Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bradley Manning: Whistleblower Or Traitor?


We're going to switch gears now. Army Private Bradley Manning is now facing sentencing after he was convicted earlier this week of 20 espionage and theft charges for turning over thousands of sensitive documents to WikiLeaks. Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, but he could still face more than one hundred years in prison. We wanted to talk more about the case, which was also of great concern to many news organizations, so we've called NPR's Arun Rath. He's followed the proceedings for PBS's "Frontline" since the case began almost two years ago. Arun, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So let's talk about the substance of the case and then we'll talk about the fallout. Prosecutors argued that Manning's actions put Americans and people helping the U.S., including activists, at risk all over the world. In the course of the trial, what was the evidence of the consequences?

RATH: Well, you know, it's interesting. For the trial part of it, you know, presentencing, they didn't actually have to prove any damage was caused, just the potential for that damage. So there was evidence presented along those lines for the sort of things that say, you know, this famous - the collateral murder video. This was the Apache helicopter that attacked and killed several civilians. There was supposedly things in that that could've given some indication to our enemies about how, you know, we do practices and that sort of thing. The war logs, also, they're saying that these vast amounts of data that were released by Bradley Manning could've been used by the enemy to know the way that we approach things, the way we, like, scope out how IEDs are found and stuff like that.

MARTIN: OK, but there was never any evidence of harm...

RATH: No...

MARTIN: ...As a consequence of his actions?

RATH: ...They did not have to prove that. It was just the potential for that. Now, in the sentencing phase, that's where they'll probably get into that in some detail.

MARTIN: Now, the public debate all along has been whether Bradley Manning was a whistleblower or a traitor. So needless to say, we want to hear what he said his motive was. And is his motive a factor at sentencing?

RATH: Yeah, he said - and this has been brought up throughout the trial, and you almost wonder - because it's interesting, Michel, you know, it was never an issue whether or not he leaked or didn't leak. He admitted to it at the beginning. So the trial was almost, in some ways, kind of an audition for the sentencing hearing, I think. Bradley Manning said that he released this stuff because he wanted to trigger a debate in America about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He'd seen things that he thought were terrible and unconscionable, and he just didn't see that being addressed in the military. So what he wanted to do, in his words, was start a debate in America.

MARTIN: And did he start that debate?

RATH: You know, I have to think that he's probably disappointed because, you know, it doesn't seem like, in America at least, there was a big reevaluation of the war effort or anything like that. I mean, it seems like it's probably had more effect abroad.

MARTIN: And what about within the military? I know you've covered these issues for quite sometime, and I think it might be surprising to people to learn that there is often a great and vigorous debate within the military around a number of key issues. There's a lot of diversity of opinion...

RATH: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Around a lot of issues. What about around this, as near as you can tell? What about opinion within the military of what he did?

RATH: Yeah, you know, I've talked to a lot of soldiers and Marines about this, and like you said, I've encountered a wide variety. The kind of stereotype about the politics of the average member of the military is not entirely true. I've - people all over the political spectrum and, you know, wide variety of thoughts about even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their being justified. But when it comes to Bradley Manning, to a man and to a woman, I have not met a single active duty service member who has any sympathy for him whatsoever. They all just think...

MARTIN: Why do you think that is?

RATH: I think it has to do with the fact that they feel a certain betrayal, that Bradley Manning took an oath and he violated that oath and that this young Army private, that basically, you know, he - he broke this kind of sacred trust that they all take very seriously.

MARTIN: And what about in the public? What does the public see about this and has the public's opinion of his actions changed over the course of time that you've been covering it?

RATH: Well, he has a hard-core, of very devoted supporters, Bradley Manning. And these are people, they're - you know, there are some that are kind of at the far end of the political spectrum, but other people, you know - is, you know, fairly mainstream that do believe, you know, he was serving as a whistleblower, that it was justified - that he was morally justified in leaking these documents. And that was, ultimately, the argument that they put forward in court, that it was kind of a philosophical argument. He did do it, but he was justified morally because of what he was seeing.

MARTIN: What conversations are likely to emerge during the sentencing proceedings? And once again, this is a military proceeding, so will it be open?

RATH: There's actually - the sentencing is going to be probably more closed than - there were parts of the trial that were closed to the public. But these damage assessments that the government did - they did a series of internal audits among various government agencies, you know - the state department, the military - to actually measure how much damage was done by the WikiLeaks documents that came out. Those were largely classified. And so even some of the witnesses that are being called, their identities are classified. So that there's going to be a lot of what's happening over the next couple of weeks - next several weeks, as the sentencing phase goes through, that we're just not going to know about. We're not going to know a lot of what's going into Judge Lind's decision when it comes down to her sentencing.

MARTIN: And finally, this is something I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, that there was tremendous interest in this case by news organizations, not just as a story, but because news organizations also felt that they had a stake in some of this argument. Could you explain what that is?

RATH: Yeah, that had to do with one charge against Bradley Manning in particular, that was aiding the enemy charge. Now, a lot of people consider that to be a stretch from the beginning because basically the prosecution was saying, Bradley Manning leaked these documents to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks could be read by anybody, and anybody in this case included Al Qaeda, even though - Osama bin Laden, we know, apparently read some of these war logs and asked for them. And this gave comfort, essentially, to Al Qaeda. Therefore, through these series of steps, Bradley Manning, therefore, was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. A lot of people thought that was kind of a stretch, and in the end, the prosecution did not connect the dots on that for the judge, and she found him not guilty on that point.

MARTIN: Are there any further implications for the news media, though?

RATH: No, I think that investigative journalists on this are breathing a big sigh of relief, at least on that point. So, you know, Bradley Manning has some consequences to face, but journalism, I think, is feeling a little bit better.

MARTIN: Arun Rath covered Bradley Manning's trial for PBS's "Frontline" since the case began nearly two years ago, and he will be taking over as the new host of "Weekend All Things Considered" in September. Arun Rath, thank you for joining us and congratulations.

RATH: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Latest Stories