Railroading Bradley Manning

Nicole Colson reports on new developments in the court-martial of a whistleblower.

Marchers during San Francisco's Pride celebration called for Bradley Manning's release (Steve Rhodes)Marchers during San Francisco's Pride celebration called for Bradley Manning's release (Steve Rhodes)

AS THE court-martial of Bradley Manning draws to a close, military prosecutors are pulling out all the stops to try to make sure Manning will never be free again.

The trial of the 25-year-old intelligence analyst who leaked a trove of information to the muckraking website WikiLeaks--including the "Collateral Murder" video documenting a U.S. war crime in Iraq--began in early June. Closing arguments are expected to begin on July 25.

Manning faces more than 20 counts, including espionage and computer fraud. But the most serious charge is "aiding the enemy," which is punishable by the death penalty (though military prosecutors say they are "only" seeking life in a military brig for Manning).

Before the court-martial began, Manning spent three years imprisoned, including more than nine months subjected to inhumane conditions that included solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and being forced to strip naked in front of guards each night. Incredibly, U.S. officials claimed at the time that this was for Manning's "protection." It took a public outcry and a call from UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez, Amnesty International and others before these deplorable conditions were finally eased.

The U.S. government is attempting to make an example out of Manning--one in a line of courageous whistleblowers, including National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who have risked their freedom to expose the depth of the crimes perpetrated by the U.S. government, both overseas and at home, in the name of protecting "freedom."

Many people in the U.S. and around the globe see Manning as a hero for letting the U.S. public know about the crimes being committed in our name. For that reason alone, the Obama administration wants to make an example of Manning.

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IN AN outrageous last-minute rebuttal that was allowed by military judge Col. Denise Lind, prosecutors last week recalled Former Specialist Jihrleah Showman--Manning's former supervisor who worked with Manning at Fort Drum, N.Y., and at a base in Iraq--to testify.

In her new round of testimony, Showman stated that she had heard Manning express "anti-American" sentiments and had "suspicions" about Manning's behavior. According to Showman, during an August 2009 meeting, Manning said that the American flag "meant nothing to him, and he did not consider himself to have allegiance to this country." "I was distraught by the statements he made," Showman said on the stand. She added that she had thought at the time that Manning was a "possible spy."

But Showman's new testimony is suspicious. Why did Showman not bring up Manning's supposedly "anti-American" statements in her earlier testimony?

As the Washington Post noted:

[Showman] was asked by [Manning's lawyer David] Coombs why she had not documented Manning's statements about the flag and the country when, in the same period, she had noted his "excessive" smoking breaks and caffeine consumption. Showman said that she had mentioned Manning's remarks to her superiors, who told her they would deal with his alleged comments.

The idea that Showman would note too much coffee drinking, but not her fears that a subordinate was a spy is, frankly, ludicrous. In another similar meeting, Showman even documented having discussed the possibility of recommending Manning for "solider of the month."

Likewise, as defense attorneys noted, before the alleged August 2009 meeting took place, Manning had filed an equal opportunity complaint against Showman after she called Manning "faggoty" and exhibited other homophobic behavior. Showman was later reprimanded for her actions. On the stand, Showman claimed, "I did not know that he was the one that filed against me."

Many of Manning's supporters believe the answer is that the government failed during the trial to make a strong case against Manning for the most serious charge of "aiding the enemy"--which requires proving that Manning gave information to the enemy with "general evil intent."

So Showman's rebuttal testimony is designed to buttress the case that Manning's intent was "evil"--even though some of the prosecution's own witnesses had earlier stated that there was no evidence Manning had expressed sympathy with al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

Lind had earlier ruled that Manning's defense couldn't present evidence showing that WikiLeaks had caused little or no damage to U.S. national security--even though this is obviously a key question. But the judge allowed Showman's suspicious return to the witness stand so prosecutors could try again to prove the opposite contention.

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AS WIDNEY Brown, a senior director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International, said in a statement earlier this month:

The charge of "aiding the enemy" is ludicrous. What's surprising is that the prosecutors in this case, who have a duty to act in the interest of justice, have pushed a theory that making information available on the Internet--whether through WikiLeaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of the New York Times--can amount to "aiding the enemy."

By refusing to drop the "aiding the enemy" charge, Lind has not only made Manning's prosects darker, but put freedom of the press at risk--and aided the Obama administration's extreme war on whistleblowers.

Writing on the website of the Guardian earlier this month, Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler noted that Manning's court-martial may establish a dangerous precedent for journalists and leakers, regardless of the outcome:

[T]he decision establishes a chilling precedent: leaking classified documents to the these newspapers can by itself be legally sufficient to constitute the offense of "aiding the enemy," if the leaker was sophisticated enough about intelligence and how the enemy uses the internet...

Significant leaks on matters of national defense are not generally going to come from army truck drivers. Daniel Ellsberg was a military analyst at RAND. Thomas Drake was an NSA senior executive. Stephen Kim was a senior adviser on intelligence in the State Department. Jeffrey Sterling was a CIA officer. John Kiriakou was a CIA officer. Bradley Manning was a private first class in army intelligence about two years out from basic training. We can disagree about who among these is more or less worthy of respect or derision. But after Thursday's hearing, they all fall on the wrong side of the line that the judge endorsed.

As Daniel Ellsburg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times during the Vietnam War, stated in an interview with the Washington Post when Manning's court-martial began last month:

I and a lot of other people feel that we need more whistleblowers, and that to allow the government simply to stigmatize them without opposition does not encourage that...

There was a period after the Vietnam War, partly due to the Pentagon Papers, and largely due to Watergate, that made people much less tolerant of being lied to, much more aware of how often they were lied to and how the system operated to make that lying possible without accountability. We got the Freedom of Information Act. The FISA court was set up. The FBI was reined in a great deal. The NSA was forbidden to do overhearing of American citizens without a court warrant. That lasted for some years.

But 40 years have passed, and after 9/11 in particular, all of those lessons have been lost. There's been very great tolerance that if the magic words "national security," or the new words "homeland security" are invoked, Congress has given the president virtually a free hand in deciding what information they will know as well as the public...

Bradley Manning's case might seem to have no relevance to...other civilian disclosures because it's a military court-martial. But the charge they're using against him, the specific one of aid and comfort to the enemy, is one that puts virtually all dissent in this country for government policies at risk.

Ellsberg and other supporters are calling for protests in support of Manning. On July 26, demonstrators will gather at Fort McNair at 4th Street and P Street, SW, in Washington, D.C., to call for Manning's release. In other cities across the country and beyond, Manning supporters will gather on July 27 for an international day of protest.

We have to speak out against this attempt to take away Bradley Manning's freedom.