Politics & Policy

Ten Liberal Perspectives on Manning

The professional Left is at odds with the president.

Yesterday, P. J. Crowley was forced to an early resignation from his post as State Department spokesman. His blunder? At an event at MIT last Thursday, he said that “what is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the Department of Defense,” and that Manning was being mistreated. President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s State Department evidently thought those comments went beyond the pale and eagerly accepted his resignation.

Afterwards, Obama publicly stated that he had “asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of [Manning’s] confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.” He concluded, “They assured me that they are” (click here for the Defense Department’s statement on Manning).

But liberal intellectuals and activists have gone much farther than Crowley. Here are ten perspectives on Bradley Manning, taken from mainstream liberal writers, activists, and publications:

1. By far the most outspoken, well-known, and influential defender is journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first came to prominence as a critic of George W. Bush’s national-security measures. Now, his Salon.com archive resembles a Google News feed for Bradley Manning. Greenwald is passionate on the subject. He has said that “Manning clearly believed that he was a whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives, and probably was exactly that.” Manning is for him a “national hero,” whose treatments “constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture,” which will “create long-term psychological injuries.”

2. Andrew Sullivan has closely followed and applauded Glenn Greenwald’s coverage. He writes, “There is only one word to describe the treatment of this model prisoner: sadism. . . . We all hoped that under Obama, brutal treatment of military prisoners and lies about it would end. In this case, they haven’t.” He protests the “firing [of] P. J. Crowley for the offense of protesting against the sadistic military treatment of Bradley Manning,” and warns that “the president has now put his personal weight behind prisoner abuse.”

3. Matthew Yglesias responded to P. J. Crowley’s ousting by saying, “in a just world this isn’t how things would be playing out.” He warns that to “hold a person without trial in solitary confinement under degrading conditions is a perversion of justice.”

4. At Motherjones.com, Kevin Drum has taken up the cause. “I’d just like to second Jane Hamsher, Mark Kleiman, Glenn Greenwald, and everyone else who’s appalled at the way we’re treating Bradley Manning.” In response to Obama’s claim that he had been reassured by the Pentagon, Drum snarked, “As long as the Pentagon says so, I guess 23-hour solitary confinement, forced nudity at night and during inspections, repeated awakening at night, and leg shackles during all visits is perfectly fine for a person who hasn’t actually been convicted of anything yet. I’m so relieved.”

5. In Dissent Magazine, Michael Bérubé laments that the “U.S. is still nowhere near the ideals of international law — witness our punitive detention of accused Wikileaker (a.k.a. patriotic whistleblower) Bradley Manning.”

6. In December, the city of Berkeley, Calif., seriously considered passing a resolution honoring Bradley Manning as a hero. Bob Meola wrote the resolution, and later explained that “if Manning is the whistle-blower, he is an American hero and should be released. Berkeley should set a courageous example for the rest of the country by acknowledging the good that has been done.” The iconic leftist college town eventually tabled that vote, though it more recently passed a resolution demanding the “immediate end to the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of Manning.

7. Chase Madar wrote a long piece for The Nation on “Why Bradley Manning Is a Patriot, Not a Criminal.” Madar argues that Manning “revealed clear instances of war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and regrets that “for bringing to light this critical but long-suppressed information, Pfc. Manning has been treated not as a whistleblower but as a criminal and a spy.” He envisions a legal defense of Manning based on the premise that he has “brought these wrongdoings to light out of a profound sense of duty to his country, as a citizen and a soldier, and his patriotism has cost him dearly.”

8. At the Huffington Post, Kevin Zeese, director of VotersForPeace.us, says that the treatment of Manning violates “basic American values of due process, fair trial and human dignity.” Manning “shows the true meaning of patriotism,” and is being “punished for seeking a more perfect union.” For John W. Whitehead, Manning’s treatment shows that America is no longer “something more than a warring military empire.”

9. Adam Serwer has been The American Prospect’s man on the case. After P. J. Crowley’s sacking, he wrote, “These events do not inspire confidence in the administration’s approach, instead evoking disquieting memories of the past administration.” And Scott Lemieux adds that the treatment of Manning constitutes torture and a “disgraceful, ongoing violation of human rights.” And, he comments, “Barack Obama’s record on civil liberties arguably constitutes the worst part of his tenure so far.”

10. Finally, there’s a notable (though not surprising) exception: The New Republic, though not endorsing the treatment of Bradley Manning or Crowley’s ouster, has devoted most of the ink it’s used on Manning to emphasizing the threat posed to national security, and America’s formerly covert friends overseas, by his alleged leaks.

This doesn’t include other, non-political groups that have sprung to Manning’s defense, like WikiLeaks and legal-defense funds. The above are the mainstream, influential liberal outlets that help refine the Left’s policy consensus. Many of the same were apoplectic about George W. Bush’s origination of the PATRIOT Act, the detention centers at Guantanamo Bay, and the prosecution of its residents by military tribunal. But Obama has extended W.’s policies on all three — and now he’s accepted the treatment of Bradley Manning, and ousted its critics, to their dismay.

Maybe the liberal intellectuals are right, or maybe President Obama is. But how in good conscience can they continue to support him?

— Matthew Shaffer is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.


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