Demonstrations Held Supporting Bradley Manning As More Whistleblowers Step Up
After more than 3 years in prison, Bradley Manning’s trial began this week in a sequestered room at Fort Meade, Md. If the Army intelligence officer is convicted of “aiding the enemy” under the Espionage Act, Manning could earn life in prison for releasing more than 700,000 internal documents to Wikileaks.
In the leadup to the trial, thousand took part in demonstrations across the U.S. and in France, Germany and South Korea to show support for Manning, free speech and the right to access information that may show evidence of war crimes and misconduct.
Exposing war crimes
Among the most serious charges Manning faces is “aiding the enemy.” He has already pleaded guilty to 10 offenses that will lead to 20 years in custody. Over the course of the 12-week trial, military prosecutors will attempt to prove that Manning is guilty of helping enemy combatants and terrorist groups by releasing classified government documents.
Some legal scholars note that since Manning reported material that could implicate the U.S. in war crimes, he was actually following Army protocol.
“Enshrined in the US Army Subject Schedule No. 27-1 is ‘the obligation to report all violations of the law of war,’” writes Marjorie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. “At his guilty plea hearing, Manning explained that he had gone to his chain of command and asked them to investigate the ‘Collateral Murder’ video and other ‘war porn,’ but his superiors refused. ‘I was disturbed by the response to injured children,’ Manning stated. He was also bothered by the soldiers depicted in the video who ‘seemed to not value human life by referring to [their targets] as ‘dead bastards.'”
One of the most controversial releases included in the cache was a video titled “Collateral Murder.” It was viewed more than 13 million times on the Internet since its 2010 release. The 17-minute video shows an Apache helicopter killing 12 Iraqi civilians and injuring two children during a 2007 strike in Baghdad. The helicopter is also shown firing on those who tried to rescue the wounded.
“I got involved right away when he [Manning] was the one who leaked the ‘Collateral Murder’ video because the few months before he was arrested, that it really impacted me,” said Melissa Hill, a protest organizer, to Mint Press News.
Hill, like many others, was shocked to see the war crimes committed by the U.S. armed forces. For the first time, the video shed light on civilian casualties now totaling at least 158,000 in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the Brown University Cost of War project.
This exposure also increased public support for Manning’s case among members of the anti-war community, where Veterans for Peace has stood with Manning throughout his 3-year ordeal.
“We’re totally in support of Bradley Manning. He’s a hero in our eyes,” said Barry Riesch, an Army Veteran and member of Veterans for Peace, to Mint Press News. “People have requested that he win a Nobel Peace Prize. We think that it’s a real heroic act to expose the lies and deceit of our government We feel that he has helped curtail the war in Iraq more than anything that has happened.”
Despite the government crackdown against Manning, whistleblowers continue to expose documents that may indicate war crimes abroad and civil liberties violations in the U.S.
Most recently, leaked documents revealed that the National Security Agency was collecting information on millions of private phone conversations made by Verizon customers across the U.S. The information was made public this week after a secret court order was obtained and published by The Guardian newspaper.
“That’s the sort of stuff that people need to know. Obviously whoever gave that document to The Guardian, they probably did not have authorization but they still did it. You need people to do that because otherwise we don’t know,” Hill said.
The order has been supported by the Obama administration, which calls phone-record monitoring “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.” It is a practice rooted in anti-terror surveillance techniques popularized by the Bush administration under the 2001 Patriot Act.
The top secret court order was granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is valid until July 19, allowing the NSA access to “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
Many are surprised that this type of surveillance has occurred during Obama’s time in office.
“Obama spoke highly of protecting whistleblowers as he campaigned and it looks to me like his administration is trying to make an example out of whistleblowers. It’s an important aspect of our society and culture, that we allow people to have freedom of speech,” Riesch said.
Manning has been compared to a modern-day Daniel Ellsberg, a whistleblower who exposed the Pentagon Papers. The internal Vietnam War documents revealed that the government knew that the war could most likely not be won, and that continuing the war would likely lead to many times more casualties than was ever publicly admitted.
Using this information, The New York Times ran a story claiming that the documents “demonstrated, among other things, that the Lyndon Baines Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.”
Ellsberg and RAND Corporation colleague Anthony Russo faced 115 years in prison for exposing the documents. However, they did not serve any time in prison after a court found that the Nixon administration had agents break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to search for evidence to discredit him.
In Manning’s case, a similar leak could result in a life sentence.
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