David Swanson: Released provocative photo of Manning, emotional testimony by Manning’s sister plays to psychological defense but defense misses opportunity to showcase Manning as a whistleblower.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
During his sentencing trial, Bradley Manning apologized for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. During the trial, Manning actually said he, quote, only wanted to help people, not hurt people.
Now joining us to discuss all this is David Swanson. David was in the courtroom yesterday, and he’s an author of the book War Is a Lie. He blogs DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org and works for RootsAction.org. And he also hosts Talk Nation Radio.
Thanks for joining us, David.
DAVID SWANSON, COFOUNDER, WAR IS A CRIME: Glad to be here.
DESVARIEUX: So you write that you wanted to scream, essentially, during the sentencing. Can you explain why you had that emotion?
SWANSON: Well, I was in the room with the most significant whistleblower in U.S. history, someone who had knowingly put his life at risk, as is evidenced from the chatlog discussions from years ago. And, you know, I was dreaming of hearing Eugene Debs make a fiery speech. But, of course, that was not the approach taken by Bradley Manning’s defense team. And I’m not suggesting they were wrong. But the approach they were taking was to argue that Bradley Manning had not been in his right mind, had acted wrong, has since matured and is apologetic for his misdeeds, as they now characterize them. And so I had to sit through this discussion of Bradley Manning’s sexuality and his post-adolescent idealism, as if that were an illness, with not one word about the good he did the world, not one word about how the sentencing would impact him or the country, this almost irrelevant discussion of whether he was likable or unlikable and what sorts of stress he was under that could explain him doing this horrible thing, which, of course, I don’t think was a horrible thing.
DESVARIEUX: And the defense has really tried to stress his psychological state. And today the U.S. military released one of the pictures that was presented in the courtroom of Bradley Manning in a wig and lipstick. Do you think the military is deliberately trying to humiliate Manning? What do you think their motives are for releasing this photo?
SWANSON: I don’t know specifically, but I know that the prosecution’s efforts during the trial were to figure out any way that they could make Bradley Manning seem unlikable, even if they made no sense, there was no evidence, or they contradicted other such attempts. And so they attempted to maneuver the psychotherapists who were testifying to denounce Bradley Manning as a narcissist, as an egocentric maniac with delusions of grandeur and [incompr.] and so forth, with very little success, I must say. As far as the strategy that the defense chose, whether it was the right one or not, the exercised it very well and the prosecution came off as quite incompetent in responding.
DESVARIEUX: And in the courtroom as well, Manning’s sister testified, and it was a very emotional testimony. But you write that essentially that you felt like it was irrelevant because it didn’t focus on why Manning was there and the quote-unquote crimes that he committed. Can you explain that a little bit more?
SWANSON: Well, you know, this again was a question of whether he’s likable or unlikable, sympathetic or unsympathetic. He had a horrible, horrible childhood with a mother who drank alcohol through his pregnancy, who was a mean drunk every day of his childhood, and his father not much better, and his sister having to raise him, and then separation and divorce, and suicidal tendencies on the part of his mother, and just horror after horror. I mean, people were openly weeping in the courtroom. And so if sympathy helps, they did that very, very well. And Bradley Manning’s short unsworn statement immediately followed this testimony by his sister, which was accompanied by a slide show of photographs of his childhood, and it was quite moving.
But it had nothing to do with whether he is a heroic whistleblower deserving the rights of whistleblowers or whether he committed an inexcusable crime. And I don’t actually think that likable people should get shorter sentences than unlikable people. I think justice is better served by other considerations than that.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And lastly, David, in your judgment, what do you think are some of the biggest consequences that have resulted from the Bradley Manning leak?
SWANSON: Well, I think the information he put out helped to end the war in Iraq by persuading the Iraqi government not to allow U.S. troops to remain with immunity from criminal prosecution after having seen some of the crimes revealed by Bradley Manning. You have the testimony of a former secretary of state and other officials in Tunisia and elsewhere around what we call the Middle East thanking Bradley Manning for his assistance of nonviolent democratic movements that have in some cases overthrown tyrants. He’s a four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee because of the gratitude of nations around the world. I think—you know, former Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire credits him with helping prevent a Western intervention in Syria thus far because there is fear now on the part of many governments that whatever they do could be exposed. And that is all to the good. And Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the founders of this nation would have said that was all to the good. But the prosecution has its own deep impact, and while a few Edward Snowdens may be inspired, many, many sources are going into hiding. And that could be disastrous for a government of, by, and for the people.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Thank you so much for joining us, David.
SWANSON: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.