News & Events

Ethel & Julius Rosenberg and Bradley Manning: A Question of Loyalty

Submitted by Robert Meeropol on Thu, 12/22/2011 - 11:23

The case of Private Bradley Manning, accused of being the source of Wikileaks’ massive outing of “secret” United States diplomatic information, is back in the news. He is now in the midst of a procedural hearing (technically called an Article 32 hearing) to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a Court Martial (see for additional information). Last week I asked whether the conditions of Manning’s confinement and that of so many other post-9/11 defendants undermined the right of any domestic judicial institution (military or civilian) to sit in judgment of these defendants (read the blog here).

This week we learned that the defense strategy appears to focus on Manning’s “gender identity disorder,” rather than attacking the conditions of his confinement or explaining the justification for his actions. I’m not sure where this is going and will refrain from commenting on it at this time. Instead, I’d like to respond to a very thoughtful comment to my last blog. I quote the pertinent part below:

“Bradley Manning is someone who became aware of the criminal reality of what the US military was doing in Iraq. It is alleged that, as a result of his awareness, he chose to make the body of information at his disposal--which included the so-called "Collateral Murder" video of helicopter gunship crewmen laughingly killing Iraqi civilians--available to Wikileaks.”

The Executive Branch of our government is dealing with Bradley Manning as a disloyal soldier who betrayed his country. Army prosecutors want to treat Manning as a spy who provided vital support to the enemy by revealing our secrets. Similar governmental action in my parents’ case 60 years ago, and talk of charging Manning with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 (the act my parents were convicted of violating), invites comparisons to my parents’ case.

One distinction between my parents’ case and Manning’s jumps out immediately. While it wasn’t the secret of the atomic bomb, and while my mother gave away no secrets, my father did facilitate the passing of secret information to the Soviet Union in the 1940’s. [An overview of the Rosenberg Case with this new information is available here.] If Bradley Manning did what is alleged, rather than stealthily transferring data from one country to another, he shared government secrets with the American people and the world.

The question of loyalty is central to both cases, but I believe it is very poorly understood. Some Americans view Ethel and Julius Rosenberg as traitors. These people believe my parents elevated the interests of the Soviet Union above those of their own country while we were enemies, and for that they deserved to die. My parents, however, did not believe they were placing the interests of the USSR above those of the USA. They considered themselves loyal to the working class, which they saw as synonymous with the vast majority of the American people (the 99% in today’s parlance). Their affinity for the Soviet Union stemmed from their belief that the USSR was the champion of the working class and, therefore, had to be defended. We now know such allegiance was misplaced, but it explains why my father could consider himself a loyal American while providing the USSR with secret military information. He valued his fellow citizens, even though he did not support many of his government’s policies

I can only speculate about Manning’s motivations (assuming he acted as our Government says he did), but making secrets public is qualitatively different from transferring secrets from one nation to another. Rather than disloyalty, this could reflect a belief in principles that transcend national boundaries. The information published by Wikileaks is now available to other governments, both friend and foe, but more importantly, THEY ARE NO LONGER SECRETS. They are available to people worldwide.

Perhaps Manning’s actions reflect a commitment to humanity as a whole. I hope that is the case. I think the concept of “my country right or wrong” in opposition to other countries, at a time when many nations in our over-crowded world bristle with weapons of mass destruction, threatens the security of every man, woman and child on the planet.

My parents placed their faith in a nation they felt represented the interests of the vast majority of the world’s people. I think they were misguided. I’ve come to believe that while some countries are a lot better than others, none have evolved to the point where they deserve uncritical support. While I do not reflexively reject the application of all state power, my primary identification is with humanity as a whole. Although, this year I might adjust that figure down a notch to 99%.

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Nice post Robby. I have a feeling that if Manning leaked info, he did so out of humanitarian concerns. I'm very concerned about the potential ramifications of his defense strategy, however, which could serve to discredit him or legitimize the government's attempts to criminalize whistleblowing. His decision to take this route may be a result of his isolation, subjection to massive intimidation and psychological torture, as well as his lack of previous strong connections with progressive movements. We still need to support him though, and discuss these issues in productive ways. -Dan

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/26/2011 - 10:12

Dear Dan,

I share your concerns, but am holding back for the moment. I think we need to remain as supportive as possible, monitor the situation closely and beware of anything we read that is filtered by the mainstream media.


In Glenn Greenwald's column on entitled The Intellectual Cowardice of Bradley Manning's critics…

Manning is quoted saying “i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Further current information on Bradley's trial can be found at Bradley manning Support Network

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/03/2012 - 14:34

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