Competition Entry | Bradley Manning for President?

How can individuals and societies protect themselves against the encroachment and abuse of government power in the modern age?

by Timothy Lawson,

The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.

Kennedy’s words are true today.

In a historic address to the American Newspapers Publishers Association ANPA in 1961, President Kennedy outlined the contradictory nature of the need for secrecy in matters of national security and the need for greater public access to the machinations of government. The ideals of free speech and a free press are enshrined in the American national consciousness.

The concern expressed by President Kennedy in his 1961 speech is just as valid and relevant today as it was fifty years ago. Two recent chains of events have bought this issue to the forefront of the media spotlight; the actions of Anat Kam and the alleged actions of Bradley Manning.

The current furore over the Wikileaks scandal bears many similarities to the Anat Kam affair. Kam, the young Israeli journalist, was accused of stealing over 2,000 military documents and leaking them to Uri Blau – a reporter for Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, Haaretz. Her aim was to expose war crimes committed by the Israel Defense Forces (IFD) in the West Bank.

Manning, a young US soldier, was charged in 2010 with the unauthorised disclosure of classified information; he is currently being detained in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig. He is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing in May 2011, according to *The Guardian*. His aim was to expose war crimes he encountered during his military service. Manning has been accused of leaking the highly controversial Iraq War video which showed the killing of several Iraqis and two journalists via three air-to ground strikes carried out by two US Army AH-64 Apache helicopters in Al Amin al-Thaniyah, in the New Baghdad district in Baghdad.

A major issue of contention raised in both cases is the lax security that allowed junior military personal to access highly classified, and sensitive, military information.

Manning was stationed with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Contingency Operating Station Hammer, Iraq. This posting gave him access to SIPRNet – the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network: used by the US Department of Defense to transmit classified information.

Kam has been accused of stealing the documents during her two-year compulsory military service, between 2005 and 2007, during which she was working in the office of the commander of the Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank.

Justice Zeev Hammer, who presided over Anat Kam’s court hearings, described the security failures at the GOC Central Command chief’s office as “astounding” adding that he was “shocked to learn of these incomprehensible failures and negligent data protection”.

There are many that see the actions of Kam and Manning as treasonous.

The Monash University paper that I edit, Lots Wife, was fortunate enough to speak with Greer Cashman, an Israeli journalist from the Jerusalem Post, and a board member of the Jerusalem Journalists Association (JJA), who stated: “I’m the only person with a dissenting opinion on the board – whom all support Anat Kam’s actions – and here’s why; at the time she copied the classified information, she was a soldier and not a civilian; therefore her duty was to the military, and to the security of Israel. What she did was tantamount to treason.”

Former US ambassador to the United Nations under the Bush administration, John Bolton, said that if Manning did leak the intelligence he should be charged with treason. “Treason is still punishable by death and if he were found guilty, I would do it”, Bolton said.

Counter to this view there are many who see Bradley Manning and Anat Kam as heroes; as defenders of democracy.

CBS journalist Chase Madar states: “U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning has done his duty. He has witnessed serious violations of the American military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, violations of the rules in U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10, and violations of international law. He has brought these wrongdoings to light out of a profound sense of duty to his country, as a citizen and a soldier, and his patriotism has cost him dearly.”

As elucidated by President Kennedy, the need for secrecy in matters of national security needs to be balanced against the need for press freedom. President Kennedy’s address at the ANPA also stated: “No official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.” Are Kennedy’s words not still consistent with the current US ethos? If they are, then it is a serious problem whenever the government and the military cover up information in the public interest. The US military and government, as well as many mainstream media outlets reported that those killed in the Iraq War air strike video were insurgents. The video released in 2007 by Wikileaks, proved unequivocally that the people killed were Iraqi civilians and journalists.

Bradley Mannings confinement has been shown to be inhumane. A 2006, bi-partisan National Commission on America’s Prisons was established and called for the elimination of prolonged solitary confinement. The report states:“Prisoners end up locked in their cells 23 hours a day, everyday [the treatment] is so severe that people end up completely isolated, living in what can only be described as torturous conditions.” Bradley Manning has given up his life for something he believes in.

Bradley Manning for president?