Sometimes it’s all too easy as an American to simply stick your head in the sand and go about your daily routine, blissfully unaware of the wider world around you. Can’t tune in to CNN when you’ve got to get the kids to soccer practice and then race home to give the hubby a quick hummer so he doesn’t leave you for the maid; no time to read the New York Times, not when the season finale of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is on tonight. Still, there are times when you can no longer ignore the wider outside world, especially when someone or something finally pops that insulating bubble of solipsism you’ve inculcated within yourself in order to protect you from the ravages of actually giving a damn about other people.
When you’re finally confronted with such a rude awakening, as unavoidable as the images of destruction force-fed to Alex in Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, you’ve got yourself a choice: ostrich as soon as you possibly can, drowning the brutal truth in as many mojitos and reruns of Sex and the City as you can, or stand up and finally say “enough is enough.” This happened to me yesterday, thanks to a news story I stumbled upon that revealed the fact that the United States military has more or less declared both WikiLeaks and its de facto editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, “enemies of the state,” an appellation Assange and WikiLeaks now shares with other luminaries such as Al Quaida and the Taliban.
This, of course, stems from the massive number of classified US military documents that were allegedly leaked to the independent, international whistleblower clearinghouse by Bradley Manning, a now-discredited and very troubled US Army intelligence analyst, which has resulted in Manning’s detainment for, as of last Wednesday, 856 days – despite the fact that the legal limit for the detainment without trial when it comes to US military personnel is 120 days. Manning stands accused, in part, of “aiding the enemy” in allegedly leaking the information to WikiLeaks, which outright classifies the organization – and Assange – as enemies of the United States government. Not only that:
military personnel who contact WikiLeaks or WikiLeaks supporters may be at risk of being charged with ‘communicating with the enemy’, a military crime that carries a maximum sentence of death,
according to a US Air Force counter-intelligence document that was released under US Freedom of Information Laws, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Not only is this patently absurd, but it is offensive in the extreme. There’s no reason whatsoever for Bradley Manning – or any other US servicemember – to possibly face the death penalty for treason for contacting an independent news media outlet as a whistleblower. Yes, they can still be susceptible to criminal prosecution for doing so under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, possibly facing dishonorable discharge and jail time, but execution for treason is unconscionable. So is attempting to control the historical narrative by threatening those who break their silence, in the interests of justice, with death.
The US Government’s point of view is that, as Joe Biden said, “Julian Assange is a high-tech terrorist,” placing the lives of American overseas operatives at risk after exposing the leaked information to the international community. The Vice President went out of his way to differentiate Assange from Neil Sheehan, the New York Times reporter that broke the Pentagon Papers leak, stating that there may be evidence that Assange encouraged Manning to leak the documents. However, there has been no evidence brought forward to indicate Assange attempted to coax, coerce, or conspire with Manning to gain the massive packet of classified information, which leaves me wondering how his classification – and the classification of WikiLeaks – as enemies of the state can be justified.
Manning seems to be a 21st century analogue to another former US military analyst that became so disturbed by the government’s prevarication that he knowingly committed a felony to expose the deception. Daniel Ellsberg was so incensed upon discovering the orchestration of the Vietnam War on the part of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that he risked prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917, ultimately admitting his actions and turning himself in, saying:
I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.
Today, Ellsberg is widely considered a patriot and Sheehan viewed as a paragon of the kind of fact-based journalism that is sadly lacking in our current 24 hour news cycle. Ellsberg himself has come forward in support of WikiLeaks, proclaiming it as a “way to build a better government” on The Colbert Report, of all places – and that Bradley Manning is a personal hero to him. I can only imagine if the Pentagon Papers had been leaked today instead of over forty years ago. Would Ellsberg be deep in Leavenworth right now, with Sheehan holed up in some Ecuadorean embassy to avoid extradition on trumped-up sexual assault charges?
I don’t know where this leaves Manning, Assange, WikiLeaks, journalism, and freedom of speech as a whole. I certainly know that it shakes my personal faith in the principles of freedom and justice that are so fervently espoused, especially in an election year, making me wonder what horrors the future may hold for us all if the truth no longer sets us free but only results in getting us detained indefinitely when the revelations made are inconvenient ones.