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WikiLeaks: Bradley Manning isn't a criminal. He's a hero.

Many are condemning Bradley Manning for allegedly providing WikiLeaks with sensitive reports about US foreign policy. But a government that can make war while keeping essential information about its justification and conduct secret is neither open nor fit for free people.

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First it was a video of a helicopter gunship killing and injuring unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two children, and two newsmen as they walked down a street in Baghdad.

Then in two separate document dumps, hundreds of thousands of classified military field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan were released to the public. Now more than a quarter-million State Department cables, more than 15,000 of which are classified “secret” and/or “noforn” (not to be shared with foreign governments), have been released without authorization.

The US government’s problems with WikiLeaks continues, and the Obama administration “condemn[ed] in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”

IN PICTURES: Wikileaks and the war in Iraq

The White House said the release of “stolen cables” was “reckless and dangerous.”

It attributed the leaks to Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been in custody since the release of the Baghdad video, which WikiLeaks titled “Collateral Murder.” In July, Mr. Manning was charged with “transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system” and “communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source.” He faces up to 52 years in prison.

Naturally, WikiLeaks refuses to confirm that Manning was the source of the documents, but assuming he was, what are we to make of him? Is he a hero or a villain?

I say hero. When a government secretly engages in such consequential activities as aggressive wars justified by at best questionable and at worst fabricated intelligence, covert bombings and assassinations, and diplomatic maneuvering designed to support such global meddling, the people in whose name that government acts – and who could suffer retaliation – have a right to know.

Related: ‘We cannot deal with these people’: WikiLeaks shows true feelings on Guantánamo

Are 'we the people' really in charge?

How can the American system be regarded as participatory if the most potentially explosive government conduct is hidden? Are “we the people” really in charge or not?

Or is “government of the people, by the people, for the people” so much pabulum to keep us contentedly ignorant?

The same Obama administration that condemns the leaks has said: “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.” But if the government decides what constitutes transparency, how can it achieve either objective?

War is the most serious thing to which a government can commit a society. A government that can make war while keeping essential information about its justification and conduct secret is neither open nor fit for free people.

President Obama, like his predecessors, asks for our trust. He'd say he can’t tell us everything, but government in a democratic society requires confidence in its leaders. A similar appeal for trust failed to impress Thomas Jefferson in 1798.

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