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'WikiLeaks' Director Alex Gibney Reacts to Bradley Manning's 35-Year Sentence: "a perversion of justice"

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 21, 2013 at 4:07PM

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney originally set out to profile WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but ended up devoting half of his recent documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" to an unknown whistleblower U.S. Army private named Bradley Manning. "It's more relevant now than ever, now we see why," Gibney says on the phone Wednesday, as the news was breaking of Manning's harsh 35-year prison sentence.
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Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney originally set out to profile WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but ended up devoting half of his recent documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" to a then-unknown whistleblower private named Bradley Manning. He is 25 years old. "It's more relevant now than ever, now we see why," Gibney says on the phone Wednesday, as the news was breaking of Manning's harsh 35-year prison sentence. 

(Here's my interview with Gibney on the movie; "We Steal Secrets" is available to buy or rent on iTunes and is still on VOD from your cable provider.)  

Alex Gibney.
Alex Gibney.

Manning was arrested back in 2010 in Iraq; in May 2013 he finally 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.

Anne Thompson: Is this heavy sentence a miscarriage of justice? 

Alex Gibney: "Yes, he's been scapegoated. In a way that's the equivalent of the British army hanging someone from the yardarm. The Obama administration wanted to set an example, and have done it in a brutal way with forms of torture beginning with his confinement. They charged him with aiding the enemy, which thankfully he was found not guilty of, but also of many counts in the Espionage Act. This is the great crime of the Obama administration, trying to turn leaks into treason when they're really not the same thing."

Is the Obama administration, in its fight against terrorism, continuing the practices of the Bush era?

"In this way they're behaving worse. It's the Obama administration going overboard, using the Espionage Act to prosecute leakers. In this way they've gone beyond what the Bush administration has done. You have to look at the overall spectrum of what the Obama administration was willing to do in the larger sense of justice. The Obama administration refused to prosecute anyone for torture. Jose Rodriguez of the CIA intentionally destroyed videotaped enhanced interrogations which were evidence of crimes. Nothing happened; he wasn't even prosecuted. While Manning gets 35 years for leaking material, not to a foreign government, and he didn't get any money. He may have been naive, but he leaked it to the world and the press because he thought it was important information that people should know. Much of the information he leaked was important."

I'm glad that I saw that drone video. 

"The video is shocking and frankly should never have been classified. The Army claims it wasn't, but they play games all the time with classification. Documents show that both the Bush and Obama administrations grossly underrated war crimes in a context of mendacity. Revealing their criminality was important for public debate in a democracy. I want to hold them to account, but I don't want a world where every private leaks everything on his computer. He pled guilty on a number of charges. They're charging him as a spy. He did not damage U.S. national security. He did cause embarrassment. But to send someone away for the rest of his life for causing embarrassment seems a perversion of justice."

Next up for new Academy governor Gibney: long-in-the-works Lance Armstrong profile "The Armstrong Lie," which is debuting at the Venice International Film Festival  followed by Toronto before its release by Sony Pictures Classics. 

This article is related to: Alex Gibney, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, Documentaries, Documentary


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.