People hold signs asking to free Bradley Manning during the LA Pride parade in West Hollywood in June. REUTERS
here are few people on earth nicer than citizens of the US of A. Similar to sojourns in India, those visiting the US usually return with affectionate tales of the courtesy and hospitality of Americans. They love life, and they love it when others do as well. Envy is not part of the American spirit, emulation is. However, there is an exception, a substantial one, and this is the tribe which collectively comprises the government of the United States. Public service in that country (a double misnomer, as is the case in most other locations across the globe) has the effect of shrivelling up an individual's reserves of generosity and openness, leaving in its wake a desiccated consciousness out to constrain and punish all those less than obsequiously respectful of those in positions of authority. Would that the airport manager in the movie Terminal were the exception. Across government offices all over the US and in that country's stations abroad, such a pedantic and unfeeling application of mechanical rules is the norm, with of course exceptions. Small wonder that most of the serious crimes in the US get committed by graduates of the world's most effective training school for anti-socials, US prisons. Add to that the fact that since the era of Richard Nixon, there has been a huge spurt in the prison population, because of the mandatory nature of sentencing for offences where a first-timer is almost never a threat to society, such as the use of marijuana, a substance that ought to be legalised the way alcohol has been in India except in parts of Kashmir and in the whole of Gujarat. Of course, once the offender passes through the prison system, it is a different story.
Unsurprisingly, for a person known to have a Europeanist view of the world, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton never hesitates to give lectures on morality and political correctness, except when she is visiting the GCC and China. Even the self-advertised "largest democracy in the world" has been subjected — this time with ample justification — to verbal whiplashes, especially on the issue of freedom of speech. Another hobby of the lady is human rights. Syria's Bashar Assad is a constant target of Clintonian ire because of his unreasonable refusal to allow himself and his regime to be subjected to the same fate as met Muammar Gaddafi last year, when — according to some reports — a US spotter drone revealed his location to anti-Gaddafi fighters and a French commando squad participated in his final moments, no doubt in the cause of Liberte and Egalite.
A mistake is excusable, but not if it gets repeated. First in Libya and now in Syria, weapons and cash are being given to fanatics who will next attack their benefactors, as indeed they recently did in Benghazi. The capacity of the members of NATO to delude themselves is huge, for a few paid demonstrations by groups of unemployed youths has been taken by BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera as evidence that "the Libyan people are against the killers" of the martyred Stevens. And now Syria is being torn apart. The worry is that this virus could before long spread to parts of the GCC as well, thereby severely affecting global stability. The Arab world needs to resolve its internal differences sans external interference, if stability is ever to return. But for this to happen, there needs to be a single standard of praise and blame.
In that context, blowing away the cloak of secrecy from operations that have led to the deaths of countless innocent lives would be the warp and woof of a Nobel Prize nomination, were it to take place in Syria, Iran or another of the Shia Crescent states so disliked by NATO. However, when a young and idealistic US soldier, Bradley Manning, allegedly transferred data on wartime atrocities by US troops to Julian Assange, he was sent to prison in 2010 in a way that makes a mockery of US claims to be a society that lives by the rule of law. In what way is the exposure of a crime itself a crime? Manning acted from motives very different from that which motivate the many who have collectively donated $70 bn to the Clinton Global Initiative, earning not a cent from his disclosures. Like Daniel Ellsworth before him, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Manning is an authentic American hero. Rather than him being in prison, it ought to be the murderous pilots outed by him who ought to have lost their liberty. Freedom of speech and human rights ought not to stop at the shores of the US. President Obama, show that this is not so by releasing Bradley Manning now.