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Bradley Manning to Be Convicted on a Day of Significance in Whistleblower History

Courtroom sketch by Clark Stoeckley

A military judge is set to issue a verdict in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier prosecuted for disclosing information to WikiLeaks, tomorrow in the early afternoon. The verdict will come on the same day that America passed its first whistleblower protection law.

The law passed by the Continental Congress on July 30, 1778, declared that it was the “duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other the inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by an officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”

It was passed unanimously in response to a whistleblower, Marine Captain John Grannis, who presented a petition to the Continental Congress on March 26, 1777, to have a commander of the Continental Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, suspended after he tortured British sailors who were captured.

Hopkins, as Stephen M. Kohn, wrote in an editorial for the New York Times, that Hopkins “came from a powerful family; his brother was a former governor of Rhode Island and a signer” of the Declaration of Independence. After his suspension, Hopkins retaliated against those who had blown the whistle, including two from Rhode Island named Samuel Shaw, who was a midshipman and Richard Marven, who was a third lieutenant.

Marven and Shaw petitioned the Continental Congress on July 23, 1778, and asserted that they had been arrested and were suffering retaliation because they had done “what they then believed and still believe was nothing but their duty.”

The Continental Congress agreed and also went so far as to include in the whistleblower protection law that the “reasonable costs of defending” Marven and Shaw be defrayed by the United States.

Manning did not go to Congress with his information but had he gone to Congress it is a virtual guarantee that he would have lost his security clearance for trying to provide information to Congress that included evidence of torture and other war crimes. The world would never have seen the information he disclosed to WikiLeaks.

Not every one of the more than 700,000 documents he released contained evidence of a major crime, and yet a statement Manning read in court February 28 indicates his decisions to release certain sets of information were that of a classic whistleblower. Yet, he faces a potential sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted of “aiding the enemy.”

Take the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack, which shows two Reuters journalists being gunned down in Baghdad. The soldiers in the video known as “Collateral Murder” feature soldiers begging superior officers to give them orders to fire on individuals, who are rescuing wounded people. Soldiers also openly hoped a wounded man crawling on the sidewalk would pick up something resembling a weapon so they could finish him off. And, “The most alarming aspect of the video,” as Manning said, is “the seemingly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have.”

Consider the military incident reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, which he thought “represented the on the ground reality of both of the conflicts” the US was waging in those countries. In Afghanistan, the reports obtained by WikiLeaks and released as the “Afghan War Logs” showed an assassination squad, Task Force 373, was operating. It kept classified lists of enemies and went on a mission on June 17, 2007, to target “prominent al Qaeda functionary Abu Laith al-Libi.” The squad staked out a “Koran school where he was believed to be located for several days.” An attack was ordered. The squad ended up killing seven children with five American rockets. Al-Libi was not killed. [cont’d.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."