If Manning is ever released, he will re-enter a world ready to embrace him, advanced with the understanding to recognize his greatness.
Mark Wilson, Getty Images)
Zoom in on an aerial image of the Fort Meade military base and you will see miles of sprawling green fields and parking lots separating homes and administrative buildings. From that vantage point the magistrate court looks about the size of a Mack Truck. History is being made in that little building, the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning is being held there.
Two weeks ago, in the swampy heat, I stood outside that single-floor courthouse. A crowd of about twenty-five of us were gathered in a narrow paved area between trailers for restrooms, crowd overflow, and the security check-in. There was a man near the entrance that had to be in his eighties. I overheard him interrupt a conversation to ask, “What’s an e-reader?” A white haired woman told him it is a thin device that holds loads of books as digital files. He paused, perhaps to consider how the contents of his personal library might be encoded to fit inside something not much bigger than a calculator. I looked around again. Maybe a third of the people attending the trial as spectators could remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor as clearly as 9-11. And quite a number more looked like retired boomers. Has AARP thrown its weight behind hacktivist causes? Were they cypherpunks in elaborate disguise?
I started talking with a retired woman who drove down from Pennsylvania. I asked how she felt about the prosecution’s depiction of WikiLeaks as a terrorist abettor. “Well, I’m not as concerned with that,” she said. “I’m here because they were torturing that kid.”
I was there because they were torturing that kid.
Last winter, I read a tweet from the Guardian‘s Ed Pilkington quoting Manning’s testimony in the pre-trial hearing. I shut my phone off and stared out the window — a tiny privilege that Manning had for so long been denied:
“BRADLEY MANNING: ‘You could see the reflection of the reflection of the skylight if you angled your face on the cell door’ – Quantico” — @Edpilkington
From then on, I found myself often thinking about Manning straining to see a “reflection of the reflection” while locked away at the brig. And for what? For exposing criminality and corruption on a worldwide structural level when no one else dared. But in the courtroom, Manning looks so earnest. He appears confident, not frail. You can see in him a glimmer of the “bradass87″ that once wrote to a friend that he would like to be like his idols, “richard feynman, carl sagan, harvey milk, etc.”
The enormity of his actions sits in contrast with the work-a-day procedure of the court martial. But that is Washington for you, a city where you might meet diplomats with sweat stains under the arms of their dress shirts and stateswomen in fraying stockings. Power appears unexpectedly accessible and deceivingly provincial. The prosecutors — representing the US government — seem guided less by iron fist than egregious technical illiteracy. The people who tortured Bradley Manning do not have horns. And that makes it all much worse.
Earlier that day, I left my phone in a friend’s glove compartment and handed my umbrella to a soldier as another searched my bag in the security trailer. Anyone can walk in and observe the proceedings. It is a short train ride from Union Station and the Bradley Manning Support Network arranges pickups, but too few people are taking advantage of this opportunity. On a panel at Left Forum, Jessalyn Radack, the attorney who represented NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, said that some days there were only six spectators. Nearing a verdict now, the courtroom is typically full, but the overflow trailer still has plenty of room. It makes a difference. They announce court attendance every morning.
How many people even know the trial is happening? Manning was held for three years without a trial. That is plenty of time for the public to mistakenly assume there was already a court decision and sentencing. And why did they try this case at all? Manning already pled guilty to 10 charges and faces up to 20 years. The remaining charges are bizarrely exaggerated. Using flimsy circumstantial evidence, the government is trying to argue that publishing documents on the internet assists terrorists. And for that they could lock him away for life.
The prosecution insists they would have pressed the same charges if Manning had gone to the New York Times instead of WikiLeaks. Daniel Ellsberg did go to the New York Times, which published excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Before his case was thrown out as a mistrial, he faced a sentence of up to 115 years under the Espionage Act of 1917. “Everything that Richard Nixon did to me, for which he faced impeachment and prosecution, which led to his resignation, is now legal under the Patriot Act, the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] amendment act, the National Defense Authorization Act,” Ellsberg told Chris Hedges in an interview. Now Manning is accused not only of espionage, but “aiding the enemy,” essentially because some WikiLeaks files were on Osama bin Laden’s computer.
The prosecutors are in their early 30s — nominally “digital natives” — and should know better. “Do you know what Wget is?” they interrogate a witness, as if it is malicious spyware and not an everyday command line program. The government is capitalizing on asymmetric tech literacy and the failure of language when old laws are applied to the internet. At the peak of this absurdity: WikiLeaks cables are still formally classified, so despite being readily available to anyone with internet, closed sessions are required to discuss them.
Perhaps you heard the audio of Bradley Manning’s court statement earlier this year. That was leaked. No other recordings or visuals have come out of the trial, with the exception of courtroom sketches. Now imagine if there were a livestream. And imagine if everyone had tuned in to watch Yochai Benkler’s gripping expert witness testimony on July 10th. He argued on behalf of the decentralization of media in the digital age, the blurred lines between activist and journalist, and that WikiLeaks was “providing a discrete but critical component of what in the past was always integrated in a single organization.” He explained in clear language what everyone of a certain generation knows intuitively about the internet. Afterward, in the restroom, I overheard two old ladies say they plan to read his book, The Wealth of Networks.
Why did the prosecution ramp up charges against Manning? “Aiding the enemy” might have resulted in the death penalty. The answer came from Benkler under cross-examination. Summarizing an article he wrote, he explained in court, “it’s very hard to suppress information once it’s on WikiLeaks and that the core target needs to be on trust as the center of gravity. In other words, to undermine the concept that WikiLeaks is a place where a leaker can go and trust that they won’t be revealed. So in order to prevent this distributed leaking, it’s necessary to increase the fear, as it were, or the constraint on potential leakers.”
In Ellsberg’s time, the labor involved was its own risk and deterrent. Over the course of a year, he went out with a suitcase to Xerox page after page of the Pentagon Papers (with a piece of cardboard pressed against the glass to edit out the “Top Secret” stamps.) Manning’s cover was a rewritable CD marked “Lady Gaga.” He downloaded the files while listening to “Telephone.” He was tortured and he risks life imprisonment, because leaking is now so easy.
If you grow up knowing an entire library can fit inside a device in the palm of your hand, those 250,000 diplomatic cables and 500,000 army reports do not seem like an enormous bounty. What looks like “harvesting” to one generation, might seem like the obvious way to gather data to the next.
The witness for the defense who has stayed in my mind is Lauren McNamara. She read from a series of AOL chats with Manning in 2009. She was called in to defend his character and demonstrate he was in good spirits in the months leading up to the cable leaks. McNamara — who goes by Zinnia Jones in online videos and blogs — is transgender. It is possible some people in the courtroom had never met someone who is trans* — or think they haven’t. McNamara would smash any retrograde assumptions. She’s confident and witty. There is nothing strange about her gender identity. She is a woman. Manning might be too. McNamara wrote for the Hufington Post, “when I talked with people who are in close contact with Manning, they all told me he currently identifies as male.” Coombes and the Bradley Manning Support Network also say he prefers to be addressed as Bradley. Manning might be female presenting as male, Manning might be non-binary; that’s for Manning to say.
Manning was tortured in part because he signed a few letters from the brig as “Breanna Elizabeth.” Marine Corps Master Sgt. Craig Blenis defended his cruelty in a December pre-trial hearing. Coombs asked why the marine thought Manning’s gender dysphoria should factor into his “prevention of Injury” status. Blenis answered because “that’s not normal, sir.”
But it is normal. Manning’s gender identity is as normal as his computer use. Using Wget, believing WikiLeaks to be a reputable news source in 2010, listening to Lady Gaga, identifying as a gender different from your assigned sex— this is all normal. It just might take another generation to see this. What is out of the ordinary about Pfc Bradley Manning is his extraordinary courage. If Manning is ever released, he will re-enter a world ready to embrace him, advanced with the understanding to recognize his greatness.
The case of a military whistleblower highlights the US’s changing attitude to secrecy.
Bradley Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.” The opening of Chase Madar’s book leaves us in no doubt as to the author’s view on his subject: whistleblower Bradley Manning, the man said to have supplied half a million classified documents to WikiLeaks.
For Madar, a New York lawyer, the line is more than a rhetorical flourish. The US awarded the Presidential Medal, the country’s highest civilian honour, to most of the principal players behind the Iraq War, including Tony Blair and John Howard. In other words, those who misled the public into a disastrous invasion were decorated – but Manning faces life in jail for revealing the truth about what the conflict entailed.
‘I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy.’ Bradley Manning
In part, The Passion of Bradley Manning can be read as a biography. Manning, a talented but troubled computer geek, enlisted in the army (perhaps because of an unhappy relationship with his father) and, despite struggling as a recruit, somehow ended up an intelligence analyst in Iraq.
In that capacity, he investigated 15 men detained by the Iraqi federal police for printing ”anti-Iraqi literature”. But the material that brought them into Iraq’s notorious jails proved, on further inspection, to be merely an expose of Iraqi government corruption, entitled Where did the money go?.
Yet when Manning reported the injustice to his superiors, he was told to ”shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs [police] in finding more detainees”.
Though he was bullied for his slight stature and his homosexuality, Manning’s disenchantment with the war stemmed from politics, not personality or psychology. He had access to evidence of atrocities, such as the footage later released as ”Collateral Murder” – a clip of a helicopter gunship killing civilians. As he asked during an online chat with a hacker named Adrian Lamo: ”[If you] saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington, D.C. … what would you do?”
Lamo supplied his answer by turning Manning in to the authorities.
Alongside its biographical details, The Passion of Bradley Manning tells another story, a history of secrecy’s spread. For the American founders, democracy necessarily meant that the people knew what their government did. The former US president James Madison put it like this: ”A popular government, without popular information, is but a prelude to a tragedy or a farce, or perhaps both.”
Today, however, secrecy seems an end in itself – so much so that documents pertaining to Madison’s own administration (he left office in 1817) still remain under wraps.
The officials responsible for US information security classified almost 77 million documents in 2010 and 92 million in 2011, while President Obama, who campaigned as an ally of whistleblowers, has actually prosecuted more leakers under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all his predecessors combined.
Naturally, with the security state so large, leaks happen all the time – about 3 million Americans have access to classified documents. But the reaction to breaches depends largely on who’s responsible.
For instance, material classified as top secret – a higher rating than anything Manning allegedly released – frequently finds its way into books by insider journalists of the Bob Woodward variety. Stories in The New York Times and elsewhere quote ”unnamed officials” on sensitive military matters. Such leaks are often sanctioned at the highest levels. Obama’s chief of staff William Daley has, for instance, casually discussed how he and his predecessors give secret material to the press when that information makes the administration look good.
”I’m all for leaking when it’s organised,” he said.
Forty years ago, Daniel Ellsberg released details about the US war in Vietnam in the so-called ”Pentagon Papers”, all of it more highly classified than anything WikiLeaks has published. Yet Ellsberg is a free man while Manning is quite likely to stay in prison for the rest of his life. What’s the difference?
Madar suggests Manning’s case reflects a changing political climate. The Pentagon Papers came out at the high-water mark of US liberalism. Today, tolerance for dissent has become much lower.
US officials have acknowledged on several occasions that WikiLeaks has not cost a single American life. Yet, since his arrest, Manning has been held in solitary confinement under extraordinarily degrading conditions (he is kept naked at night and, because he is classified as a danger to himself, he must respond every five minutes to the guard’s inquiry: ”Are you OK?”).
On the one hand, Madar says, this cruelty reflects a degradation of judicial norms during the war on terror, a period in which assassinations, coercive interrogations and the like have been normalised.
More worryingly, it also mirrors deeper problems within the conventional US justice system, where the vast penal apparatus keeps prisoners in appalling conditions for years on end. One human rights lawyer discusses how prisoners in Guantanamo might be well advised to accept 10 years in the communal wing of that facility rather than three years in solitary at an American supermax prison.
For Madar, that’s why Manning is so important. His disclosures matter because Americans remain ignorant about what’s done in their name, whether in the bowels of high-security prisons or in the streets of Baghdad.
”I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy,” Manning said during his web chat with Lamo.
His fate now depends on how many others feel the same way.
Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland and author of Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship.
THE PASSION OF BRADLEY MANNING
via The good soldier.
via The good soldier.
Prosecutors must prove that Pfc. Bradley Manning “had reason to believe” that the classified material he provided to WikiLeaks would harm the nation, a military judge ruled Wednesday — offering the Pentagon and the Obama administration an opportunity to bring an end to a prosecution that has become an exercise in overkill.
Manning, the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst in Iraq, pleaded guilty in February to 10 charges, including possessing classified information and transferring it to an unauthorized person. The plea alone could subject him to 20 years in prison, but the government wasn’t satisfied. It continues to charge him with multiple violations of the Espionage Act and of “aiding the enemy.” Conviction on the more serious charges could put him in prison for life.
To Manning’s supporters, he is a valiant whistle-blower; they often cite the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack that killed 12 civilians in Baghdad that Manning provided to WikiLeaks. His detractors argue that his actions sprang as much from personal problems as from altruism and that his indiscriminate document dump went way beyond identifying war crimes, undermining national security and the conduct of diplomacy.
Even if Manning was engaged in principled civil disobedience, he must face the consequences that await anyone who violates the law in a supposedly higher cause. But the current charges against him go too far.
In arguing that Manning aided the enemy, the government’s case apparently will rest on the assertion that some WikiLeaks material made its way to a digital device found in the possession of Osama bin Laden. This is an ominously broad interpretation. By the government’s logic, the New York Times could be accused of aiding the enemy if Bin Laden possessed a copy of the newspaper that included the WikiLeaks material it published.
As for the Espionage Act charges, the judge, Col. Denise Lind, ruled that the prosecution must prove that Manning had “reason to believe” that providing computer files to WikiLeaks would harm the nation; it wouldn’t be enough simply to show that he knew he was disclosing classified information. Whether this ruling would make conviction of Manning significantly harder isn’t clear. But it could make it easier for the government to announce that pursuing the additional charges wouldn’t be productive — a graceful exit that would still leave Manning facing considerable time in prison.