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Turning Their Back on Bradley Manning: Whistleblower Speaks, but Press Doesn’t Listen

After risking his life and freedom to expose the wrongdoing of the American military, it is the press’ lack of attention to his case which threatens Bradley Manning’s life the most.

As the alleged source of many of the most vital WikiLeaks reports of the past several years, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning shed considerable light on how the United States has prosecuted the Iraq and Afghan wars. Other State Department cables reportedly leaked by Manning conveyed vital information about U.S. foreign policy.

Manning has, in other words, been connected to a lot of news (FAIR Media Advisories, 4/7/10, 12/16/10, 7/30/10): the video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed several civilians (two Reuters journalists died in the attack); the revelation that hundreds of U.S. attacks on civilians in Afghanistan had been recorded by the military— but were unreported elsewhere; the cache of diplomatic cables that uncovered U.S. efforts to stymie legal investigations into torture, U.S. involvement in airstrikes in Yemen; and much more.

But the developments at his trial last week—including the first time Manning has spoken about his treatment—are evidently not newsworthy.

Manning has been held in conditions that have been criticized as psychological torture, including long periods of solitary confinement in a tiny cell, forced nudity and sleep deprivation.

Last week, the military trial at Fort Meade centered on the question of whether these pre-trial conditions were unlawful. Arrested in May 2010, Manning faces 22 counts associated with the leaks of classified material—including the government argument that Manning’s leaks constitute aiding the enemy, apparently because some of the materials he leaked made their way onto the computers of Al-Qaeda figures.

The government maintained that Manning’s treatment was based on a judgment that he was a suicide risk. But the court proceedings included testimony from military psychiatrists who disagreed, and recommended against holding Manning under such “clinically inappropriate” conditions—recommendations that were ignored at the Quantico military facility where Manning was confined (Guardian, 11/28/12).

These dramatic developments, in particular the testimony from Manning (11/29/12), were mostly unreported in corporate media. The New York Times ran a brief Associated Press wire story (11/30/12). Manning’s story was mentioned by just one of the three big network newscasts (CBS Evening News, 11/29/12). There was a brief mention on the PBS NewsHour (11/30/12), mostly about suicide risk.

CNN did regular reporting on the trial throughout the week. According to the Nexis news database, Manning’s trial last week was not mentioned on the liberal MSNBC channel until a discussion on Up With Chris Hayes(12/1/12). Democracy Now!, which has closely followed the Manning case for the past two years, featured thorough analysis of the trial.

It is not hard, on any level, to see the relevance of the Manning trial. As the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington argued on Up With Chris Hayes (12/1/12), the government’s argument in the case will have a chilling effect, which should obviously concern journalists:

You have to bear in mind that the main charge, charge No. 1 against him, is aiding the enemy. Now this is a massively chilling thing. What he’s being accused of is by posting something viaWikiLeaks on the Internet, that by doing so he effectively gave it to Osama bin Laden. They don’t have to show—in the prosecution’s mind, the government’s mind—they don’t have to show that he intended to do that. They’re just saying by the sheer act of putting it on the Internet, it was available to Al-Qaeda.

Indeed, the notion that such trials constitute a threat to freedom of the press was part of the reason that the leak investigation of New York Times reporter Judith Miller was so closely followed by corporate media. Many outlets and editorial pages proclaimed the proceedings an attack on journalism itself—even though in that case, the reporter in question was seeking to protect a government source who was peddling information intended to diminish a government critic (Extra!, 9-10/05).

In the Manning case, the whistleblower apparently responsible for releasing documents that formed the basis for literally thousands of reports of incredible international significance is challenging government mistreatment. The questions about the case have been longstanding. As NPR’s All Things Considerednoted (11/26/12), the secrecy around the proceedings has been “so intense that reporters and human rights groups have sued to get access to information.”

All that in mind, the minimal attention to Manning’s trial last week tells us how little corporate media care about the mistreatment of a government whistleblower. The revelations about U.S. foreign policy Manning allegedly made possible were news; the military’s abusive retaliation against him apparently is not.