The undisputed person of the year

Journalist and socialist Eamonn McCann examines the case of Bradley Manning.

Demonstrators gathered in Quantico, Va., to protest the torture of Bradley ManningDemonstrators gathered in Quantico, Va., to protest the torture of Bradley Manning

IF BRADLEY Manning had committed war crimes rather than exposing them, he wouldn't be in so much trouble.

He might even be hailed as an American hero. Instead, he's held at a military prison in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, facing more than 20 charges, including "aiding the enemy."

Manning is the private who allegedly leaked sheaves of classified material to WikiLeaks while working as an army intelligence analyst in Iraq. The information he is accused of handing over included documents revealing details of crimes committed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq--and State Department cables showing that, far from promoting peace and democracy in the world, the Bush and Obama administrations, when it suited their interests, encouraged war and supported dictatorship.

Daniel Ellsberg, who passed the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971 and so helped end the war against Vietnam, and who is now seen as something of a secular saint, said last week: "Bradley Manning no more deserves to face charges of treason than I did." Now 80, Ellsberg has been arrested twice on protests against Manning's imprisonment.

The facts allegedly made public by Manning have served to expose the extraordinary hypocrisy of Barack Obama. Marking the (partial) U.S. departure from Iraq, Obama told an audience of soldiers on December 14: "Everything that American troops have done...has landed to [sic] this moment of success. We're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq. This is an extraordinary achievement."

"Everything that American troops have done in Iraq" will have included the routine use of torture and the deliberate killing of unarmed civilians.

One of the items supplied to WikiLeaks by Manning was the "Collateral Murder" video, depicting soldiers machine-gunning a group of civilians from an Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007, killing 12. Two of the victims were Reuters journalists. Other civilians rushing to the aid of the wounded were shot by soldiers, who could be heard cackling as they swung around their gun-sights. A U.S. tank can then be seen driving over one of the bodies, squashing it in half.

This, by any standard, was a war crime. But none of the perpetrators has been brought to book. Murder in the name of the American people wasn't designated a crime. But allowing the American people to know that it happened is counted as treason.

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MANNING DIDN'T do what he did for personal gain. He might have made a fortune by actually "aiding the enemy" and selling the material to a government at loggerheads with the U.S. He acted, instead, out of moral conviction.

In an Internet chatroom conversation with Adrian Lamo, the hacker-turned-tout who ratted him out to the government, Manning explained:

I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy. I think I have been traumatized too much by reality to care about the consequences. God knows what happens now. Hopefully, worldwide discussion, debates and reform. I want people to see the truth regardless of who they are, because, without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public. Information should be free.

Manning asked Lamo directly: "If you had free rein over classified networks, and you saw incredible things, awful things, things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington, D.C., what would you do?"

What would any of us do? We might hope we'd risk the wrath of a government involved in war crimes and cover-ups, and tell the people the truth.

Bradley Manning did that--and on his own. Unlike Ellsberg, he didn't have a comforting constituency around him, including priests, nuns, lawyers and even a scattering of members of Congress.

Obama's drive for the White House was fuelled by opposition to the war on Iraq and to George W. Bush's sustained assault on civil liberties and constitutional rights. His rage against Manning is fuelled by the knowledge that his comprehensive betrayal of these principles has been detailed, annotated and demonstrated beyond doubt by a 22-year-old army private.

Obama pledged to create "the most transparent administration in history." He has since presided over the prosecution of more whistleblowers who revealed government wrongdoing than all previous administrations combined--and at the end of December, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act that legalizes the detention in military custody of U.S. citizens for indefinite periods.

Bradley Manning, a beacon of moral light in the darkness which has deepened since the election of Obama, is, indisputably and by some distance, the American Man of the Year.