Confronted with the reality of institutional evil, Manning risked his career - and his freedom - in order to expose everything from mass murder and child rape in Afghanistan to US support for brutal dictators across North Africa and the Middle East. His actions were heroic, and Amnesty International has even credited them as the spark for with jump-starting the Arab Spring. And yet a president who proclaims his commitment to transparency while on the campaign trail is determined to go down as the one whose administration mentally tortured, prosecuted and jailed the most famous whistle-blower in half-a-century.
Colonel Ann Wright, a former top State Department official who resigned in protest of the 2003 Iraq war, says Manning's treatment at the hands of the Obama administration is an outrage that is at odds with the norms of military justice. He's been treated "as if he were an enemy combatant in Guantanamo", she says. "His past treatment while in pre-trial confinement and the lack of compliance with the norms of the military legal system of a 'speedy' trial . . . reeks of 18 months of intimidation, retribution and retaliation."
"It's clear the military and those tasked with Manning's case are working hard to make an example of him", says Nathan Fuller, an activist with the Bradley Manning Support Network. Like many, he suspects Manning's treatment has at least in part been an attempt to get him to implicate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. But even if the Obama administration can't get that, "they're more than happy to use his case to send a message to potential whistle-blowers everywhere".
Politicians aren't the only ones who can send a message. This weekend, activists from around the country, including those involved in the Occupy movement in nearby Washington, DC, will be rallying outside Maryland's Fort Meade, where the pre-trial hearings in Manning's case are being conducted. The hope is that they can convince President Obama and his military brass that punishing a whistle-blower goes against the wishes of the American public. The question is whether that's true - and whether the political establishment really cares.