If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor — Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 1984
On June 3, court martial is scheduled to begin for PFC Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of being the primary Wikileaks source, responsible for the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history. While the main timeline of the events has received international media coverage, and while the inhuman conditions of Manning’s pre-trial detainment have garnered high-profile condemnations, worldwide protests and fiery debates, the true farce lays in the U.S. government putting a man on trial for acting in accordance with the very same democratic principles, on which the United States of America were founded:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The famous words of the Declaration of Independence resounded in later democratic revolutions all over the world. Abraham Lincoln considered the Declaration the prism through which the Constitution should be viewed. The principles of the Declaration became the foundation of the U.S. political philosophy and American democracy.
This democracy had become so influential that it decided to share its “model of success” with other countries. The U.S. got engaged in “democracy-building” to help “failing states” in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, resorting to military intervention whenever it deemed necessary.
A young soldier ends up getting involved in the Iraq War and, as the prosecution rightly points out, voluntarily agrees to serve the interests of the U.S. He discovers, however, ample documentary evidence of systemic abuse of human rights by the U.S. armed forces, including killings of civilians, torture and false accusations and imprisonment of individuals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he has a moral dilemma: to expose the crimes against humanity or to remain loyal to his country. After an apparently emotionally heavy inner struggle, he chooses the former, fully understanding the consequences he is likely to face.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the U.S. was a co-author and co-signatory, states in Article 3, “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It is presumed by all modern democracies that this right is inalienable and the U.S. itself insists that the universal legitimacy of human rights prevails over individual national sovereignty in case of conflict of laws. Indeed, abuse of human rights has been persistently used in U.S.’s rhetoric as justification of military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, undermining the states’ sovereignty for what the U.S. views as fundamental universal rights. And yet, when U.S. soldiers were clearly implicated in murders, instead of investigating the crimes exposed and prosecuting the perpetrators amongst its own ranks, the government decided to punish the soldier who uncovered the crimes.
Not only does the U.S. give a chilling warning signal to any would-be whistle-blowers to remain silent, not only does the U.S. seem to believe that “all men are created equal” only as long as they are not Afghans, Iraqis or whatever other nation “potentially harboring terrorists,” not only has the U.S. violated national pre-trial procedures and international detainment conventions by keeping Bradley Manning in what the UN torture chief described as “cruel, inhumane and degrading” conditions — it has clearly shown its belief that the international law only matters for the U.S. so long as it is convenient and beneficial for its foreign policy. On other instances, such as the case of Bradley Manning, the USA, the self-appointed leader of the democratic world clearly tells the world:
There is a democracy the U.S. advertises, and there is a democracy the U.S. practices.
As Noam Chomsky put it, “perhaps the most dramatic revelation [of Manning’s case] is the profound hatred of democracy by the U.S. government.” Transparency, accountability and legitimacy – along with the well-informed citizenry – is what constitutes a strong, healthy democracy. By choosing to expose the ugly meaning of the USA’s beloved euphemism “collateral damage,” by letting the public know what is being done “in the interests of their security,” by risking his freedom in doing so, Bradley Manning acted as a dutiful citizen and an empathic human being.
Let justice prevail at this trial. Although following President Obama’s remark that “he [Manning] broke the law,” there is no reason to be overly optimistic. The U.S. government does not have to recognize Bradley Manning as a hero. The world can do so without its partaking. However, the U.S. government has to end this farce immediately, if it indeed still believes in the principles on which the United States of America were founded.
Picture Credit: United States Army