Happy Birthday Chelsea Manning

Deb Vanpoolen | December 17, 2013

Chelsea Manning
Although Private Manning vs. the United States was one of the most important trials in US history, no cameras were allowed inside the courtroom.  Without cameras in the courtroom, the world’s masses of people impacted by the Wikileaks releases could not be properly informed of the proceedings.  In the three years following the Wikileaks releases and Manning’s arrest, the mainstream US media provided miniscule coverage of anything to do with Private Manning, including her entire three-year pre-trial confinement and the two years of pre-trial hearings.

Thus, before the court martial began, I saw a dire need for alternative media as well as ordinary citizens to daily attend and closely report on the trial so that quality information about the historic trial was accessible to the citizens of the whole world.

Although I had virtually no experience in courtroom sketching, I predicted that my minimal portrait drawing skills might prove useful in communicating images from the courtroom to the public.  I arranged my life (found a work-trade/rental situation providing massage, cleaning, and gardening services in exchange for rent) so that I could attend each day of the court martial which began in the first week of June and lasted until the third week in August, 2013.  I taught myself how to use a smart phone’s internet hot spot, a portable scanning device, the Picassa computer program, and Facebook and Twitter accounts so that I could immediately upload images during breaks in the courtroom proceedings.

Write Chelsea Manning a letter; send to
Bradley E Manning
1300 N Warehouse Rd
Ft Leavenworth KS 66027-2304
More on sending letters to Manning

Throughout the summer’s proceedings, I experienced a huge spectrum of emotions.  I was deeply impressed by the way Private Manning held her professional, intensely attentive composure throughout each day of the trial.  She was almost always sitting on the edge of her seat, focused on each word that was spoken in the courtroom. Every single time one of the defense team prepared to speak, Manning flipped the switch which turned on the defense team’s microphone.

I was deeply inspired and encouraged by the opening and closing statements of David Coombs as well as the statement Chelsea Manning read on the final day of the trial.  I was very happy upon hearing the amazingly articulate testimony of Professor Benkler who schooled us all on the “aiding the enemy” charge’s potential to wield a fatal blow to freedom of the press in the US.  The day Benkler testified followed several days of ridiculous, nauseating prosecution witnesses who claimed—under oath--that national security was harmed by Manning’s actions.  When Benkler appeared, my heart leapt for joy because it recognized that truth had been resurrected (after a few days of hellish defeat) inside the Ft. Meade courtroom!  I was nauseatingly angry on the day the prosecuting attorney Ashden Fein spent over five hours giving his highly repetitive and mind-numbingly boring closing statement (which resulted in Coombs’ closing statement being postponed until the next day, when much fewer press were present).

I was also very moved by the following testimonies:  Lauren McNamara who spoke regarding Manning’s transgender desires; Debra Van Alstyne, who described her interactions with Manning as her aunt who offered Manning nurturing shelter at key times in her life; and Casey Manning, Chelsea’s older sister, who described Chelsea as a wonderful, loving, and dearly missed sibling.  I cried throughout the testimony of Casey Manning as the unceremonious courtroom was transformed by the presence of undeniable, sisterly, strong love between Casey and Chelsea Manning.

David Coombs often met with Manning supporters after the proceedings and I deeply valued each word he shared with us about Manning’s well-being and about the intricate developments of case.  He was consistently very warm and appreciative of our presence, as well as open to answer any questions we asked.  I was also thrilled to meet and work alongside of some of the lawyers, journalists and activists who were regularly attending and/or commenting on the case:  Alexa O’Brien, Michael Ratner, Cornel West, Chris Hedges, Medea Benjamin, Debra Sweet and Ray McGovern.

Read Chelsea Manning's Thanksgiving message, published by Time magazine.

The large group of Manning supporters, dubbed the “truth battalion” by David Coombs, was not only supportive of Chelsea, but also of each other.  Each day I went to Ft. Meade, I was fascinated to observe who else came to the proceedings and to learn where they were from and what exactly motivated them to support Chelsea by silently sitting in the courtroom.  Many supporters--whether they came just for a couple days of proceedings or were regular attendees--acknowledged me and thanked me for my work covering the trial.  The supporters, most of whom donned “truth” t-shirts for the day, were generally very friendly, intelligent, and informed.   Almost each day of the trial there were at least ten Manning supporters sitting in the courtroom and many days over thirty supporters were in the courtroom with another twenty in the overflow trailer.

I attempted to draw each witness who testified, even if they were on the stand for just a few minutes.  Throughout the summer, in between the times of witness testimony, I drew several portraits of Chelsea, David Coombs and Judge Denise Lind.   The drawings from the trial, as well as some watercolor portrait paintings of Manning, can be viewed at the following link:  www.debvanpoolen.com.  Four of the images are available as limited edition giclee’ prints and can be ordered via the website.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.