When the whistle is too big
Radley Balko recently noted the big fat Does-Not-Compute of Bradley Manning’s treatment while being held under non-violent charges (which the movement built up to support him is arguing shouldn’t be considered a crime at all), when compared to that of serial killers. The problem there is obvious, and Balko is completely correct to point it out. But then he says this:
I don’t think Manning is the hero some have made him out to be. If he had leaked information to blow the whistle on some specific government wrongdoing, I’d be right there with the people celebrating him. But this seems more like a vindictive, reckless act undertaken by a guy who by all appearances had a grudge to bear—not to mention some likely psychiatric problems. He did break the law, and because what he did was more of a petulant information dump than genuine whistle-blowing, I’m fine with him being prosecuted for the laws he broke.
This sounds like an awkward semantics argument to make.
A key component of the information Manning is being accused of leaking is the video of U.S. military helicopter pilots firing on & killing civilians, including employees of Reuters, in Iraq. The Pentagon saw nothing wrong with that incident. Unfortunately, the usual definition of whistle-blowing we work with assumes consequences — so’n’so has evidence that something happened that would undermine the business or institution they are part of, passes it on, and the perpetrators get punished. The information in this case, instead, exposed wrongdoing built into the institution, which is what was revealed by the barely qualifying as a shrug reaction to the depicted incident. How do you do the standard, accepted whistle-blower scenario when the damaging conduct is institutionally approved?
Obviously once the leak was linked with Manning he was going to be arrested. No one seriously expected the U.S. government to stand aside in the face of such a revelation about the standard operating procedures of the U.S. military — hell, to be honest with you, I’m somewhat surprised they’ve shown the restraint to not just kill him. The real issue boils down to this:
States attach legitimacy to their actions by invoking “the people”. What does it say about them when “the people” knowing what they just did in our names is considered so much more offensive than what they just did?