PFC Bradley Manning
Photo By United States Army [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
On February 1, 2013, Private First Class Bradley Manning was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize by the parliamentary group of The Movement in the Icelandic Parliament, the Pirates of the EU and former Secretary of State in Tunisia for Sport & Youth. To those unaware of the circumstances this may come as perplexing news, while on the other hand, for those who are aware of the effects that whistleblowers have on human rights, it may seem well deserved.
PFC Bradley Manning has been in military custody (under questionable conditions) for more than two years, after leaking confidential material to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Besides bringing to light a video of American soldiers mowing down a Reuters journalist (and other civilians), the leaked material has been claimed to fuel a number of democratic uprisings globally. PFC Manning has pleaded guilty to 10 charges relating to misuse of information which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but has pleaded not guilty to the charges of “aiding the enemy”. In order to put the Manning situation in perspective, it may help to take a look briefly at the circumstances of other government whistleblowers.
Peter Buxtun leaked information to the Washington Star on the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, a program which took place from 1932 to 1972. During this experiment, poor African American sharecroppers from Alabama were experimented on for syphilis, while never being told about it or treated, but promised free health care in exchange. While working for the United States Public Health Service, Buxton learned of the experiment through co-workers. He filed numerous complaints which were ruled irrelevant or incomplete, but after handing the information over to the Washington Star in 1972, the experiment was terminated. Buxtun’s information resulted in major changes in U.S. law and regulation which included obtaining consent for clinical studies.
Katharine Teresa Gun leaked information to the Observer that was to be used to push the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the beginning of the year, Gun received an email from an official with the USA National Security Agency with a request for assistance in eavesdropping or planting “bugs” in the offices of the United Nations, which presumably were the offices of nations which would determine if the invasion of Iraq were approved. Gun was terminated from her employment with GCHQ and later charged with an offense under the Official Secrets Act of 1989. The case was later dropped for lack of evidence although it was rumored to have only been dropped so that the defense would not have to disclose government records. Gun later received the Sam Adams Award for leaking the information.
In 1997, Christophe Meili was given asylum in the United States when Swiss authorities sought his arrest for leaking information that Union Bank of Switzerland planned to destroy Holocaust victims’ records of savings. The bank was required to return the savings to the heirs of the victims but it was discovered by Meili that UBS was instead destroying documentation of credit balances and books from the German Reichsbank, which listed stock accounts and real estate records taken by the Nazis. Meili took some of the books home and then turned them over to the Hebrew Congregation of Zurich. Meili was accused of violating Swiss laws on banking secrecy, which is a prosecutable offense in Switzerland.
If we can agree that whistleblowers are necessary, then we may have to consider how we treat those who choose to share secrets. One only has to imagine where we might be without the information that various whistleblowers throughout history have first been condemned for, and later rewarded. At some point, it may be in our best interests to determine whether silencing whistleblowers with threats of prison and death are in the end, worth it.