John Whitehead's Commentary
The War Against Bradley Manning—A War Against All Who Speak Out Against Injustice
“The war against Bradley Manning is a war against us all.”—Chris Hedges, author and journalist
“I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare.”—Bradley Manning
Time and again, throughout America’s history, individuals with a passion for truth and a commitment to justice have opted to defy the unjust laws and practices of the American government in order to speak up against slavery, segregation, discrimination, and war. Even when their personal safety and freedom were on the line, these individuals spoke up, knowing they would be chastised, ridiculed, arrested, branded traitors and even killed.
Indeed, while brave men and women such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman are lauded as American heroes today, they were once considered enemies of the state.
Thanks to the U.S. government’s growing intolerance for dissidents who insist on transparency and accountability, oppose its endless wars and targeted killings of innocent civilians and terrorists alike, and demand that government officials abide by the rule of law, that list of so-called “enemies of the state” is growing.
One such “enemy of the state” is Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst who has been targeted by the Obama administration for holding up a mirror to the bloated face of American empire. Manning is being prosecuted for leaking classified government documents which, like the Pentagon Papers a generation ago, expose systemic corruption within America’s military and diplomatic apparatus. The embarrassment caused by showing that the emperor has no clothes, as it were, has made Bradley Manning public enemy number one in the eyes of the federal government.
As Chris Hedges explains:
“Manning provided to the public the most important window into the inner workings of imperial power since the release of the Pentagon Papers. The routine use of torture, the detention of Iraqis who were innocent, the inhuman conditions within our secret detention facilities, the use of State Department officials as spies in the United Nations, the collusion with corporations to keep wages low in developing countries such as Haiti, and specific war crimes such as the missile strike on a house that killed seven children in Afghanistan would have remained hidden without Manning.”
Despite not being convicted of any crime, Manning has been put through a horror trip since the first day of his incarceration in the military brig at Quantico. He has spent 1,000 days in jail without trial, a large portion of which was passed in solitary confinement, imprisoned in a windowless 6 x 12 foot cell containing a bed, a drinking fountain and a toilet. Manning was kept under Suicide and/or Prevention of Injury (POI) watch during his incarceration, largely against the advice of two forensic psychiatrists. Under suicide watch, Manning was confined to his tiny cell for 24 hours a day and stripped of all clothing with the exception of his underwear. His prescription eyeglasses were taken away, leaving him in essential blindness except for those limited times when he was permitted to read or watch television. In a thinly veiled attempt to harass him, guards would check on Manning every five minutes, asking if he was ok.
Once he was finally brought before a military court, Manning pled guilty to ten of the twenty-two charges brought against him, admitting that he leaked the documents because he believed that the public has a right to know about the government’s misdeeds. Manning’s admission guarantees that he will be put into prison for up to twenty years. However, instead of proceeding to sentencing, government prosecutors are insisting on pressing the most serious charges against him, including “aiding the enemy,” in an attempt to imprison him for life.
The government’s aim is clear: to make an example of Manning (what Yale professor Eugene Fidell describes as an attempt to “scare the daylights out of other people”), thereby discouraging anyone else from defying the regime or daring to lay bare the inner workings of a corrupt government.
Indeed, despite promising unprecedented levels of transparency when he ascended to the presidency in 2009, Obama has invoked the WWI-era Espionage Act more times than all his predecessors combined as a means of silencing all internal dissent and criticism. Obama’s administration has also launched an all-out campaign to roust out, prosecute, and imprison government whistleblowers for exposing government corruption, incompetence, and greed. Obama’s other targets include John Kiriakou, a CIA agent who was prosecuted and imprisoned for blowing the whistle on government-sponsored torture, and Peter Van Buren, who exposed the government’s incompetence and failures during the occupation of Iraq.
Thus, Bradley Manning is merely the latest whistleblower to be singled out for punishment. So determined is the government to crucify Manning that government prosecutors plan to make the case that Manning essentially aided and abetted Osama bin Laden. Manning’s trial, which promises to be a government spectacle of manufactured “shock and awe,” will feature testimony from an anonymous Navy Seal who took part in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. This Seal will reportedly testify that he recovered computer discs in Osama bin Laden’s personal effects containing government material that originated from Manning’s leak.
What the government is attempting to suggest is that if an individual or news organization publishes information that is accessed by terrorists over the internet, for example, then those individuals or news organizations are essentially guilty of collusion.
Stacking the odds in their favor, government prosecutors have refused to allow Manning’s defense team to interview government witnesses or to introduce evidence showing that Manning’s leak of government information did little, if any, harm to U.S. interests other than showing that the Obama administration is no different from its predecessors. In fact, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the publication of the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary had “not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources or methods.” As for the leak of some 250,000 State Department documents, a report by Reuters indicates that the damage caused was “limited,” and was for the most part simply an embarrassment to the Obama administration.
Manning reacted as one would hope any honorable American would react when they witness their government acting in a manner that is corrupt, incompetent, inhumane, immoral and, it must be said, downright evil. Manning was particularly affected by the so-called “Collateral Murder” video in which American Apache helicopter pilots can be see firing on civilians in Iraq, including children and a Reuters journalist. “The people in the van were not a threat but merely ‘good Samaritans,’” observed Manning. “The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust [the American troops] appeared to have.”
To his credit, Manning refused to remain silent. He spoke out, first to his superiors, who turned a deaf ear to his concerns, then to the New York Times and Washington Post. When he still could find no one willing to alert the American people to what their government was really doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, he turned to Wikileaks.
The rest, as they say, is history.