Cultural Commentator

What We’ve Learned From The 35-Year Bradley Manning Sentence

Cultural Commentator

What We’ve Learned From The 35-Year Bradley Manning Sentence

The only way we can begin to repair the injustices of our wars and secrecy is to learn something. We owe it to Bradley Manning.
+

This morning, military judge Col. Denise Lind sentenced whistleblower Bradley Manning, leaker of the ‘Collateral Murder’ video and documents from both the Iraq and Afghan wars that ultimately spawned the rise of Wikileaks, to 35 years in prison. Manning will receive credit for time served, and his lawyer will begin reaching out to President Obama in the coming weeks for a pardon or, at the very least, a commutation of the sentence to the approximate 3.5 years he has already served.

So what did we learn from the Bradley Manning sentence? Nothing heartening. In brief:

In America, you’ll serve more time for embarrassing rich people by exposing the unconstitutional atrocities they commit than for indiscriminately murdering poor (or nonwhite) people.
Scumbags like George Zimmerman are a clear reflection of trickle-down moral and ethical policy in our country, an abject fear of and disregard for the lives of what I can only describe as ‘brown people,’ seemingly the only non-economic distinction made between who is and is not acceptable collateral damage in the path of misguided and neo-nationalistic grandstanding, be it on our home soil or abroad. Crimes (typically of the war or financial nature) committed against thousands of poor or otherwise marginalized people are simply called ‘the government’ or ‘the economy’, and *poof* just like that, murder, gambling and theft no longer carry a prison term.

Most of the mainstream press is now essentially as a mouthpiece for the state.
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty and the Freedom of the Press Foundation are already blasting Manning’s 35-year sentence, and calling for Obama to commute it and instead address head-on the information contained in the leaks. However, even ‘liberal’ outlets such as the NYT have been utterly neutral in their coverage today, no huge surprise given that the latter refused to publish Manning’s original information/video before it was ever brought to Wikileaks. Chase Madar speaks eloquently and thoughtfully on this topic in his well-worth-reading related essay for The Nation.

If you plan to tangle with those in power, you’d best get the hell out of Dodge first, regardless of your intent.
Anyone criticizing Snowden for not ‘manning up’ (pun duly noted) and remaining on American soil after the release of classified NSA documents need only look at Manning’s treatment, from an early smear campaign intended to present him in a cowardly or unstable light, to the 3.5 years he spent in prison before his sentencing. Snowden’s continued freedom, in addition to the foreshadowing of future leaks, seem to be the only reasons he has not yet been reduced to a muffled martyr as Manning was. As charges that were once intended for terrorists and spies are now being leveled against responsible, brave citizens revealing widespread secrecy and lies, it’s clear the your average constituent is becoming the only ‘enemy’ being aided and abetted by the exposure of these shadowy corners lurking within our governance.

Your courage will change nothing.
“Hopeless” best describes a world where Manning faces 35 years—a bit over half of the 60 fucking years recommended by the United States military to ‘set an example’—while the soldiers who gunned down civilians and journalists in the video he originally leaked have never been charged.

If Obama really wanted to begin accounting for the years of human rights violations committed (and often condoned) under his presidency, he would shock the hopeless by granting the pardon to Manning, and by extension an olive branch to those who might expose corruption—therefore improving our democracy—in the future. A renewed commitment to being responsible for and learning from our mistakes will be the only good that, if we’re lucky, will ever come of this.