Manning, Apology and an Onerous Fidelity

Promises, and more promises.  First, of a punishment that would be over a century.  Then, a reduction to a punishment less than a century.  And then, sixty years incarceration with a hefty fine of $100 thousand., though this may well be trimmed to 25 years  All of this, for leaking information to a media outfit, history’s foremost moral vigilante in the form of Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks Party.

Bradley Manning did not need to apologise for his actions, to show remorse, but the depths of human emotion can be cavernous, even eternal.  Guilt comes galloping up after a decision is made.  Remorse follows.  Did he harm anybody by revealing evidence of unwarranted, vicious state violence?

When it came to showing contrition, Manning was already a battered man, not so much wounded as psychologically battered.  When it came to having his conscience pushed and beaten back into a box, he was already a legal husk of a being, a murmur of a grotesque legal system.  Survival produces the most extreme, and understandable emotions.

Manning’s defence lawyer has undertaken the habitual patching up for his client, though the language seems to be unnecessarily cosmetic, and even tactically accommodating.  It was always going to be difficult to do otherwise – for those with any sense about the effects of what happened with Manning’s material, there was always going to more “good” than “bad”.  He did his golden best; his employees did their dastardly worst.

Before the state apparatus, Coombs claimed that his client “had pure intentions at the time that he committed his offences.”  Then, Coombs went on to claim that, “At the time, Pfc. Manning really, truly, genuinely believed that this information would make a difference.”

Coombs went further to note the age of his client – he was 21 when he enlisted in 2007.  He had limited experience of either life or the military.  These pointers might be seen as great unsullied virtues: minimal experience of a life to be spoiled by an inventory of experience; little or no experience of a killing machine that will demand an outrageous and onerous fidelity.  Besides, as Oscar Wilde quipped, one can’t be young enough to know everything.

Really, truly, genuinely, Manning did terrify the socks of a sensitive power system so thin skinned about its behaviour it had to make an example of the morally awoken reprobate.   This is the gloss of idealism, the tender moment in life when the human finds solace in an effort to improve the world, notably one venal in its constitution.

A mistake to take away from Coombs’ address would be to assume that Manning had lost his value as one of history’s great whistleblowers.  It was ugly to read material in which Manning revealed the “mental pressure” that had ensued from the days of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.  But if gender identity disorder produces such acts of patriotism, a mass program of identity induction for the U.S. military might be in order.   He might have been confused, but in the sense of exposing an abuse, he was crystal clear and devastatingly lucid.

In such situations, like a confession delivered under torture, duress vitiates its value. The scapegoat must be punished to purify the collective body. The scapegoat, for that very reason, is deemed the shoddiest and weakest link in the disease of that body. It’s singling out is a revelation, an exposure of a sickness.  An attempt at eradication is, in many ways, a confession.  It was Manning who went right while those around him went wrong.  The body squeals as the sore is treated.

As Manning was going through the treadmill of torturous injustice, he was a reminder of the problems facing the U.S. security base, the establishment that has heavily clipped the body of human rights in the name of protecting rights.  His lawyer has been left to pick at the technicalities of punishment – a punishment not to exceed 25 years because the classification of some documents leaked would have expired in 2007.

It is left to those outside the formal legal process to continue the campaign.  Any project against the abuse of state power that does not make the protection and release of such figures as Manning is a hollow one.  The sparks and sparkles are already to be found in movements across the globe. Let them continue till they burn with a savage yet constructive fury.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: bkampmark@gmail.com. Read other articles by Binoy.