Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reactions to the Bradley Manning verdict will be shaped by two misconceptions

Reactions to the Bradley Manning verdict will be shaped by two misconceptions:

• First, that Manning and WikiLeaks "dumped" hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables onto the internet. On Nov. 29, 2010, several media outlets reported as much:

ABC: "...making public hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables."

TIME: "...the more than 250,000 diplomatic cables dumped by the website WikiLeaks..."

NYDaily News: "The vast document dump that WikiLeaks unveiled Sunday..."

At that time, however, WikiLeaks had only released 220 diplomatic cables, all carefully reviewed and, where necessary, redacted. The NY Times was one of the few news sources to get this right:
WikiLeaks posted 220 cables, some redacted to protect diplomatic sources...
Yes, you read that right. The documents were redacted to protect diplomatic sources. On Nov. 29, 2010, many media figures were warning us that the life of everyone named in those 250,000 documents was at risk. That mistake is why many people still think of Manning as a traitor.

• Second, that Manning's leaks harmed US interests.

First of all, I don't believe that exposing wrongdoing harms a country's interests any more than the foul taste of medicine harms the sick. The good clearly outweighs the bad. But what actual harm, if any, was there? Here's what U.S. officials had to say, via McClatchy (emphasis added):
American officials in recent days have warned repeatedly that the release of documents by WikiLeaks could put people's lives in danger.

But despite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone's death.
Of course, it's not too late. Maybe in good time, Manning's leaks will lead to death and destruction. But as of right now, four years later, they haven't. Not one death has been attributed to Manning. If that fact were more widely known, would people still be celebrating his 35-year sentence?