By John C. Osborn
The Berkeley City Council voted last night to table a controversial resolution calling for the release of alleged military whistle blower Private Bradley Manning from military prison and to honor him as a hero if he did leak sensitive information to WikiLeaks.
Virtually all council members and Mayor Tom Bates voted to table the resolution, while District 3 Councilman Max Anderson abstained. By tabling the motion, any council member can bring the issue back for consideration at a future date.
“We’ve gotten to the point in this country,” Anderson said, “where heroes are designed by job category, not action.”
The move to ultimately table the resolution stemmed from what a number of council members saw as a lack of certainty as to whether Manning was, in fact, the WikiLeaks whistle blower and if he was, what his motives were. That aside, comments from both the public and council expressed the complexity of the issue at hand, where values of transparency, open government, and the need for state secrecy collided into a volatile soup.
Berkeley had been thrust into the international spotlight since its Peace and Justice Commission passed a resolution that called Manning a hero. While the commission adopted the measure on Nov. 1, it only became public a month later, soon after WikiLeaks had released another batch of sensitive U.S. documents. The revelation of what many consider government secrets, the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on sexual assault charges, and Berkeley’s resolution, created a huge media storm.
The resolution asked that the council formally urge the U.S. government to release Manning and drop all charges against him; and if it is discovered that Manning did, in fact, leak the 2007 “Collateral Murder” video, among other leaks, the council would declare him a hero and thank him for his courage.
The majority of the 20 or so people who commented on the issue supported the resolution (a contrast to Berkeleyside’s poll). A number of residents held orange, pink, and blue signs in support of Manning. One sign read “Bradley Manning is a Hero,” another read “Free Bradley Manning. Support WikiLeaks.” Most of the supporters of Manning assumed he did leak the video.
One resident, Gene Bernardi, said that what Manning did was a service to the country. He shed light on the truth behind the wars and should be freed.
“Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime,” Bernardi said.
Resolution author and Peace and Justice Commissioner Bob Meola explained that taxpayers have a right to know where their taxes are going, especially if the government is engaged in corruption and cover-ups over the wars. He pointed at funds given to Pakistan to fight the war on terror that were then turned over to the Taliban, the people fighting American troops in Afghanistan.
“Whoever did this needs to be thanked by the American people,” Meola said.
Berkeley resident David Salisbury said the council should vote no on the “foolish resolution” and commented that diplomacy, which people in Berkeley supposedly value over war, demands a certain level of discretion. He added that it was time for the ’60s mentality to give way to new ideas
“Without privacy, how are we going to have diplomacy,” Salisbury said. “Berkeley needs to grow up.”
Danny Gonzalez, a spokesperson for Sacramento-based non-profit Move America Forward, which advocates for American troops and veterans, strongly criticized the council for even considering to praise Manning for leaking information that could harm U.S. soldiers. He said the organization collected 4,660 signed petitions from Berkeley residents opposing the resolution as of the meeting.
“Don’t call this traitor Bradley Manning a hero,” Gonzalez said.
Bateman Neighborhood Association Board Member Jim Bullock read a letter from the association’s Board that lambasted the council for wasting time, money, and staff resources on “feel-good issues,” while local issues, such as homelessness, crime, and the economy demand attention.
“It’s frustrating that the council spends way too much time on issues in which you have no jurisdiction,” he said. The association took no position on the actual resolution.
Council members had mixed reactions to not only the resolution, but also the greater issues of transparency vs. secrecy.
District 8 Council member Gordon Wozniak criticized the wholesale dumping of some 250,000 diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks and questioned the judgment of the Peace and Justice Commission after its chair, Wendy Kenin, explained that no one expected the media frenzy that followed.
“I would question that judgment,” Wozniak said. He added that not all information should be made available to the public. “Some information should be kept secret. We can argue, but I suspect there is going to be a lot of harm (from the leaks).”
Anderson, a veteran, took the opportunity to criticize the media for not being courageous enough to report on the truth, particularly embedded reporters, and the Pentagon for subjecting America’s youth fighting abroad to such horrors as shown on the 2007 video and then turning its back on them when they return home.
“The young people that we send to defend our country get transformed into monstrous people,” Anderson said. “They are used as cannon fodder and are then disregarded.”
Mayor Bates said the city took a positive step to openly discuss the incredible number of issues involved with Manning yet couldn’t proclaim him a hero without first knowing his motives and the facts behind the case. Even still, Bates countered critics who said taking on national issues such as this one somehow impeded the city’s ability to tackle local issues, citing the city’s extensive budget work and AAA bond rating as proof.
“This is not stalling us from doing the work we do,” Bates said.
Manning, 22, is accused of leaking a number of top secret and confidential material to WikiLeaks and faces 52 years in federal prison for illegally sharing classified information. Initially, he was accused of providing WikiLeaks with video from a 2007 incident where a U.S. Apache helicopter gunned down 11 Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists after soldiers mistook camera equipment for weapons.
Since then, whenever WikiLeaks released classified information to its website or media allies, U.S. officials suspected that Manning was behind the leak. Wikileaks has released tens of thousands of pages of documents about military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 250,000 diplomatic cables which generally humiliated the U.S. State Department.