Update 1/30/13: Forthcoming film likely to perpetuate false Bradley Manning narrative [Updated]

Lawyer David Coombs speaking about his client, PFC Bradley Manning, in Washington DC. SHFWire photo by Jory Heckman.

Lawyer David Coombs: Bradley Manning said, “I want to make a diference.” SHFWire photo by Jory Heckman.

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.”

7 thoughts on “Update 1/30/13: Forthcoming film likely to perpetuate false Bradley Manning narrative [Updated]

  1. Free Bradley, Julian and John for doing their jobs well. Truth may not set you free, especially if you espouse and embody it but it is critical for good decisionmaking. Otherwise we’d all be foolishly religious.

  2. Hmm, lonely alienated figure, just like Oswald you say? That kinda whitewash has long served to cover up the dark political undercurrents in US life.

  3. The media, the judge, and the prosecutors are determined to reshape the truth of Bradley’s actions and those of other fellow patriotic whistleblowers by divorcing their actions from the valiant patriotic valuable reasons why they took those actions.

    This is not only cravenly dishonest, but is also a direct denial of a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

    By denying motive the judge is denying Bradley the ability to defend himself from most of the charges, and is denying him the status of whistleblower.

    How despicable and unConstitutional is this?

    I call this a show trial.

  4. There’s three huge problems with this film and two of them are in your face without even having to watch it:

    1. It’s called ‘WE STEAL SECRETS’ which is outrageous on various counts

    2. The comments in the interview, especially this:

    ‘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.’

    I think he’s grasping at something here which he totally mangles, because the above statement is absolute shite.

    He seems to be ‘trying’ to get something right at points in this DN interview – http://thetruthbyrcoldguy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/we-steal-secrets-alex-gibneys-new.html – he calls Brad a ‘sympathetic’ figure – but he’s obviously got a long way to go still which is a pity.

    Sad he didn’t do the whole journey before putting out this film…

    Because whistleblowers certainly ARE very special and unusual people (why didn’t any of the other 1000s of people who had access to the info let us know what was going on?) but he gets this all ROUND THE WRONG WAY!

    Such special and unusual people (singleminded, courageous, sensitive/ised and highly aware people?)doubtless spend time addressing their and the world’s ‘issues’ instead of blundering on w/o questioning anything like sheep – they are driven to seek truth in all areas, including their own lives (yes, and that’s pretty unusual…)

    And indeed in this their focus and single mindedness is self-evidently different from most people’s and this may in turn mean some whistleblowers are sometimes alienated (they sure are AFTER the disclosures!), but it’s rubbish psychology to say their alienation is their motivation, when they are plainly dominated by a conscience toward truth telling, protecting others and exposing oppression.

    To say otherwise and to suggest that their ‘alienation’ is actually their ‘motivation’ must imply ‘spite’ or ‘personal/material gain’ and it is quite obvious that neither of these feature in Brad’s case.

    3. Either cynically or naively, the very real and serious threats to Julian Assange’s safety from USG are ludicrously dismissed.

    One might ask how deep in the sand AG’s head is buried re this. Plainly either his research must be beyond belief incompetent, which is sloppy, or…?

    Because even if there wasn’t abundant hard core evidence of a ‘criminal investigation of unprecedented size and scale’ into JA and WL; even if high profile US public figures had not called for JA’s death either legally or by assassination, and even if high level serving politicians had not called him a ‘terrorist’ – even WITHOUT all that hard evidence, you’d have to very very stoopid and/or ignorant to believe that USG is gonna say ‘oh well, never mind – water under the bridge, bud’ and do sweet fa about pursuing him, ESPECIALLY when he says he’s gonna CARRY ON getting the gen out to the public!! HA!

    Where do some people put their eyes, ears and brains?

    I hope Alex Gibney has the integrity to revisit this.

  5. My feeling is that this film is probably another “dark zero thirty” which is a movie implicitly embraces torture and inhumanity. However, the director defended her film by saying that she just “depicted” the fact, not embraced the torture. That’s a silly comment since it is the way she present those “facts” reveal her purpose not those facts themselves. I saw a psychiatrist said if you examine Jesus according to DSM, you will feel like he had serious mental troubles. The words or behaviors of Jesus were there, but if you look at them in a different way, you get different answers.

    The same problem happened for this film. Those descriptions that Manning feel lonely or alienated or his sexual orientation whatsoever might be true. However, there is almost no way to know if they are the motivation for whistle lowing or not. Even they are parts of the reason, it might be a quite indirect and the relation between them can be really subtle. There seems to be nothing in the film provides more details.

    From the reply from the film producer indicate this film is like a work of “copy-paste” type of thing. Ya, he put Manning’s own view points about politics and then his colleague’s view points on him, such as “lonely” or “alienated”. This is one of the simplest way of stating causality implicitly, and this was the same way used in “dark zero thirty”.

    Just imagine someone makes a film of yourself in this way, taking some of your words and getting other words of your partners, putting them together then saying that’s a film about you, what will you feel? After watching it, you will quite possibly say “WTF, who is the guy on the screen? That’s not me at all.”

    By the way, when I see this sentence “But I urge everyone to see the film before they form their judgment of it.” , I had a smile on my face.

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