Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A fine line between hero and villain ...

Treason -- the only crime actually defined in the United States Constitution.  When the Constitution was written, treason was (and still is) considered such a heinous crime that it has been narrowly applied in our history.  Treason not only ended up in the execution of the offender, but a dark stain was cast upon the names of those convicted of this crime. 

Such a horrid crime has even found its way into literature.  After all, according to Dante's Inferno, the deepest level of hell is reserved for those who were guilty of betrayal. 

What is treason?  According to Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution,
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
Why bring up treason?  Enter Pfc. Bradley Manning, intelligence analyst for the United States Army.  Manning has been accused of (among other crimes) leaking over 150,000 diplomatic cables and 90,000 intelligence reports to Wikileaks.org.  The website, in turn, spread the information to other publications, notably The New York Times.  Along with this information was raw video footage of an American helicopter attack, which purportedly fired on unarmed civilians in Baghdad, including reporters from the Reuters news service.

Obviously, the Army attempted to block the leak of information and has since held Manning in custody as a Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.  He is currently in solitary confinement and under suicide watch.  Although the specific charges are still being drawn up, the safe bet says Manning will be lucky to ever see the light of day again.

Reading up to this point, you might be wondering what exactly is contained within all these cables and reports.  The information included mostly details about troop morale and estimates pertaining to the ability of the United States to achieve its objectives.  However, these reports are believed to include sensitive information about troops that could potentially place them in danger.  Since I have yet to exam the nearly quarter-million documents for myself, I can't pretend to have knowledge about the full extent of these claims.  Yet, these documents were serious enough that one these reports pertains to possible means the Army had which could be used to "assess the threat posed" by Wikileaks.

Other topics included in reports I personally viewed on Wikileaks include:

  • CIA plans to boost support for the war through various public relations campaigns in Western European nations
  • Overviews of briefings to members of Congress on interrogation techniques include a list of approved measures
  • Several reports of encounters with the enemy
  • A report on the various insurgent groups in Afghanistan and their makeup/tactics
  • A report on American counterinsurrengcy tactics
 Herein lies the crux of this post  -- is Pfc. Manning a traitor, guilty of treason?  Or maybe a lesser crime?  Perhaps Manning is a hero?  Oh, you read that correctly. 

A number of Americans are holding Manning in high esteem after releasing this massive amount of information into the open.  Today, approximately 80 protestors were outside of the facility holding Manning imploring his release.  I also imagine a substantial number of citizens (mostly liberals) throughout this country share this opinion.  Transparancy, after all, is supposed to be one of the hallmarks of the Obama administration, right?

Manning is already drawing comparisons to Daniel Ellsburg, the State Department employee (during the Vietnam War) who handed over to news agencies a collection of damning information about the war hidden from the public.  Ellsburg's Pentagon Papers, as they became known, shocked Americans and stirred a cynicism about American government that will be unlikely to cease. 

Despite receiving praise, families of servicemen and conservatives are livid and raise serious objections to the notion that Manning did America a favor.  These citizens have pointed out that certain information is classified for a reason and civilians sometimes need to be "kept in the dark" -- that certain information must be kept secret. 

Moreover, is Manning flirting with the very definition of treason?  Did his actions "levy war" against the United States?  Give the enemy "comfort or aid?"

A fine line exists between a hero and a villain.  Did Manning cross that line? Is he another Daniel Ellsburg?  I'd like your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to take a break from San Diego to offer my (not worth very much) thoughts:

    Hero? Not so much. I don't think anyone can really label what he really is without reading all of the documents to see exactly what was released, which most American citizens, myself included, don't have the time/patience to do.

    So I, as well as most citizens, do not know enough to label him with "treason" or "hero"

    That being said, should he have done it? Probably not. The only really alarming find that you posted is the video of the helicopter shooting soft targets. However, in a war on terrorism where terrorists blend in with normal people, attacking soft targets isn't completely terrible. I do agree that some stuff does need to be kept from citizens because most do not understand or can make informed decisions on the information given to them pertaining war and other subjects of the sort.