Columns, Opinion

Modern Musings: Whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning are crucial to our democracy

The whistleblower Chelsea Manning was jailed for refusing to testify in an investigation about WikiLeaks, the organization to which Manning leaked secret military information in 2010, last week.

In a statement on Twitter, Manning said she resisted a grand jury on the grounds that she had already given grand jury testimony and because she is morally opposed to the secrecy and ethics of the grand jury system.

Manning and other whistleblowers throughout American history, such as Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg, have suffered attacks from those who consider them an enemy of the American people for leaking secret information to the public.

But what could be more undemocratic than the government concealing said information in the first place? How can we continue to fool ourselves that we are living in a democracy when we don’t even know the full truth of what our government is doing?

It’s completely backward to regard people like Manning, who put so much at stake to leak information to the public, as villains when they should be regarded as the heroes they are. Whistleblowers should be commended for their bravery and selflessness for trying to uphold the values of our supposed democracy.

The U.S. government despises when a whistleblower exposes abuses of U.S. power, especially abuses abroad, and their response hasn’t changed. Typically, they will try to call it a threat to national security, even when there is no apparent or immediate threat to our national security.

They did so when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was not a national security threat. The U.S. government claimed the same when Manning leaked intelligence documents regarding the U.S. army killing Iraqi civilians in 2010, despite not revealing any information that would put the military at risk.

The Department of Defense later concluded that Manning’s leaks did not threaten national security, but Manning had no intention of doing so in the first place. She wanted to make sure the world knew about the abuses and the potential war crimes being committed.

She purely had the American people’s interests — and their right to know what their country is doing — in mind.

“Let’s not hide missteps,” Manning said in a Guardian article published in 2017. “Let’s not hide misguided policies. Let’s not hide history. Let’s not hide who we are and what we are doing.”

The great lengths Manning went to in order to ensure Americans knew about these secrets, and the consequences she suffered because of that, should make her a hero in any American’s mind.

She spent about seven years of what was originally a 35-year sentence in prison before former President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017. But those seven years were still the longest amount of time an American whistleblower has spent in prison.

Manning, who is a transgender woman, suffered from being imprisoned in a male prison facility and attempted suicide twice in 2016. The fact that she is still being harassed — she asked to be confined at home for medical reasons but was refused even that — despite the commutation and her previous testimony and that she could possibly spend more of her life behind bars is shameful.

It is crucial, in the era of misinformation in which we’re living, that we encourage those with information the public is entitled to know to come forward and protect them from unjust consequences when they do. It’s clear that Trump’s administration does not respect journalists and regards them as a threat.

Consider the recent news that the U.S. government compiled a federal database of journalists covering the immigration caravan on the southern border. Consider that a child died from an infection she had when released from detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Consider that several pregnant women have had miscarriages in the ICE detention centers housing the very immigrants that journalists have been covering.

The government’s attempts to stop the leaking of information that makes them look like downright criminals is nothing new, but it’s every American’s duty to ensure that information comes out nonetheless.

That’s why we must stand by Chelsea Manning and ensure that she doesn’t waste more of her life away in a prison for acting with integrity and refusing to stand idly by while our country killed innocent people. We must ensure that people like Manning can remain free and unafraid to tell the truth.

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