Tuesday, June 04, 2013

"Pour encourager les autres"? ~ Bradley Manning

One of this week's highlighted news stories is the trial of Bradley Manning. Sadly, I'm not optimistic of any lenient verdict. As I've commented in the past, it's a sad old world where, when the military kill innocents as collateral damage shoulders are shrugged, but when a guy with high ideals crosses the line he is punished in such an excessive way.

Yesterday at Common Dreams: Bradley Manning Trial Begins: A 'Danger Zone' for Civil Liberties
Law professor Marjorie Cohn, describing The Uncommon Courage of Bradley Manning, wrote:

When he was 22 years old, Pfc. Bradley Manning gave classified documents to WikiLeaks. They included the “Collateral Murder” video, which depicts U.S. forces in an Apache helicopter killing 12 unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and wounding two children.

“I believed if the public, particularly the American public, could see this it could spark a debate on the military and our foreign policy in general as it applied to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Bradley told the military tribunal during his guilty plea proceeding. “It might cause society to reconsider the need to engage in counter terrorism while ignoring the human situation of the people we engaged with every day.”

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who taught constitutional law to President Barack Obama told the Guardian that the trial, and Manning's most serious charge of 'aiding the enemy,' could hold a dangerous precedent:

Charging any individual with the extremely grave offense of 'aiding the enemy' on the basis of nothing beyond the fact that the individual posted leaked information on the web and thereby 'knowingly gave intelligence information' to whoever could gain access to it there, does indeed seem to break dangerous new ground.

"The case is a sledgehammer," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Huffington Post last week. "It is there to try and terrorize anyone else into being a force for the media, by trying to terrorize this young man."

This is shaping up to be a classic case where "pour encourager les autres" applies. It's a phrase I first learned when I sat in on employment tribunals in my old UK civil service job. The chairman would occasionally use it when commenting on some particularly harsh-seeming dismissal doled out by an employer determined to stamp out certain behaviour among his workforce. Chairmen were not usually in favour of such arbitrary dealings, so it would be said in decidedly cynical tone.

The French phrase is sometimes used in the media whenever official punishment for an act seems to be out of proportion to the act itself, or where the punishment has an element of political bias to it - in order to encourager les autres (the others) to shut up and keep their heads down.

The phrase's origin is interesting: it's a a quote from Voltaire's 'Candide': in full ~ "dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" (in this country, it is good, from time to time, to kill an admiral, to encourage the others), and refers indirectly to the unfortunate fate of Admiral John Byng, who was executed in 1756 at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War.
Byng was sent to relieve Minorca from French assault, the island being as valuable at the time as Gibraltar. A French fleet lay around the island, and it was Byng's job to seek battle and smash through; but when the time came his attack was half-hearted, and Byng soon withdrew to Gibraltar. Minorca fell, the Admiralty were appalled, and Byng was hauled back to England for court-martial. The court found that he "did not do his utmost to take, seize, and destroy the ships of the French king, which it was his duty to have engaged". He was convicted of negligence.

The verdict did not actually state that he was to be punished in order to encourage other admirals to fight harder, and indeed clemency was recommended, but when Byng was executed - by firing squad, on the deck of HMS Monarch as it lay in Portsmouth harbour - the message seemed clear enough. Britain's navy distinguished itself during the rest of the war, although whether this was because of Byng or simply because it was a very good navy is unrecorded by history.

The phrase 'pour encourager les autres' has subsequently entered the language.


mike said...

As is said, no good deed goes unpunished. Sadly, it's human nature to ostracize, condemn, and destroy those individuals courageous and ethical enough to reveal corruption and questionable activities.

I've always been interested in the re-telling of events by the opposition versus the defense, typically resulting in diametric views of the same observations. I am personally aware of too many incidents to which the spoils went to the presenter of the fictional story. Truth does not always win-out, but it is known in the hearts of the truthful.

Off the subject somewhat, I have been enjoying the congressional hearings regarding the IRS targeting conservative groups. I am getting a kick out of the corrupt congress questioning and demanding answers from the IRS' seeming corruption. A case of the pot calling the kettle black...ha ha ha. I wish the American public could indulge in some intense questioning of our congress' own liabilities concerning lobbyists, profiling, profiteering with insider knowledge, corporate partnerships, allowing citizen rights to be denigrated, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So typical of the miscreants to inquire and be critical of the other miscreants.

mike said...

P.S. - I shouldn't be critical of the entirety of congress; there are still a couple of good bananas amongst the rotten.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Yes, the re-telling of events from different viewpoints is fascinating - a bit like revisionist history, in a way. It always amuses me to read the diametrically opposite slants put on the same sets of circumstances by politically left and right commenters. It'd be funny if it were not so darned annoying!

Yes, I wish that too mike - but "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride".
The IRS thing doesn't bother me as much as the continuing drone issue, oddly enough.

There are a couple of good ones still in Congress, but even they are hog-tied, and when push comes to shove they toe the party line (cf Kucinich and the Airforce One ride with O.)

R J Adams said...

I share your fear that Manning will not come out of this trial well. It's tragic farce that a once great nation can strive to promote democracy elsewhere (at least, its own brand) while methodically destroying the last vestiges of democracy at home.

" Britain's navy distinguished itself during the rest of the war, although whether this was because of Byng or simply because it was a very good navy is unrecorded by history." ...a little of both, I would suggest. There can be no doubt Byng's execution was a gross miscarriage of justice, though he was singularly inept as an admiral.

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Someone at Common Dreams pointed out in a comment that:

The five war crimes that Bradley Manning legally reported on under the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law include:

1. The attack and killing of civilians

2. The continued shooting of already wounded civilians

3. The attack and killing of non combatants who came to the aid of those wounded civilians

4. The use of depleted uranium- a weapon that fragments and kills indiscriminately through poisoning.

5. Multiple incidences of systematic torture and mistreatment of detainees across Iraq and Afghanistan.

And he will have to pay for that by being imprisoned for life (at best)? What kind of civilisation is this?

mike (again) said...

Here's a great site with video in support of Manning...actors Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Russell Brand, musician Moby, director Oliver Stone and former talk show host Phil Donahue are among celebrities who are showing their support for military whistleblower Bradley Manning.


Twilight said...

mike ~~ Thanks for that - I've added the video to the post, above. Good one! :-)