Monday, September 17, 2012

DON'T Free Bradley Manning: A rejected Op-Ed for your reading enjoyment

One of the great things about having a blog is that when I write an op-ed no one wants to publish, I can post it here! While I pay my writerly dues and amass a collection of rejection letters, I'm glad I can subject you, dear loyal readers, to what the masses will never see. I welcome questions, comments, recommendations to find a new field of study . . .

Here is the latest: 

DON'T Free Bradley Manning

On Sept. 6, protestors took to the streets in Boston and more than 30 cities nationwide to demand the release and pardon of Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst who faces possible life in prison for charges of releasing secret military information through the WikiLeaks website in 2010. 

Outside the local Obama headquarters downtown, the Boston protestors carried signs and distributed handouts with the slogan “Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime.”

As a former military public affairs officer, I agree with this slogan, and I agree with the principle of Manning’s actions—his intentions to, as the Bradley Manning Support Network website states, “inform the public and promote ‘discussion, debates, and reforms.’”

However, Manning’s methods were illegal, reckless and potentially dangerous, and for that he should be held accountable.

Bradley Manning (AP)
I‘m no stranger to the flow—or lack thereof—of government information. In fact, the strategic “spinning” of information, and my role as a spinner, in part drove me to leave the service. Now a civilian, I relish the freedom to speak candidly and to openly express my opinions.

But there are certain things I will never discuss, because such information could endanger my military comrades and hinder foreign relations. All veterans must bear the burden of selective silence.

Despite Manning’s obvious security breach, the Bradley Manning Support Network website stresses that “Not a single person has been harmed by the release of this information.” Though some officials are more wary, general consensus seems to assess the damage as minimal. For that, we are fortunate.

Some of the documents released on WikiLeaks dealt directly with my nation-building unit in Afghanistan. These items were classified for a reason; they addressed ongoing operations and investigations of insurgent activity. If this information had landed in the wrong hands—hands linked to the subjects of the operations and investigations—the U.S. personnel named in the documents could have faced serious danger.

Furthermore, classified communication can reveal military “tactics, techniques and procedures,” the exact processes for planning and executing operations. Enemy knowledge of these systems could easily jeopardize their effectiveness, and again, put those involved at risk.

Manning’s charge of “aiding the enemy” refers to his knowingly making such information available to the enemy by enabling its posting on the internet, a resource to which any audience has access.

These actions equate to treason. Treason is punishable by death. Intent is irrelevant.

Like Manning, during my time in the military I saw information that I felt belonged in the public domain. The American people deserve the opportunity to make informed decisions about a war they support with resources, sons and daughters. But a delicate balance exists between transparency and operational security. When tipped, this scale can compromise military and bureaucratic missions.

To assert that the military walks this line well would be brash. The military has a process for releasing information, but as in many dealings with the U.S. government, this process can be frustratingly long and painstaking, more difficult than it should be. Far too often, officials withhold information unnecessarily, even against regulations.

In these instances, we need people with courage like Bradley Manning. America entrusts our military with upholding the highest standards of conduct, with using resources wisely and supporting our collective best interests. The media and whistle-blowers serve to maintain accountability.

Still, one can blow a whistle without abusing sensitive information. Unfortunately, Manning did the right thing the wrong way.

The Free Bradley Manning campaign considers their subject a hero and a scapegoat. They express concern that Manning’s potential life in prison sentence and his treatment during pre-trial incarceration at Marine Base Quantico, which included extended solitary confinement, will serve to intimidate future whistle-blowers.

On the contrary, Manning must be an example of punishment befitting actions.

We cannot set the precedent that good intent justifies law-breaking, that lack of perceived damage negates the known potential for damage, and that there exists an acceptable level of treason.

I hope Manning’s actions do bring about international debate and reform. And I also hope his methods are penalized accordingly.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Lauren. I think a key part you didn't speak to is personal accountability, something Americans in general have a hard time with. "Its not my responsibility..." or "Its not my fault" are phrases that get uttered too often. Bradley Manning knew the rules, and he chose to violate them. He knew that his actions would have consequences, yet he did them anyway. Now it's time for him to own up to his actions and accept the consequences.