The Bradley Manning and Ed Snowden cases

Bradley Manning

The trial of Private Bradley Manning is underway – although no one would know it, it’s been kept so much under wraps. Manning, a 25-year old, is accused of having sent 700,000 classified documents to Wikileaks. Prosecuted for making public intelligence that could supposedly aid the enemy, this soldier could spend the rest of his life in prison.

In trying Manning, the US government is sending a message to every soldier and every journalist that they will risk their lives if they expose crimes committed by the U.S. Army. Pure and simple, it’s a kind of terrorism – prosecuting one young soldier to scare off all the others.

Manning said he took these actions in order to denounce the crimes, abuses and corruption throughout the U.S. army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Manning affair brings to mind the Pentagon Papers, which came out during the Viet Nam war. Daniel Ellsberg photocopied classified military documents and sent them to The New York Times, which published them. Some 7,000 pages of documents showed that the U.S. was losing the Viet Nam war because of its attacks on the Vietnamese population. They also showed that American leaders of that time lied to the population, just as Bush and Powell lied in 2003 at the start of the war against the Iraqi people.

Ellsberg was pursued for years by the American state. In 2011, however, when the papers were officially published, Ellsberg was celebrated as a kind of hero. Interviewed on the fate of Bradley Manning, Ellsberg declared that if Manning was responsible for what he was accused of, he was also a “hero.”

Ed Snowden

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is charging Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, with “espionage.”

What the U.S. government calls “espionage” is the fact that Snowden leaked hundreds of secret U.S. government documents that expose how much the U.S. government spies on each individual in the United States– that it collects, stores and analyzes all of our personal information. In other words, the real spy is the government. And its real target is the American people.

As Snowden pointed out, under the guise of “protecting” the American public, the government was gathering information that could obviously be used to attack people – whenever it wanted.

Of course, this kind of spying by the government is not anything really new. Various branches of the government have carried surveillance and spying operations against big parts of the American public for as long as the government existed. It is a government that defends the interests of a tiny minority, the capitalist class, against the working masses and poor. Even during times when there aren’t social movements and revolts by the working class, the government busily gathers information so that it can be used to crack down when social movements do break out.

Often, movements expose those efforts, sometimes by encouraging whistleblowers from inside the government and repressive forces to step forward. During the workers movement of the 1930s, the La Follette hearings exposed government spying on union activists. In the 1970s, at the tail end of the movements spawned by the black movement, all kinds of government surveillance and disruptive operations against millions of people were exposed. In fact, the government was even forced to admit the existence of its biggest secret spy agency, the NSA, for the first time in the 1970s, even though it had been in existence for many decades.

Obviously, the government is going to do its best to try to destroy Snowden and his credibility. It hopes not only to discredit the information that he is bringing out, but also to discourage other employees, who might also be shocked by what the government is doing, from coming forward.

After all, government agencies couldn’t function without hundreds of thousands and millions of ordinary people like Ed Snowden. What government officials fear most is that there are more Ed Snowdens, who begin to think for themselves, and begin to take matters into their own hands.

The piece above originally appeared as two short pieces in a US Marxist fortnightly publication, The Spark, June 24-July 8.