were a lot of important people in a lot of fancy government offices who were scared shitless, and they were all coming together in a concerted effort to cover their collective asses. One way to go about it, it seems the government decided, is to make an example of the individual who caused all the trouble — regardless of whether or not that individual actually did any harm.
From Leopold’s article for Buzzfeed News:
“Classified SECRET/NOFORN, meaning it was not to be shared with foreign nationals, the document was selectively cited by government prosecutors during Manning’s court-martial. Defense lawyers were not allowed to read it. More than half the report was withheld by the government.”
In fact, the Pentagon task force is quite clear what the real issue was for the United States government. Analysts write that documents Manning leaked reveal details about undiscovered civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan that “could be used by the press or our adversaries to negatively impact support for current operations in the region.”
Public relations. That’s what the prosecution and incarceration of Chelsea Manning were all about. The U.S. government threw a soldier in prison for seven years — knowing she hadn’t actually harmed it in any meaningful way — simply because she disagreed with the actions of its military and resolved to do something about it.
And that, to this member of society, sounds a hell of a lot like spite.