THE BLOG
06/11/2013 10:34 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Bloody Hands and Keyless Lives

Okay, give them this much: their bloodlust stops just short of the execution chamber door. The military prosecutors of the case against Bradley Manning, assumedly with the support of the Obama administration, have brought the virulent charge of "aiding the enemy" against the Army private who leaked state secrets. Yet they claim to have magnanimously taken the death penalty off the table. All they want to do is lock Manning up and throw away the key because, so they claim, he did nothing short of personally lend a hand to archfiend Osama bin Laden. This echoes the charge repeatedly made by top U.S. officials that he and WikiLeaks have "blood on their hands" for releasing a trove of military and State Department documents.

We're talking about the very officials who planned and oversaw Washington's wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the backlands of the planet and who have searched their own hands in vain for any signs of blood. (None at all, they don't hesitate to assure us.) Among them are those, military and civilian, who set up our torture prisons at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, are ultimately responsible for the perversions of Abu Ghraib, and oversaw kidnappings off the streets of global cities. These are the folks whose Air Force blew away at least six wedding parties in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose drones have killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, and whose special operations forces recently seem to have been involved in the torture, murder, and secret burial of Afghan civilians.

I could go on, but why bother since it was all done "legally," which means they can retire to corporate boards of their choice, rake in money from speeches, and write their memoirs, while Manning, whose motive (to judge by the online conversations he had) was to end the bloodletting, reveal information about American crimes, and to shut down our wars will have no memoir to write, no life to live. It can't get worse than that, can it?

Given what we now know about the U.S. military's unwillingness to pursue prosecutions of rape in its own ranks, its eagerness to pursue Manning to the edge of the grave should be considered striking. We're talking about a national security state that -- as recent revelations have made clear -- can imagine just about no boundaries when it comes to surveilling its own population and none whatsoever when it comes to protecting its own actions from the eyes of the public. In that sense, Manning truly crossed a red line. Rape? A mere nothing compared to his crime. After all, he was aiding the most dangerous enemy of all: not Osama bin Laden, but Americans who want to breach the ever-expanding secrecy of the National Security Complex.

As Chase Madar (the Nation magazine's blogger at the Manning trial) suggests at TomDispatch.com today in "How Dystopian Secrecy Leads to Clueless Wars," right now there seem to be few crimes more dangerous than shining a light on the secret workings of the U.S. government and its military. Admittedly, President Obama entered the Oval Office promising on Day One to let the "sunshine" in on government operations. Manning fulfilled the president's promise in the only way a 22-year-old who had seen terrible things in Iraq could imagine doing. Maybe it wasn't elegant by the president's high standards, but it was effective. He deserves something better than the worst the U.S. military and Washington can throw at him. He deserves a life, and if that life in the end proves as valuable as it's been so far, a memoir.

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