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.’
“But if President Obama really doesn’t yet know the actual conditions of Manning’s detention ….then he’s being lied to, and he needs to get a grip on his administration…. If he does know, and agrees that it’s appropriate or even legal, that doesn’t speak well for his memory of the courses he taught on constitutional law….
“The fact that Manning’s abusive mistreatment is going on at Quantico—where I spent nine months as a Marine officer in basic school—and that Marines are lying about it, makes me feel ashamed for the Corps. Just three years as an infantry officer was more than enough time for me to know that what is going on there is illegal behavior that must be stopped and disciplined.”
A few days later, Ellsberg would appear on Democracy Now! “The conditions under which Manning is being held clearly violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment—even for someone being punished, having been convicted,” he said. “This is something that is likely to drive a person mad, and may be the intent of what’s going on here.”
Then he made an important point often overlooked: “The WikiLeaks revelations that Manning is charged with having revealed, having to do with Iraq, show that in fact the US military in which Manning was a part, turns over suspect to the Iraqis with the knowledge that they will be and are being tortured. Turning these suspects over, with that knowledge, is a clear violation of our own laws and of international law. It makes us as much culpable for the torture as if we were doing it ourselves.
“Moreover, the Wikileaks logs show, the order is given: ‘Do not investigate further.’ That’s an illegal order, which our president could change and should change and must change with one call.
“Reportedly, Manning was very strongly motivated, at one point, to try to change this situation, because he was involved in it actively, and knew that it was wrong. He found that it was not being investigated within the government and was not being dealt with at all. That’s a big difference between the Pentagon Papers and the Wikileaks logs. The former were higher level things which didn’t reveal field-level war crimes. The Wikileaks actually do.”
Then, on March 19, Ellsberg was arrested with dozens of others outside the White House in a civil disobedience action in support of Bradley Manning, a prelude to pro-Manning rallies held in dozens of cities around the world the next day. Ellsberg would give a speech that day outside the Quantico base—and get arrested again, with nearly three dozens others.
Interviewed by CNN, Ellsberg said, recalling his own famous leak back in the early 1970s, “I was willing to go to prison. I never thought, for the rest of my life, I would ever hear anyone willing to do that, to risk their life, so that horrible, awful secrets could be known. Then I read those logs and learned Bradley was willing to go to prison. I can’t tell you how much that affected me.”
He added, again looking back forty years: “I was that young man—I was Bradley Manning.”