Bradley Manning’s secret hearing and the US government’s fear of losing power

Apparently our military brass haven’t heard of the saying, “the cat is out of the bag.” At least that is what military judge, Col. Denise Lind, suggested in ordering an unprecedented closed (secret) hearing yesterday at Fort Meade to determine just how much the “national security” privilege will be invoked in Pfc. Bradley Manning’s leaks trial.

Terry Gilliam has spent a lifetime satirizing this very type of absurdist bureaucracy. We already know that military secrets, videos and diplomatic cables made their way onto Manning’s Lady Gaga-labeled CD, passing through Tor’s anonymizing relays, and onward to WikiLeaks and then the world. Manning admitted as much to “homeless hacker”/schizophrenic/narc Adrian Lamo. We know that Manning detailed his actions to the military court in preliminary court proceedings, and in his statement to the court. There is also general acknowledgement that no one died because of Manning’s leak; but our government is behaving as though western civilization is about to fall.

Has it not occurred to the US government’s military prosecutors that during the actual trial they and the judge can dismiss evidence and testimony if it is deemed a true national security threat? It surely must have, as this after all is the function of a trial. One can assume that the military has its best prosecutors and researchers on the case, with the full resources of the US government behind them. Why so worried then?

The worry is all scenery. The real government goal here is to gain an unfair advantage in silencing Manning’s defense. If they know exactly what Manning’s lawyers plan to say, the prosecutors and judge will practically have a script by which to muzzle Manning and guard “national security.” A rather absurd notion when one assumes that in the last three years not one American spy or diplomat has been harmed as a result of Manning’s leaks. (We know this from Reuters and other news outlet reports.) Three years have passed and the US hegemony still dominates the globe militarily and economically.

The national security threat absurdity is impressive. Hell, it’s theatrical. Harold Pinter might have written a play about this secret hearing (and others) had he lived to see the Manning/WikiLeaks drama play out. But, within the government’s national security mindset lies something beyond mere paranoia. Maybe the absurdity of hiding secrets that are already out in the open is a sleight-of-hand to divert our attention, while subconsciously programming us to accept more and more national security measures. Everything is now a threat. Whether the information is critical to security or not is irrelevant. The US government’s power can justify anything. It has to protect the global economic and military order at all costs.

The best way of doing this is to declare all dissidence, any criticism, or acts of disobedience (such as Manning’s), threats to national security. This is the nature of government. We should not be at all surprised by the will to preserve power and order; but we should all stand in awe at the extent of national security invocations. And Democrats and liberals should be honest with themselves and admit that Obama has enhanced this practice. Then they should come to terms with the fact that the Obama White House is letting the Manning courtroom charade happen. This from the supposed great man who said he was going to open up government (watch video below).

Ultimately, the national security paranoia lays bare the system’s fragility. It also speaks to the power of the hacktivist and cypherpunks (those whose goal is to encrypt the flow of information to make anonymous leaks possible).

With all of this national security paranoia, I’m reminded of Stanislaw Lem’s classic novel, “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub” (Pami?tnik znaleziony w wannie). No single piece of fiction, to my mind, comes close to so fully ridiculing the state’s obsession with secrecy, as well as its inherent fear of everything, mistrust of everyone, and the absurd lengths to which people and states will go to obfuscate state actions and reinforce power. Like Lem’s novel, the US government’s paranoia is rather childlike. That’s par for the course in a country where politics have been reduced to the infantile.

When Lem wrote “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub,” national security paranoia had reached its apex in the cold war. The USSR and United States had only each other to think about. Now, the US government’s political elite (not the American people, or most of them anyway) have to not only think about nationless Islamic terrorism, domestic terrorism (Tsarnaev brothers), the rise of China, India and Brazil, and a re-emergent and belligerent Russia, but they must be going into paroxysms at the thought of WikiLeaks, Anonymous, hacktivists, cypherpunks, and free information activists in America and abroad.

The threat really is everywhere. And, yet, here we are! The world is not collapsing… yet.


Another absurdity that media or government fail to acknowledge is that every single country nominally at war with other countries (economically or via espionage) has a stake in maintaining the system. Nothing unites competing economic powers quite like the idea of losing that power. Cooperation, cloaked in the guise of conflict, is the new working order of the global economy. Imagine it like the various European monarchies just as often helping each other preserve power as in the throes of war.

If the argument here is that Manning’s defense, in discussing the leaked documents, will open yet other secrets cloaked in national security, I just don’t buy it. There has been a systematic effort to silence Bradley Manning. Yesterday’s secret hearing is only the latest example of it.

As lawyer Michael Ratner, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks’ US attorney and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in December of 2012 after attending Manning court proceedings: “I sit in that courtroom and it seems like a completely secret proceeding to me, and I am a lawyer.”

That is by design.