Approximately one week ago, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning's court martial began at Fort Meade. Among several charges he faces as a result of leaking classified material, Manning is being charged for violating the Espionage Act, a crime that could come with a life sentence in prison. Given that Manning is guilty of uncovering war crimes to the public, it is hypocritical and undemocratic that the military has chosen to classify such an act as treason as war crimes should not be occurring to begin with. Therefore, the U.S. military must not only carefully reconsider the charges it has files against Manning but it must also focus on revamping its policies concerning the justice system.
One Vietnam War veteran by the name of Timothy Gatto, who protested the war both on and off duty, makes several thought-provoking statements about his experience in the military. The two most important relate to the Army's strict adherence to military law and the Army's stance on keeping order. After explaining how he was demoted to E-3 for attending a party against regulations but then re-promoted to sergeant, since he had received the promotion before his demotion and his captain technically did not have the power to reprimand sergeants, he goes on to provide an interesting exchange he had with his colonel.
His colonel told him that as a soldier he "no longer had constitutional rights," and given that he was subject to following the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he also had to recognize the difference between a democratic government and a democratic army. The explanation that Gatto received is overwhelmingly reminiscent of the treatment that Pfc. Manning is now enduring. Manning, though deserving of punishment, is facing the hypocrisy of a military that by concealing information on war crimes, is in turn engaging in unlawful and undemocratic practices.
First, it is key to note that a disciplinary system is completely necessary and vital to preserving the military's continuity. Of course, the military has every right to reprimand those who violate their oaths to protect the country and follow military orders. Leaking government or military information could pose a threat to national security if the information is in fact related to peace and security and has the potential to work against the goals of preserving domestic and international stability.
However, in the Manning case, it appears that there has been no harm done to national security. In fact, Manning's decision to release footage and information on war crimes being carried out was a brave attempt at informing the public of the military's wrongdoings. Discipling Manning for leaking information is not necessarily problematic, however, the punishment he could potentially face simply does not fit the offense.
Instead of spending an extensive amount of time and energy figuring out the best way to maximize Manning's sentence, the military instead should investigate why these war crimes have occurred with such frequency and should make greater attempts to keep such atrocities out of the war zone.
While discipline is a necessary consequence for actions such as those of Pfc. Manning, the military must keep Manning's disciplinary action moderate at most. Bradley Manning's case, therefore, should not become one in which a man's patriotism is put into question. Rather, the case should be one in which the military does considerable introspection and decides to make structural changes to its justice system.