Having served in this country's Army for 29 years, I know better than most that America has enemies. I also know well the simple acts of courage and heroism that the idealistic young men and women of our military many times undertake. As the trial progresses for Pfc Bradley Manning, who is facing charges for providing information to the whistleblower website Wikileaks, there will be many, including in my own military, who will say that Manning's actions aided our enemies and hurt America. From my experience, I believe that Bradley Manning's actions were instead those of a brave and altruistic soldier.
I certainly understand the need for good order and discipline within the armed forces. However, Bradley Manning is not on trial this summer for disrupting army operations. Pfc Manning has already admitted to the material facts of the case against him in a February 28 court statement, and entered a guilty plea to 10 of the 22 charges he faces. The remaining allegations include "aiding the enemy," a charge of treason that could, if upheld, put this 25-year-old man in prison for the rest of his life.
However, his prosecutors have thus far failed to provide any evidence that the documents, videos, and cables leaked by Manning risked the lives of military personnel or civilians. In fact, no material proof has been provided to the public yet that the enemy actually benefited from Pfc Manning's actions.
Instead, the materials Bradley Manning's sent to Wikileaks reveal evidence of abuses of power and human rights violations perpetrated by U.S. military and coalition forces, as well as the Iraqi government the United States installed. Military logs released by Pfc Manning led to an investigation by the Guardian newspaper, which discovered the Pentagon's role in setting up Iraqi-operated detention and torture centers that were responsible for "some of the worst acts of torture during the U.S. occupation."
Bradley Manning's actions exposed those who would use the veil of classification and secrecy to commit crimes in America's name. To charge Manning with "aiding the enemy" is a dangerous over-prosecution of his case. As a former U.S. diplomat, I believe that threatening someone with charges of treason for wanting to give the public real facts about U.S. initiated foreign conflicts will substantially damage our country's image in the eyes of the world.
Like Bradley Manning, I too made a decision to act on my conscience in disagreement with my own employer, the U.S. Department of State. In March, 2003, I resigned from the State Department in protest of President Bush's War on Iraq. Since then, that war has proven to have been a costly, destructive mistake based on false information. Perhaps if we all follow Pfc Manning's example, disclosing that which is hidden, we will have a military that does not set up inhumane torture camps. Perhaps we can forever avoid a repeat of the tragedy of Iraq, and never again as a nation allow ourselves to be misled into war.
Taken in total, Pfc Manning's actions aided America, not our enemies. America embraces the challenge of defending on a global stage the ideals of truth, justice, and democracy -- to do so effectively, we must demand openness, accountability, and humanity from our own military and from our government. It is for these reasons that I humbly ask the army I faithfully served for nearly three decades to cease treating Bradley Manning as an enemy. Too few people who serve our government are willing to take personal risks in order to defend American ideals; this young man does not deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison for doing just that.
Ann Wright is a 29-year veteran who retired as a U.S. Army Reserve colonel and who later served as a U.S. diplomat in nine countries and deputy ambassador in four U.S. embassies. She is a member of the Advisory Board for the Bradley Manning Support Network.