Chelsea Manning, the former US Army intelligence officer behind the one of biggest leaks of diplomatic and other sensitive (i.e. embarrassing) material in American history, is facing indefinite solitary confinement at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, brig where she is serving a 35-year sentence. Formerly known as Bradley Manning, before her decision to go transgender, Chelsea is charged with four “crimes”:
- Sweeping food off a table at dinnertime that “almost” hit a correctional officer.
- Asking to see her lawyer after being approached by said correctional officer.
- Having a copy of the Caitlyn Jenner issue of Vanity Fair, along with other “forbidden” books dealing with transgender issues.
- Having a tube of toothpaste inside her cell that was past its expiration date of April 9, 2015.
While this last infraction surely is heinous, the other three seem like pure harassment. Sweeping food off a table hardly seems like a very big deal. And what about the “forbidden” reading material, which, in addition to Vanity Fair, apparently consisted of I Am Malala by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a novel entitled A Safe Girl to Love, Out Magazine, an issue of Cosmopolitan that featured an interview with Manning, and the US Senate report on torture?
Okay, so Cosmo‘s “20 Meanest Things Celebrities Have Said About the Kardashians” is a bit on the subversive side, but hey, if we start censoring ourselves doesn’t this mean that The Terrorists will have won?
I don’t mean to trivialize the cruel persecution of Chelsea Manning, but these “charges” are something out of Alice in Wonderland: reading them one wonders if we’ve gone through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. These people aren’t even pretending to be fair.
The “crimes” of Chelsea Manning weren’t crimes against people but against the US government, i.e. they were acts of conscience that should be rewarded rather than punished. Nothing she did hurt a single person, except those persons in power whose hypocrisy and venality was exposed: not a single US casualty in our interminable “war on terrorism” can be traced back to the leaking of the materials that have been posted on Wikileaks via Manning. Indeed, the material that was released to the world exposed the very real crimes of our rulers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. This is Chelsea’s real “crime,” one for which she is paying dearly.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at another lady who stands accused of mishandling US secrets, including material classified “Top Secret”: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
While serving as Secretary of State, she violated US government protocol by conducting both her professional and personal email correspondence on her own private server. This alone is illegal, but her crimes don’t stop there.
When this unusual arrangement was discovered, she refused to hand over the server: instead, she separated out those emails she deemed “personal,” handed some over to the US State Department, and then erased the entire contents of the server – thus covering up whatever violations of national security standards may have occurred during her tenure.
So far, officials have discovered that at least four emails she turned over contained classified information. Two of these were deemed “Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information” – the highest level of secrecy in the government’s classification system. If you follow that last link, it will bring you to a heading that reads: “TOP SECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN.”
“Top secret” is just what it implies: this material came from the top drawer of America’s most closely-guarded intelligence. “SI” means “special intelligence,” i.e. intercepted communications of the sort collected by the National Security Agency. This category of intelligence is rated so highly that it is stored in a special facility, with precautions taken against any intrusion, whether physical or electronic. “TK” means the material was acquired via satellite. “NOFORN” means only American officials (with a need to know) are permitted access: no foreigners.
The “talking points” handed out by the Clinton campaign emphasize that the classified material wasn’t marked classified at the time she received it – a typical Clintonian “that depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” But this kind of intelligence could have had no source other than the NSA and/or the other intelligence agencies that collect this sort of material. Which leads to the conclusion voiced by one State Department official who told Fox News:
“[T]he intelligence community inspector general, who raised the most recent concerns about Clinton’s emails, made clear that at least one of those messages contained information that only could have come from the intelligence community.
"’If so, they would have had to come in with all the appropriate classification markings,’ the official said.
“The official questioned whether someone, then, tampered with that message. ‘[S]omewhere between the point they came into the building and the time they reached HRC’s server, someone would have had to strip the classification markings from that information before it was transmitted to HRC’s personal email.’ The official said doing so would ‘constitute a felony, in and of itself. I can’t imagine that a rank-and-file career DOS employee would have done this, so it was most likely done by someone in her inner circle.'”
This is starting to remind me of Watergate: did Hillary’s “plumbers” strip the classification markings from those emails? And what about Hillary herself: could she possibly not have known that signals intelligence and satellite imagery are always highly classified?
Hillary had her staff print out 55,000 pages of emails to hand over to the office of the Inspector General, which is in the process of reviewing them – but already we have these major revelations of wrongdoing, including possible felonies committed by some in her inner circle, throwing the possibility of her own collusion in the mix. The FBI has taken custody of the server: will they soon be taking custody of some top Clintonians – or even Hillary herself?
The answer to this last question is undoubtedly no. Regardless of what is revealed – short of outright espionage – Hillary Clinton isn’t going to face any legal repercussions. As Glenn Greenwald put it in what I think is his best book so far, With Liberty and Justice for Some:
“Those with political and financial clout are routinely allowed to break the law with no legal repercussions whatsoever. Often they need not even exploit their access to superior lawyers because they don’t see the inside of a courtroom in the first place – not even when they get caught in the most egregious criminality. The criminal justice system is now reserved almost exclusively for ordinary Americans, who are routinely subjected to harsh punishments even for the pettiest of offenses.”
Yes, the pettiest of offenses – like having a tube of toothpaste in your cell that’s beyond its expiration date.
Chelsea Manning didn’t mishandle signals intelligence: she gave Wikileaks, among other things, a video showing the US military shooting down innocent Iraqi civilians in cold blood and then laughing about it among themselves. Chelsea didn’t deny what she did when confronted with the facts: unlike Hillary, she admitted her “crime” and bravely took her punishment like a … woman.
Yet Chelsea is being left to rot in jail, subjected to the harassment and cruelty of her jailers, while Hillary routinely flies around in a private jet, lying to the American people and refusing to answer questions from reporters.
That’s “justice,” American-style, circa 2015.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.