Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bradley Manning gets 35 years in prison, Snowden is on the run, journalists get harassed and you are being under surveillance for reading this article

In a recent news article I've read that Bradley Manning has received a 35 years prison sentence. I can't even begin to understand how to feel about this. On one hand, he was a member of an organisation that specifically prohibited what he has done. On the other hand, the same organisation was swearing to anyone having ears that it doesn't do what Manning revealed they did. The multiple levels of "law" that are apparent both in this case and the Edward Snowden case are sure to make even jurists scratch their heads. In cases where some guy is arrested based on a secret law, incarcerated and pretty much tortured in a secret prison then sentenced by a secret court, it all seems like an alternate reality. We've had people close their web businesses, then declaring they can't discuss why they did it because it would be illegal. Please feel free to read the links above, although that may well put you in a special category for US surveillance, for all I know. (OK, let's not be mean!)

The thing with Manning, though, is that he was a mere private, a kid. By the accounts revealed in the court, he was the product of an alcoholic mother and had gender identity issues, as well. He revealed some information (I will be discussing that in a moment), then he was pretty much caught and incarcerated. Do pay attention to the last paragraphs of the Ars Technica article on his sentencing:
During one period of his pretrial incarceration, Manning's clothing was confiscated every night, and he was then forced to stand for inspection by guards while naked. He was also prevented from sleeping between 5am and 8pm and not allowed to have sheets on his bed.
. Then they sentence to guy to 35 years in prison, maybe he can get out in 8 if he "behaves well". This is the story of a screwed up kid with a conscience that now gets even more screwed up. Of course, there is the possibility that he gets out of prison, writes a book, sells the movie rights and becomes a rich hero of the masses...

Then there is the extent of the information he leaked, information that was then published by another entity, Wikileaks, which at least in theory should have restricted publishing any material that exposed specific people to harm. Wikileaks continues to do well, just as the news outlets that published information like this from Manning and Snowden (arguably harassed by governments, but still in business), which for me makes no sense, since that should mean the publishing of those articles is legal. So the only illegal thing these guys did was give information that is legal to publish to publishing entities. It is hard to see this as anything else than punishing people for telling on you. I see it like a bad teacher beating children who told on him to their parents, bureaucratic institutions that are flexing their muscles when being confronted with even the idea of oversight. Can anyone explain to me how this is different?

Now, obviously the upbringing and psychology of the guy leaking government information shouldn't even be on the table here. What we should be discussing is what is reported in those leaks and what the effect on the people (and their serving government) is. However, that is way over my head. I can read reports of torture of an American private by Americans and be flabbergasted, I can feel disgust when watching the video of a helicopter pilot shooting dead a dozen people kilometres away because he thinks he sees an RPG, and they are actually reporters with a camera, but there are a lot of documents that were leaked, from foreign diplomacy and espionage on allies to reports of wrongdoings by army and intelligence entities. I can't claim to know enough about this stuff to make a statement, but as far as I can see, nobody really appears to know enough about this. It seems like the little government oversight we expect as people was missing to begin with. And that is what worries me. Stop making examples out of people who come forward with untoward things because you can't adapt to the reality of the people who hired you!