At the Nurenburg Trials at the end of the Second World War, those who participated in War Crimes were told they should have resisted orders if they knew them to be morally wrong. It is becoming apparent that over recent years there appears to have been a shift in attitude at least as far as the official US attitude to the continuing unrest in Iraq.
Assuming the media has the story essentially correct, it would seem Private Manning, the man responsible for releasing the Wikileaks files, had volunteered for military service in Iraq at age 18. Instead of being assigned combat service Private Manning found himself assigned to rounding up Iraqi civilians and handing them over to the Iraqi Government forces where they were routinely tortured with electric drills, pliers and other instruments. Among the torture victims he claimed, there were those who had done nothing more than raise cautious objections to the actions of the newly formed Iraqi government. Private Manning said he had considered this was totally unacceptable and complained to his superiors. He was reportedly ignored, told to keep quiet and sent back to the task of rounding up the civilians. He continued to show concern at what he considered to be unacceptable, and felt so strongly about it that at age 21 he took the extreme step of releasing the files to Wikileaks which in effect among other things, showed the US military actions had been responsible for thousands of unnecessary civilian deaths.
While most of the public attention is now on Wikileaks founder Julius Assange, for the last 7 months Manning has been in solitary confinement and is apparently widely expected to be facing at least 80 years in jail. It is true that the information he released does make both the US and Iraqi authorities look bad but we can be equally sure that had an informant released files on the war crimes of World War 2, those authorising the war crimes would have been outraged. If the trial does go ahead, to assume the only crime is the unauthorised release of knowledge, which Private Manning had believed should be released on moral grounds, and for which he had been denied the opportunity to do so through official channels seems a little hypocritical, particularly when at Nurenburg, punishment of the scale of his present solitary confinement and possible 80 years imprisonment was only reserved for the actual perpetrators of the war crimes. What is not clear, is how many of the torturers and officials sanctioning the torture, have similarly be brought to trial and faced punishment.
If it was important for people to speak up about crimes to humanity during the Second World War, what has changed?