The Political Persecution & Inhumane Punishment of Pfc. Bradley Manning

This article first appeared on the site Revolution:

 

Interview with Kevin Gosztola 

 

Revolution: Can you first give our readers an overview of the case?

Gosztola: Pfc. Bradley Manning is an intelligence analyst in the military who allegedly leaked nearly half-a-million documents to WikiLeaks. He's accused of one of the most significant, far-reaching and impactful leaks of classified government documents in U.S. history.

These documents include the Collateral Murder video, Afghanistan War Logs, Iraq War Logs, U.S. State Embassy cables and Gitmo Files releases. The Collateral Murder video shows a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in which two Reuters journalists were gunned down. A "Good Samaritan" with his two children pulled up with a van and tried to save those wounded. He was shot and killed and his two children were severely wounded.

The Afghan War Logs revealed a directive known as Task Force 373, an assassination squad of Navy SEALS and members of the Delta Forces who decided whether to arrest or kill targets. The logs also revealed that U.S. and UK forces adopted a military order, "Frago 242," to avoid taking responsibility for the torture of Iraqis by military or security forces in the country. These are just a few of the documents released to WikiLeaks.

Manning now faces charges of "aiding the enemy"; prejudicing the good order and discipline in the armed forces and bringing discredit to the military; and exceeding his authorized access on his computer by downloading software that the military claims was used to transfer documents from a secret intelligence network called SIPRnet to WikiLeaks. If convicted of "aiding the enemy," Manning could get life in prison. If that charge happens to be dropped, he then faces the other charges. The majority of each of the charges carries the possibility of up to 10 years in prison. So, even if he did not get life in prison, he could be in prison for life because the charges could add up to quite a long sentence.

Manning has been imprisoned for over 700 days, leading many supporters to argue he has been the subject of preemptive prosecution. He was arrested in June 2010. He was briefly held in Kuwait before being transferred to Quantico Marine brig in Virginia. There he was subjected to inhumane treatment and kept in isolation because the Marines placed him on "prevention of injury" (POI) watch, contending he might try to commit suicide. Psychologists disputed this and the designation was likely a form of retaliation that commonly occurs to alleged whistle-blowers. He was stripped naked and forced to sleep without any clothes two nights in a row in the spring of 2011. This created a large amount of controversy for the Obama administration and Manning was transferred from Quantico to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in April 2011.

Revolution: How is Manning holding up under all this?

Gosztola: Manning seems to be doing pretty well for someone who has been held in pre-trial confinement for over 700 days. He periodically appears to be engaged in the legal proceedings. Sometimes he just looks bored with the whole process and one can see him writing or drawing on a notepad.

Following the June hearing, he expressed thanks to his supporters: "I am very grateful for your support and humbled by your ongoing efforts." He specifically thanked Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network. He is not aware of a lot of the actions being taken in support of him at Fort Meade until they have happened. However, when he finds out, they make him very happy. He found out during the June hearing that there were supporters in the gallery wearing T-shirts that said "Truth" on them. When he heard that, his face lit up and he smiled.

Revolution: Why do you think the U.S. government is acting so aggressively and harshly in this case?

Gosztola: The U.S. government has reacted so aggressively and harshly because they have to make an example out of Manning. The shocks to this American superpower caused by his alleged leaks were on a scale that no person in power could ever have imagined. Particularly troublesome for the U.S. government was the release of the cache of over 250,000 U.S. State Department Embassy cables. The release fully exposed how U.S. diplomats have used blackmail, bribery, coercion, cover-ups, fraud, misconduct and other tactics to advance U.S. foreign policy. This forced multiple ambassadors and employees of the State Department to be shuffled around to new posts in the same way that the Catholic Church moves priests guilty of sex crimes so they can avoid attention and accountability.

No person in government can point to an alleged attack by a terrorist organization and say an alleged leak by Manning caused that. Nobody can point to the death of an informant or human rights activist and say that was because of something that was published on the WikiLeaks website. Yet, the government said at the beginning that there would be great damage to national security and lives would be endangered. Well, no critical infrastructure or anything was ever damaged. The only thing hurt was the ego of American empire.

Revolution: What do you think is the broader significance of this case, especially for any who oppose the unjust actions of the U.S. military and government around the world and here at home?

Gosztola: The broader significance and implications of the government's pursuit of this case is to try and make soldiers in the military who see something that upsets their conscience even less likely to blow the whistle. Manning clearly had seen some of the horrors of the Iraq war and it affected him. At one point he worked in a unit connected with an Iraqi Federal Police unit. He knew the military was turning over detainees to the Federal Police that were being subjected to torture. He complained to his superior officer but was told to basically run along and go help the military get more detainees. For any soldier who believed what they were doing in Iraq involved helping the Iraqi people, this might be enough to push someone to no longer believe the war was righteous and good.

There are likely many soldiers in the military that no longer believe in the "war on terrorism." Like the soldiers in Iraq Veterans Against the War or Courage to Resist, they want to step out. Manning may be someone who gives them the courage to follow their conscience and resist fighting an endless war. On the other hand, the way the government has treated him, soldiers may see Manning as an example of what happens to you if you don't keep quiet about what you see in war. Soldiers may think his case shows it's best to just get to the end of your tour of duty and not make the injustices or horrors of war a problem for the military or your chain of command, like Manning allegedly did.

Revolution: On the issue of whistle-blowers and alleged whistle-blowers—how does the Obama administration compare to when George W. Bush was in the White House?

Gosztola: The Obama administration has waged an unprecedented war on whistle-blowers or "leakers." He's prosecuted more individuals for alleged leaks than all previous U.S. presidents combined. Unlike Bush, the Obama administration does not simply retaliate against people that go to the press to reveal the truth of what the U.S. government is doing. They target them with prosecutions. And, to date, six people have faced prosecutions under the flawed and outdated Espionage Act of 1917.

This war on whistle-blowing or leaking has created a climate that makes government employees very reluctant to talk to reporters or journalists on the record. It chills free speech and freedom of the press. It makes media organizations more deferent to power. To avoid being targeted by government for engaging in actual muckraking journalism, journalists form cozy relationships hoping to be spoon-fed scoops that can form best-selling books like New York Times' journalist David Sanger's recent book, Confront and Conceal, or Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman's Kill or Capture. They ask permission before going to publish and carefully frame their reporting as merely informative so as not to upset the officials who provided them with scoops. They do not draw any important conclusions about government, or in these cases the national security state, which might alienate sources, because they want to be able to talk to officials for future stories or books.

Revolution: I understand media organizations are waging a campaign for more access to Manning and information about his case. What is this about?

Gosztola: I am a plaintiff in a challenge filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) with the Army Criminal Court of Appeals (ACCA) to force the military judge to grant the press and public access to court filings. Other plaintiffs signed on to the challenge include Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald, Nation national security correspondent Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, The Nation, Chase Madar, author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Each of us finds the lack of transparency in the proceedings unacceptable. Court orders, judges' decisions, government motions and other filings in the court should be available for the press to reference. None of that is available to reporters who cover the proceedings from the media pool. Yet the press does have access to court filings in the cases of Guantánamo prisoners brought before military tribunals. This means when the judge, defense or prosecution says something or reads a document, reporters have one chance to get what was said for a news story. And, whether what we put down is accurate or not, what is written or typed is what is reported and we may or may not have the full context, but there is nothing we can do to confirm the accuracy. The military won't give us access to court documents so we can double-check.

Revolution: Why do you feel it's so important to expose what's happening in this case and build support for Manning? And what can people do to help?

Gosztola: The world is deeply indebted to whomever is responsible for the high-profile WikiLeaks releases in 2010. There is so much more the world knows now, mostly about how the Bush administration was prosecuting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how it was carrying out daily U.S. diplomatic operations around the world.

Here's a short list of some of what we now know from just the diplomatic cables released: Monsanto got the U.S. to help fight Argentina environmentalists/farmers; the U.S. pushed foreign governments to buy Boeing aircrafts instead of Boeing's European rival, Airbus; the U.S. trained and funded Costa Rican security forces to suppress anti-free-trade agreement protests; Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to cover up U.S. drone strikes; the U.S. and China conspired to block reform on climate change at the Copenhagen talks; the U.S. interfered in Spain's judicial process to prevent U.S. military servicemen from being prosecuted for killing Spanish journalist Jose Couso; and U.S. diplomats were ordered to spy on UN officials.

There are details on war, rendition, torture, extrajudicial killings, prisons and other human rights abuses that could have potentially been kept secret for 30 to 40 years before people in the world found out this information. And then, of course, there's also the fact that the cables Manning is alleged to have released on Tunisia and Egypt are said to have been a catalyst in the uprisings in 2011 that became known as the Arab Spring.

So, the case is important because of the information. It is worth following because of the fact that Manning could be in jail for life because he allegedly released this information. And it is something people should tune into and care about regardless of whether one thinks it is a done deal that Manning will be convicted and imprisoned in some supermax prison for life. People who pay attention now and show support can have an impact on the proceedings. Protests by people in the United States already forced the Pentagon to move him from Quantico. There was no guarantee that would happen. If people stand up as they did then and bring attention to how the government is prosecuting Manning, they could get charges dropped. They could force the government to drop the "aiding the enemy" charge, which would be huge because the government would like nothing more than to put him away in prison and have history remember him as a traitorous individual who betrayed his country after 9/11 and helped al Qaeda by leaking national security secrets. Supporters are certain that Manning is a selfless, courageous individual, and people can help him clear his name by standing up for him now.

Over the past two years, thousands have either donated to the defense fund or given freely of their time to support Pfc. Bradley Manning. The support provided has come in many forms including signing petitions at standwithbrad.org; standing up to say "I am Bradley Manning" (iam.bradleymanning.org); writing to military/government authorities and the editors of local and national papers; attending marches, rallies, and other public events to raise awareness about Bradley Manning; donating to the legal defense fund; or volunteering with the Bradley Manning Support Network and Courage to Resist. For more information on what's happening in Bradley's case and how you can help, go to bradleymanning.org and the website of Bradley's lawyer, David Coombs: www.armycourtmartialdefense.info.

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