Kevin Gosztola has been doing Pulitzer-quality work on the Bradley Manning pre-trial hearing on whether Manning was subject to “unlawful pretrial punishment.” The answer seems to be, “hells to the yeah!”:
2:05 PM Fifteen minute break. Fein opened up an incredible line of questions with Manning that do not obviously appear to benefit the government’s case that he wasn’t unlawfully punished. He asked about “voluntary statements” he signed except they weren’t really voluntary. Officers would come up to Manning and say, “Here is a voluntary statement. Sign this.” They did this when recreation calls had to be canceled because they could not arrange them.
“I was uncomfortable” with this, Manning said. “I didn’t know if they were trying to cover themselves” because they could not fit in recreation call. Sgt. Garnett was giving him these forms saying this was a direct order. He admitted he caved a couple times. He also went through and crossed out portions. He would cross out “sworn” because a “sworn statement” is very serious. It is a declaration “under penalty of perjury,” he said. He “wasn’t sure of the legal status of this document.” It made him uncomfortable.
This is how it is really done. Could be the damned NKVD in 1936 with that approach. But thus was it ever with authoritarians–I’m quite sure some legionary made Jesus scribble a mark on some ostrica to consign his garments to be gambled off. In general, the prosecution has been trying to portray Manning as some flaky (and I would add very gay) inmate who needed to be on suicide watch. This is rather undercut by their own psychological personnel blowing up this assessment and describing his conditions of incarceration as worse than death row or Guantanimo (so, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture was right about that). Cue the foam fingers and chants of “USA! USA! USA!” for such treatment of a man convicted of nothing. Unfortunately for the prosecution, Manning has shown himself to be disciplined, dedicated and intelligent–a soldier of conscience. This, of course, does not fit the established narrative where somehow Manning is the new Rosenbergs spilling vital national security secrets to Satanic powers (in this case Wikileaks and Julian Assange). This has led to his wide-spread vilification in the media and a contempt heaped on him by both liberals and conservatives, who easily (and ignorantly) equate his crimes with treason and approve of the charge of espionage–which is a death-penalty elgible crime!
In fact, Manning’s crime (if he did it–and since there are plea discussions on lesser crimes, I think he will cop to his actions) was to have a conscience and, more importantly, to uncover the criminal brutality (and yes, I mean war crimes) of the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans (and their allies!) are so wedded to their own fantasies that they were the “good guys” fighting the “bad guys” that revelations like “collateral murder” (nothing like casually machine-gunning kids, in an ambulance, eh?), the vast numbers of trigger-happy shootings of civilians, or, most damning, the publication of Frago-246 order which ordered American troops to collude with American-armed and trained Shiite Ministry of Interior Death Squads, simply can’t be processed. It would make Saddam Husseins of us all. Revealing such squalor and criminality must be punished in the name of all-mighty “national security” (but of course, said planned war crimes must never even be investigated).
Most of Manning’s detention and treatment by military justice has been a sad farce, right down to President Obama committing what should be a mistrial by exercising undo command influence and declaring Private Manning “guilty”. (Just parenthetically, what a shining beacon of constitutional lawyering that guy turned out to be. Thanks, Harvard). Manning had to know what he was doing and why he was doing it. The only plaintive note heard in his testimony was his observation that having endured a dehydrating, pitch-black preliminary detention for several days in an eight-by-eight cage, he despaired that he was going to die in an animal cage.
In my mind, Manning is a hero, for the same reason I consider Solzhenitsyn a hero. Yes, arguably Sasha Solzhenitsyn was guilty of treason and deserving of having his citizenship stripped and exiled because he told people things the Politburo didn’t want the world to hear. So what? Ditto with Sakharov–perhaps his little conversations with the press were treason, but treason against a corrupt, authoritarian regime is no vice (a fact Washington, Jefferson and Paine certainly understood). Liberals (with the exception of certain civil rights bloggers like Glenn Greenwald) have universally condemned Manning or kept quiet on his obvious mistreatment (so obvious even the military has to give it serious consideration through this pre-trial hearing). They blanche at any comparison of him with Daniel Ellsberg and the celebrated Pentagon Papers case, even though Ellsberg himself has constantly compared Manning’s case to his own. This, to my mind, only represents the further coarsening of the liberal mind since had the wikileaks’ revelations and Manning’s arrest occurred under the Bush administration, I’m quite sure such an equation between Ellsberg and Manning would have been celebrated and used as a partisan cudgel. Liberal democrats, like conservative republicans, have sacrificed any of their alleged principles for partisan CYA–if Barack Obama decrees the guy guilty, well then liberals will immediately opine the same. This is the essence of authoritarianism (and not a little “cult of personality-ish”).
Fortunately for all of us, Manning is a good soldier, perhaps the best. He has taken the hit for uncovering these war crimes and will probably spend the rest of his life in a cage, to the near universal acclaim of his depraved fellow citizens, for his act of conscience. How is this not heroism? I have to confess, I do not really care if he broke the law and I could not have more contempt for people who allege (without any proof) that these revelations endangered lives. Such super-patriots are mum, however, on the deaths caused by American complicity in the Iraqi civil war and seem to not give two shits for clear video evidence of children being murdered in an ambulance. The principle seems to be the eternal one of thugs–”if we do the killing, then it’s justified.” Moreover, such super patriots strangely do not get particularly concerned about the regular “top-secret” leaks to pro-government organs like the New York Times or Washington Post of such major national security issues as Stuxnet or the killing of Osama bin Laden (and remember, Manning’s leaks–if, indeed they were his, involved only “classified” or “secret” designations). Of course, not. That sort of “treason” makes the administration look good so, you know, it’s not treason. Liberals finally agree with Nixon; if the president does it, then it is not a crime.
The press has generally taken little interest in the Manning case–only showing up for his actual testimony. The servility of alleged journalism to state power is naked here–that one needs to go to blogs or alternate media such as Firedoglake or Democracy Now! to have the trial reported in detail says all that needs to be said about the establishment press’s complicity in this aut0-de-fe. I’m sure the inevitable show trial of Julian Assange–the Trotsky-Zinoviev demon of the nat-sec Establishment–will receive more notice (did you hear that guy has BO?!) but the deportment of Prvt. Bradley Manning in the face of his accusers has made me proud to be an American. Or perhaps, simply proud to be a human being.
Postscript: For those wishing to see just how Manning was systematically tortured, most likely in the attempt to get him to rat out Wikileaks, see this excellent clip of Michael Ratner on RTV. Note that Ratner is, in effect, one of Wikileaks lawyers, so the interview is clearly biased on that side. But since all the standard coverage of Manning has been serioiusly biased in favor of state power, I see no reason not to consider his thesis.