Bradley Manning’s Awful Day–and ours

The last moments of Reuters employees Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. From the Collateral murder site.

The last moments of Reuters employees Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. From the Collateral murder site.

I was afraid it would come to this. On Thursday, Bradley Manning appeared in court in Fort Meade, Maryland and read a 35 page statement about his actions and motivations behind the leaking of information. Manning had been a US Army intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq, and he he was increasingly disillusioned about the things he saw as part of his job (which included combat video and diplomatic cables). Among his statements about his leaking of the famous 2007 videotape of an Apache helicopter attack on 22-year-old Reuters photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, which killed both of them and 10 others and wounded two children:

“The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote ‘dead bastards’ unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers


 “For me that (the attack) was like a child torturing an ant with a magnifying glass.” Manning also explained that he had tried to leak the files to the Washington Post and the New York Times, but no one at those ‘biased liberal media’ outlets‘ wanted to hear about it. He turned to Wikileaks, though he said he had never met any of the people who uploaded the video.

Manning then pleaded guilty to ten of the 22 charges he was facing–enough to put him away for 20 years. I’ll let you look at the Bradley Manning support website to see the gory details. Essentially, Manning gave what’s called a ‘Naked Plea‘–he has pleaded guilty to some of the charges hoping to have the government drop the rest, but has no promise that the government proceed with prosecution on the most serious charges, including violation of the Espionage act. If convicted, Manning would face life without parole. It now appears that the government is doing exactly that–they want him proven guilty on the most damning charge, telling the Guardian that they intend to call 141 witnesses, reportedly including a Navy SEAL who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

During my weekly time slot on WBCR Radio‘s  Sex And Politics, I was able to speak to Claire Lebowitz, an actress and playwright who has written a new play about Manning’s arrest and confinement entitled Bradass87. Claire had been in the courtroom at Fort Meade when Manning read his statement, and she’s an activist with Occupy Wall Street as well as a performer and playwright–she was one of the organizers of the Occupy Broadway event. She had some interesting insights into the case, so you should download the podcast.

We’re on dangerous ground here, as Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler explains in The New Republic. He writes in part: The guilty plea Manning offered could subject him to twenty years in prison—more than enough to deter future whistleblowers. But the prosecutors seem bent on using this case to push a novel and aggressive interpretation of the law that would arm the government with a much bigger stick to prosecute vaguely-defined national security leaks… 

In his article, Benkler goes on to explain how a guilty verdict on all charges would be a warning shot across the bow of journalists trying to find out information the government has ruled off-limits. And Mr. Benkler is not the only person concerned about the ramification of the government convicting on all charges. And there have been others weighing in on the case and the military’s treatment of Manning–Constitutional Law scholar Jonathan Turley has repeatedly called out the Obama Administration for violating federal law in its reckless pursuit of prosecution.

Some reflection, for what it’s worth. The Iraq war has been a unqualified disaster on the level of our involvement in Vietnam. And technically, we’re still there–We’re helping to train and support elite forces loyal to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. It seems most Americans are very busy trying to pretend Iraq didn’t happen. But there’s more than a little effort by the people  who helped drag us into the Iraq quagmire to re-write the war. As I noted in my first  ‘Don’t Know Much about History‘ post, there’s a large number of Americans who think we found WMD and Saddam Hussein was in on 9/11, and he was thisclose to getting a nuke. And lately, the litmus test on Cabinet appointments is whether a politician believes that the Surge ‘worked’. Chuck Hagel, Obama’s choice for Secretary of Defense, was excoriated by Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham for having said that the surge was a mistake. Even President Obama has been called out for refusing to say the Surge was a success. There are many people in this country who want to enshrine Iraq as a ‘Noble Cause’ and rescue support for it from being a mark of dishonor, as it was for Senator Hillary Clinton in her attempt to secure the 2008 nomination. The heavy-handed prosecution of Bradley Manning seems to be from the same playbook.

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