Today marks the eighth day of Bradley Manning's court-martial for leaking more than 700,000 United States government documents to Wikileaks. Although the 25-year-old former Army intelligence analyst has confessed to disclosing classified information, including diplomatic cables and war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, Manning has not pled guilty to his most serious allegation, “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense that could result in a life sentence.
Many people think this charge—an accusation that purports Manning knew he’d also be giving intelligence to Al Qaeda by leaking sensitive information to Wikileaks—is trumped-up, fear-mongering, fraudulent bullshit. That's the (less polite) perspective of a volunteer group of independent producers and filmmakers, who in collaboration with the Bradley Manning Support Network, spent the last month corralling more than 20 notable figures to appear in the IAmBradleyManning.org video above, a clip they're releasing for the first time in full here today.
Among the recognizable figures who agreed to voice their disapproval of Manning's treatment are director Oliver Stone, married actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, talk-show icon Phil Donahue, and comedian Russell Brand, who we spoke with about Manning earlier this month, before he publicly shamed a trio of inane MSNBC hosts. Brand was celebrating his 38th birthday on the day we talked and did not find an occasion to call us a "shaft-grasper," unfortunately. A lightly edited transcript of our phone conversation follows.
Why are you talking about Bradley Manning on your birthday?
I don't know a great deal about international espionage, but sometimes one senses that an issue is drifting in a certain direction, and just by speaking out in a small way, you can make a subtle difference on that perception. Some people have made their mind up no matter what: "Bradley Manning is a traitor because of revealing classified information." It's very difficult to impact those people. W.B. Yeats said, The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity. But it might be nice, if I, from my gentle position—bouncing around on the Left elegantly and Englishly—suggest that it doesn't seem like this person is acting particularly out of self-interest, but rather [Manning] was motivated out of a different kind of patriotism: a genuine love of the people of this country and concern for the people.
So what's your realistic expectation when you lend your name to a campaign like this?
That you'll get a degree of abuse from people who are intrinsically opposed. The best you can do is draw the attention of people who are otherwise unsure or curious.
The culture has been expertly constructed so that what's now regarded as esoteric information is everything except for stuff that directly concerns Kim Kardashian. So everything other than that, you might as well be speaking Aristotle in Greek. For me, I live, to a degree, in popular culture. So if I say, "Oh, that Bradley Manning seems that he was really trying his best to expose information he thought was important to American people regarding what was being done in their name," all I'm hoping is that people who would otherwise entirely ignore it may have a flickering awareness, and some who would have had a flickering awareness would investigate further. So it's a very modest ambition. I'm not singlehandedly imagining that I could make any particular impact.
You're Tweeting about what's happening in Turkey, you're Tweeting about supporting Bradley Manning, you're Tweeting links to Kickstarter campaigns. Do you consider that your constant and various endorsements will lessen the impact of your individual involvements?
No. For me, it's like, one day, I'll Tweet a cute little kid saying he wants to be a vegetarian and another a photograph of my mates.
Please—it would be delightful for me that if somewhere among the verbiage, you were to put that I'm under no illusions as to the impact of what I'm saying. I happen to believe that Bradley Manning has the right to a fair trial; it seems clear to me that some of the charges against him are mendacious and duplicitous from the outset. So I'm just saying, "Keep an eye on that." The things I'd say I'm highly qualified to talk about are drugs and alcohol abstinence, social consciousness broadly, and sex. Under my libertarian umbrella, occasionally Bradley Manning or the demonstrations in Turkey will fall under my shade. That's all.
You're British, and this is technically an American situation, so how do you respond to critics who say that Bradley Manning's trial is none of your business?
I think it's a global issue. I eschew those kinds of categorizations at a time when we have to start thinking and behaving as one species in collusion with an ecological system.
Besides, who defines the parameters of these arguments? Hey, an English person can't talk about an American thing! Oh yeah, I remember know, from that rulebook that fell out of the sky at the dawn of time! Hey, what is American by the way? Some word people said in relation to a geographical mass a couple of hundred years ago! [laughing]
As long as you know that all of this stuff is arbitrary—that karate is invention, that Catholicism is invention, that America in an invention—but that humanity is an actual thing, we don't have to all pretend to believe this shit.
What's actually important? A human being doing a thing that was quite bold—possibly from a position of some personal trauma—but that regardless has brought attention to important stuff. We all know that shit goes on! But he's brought palpable, tangible evidence of mendacious—oh no, don't want to use that word again—conduct apparently for the protection or for the furtherment of the American people.
I've reached the point, Camille, where it's an intuitive understanding [that] I don't trust any of these people anymore.
Do you support of the general idea of whistleblowing? Or is your support of Bradley Manning's actions specific?
I think [whistle-blowing] is necessary, Camille. I think it's really brave. We know that institutions have a tendency toward corruption. And we are, to some degree, dependent on people within those institutions to arbitrate their conduct. No one within those institutions in higher positions is going to go, "Oh, we've got to be honest: we've done some dodgy stuff." So it's going to take some sort of rare quirk, some peculiar anomaly like Bradley Manning to demonstrate or highlight injustices.
Do you think Bradley Manning is a hero?
I suppose. But we have to be careful how we use these terms, particularly when you're talking to a journalist. Don't make me look like a dickhead.
I planned to run our conversation.
Will you? How post-modern is this piece of writing on Gawker?
Here's what I would say: If the defining characteristic of heroism, from the perspective of constructing a myth or a screenplay, is the protagonist's way to sacrifice himself for a greater good, by that definition—which I think is as good a definition as any of a hero—then he would have to be.
If you turn that into "yes" when you write this up, then you are bad.