Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A hero or a traitor?

If a member of the U.S. military spies on his or her country, then that individual deserves to be called a traitor. Pretty straightforward, in my opinion.

But what do we call that same person who intentionally releases classified information showing the military doing something illegal?

Meet Army SPC Bradley Manning. He purportedly released to WikiLeaks the video (edited by and embedded in this BBC report) that showed members of the U.S. military gunning down two Reuters journalists and nine other Iraqis. (Unless I am mistaken, no one from the military has been charged in the incident.)

Russia Today has interviewed one of the reporters who is following Mr. Manning's arrest. The reporter, Kim Zetter, says that Mr. Manning befriended a computer hacker who says he eventually turned in Manning.

Of course, the Pentagon is taking its investigation seriously, and it ought to: Mr. Manning is accused of releasing far more classified information than one video. In fact, the number could be close to 250,000 classified documents.

But let's return to the critical question: Is Mr. Manning a hero or a traitor? And for purposes of this post, let's presume he did indeed pass on the video and many more documents. In other words, and perhaps unfairly, let's call him "guilty."

If it had been one video, and if he had not been so eager to discuss his activities, and if it were possible to argue his motive was genuine, then you might be able to argue Mr. Manning was doing the right thing. (We'll set aside for now how favorably received your argument would be in the court of public opinion.)

But you can't make that case, knowing he shipped off perhaps 250,000 documents. That action doesn't make him a hero. It might not necessarily make him a traitor. He could be delusional, and I'm sure at some point a lawyer is going to claim Mr. Manning is suffering from some kind of mental illness that has cost him the ability to differentiate between right and wrong.

I doubt that will be accepted in the court of public opinion, but that's irrelevant. The court in which it does have to be accepted is deciding something far more important -- the guilt or innocence of a 22-year-old man.

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