Friday, December 30, 2011

Bradley Manning Finally Gets His Day in Court:
Developments in the story of Manning and Wikileaks

Much has occurred in the story of Bradley Manning and Wikileaks since I wrote my first post on the topic. I have also learned about things that had occurred as a result of Wikileaks before I wrote my first post. For those of you who haven’t yet read my first post on Bradley Manning, I would recommend reading it first.  

A Wikileaks cable which discussed corruption and nepotism within Tunisia played a minor supporting role in inspiring protestors to call for the resignation of Tunisian dictator Bin Ali. After Bin Ali was forced to flee his country, democratic uprisings spread throughout the Middle East.

A student confronted US State Department representative PJ Crowley about Bradley Manning’s mistreatment at Quantico during an MIT seminar last March. Crowley responded by saying, “What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defense." Shortly afterward PJ Crowley was forced to resign his post in the Obama administration.

PJ Crowley defended his remarks in an editorial in The Guardian. However, this does not mean that he is a fan of Bradley Manning. In the same editorial Crowley stated his view that, “Private Manning is rightly facing prosecution and, if convicted, should spend a long, long time in prison.”

In April it was apparent that the government wasn’t going to allow Bradley Manning to receive official unmonitored visits from Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Amnesty International, or the UN Special Rappatour on Torture.

On two separate occasions, Wikileaks has published the names of US informants in Iraq and Afghanistan and put their lives at risk. Thankfully there have been no reports of deaths occurring as a result, but that does not excuse this unforgivable recklessness on the part of Wikileaks. The details of these incidents are complex, detailed, and in dispute. It should suffice to say that no legitimate news organization would have allowed this to happen once, let alone twice. Manning had no way of knowing that the information he leaked would be handled so irresponsibly, so it would be unfair to blame him for these disclosures. Manning would have been better served to have leaked his documents to Al Jazeera, The Guardian, or other alternative news source. They would have redacted the names of the informants. 

On November 21, the government finally announced when Manning would get his day in court. On December 16, Private Manning’s Article 32 pre-trial hearing began. It was also his 24th birthday. After 19 months in detention by the US military, Manning finally got to begin his trial.

Bradley Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, requested that Hillary Clinton testify at the pre-trial hearing on the effect the Wikileaks disclosures have had on national security. Coombs also requested that President Obama testify about his statement that “He [Manning] broke the law,” before Manning had been convicted or even seen a courtroom. Overall the prosecution opposed having 38 of the defense’s requested 48 witnesses to testify at the pre-trial hearing. The other 10 were already on the prosecution’s request list. Ultimately, two of the witnesses that the defense requested and the prosecution opposed, testified at the hearing, the other 36 did not. The prosecution ended up calling 21 witnesses.

 David Coombs also requested that the presiding judge, Paul Almanza, recuse himself from hearing the case because of his former work for the U.S. Justice Department which is preparing a possible case against Wikileaks. Colonel Almanza declined by saying that he worked in the part of the Justice Department that dealt with child exploitation and obscenity rather than National Security.

One of the defense’s primary arguments is that the military acted inappropriately by failing to provide Manning with much needed psychological help. Bradley Manning was suffering from having to conceal the fact that he was gay in a military that still enforced Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Manning also wrote a letter to Sergeant Atkins, the highest ranking military officer in Manning’s unit, that he was suffering from Gender Identity Disorder and that it caused him serious problems in his daily life. This serious mental distress lead him to occasional violent outbursts.

The defense’s other primary argument is that Private Manning is a whistleblower. The defense stated that, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” That view was once held by a man who also said, “Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.” That man was Barack Obama. Manning’s case is only one of five cases where the Obama administration has prosecuted whistleblowers.  

The prosecution argues that Manning broke several military rules when he downloaded classified information and passed it on to those not authorized to see it. But the prosecution’s argument is much deeper than that. The prosecution argued that Manning had knowledge when he gave the classified information to Wikileaks that it would end up in the hands of Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and other enemies of the United States.

Kevin Gosztola, who covered Manning’s trial, summed up the consequences of this argument quite nicely on Democracy Now, “That is essentially criminalizing National Security Journalism.” He elaborated by saying, “If you do a report on a drone strike, if you do a report on anything related to military operations and Al Qaeda reads it then you could be accused of aiding the enemy.”

When the truth is a propaganda victory for your enemy, you have a problem on your hands. To be clear, I do not think the US is anywhere close to being as bad as Al Qaeda. But when governments prosecute whistleblowers because the misdeeds they uncover are useful to enemies of the government, the public looses the right to know what its government is doing and its ability to change it.  

Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing ended on December 22. The judge has not yet made his ruling, but will likely decide that the prosecution has enough evidence to proceed to trial.

Post Script: Al Jazeera’s Listening Post examined how the US media has covered Manning’s pre-trial hearing. The program also discussed how Manning’s exposure of misconduct on the part of the US Military in Iraq may have helped contribute to Iraq’s reluctance to grant legal immunity to US troops who would have stayed in Iraq passed the end of 2011. As a result, talks about an extension of the US presence in Iraq broke down and our soldiers finally got to come home for Christmas.

The Alyona Show on Russia Today featured extensive coverage on Manning’s pre-trial hearing. That coverage included this discussion on the hearing between Alyona, Daniel Ellsberg, and Kevin Gosztola.  

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