Former US army serviceman, Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning who was found guilty of releasing the largest set of classified documents in history will be given Sam Adams Prize. Manning who is now in jail will be honored a ceremony in absentia for his revelations of the war crimes the US and coalition forces committed in Iraq. The ceremony will be held in Oxford University, prestigious Oxford Union Society on February 19. To discuss the topic in details the Voice of Russia talked to Beatrice Edwards, Executive Director at government accountability project responsible for the organization’s actions defending whistleblowers through the Congress, the media and the courts.
– First of all, thanks for joining us. Chelsea Manning has been given the Sam Adams Prize but will stay behind bars for 35 years, as we know which is practically for life. Can this prize somehow influence the US authorities’ attitude to Manning as the criminal?
– Well, it is improbable that it would change the court sentence that was given to Chelsea Manning. The award itself is given by civilian organizations representing retired intelligence officers. It certainly does though show how the public feels about disclosures of what happened, classified material that many of us should have seen or should have known, material that really wasn’t properly classified, and how the government reacted to Chelsea Manning’s disclosures.
– Could you give us a bit more details, actually your opinion about the sentence to Chelsea Manning, what do you think about it?
– Well, I think it is draconian; it is very far out of line with what other industrialized countries do in the case of a release of classified information. As I understand it, most European countries when something like that happens and there is a guilty party the sentence is two years, five years, something like that and in the US the sentence of 35 years for a 26 year old is as you said in your opening, equivalent to life imprisonment, that is a sentence that should be reserved for violent criminals who have done irrevocable harm to other people and I don’t think anyone would argue that that’s what Chelsea Manning did.
– Now, while general public mainly regards whistleblowers as heroes, well, they remain prisoners for the law, so objectively speaking, Manning and Snowden betrayed their country when they leaked this classified information. First of all, do you agree with that, secondly, in your opinion, should authorities punish whistleblowers all together?
– In answer to your first question, no, I don’t agree with that, and I think that the Snowden disclosures and the Manning disclosures showed in fact the two whistleblowers did not betray the country, the government betrayed our Constitution that we should not be guilty of human rights abuses, the US is a signatory country to the universal declaration of Human Rights and the atrocity is that the Manning disclosures revealed, showed that the government is conducting war in a way that the violation of the principles of the nation and then the disclosures that Edward Snowden made showed the US executive branch that part of the government that responds to the President is in a violation of the Constitution itself, and it is also in the violation of the first few Amendments to the Constitution.
We have constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech, freedom of association, freedom from search and seizure and the National Security Agency, which Edward Snowden worked for as a contractor is in violation of all those Amendments. So to call the two of them traitors is really to misunderstand the wrongdoing of which the government is guilty.
And in answer to your second question, the legal definition of the whistleblower in the US is a person who has a good, reasonable belief that he or she is disclosing fraud, waste, abuse of authority, illegality or a danger to the public and I think both Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden meet that definition, without question, therefore they should be protected.
– Thanks a lot for your opinion!