This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
The biggest WikiLeaks case in history came to town this week with a hearing near Baltimore for Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, charged with releasing hundreds of thousands of classified war cables. Manning says he was mistreated in the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., and wants the charges dropped. Kojo explores the standoff between Manning and the government, and the tension between national security and prisoners’ rights.
- Thomas Blanton Director, National Security Archive at George Washington University
- Elliott Francis WAMU Anchor and Reporter
- Victor Hansen Professor, New England Law, Boston; Vice President, National Institute of Military Justice; retired Army Judge Advocate General's Corps officer with experience as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, D.C.'s parking manager, everything you wanted to know about parking but were afraid to ask. But first, the case involves a battlefront video, logs and diplomatic cables from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the courtroom drama is being played out locally.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITestimony wrapped up this week in the pretrial hearing of Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of jeopardizing national security by handing over hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. The hearing took place at Fort Meade, near Baltimore. Manning argued that he was so badly mistreated in the brig in Quantico, Va. while waiting for his trial, that the charges against him should be dropped.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe government isn't buying that argument and made no move to accept his plea offer, one that would mean dropping the charge that could get him life in prison for aiding the enemy. Now, a military judge has to decide what comes next. Will the case continue to focus on Bradley Manning's confinement or shift back to national security? Joining us to discuss this in studio is Elliott Francis. He's a WAMU 88.5 anchor and reporter. Elliott, always a pleasure.
MR. ELLIOTT FRANCISKojo, thank you.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from George Washington University is Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive. Tom Blanton, thank you for joining us.
MR. THOMAS BLANTONA pleasure to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone from Boston is Victor Hansen. He's a law professor at New England Law, Boston. He's a retired officer in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps with experience as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. Victor Hansen, thank you for joining us.
PROF. VICTOR HANSENAbsolutely. Happy to be here.
NNAMDIVictor, why has this case come to the Washington area? Why was Bradley Manning held in Quantico, and why was the hearing at Fort Meade?
HANSENWell, he was assigned overseas in Iraq, obviously, at the time that these alleged crimes occurred, but in complex cases like this, it's not unusual for the Army to reassign a soldier back to a stateside posting while the trial is awaiting, and the Army assigned him to the military district of Washington I'm assuming primarily because this is where much of the evidence would likely be developed. The nature of the case itself involves interaction with other government agencies.
HANSENAnd so this was most likely deemed to be the convenient place for him to be assigned, and since he's assigned to the military district of Washington, the closest brig where he could be held pretrial is at Quantico. And one of the courtrooms in the area that has a rather large capacity and can handle the size of interest that's likely to be paid to this case is the courtroom at Fort Meade, Md.
NNAMDIElliott, you've covered the hearing at Fort Meade this week. What was the atmosphere like in the courtroom? Describe it for us please.
FRANCISWell, I have to tell you, Kojo, it -- in covering a lot of court cases over 25 years, you'd get used to the high drama of the interaction between the people who are attending and viewing the case, and certainly, some of the players who come in and serve as witnesses. This was quite a quiet courtroom possibly because of military justice. It's very respectful. Many of the witnesses are officers.
FRANCISThey have a certain decorum and a certain way that they act and present themselves, but that changed, of course, in the first week when Bradley Manning stepped to the stand to testify in his own defense. High drama as he described his treatment beginning in Kuwait in May of 2010 when, according to him, he was placed in a confinement in a -- I believe something south of a six-by-eight cell, and it's sometimes a cage.
FRANCISHe actually -- they actually drew on the floor the dimensions in tape, and he walked around those dimensions at times just to show the level of confinement. So that was quite dramatic, and, of course, he at one point donned the suicide blanket that he was given to sort of demonstrate the use of that and probably the -- how it didn't serve him well when he was in confinement. So that was quite high drama, but beyond that, the people who attended the case were mostly advocates from the Bradley Manning network, and they ebbed and flowed throughout the 10 days of testimony.
NNAMDIWith all the circumspect, huh?
FRANCISOh, much, very much.
NNAMDIVictor, you've said it's clear from the charges that the government thinks this is a very serious case. Manning has offered to plead guilty to seven charges of disseminating classified documents, but the government doesn't seem interested in a plea bargain. Why not?
HANSENWell, I think that they see this as a much more serious case. I mean the most serious charge is that they brought against Pvt. Manning include aiding the enemy and other serious violations of federal law, and they simply believe that his admission of just transferring over documents without admitting to the fact that in so doing he was aiding the enemy or had other serious implications on national security interest that that does capture the essence of what the government believes he did. And so they really have no interest in pleading this to a lesser charge.
NNAMDIThomas Blanton, remind us about what Bradley Manning handed over to WikiLeaks and what the fallout from the leaks has been since then. You can start with the helicopter video.
BLANTONYes, indeed. I mean it's hard to remember two years ago right now the headlines were just full of these revelations. New York Times every day was featuring more Wiki cables, the diplomatic cables. But earlier in that year, 2010, the so-called helicopter video taken by U.S. pilots in Iraq as an air attack killed a couple of Reuters camera people in a very controversial incident several years earlier.
BLANTONNow, Reuters had gone to the mat and filed freedom of information requests and tried to get that video released. And the government had stalled, basically saying, no, it gives sources their methods. Well, Bradley Manning leaked that video, as best we can tell, and WikiLeaks published it. And arguably, that was a kind of public interest leak.
BLANTONAnd that's not a debate we've seen yet in the Manning proceedings, but one expects, once the trial occurs later this spring, maybe we will. The other bodies of data that Manning apparently leaked from the Bradley Manning from the super net, the war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly, I think, are far more reckless as the leaks...
NNAMDIThose are the cables that Manning allegedly leaked. We haven't heard much lately about the repercussions of those...
NNAMDI...cables for national security.
BLANTONWell, particularly the war logs may have been even more dangerous, say, than the cables.
BLANTONThe cables were diplomatic exchanges and -- people at U.S. embassies around the world and their conversations with folks and not usually in war zones. The logs, however, included details on all kinds of what were called key leader engagements where local Afghan or Iraqi, say, tribal elders would speak to U.S. military folks about where the closest Taliban position was. And, you know, if the Taliban can get over the language hurdles, I mean it's one thing to be able to read English.
BLANTONIt's another thing to be able to read military jargon. It's a whole separate language altogether. But it's a minor miracle and probably attribute to some U.S. government witness protection program style interventions that nobody has actually been killed by Taliban or Iraqi insurgents because of those war logs leaks because they did name a lot of folks. But that goes to the sort of larger point.
BLANTONI think that -- at least the media organizations involved in publishing this leaked material I think did a pretty responsible job. They censored names like that. They tried to protect folks who were named and even the diplomatic cables that they were in a country like China where they could be thrown in jail. So even WikiLeaks itself, while it started as a bunch of anarchists wanting to throw all this information on the wall, turned out to be a fairly responsible media organization in these publications.
NNAMDIIn case you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. We're talking with Thomas Blanton. He is director of the National Security Archive. Victor Hansen is a law professor at New England Law, Boston. He's a retied officer in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps with experience as a prosecutor and a defense attorney. And Elliott Francis is a WAMU 88.5 anchor and reporter. That number again, 800-433-8850. Elliott, was there significant discussion about these cables or the logs in the -- or the video in the court case at all?
FRANCISNo, very little in fact and for good reason. Of course, this was a pre-hearing to decide whether or not Bradley Manning's treatment in Kuwait and largely the nine months he's spent in Quantico was in fact illegal. Remember, you cannot punish somebody in a pretrial setting, in pretrial confinement, and his attorneys maintain that his punishment was not only egregious but illegal. And because a person, of course, in military justice, as well as in civilian justice, is innocent before proven guilty, so they can't treat him that way.
NNAMDIVictor, does the government need to make a point of being tough with Bradley Manning to deter other potential leakers? Does Manning's personal story generate any sympathy for him in the military ranks?
HANSENWell, I don't know. It's -- I think that the military's response of charging the way this case has been charged suggest that they do want to send a message to others who might potentially be thinking of doing similar things, but also frankly, it's a bit of a black eye for the military to have allowed access to this much information, as Tom mentioned, rather -- in some cases rather potentially very damaging information with seemingly very little supervision.
HANSENAnd so I think the government is a bit embarrassed by that, so the military should be embarrassed by that. And so they're coming down hard on Manning and perhaps sending a message to others that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated.
HANSENBut I think that, you know, in some circles, I'm sure that Pvt. Manning personally his story might be somewhat sympathetic or perhaps more aptly put somewhat pathetic in that he might have seemingly been manipulated by WikiLeaks or others to disclose information that he really had no understanding or appreciation of how significant of an impact it might have had on national security.
HANSENAnd that might strike somewhat of a sympathetic chord, but it's hard to see a lot of sympathy from those within the ranks for this kind of conduct. I mean he's a soldier. He's sworn to do the things that we would expect soldiers to do, and that doesn't include leaking information like this regardless of his reason or his personal feelings about the war.
FRANCISYeah. Can I add, too, that's a very good point because many people pointed out that in fact some closer look might have been added to the government's role in this and why he was placed in charge of those sensitive documents, particularly when he was going through, of course, it has been revealed that he's gay and at some point, at one point in 2009, had even discussed sexual reassignment.
FRANCISSo he was going through an emotional turmoil that certainly might have brought to question whether or not he should be in charge of those documents and certainly might explain -- partially explain at some point why in fact he chose to leak those in the way that he did.
NNAMDIGot a question for our listeners at 800-433-8850. Do you think there should be a difference between a civilian whistleblower and a military leaker? An issue, we'll get to in a second, 800-433-8850. But before I go back to Thomas Blanton, Victor, a lot of whistleblower advocates are supporting Manning and comparing him with Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame. Do you agree with that comparison? Do you think it's an apt comparison?
HANSENNo. I don't see that as a very similar comparison I think for a lot of reasons. I mean, I think Daniel Ellsberg's situation -- I mean, he was very involved in policy decisions. He had access to a lot of information, but he also indicated that he'd made a number of efforts prior to disclosing information to The New York Times and others to try to get senators to disclose this information on the Senate floor to take other actions.
HANSENAnd he was making a number of efforts behind the scenes before this information was disclosed. That seems to me to be more of what we would expect of a whistleblower who sees a problem and can't get a remedy within the institution and feels he has to go outside of the institution. That was not seemingly the case in Manning's situation.
HANSENHe seems to be just somebody who's leaked information. I mean I think there's a difference between a whistleblower and a leaker, and Manning seems to me, at least from the facts that have been brought to bear at this point, is more like somebody who was just leaking information without even having much knowledge himself of what was contained in the information he was providing.
NNAMDITom Blanton, in your view, how and when did the media storyline in this case shift from national security to human rights and the treatment of the defendant? You clearly felt that there was such a shift.
BLANTONYes. I just remember this moment two years ago when The New York Times and El País and Le Monde and other newspapers around the world and even the TV news are still headlining nuggets coming out of the cables on issues like calling Putin and Medvedev in Russia Batman and Robin or the undermining myths of the Mexican drug war. I mean, there were revelations in there that were really pretty extraordinary in major news.
BLANTONBut there was a moment in about the second week of December two years ago where the number of reporters' and cameras clustered around the courtroom in London where Julian Assange was facing sex charges from Sweden. That number was roughly two or three times the number of media folks who were actually reading through the documents to see what was the real news, what was the real substance there.
BLANTONAnd I think Victor is making a very strong point about this, you know, what was leaked and what was whistleblower and what is the damage. I mean, one of the most striking analyses of the Bradley Manning leaked material was done by the Associated Press, where I think the reporter went through, you know, thousands of documents and said, well, Manning's leaks have unmasked yet another closely guarded fact, which is most of -- much of what the government says is classified isn't much of a secret at all.
BLANTONAnd one of the takeaways that I can see now two years later, I think the government is going to have a hard time making the case that there was dramatic damage to U.S. national security from Bradley Manning's leaks. But they've got in him in the military justice system, and, as Victor points out, they can -- they're going to, you know, bring the full threat, the full penalty against him because it's the way they're going to control their folks going forward.
BLANTONAnd they see him as reckless and irresponsible to begin with. But the larger question, what does it tell us about our secrecy system and whether this stuff really deserve to be secret in the first place? I think those questions aren't going to be reached necessarily and may not even be reached when he's on formal court martial.
NNAMDIHere is Evan in Cabin John, Md. Evan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EVANThank you, Kojo. I think there is a direct parallel. This is a modern version of the Daniel Ellsberg case. I mean, Bradley Manning -- and so I very much disagree with Prof. Hansen. Bradley Manning, among the stuff he leaked was stuff exposing war crimes, exposing our government lying to us, you know, doing dealings that were secret and, you know, couldn't stand the light of day.
EVANAnd that to me, this is just another case of the U.S. government being vindictive like they were in the case of Leonard Peltier. You know, and the government is just -- they're just going to do everything they can to destroy him. It's pretty obvious you pay attention to the facts of this that his incarceration was punitive. And that they basically amounted to cruel and individual punishment.
NNAMDIVictor Hansen, does your view of the difference between Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg have to do with motivation?
HANSENI think part of it has to do with motivation. I mean, Ellsberg seemed to be motivated more by a desire and a concern about what was going on with regard to the Vietnam War and a recognition at the time that the war was winnable. And that had been, you know, acknowledged by many senior leaders within the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, and he was frustrated with the inability to get that information, get that message out. I don't see any of that motivation behind Manning.
HANSENNow, to be clear with respect to the way Manning was charged in this case, whether he even did have a whistleblower motivation, whether -- and I don't think he did. I just don't see the facts that support that. But let's even argue that he did, that, frankly, is not a relevant defense these charges. I mean, these charges don't require him to have an impure motive or to know or not know or care or not care about the information he's releasing.
HANSENNow, obviously, some of the more serious charges, including aiding the enemy require that he had an intent or knowledge of this information would somehow end up in the enemy's hand. And I think that part of the case is going to be difficult for the government to prove factually. But, again, whether what his motive was for doing that is not a valid defense per se. It might be some argue in mitigation. But frankly, in front of a military panel to argue that, well, I did this because I didn't believe in the war, that's not going to carry much water in front of a military jury.
NNAMDIHere is Elliot Francis.
FRANCISCan I also say one other distinct difference too? Many of the advocates that we talked to during the court -- the pre-trial hearing hope that the parallel draws itself to the conclusion in the same conclusion that Daniel Ellsberg dismissal of the case. And that's probably not going to happen when you consider what Ellsberg went through. The Nixon administration was -- they broke into a psychiatrist office. They were trying to smear his reputation. That was later found out.
FRANCISAnd the government was charge with misconduct, and the case was dismissed. In Bradley Manning's case, the prosecution has only been able to show -- clearly show that the military may have overstepped their authority in detaining him so it doesn't rise to the same level. And I think conventional wisdom among most observers say that a dismissal of all charges in Manning's case is just not possible.
NNAMDITom Blanton, is it also significant that in 1971, Daniel Ellsberg was a private citizen not an Army private with a sworn obligation to uphold national security?
BLANTONYes, the Army and the security establishment overall has far more tools to use against its employees. And when you sign up for a security clearance, you do sign a contact, in effect, that the Supreme Court has ruled overrides your First Amendment rights. And it was in the Frank Smith case in 1979, '80. So you're giving away a lot. When you go into the security system, you are taking an oath to abide by those rules.
BLANTONAnd I think, you know, most folks would agree that there are some real secrets, I would argue it's a fraction of what the government keeps a secret, maybe even 10 percent of what's classified really deserves to be. But the government does have some rights to run a secrecy system that protects those real secrets, and that means swearing people the rules and requiring people to uphold those rules and being able to punish them if they break the rules.
BLANTONNow, where I think there might be more of a whistleblower motivation than Victor thinks is around the helicopter video which what seems to have been the first thing that Manning leaked where the government was covering that up. And I think wrongly and had stiffed Reuters and the freedom of information case and was stiffing the survivors of the cameramen who were killed and claiming it was secret because of -- it would reveal methodologies and technologies.
BLANTONAnd I think when you actually watch the whole thing, not the edited propaganda version that WikiLeaks first put out but you'd get into a very complex discussion of the limits of -- the rules of engagement, the limits of military power. At one point, yes, the caller's right. The video does show what, to most observers, would be a clear war crime where the U.S. forces shoot up a van that's hauling away wounded people from a scene. That's a war crime.
BLANTONBut on the other hand, the video also shows helicopter gunners holding back from shooting at a wounded person. And the guy -- the U.S. military gunner says, pick up the gun, pick up the gun, pick up the gun, trying to urge the guy to pick up the gun 'cause then he can shoot him. But as long as the guy on the ground doesn't pick up the gun, he can't shoot. It's an interesting -- it gets you into a far more sophisticated, complex and useful debate about the rules of engagement and the limits on military power and what are we doing in Iraq, et cetera.
NNAMDIA debate hopefully we can have in the future. We don't have as much time to do it right now. Victor Hansen, what would the government have to prove to convict Manning of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy which would get him life in prison?
HANSENWell, they would have to show that he had both the knowledge and the -- that the intent that this information reach enemy hands. And that's, you know, first of all, how do you define the enemy? It's not defined in the charges per se, which, you know, raises an interesting question. But in addition to that, you know, in the manner in which he was disseminated through WikiLeaks, it's a harder argument to make.
HANSENI mean, it's not like he snuck across enemy lines and handed this information over to al-Qaida or some other terrorist group or some other groups that we are fighting at the time in Iraq. He handed it over to WikiLeaks. Now, it certainly -- obviously does seem to be landing in the hands of those who would want to do us harm.
HANSENBut I think it's a pretty hard case to show for the government that that was Manning's intent, particularly in connection with the fact that he provided so much information. Again, I think that somewhat dilutes any argument that he was trying to specifically, you know, ensure that this information got into enemy hands. So that makes a difficult case, I think, for the government.
NNAMDIElliot Francis, what the conventional wisdom and, well, I guess what is your prognostication about how the judgment ruled in this hearing? It's my understanding she can grant Manning several days off his possible sentence for every day he was found or deemed to have been mistreated in the brig?
FRANCISThe prosecution actually admitted that he may have been held illegally for a number of days. That's still yet to be determined, but they want a one-for-one trade in credit for time served. Manning's attorneys have said they want three, five, possibly even 10-for-one, a 10-for-one exchange which would probably, depending on what they take off, could give him six years off his eventual prison time if, in fact, he is convicted.
FRANCISSo they think they're going to take some time off, especially after the prosecution made that admission. But it's hard to say right now. But certainly, all 22 charges against the -- against Manning being dropped, that's probably for our field.
NNAMDIElliot Francis, he's WAMU 88.5 anchor and reporter. Elliot, thank you for coming in.
NNAMDITom Blanton is director of National Security Archive. Tom, thank you for joining us.
BLANTONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIVictor Hansen is a law professor at New England Law, Boston. He's a retired officer in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps. Victor Hansen, thank you for joining us.
HANSENMy pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, everything you always wanted to know about parking in the District of Columbia but were afraid to ask. We've got the parking manager on hand. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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