The court martial of Pvt. Bradley Manning for allegedly providing thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks is the latest in efforts undertaken by this administration to crush whistleblowers. In fact, the Manning case is reminiscent of that faced by Daniel Ellsberg in the famous “Pentagon Papers” incident surrounding the Vietnam War. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg released classified documents concerning the Vietnam War to the New York Times. These documents revealed the criminality and hypocrisy of the U.S. aggression.
Yet, the Bradley Manning case is not simply the latest in a list of prosecutions. It stands as a particularly illustrative example of steps taken by an administration that had promised so-called transparency when Obama was elected in 2008. Instead, we have found something to the contrary. Not only have whistleblowers faced retaliation, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act six times in order to squash whistleblowers.
The administration’s stand towards whistleblowers exists in stark contrast to its attitude towards both the criminality on Wall Street as well as the criminality of those who lied us into the Iraq war. In neither case have criminal prosecutions taken place. Think about it for a moment. The Bush administration manufactured evidence in order to carry out a blatant act of aggression against a sovereign nation. This aggression resulted not only in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and U.S. personnel, but it has totally destabilized the nation of Iraq itself. Despite this, no one from the Bush administration has been prosecuted.
We can also look at Wall Street. Obama came into office in the midst of the worst financial collapse and recession since the Great Depression. Much of what accounted for the financial collapse was the result of criminal activity on the part of elements of the financial community. Instead of prosecution and jail time the perpetrators of this disaster had the audacity to insist that they were still entitled to their annual extravagant bonuses. Oh, and by the way, many of these same Wall Streeters, saved by the Obama administration from masses of people who wanted to string them up, ironically decided to side with Romney in the 2012 election. No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose.
So, let’s now go through the scorecard. Individuals who have attempted to identify criminal behavior by government officials, agencies, etc., face retaliation, and in the case of Manning, jail time. They are in some cases accused of providing aid and assistance to the enemy. What they did was to call things as they were and to point out precisely the sorts of activities that this administration claimed that it opposed.
Bradley Manning should not face any jail time. In fact, he needs to get an award for his courage.
The other night I was watching Spike Lee’s She Hate Me. If you have not seen it, take a few moments to do so. One of the issues that Lee raises is that the “little people” who do the right thing and call out injustices frequently suffer, whereas those in the elite who carry out the injustices, not only frequently get away with it, but they may gain some benefit. The classic example was Frank Wills, the African-American security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in. For an action that should have netted him a medal, he found himself ultimately cast aside and treated as, in effect, a criminal.
You may have expected more from the Obama administration. It won’t happen unless we insist otherwise. It is not just about Obama the man; it is about an administration.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.