Legitimate questions exist about why it has taken so long to bring US Army Private Bradley Manning to trial and the circumstances surrounding his incarceration, much of it in solitary confinement. But he deserves neither the status of hero nor the aura of martyrdom some on the Left have bestowed on him.
By his own admission, after pleading guilty to 10 of the 22 charges at his court martial, Manning was responsible for leaking 750,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks while working in Baghdad as a low-level intelligence analyst. He violated his obligation as a member of the U.S. military to protect and defend his country. Many lives were put at risk as a result of the disclosures and the irresponsible way they were published around the world. The biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history badly damaged America’s interests and anti-terrorist operations.
Following disclosure in 2010 of the names of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan helping allied forces, Kabul human rights officials reported a jump in the assassination of alleged collaborators. Publication of State Department cables identifying the sources used by U.S. diplomats meant many had to flee to avoid retribution. Prosecutors have charged Private Manning with working with WikiLeaks’ Australian founder, Julian Assange, to put military secrets in the hands of America’s enemies. It was reported Osama bin Laden asked another al-Qaida terrorist to download battlefield reports and State Department cables supplied to WikiLeaks.
Supporters see Private Manning as a noble whistleblower in the tradition of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers. He is no such thing: He is on trial not for his politics, but because he deliberately broke his solemn obligation as a serving soldier and committed sustained treachery that has had appalling consequences. On the charges to which he has pleaded guilty, Private Manning is likely to get 20 years.
Washington must do more than seek to punish him. It needs to establish how a 21-year-old analyst with a deeply troubled personal life could access and harvest a trove of highly classified and potentially damaging intelligence and pass it to Assange.
No such breach must be allowed to occur again.
The Australian, Sydney