BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — The Berkeley City Council Tuesday night indefinitely delayed a vote on whether to bestow hero status on a soldier who allegedly released classified information to WikiLeaks.
Some council members in this famously liberal city said they were concerned about the way the resolution was written and wanted more time to investigate. Others said it was premature to hail Pfc. Bradley Manning a hero when he has not admitted to being the source of the leaks.
“My problem with the recommendation as it stands is we’re being asked to proclaim somebody a hero who hasn’t said he wants to be recognized as a hero, who hasn’t said that he did it,” said Councilman Kriss Worthington, who added that he did consider a hero whoever was responsible for the leaks.
“I think this should come back to us if he actually says that he did it.”
Manning has gained support from groups on the anti-war left who believe the soldier performed a valuable public service. Some politicians and veterans’ groups have labeled the soldier’s alleged release of classified information an act of treason.
Other councilmembers were less enthusiastic about the leaks themselves, and that the council was spending its time debating Wikileaks instead of dealing with local issues.
“Items like this are a huge distraction from what I feel like I was elected to do,” said Councilwoman Susan Wengraf.
The proposed resolution is the latest in a long line of provocative political statements by leaders in Berkeley, a city of 100,000 across the bay from San Francisco that was the epicenter of the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era.
The city put a measure on the 2006 ballot calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and more recently tried to declare Marine recruiters “unwanted intruders.”
The resolution proposed by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission praises Manning for exposing “war crimes” by allegedly leaking a 2007 video of a laughing U.S. Apache helicopter crew gunning down 11 men in Baghdad, Iraq, including a Reuters news photographer.
“The United States Army covered up the evidence and declared this war crime ‘justified’ and now claims that exposing the massacre is criminal,” the resolution reads. “Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime.”
Military investigators also suspect the 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified Afghan and Iraq war reports and an untold number of secret U.S. diplomatic cables onto a Lady Gaga CD and a computer memory stick while stationed in Iraq. Wikileaks published the war reports earlier this year and began releasing the cables late last month.
Manning has not commented publicly on whether he is the source of the leaks. But anti-war groups have rallied behind him and are raising money for his defense.
“We obviously think Manning’s a hero,” said Jeff Manning, a project manager for Courage to Resist, the group that authored the resolution as part of its mission of supporting anti-war members of the U.S. armed services. “If he’s going to have a shot at justice in a military courtroom we have to move more people to think the same way.”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has won similar support from anti-war groups, including documentary maker Michael Moore, as he appeared before a British judge Tuesday in hopes of getting released on bail on a sex-crimes warrant.
The Wikileaks controversy is reminiscent of the uproar in Berkeley over Marine Corps recruiters in the city’s downtown. A resolution declaring them “unwanted intruders” also was proposed by the Peace and Justice Commission, which is described on the city’s website as advisers to the council.
The council reversed itself on the Marine Corps resolution following protests by conservative and veteran groups.
At least one such group has already condemned the resolution in support of Manning.
“It’s tragic that the same rights and liberties afforded to Berkeley’s citizens through the sacrifices of our service members and veterans can be manipulated and exploited for such an absurd purpose,” Ryan Gallucci, a spokesman for the veterans’ service group AMVETS, wrote on the organization’s blog.
Berkeley officials have argued in the past that the city government’s penchant for tackling major geopolitical issues alongside potholes and traffic is in keeping with the diversity of the city’s residents, who come from around the world to attend the University of California, Berkeley.
But the city is also not shy about taking up causes that don’t deal with foreign wars.
For example, when the Rev. Jerry Falwell attacked the purse-toting Teletubby “Tinky Winky” as a homosexual role model in 1999, Berkeley passed a proclamation that read “Long live Tinky Winky.”