Adrian Lamo: He needed a friend and I wish I could have been that friend. There was a responsibility to the needs of the many, rather than the needs of Bradley Manning.
(Spoken, from 'We Steal Secrets').
Spock: Don't grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh..
Kirk: the needs of the few..
Spock: Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?
Spock: I have been and always shall be your friend.
(Excerpt from Star Trek 2)
In the opening of 'We Steal Secrets', Alex Gibney introduces Julian Assange by selecting from the reams of video footage in existence something sensationalist: a short interview segment of Assange saying he likes “defending victims” and that, being a “combative person”, he also likes “crushing bastards”. Gibney's clip does not include the statement's context (which can be found here), that the “crushing (of) bastards” is an outcome of “defending victims”.
The next time Assange appears, he is introducing the concept of WikiLeaks to a conference audience. This footage is immediately followed by an interview transcript which reads “Julian Assange: We're going to fuck them all.. crack the world open and let it flower into something new.” Once again, the audience is not told who this “them” is, or why the world might desperately need to be “cracked open”.
These de-contextualised selections have been made in order to negatively frame Assange. They also set up the second half of the film, where the reality of “defending victims” leads to a litany of attempts by “bastards” to crush Assange and WikiLeaks. However, Gibney's film does not communicate this story, it is almost entirely silent about it, instead WikiLeaks' would-be assassins reprise their previous roles - on camera.
The impression created by Gibney's opening selections is interesting. Or, it could have been if, for instance, parallels were made between the language used by Assange and the crew of the U.S. Apache helicopter involved in the 12 July 2007 killing of civilians in Baghdad. A crew member stated: “look at all those dead bastards”, which received the reply “nice”. A soldier who witnessed the aftermath of this incident said he was ordered to "kill every mother-fucker on the street" if attacked. Who are these bastards and mother-fuckers?
Surely, anyone able to feel outrage at a war based on lies and fantasies might think that Assange's "bastards" needed to be "fucked", because perhaps then there would be fewer Iraqi "dead bastards"? Perhaps Bradley Manning (“I'm just weird I guess.. I care”) had a similar idea.
The reasoning behind Gibney's crude editing lies in its effectiveness. Its power has been understood for over a century and in We Steal Secrets Gibney must return to it continuously, or tell a different story.
Adrian Lamo's interview segment on his online conversations with Manning is also of interest in terms of framing and storytelling. In it, Lamo cites the famous 'Kobayashi Maru' test (the 'no-win scenario') from 'Star Trek 2' and uses it as a metaphor to illustrate his dilemma – whether or not to inform the military about Manning's actions. In the film, even the superficial purpose of the 'no-win scenario' (to teach officers how to face defeat and death), is slightly deeper than 'whatever the choice, there are occasions where you cannot win'. A tearful Lamo explained to Gibney that he was “truly in a no-win scenario”.
Of course, the idea behind the scenario is somewhat different to the surface that Lamo failed to grasp. The test is actually an intellectual barrier. To believe in its premise is to choose defeat over hope. When James T Kirk took the test twice and was beaten by playing within the scenario's rules, he hacked the scenario, so that when he returned to the test for the third time, he won. "I don't believe in the no-win scenario."
Later in the film, Kirk's "original thinking" is often referred to by the crew of the Enterprise as they use their initiative and imagination to defeat Khan. The most daring act of ingenuity is made by Spock, who in the process of carrying out his plan, knowingly sacrifices himself to save “the many”. Star Trek 2's themes are clear and profound.
That Lamo would mention such a film to justify his betrayal of Manning, someone who has literally sacrificed everything for “the many”, whilst tearfully distorting the film's content, to make it fit his discrepant rationalising is indescribably cynical. One must also ask: who are Lamo's “many”? The 132,000 civilians killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq or literally “no one”?
Chris Hedges “No one, (not even the Pentagon) has ever been able to point to any loss of life caused by (Bradley Manning's) leak of the secret documents.”
Bradley Manning's lead defence attorney David Coombs: “Where is the damage? Where is the harm? That’s what the defence wanted to get out today and in this hearing and yet you ruled no, we’re not going to hear that.”
Gibney plays this pathetic charade for all it is worth. The Kobayashi Maru storyline can be related to only one person who appears in We Steal Secrets and that person is Assange. The montage of Lamo, Manning's text and Star Trek 2 scenes will make anyone who has seen Star Trek 2 feel revulsion.
The depiction of Manning by Gibney is a shameful act of exploitation in service of overwhelming the motives behind his actions. Gibney does mention some of the shocking U.S. war crimes and the brutality of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts as a motivating factor. He also describes a turning point for Manning, being trapped into complicity with the torture and possible murder of Iraqi dissidents. But here the analysis ends. Gibney does not want to think beyond a simplified caricature of reality.
The following and how they affected Manning are missing: the colossal ineptitude found at every level of 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'; the U.S. military's culture of indifference to civilian casualties; the psychological reality of inhabiting a structure like 'Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer'; the fact that some soldiers involved in conflicts feel an empathy for and sometimes identify with their victims; the fact that FOBs are usually - due to the nature of what they are and what they do - windmills of highly distressed, anguished individuals. And that in the suicide epidemic among active-duty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, more U.S. soldiers have killed themselves than have died in combat.
In place of this, Gibney uses stills of smiling soldiers playing pool and images proving that FOB Hammer's canteen not only made wonderful food, but was an oasis of calm in the surrounding experiential abyss of America's making.
I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The [war logs] documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.
I felt this sense of relief by [WikiLeaks] having [the information]. I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and what I had read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan every day.
The most alarming aspect of the video to me.. was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the Aerial Weapons Team seemed to have. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life, and referred to them as quote-unquote “dead bastards,” and congratulated each other on their ability to kill in large numbers.. For me, this seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.
Ethan McCord has stated that previous portrayals of Manning have obsessed over personal dramas and “erase Manning’s political agency.” Nathan Fuller of bradleymanning.org: “This continues today, with most major outlets’ reports on Manning’s hearings gratuitously mentioning his gender-identity issues as if they’re directly related to his political beliefs.”
A U.S. government witness in Manning’s December 2011, Article 32 hearing, Jihrleah Showman, is given a huge amount of screen time to deliver a completely one-sided view-point of her professional relationship with Manning. There is clearly far more to the heated interactions described by Showman, than Manning's gender-identity issues. Gibney, having included so much of this psychodrama, instead of impartially examining and contextualising it, leaves the audience to either believe of disbelieve Showman's necessarily biased account. Gibney again misses the story, which is: how does the content of Showman's interview relate to Manning's growing horror at finding himself both a witness of and complicit with war crimes? That would have been an interesting connection. At what point does one switch from seeing Gibney's choices as incompetence to understanding them as deliberate and purposeful? Perhaps after learning Gibney did not include Manning's Equal Opportunity complaint against Showman, who was admonished for her use of homophobic language.
Nathan Fuller: “the remaining portrait is that of a gender-confused weirdo prone to outbursts.”
Alex Gibney: “he was alienated, he was in agony personally over a number of issues. He was lonely and had an identity crisis. He had this idea that he was in the wrong body and wanted to become a woman.. and that whistleblowers are alienated people who don’t get along with people around them, which motivates them to do what they do.”
In keeping with Gibney's portrait of Manning, Judge Denise Lind has ruled that Manning's defence will not be able to present his motives (which include acting as a whistleblower), this is because motive could be used to counter the government’s most serious charge, ‘aiding the enemy,’ which carries a life sentence.
Another troubling aspect of We Steal Secrets is the film's failure to fully refute the propaganda line: WikiLeaks has “blood on its hands”. One journalist saying that it is "speculative blood" is not evidence. Ed Pilkington: “The judge also blocked the defence from presenting evidence designed to show that WikiLeaks caused little or no damage to US national security.”
Gibney also presented as fact unproven allegations made by prosecutors at Manning's Article 32 hearing. One of these allegations is that WikiLeaks solicited and then received information from Manning (these claims are likely to be part of the U.S. government's case against WikiLeaks). Gibney: “taking a cue from WikiLeaks' 'most wanted list', Manning began searching for CIA detainee interrogation videos”. However, this notion has since fallen apart in Manning's actual trial, when a forensic officer admitted, under cross-examination, that there was no evidence that Manning ever saw, let alone downloaded, this disclosures list. And yet Gibney states it as fact.
In The Matter Of: United States vs. PFC Bradley E. Manning
Vol. 6 June 12, 2013 UNOFFICIAL DRAFT - 6/12/13 Morning Session
Q. You didn't find any evidence of what's known as a WikiLeaks most wanted list in the unallocated clusters, did you?
A. No, sir.
Q. And you didn't find that in the allocated clusters either?
A. No, sir.
Q. So on PFC Manning's computer, whether in the allocated space or in the unallocated space, no reference to the WikiLeaks most wanted list?
A. No, sir.
Another instance of Gibney stating allegations as fact occurs with the inclusion of the chat logs recovered from Manning's computer. Gibney displays sections from Manning's conversations with "Pressassociation", a chat handle which had two names attached to it: Julian Assange and 'Nathaniel Frank' in an attempt to show Assange assisting Manning to break passwords and gain access to data.
Alex Gibney: “When he hit a snag, he reached out to another hacker for advice on how to crack passwords.” (Spoken, from 'We Steal Secrets')
Bradley: Any good at LM-Hash cracking?
firstname.lastname@example.org: Yes, we have rainbow tables for LM.
email@example.com: Passed it in to our guys. (Text, from 'We Steal Secrets')
However, Gibney is playing a sleight of hand. The request is for assistance in 'hash cracking' (reverse engineering a password) in order to surf a classified military network (SIPRNet) anonymously. It is a network that Manning already has access to.
Further, there is no evidence of any other response to the request, other than “Passed it in to our guys”. In any case, these events are moot because Manning never made any attempt to hide his activities. Manning's Fort Meade testimony: “I never hid the fact that I downloaded copies of CIDNE-I (Iraq War Logs) and CIDNE-A (Afghan War Diary) and burned them onto CDs". And there is no evidence that Manning attempted to gain unauthorised access to the SIPRNet security system.
Alex Gibney: “Later Manning talked to 'him' about the progress of the uploads. In Manning's buddy list, the address was listed under a familiar name: Julian Assange.” (Spoken, from 'We Steal Secrets')
Bradley: I'm throwing everything I got.. at you now
firstname.lastname@example.org: Ok, great.. ETA?
Bradley: 11-12 hours.. it's been going 6 already (Text, from 'We Steal Secrets')
Manning's chat handle during this conversation was not “Bradley” it was “Nobody” and nobody knows who "Pressassociation" actually is. In Manning's Fort Meade courtroom testimony, he stated that he initially thought "Pressassociation" was a senior member of WikiLeaks codenamed 'Ox' and that he later came to believe that 'Ox' was either Assange or Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
U.S. witness Mark Johnson of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command Computer Crimes Investigative Unit has stated that the chat logs never show (what is assumed to be) WikiLeaks asking Manning to upload documents for publication, and that he did not see any attempt to persuade Manning to look for documents anywhere in the documents he inspected.
5. You would also agree with me, now that you've reviewed the entire document, that at no point is PFC Manning asked by pressassociation, hey, do you have access to this, or do you have access to that?
A. I don't see any direct knowledge of that, sir, no.
Q. So they never asked him, hey, Brad, could you get us this thing?
A. No, sir. (Courtroom transcript: United States vs. PFC Bradley E. Manning)
Those following Manning's trial know that these claims are not as straightforward as Gibney presents them to be in We Steal Secrets. Indeed, Gibney's film breaks many of the cardinal rules of court reporting (and should be pulled and corrected), and as before, Gibney's failure to be impartial is leading somewhere.
Manning's defence attorney David Coombs: "If the Department of Justice got their way, they would get a plea in this case, and get my client to be named as one of the witnesses to go after Assange and WikiLeaks."
Why didn't Gibney mention that the UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez, has formally accused the U.S. government of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment towards Manning after a 14-month investigation?
And why didn't Gibney examine the circumstantial evidence that links Manning's torture to the ongoing WikiLeaks' Grand Jury investigation? Why does Gibney let this important question slide and instead become an unreliable prosecution “witness to go after Assange and WikiLeaks"?