These, and numerous other uplifting terms have been employed in the promotional literature attached with “Hugs For Chelsea”, an album released in support of the recently freed Wikileaks supply-chain. 39 musicians have contributed tracks to the album, with 100% of the proceeds going directly to Manning to aid in reintroduction to society. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. has his name featured prominently in the press material, though all he could manage was a hastily shot promo introduction on his phone.
I see no issue at all with the activism itself. Artists are free to support those they wish to support. What I find baffling however is the effusive reasoning given behind the outreach. Graham Nash declares, ““Chelsea Manning is very brave and what she did was show some truth to the American people about what the government was doing in our name. God Bless her.” Tom Morello, former frontman of Rage Against The Machine, is quoted, “Chelsea, thank you for your bravery. You’re a true American hero and an inspiration. Welcome home.” He also suggests she should run for President of the United States. (May have a bit of an issue with a distributer of state secrets vowing to uphold the Constitution, however.)
Why specifically these performers, and others, praise the convicted former soldier is the mystery at play. The descriptions used and the framing of Manning’s actions are in stark conflict to the facts of the case — something that even President Obama was willing to sidestep with carefully chosen language in his final press conference this past January. Paving the way for the May 17 release from Leavenworth prison, The President explained the rationale behind his decision to commute the sentence of Manning:
- It was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers have received. I feel very comfortable that justice has been served. Let’s be clear: Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence.The notion that the average person who is thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think that it goes unpunished … I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served
There is a willingness of Manning’s supporters to downplay the acts that led to the conviction and incarceration of the former military intelligence analyst. Use of terms like “Leaker”, or “Whistleblower” is the result of either naivete, or willful obfuscation of the actions Manning undertook which lead to the court martial. Likewise the description of the sentence as “disproportionate”, or “unprecedented”.
A “whistleblower” is someone exposing internal documents from General Motors that show them fudging fuel-economy figures. A “leaker” releases details a company knew about pollution it caused in a region. With Manning we are not referring to someone sliding a few file folders inside their hoodie and sneaking them off a corporate campus.
Manning transferred a wealth of military intel. Over two hundred and fifty thousand diplomatic cables were delivered, as well as nearly 500,000 Army reports. These were delivered to Wikileaks who proceeded to make the military intel available to the entire globe. This is to whistleblowing what a truck’s backup alarm is to a nuclear launch clarion.
The musical sympathy offered up belies the breadth of the conviction as well. The military brought up 22 charges of espionage against the intel officer, and seventeen convictions were delivered. This cannot be explained away as overreach by the Army. More than half of those convictions were the result of Manning pleading guilty to ten charges. During the trial Manning offered up a lengthy apology for the actions.
If musicians elect to deliver an ode of support for someone reentering our society that is their prerogative. Telling me however someone is a brave hero for committing treasonous crimes against the state is a tune I’m not about to listen to anytime soon.