A Plethora of Unsupported Statements
From back when WikiLeaks first began publishing the information given to the public record by Chelsea Manning in 2010 right up until now, statements have been widely disseminated by officials, media, and other commentators in the public ear, alleging ‘harm’ to the United States and individuals from the publication of the documents.
What this commentary inevitably lacks, however, is any supporting evidence. And this is not surprising, because there is no evidence that anyone has been able to come up with for such statements in nearly five years. And yet they continue to be churned out.
The latest commentator is Sean Penn, the movie chap, who, in this article, lauds Daniel Ellsberg as a ‘responsible’ and ‘very informed’ whistleblower (by contrast with Manning and Snowden), but apparently hasn’t noticed that Ellsberg himself is one of the most outspoken supporters of both Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, not to mention Julian Assange, who is singled out by Penn for even greater vilification for having the gall to have founded the media organisation – WikiLeaks – which published the information given by Chelsea Manning.
Even a cursory glance at what Dan Ellsberg has been up to recently will show that he obviously considers them all to have made huge, historic and overwhelmingly beneficial contributions to the world. So maybe Penn should listen to what his ‘very informed’ whistleblower (who was, himself, vilified in his own day, of course) has to say on the subject.
Prosecutors Were Unable to Produce any Evidence of Harm
After Chelsea Manning’s Court Martial in 2013, there is even less excuse for people to keep trotting this harmful ‘harm’ stuff (against Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and/or WikiLeaks in general) out.
Because Chelsea’s Court Martial demonstrated conclusively that there is no such evidence.
And this uncorroborated woffle is actually harmful, because, apart from the damage of such irresponsible hearsay to the brave individuals in question whose lives are already on the line, attempting to discredit such whistleblowing plays right into the hands of the elites whose wrongdoing was (and continues to be) exposed by the courageous work of WikiLeaks and whistleblowers; one of the few ways in which it is possible for the vastly asymmetric imbalance of power between the powerful and the powerless to be adjusted.
Sean Penn says of Julian Assange:
“I think he definitely needs to be brought to account, with the damage to diplomacy and the likelihood that there was life loss as a result of some of those things.
A lot of very important relationships are going to take a long time to retrieve.
These are serious accusations. They should not be made carelessly. Yet, even the less serious accusations – the ‘damage to diplomacy’, and the ‘very important relationships’ which ‘are going to take a long time to retrieve’ – are belied by the government officials’ own comments in the videos below.
And the far more serious charge of ‘life loss’ remains entirely unsubstantiated even by one death, as demonstrated at Chelsea Manning’s Court Martial.
However – and it is amazing that this always goes completely unremarked by critics – ‘life loss’ from the events documented in the releases – which publishing the documents aims to address – is, by contrast, not at all speculative, and on an immense scale. And for all that ‘life loss’, disgracefully, no-one has been ‘brought to account’, Mr Penn…
Despite US government prosecutors’ best efforts, they were completely unable to support with any evidence at all the infamous statement made by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2010, that Chelsea and WikiLeaks likely had ‘blood on their hands’, as this report from the Court Martial by Adam Klasfield of Courthouse News shows.
And in general, despite a vast US government interagency investigation, and having had nearly 3 years and huge resources to look into the effects of all the document releases, at Chelsea’s court martial the US Government failed entirely to bring any evidence of harm derived from the publication of any of the documents.
Chelsea Manning Court Martial Defence Video Exhibits
Moreover, as the recently published exhibits from the court record (obtained by Alexa O’Brien by FOIA on 4th April 2015 and published by her here) show, there are clear indications that top level officials did not, themselves, believe that the releases were harmful.
The statements on the videos below are from key individuals at the US Dept of State and Dept of Defense commenting on the effect on the US of the publication of the documents, including Cablegate – the 250,000+ US diplomatic cables that Chelsea Manning gave to WikiLeaks for public release.
The US State Dept Cables
These cables demonstrate, (as Chelsea said at the time)
how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective..
Through them we obtained specific evidence of governmental and corporate wrongdoing, and human rights abuses, and got an insider’s view on what Chelsea described as
crazy, almost criminal political backdealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises
They have been used repeatedly (and are still being used) by those with a concern for human rights and justice in the world, in umpteen media reports, and by activists (such as in the Tunisian Revolution). The unique picture they give of geopolitical affairs has been (and remains) invaluable as a public resource for anyone wanting to understand the background to significant world events, and/or to participate in the struggle for justice.
What We Learned about US ‘Diplomacy’ in Haiti
Wonder if Sean Penn (who, according to the article, has been involved in humanitarian work in Haiti, and is Haiti’s ‘ambassador at large’) knows about the cable that told us what the US State Department had been up to in Haiti, one of the poorest and most beleaguered countries in the world?
Because it is from Cablegate that we learned how, in 2009, the US State Dept shamefully backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.
From Chelsea Manning Support Network, on what we learned about Haiti:
Leaked diplomatic cables show that in 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince pushed then-Haitian President Rene Preval to come out in support of powerful textile manufacturers who sought to block a popular minimum wage increase.
These factory owners, who produce apparel for large brands like Nike and Nautica, had benefited from recent free trade agreements that had severely lowered wages and working conditions in Haiti.
A series of cables show that the US Embassy closely monitored the movements and activities of student protestors supporting the $5/day minimum wage bill.
The bill’s supporters had argued that the increase was justified in light of rising inflation and food costs that had led to widespread starvation.
According to the leaked cables, the U.S. delegation dismissed the proposed minimum wage increase as nothing more than a populist measure aimed at appeasing “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”
Ultimately, the U.S. delegation succeeded in their efforts when President Preval agreed to block the increase
Doesn’t such manipulative, unjust and hypocritical behaviour, which is hugely influential (as, sadly, we can see from the outcome), drastically harmful to the poverty-stricken, and vilely preferential to corporate interests, desperately need to be exposed? Or doesn’t this sort of ‘harm’ matter?
NB. For a much more detailed exploration of the ‘harm comparison’, see ‘Blood on Whose Hands?’ Jan 2012, by Chase Madar here
Five Videos and Transcripts
The commentary shown below from government officials clearly demonstrates that the hysteria about damage to the United States from the WikiLeaks releases for which Chelsea Manning was the source, is just that – hysteria. As Robert Gates, the then Secretary of Defense, acknowledged, the releases can more appropriately be called ‘embarrassing’ and ‘awkward’ for the United States.
The videos were used by Chelsea Manning’s Defence at her Court Martial as evidence of just such a lack of harm.
The first two are from the testimony of Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management at the State Dept, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Hearing on ‘Information Sharing in the Era of Wikileaks’ on March 10, 2011:
1.Patrick Kennedy on 10th Mar 2011
I think the State Dept, though, has avoided the chilling effect that you are/were directly addressing.
For example, if I might – during the period of time we had posted, as you all mention, some 250,000 cables to this database –posted to the DoD SIPRnet. During that same period of time we disseminated 2.4m cables – 10 times as many – through other systems to 65 other US govt agencies.
So therefore, while we stopped disseminating on SIPRnet for the reasons my DoD colleagues have outlined, we have continued to disseminate to the intelligence community system – the JWIC system – and we’ve continued to disseminate the same volume of material to these same other agencies based on their need for that information.
We do not hold anything back. This unfortunate event has not caused us to hold anything back – we continue to share at the same rate as we were sharing before
2.Patrick Kennedy on 10th Mar 2011
I can assure you that we at State remain committed to fully sharing our diplomatic reporting within the interagency with safeguards that are reasonable, pragmatic and responsible.
Then from Alec Ross (Senior Adviser for Innovation at State Dept, Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense) and Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State):
3.Alec Ross – Sen. Adviser for Innovation at State Dept on 23rd Jan 2012
The WikiLeaks affair? Is the State Dept still recovering from Cablegate?
Y’know – here is the big headline from WikiLeaks: WikiLeaks revealed massive right doing by American diplomats. I think what WikiLeaks demonstrated is that our diplomats are very good at their job – that what we’re doing privately is what we say we’re doing publicly.
So I don’t think that there’s much to recover from.
I think the US has nothing but pride in the work that our diplomats have done, and I don’t think there’s anything that has been revealed that should contradict that.
4.Robert Gates (Sec of Defense) on 30th Nov 2010
Now I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a melt-down; as a game changer and so on.
I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought.
The fact is govts deal with the US because it’s in their interest – not because they like us, not because they trust us and not because they believe we can keep secrets. Some govts deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us.
We are still essentially the indispensable nation, so other nations will continue to deal with us, they will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another other.
Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is this awkward? Yes. Consequences for US foreign policy? I think fairly modest.
5.Hillary Clinton (Sec of State) to the BBC on 3rd Dec 2010
Diplomatic Cables are not policy; they are meant to inform – they are not always accurate – they are passing on information for whatever it’s worth and I think most leaders understand that – and I have found no hesitancy and in fact I’ve had intense and very detailed conversations in the four stops that I’ve made on this trip.