Pfc. Bradley Mannin and his civilian defense attorney, David Coombs, sit before a judge (Sketch by Clark Stoeckley)

There are people in this world who should find themselves in a position where they must sit on a witness stand, look up to a judge and make a statement pleading with the judge for mercy so they are not put away in jail for the rest of their life. None of those people include Pfc. Bradley Manning and yet that is what he did on Wednesday, as he addressed a military court at Fort Meade.

It was an apology for disclosing US government information to WikiLeaks. “I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States,” Manning said, as he tried to maintain his composure while facing the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind.

“At the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing and continuing to affect me. Although a considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions,” he added. “I understood what I was doing, and decisions I made. However, I did not fully appreciate the broader effects of my actions.”

He did not only show remorse before the judge but also that he was ashamed of who he had been and what he had thought at the time of the offenses.

“I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,” Manning told the judge. “The last few years have been a learning experience. I look back at my decisions and wonder how on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly [have believed] I could change the world for the better or the decisions of those with proper authority.”

Prior to being convicted of multiple violations of the Espionage Act, stealing information and other offenses, he had articulated the rationale that led him to select certain information for disclosure to WikiLeaks. This statement he made in court stood in stark contrast.

It was one of the last options his defense team probably advised him that he had, since he faces a potential sentence of 90 years in prison.

Manning was likely told he could go sit before the judge and admit that everything had been wrong because he was going through a bad period in his life where he was struggling with behavioral and mental health issues. He could tell the judge he learned from what he had done and had grown and matured while imprisoned and awaiting trial. He could say that he hoped the judge would see he was a different person than the one who thought he could change the world by exposing secrets. He could beg her to not give him a sentence that would keep him in a military prison for the rest of his life. So, that is what he did.

A statement like this was probably to be expected. He had pled guilty to some offenses on February 28 and his defense had diligently worked to have him acquitted of the more serious federal charges he faced. His defense had sought to present evidence of how government agencies had done reviews after the leaks and found little to no damage or harm had been caused, but the judge deemed such evidence irrelevant to the charges. His defense also tried to stop military prosecutors from preventing the defense from presenting evidence related to Manning’s “good faith” during trial, but that effort failed.

Making the kind of public interest defense supporters—and people throughout the world—wanted to hear would and could not have happened. Such a defense was not relevant to the charges, in the eyes of the judge, and so that limited the defense to presenting evidence about Manning that would easily circulate in the press and be used to attack his character, such as details on how he should have never deployed because he had behavioral health issues, how he was struggling with gender identity disorder while deployed in Iraq or how he had narcissistic, borderline and/or abnormal personality traits.

Rainey Reitman of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which has crowd-funded transcripts of the entire trial so far, addressed how Manning did not hurt the United States. She included examples of government officials admitting any damage to the US would be minimal and eloquently wrote:

Bradley Manning didn’t hurt us any more than a dentist hurts a patient when removing an abscessed tooth. The brief discomfort that resulted from the WikiLeaks disclosures was necessary to begin the process of healing and reform. It is a process that we do not yet know will be successful, but which began with Manning’s decision to leak vital documents to WikiLeaks. And for that, we owe Manning thanks; no apologies necessary.

There is no discernible American policy or agenda that Manning stopped the United States from carrying out. The “war on terrorism” continues with drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, despite what was revealed about how the US was undermining the sovereignty of those countries. The torture, rendition and killing of innocent civilians are crimes that remain unpunished and will never be punished, despite what was revealed on how the US obstructed attempts at investigations and concealed figures on civilian casualties in the Iraq War.

The empire still has somewhere around a thousand military bases around the world, and US diplomats continue to make what Manning referred to as “secret pacts and deals with and against each other” (for example, dealings around Edward Snowden). So, how Manning “hurt” the US is not apparent unless one thinks a blow to the ego of American superpower is an injury worthy of subjecting someone to decades in prison.

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Who should have had to plead for mercy from a judge or who should have to plead for mercy but will never find themselves in such a position because they are in a position of elite privilege or power that insulates them from justice? Or they were engaged in conduct that is an acceptable byproduct of war?

Frank Wuterich led a squad as a Marine sergeant that massacred dozens of unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005. Wuterich and seven others involved were charged with crimes for their role in the attack, but one was acquitted and six others ultimately had their cases dropped. Wuterich was the lone conviction and he was faced with no jail time after pleading guilty to one count of “negligent dereliction of duty.”

Wuterich and other Marines involved in the massacre should have had to look up at a judge and plead for mercy because they faced a potential sentence of decades in jail for killing civilians, but none of them ever found themselves in such a position.

A communications log from a United Nations special rapporteur that was released by WikiLeaks, as part of a cache of US diplomatic cables, revealed that ten civilians, including four women and five children, were killed in a raid by multinational forces (MNF) led by the United States.  Forces “approached the house, shots were fired from it and a confrontation ensued for some 25 minutes. The MNF troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them. After the initial MNF intervention, a US air raid ensued that destroyed the house. And autopsies revealed that “all the corpses were shot in the head” when they were handcuffed.

Soldiers and commanding officers who were clearly involved in the raid and coverup that resulted in the summary execution of innocent civilians. They should have to sit on the witness stand, struggling to maintain composure as they try to convince the judge to give them a second chance at life. But that will never happen.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who was the commander of US ground troops in Iraq, is believed to have issued an order, Frago 242, that instructed US military officers to look the other way as they gave Iraqi federal police prisoners, who would likely be tortured, beaten, raped or abused. It informed, “Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, ‘only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ.’

Manning revealed details related to Frago 242 when he disclosed the “Iraq War Logs” to WikiLeaks. From The Guardian, “A prisoner was kneeling on the ground, blindfolded and handcuffed, when an Iraqi soldier walked over to him and kicked him in the neck. A US marine sergeant was watching and reported the incident, which was duly recorded and judged to be valid.”  Another man was arrested on “suspicion of preparing a suicide bomb” and was shot in the leg and “suffered abuse which amounted to cracked ribs, multiple lacerations and welts and bruises from being whipped with a large rod and hose across his back.” Yet another man had “his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him.”

In all instances, the torture or abuse was documented but there was no investigation into what happened. Many incidents like this occurred, sometimes at the hands of a brutal unit known as the Wolf Brigade.

The commanding officers involved should have had to sit on a witness stand in a courtroom and beg a judge not to put them in jail for the rest of their lives because they were involved in looking the other way when people were tortured or abused. None of them will ever find themselves in this position.

A video of an Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007, where two Reuters journalists are killed along with other civilians, showed soldiers lusting for blood. Manning released this video to WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks released it as the “Collateral Murder” video. The soldiers in that video should have to apologize.

Outside of the military, former officials, who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, crafted the legal justification for torture and manufactured a case for war in Iraq, should have to face psychologists testifying on the stand and detailing the psychopathy behind what they did. These officials should have to apologize to a judge and their country for what they did and how they failed to understand the “broader effects” of their actions.

Officials in the administration of President Barack Obama, who have created the legal justification for targeting and killing alleged terror suspects abroad with drones or gunships, should have to face justice for what they have done. They have illegitimately expanded wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and even fired upon rescuers there to help those wounded or to clean up the carnage after attacks. These are crimes and yet it is a guarantee no Obama administration official will ever be in a position where they have to plead for mercy before a judge.

These are but a few examples. From the information disclosed, one could put together a roster of individuals who should have to face time for crimes they committed or have to at minimum give a public apology that makes them feel ashamed of themselves.

Any amount of killing, any amount of torture or abuse, any amount of covering that killing, torture or abuse up can be justifiable to members of the US military and the wider government. Revealing information on that killing, torture or abuse and how it was covered up to the world, however, opens one up to being prosecuted as if they committed a crime just short of treason.

That is because the forces of American power can only operate in the manner in which they do in total secrecy. Violating that secrecy makes the government vulnerable to scrutiny and restraints that might limit the use of force against individuals. Therefore, no matter how much secrecy or over-classification of information there may be in government and how that might breed injustice and totalitarian acts by the powerful, people like Manning, who react to their morals or principles (even when significantly troubled or stressed), will be made to suffer severe consequence including but not limited to humiliation, inhumane treatment or long-term imprisonment.