22/08/2013 09:08 BST | Updated 22/10/2013 06:12 BST

Manning v Seymour Hersh and Lt William Calley

NOTE: This article was written and scheduled before Manning announced that she was planning gender reassignment, wanted to live as a woman and be known as Chelsea

Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years jail for releasing to Wikileaks classified documents that exposed US war crimes, lies and cover-ups, while the people who committed these criminal acts have never been prosecuted.

What kind of justice system jails the person who reveals a crime, while allowing the crime perpetrators to walk away scot-free?

Contrast Manning's treatment with what happened to an earlier whistler-blower who also exposed the killing of innocent civilians by the US military.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh blew the whistle on the murder by US soldiers of more than 350 civilians at My Lai in Vietnam in 1968.

He was never prosecuted. It was deemed that he had bought to light grave criminal acts. Hersh was hailed a hero by most people.

Unlike the impunity from prosecution enjoyed by US military killers in Iraq who were unmasked by Manning, a lead officer in the My Lai mass killings, Lt William Calley, was put on trial and convicted. Although sentenced to life imprisonment, this was later commuted. He eventually served only 3.5 years under house arrest.

Why does Manning get a sentence ten times longer than Lt Calley, in a harsh military prison, for upholding international human rights law and the laws of war? He exposed US war crimes. He isn't a murderer, rapist or child sex abuser.

peter tatchell bradley manning

The tough punishment meted out to Manning, compared to Seymour Hersh and Lt Calley, shows that the US government, military and justice systems have become progressively more secretive and repressive over the last four decades. Washington is going backwards.

Manning's sentence exemplifies the inverted morality that currently holds sway in the US military and government: whistle-blowers get treated more harshly than war criminals. This is a sad indictment of a nation that once aspired to high moral principles.

The most notorious war crime that Manning exposed was a US Apache helicopter attack that gunned down 11 Iraqi civilians in 2007, including two Reuters journalists and men who had gone to the aid of the wounded. Two children were also gravely injured when the helicopter opened fire on their van. The video records US soldiers laughing and joking at the killings, and also insulting the victims.

It is only thanks to Bradley Manning that we now know the truth about this massacre of innocent civilians - and about the killings of hundreds of other civilians in unreported and undocumented incidents.

The perpetrators of these crimes have never been brought to justice. They enjoy officially-sanctioned immunity from prosecution.

Amnesty International has criticised Manning's conviction and the US government's refusal to investigate the crimes Manning exposed:

"The government's priorities are upside down. The US government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law, despite overwhelming evidence. Yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing - reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government."

In my view, Manning is a true patriot, not a traitor. He reveres the founding ideals of the US: the notion of an open, honest government that is accountable to the people and that pursues its policies by lawful means with respect for human rights.

Manning sought to show the reality of US operations. In his pre-trial hearing, he said he wanted to spark a public debate about flaws and failings in US foreign and military policy.

He's achieved that goal, shining a light on shameful acts that were kept hidden from the American people.

At great personal risk and sacrifice, he exposed grave crimes that were perpetrated and then hidden by the US administration. These are the characteristics of a man of conscience, motivated by altruism. Thanks to Manning, the US people now know the truth.

He is in a long tradition of 'good soldiers' who refused to collude with war crimes, as I argued in my speech at the 'Defend Bradley' rally in London shortly before the start of his trial.

The treatment of Bradley Manning is a stain on the character and record of Barack Obama. When he first stood for election as president, Obama promised openness and transparency. He defended whistle-blowers as a public good. Since his election, however, more whistle-blowers and journalists have been prosecuted or harassed than under Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George Bush.

Obama's mantra of change is revealed as more of the same - and worse. More whistle-blowers hounded. More foreign interventions. More drone attacks. More subversion of civil liberties. More state surveillance. It gives a whole new, sinister meaning to: 'Yes, we can.'


Write a letter of support to Bradley Manning via: Commander, HHC USAG, Attn: PFC Bradley Manning, 239 Sheridan Ave, Bldg 417, JBM-HH, VA 2221, USA. See this advice on letter conditions

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner and Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation