For those who would liken Manning to a Daniel Ellsberg-type hero, it’s not at all clear exactly what wrongdoing Manning thought he was revealing by handing all those files over to Julian Assange for publication. He provided the world with graphic video of civilians being killed by a U.S. military helicopter, but the video itself shows that the soldiers manning the helicopter at least believed they were firing on men armed with AK-47s and RPGs. Seeing this video is disturbing, but it doesn’t show the need for any sweeping reform in the military – and it hasn’t triggered any such reform. And, by the way, the judge refused to hold Manning guilty on the charge related to the video.
All those confidential cables from the State Department reporting on communications with foreign officials and assessments of the internal workings of foreign governments may be embarrassing to have out in the open. But they don’t really show us any more than that our diplomats were doing the job we’d expect them to do. Surely it doesn’t come as a big surprise that Putin’s Kremlin shows a “modern brand of authoritarianism” or that a Chinese official told one of our diplomats that North Korea was acting like a “spoiled child” trying to get our attention by firing rockets over Japan. The very fact that Manning’s revelation included 700,000 documents tells us that he couldn’t have been focusing on any particular wrongdoing he’d seen within the U.S. government.