Bradley Manning or Santa Breanna de Baghdad?

By Jay Holmes

To anyone following the Bradley Manning case, it is clear that a significant percentage of the public and the vast majority of the media view Private Bradley Manning as a heroic whistleblower. Since Manning’s 2010 arrest for leaking classified materials to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, most of us have heard his statements and seen him presenting himself as a likeable, articulate, and reasonable fellow—newer, shinier, and more sincere. That’s fine. This is not North Korea or Russia, and a criminal defendant has a right to be heard. But before we compare him to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, let us also consider those words and acts that caused Manning 2.0 to become a celebrity in the first place.

image from U.S. Army

image from U.S. Army

The Facts

As we pointed out in our previous Bradley Manning article, Bradley Manning—The Facts Amid the Fury, he was court martialed for passing secret information to unauthorized parties while serving in Iraq. His defense team succeeded in marketing him as a heroic whistleblower. Thanks in part to the usual sloppy journalism that has marked this case, the defense team even drew supporters who created a “Free Bradley Manning Support Network.”

The fact is that while a few of the files that Manning sent to Wikileaks may have been classified in order to protect the Army from embarrassing mistakes and possibly even crimes that resulted in civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of what Manning leaked can hardly qualify as suitable material for “whistleblowing.” While serving in Iraq, Manning gave away over 250,000 classified US diplomatic messages, nearly 500,000 secret military files, over 400,000 medical files of military personnel, and the names of Afghan double agents cooperating with the US military. In addition to capriciously violating the medical privacy rights of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the diplomatic cables that he released have made it harder for US diplomats to work with our allies and other foreign governments. And the military reported that after Wikileaks published the names of those double agents, the Taliban or Tali-clones killed most of them. That matters! If whistleblowing had been Manning’s goal, he had access to channels he could have used without fear of persecution or retribution, and without violating the personal privacy of fellow soldiers or compromising agents abroad. Manning did not use those channels.

Breanna the Woman Beater

In another vein, Manning wanted a sex change operation and wished to become “Breanna Manning.” Some of his defenders claim his actions were in part caused by the fact that, as a homosexual, he was treated unfairly by the military. Thousands of homosexuals have served honorably in the US military. I am certain that many of them may have suffered unfair treatment and may have been socially rejected by their team mates, but almost none of them responded by leaking secret information.

In 2010, before Manning leaked the documents to Wikileaks, he became angry at his superior officer and punched her in the face. He was demoted to private, but kept his access to classified information.

Arrest and Judgement 

Shortly after the woman-beating incident and before he was shipped home, Manning reached out to famous ex-hacker Adrian Lamo. He and Lamo chatted online, and he bragged to Lamo about the files that he had sent to Assange at Wikileaks. Lamo realized that the lives of US servicemen and their allies were at stake, and he contacted the FBI. Lamo gave the FBI classified files that Manning had sent him, along with logs of their chats.

On May 26, 2010, Manning was arrested by the Army and placed in custody in Kuwait. He was charged on July 5 of that year with transferring classified information to unauthorized parties while knowing that it would be used to harm the United States of America.

Last week, the military justice system determined that Manning is guilty and sentenced him to thirty-five years in prison. Given the rules of the system, Manning will be eligible for a parole hearing in ten years. I might have to attend that hearing to remind the court that before Manning was elevated to the status of “concerned whistleblower,” he was the less loveable fellow who transferred hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks resulting in many deaths, and that he punched a female soldier in the face.

Actions have Consequences

Given the volume of information Manning gave away, it will take decades to completely assess the damage done, but it is not too soon for me to be certain that Manning should not be considered a whistleblower and did not act out of concern for his fellow humans. It seems more likely that he wanted to take his revenge on an Army that he felt rejected him. He succeeded.

His legal team is smart, and they will never stop trying to convince us that the Manning and Snowden cases are similar. They clearly are not. While I do not agree with Edward Snowden’s actions, I can sympathize with his motives, and I agree with his concern about our government overstepping its authority by spying on US citizens at will.

Another sad consequence of the highly successful Bradley Manning image makeover is that too little attention is being paid to the fact that such an obviously bad soldier was able to keep such high access to classified information for so long. In an organization the size of the US Army, there will always be individuals suffering from a variety of emotional problems and psychiatric conditions. The Army needs to do a better job of keeping them away from weapon systems and classified information. A review of Manning’s army record, which includes ignoring and actively violating security requirements while still in intelligence training, indicates that he never should have had access to classified information when he was sent to Iraq. If he was already a security risk in the highly controlled training environment, then it was nuts to expect him to perform any better on the battlefield.


Was Manning the woman-beater a “heroic whistleblower” when he betrayed his fellow soldiers by releasing their personal information to the media? Was he a whistleblower when he released the names of Afghans that were risking their lives by cooperating with the US, subsequently getting most of them killed? Nevertheless, Manning’s lawyer is still loudly and absurdly proclaiming “no one was harmed by Private Manning’s actions.” He tells us that Manning acted out of patriotic concern for the welfare of the US, but the facts don’t lead to any such conclusion. I understand Manning’s lawyer pretending to believe such things. We taxpayers pay him to believe such things. That’s his job. Reasonable adults should know better. As citizens in a democracy, that’s our job.

I still hope that the Army, the State Department, and the NSA are as upset as I am about Manning’s ease of access to so much information, and I hope that the Army and all other branches of the military and government will consider showing a little more willingness to withhold security clearances and live ammo from obviously mentally unstable individuals.

America has a newer, more adorable Bradley Manning to talk about. Do we have a more efficient and responsible government yet?


20 comments on “Bradley Manning or Santa Breanna de Baghdad?

  1. It seems to me that for a leak of documents to constitute legitimate whistle blowing,
    (1) The whistle blower must be capable of personally reviewing the individual documents he proposes to leak. This seems unlikely in a case of (say) half a million documents.
    (2) The documents must show serious maladministration, financial malpractice, or that the government has lied to its own population about its activities, and the population would have an interest in knowing of the deceit. (By ‘interest, I mean here more than a ‘curiosity’ or a voyeuristic’ interest, more in the nature of what lawyers call ‘interest’ but perhaps less than ‘standing’ in the case of capacity to bring legal proceedings. I mean that the public would view the deceit as material to their view of the government.
    (3) The leak should be to a news organisation that has the demonstrated prior capacity to redact personal names of the non-involved who might be at risk of lives or livelihood when they are not the perpetrators of the malpractice the leak is meant to expose.
    (4) There is little likelihood of the malpractice coming to light otherwise.
    For example, if an employee in a state government department or federal administration has documentary proof of contracts being awarded without tender to ‘mates’ of the stategovenor, or that their Prime Minister or President has claimed to not be doing something in foreign affairs which they are doing (e.g.[ hypothetically] committing ‘boots on the ground’ in the near future in Syria, while saying they are not and won’t . ) This is a serious issue which may not come to light otherwise.
    Manning appears to fail (1) rather clearly . Some cables I’ve read show governments taking private positions at variance with their public positions, but I don’t know enough to say for certain if (2) applies to Manning. Wikleaks as a destination for the leaks appears to fail (3).
    I notice that the original ‘Deep Throat” from the Watergate era did not in fact hand any documents over, merely telling Woodward and Bernstein what area to hunt for clues.
    The waiter who videoed Romney talking about the 47 percent may have satisfied (1) (2) and (4) since he thought the public had a right to know the difference between what Romney was saying in private and what he was saying in public. (At this time i acknowledge Romney was not an elected official, but one running for president.)
    So: what do Jay and others think needs to be met for a whistle blower to be genuine and deserving of protection?

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Richard. Thank your well thought out response. I think that your criteria for whistle blowers makes sense. I would add to it that the leaker should redact any personal information and the names of everyone except felons.

  2. I don’t think the focus should be that he punched a female officer, but that he punched a higher ranking officer, who just happened to be female.
    Other than that, this person is responsible for so much information being leaked that we won’t know the full repercussions for years, the deaths of many people, and his motives certainly were not honorable or defensible.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Elektra. You are probably right but I am an old-fashioned cranky geezer and it radically changes my opinion of a man when he assaults a woman.

      • As it does mine. He did show a perfect way of showcasing his cowardice. Granted, she probably could wipe the floor with him.
        Why isn’t the little cretin being charged with treason?

        • Jay Holmes says:

          You are right in calling him a “little cretin”. He is not quite the deliberate actor that he would like us to believe that he is. The prosecution apparently went with the charges that were most easy to prove, The standards of proof for “treason” are very high in the United States Federal and Military courts and probably should be. In part it has to do with our history. During the Soviet era many of us were revolted by the ease with which innocent people were tortured and executed for bogus charges of treason. I hope that we never forget that revulsion. I hope that we never become like the Soviets.

          Though it does not excuse Manning for being an abusive creep toward his comrades in arms and toward the nation that he swore to defend I can’t help but remember that he could have been thwarted if the US Army had been even slightly diligent in protecting the information that they had access to.

          I am not slamming the Army. The problem extends to our entire government.

          • Though with him being part of the Army, doesn’t that lessen the burden of proof because there’s already been an automatic granting of access? It’s not as if in addition to it all he had to break into the governmental servers and information – which he didn’t even sell (is that it?), just gave it away.

  3. tomwisk says:

    To paraphrase someone “Patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel” Bradley Manning forgot he took an oath when he got The job. He violated the oath and got what he deserved. He may have thought he was being a patriot but all he turned out to be was a person who got into something he found out he didn’t like or fit his lifestyle and wanted out.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Ho Tomwisk. ” all he turned out to be was a person who got into something he found out he didn’t like or fit his lifestyle and wanted out.”. I believe that you are quite right Sir.

  4. Great write up, Holmes. There certainly has been a charm campaign on this guy. Too often people try to manipulate the public with emotional statements but no facts to base them on. I think news agencies assist this depending on their political leanings.

    If Manning had concerns over the information he wanted to release (which seems impossible given that he handed out hundreds of thousands of documents) there are plenty of ways he could have brought the issue up. The en-masse release of documents seems more like the action of a spiteful child wanting to hurt as many people as he could. Something he, sadly, succeeded in doing.


  5. Patricia Sands says:

    I’ll go with you to the parole hearing, Piper. Excellent post.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Patricia. I prefer that Piper not accompany me to the parole hearing. She is perhaps a touch more “trigger happy” than I am. I have more experience remaining calm and collected in the presence of scoundrels. If you promise not to fire any shots, I would appreciate your company on that journey.

  6. Pleun says:

    I had completely forgotten about Manning and the Wikipedia leaks. It’s not big in the news here. But it seems he got what he deserves and yes, that parole meeting should be on your agenda 😉

  7. Just annoyed. He punch out a superior officer (not even pausing to think it might look especially bad as it was a woman). He has temper tantrums and gets mad (so gets even ? in his own mind, maybe.) What was this guy doing anywhere near classified information? Someone let this happen and who knows what damage is done at this point.
    Now we have to support him. And his desire to become Breanna? Foolish child- do that on your own time and dime. (more sullenness and temper tantrums to come, no doubt.)
    Parole hearing? You’re the calm one – you have to go.

  8. Julie Glover says:

    Honestly, while I see a vast difference between them, I don’t see Manning or Snowden as heroes. Manning was intentionally malicious in his release of information, but Snowden isn’t getting any brownie points with me for what he did afterwards (Privet, Russia!).

    I see some serious issues with how we gather, handle, and determine who has access to information in the military and government agencies. All of these cases–and others–make me think we need an overhaul in our approach.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Hi Julie. Just butting in here to say that when Snowden was still on the plane, Holmes and I had a conversation about how incredibly naive he was to think Putin would ever let him out of Russia. Ever. He got on that plane trusting the Wikileaks lawyer to get him to Ecuador, not Russia. I think Assange sold him out knowing that sending him to Putin was the best way to hurt America. Snowden’s sentence is far harsher now than anything he would serve in a Federal penitentiary here.

      • Julie Glover says:

        Maybe so. But that doesn’t get him off in my books, Piper. Sorry. Snowden shouldn’t have involved other countries; he should have stayed here. He had enough supporters to get a great defense. Thanks for responding!

  9. Manning is not a whistle blower and definitely not a hero.

    We are an intensely voyeuristic society. And there’s just too much we really, really don’t need to know. I avoided looking at pretty much anything Wikileak related because I didn’t want to see anything I didn’t have a right/need to know.

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