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148188THE MILITANT: 35-year sentence for Pfc. Manning meant as warning to media, leakers

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  • Walter Lippmann
    Jul 7 1:58 PM
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      The Militant (logo) 

      Vol. 77/No. 34      September 30, 2013

      35-year sentence for Pfc. Manning
      meant as warning to media, leakers
      ‘Whistle-blower’ strategy no road
      forward for working people
      On Aug. 21, U.S. military judge Army Col. Denise Lind sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to serve 35 years in prison for leaking secret military and diplomatic documents. This is the longest sentence ever handed down for leaking government files. It is meant as a sharp warning to any future would-be “whistle-blowers.”

      The government’s treatment of Manning — from his arrest to his conviction — bears this out. Manning, who changed his first name to Chelsea after his trial, was held in solitary confinement for much of his nearly three-year pretrial detention, under conditions that U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez characterized as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

      The files released to whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks covered incidents in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, treatment of inmates at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and secret State Department memos.

      He was acquitted on charges of “aiding the enemy,” which carries a life sentence.

      Nonetheless, government witnesses urged the longest sentence possible, arguing that Manning had provided aid and comfort to those who want to inflict terrorist acts against the U.S.

      Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, an adviser to the Pentagon’s Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism, told the court Aug. 8 that documents leaked by Manning showing that the U.S. had killed civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan could help create “a good environment for recruitment, for fund-raising and for support for Al Qaeda’s wider audience and objectives,” the New York Times reported.

      This argument, the Times and other media pointed out, could be used to gag journalists from reporting facts Washington considers embarrassing about their wars, assassinations and other actions around the world.

      The Barack Obama administration has charged seven people, including Manning, with violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 — a thought-control act passed during World War I — for leaking secret government documents. This is more than twice as many as any other U.S. president.

      As part of the same effort to limit leaks, the Obama administration in June indicted Edward Snowden, a computer specialist and employee of a defense contractor for the National Security Administration, who handed over secret documents to the Guardian in the U.K. and the Washington Post.

      These documents revealed aspects of classified NSA programs directing U.S. phone service providers to turn over call records and that the NSA is also secretly seizing all foreign communications from major Internet providers.

      Snowden, now in Russia where he was granted one-year asylum that could be extended, said his actions were like those of Manning, only more selective and with more concern for U.S. government interests.

      A cosmetic overhaul

      The media churned up days and days of front-page coverage on Snowden’s travels and about the NSA’s intrusion into phone and Internet records.

      Contrary to the impression given by some bourgeois media that there was mounting pressure for a halt to the NSA spy program, it retained broad bipartisan backing in Congress.

      At an Aug. 9 White House news conference, Obama announced a few cosmetic measures he said were aimed at making government snooping programs more “transparent” and to make “the American people more comfortable” with them. Obama said he would add secret “adversary” lawyers who would presumably argue “in appropriate cases” about secret spy warrant requests to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts that for decades have rubber-stamped them.

      Obama also announced he would create “an outside advisory board of civil liberties and privacy experts” to counsel him.

      On Sept. 13, in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, FISA court Judge Dennis Saylor ruled the government has to review a set of secret rulings about the NSA’s intercepts of phone records. Some of those rulings may become public. Saylor explained that the purpose of the ruling was to “assure citizens of the integrity of this court’s proceedings.”

      No way forward for working people

      Washington’s surveillance programs and encroachments on democratic and political rights are today aimed mostly at Islamist-jihadist terrorists. But workers can be sure the propertied rulers will use them against us as the crisis of capitalism deepens and gives rise to more workers’ struggles.

      Leakers like Manning, Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, along with their supporters, argue that revealing government “excesses” and atrocities can shame those in power and lead to more “transparent” and humane governance.

      All that is needed, Assange wrote in December 2006, to deal with bad government policies is “mass leaking” that “leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”

      But as millions of workers are aware, the U.S. government — and all capitalist governments — always has and always will spy on citizens and cause “collateral damage” as they defend their profits and influence around the world.

      When leaks like those of Manning and Snowden occur today, absent major proletarian battles or mass social struggles, their efforts to scandalize the U.S. capitalist rulers amount to no more than plaintive appeals that fall on deaf ears for the propertied rulers, who are convinced they know how to defend their rule and will continue to do so as they have for several centuries.

      Contrast this with the effect of the New York Times 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study of U.S. imperialist aims in Vietnam, leaked to the paper by Daniel Ellsberg, who helped write the documents for the Defense Department and was advising President Richard Nixon on Vietnam.

      At the time, hundreds of thousands were in the streets, in the U.S. and internationally, demanding that Washington get out of Vietnam. By publishing the Pentagon Papers, the Times and Ellsberg hoped to influence the rulers. He had previously given copies of the report to Henry Kissinger, then-President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, and to various members of Congress, hoping to change their minds.

      But its public release took place in the context of the largest mass movement against a shooting imperialist war since the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was not the release of the Pentagon Papers, but this mass social battle that led to decisive shifts in public attitude to oppose the U.S. war being waged on a people fighting for liberation.

      The Times’ decision to publish the Pentagon Papers gave the anti-war movement an additional tool to reach deeper into the working class, including among the armed forces, to mobilize the class forces needed to force an end to the war.

      This struggle, on the shoulders of the victory of Black rights battles that smashed Jim Crow segregation, helped expose and push back government spying and Cointelpro programs that targeted political activists and working-class organizations. It strengthened political rights.

      The propertied rulers could not be “swayed” — they had to be learned.

      No change of course is coming out of the current debate on government spying. And Washington has used the leaks to legitimize and reinforce its programs, victimization and infringement of constitutionally protected rights.

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