Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #119 - Part 6

On the Bradley Manning verdict

Bradley Manning - remember him? I wouldn't be surprised if you went "oh, yeah, him, the leaker guy. Whatever happened with that?" Despite the significance of his actions and the importance of the case - including charging a military whistleblower with "aiding the enemy" for the first time since the Civil War - the media, at least in this country, pretty much let the whole three years now of his confinement and trial slide by with just the occasional reference, a lack of coverage which was encouraged by the military court, which put major burdens on the ability of the media to report on the trial, including, most recently, subjecting reporters and their cars to invasive searches and having armed guards stand directly behind them as they worked at their laptops in the press area. This was because of, the judge said, earlier repeated breaking of court rules - even though no one could tell the reporters what rules had been broken.

But after months in solitary confinement under conditions that if it was done to an American by another country, we would call torture, torture inflicted with the intent of breaking him so he would testify against Julian Assange in the trial of which the Obama gang still dream, Bradley Manning was brought to trial.

On July 30, Col. Denise Lind, the judge in that military trial - I'm reminded of an article I read some years ago which was titled "Military justice is to justice as military music is to music" - the judge released her verdict: She convicted Bradley Manning of almost all of the charges against him but, be thankful for what you can, acquitted him of "aiding the enemy."

That was the charge everyone was focused on for two reasons beyond its rarity: One, it was the most severe, carrying a potential penalty of life without parole. Two, the impact of a conviction on the future ability of the public to learn what it should know but the government for whatever reason doesn't want to tell, would have been severe. You have to understand: Bradley Manning was not accused of giving important information to al-Qaeda. He was not accused of actually helping al-Qaeda. He was not accused of wanting to help al-Qaeda. He was accused of giving information to a media organization knowing that al-Qaeda would be able to see whatever that organization published. And even if the information in and of itself was of no assistance to al-Qaeda, it potentially could be analyzed in coordination with other information, thereby revealing something that would be of assistance. That, believe it or not, was the actual basis for, the actual argument the government used in pursuing, the charge of "aiding the enemy."

A conviction would have set a precedent that any leak of information relating to the military or foreign policy that the government wanted to keep secret, any leak of information the government found inconvenient or embarrassing, any leak of information which could even hypothetically be linked with other undetermined information in a way that could be useful to any of our enemies even if we don't know who those enemies are because that information is also classified, could be the basis for a charge of "aiding the enemy."

So we as a people dodged a bullet - but it's not over: We got hit by shrapnel. Manning was convicted of a computer fraud charge and some other, lesser, military infractions as well as, bizarrely, five counts of stealing government documents. Exactly how the documents were "stolen" since obviously he sent copies to WikiLeaks and the originals never left the military's possession is unclear: I remember that in the many-ways similar Pentagon Papers trial of Daniel Ellsberg the feds made the same charge and were faced with the same dilemma: Ellsberg had provided copies to the New York Times, not originals. Prosecutors were reduced to the farcical claim that copying was stealing, that he had stolen "the arrangement of words on the page." Yes, that's a quote.

Apparently, that was not a dilemma for Col. Lind.

More importantly and more seriously, something else that did not trouble Col. Lind was convicting Manning of six counts of espionage for providing documents to WikiLeaks. Six counts of espionage for leaking information to the media. And in all six of those cases, Manning had pled guilty to a lesser offense but Lind and prosecutors refused to accept that plea and found him guilty of the original charge. In fact, Manning had earlier pled guilty to a lesser offense on nine of the 21 charges facing him; Lind and prosecutors accepted only two.

So despite the acquittal on "aiding the enemy," Bradley Manning still faces a possible 136 years in prison for daring to tell the people what they deserve and in fact need to know. And remember this: The government has ranted and raved about "damage to national security" but in the three years since his arrest has not offered one single shred of evidence, not a single strand of an argument, that such national security has in fact been harmed by Bradley Manning.

But I will say this, there was one significant effect of Manning's actions: The end of US participation in the Iraq War.

The Bush gang had been forced by the Iraqi government into an agreement to remove US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. But the Obama gang was pressuring the Iraqis to allow for perhaps tens of thousands of US troops to stay beyond that deadline under a new "security agreement." Among the things Bradley Manning leaked was a video of US soldiers on a helicopter gunship shooting up a group of people and then going back to shoot up a van that came to take away the wounded. The video was put on YouTube under the title Collateral Murder. You can see the video at The Pentagon decided the soldiers had acted within "the rules of engagement" and there would be no punishment.

In the wake of that, the Iraqis demanded that any US troops remaining in Iraq be subject to Iraqi law. The Obama gang refused, so there was no new agreement - and all US troops left Iraq on schedule. I can't help but wonder if the extremism of the case against Bradley Manning and the furious attempts to crush WikiLeaks were an outgrowth of frustrated egomania.

This is the simple hard truth: This case was not about protecting the nation. It was -and is - about protecting the privileges of the powerful, this was -and is - about control, this was -and is - about the imperious condescension of a government and military elite treating the rest of us as, the joke has it, mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed shit. It was - and is - about the Obama gang getting another skin to hang on its wall of secrecy. That's what this was and is about. And don't you forget it.

And don't you forget one other thing: Bradley Manning is a hero.


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