Persecuted by the national security state

Nicole Colson reports on the upcoming hearing for Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking classified documents to the WikiLeaks web site.

Bradley ManningBradley Manning

AFTER MORE than a year and a half behind bars, Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old U.S. soldier accused of leaking classified information to the muckraking website WikiLeaks, will face a court date on December 16 in Fort Meade, Md. The Article 32 hearing is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, where a military judge will determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with a court-martial.

Manning has been charged with 23 counts under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for allegedly providing WikiLeaks with more than 250,000 classified documents, diplomatic cables and videos that dealt a black eye to the U.S. government and its wars and "diplomatic" missions around the globe.

This includes the so-called "collateral murder" video showing U.S. troops in an Apache helicopter committing war crimes by firing on unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007, as well as detailed logs of civilian casualties and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan and details about the treatment of prisoners of war held by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay.

Of the charges against Manning, the most serious is "aiding the enemy"--an offense that carries a potential death sentence. Other charges include wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing that it will be accessed by the enemy, and violating Army regulations on information security.

What you can do

A pre-trial vigil will be held for Bradley Manning on December 16, beginning at 8 a.m., at the Fort Meade Main Gate, Maryland 175 and Reece Rd., Fort Meade, Maryland.

Supporters will gather the following day, December 17, beginning at noon at the same location, and then march to the military courtroom for a rally. Speakers will include Army Col. Ann Wright (ret.), Lt. Dan Choi, John Penley (Vietnam veteran, Occupy Wall street activist), Michael Paterson (Occupy D.C., Iraq Veterans Against the War), and Bradley Manning Support Network organizers.

Visit the Bradley Manning Support Network for information about the rallies and how you can help aid in Manning's defense.

The Obama administration has long claimed that Manning's alleged actions put at risk the lives of U.S. operatives, including Afghans and Iraqis who have collaborated with the U.S. war efforts in those countries. But there is no evidence that anyone mentioned in the release of the cables has faced retaliation.

As Manning supporters point out, if he released documents that exposed the real aims and actions of the U.S. war machine, Manning should be seen as a hero--not a criminal.

As Daniel Ellsberg, the former Pentagon analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, said during a November press conference held by the Bradley Manning Support Network, the young soldier is "unreservedly a hero...I think Bradley Manning, if he is found to have been the source of this, will deserve our thanks and certainly has my admiration."

Indeed, in logs of an online chat allegedly between Manning and informant Adrian Lamo, Manning explained his reasoning for wanting to turn over the information he was privy to: "I want people to see the truth...regardless of who they are...because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public."

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He added that he wanted the documents to trigger "worldwide discussion, debates and reforms."

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AT HIS trial, Manning's lawyers appear likely to focus on Manning's negative experiences as a gay man serving in the military.

According to Britain's Guardian newspaper, Manning's defense team, headed by lawyer Jeffrey Coombs, plan to highlight the mental strain the young soldier was under--and how this state was consistently ignored by superior officers.

Among expected defense witnesses, one psychiatrist who evaluated Manning shortly before his arrest is expected to testify that he found Manning to be "at risk to himself and others," and that he should be banned from carrying a weapon. The Guardian reported that "witnesses will testify...that Manning was struggling with being gay under the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy that existed at the time he was serving in Iraq. A fellow soldier will testify that 'he was having gender [identity] issues.'"

Beyond the strain Manning was under, several other factors are likely to be presented by the defense at trial.

Reports suggest the witness list for the defense includes several high-profile political figures, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama among them.

On December 7, the government responded by opposing the presence of all of the requested defense witnesses with the exception of 10 witnesses who were also on the government's witness list.

It seems unlikely that Clinton or Obama would actually be called to testify. But Manning's defense team apparently wants to question Clinton about repeated public assertions by U.S. officials that Manning's alleged release of the documents constituted a threat to the safety of U.S. personnel or those working with the military. As Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morell admitted earlier this year, however, there is no evidence that anyone has come to harm as a result of the WikiLeaks releases.

According to reports, Obama would be questioned about his beliefs about transparency in government--and whether the alleged leak of classified data resulted in the disclosure of issues that were not already part of the "public debate on Afghanistan."

Manning's defense team and supporters also point out that, at an April fundraiser, Obama stated that "he [Manning] broke the law." This raises what Manning's defense refers to as "unlawful command influence."

The Obama administration's stance from the beginning has been to smear Manning in the public. In their eyes, the fact that he is a whistleblower standing up to the U.S. government makes him guilty, case closed.

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IN ADDITION to public pronouncements about Manning's guilt, the Obama administration has carried out atrocious violations of Manning's rights since his arrest--most notably, with what can only be described as a campaign of torture against Manning during his imprisonment at a Marine brig in Quantico, Va.

For nearly a year, Manning was subjected to solitary confinement inside of a 6-by-12-foot cell for 23 hours each day. He was constantly watched on video cameras, denied physical exercise and articles of clothing and bedding, denied sleep during the day and repeatedly woken by guards throughout the night.

In March, just 24 hours after being informed that he faced a potential death sentence, Manning was reportedly forced to strip in his cell, and then left naked for more than seven hours overnight. When it came time for his "morning inspection" at 5 a.m., he was forced to stand, naked, outside of his cell and submit to inspection--a process that was repeated for several days.

Only after worldwide calls for an end to this torture was Manning finally transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the punitive restrictions against him were eased.

In an open letter to the Obama administration in late November, 50 members of Europe's parliament objected to the treatment Manning had received and denounced the administration for refusing to allow the UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, to meet in private with Manning. As the letter noted, the preliminary results of an internal military investigation into allegations of mistreatment:

found that Mr. Manning was improperly placed on "prevention of injury" status, against the recommendations of qualified medical personnel. However, these findings were ultimately overturned by a military prison official who was implicated by the report. Therefore, the U.S. military's internal investigation has been compromised by clear conflicts of interest. This so-called "prevention of injury" status was the justification for a number of extraordinary measures, such as denying Mr. Manning comfortable bedding and not allowing him to exercise.

Millions of people around the globe have been moved by Manning's plight--and recognize that, by exposing U.S. war crimes, he deserves praise, not torture.

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THE ATTACK on Manning, of course, is linked more broadly to the attack on civil liberties and dissent. Yet while taking every step to quash dissent at home, the Obama administration has freely lectured the rest of the world about human rights.

The hypocrisy is stunning. On December 8, Hillary Clinton spoke at an international Conference on Internet Freedom held at the Hague, where she told the crowd:

[T]he right to express one's views, practice one's faith, peacefully assemble with others to pursue political or social change--these are all rights to which all human beings are entitled, whether they choose to exercise them in a city square or an Internet chat room...

The United States wants the Internet to remain a space where economic, political and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online, and we also need to protect the Internet itself from plans that would undermine its fundamental characteristics.

How is that different from Manning's alleged statement that he wanted to see the documents released online in order to trigger "worldwide discussion, debates and reforms"?

The difference is that Manning targeted the corruption and crimes of the U.S.

The information that Manning allegedly turned over to WikiLeaks was threatening to the Obama administration not because it contained "state secrets," but because it showed a pattern of war crimes and abuses committed as part of the ongoing "war on terror"--and even Clinton's own State Department. This is information that, in a truly democratic society, the public would have a right to know.

Instead, the Obama administration has chosen to punish not only Manning, but to focus an international attack on the very right of WikiLeaks to exist--cutting off sources of funding, getting the group's servers shut down and harassing its members (including supporting efforts to extradite WikiLeaks cofounder Julian Assange from Britain to Sweden for an investigation into charges of an alleged sexual assault).

As Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald wrote in November:

What has the U.S. government done in response to these newsworthy Internet revelations?...

It has convened a grand jury to criminally investigate WikiLeaks--for nothing more than doing what newspapers routinely do: publishing newsworthy classified information received from sources. It stood passively by--if it did not actively participate in--highly sophisticated cyberattacks that prevented WikiLeaks from being hosted any longer on a U.S. site. It secretly sought from Twitter a slew of records showing the online activities of WikiLeaks supporters, including a sitting member of Icleand's Parliament. It has serially harassed American supporters of WikiLeaks by repeatedly detaining them at the airport and seizing their electronic goods such as their laptops, all without any warrants. And Senate Democrats demanded Julian Assange's prosecution for espionage while bullying private corporations to cut off all of WikiLeaks' funding sources...

Beyond WikiLeaks, the Obama administration (following in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia) is seeking "a new federal law forcing Internet e-mail, instant-messaging and other communication providers offering encryption to build in backdoors for law enforcement surveillance."

Even more disturbingly, Congress is expected to pass the National Defense Authorization Act--which Obama now says he will sign. The bill contains a provision that would mandate military interrogation and detention for any suspected member of al-Qaeda, and authorize indefinite detention of terrorist suspects without trial--including, potentially, U.S. citizens. This will codify into law policies that the Obama administration--like its predecessor--had already been carrying out.

This from the man who promised during his 2008 presidential campaign for president that he would protect civil liberties and close down Guantánamo Bay.

In this context, the fight to defend Bradley Manning is more important than ever. As Glenn Greenwald wrote:

The oppressive treatment of Manning is designed to create a climate of fear, to send a signal to those who in the future discover serious wrongdoing committed in secret by the U.S.: if you're thinking about exposing what you've learned, look at what we did to Manning and think twice. The real crimes exposed by this episode are those committed by the prosecuting parties, not the accused. For what he is alleged to have given the world, Manning deserves gratitude and a medal, not a life in prison.