OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: On Wednesday, August 21, 25-year-old Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for violating the Espionage Act. The Real News spoke to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges about the sentence.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND WRITER: Although it was less than I thought the judge was going to throw at him, my gut reaction was quite emotional. I mean, I was quite upset. And I think that that’s because this is part of a larger process by which any attempt to shine a light on the inner workings of power is not only being shut down, but those with a conscience who attempt to inform the wider public of, in the case of Manning, crimes that have been committed, war crimes, have become in this society criminals.
The whole moral and legal system has been inverted, and you have a criminal class, whether that’s on Wall Street, whether that’s running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether that’s running our offshore penal colonies and torture centers, whether that is the use of electronic surveillance to sweep up all of the communications of most Americans—we are seeing all of the traditional checks by which we are able to thwart government tyranny ripped down.
And so I look at what happened to today is a kind of process, and a very depressing process, whereby not only civil liberties are shredded, but finally any capacity for the investigation and uncovering of the abuse of power is effectively thwarted. So, yeah, it’s part of a larger picture. I felt heartbroken for him personally, but I think on some level also heartbroken for the rest of the country.
Well, I mean, these sentences are ridiculous. I mean, I covered the war in Bosnia, and, you know, one knows from the history of Bosnia that when Princip assassinated Ferdinand, the archduke, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, he received a 20-year sentence.
We have just gone crazy within this prison system, whether it’s for drug offenses, whether it is for, you know, purportedly espionage, the use, the misuse of the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers, and these people are locked up for staggering amounts of time. So as a former reporter for The New York Times, as someone who was published top-secret information—and let’s remember that everything that Manning disclosed was never classified as top-secret. It was all secret. Four to five million people had access to it. It’s a very low-level form of intelligence information. This has a kind of—you know, more than a chilling effect, but essentially throws any kind of journalistic activity into the deep freeze. It becomes impossible to investigate the security and surveillance state, number one because they can trace all communications, so they know who would be talking to reporters. And number two, the consequences, as we have seen with Manning and as we are seeing with Snowden and as we will see if they ever get their hands on Julian Assange, which they seem intent to do or would like to do, are just now so severe that it thwarts the traditional mechanism by which the fourth estate, the press, was once able to investigate power and shine a light onto the inner workings of power. All of that has been shut down, in essence. It’s all gone dark.
Defense strategy was clear from the beginning, and that was to plead with the court. Now, let’s remember the defense’s hands were tied. They couldn’t present much of the information to the court because it was technically classified. They were not allowed to use as a defense Manning’s right under international law, and I think even under the U.S. military code, to expose war crimes, I mean, in fact his duty to expose war crimes. All of that was denied to the Manning defense team. And so in essence their hands were tied. And Coombs, who, you know, I have great respect for, essentially went down, I think, probably the only route that he thought he could go down, and that was to plead. And we saw that with his opening statement. We saw that with Manning’s own statement of remorse. I think it’s sort of tragic in a way that Manning was forced into this position, because in my mind he is a political prisoner. In my mind, what he carried out is an act of conscience. And yet that defense was never—or that possibility of that kind of defense was never offered to him by Judge Lind.
Well, Obama has used the Espionage Act now, if we count Snowden, seven times against whistleblowers, people who have uncovered fraud, war crimes, abuse, government malfeasance, and given that information to the wider public through the press. Kiriakou, the former CIA agent is now serving a 30-month sentence in a Pennsylvanian prison. And that is a misuse of the Espionage Act, which is the equivalent of our foreign secrets act. It’s designed to be used against people who give people information to groups that are classified as the enemy. Between 1917, when it was written, and 2009 when Obama took office, it was used three times against whistleblowers, including against Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Obama, of course, now has more than doubled that.
And that has become the mechanism by which they have essentially shut down any kind of press investigation into the inner workings of power. And so, again, you know, using the Espionage Act to go after Manning is part of that wider campaign to make it impossible for those of us on the outside to understand what authority is doing and not more importantly the abuse of authority.
Editor’s note: This video was recorded and transcribed prior to Manning’s announcement through her lawyer that she identifies as female and wishes to be known as Chelsea. Truthout will use Manning’s chosen name and female pronouns in all future reporting and commentary.