Friday, August 30, 2013

Keeping Secrets, or, My Manning Rant

Up to now, with the exception of one shared Facebook status, I have kept my opinions on the Bradley/Chelsea Manning affair in my own head or my own home. And even as I type this, I have no idea whether I will publish it.

When the news first broke that PFC Bradley Manning, who had allegedly leaked reams of classified documents, was gay, I groaned. Just what we need, the person accused of treasonous acts being gay. And worse, saying that he did it because he was gay.

Because as a gay person, I find that personally offensive. Being gay is not an illness, and it does not force you to violate the oath you took to defend your country.

And I felt the same way when he later announced that he was actually transgender.Because being transgender also is not an illness and does not force you to violate the oath you took.

So I was dismayed when I saw so many of my friends defending her actions, first on the grounds that the U.S. Government is some big, evil thing that is out to do horrible things. And "ha ha ha, we caught you and now you are pissed about it." And second on the grounds of Manning being transgender.

I'll address the second first because it is simpler.

In the words of Kristin Beck, the transgender former Navy Seal, "What you wear, what color you are, your religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity has no basis on whether you are a CRIMINAL or NOT."

I feel no more sympathy for her actions because she is transgender than I would if she were simply Bradley Manning, standard issue straight white guy. Because there are good and bad people of every race, every religion, every sex, every sexual orientation, and every gender identity. Did you feel bad for Jeffrey Dahmer because he was gay? Or did you feel bad for all of the young men he killed and consumed?

The second is about the work of the government.

I am an American Indian, so I don't see our government through rose-colored glasses. I have an ancestor who died on the Trail of Tears. I know our government is capable of and had done some horrible things.

And so I believe, whole-heartedly, in whistle-blowing. Absolutely, if you are inside the government and learn of wrong-doing, expose it. There are hoards of journalists (among whose ranks I used to work) who are eager to help you publicize it if the channels within your organization fail. And I believe in those journalists. I believe that they are a guardian of our freedom by helping to keep the government honest.

But that isn't what Manning did. Manning was convicted of releasing classified documents without regard to content. Without believing that any particular action needed to be brought to public scrutiny. (You want an example? Take the alleged documents Manning released on Estonia. You know what the Estonians said? They said, well, if these are real then the Americans are telling Washington exactly what they told us they were.) And that isn't whistle-blowing. That is treason.

Now maybe you believe the U.S. government should have no secrets from its people. And the government saying it needs to keep secrets is unacceptable. Certainly, it seems a lot of my friends feel that way. But if you do, you are wrong, and let me give you an example of why.

Each year, in every country where we have a diplomatic mission, we write a human rights report. This is what it sounds like, a report on the human rights situation in a particular country. And to get that information, we spend the year talking to human rights activists in those countries. And reporting back to Washington what we are learning in the hopes that the U.S. government can use some of its influence to help protect people's rights world wide.

The secrets we as government employees keep are not based on making sure you don't know but on making sure that only those who need to know something actually know it. Now do you feel you have a need to know  the names of those human rights activists? Probably not.

But say you did feel you had a right to know. So say we just wrote all about everything those activists told us in unclassified, unprotected reports back to Washington.

Great! Now you know a secret. And you know who else does? The leaders in those countries that are violating people's human rights. And now not only did you get the name of the activist telling us something, but so did those leaders. And while your level of knowledge went up, those activists' life expectancy went down. Also going down? The chances that future activists will talk to us, and the chances that we can try to do anything to help.

So when they say Manning's actions put people's lives at risk, this is the kind of thing they meant. But all that is worth it to keep the government from having secrets, right?

You know who else's lives are at risk? The American diplomats who are reporting on those issues. Because there are certainly people in the world who would like it better if we stopped looking into how they treat their own people.

(And there is a certain irony that a lot of the folks who are celebrating Manning as a hero also want us to do something to help in places like Syria.)

So the consequence of all Americans getting to know everything is that everyone everywhere gets to know everything. Even the people who are killing their own people.

And that is just one reason why we might need to keep secrets. That is just one reason why I keep the oath I made to protect my country and keep her secrets.

And that is why Manning is a traitor, without regard to her gender identity.

1 comment:

Rev Wes Isley said...

Was very interested to see your post and read your thoughts on the Manning case. And I agree on all points. In thinking about this myself, I feel Manning represents a type of person, if you will, one who suddenly finds they have access to power and simply wants to prove a point. She didn't seem to think about the consequences in detail or whether what was released was actually of any value; the point appears to be simply to prove that you can one-up the government. Has this happened because we're so interconnected? Or were people once more patriotic and trusting of the government? I don't know the answers, but it bothers me that Manning has become a hero to so many. I don't know that I agree with how the case was handled, but that's a different issue. And I certainly hope she finds peace with her identity and in her life; I wish that for everyone. But I still haven't heard any convincing argument for calling what she did anything other than treason.