Update 1/30/13: Forthcoming film likely to perpetuate false Bradley Manning narrative [Updated]
Update: film producer responds, says Manning is “a hero in the film”
‘We Steal Secrets’ supervising producer Sam Black emailed to respond to this post:
I’m sorry to see this type of speculation about We Steal Secrets. Bradley Manning is a hero in the film. He is the moral and emotional center of a complex story about what should and should not be secret. The film is full of Manning’s chats about his political motivations and his idealism. In fact, nearly all of the examples of Manning’s ethical and political statements that are cited in your article feature prominently in the film. The film does portray Manning’s alienation from his fellow soldiers, the cruelty shown to him before and after he was arrested, and his personal crisis. I fully understand why you are on the lookout for caricature – the media portrayal of Manning has too often been crude and depoliticized. But I urge everyone to see the film before they form their judgment of it.
While Gibney’s interview comments remain troubling, we are heartened to hear that they do not reflect the film’s portrayal.
Original 1/29/13 post
Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney’s new movie, ‘We Steal Secrets,’ promises to chronicle WikiLeaks’ rise to national attention in 2010 and the events that followed – including some focus on US Army intelligence analyst PFC Bradley Manning.
The film was recently screened at the Sundance film festival, and is likely to be released in select cities soon. Members of the Bradley Manning Support Network have not yet seen the film; however, Alex Gibney recently spoke on his views about Bradley:
The initial presentation of the story was that Bradley Manning was a pure political figure, like a Daniel Ellsberg. I don’t think that’s a sufficient explanation of why he did what he did. I think he was alienated; he was in agony personally over a number of issues. He was lonely and very needy. And I think he had an identity crisis. He had this idea that he was in the wrong body and wanted to become a woman, and these issues are not just prurient. I think it raises big issues about who whistleblowers are, because they are alienated people who don’t get along with people around them, which motivates them to do what they do. To understand Bradley and all his humanity seemed terribly important in this film.
Despite some expressed empathy for Bradley, Gibney’s comments are overall simply untrue.
Rather than portraying Bradley as a “purely political figure,” the mainstream media has focused immensely on his sexuality and personal issues, and in so doing, has diverted attention from Bradley’s actual motives.
This started with the PBS Frontline segment and the New York Magazine profile in 2010 which, as fellow soldier Ethan McCord said, obsesses over personal dramas and “erases Manning’s political agency.” This continues today, with most major outlets’ reports on Manning’s hearings gratuitously mentioning his gender-identity issues as if they’re directly related to his political beliefs.
Gibney’s comments stereotyping whistle-blowers are especially troubling. “Whistle-blower” is a powerful political label that includes people of all types. However, for Gibney, they are “alienated people who don’t get along with people around them.” Was Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg “alienated”? Was National Security Agency critic Thomas Drake “lonely”? Even if they were feeling detached from the group, and prevailing group-think around them, how does that minimize a desire to expose corruption, crime, and abuse—to do the right thing, when everyone else chooses to “go with the program”?
As Jacob Bacharach sarcastically quipped, “All media must now report that Manning suffered from crippling gender dysmorphia and GAY SEX CONFUSION, the two leading causes of Opposing US Military Action Abroad.”
Bradley’s motives, which the government has successfully removed from his court-martial because it doesn’t want the public to hear them, are not the mystery the press (from The Daily Beast to Rachel Maddow) has made them out to be.
In fact they’re quite clear.
In chat logs with government informant Adrian Lamo, Bradley said he saw “incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain,” and State Department cables “explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective.” When Lamo asked why he didn’t sell the cables to a foreign country for profit, Manning said, “because it’s public data…it belongs in the public domain.”
Bradley wanted the release to inspire people to end these crimes and abuses. “its important that it gets out,” he said. “i feel, for some bizarre reason [ ] it might actually change something.” He said he hoped it’d lead to “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. if not … than we’re doomed as a species.”
“I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public… I was actively involved in something that i was completely against,” Bradley shared with Lamo.
To Alex Gibney, that apparently sounds like a homosexual who’s consumed about becoming a woman and lashing out recklessly. To most folks, it simply sounds like an idealistic young person.
When Bradley’s attorney David Coombs recently inquired with him about his plans for the future, Bradley replied, “I want to make a difference. I want to make a difference in this world.”