Facing 22 criminal charges ranging from releasing classified data to aiding the enemy, 25 year old Private First Class Bradley Manning is about to face a trial that could land him up to 125 years in military prison. Manning allegedly helped Julian Assange release 250,000 diplomatic cables and half a million battlefield reports, as well as the infamous "collateral murder" video that brought Wikileaks its first major international recognition.
Yet while Assange seems safe and sound hold up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK, manning has been stuck in a stainless steel cage hardly bigger than a walk in closet. While Assange gets to run on a treadmill brought in by Ecuadorian authorities and gets to communicate with famous figures and adoring fans on a daily basis, manning gets to endure harsh isolation in a maximum security hell that would psychologically break any normal human being.
I do not know if Bradley Manning is a hero. If convicted, we can say he broke the law and violated his orders, and he may indeed have put people's lives at risk as the Obama administration claims. However, it seems clear to me that he has been hung out to dry while the man who should be front and center hides behind diplomatic cover. At the very least, one can commend Manning for following his conscience, however misguided and damaging his actions may have been. I'm not sure we can say the same about the man who started this movement in the first place.
While I respect Assange for creating a system that allows wistleblowers to expose the hard truths and hidden corruption lurking behind the world's most powerful organizations, he should understand that when you want to lead a war against secrets, you don't run back to the rear while your soldiers bear the real sacrifices.
To lead one must lead by example, and for Assange that means going back to Sweden and facing investigators, even if the charges against him are just an elaborate ploy to silence him or indirectly extradite him to the US. This not about whether the Obama administration is unfairly crusading against whistle-blowers, or whether there is national security state that needs to be reformed, this is about two men, one who is taking responsibility for his actions, and one who is not.
When we look to inspiration for the pursuit of truth and the cause of transparency in government, perhaps we should look to Bradley Manning instead of Julian Assange.