Radley Balko Say It Ain’t So
RADLEY BALKO IS a good man, and thorough. The Agitator provides fantastic coverage of the depredations of the creeping police state, and is an indispensable daily read in my book. So it is a rare occurrence indeed that I would become so rankled by something published there that I would feel compelled to respond.
Balko wrote yesterday in a post about Bradley Manning:
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. [Balko]
My objection, in two acts:
1. What Manning has allegedly done is not a wrong.
The law being what it is, things that are illegal not always wrongs. What’s more, the law in this case is bullshit. The government made a law that says it’s illegal to reveal state secrets.* And the government reserves solely for itself the right to declare what is a state secret, regardless of whether its revelation would pose a threat to national security or not, whether its revelation will endanger specific people or their personal privacy or not, or whether there is any justifiable reason at all to keep it secret or not, even if the only conceivable reason for secrecy is the concealment of government crimes and to protect the perpetrators.
The government can declare anything of its choosing a state secret for any reason whatsoever, and protect its secrecy with the force of law. This is precisely the kind of carte blanche power Balko rightly speaks out against in many many other instances, as in the case of blanket search warrants to name just one.
Balko agrees that the state secrets law is unjust in some cases, presumably as when used to conceal crimes, but he presents it as a function of the leaker’s intentions: is it “genuine whistle-blowing”? Or a “a petulant information dump”? The government makes no distinction when it declares what is a state secret. Why should we make a distinction when evaluating a leaker’s actions?
In Manning’s case, I’d also point out that the information has not been “dumped” whether petulantly or not. A great deal of raw information was given to journalists, who in turn have reported on selected portions. I’m inclined to give Manning the benefit of the doubt that he saw evidence of widespread, systematic, “crazy, almost criminal political backdealings,” [Manning] and that this is what he wanted to bring to light. In my estimation this is not a wrong.
2. Manning is being tortured, prosecuting him now will be a farce.
This is the aspect of Manning’s ordeal we’ve been following here at The Stump. The evidence of this case, available to even an incurious internet dweller like me, viewed in light of this country’s past actions, practices and objectives, betrays Manning’s treatment in custody as torture.
Manning has been denied a speedy trial. He has been kept in solitary confinement in a military brig, just as Padilla was. For months, just as Hashmi was. And now he’s enduring a regimen of forced nudity, just as detainees in Iraq were as a common practice.
These are tortures designed to compromise the victim’s mind. To alter their personality. So it is especially disappointing to read Radley Balko, a hero for justice, speak in favor of the prosecution of a person who has been subjected to them. How can we be sure the Manning who eventually stands trial will be the same person who allegedly leaked the information?
* I don’t know from legal terms like “top secret” or “confidential” or about “clearance levels,” anything like that. For purposes of this post I use the term “state secret” as a simile for “information the government decides the general population is not to know.”