While much of America views Bradley Manning, the private first class who has been accused of leaking secret documents to WikiLeaks, as a traitor, he does have some defenders who consider him nothing less than a patriot.
“He was trying to help the country,” said Kevin Zeese, a member of the steering committee of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Zeese tells the story of Manning as a loss of innocence tale. The story of Manning, he says, is about “a guy who believes in America,” enlists in the army, and gets to Iraq only to discover that the country has, in Zeese’s words, “gone off track.” If he doesn’t do anything, Zeese said, imagining Manning’s decision-making process, he’d be “complicit.”
“So instead he decides to get evidence out to the media,” Zeese continues. Zeese went on to point out that he could have sold the classified files for a lot of money to unfriendly nations. “That’s what traitors would do.”
“Real political leadership,” Zeese explained, “would acknowledge Manning for these actions and use it as an opportunity to begin a debate on what kind of foreign policy the U.S. should have.”
“He’s a patriot. Not a traitor,” Zeese proclaimed.
Furthering the love-fest, MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan implicitly compared Manning to human rights activists on Monday, saying during a discussion about Manning’s situation: “They love to make movies about Nelson Mandela in South Africa.”
“He’s the guy who should be in the gallery when Obama gives his State of the Union speech,” said Zeese, “as a guy who really took risks to make our country better.”
It sounds as though Manning, who is currently being held in solitary confinement at Quantico Marine Corps base in Virginia, has come to be seen as something of a folk hero. But Zeese shrugs off such a description.
“I like the word patriot better than hero,” he said via e-mail. “If he did what he is accused of he took risks with his personal liberty, knew he risked prosecution in order to make sure the American people knew the truth about U.S. foreign policy.”
But the actions of Manning’s supporters seem to be driven less by a conviction in the morality of his actions and more by anger at the treatment they allege he has received since his arrest.
On Martin Luther King Day, Manning’s supporters held a rally outside of Quantico, protesting Manning’s treatment.
“We wanted to show the Marines that Americans knew how they were treating Manning and that they strongly opposed it,” Zeese said.