By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 31, 2013 at 12:14PM
Until recently, nobody knew who Bradley Manning was. Now he's all over the media, having pleaded guilty to ten charges (and not guilty to 12 others) before a Maryland military judge (see his leaked testimony here) for “misusing classified data,” the unlawful possession of classified material, exposing a cache of files, including videos, military logs and 250,000 State Department cables, and the transfer of this material to WikiLeaks. These charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail. “The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public,” he told the judge.
Manning is also a central figure--along with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange--in Alex Gibney's upcoming documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks," which debuted at Sundance, where I interviewed the filmmaker. Universal's Focus World subsidiary will open the film theatrically May 24 and on VOD in June.
Gibney scoured the internet for conversations with Manning, a troubled 25-year-old U.S. Army private first class who had extraordinary, unbelievable access to classified documents that he tried to leak to the New York Times and The Washington Post, who weren't interested. Assange was. The rest, as they say, is history.
See below the 2007 military video footage and American soldiers' commentary on their aerial attack on civilians in Baghdad that so outraged Manning, inspiring him to leak it in 2010, and my flip cam interview with Gibney. He believes that Manning is being unfairly scapegoated by the U.S. government by a President Obama-sanctioned "vindictive prosecution," and there's much reason for concern if Wikileaks is to be regarded as a journalistic enterprise. Manning could get twenty years in prison on top of the 1,000 days he was kept in detention (nine months were in solitary confinement).
According to an email update from Gibney, "Manning’s defense strategy appears to be to accept responsibility for these lesser charges while arguing that, because of the nature of the leaks and Manning’s motives, his actions do not rise to the level of criminality laid out in the more serious charges against him. These 12 more serious charges include “aiding the enemy,” which is a capital offense. Though the prosecution has stated that they will not pursue the death penalty in this case, it is within the judge's prerogative to apply this sentence if Manning is found guilty of the charge. The government intends to pursue these charges by bringing over 100 witnesses to show that Manning damaged national security by giving 'intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly.'
Manning will plead not guilty to those charges. In a dramatic personal statement in court, Manning argued that, while his leak was massive, he was careful about the kind of materials he leaked and that his motivations were those of a whistleblower. The prosecution’s aggressive pursuit of the 'aiding the enemy' charge has concerned many civil libertarians, who fear the chilling effect this case may have on whistleblowers and the press. Yochai Benkler contains the best distillation of those concerns in an essay in The New Republic. "
Therefore Gibney is updating the movie that screened at Sundance before release. The film also reveals many things about Assange, including the truth behind the sex scandal that keeps him hiding in exile in London. (The only way Gibney was going to get Assange on video for his movie was to pay him--he asks for $1 million.) As Gibney says in our interview, this movie is about "noble cause corruption" as well as truth and lies and what is secret and what is not secret. That is the question.
Next up for this prolific filmmaker who seems to be on a roll, with this film and "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," which may have precipitated Pope Benedict's resignation, is Sony's filmed profile of Lance Armstrong which Gibney has been working on since 2009.