When will his nightmare end?

February 21, 2013

Bradley Manning should be renowned as a hero for his part in exposing U.S. war crimes to the world. Instead, as Nicole Colson writes, he's rotting in a military brig.

ONE THOUSAND days in a military prison for the "crime" of alerting the American public to wartime atrocities. That's the dubious "anniversary" that Pfc. Bradley Manning will mark on February 23.

Manning is the Army information specialist who revealed the horrific crimes inflicted on the people of Iraq by the U.S. military when he turned over classified files and video to the muckraking WikiLeaks website.

The most serious charge that the now-25-year-old soldier faces 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.

Military prosecutors have recommended that Manning "only" receive life in a military brig if convicted of aiding the enemy. However, if Manning is convicted, military judge Col. Denise Lind could dismiss the recommendation and impose the death penalty.

Manning has admitted that as a young information specialist in the Army, he released documents to WikiLeaks, including the infamous "Collateral Murder" video, in which the crew of an Apache helicopter on patrol in Iraq celebrates while gunning down innocent civilians, including two Reuters journalists.

Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning (United States Army)

For millions of people in the U.S. and around the globe, the video and subsequent releases of State Department cables laid bare the horrors at the heart of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that U.S. leaders claimed were to "liberate" the oppressed. Yet for his part in exposing all this, Manning has been subjected to a litany of abuses at the hands of the government.

FOR 11 months, Manning was held in solitary confinement and subjected to cruel and inhuman punishments--including being stripped naked, humiliated and forced to endure sleep deprivation.

The military claimed it was merely "protecting" the allegedly depressed soldier from engaging in self-harm. But Manning's supporters say such tactics were designed to break his spirit. They are particularly exploitive in light of some reports that Manning may earlier have come out to some as either gay or transgender.

In March 2012, after a 14-month long investigation, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez described Manning's treatment at the hands of the U.S. as "at a minimum, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

What to listen to

Visit the Bradley Manning Support Network website for information about the case and what you can do to support Manning.

On February 23, activists across the country will hold rallies and other events to mark Manning's 1,000 days in prison. Click here to find an online listing of events.

Sign a petition created by Daniel Ellsberg, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Bradley Manning Support Network calling on the government to drop all charges against Manning.

"[I]mposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity, as well as of his presumption of innocence," Mendez wrote.

Wile Manning's conditions have reportedly improved, legal setbacks in his case cast doubt on whether he will receive a fair trial. In January, the judge in the case, Col. Lind, declared that Manning's defense would not be allowed to present a "whistleblower's defense."

From the start, Manning's lead defense lawyer David Coombs has argued that Manning had no intention of passing information on to the enemy or damaging the U.S. war effort, but instead wanted to expose the illegal actions of the U.S. military and government. Lind, however, ruled that general issues of motive were not relevant to the trial--though they may be presented later at sentencing, if Manning is found guilty.

Lind also ruled that the defense cannot present evidence showing that WikiLeaks caused little or no damage to U.S. national security--even though this is obviously a key question, considering that the government claims Manning "aided the enemy" by allowing WikiLeaks to make such information available to the public, including possible terrorists or insurgents.

Even the Pentagon won't claim that there have been deaths associated with what Manning did. "We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents," Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell told the Washington Post in 2010.

In online chat logs published by Wired.com, allegedly between Manning and hacker-turned-government informant Adrian Lamo, Manning explicitly said he didn't want to cause harm to soldiers or "aid the enemy"--but instead to provide information to the American public. "i want people to see the truth...regardless of who they are...because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public [sic]," Manning reportedly wrote.

As whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War--now a staunch supporter of Manning--told the Huffington Post in December, "I think in the case of Bradley Manning, he's vindicated right now, and he's a hero right now...He did what another in his position, knowing what he knew, should have done in my opinion."

Ellsberg went on to condemn the criminal torture of Manning while in custody, and to state that Manning deserves "a statue in Tahrir Square, or the equivalent of it in Tunisia...two countries that were relieved from tyrannies, in which he played a crucial role." This was a reference to the impact of leaked State Department cables during the Arab Spring uprisings that ousted U.S.-backed dictators in those countries.

ELLSBERG'S POINT about Manning's rights as a whistleblower is especially important given the latest tactics by the government.

In January, the government announced it would present evidence at the trial showing that Osama bin Laden had personally requested an al-Qaeda member give him some of the State Department cables and military reports Manning is accused of passing to WikiLeaks.

Yet by that logic, anyone who provided information, no matter how innocuous, to the New York Times or any media outlet could be guilty of "aiding the enemy."

In fact, at the hearing where the government made its announcement about bin Laden, Col. Lind asked military prosecutor Capt. Angel Overgaard whether Manning would still be on trial if he had handed the same information to the New York Times, instead of WikiLeaks. Overgaard replied, "Yes ma'am."

This message--that anyone blowing the whistle on war crimes, even to mainstream journalists, would be subject to prosecution and severe penalties--is incredibly chilling.

Prosecutors also said they would present logs of Internet chats in February 2010 supposedly showing Manning and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, "laughing" about a New York Times article--lending further credence to Assange's well-publicized fears that he would almost certainly be prosecuted for serious crimes if the U.S. could get him extradited to this country.

Manning, whose trial date has been pushed back until June, has faced constant, illegal delays at the hands of the government.

According to the Bradley Manning Defense Network, "On Bradley Manning's 964th day in prison without trial, both parties argued over the defense's motion to dismiss charges for lack of a speedy trial. Under Rule for Court Martial 707, the military was supposed to arraign Bradley in 120 days, but it took over 600."

In the face of such abuses, Manning's lawyers announced late last year that Manning would be willing to admit supplying files to WikiLeaks and plead guilty to some lesser charges--a move that seems designed to limit Manning's sentence to a total maximum of 20 years.

But there is no sign that the government will accept such a plea. Instead, it appears determined to make an example out of Manning.

And that is why this case is so crucial--and why Manning deserves our support.

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