Update 3/11/13: Contra Bill Keller, Bradley Manning’s motives consistent from chat logs through plea statement
By Nathan Fuller. March 11, 2013.
Yesterday, New York Times columnist and former executive editor Bill Keller ruminated at length about what might’ve happened to Bradley Manning had he released documents to that newspaper alone instead of to WikiLeaks. The piece, as many have noted, had numerous errors, but I’d like to focus on one important mischaracterization.
And, finally, if he had dealt with The Times, maybe we would better understand Bradley Manning. Lionized by WikiLeaks and his fan base as a whistle-blower and martyr, cast by his prosecutors as a villainous traitor, he has become dueling caricatures. Until the court proceedings, the only window into Manning’s psyche was the voluminous transcript of his online chats with the ex-hacker, Adrian Lamo, published by Wired magazine. It portrays a young man, in his own words, “emotionally fractured” — a gay man in an institution not hospitable to gays, fragile, lonely, a little pleased with his own cleverness, a little vague about his motives. His political views come across as inchoate. When asked, he has trouble recalling any specific outrages that needed exposing. His cause was “open diplomacy” or — perhaps in jest — “worldwide anarchy.”
At Fort Meade, Manning delivered a more coherent explanation of what drove him. Appalled by the human collateral damage of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, he says, he set out to “document the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Intrigued by his reading of State Department cables, he felt a need to let taxpayers in on the “backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity” that are the dark underside of diplomacy. Was this sense of mission there from the start, or was it shaped afterward by the expectations of the Free Bradley Manning enthusiasts? The answer would probably make no difference to the court. But it might help determine history’s verdict.
This characterization is simply not based in fact. The suggestion that Manning’s noble motives were “shaped” by his supporters is totally fabricated, and it’s an insult to Manning’s character. His statement to the court last month made clear that he was the whistle-blower we’ve supported for nearly three years now.
Far from “vague” in the initial chat logs, Manning clearly discussed his reasoning for releasing documents to Adrian Lamo. He said he saw “incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain,” and documentation of “how the first world exploits the third, in detail.”
He specifically recounts a turning point for him in the Army, in which he couldn’t be complicit in detaining innocent Iraqis:
(02:31:02 PM) bradass87: i think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything…
(02:35:46 PM) bradass87: was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
(02:36:27 PM) bradass87: everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently…I was actively involved in something I was completely against.
In another Instant Message, Manning writes:
(12:59:41 PM) bradass87: uhm… crazy, almost criminal political backdealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises… uhm… all kinds of stuff like everything from the buildup to the Iraq War during Powell, to what the actual content of “aid packages” is: for instance, PR that the US is sending aid to pakistan includes funding for water/food/clothing… that much is true, it includes that, but the other 85% of it is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis
Note the line from the chat log, “almost criminal political backdealings” – and note how similar that is to the statement Keller cites as much clearer reasoning in the statement: “backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity.” There is remarkable consistency in Manning’s motives, where Keller seems intent on seeing divergence.
Others have opined similarly on Keller’s misleading characterization. Greg Mitchell of the Nation writes that his take on motives is “false” and continues:
Keller compounds his error by then suggesting that when Manning spelled out the outrages and motives in his recent statement he might have only been “shaped” to the applause of his biggest backers. A sickening claim, and based on the Lamo chat logs, wrong.
Kevin Gosztola of FireDogLake corrects Keller here:
Actually, Manning’s views on the information in his statement are nearly identical to some of the views in the chat logs. What he said in messages to Lamo may be harder to follow than the statement because he was not methodically describing each disclosure, the information’s significance, the motivation for why he wanted to disclose that information and how he came across this material in his work as an analyst. But, there should be no rhetorical questions about whether “Free Bradley Manning enthusiasts” inspired him to say what he said.
I emailed Keller to note his error and ask if he would kindly correct. His response:
Thanks for writing. I’ve reworded the reference to the Swedish allegations. On your bigger point, I read every word of Manning’s Lamo chats (and his Fort Meade statement) and I think my characterization is fair.
I responded quoting from Mitchell and Gosztola to show many others feel similarly, that his take on Manning’s motives was inaccurate. He replied:
Sorry, but it really seems to me that some people who have decided Manning is a hero have assembled a coherent political motivation by fishing here and there in the Lamo file. Reading the whole transcript, I found tidbits of political motivation scattered among a host of other motivations. The handful of incidents Manning described as troubling (e.g. The helicopter video) might have explained selective leaks — but they do not explain a clear motivation for releasing 700,000 documents. At least, not to this reader.
Keller refuses to see Manning’s political motive (and doesn’t cite any of a “host of other motivations”), despite specific lines in the chat log about wanting the public to see these specific abuses but also see the war logs and diplomatic cables in full to understand how their government operates.
Manning said, “its important that it gets out… i feel, for some bizarre reason…it might actually change something.”
Explicitly asked in the chats about his “endgame,” Manning’s reasons are plain: “hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.” That he was blowing the whistle couldn’t be clearer.