The court-martial of US Private Bradley Manning opened on June 3, and is expected to last 12 weeks.
The courageous US soldier leaked a large trove of classified material documenting US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, diplomatic cables exposing Washington’s machinations in the Middle East and elsewhere, and other material.
At a previous hearing, Manning admitted he was the source of these leaks. As a result, he opened himself to a potential sentence of up to 20 years in military prison.
However, Manning denied he was guilty of the most serious charges of “aiding the enemy” and “endangering US forces”, under which he could face the death penalty or life in prison.
Prosecutors say they will not seek the death penalty, but life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Not content with inflicting a 20-year sentence on Manning for exposing the truth, the military prosecutors and the Obama administration are hell bent on convicting him on the more serious charges.
On the first day of the court martial, the prosecution outlined its case. Under the laws they are using, they do not have to prove that the material Manning released actually endangered US soldiers or aided the “enemy”.
The prosecution does not even have to prove that Manning intended to do so.
The prosecution says it only needs to show that Manning was the source of the leaks, that they were then picked up and distributed to the press by WikiLeaks, and that the “enemy” read them or saw them in the media.
Since Manning has already admitted to being the source, WikiLeaks distributed the material to the press, many media outlets around the world did carry them and it is likely that the “enemy” did see them, the case is closed and Manning is, by the prosecution’s definitions, guilty.
By chance, I happen to be rereading Franz Kafka’s The Trial. The story line is different, and Kafka’s protagonist is not a hero like Manning, but the legal “logic” in Kafka’s book is on a par with the Manning trial prosecutors.
The prosecutors have some problems with their “reasoning”. One is: who exactly is “the enemy”?
One of the most widely viewed elements of the material Manning released was the video taken by US soldiers from an assault helicopter in Iraq.
The video and the accompanying audio showed the soldiers in the helicopter asking for and getting approval to murder a group of unarmed Iraqis on the street, including two photographers working for Reuters. When some other Iraqis show up in a van to try to help survivors, they are blown away too.
Two of those who were killed in the van were children. The killers in the helicopter were caught chuckling and gloating about the murders.
One can understand why the release of this horrific video enraged the Bush and Obama administrations, and the military. They want to keep the lid on any exposures of the truth about these wars.
That is why the authorities were also enraged about a different earlier leak — that of the graphic photos of the torture of Iraqis by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison.
When the existence of thousands of similar photos came to light, and they were viewed by some US Senators behind closed doors, those thousands of photos were suppressed — on the grounds that releasing them would “aid the enemy” and “endanger the troops”.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, all those who resist the US occupation are “the enemy”. Many citizens who are not combatants are also considered to be “the enemy”, as the helicopter video demonstrated.
The prosecutors at Manning’s trial got around the difficulty of having so many “enemies” by claiming they were only considering terrorist group al Qaeda as being “the enemy” aided by reading the material Manning leaked.
So the linkage becomes: Manning, then WikiLeaks, the New York Times and hundreds of other media outlets, and Osama bin Laden. All in this chain are guilty.
That presents another problem for the prosecution. They want to tie in WikiLeaks, but let the NYT off the hook, at least as far as the guilty verdict is concerned. However, one aim of the show trial is to threaten the media away from making such material public.
Also, they cannot indict much of the world’s press without looking foolish.
The military prosecutor kept pounding away at WikiLeaks in his opening statement. It is clear WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange are also targets in the court-martial of Manning.
This has been true from the start, ever since Manning was arrested more than three years ago. It explains why it has taken so long to bring him to trial — another violation of the US Constitution, which guarantees a speedy trial.
All this time, the military has sought to break Manning, to get him to testify that Assange was his co-conspirator.
After his arrest in May 2010, Manning was put in a stockade in Kuwait. He was subjected to full-time observation, including while using the toilet, deprived of sleep, forced to stand naked before other soldiers including females and similar acts of cruelty.
On July 29 of that year, he was transferred to the prison at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, and classified as a “Maximum Custody Detainee”.
There he was placed in solitary confinement in a windowless cell six feet by twelve feet containing a bed, a sink and a toilet. Guards checked on him every five minutes. He was allowed one hour each day to walk outside his cell, but not allowed to exercise while in his cell, with light bulbs on 24 hours a day.
He was not allowed to sleep between 5am and 8pm, and if he dozed off, he was made to stand up. He was denied sheets and a pillow, and his clothes were removed except for underwear. Later, his underwear was also taken.
Guards would taunt him, giving him orders such as to “turn left, don’t turn left”, and would berate him for such things as replying to questions with “yes” instead of “aye, aye, sir”.
As news of his treatment began to emerge, voices began to be raised internationally. Juan Mendez, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, wrote that Manning’s treatment was “cruel, unusual and degrading”.
In January 2011, Amnesty International asked the British government to intervene, which it did not. In March 2011, State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley criticised Manning’s treatment and was forced to resign two days later.
In April that year, 295 academics (most of them US legal scholars) signed a letter arguing that Manning’s treatment was in violation of the US Constitution.
The Pentagon finally relented. Later that month, it transferred Manning to a medium-security prison, where he was placed in a larger cell with a window and a normal mattress with sheets and a pillow. He was then allowed to mingle with other prisoners, wear clothes and keep personal objects in his cell.
They had failed to break Manning. They failed to get him to testify against Assange with promises of a lighter sentence and better conditions. That is one reason they are going for the maximum sentence — vengeance.
The other reason they seek harsh punishment is that while he admitted being the source of the leaks, he maintains he was right to do so. Manning says his actions aimed to shed light on the ugly truth of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state's major objective is to terrorise others who might be tempted to become whisle-blowers.
Bradley Manning is a true hero, a man of conscience.
Manning is gay. A group of his supporters wanted to march in this year’s San Francisco Gay Pride Parade with his picture to support and honor him. The powers-that-be leaned on the parade organisers to deny the Manning contingent access. The cowards caved in to this further attack on democratic rights.
In a further attack on Manning’s rights, the trial is being held under military law, not US civil law. As a result, Manning will not be able to appeal his conviction to the US Supreme Court.
The public will also be kept in the dark about much of the trial. The military judge has already ruled that 24 prosecution witnesses will testify in secret. Evidence labeled “classified” will also be kept secret.
Of course, this is being done to avoid “aiding the enemy” and “harming US soldiers”. To add to the Kafkaesque flavor of this madness, those documents already leaked to the world by WikiLeaks which are introduced at the trial will be done so in secret, since they remain “classified”.
What the judge will finally decide on Manning’s sentence will be influenced by the support Manning receives in the US and the world.
[Visit www.bradleymanning.org for more information on the campaign. Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]