by John Wilson
By ANN MONTAGUE – Socialist Action USA
U.S. Army whistleblower Pfc. Chelsea (Bradley) Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for giving hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. The military judge, Col. Denise Lind, offered no explanation for her sentence. As military guards conducted Manning from the courtroom on Aug. 21, his supporters shouted out, “We will keep fighting for you!”
The response to the sentence was swift. Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, stated, “The only person prosecuted for the crimes and abuses uncovered in the WikiLeaks’ releases is the person who exposed them. That alone proves the injustice of even one more day in prison for Bradley Manning.”
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said, “This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”
“It seems clear,” Wizner noted, “that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”
Three and a half years will be credited to Manning’s sentence for time served. This will include time for the period that the judge ruled he was mistreated at the Marine Corps Brig at Quantico, Va., before being moved to the prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Throughout his time at Quantico, he was designated a “maximum custody” detainee and locked up alone for at least 23 hours a day. He was forced to sleep naked for several nights and required to stand at attention naked in the morning. He will have to serve one-third of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.
Manning faced a possible 90-year sentence. The government had denied him a whistleblower defense and the right to describe intent or to show that his actions harmed no one. U.S. prosecutors asked for a sentence of 60 years while acknowledging Manning’s youth. But it was clear that the true motivation for the prosecution’s request for the extremely long sentence was to deter future leaks. Prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow stated, “There is value in deterrence.”
“Pfc. Manning was one of the brave Americans who was not willing to remain silent,” defense attorney David Coombs told the media. “Instead he decided to provide us with information that he believed would spark reform, would spark debate and he provided us with information that he believed might change the world.”
“Perhaps the biggest crime was that he cared about the loss of life that he was seeing and couldn’t ignore it, and was struggling with it.”
The forensic psychologist who testified in Manning’s defense, Capt. David Moulton, told the military court, “Manning was under the impression that his leaked information was going to really change how the world views the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and future wars. … It was his opinion that if through crowd sourcing that enough analysis was done on these documents, that it would lead to greater good.”
Three days before Manning was sentenced, British authorities made their own effort to intimidate whistleblowers when they detained David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, and confiscated his laptop. Greenwald has been writing articles based on leaked information from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Officials told Miranda that he was being held under Britain’s Terrorism Act, and threatened him with prison if he didn’t “cooperate.”
It was reported recently that the NSA has no idea what or how much information Edward Snowden has in his possession. Clearly, the United States and Britain are terrified about what information might be revealed next concerning their war machines and surveillance networks.
Manning downloaded the leaked material to his computer when he was deployed as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010. What did he actually reveal? The most widely seen information was seen in the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed an Apache helicopter attack on a group of people walking in a Baghdad street in 2007. Two of the victims were employees of Reuters news agency. A member of the helicopter crew yelled “dead bastards!” at those they killed. They also blew up a van of civilians who had stopped to help the initial victims of the first round of gunfire.
The “Reykjavik-13 Cable” was the first leak to be published by WikiLeaks; it describes frank discussions of meetings between the U.S. embassy chief in Reykjavik and members of the Icelandic government. The scornful attitude of the U.S. representative towards their nation in the middle of its banking crisis so angered activists in Iceland that they edited the “Collateral Murder” video, which was soon released worldwide.
The “Iraq War Logs” were 75,000 Army documents that detailed U.S. nighttime raids with reports from U.S. troops on the ground. These reports have been used to track civilian casualties that officials previously had said were not available.
The “Afghanistan War Logs” were 75,000 pages of documents that The New York Times described as “a ground level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is more grim than the official portrayal.”
The “Guantanamo Files” included 700 detainee files and 250,000 State Department cables detailing CIA extraordinary renditions, in violation of international law, of people suspected of “terrorism.” Shane Kadidal, a lawyer for the Center For Constitutional Rights, believes the volume of the material is part of the importance of these leaks: “It is one thing to tell a few anecdotes based on a few items, but to be able to say across the board that most of the men that are there shouldn’t be there and are people that could be safely released, that is pretty staggering.”
The leaks also showed the hypocrisy of the U.S. collaboration with Arab dictators while proclaiming a commitment to democracy.
The Bradley Manning Support Network will continue to keep the spotlight on Manning. They have organized international support through education and activism about his case as well as raising $1.4 million for his defense. Even as the sentence was handed down, the network announced that they were teaming with Amnesty International to launch a petition asking President Obama for a pardon.
At the same time, Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, is preparing to bring the case to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to address violations of due process rights. Manning was detained without trial for more than three years in violation of his Constitutional right to a speedy trial. He was only awarded four months off of his sentence for the psychological torture he suffered while in solitary confinement for more than nine months.
The U.S. Marine Corps was never held accountable for Manning’s treatment. Also, President Obama declared Manning guilty in April 2011, more than two years before the trial began. This constitutes unlawful command influence, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The Center For Constitutional Rights has made clear that all of the supporters of Bradley Manning must continue to struggle for his freedom and raise the demand that President Obama issue a pardon for Manning.
[Update: Aug. 23] The campaign to free Manning immediately showed that the push for a presidential pardon will be more aggressive than simply a legal maneuver and e-mail petitions. On Aug. 22 Ursula Rozem and Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre interrupted President Obama’s speech at Henninger High School in Syracuse by raising a sign saying, “Free Bradley Manning,” and shouting, “President Obama, you must free Private Manning. With all due respect sir, Private Manning exposed war crimes. Private Manning exposed torture. Private Manning aided the public, not the enemy. Private Manning is a hero.” The two women were then escorted off the premises. They then issued a longer statement about why they had interrupted the president and detailed his record of prosecuting whistleblowers.]
[Update: Aug. 23] This article was written immediately after the sentencing, on Aug. 21. The next day, Manning provided a statement to the press, “As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.” In future articles, Socialist Action will respect Chelsea Manning’s wishes, and refer to her using female pronouns.