The trial of Bradley Manning is set to begin on June 3, at Ft. Meade, Maryland. Manning is a U.S. Army private charged with 22 violations of the “Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Manning already has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for over three years, including 11 months in isolation in a hellhole that Juan Méndez, a special United Nations rapporteur who formally investigated Manning’s conditions, described as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.” Manning himself said of those 11 months, “I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to die. I’m stuck inside this cage. I just thought I was going to die in that cage. And that’s how I saw it: an animal cage.”
The basis of the charges against Manning is the accusation that he leaked almost 500,000 classified government documents, which were then published by the website WikiLeaks. Many of these documents and files revealed war crimes committed by the U.S. government and its military in Iraq and elsewhere. The documents Manning is charged with leaking include the Collateral Murder video, Afghanistan War Logs, Iraq War Logs, U.S. State Embassy cables, and Gitmo (Guantánamo) files. All of them contain damning evidence of U.S. atrocities, cover-ups, and deceit.
The most serious of the accusations against Manning is that he “aided the enemy.” If he is convicted of this charge, Bradley Manning faces the possibility of a life sentence in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Even if Manning is not convicted on this charge, he faces 20 other charges that could result in over 150 years in prison. He has already pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of “prejudicing the good order and discipline of the military,” which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
In February 2013, Manning was taken from his cell to a military courtroom, where he read a lengthy statement that included his reasons for joining the military, how and why he became an intelligence analyst in the military and, most especially, why he said he sent government files to WikiLeaks. Manning said he released the files to reveal to people “what happens and why it happens” and to “spark a debate about foreign policy.”
Despite Manning’s guilty plea on certain charges, the government is determined to press ahead with charges that could, if he is convicted, end in a life in prison for him.
War Crimes Exposed
The Collateral Murder video, from Baghdad 2007, is perhaps the most shocking of the files. It shows American soldiers in an Apache helicopter shooting and killing 11 Iraqi civilians who don’t return fire. Two children who were in a van that arrived after the initial round of gunfire were seriously wounded; their father, who stopped to help the people already shot, was killed. The Americans were recorded joking about and exulting in the slaughter they inflicted. “Alright! Ha ha! I hit ’em!… Got a bunch of bodies lying there… Oh yeah! Look at those dead bastards!”
Among the thousands of documents in the Afghanistan War Log were directives that authorized teams of Navy Seals and Delta Forces to decide whether to kill or capture people they decided were their “targets.” Other files revealed policies—code named “Frago 242″—by which U.S. and English forces who directed torture of Iraqi captives could avoid taking responsibility for it.
In other words, the person who leaked these videos saw some of the bloody horrors the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have inflicted on millions of people. This person came to an understanding of the lies and deceit these wars were built on, and realized they had a responsibility to act. This person exposed to the world horrible crimes that the U.S. government wanted to keep concealed.
Bradley Manning is accused of being this person, and now the U.S. government is compelled to punish Manning to the utmost, to set an example for others—including those within the military itself—who may also be revolted by the reality of the war crimes their government and its armed forces routinely commit.
Whoever leaked these files is a hero who acted with great courage, and whose example provides a model and inspiration to anyone else who witnesses or participates in such monstrous crimes.
The Real Criminals
Blood spilled by the U.S. has been soaking into the arid ground from Libya to Pakistan for the past dozen years. In particular, over the past 12½ years since George W. Bush and Co. commenced a “global war on terror,” countless atrocities—crimes against humanity—have been inflicted on people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and other countries by American military forces and spy agencies.
Well over 100,000 people have been killed outright in this American onslaught; countless more have died of disease and suffering inflicted by the wars. Hundreds of thousands more people have lost limbs or been otherwise maimed, traumatized and sickened; people in all these countries have seen their farms, homes, and ways of making a living destroyed. Millions have been “displaced” by war.
But the perpetrators of these atrocities have not been punished. Even before he was inaugurated, Obama made clear that he was opposed to any investigation of criminality in relation to the torture programs carried out during the Bush years. And since taking office, Obama has kept the book closed on cases of CIA torture, insuring that no one will be punished for the horrendous crimes that were directed from the highest levels of the U.S. government.
Far from being treated as war criminals and facing life in prison, the leading political and military officials who have organized, orchestrated, and justified such monstrous criminal acts remain esteemed and respected guardians of the system of capitalism-imperialism.
Colin Powell stood before the United Nations and lied to the world that Iraq threatened its neighbors with “weapons of mass destruction”—his speech was quickly followed by a massive U.S. invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld launched invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and organized a worldwide network of torture chambers in defiance of international laws and even the U.S.’s own laws.
Now Colin Powell speaks around the country on “leadership,” at a fee of $100,000 to $200,000 per talk. George W. Bush just had a library built in his name on the campus of Southern Methodist University—the inauguration of the library this April was attended by Obama as well as former presidents Clinton, Bush I, and Carter.
Barack Obama has not only defended and continued the program of war and torture begun by his predecessors; he has extended U.S. bombing to several other countries, and developed policies of drone bombing and targeted assassinations.
Obama has accompanied the global crimes of the system and military he heads with the ruthless pursuit and punishment of anyone—such as Bradley Manning—who allegedly exposes these atrocities. As journalist/blogger Kevin Gosztola said in an interview with Revolution last year, “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…”
A Political/Legal Battle With High Stakes
The release of the WikiLeaks files was a major, international shock to this system of global exploitation and oppression backed up by military force. The horrible acts of death and destruction; the relentless waging of war against civilian populations; the gleeful celebration of mass murder by its soldiers; the blackmail, bribery and cover-ups that are routine in the “diplomatic relations” the U.S. maintains even with its allies—all this and more are things the leaders of this system want to talk about among themselves, not to be aired in public.
The stakes of Bradley Manning’s upcoming trial are extremely high. This system is out to inflict extreme punishment on Bradley Manning—to jail him for a long time, perhaps life, and to use this cruel punishment of a brave person as an example to anyone else who would dare expose the crimes of empire. The courage and resilience with which Manning has withstood years of solitary confinement and almost a year of torture are a testament to his strength.
In April 2011, Barack Obama was directly questioned about the arrest and imprisonment of Bradley Manning. Even though at that point Manning had yet to be even legally charged with anything, let alone put on trial, Obama responded, “We are a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make decisions about how the law operates. He (Manning) broke the law.” First of all, this is monumental deceit and hypocrisy from a man who defies international law and standards to, among other things, imprison and torture Bradley Manning, and who regularly has made decisions based on the supposed legal authority of a “secret memorandum” to send murderous drone strikes against civilians in multiple countries.
But how can Bradley Manning possibly have a “fair trial” when the President, the “Commander-in-Chief” himself, has already declared that he is guilty? What happened to the “presumption of innocence,” supposedly a cornerstone of the American system of law?
The continued sadistic persecution of Bradley Manning reveals much about the ways the U.S. coheres its empire, and the fearful, vengeful punishment it seeks to extract when it is exposed. Far from being the worldwide champion of such “democratic values” as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as the representatives of this system never tire of proclaiming, a look beneath the system’s façade reveals a gruesome reality of murderous wars, atrocious war crimes routinely covered up, and harsh persecution of people who expose these crimes.
The government is out to silence and shut down any individual or any media outlet that exposes the truth about crimes committed by the U.S. military. Anyone who wants to see truth revealed, war crimes exposed and stopped, and justice done must demand that the persecution of Bradley Manning be ended, his charges dropped, and that he be freed.
This article originally appeared on revcom.us on May 24, 2013.