Russian journalists have been far more willing than their U.S. peers to criticize Obama for a perceived double standard when it comes to human rights and personal privacy.
The Manning verdict: American justice flawed. Photo: AP
The verdict handed down to U.S. serviceman and WikiLeaks informant Bradley Manning, who received 35 years for releasing classified material, has caused not only protests by human rights defenders, but also controversy among journalists.
Some regard the violations by the military and intelligence services as justifiable in terms of security. However, the opposite point of view has come to predominate. In the Russian media, for example, it has taken the form of explicit criticism of the U.S. administration, while Barack Obama has even had his pre-election promises read back to him.
Russian media analyzes Obama and the surveillance state
Profile magazine, a Russian weekly, describes the actions of the U.S. administration as "harassment" and "intimidation."
"The sentence handed down last Wednesday goes far beyond this particular case: It bears witness to the new scale of persecution faced by those that ‘betray’ the U.S. intelligence services. Obama hunts them down with unprecedented resoluteness. Intimidation is more important than image for the present incumbent of the White House," says the publication.
Meanwhile, the business daily Vedomosti cites Obama's campaign promises on transparency.
"During his first election campaign, Barack Obama fondly remarked that his administration would be the most transparent in U.S. history. He won the election and became commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. One might have hoped this progressive leader would have begun by tackling the most opaque part of the state machine. Alas, it is the military that has succeeded in turning the president into a paranoid information security freak. The Bradley Manning case is a prime example of that," writes the paper.
The publication goes on to mention another scandal currently raging in the U.S. regarding the collection of data on citizens.
"America's top brass — or any country's for that matter — are far too inclined to trample over someone else's freedom to be trustworthy. People like Bradley Manning are critical. Obama's behavior demonstrates that he has fallen under the charm of an old-fashioned spy romance. He believes everything he's told by the military, and fails to understand why the public needs information," adds Vedomosti.
The daily Izvestia gives a similar assessment of the U.S. president's actions.
"Today, many in America and the world are wondering how a liberal president, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, ardent opponent of the Washington hawks, and singer of freedom warped into the embodiment of a supporter of near total surveillance — with wiretapping of U.S. citizens and media, and drones plying the skies of his own country?" the paper writes.
According to the author, there was no metamorphosis of this liberal Peace Prize laureate: Obama has simply revealed his true colors.
“With his left-wing views and America's technological capabilities, it was simply impossible for him not to interfere in all spheres of life, flex his Big Brother muscles, and hound anyone who leaked details to the press about this Orwellian state of affairs," reads the report. "George W. Bush initiated his fair share of odious programs, but he was at the start of a war that Obama decided to finish. And what the logic of war cannot excuse, neither can the logic of peace.”
Russian media have also drawn parallels between Bradley Manning and former employee of the CIA and U.S. National Security Agency Edward Snowden.
According to the influential paper Kommersant, "Bradley Manning's sentence has in fact predetermined the fate of former CIA and NSA analyst Edward Snowden, who was recently granted temporary asylum in the Russian Federation."
A WikiLeaks spokesperson told Kommersant: “Snowden is absolutely right. He does not want to return home, since his chances of facing a fair trial are zero [...] This assessment is shared by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which asserts that Mr. Manning's sentence ‘invalidates U.S. claims to lead the field of human rights’ and ‘shows double standards,’” writes the publication.
It goes on to note that U.S. experts and human rights activists believe that Mr. Manning's sentence is part of a White House campaign to stamp out leaks of classified information.
U.S. media concerned about role of transparency in a democracy
In Manning and Snowden sagas, Obama no longer the hero. Photo: Reuters
U.S. media are critically disposed towards the Obama Administration, but generally couch their arguments in terms of the problem of democracy and transparency, using the Manning case as a starting point.
As noted by Politico, Americans are wondering why most of the information divulged by Manning was hidden from the public. According to one of its columnists, unauthorized leaks to the media play an important role in any democratic society:
"Unauthorized leaks to the press play a critical role in a democracy. Without them, the American public might never have learned about torture in Abu Ghraib, the CIA's 'black-site' prisons, the NSA's domestic surveillance operations, and other matters of vital public concern. Whistleblowers who disclose information about these kinds of government activities should be able to defend themselves on the grounds that the public benefit of their disclosures far outweighed any claimed harms to security," reads the article.
Politico reaches the bold conclusion that the sources of the leaks should not be prosecuted.
"Indeed, unauthorized disclosures of information relating to government fraud, corruption, or illegal activities should not be prosecuted at all, because in these instances the public's right to know categorically outweighs the government's interest in secrecy," believes the author.
The headline "Bradley Manning Headed To Prison, While Those Who Authorized Torture Go Free" reflects the position of a journalist for The Huffington Post.
The article lists the names of former top officials who, in the author's opinion, should be punished instead of Manning. They include George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and former CIA chief George Tenet.
British newspaper The Guardian, which published the leaks of whistleblower Edward Snowden, describes Manning's sentence as unjust.
"It is unclear what the U.S. military hopes to achieve by securing a sentence that dwarfs those of other military convictions. Deterrence features large in its thinking. Whistleblowing will not only endanger your career, it wants to say, but your freedom - for most of your adult life. In 2008, one could have hoped that the U.S. had a president whose administration would distinguish between leaks in the public interest and treason. But this sentence tells a different story. Mr. Manning's sentence is both unjust and unfair," remarks the paper.
Western media are divided on the topic, with some denouncing Bradley Manning and calling for stronger security measures. In their view, excessive liberality could lead to more unpreventable terrorist attacks.
"In the fantasy world of the Mannings and Snowdens, the U.S. is waging unnecessary surveillance of terrorists while willy-nilly eavesdropping on Americans. In the real world, the biggest risk is that rules to protect privacy could discourage the intelligence agencies from being aggressive enough to stop the next 9/11," writes The Wall Street Journal.
"Until then, the big risk is not intentional eavesdropping on Americans. It's that the country will revert to the pre-9/11 mindset that allowed privacy concerns to take priority over collecting the information that would have stopped the al-Qaeda hijackers."