After many months in the shadows, Pvt. Bradley Manning, who sits in the brig at the Quantico base in Virginia in near-solitary confinement, has recently drawn some high-level defenders, from Hillary Clinton’s former chief spokesman at the State Department to editors at the New York Times and the Guardian. But none of them stand by Manning for his alleged crimes—he’s accused of leaking a massive number of classified documents to WikiLeaks—but instead protest the conditions of his harsh confinement.
One person, however, has spoken up for Manning for his actual (alleged) actions as a whistleblower ever since his arrest last May. That would be Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers four decades ago. He was even arrested twice in two days last month as part of his pro-Manning activism.
I’ve known Ellsberg pretty well for almost thirty years (and he turns 80 tomorrow), so this doesn’t surprise me one bit. But I’ll let Dan explain. Here are a few excerpts from my new book, Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences, charting Ellsberg’s support for Manning during the past month or so.
When new charges against Bradley Manning were announced by the military on March 2, 2011, one that stuck out was the claim that he had passed classified information to “the enemy.” The “aiding the enemy” charge was terribly serious but “the enemy” was not identified. It might have been terrorists, insurgents, the left-wing media or Julian Assange. But this much was known: It could carry the ultimate penalty of execution. The military suggested that it would not seek the death penalty, but this would not stop a judge from overruling the Army.
Daniel Ellsberg said he was struck by the thought that Manning could be the first American to be executed for giving information to Americans since Nathan Hale. And he recalled that Nathan Hale said, “I regret that I have but one life to give,” comparing him to Manning who in the chat logs with Adrian Lamo (the convicted hacker who turned him in) indicated he was prepared to go to jail for life or be executed.
And the logs, Ellsberg noted, indicate that Manning had no intention of aiding any enemy. Rather, he believed that he would be promoting discussion on issues that were being kept secret.
About ten days later, P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, spoke out against how the military was mistreating Manning in the brig, and when that caused controversy, he quit under pressure. Asked at a press conference to comment, President Obama revealed that he had talked to Pentagon officials about this, and they assured him Manning was being treated like others and there was no reason for concern.
Ellsberg, never known for his speed-writing, managed to get a response up at the Guardian by the end of the afternoon. “President Obama tells us,” he observed, “that he’s asked the Pentagon whether the conditions of confinement of Bradley Manning, the soldier charged with leaking state secrets, ‘are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are.’
“If Obama believes that, he’ll believe anything. I would hope he would know better than to ask the perpetrators whether they’ve been behaving appropriately. I can just hear President Nixon saying to a press conference the same thing: ‘I was assured by the White House Plumbers that their burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor in Los Angeles was appropriate and met basic standards.’