Christopher Yates writes: You’ve got to be a little sick in the head to take a moral stand. Even more so if you’ve done it without financial or personal reward, or expectation of acknowledgement or acclaim. That, it seems, is the tacit consensus at Bradley Manning’s court martial. Last week, it heard expert witness regarding the medical and psychological factors which might mitigate or explain his decision to leak classified files to WikiLeaks in 2009.
It’s tempting to see this testimony as verging on the pathologising of political dissent. In the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union, writers and activists were commonly detained on mental health pretexts. The logic was that the state was so obviously correct in its policies, only a lunatic could think otherwise. By treating its critics as symptomatic, the regime could deny its opponents the dignity of a criminal charge and the opportunity to contend rationally with their accusers. Torture, drugging and incarceration could be carried out under the guise of treatment, and done so indefinitely – in some cases, inducing chronic mental health problems, closing the causative loop.
But Manning’s case is not comparable. Put alongside his own account, the diagnoses of fetal alcohol syndrome and gender dysphoria seem justified and accurate. Furthermore, the expert witnesses have noted that, in other areas, Manning’s behaviour falls outside standard diagnostic criteria. In short, it’s all a bit more complicated, and taken in the round, points in another direction – offering less of an insight into Bradley Manning’s personality, and rather more into yours and mine.
Because the implicit corollary to all of the above is that a better-adjusted private first class in Bradley Manning’s position would have watched the Collateral Murder video and done … nothing. Sure, he might have been mildly concerned or shocked, at least at first. But he’d have accepted the comforting constraints of rules and regulations. He’d probably have told himself that his superiors knew best, and resigned himself to the fact that such things just happen in wartime. Whatever the case, it was not his place to make a fuss, but rather to stick to the upkeep of the infrastructure that sustained and made it happen. [Continue reading…]