Thursday, June 2, 2011

If you support WikiLeaks, support Bradley Manning

[This article by Perth Resistance member Kate Massam was published in the Perth Voice Saturday 4 June 2011 edition.]

For 11 long months one man - Bradley Manning - sat alone in solitary confinement in his jail cell. His crime? Allegedly blowing the whistle on some of America's worst war crimes.

The crimes that he is said to have revealed included the torture and killing of countless civilians, the illegal bombing of Yemen and the extent of the drone attacks on northern Pakistan.

Despite not having been convicted of any crime - nor even having yet faced a trial - Manning is being treated like a criminal as the presumed source of the documents published by online whistleblower publisher WikiLeaks.

He is simply a man who “wanted people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
He is a 23 year old gay rights activist who was kicked out of home and once lost his job for being gay.

On May 26, 2010 Manning was arrested in Kuwait on suspicion of leaking military documents from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, video footage of a military attack that killed a dozen civilians including two Reuter's journalists and 250,000 US state department cables.

Manning was kept in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia for 23 hours a day without charge or trial for over nine months. He was subjected to inhumane treatment that included inadequate access to sunlight and a strict exercise schedule that only allowed him to exercise by walking around in circles in a separate room to his cell for one hour a day.

During the day he was required to respond in the affirmative to the question “are you OK?” every five minutes and at night he had to respond to the same question every time he turned his back to the cell door or covered his face with his blanket.

After March 2, when he was finally charged with 22 various charges including “sharing state secrets” and “aiding the enemy via indirect means” which carries life imprisonment or the death penalty, he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked, to attention, every morning for inspection.

Many people raise the argument that in being a member of the US military Manning should have known that this would be the result of releasing their classified information however after becoming disillusioned by the realities of the US's war on Iraq and Afghanistan Manning made the conscious decision to not become complicit in those actions but instead to try and effect change to achieve a more peaceful world.

He reportedly hoped that releasing the information would spark “worldwide discussions, debates and reforms”.

In April around 300 of America's top law scholars, including Barack Obama's own constitutional law professor, came forward in a strongly worded open letter to the Obama Administration. They claimed that the conditions of Manning's detention violated the Eighth Amendment (outlawing cruel and unusual punishment) and the Fifth Amendment (prohibiting punishment without trial).

The letter even points out that there is no evidence that Manning's treatment is needed for his own safety or the safety of other inmates so it is highly likely that “this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistle-blowers or to force Manning to implicate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.”

US State department spokesperson PJ Crowley resigned after speaking out against Manning's conditions saying that this treatment was “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid”.

Meanwhile Obama has said that the conditions are “appropriate”.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world disagree and have been standing in support of Bradley Manning. This people power effort recently resulted in a lessening of the torturous conditions he was being held in, including an end to his solitary confinement.

The movement extends to Perth where more than 50 people attended a speakout protest on May 28. “Free Bradley Manning” banners were also hung two days earlier on the one year anniversary of his incarceration.

This issue also raises the need for stronger laws protecting whistleblowers in this country.
It is a sign of the times we live in where war criminals walk the streets freely whereas heroes like Bradley Manning suffer cruel and unusual punishment without even having been convicted of any crime.

However just as a people's power movement succeeded in toppling dictators in Egypt and Tunisia - inspired in part by the WikiLeaks revelations - the international solidarity movement will one day succeed in bringing the architects of the “war on terror” to justice and winning freedom for Bradley Manning.