In Defense of Bradley Manning

ManningChris Bray in The American Conservative:

In a short new book about Bradley Manning, journalist and civil rights lawyer Chase Madar necessarily and appropriately looks beyond the figure of Manning himself to ask how we understand information, how we perceive our relationship to state authority, and how people who serve the armed power of the state see their own place in its project. Writing from what often seems to be a leftist perspective, Madar nevertheless builds on a deeply conservative explanatory foundation in which political illnesses have cultural causes.

“The United States is an increasingly depoliticized society,” he writes, “and we struggle to comprehend the very concept of the political.” Our most urgent problem lies not in the nature of government but in the failures of civil society. The pathologies of empire and the national-security state grow from our own pathologies of thought and speech. This approach is familiar: it’s a republic if you can keep it, and we apparently can’t.

Madar is most successful at two points. First, he places Manning’s attempt to explain himself against the explicatory efforts of an exhaustingly banal news media. In chat sessions with a stranger on the Internet who (shockingly enough) turned out to be an FBI snitch, Manning is said to have written that he wanted to share “the non-PR versions of world events and crises” with his fellow citizens. Information, he wrote, “should be a public good,” allowing people to assess state action with something more than the information the state chooses to provide. Like Madar, Manning appears to have blended the premises of the left and the right, promising to reveal “how the first world exploits the third” in very nearly the same breath with which he compared his own alleged leaks to the release of the Climategate emails. However it varies in theme and perspective, though, Manning’s discussion focuses on state power and public engagement: what is government doing, and what do we know about it?