Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola
Mishawaka, Indiana, USA
March 10
Kevin Gosztola is a multimedia editor for He will be serving as an intern for The Nation Magazine during the spring in 2011. His work can be found on OpEdNews, The Seminal,, and a blog on Alternet called "Moving Train Media." He is part of CMN News, which produces a weekly podcast or radio show on Talk Shoe. He is a 2009 Young People For Fellow and a documentary filmmaker who graduated with a Film/Video B.A. degree from Columbia College Chicago in the Spring 2010. In April 2010, he co-organized a major arts & media summit called "Art, Access & Action," which explored the intersection of politics, art and media and was supported by Free Press.

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APRIL 22, 2011 11:05AM

Obama Condemns Bradley Manning's Contempt for Rule of Law

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Obama on Manning: "He Broke the Law"

At a fundraiser for President Barack Obama at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, a group of progressive supporters of Bradley Manning paid tens of thousands of dollars to attend and disrupt the event. Oakland activist Naomi Pitcairn personally paid for tickets so people from her group could attend . The group sang a song with lyrics they wrote expressing their disgust with the way the Obama Administration has responded to Manning's inhumane treatment.

Someone with the group also managed to confront President Obama on Manning. Obama's handlers may have been preoccupied because in this clip that runs about a minute Obama opens up about what he thinks about what Manning did.

"People can have philosophical ideas about certain things," President Obama explains. "But, look, I can't conduct diplomacy on open source." He then goes on to add that he has to abide by certain classified information rules or law and if he had released material like Manning did he'd be breaking the law.

Now, here is the remark that deserves the most attention: "We're a nation of laws. We don't individually make our decisions about how the laws operate." He adds, "He broke the law." Finally, before removing himself from the conversation, he says Manning "dumped" information and "it wasn't the same thing" as what Daniel Ellsberg did because what Ellsberg leaked "wasn't classified in the same way."

First, President Obama says Bradley Manning did it. It is not entirely clear that he did it unless you solely rely on the chat logs published by Wired magazine. Manning is the alleged whistleblower in the case. And, displaying this attitude that he is guilty before he actually is put on trial and convicted may prejudice Manning's case. In the same way that criminal and civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz suggested former President George W. Bush was prejudicing the legal process against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange when he declared "s "willfully and repeatedly done great harm" and refused to participate in an event with Assange.

Second, President Obama's suggestion that supporters of Manning's alleged action want the government to have "open source" diplomacy plays to the dominant narrative. Nobody thus far has suggested that all diplomacy be conducted out in the open. Why a number of people support the disclosure of the "Collateral Murder" video, the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs and the US State Embassy Cables is because of the extent of corruption, human rights abuses, backroom deals, lobbying for US corporations, spying, manipulation of justice, etc.

Finally, the suggestion that the US is a nation of laws and people don't get to make decisions about how the laws operate demands clarification. He may be right in the sense that the majority of US citizens do not get to make decisions about how laws operate. But, President Obama can make such decisions and has made such decisions. He can wield the power of the unitary executive and outright skirt the law. He can promote a culture of overriding the laws of this country as well.

President Obama can defy a judge's order, as the San Francisco Chronicle did February 28, 2009, when it filed papers refusing to allow lawyers for an Islamic organization to review classified surveillance documents related to their case. Obama can have his administration file a brief essentially saying, "This decision is committed to the discretion of the Executive Branch and is not subject to judicial review. Moreover, the Court does not have independent power" to grant counsel access to classified information "when the Executive Branch has denied them such access."

President Obama can continue to allow warrantless wiretapping in the country that explicitly violates laws. He can choose to not oppose the notion that a President can ignore Congressional restrictions on domestic eavesdropping and violate FISA by eavesdropping on US citizens without a warrant.

President Obama can take the US to war in Libya and embrace lawlessness. He can embrace the idea that the President is the "sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs," continue the "ideology of lawlessness" promoted by former Bush Administration officials like John Yoo and commit to the pursuit of a mission even if Congress chooses to pass a resolution restricting or outright opposing the mission.

President Obama can refuse to follow a court order and not release photos showing torture.

President Obama can choose to not take apart the legal architecture the Bush Administration set up to give them the authority to militarily detain without charge or trial detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

His administration can cite "state secrets" privileges and prevent torture victims from obtaining justice or compensation in US courts. It can push a "targeted killing" program that could potentially be used to kill US citizens suspected of terrorism, without giving attention to the legal questions raised by such a program. It can prevent investigations of officials who likely violated the law by pushing policies of torture and abuse in prisons.

Most importantly, he can have his administration aggressively pursue whistleblowers and fine tune the law so that individuals like Thomas Drake, who allegedly leaked information about waste and incomepetence at the National Security Agency (NSA) and Bradley Manning, become examples of what happens to citizens that choose to act out against government power and expose the system.

Contrary to what he suggests, if he thinks he can manipulate the law like the Bush Administration, than he can probably release classified information selectively to the media like Julian Assange and WikiLeaks has done as well. Former vice president Dick Cheney asserted in 2006 that he could declassify whatever information he wanted because of an executive order that granted the president and him "classification authority." Chances are the Obama Administration would be willing to suggest this order still gave them the power to release material (if necessary).

Ideally, the US is a nation of laws but in reality it is not. The Executive Branch led by the President of the United States can choose what legal restrictions to abide by and what not to and it can choose what violations of the law to prosecute and what not to prosecute.

Thus, Manning can become a captive of the American system while soldiers who committed the act shown in the "Collateral Murder" video walk free, while the superiors who promote a culture of inhumanity that leads to incidents like what is seen in the "Collateral Murder" video aren't held accountable and while former Bush Administration officials that engaged in lawless activity go unprosecuted.

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I am not a blind supporter of Obama, but I did vote for him and most likely will do so again. My complaints with him lie in his willingness to cave to the right far too often in the spirit of negotiation, a process they do not care about. However, Manning's actions put many, many lives at risk and delivered a severe blow to U.S. diplomacy around the world. Now, you can argue that there should be no secrets and that all information should be fully and open. If that's how you feel, I would ask you to please post your SS# and all your credit card/bank info in your next blog update, disclose how much money you earn every year and list any romantic liaisons you've ever had so you can share that with your current or future mates. My point is, that international relations simply are not an open book, just like our personal lives are not open for all the world to see. Manning is a vindictive little man who had some kind of personal agenda to disrupt the very government that employed him. He illegally stole and released thousands of highly sensitive files to a professional computer hacker who may have some proclivities of his own that could land him in jail as well. I believe that Manning is guilty of high treason and hope that he is successfully prosecuted for that crime. As president of the U.S., Obama shoulders the kind of responsibilities that the rest of cannot fathom. We live in a far from perfect world that can be corrupt, unjust, brutal and tragic. I think Obama and his administration are generally far more conscientious and respectful of our role in the world community than the past administration. However, naivete' is not a character trait we can afford to exhibit when dealing with restless world leaders and countless rogue aggressors around the globe. You and I may not approve of some or many of the tactics that our diplomats and operatives employ, but it's not up to low-level schemers such as Manning who have no concept of the ramifications of their actions, to provide the spark that could ignite any one of countless tinderboxes around the world.
A counterpoint to John:

First, it's been a mantra that the information that Brad Manning released jeopardized the lives of people revealed by his downloads. Unfortunately, I have yet to see one person named who was actually harmed by the revelations in the diplomatic cables. The Nation magazine has had daily data dumps of Wikileaks information.

Second, it is specious to say that international relations are simply not an open book, because they are. Given the ocean of open source intelligence out there along with a robust selection of commentary across the ideological spectrum about the goings on of the workings within and between countries, you don't need to have top supersecret intelligence clearances these days to come to some basic understanding of what's going on in any particular country.

While diplomatic cables should of course be classified, their secrecy value is actually quite short lived, and there shouldn't be any reason why diplomacy couldn't be conducted in a more open environment. The argument can be made that Manning and Assange did the world quite a favor by peeling back some of the hogwash that surrounds international relations. It can even be argued that the information provided was a catalyst in the Jasmine Revolution.

Lastly, while both he and President Obama are correct in stating that probably a whole slew of laws were broken by Pvt. Manning's actions, this does not negate the need for him to be treated humanely. And up until now, it is apparent that his confinement at Quantico was cruel and inhuman punishment. Kevin is 100% correct in criticizing Obama for his failures to abide by the Bill of Rights. Gitmo, preventative detention, etc. are dark stains on the Consititution.
If Manning did in fact leak classified information to WikiLeaks, there is no proof that he put lives at risk. There is no cause and effect relationship between the release of the information and the deaths of any individuals. A Pentagon official even said, “A Pentagon official, in the story, is cited saying, "Even three months later the US military still had no evidence that people had died or been harmed because of information gleaned from Wikileaks documents." And, days after the release of US State Embassy cables, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said “I've heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a "meltdown" as a "game-changer" and so on. I think those descriptions are fairly significantly over wrought.”

The only evidence we have to support the claim that Manning leaked classified information and is in fact the whistleblower is the chat logs published by Wired magazine. Unless you are aware of other evidence, we do not know he is in fact guilty. And so you make the same mistake President Obama did by prejudging the case before a verdict has been handed down.

But, let’s suppose he did do it. He is the whistleblower. He may be justified. He saw something that he found to be unjust in the “Collateral Murder” video and he leaked the video because superior officers did not care. He sent documents to WikiLeaks to start a public debate, a conversation on US diplomacy and foreign policy, and he succeeded. Newspapers are publishing the information and covering international news with details that, when known, can actually save lives and actually influence the course of events. Would the Egypt and Tunisia uprisings have unfolded how they did without the cables being circulated?

You “believe” Manning is guilty of high treason. That’s fine. If you choose to believe that he is a traitor, that’s your prerogative. I’m not going to stop you from not considering the pressures that one experiences when serving in the military. I am not going to ask you to think about soldiers like Iraq War veteran Ethan McCord, who appears in the “Collateral Murder” video and who was forever changed when that incident happened. I am not going to ask you to do anything, but I am going to pull out falsehoods people promote and you are promoting a dominant narrative that simply is not at all truth.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr. said on March 22, 1956, “Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face. But I left with a smile. I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime.” Bradley Manning is no Dr. King but, if we apply this quote to Manning, he may be proud of his crime, if he did it and is convicted. And news media and many citizens of the world are proud of what he did too.
By the way, I regard the line "I am not a blind supporter of Obama but..." in the same way I regard the line, "I am not a racist but..."
Great comment, old new lefty. One clarification (since I work for The Nation as an intern right now): The Nation has not been dumping information WikiLeaks obtained on a daily basis. has a blog by Greg Mitchell that provides daily updates on all things WikiLeaks. I help Mitchell keep it updated, actually. To be clear though, The Nation has received no cables, logs, reports or documents.

Again, good reply to John.
First, I don't know how Manning is being treated while in prison. If he's being mistreated, that's wrong and should be stopped. Also, I don't want to get into a drawn out debate on the topic -- not that I believe I'm qualified to speak to it in great detail, anyway. While I'm not quite sure of Kevin's own political leanings, mine are decidedly to the left. I do resent Kevin's comparison of my opening statement that "I am not a blind supporter of Obama, but..." to someone who says "I am not a racist, but..." I will reiterate for you, if it will help make it clear to you, that yes, I did vote for Obama and likely will again given the anticipated options. However, I am critical of many of the things where I believe he has fallen well short of his promises and our expectations. As for Manning, I have little sympathy for him at this time for the actions he took to undermine the delicate diplomatic situations that we face around the world. I would say the same thing if it were still a Republican in the White House instead of a Democrat. National security is nothing to take lightly. It's embarrassing that such a junior level member of the military had ready access to sensitive files from a remote location far from the Pentagon or any U.S. embassy. Kevin and the others have commented that there's no evidence that the leaked info has put lives in jeopardy. I would argue that we don't fully know the extent to which lives have been or might be endangered. Unless any of you has intimate knowledge of the world intelligence community, I suggest that you could not possibly have a valid opinion on that either. I simply believe that you are giving Manning far too much credit for his motives. I have seen no evidence that he was looking to expose terrible wrongdoings on the part of the U.S. govt. He had a ready taker in Assange who in my mind is nothing more than a computer hacker who is trying to go legit, sort of like a mafia boss that has a good front operation to launder money. Frankly, I'm not so sure that what Manning did was that much different from former FBI agent Robert Hanssen who sold info to the Russians. I think they were equally devoid of motives, except Hanssen profited more than Manning appears to have. So, does that mean I condone anything and everything the CIA or our other agencies might do in the name of protecting the U.S. and our interests? Absolutely not. We have been guilty of far too many illegal and immoral activities since WWII, often siding with the wrong people. But Manning didn't focus on any of that. He just took it upon himself to expose U.S. people and intelligence to anyone and everyone who might want to use it against us. Unless there is a torrent of evidence to the contrary, I'll repeat again that I believe Manning is indeed guilty of high treason to his country and should pay the price. If he truly is committed to whatever cause he was fighting for, then he should have expected to get caught and been willing to pay the consequences.
it's easy to criticize obama. i do wish someone would explain what good it will do, if it never results in action. what should we, the people, do, to get control of the government?
Unfortunately this seems to be routine for presidents; Nixon declared Manson to be guilty in the middle of the trial. Although I don’t dispute this example it should still have been left up to the jury.

If the USA relied much more on educational promotion or other non-military diplomacy and less on the military there would be much less need for secrecy; and it would work better. Furthermore if they weren’t infringing on so many people rights then people would be less inclined to feel the need to leak the criminal activities of the government. Classified laws aren’t supposed to protect those that commit criminal behavior yet they do.

Manning's alleged activities didn't do nearly as much damage as the activities that he allegedly exposed; in fact if he did it he did far more good than harm despite what the government seems to claim.

Also something that has received much less attention is the fact that they had to spend so much money to pull this stunt; if we truly had the equal right to free speech then this wouldn’t be necessary. Those that pay the most write the laws which corrupts the laws and makes them illegitimate. Under these circumstances the rule of law isn’t worth a damn.
Amen to this article, Kevin, and Amen to this in the comment before mine: Manning's alleged activities didn't do nearly as much damage as the activities that he allegedly exposed; in fact if he did it he did far more good than harm despite what the government seems to claim. Well worth repeating. If our leaders conducted war and other "diplomatic" efforts honorably, there would be no need for their deeds to be shrouded in darkness.

And Obama's contention that Manning's deed is unlike Ellsberg's is refuted by Ellsberg himself.
"If he truly is committed to whatever cause he was fighting for, then he should have expected to get caught and been willing to pay the consequences."

And those consequences should include indefinite detainment and probable torture?