Bradley Manning is no Edward Snowden.
And though both are accused of going public with secret government documents, the comparisons pretty much end there.
While Snowden’s revelations have touched off a painful but long-overdue review of the government’s excesses under cover of the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 laws, what Manning did was simply hubris.
“When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,” Manning said during trial. His “decisions” — while an active-duty Army intelligence analyst — were to give up hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks to expose what he thought was the U.S. military’s “bloodlust.”
So the 35-year sentence Manning got last week was leniency itself. With good behavior and credit for the more than three years he has already been held, Manning could be out in about 6½ years, according to his defense attorney David Coombs.
And in the end, the documents he gave to Wikileaks did little more than put fellow soldiers and others at risk. Manning digitally copied and released more than 700,000 documents, including Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables, while working in Iraq in 2010.
Manning also leaked video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that mistakenly killed at least nine people, including a Reuters photographer.
Manning’s lawyer argued his client had been full of youthful idealism and “really, truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference.” Indeed, Manning was clearly manipulated by Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
But it was shown that al-Qaida used material from the helicopter attack in a propaganda video and some of the material was found in Osama bin Laden’s hideout after he was killed.
Government witnesses also testified that the leaks endangered U.S. intelligence sources, some of whom were moved to other countries for their safety.
Dubbing Manning a “whistleblower” — someone who exposes government or corporate wrongdoing with an eye to righting a wrong or bringing lawbreakers to justice — is a stretch.
What Snowden did, however, was much more calculated and useful. Though the programs he exposed were legal and approved by Congress and the judiciary, the scope of the internal spying his documents exposed was a much-needed shock to the system.