Whistleblower Bradley Manning was back in court in late February for pre-trial hearings. He has now spent more than 1000 days in prison without a trial.
Military judge Denise Lind made several rulings during the week long proceedings. Firstly, she ruled that Manning had not been deprived of his due process right to a speedy trial. US military law requires that any defendant must be arraigned within 120 days.
However, it took the US military more than 600 days to arraign Manning. Lind's ruling took more than two hours to read and journalists found it impossible to transcribe in full. To compound matters, Lind refuses to make her rulings publicly available.
On the second day of the pre-trial hearings, Lind granted a government motion to prevent Manning's lawyer David Coombs from calling witnesses to testify that the US government has needlessly made documents secret.
Nathan Fuller, reporting for the Bradley Manning Support Network, said: “The defence wants to call witnesses who could explain that some of the documents Bradley is accused of releasing could not be reasonably expected to incur harm to the U.S.
“The defense says the witnesses could discuss rampant over-classification to give context for Bradley’s state of mind at the time of the disclosures.”
On the same day, the prosecution said that it wanted to call 141 witnesses during the trial, of whom 73 would be giving testimony that included classified information. The government wants closed sessions of court for this testimony away from public scrutiny.
Lind, to her credit, said she wants to keep as much of the trial as open as possible. She said the defence and prosecution should exhaust all avenues before closing sessions of the trial.
That day, the Department of Defence announced that it will make 84 judicial orders and rulings in the case available online. It said this would continue over the next few months.
This release of documents comes after a year of protests from activists and journalists demanding access to court documents.
Fuller said: “Reporters and lawyers have said Bradley’s proceedings have had less press access than secretive military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. Journalists covering the case have long complained that the lack of public filings makes covering the case extremely difficult, not least because Judge Lind reads her lengthy rulings too quickly to transcribe ...
“Still, the vast majority of the 30,000 pages in Bradley’s case remain unavailable.”
The highlight of the pre-trial hearing came with Manning's plea and statement to the court. He pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him. This included admitting to releasing the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs to WikiLeaks and the infamous collateral murder video.
He pleaded not guilty to the most serious charges against him, including the charge of “aiding the enemy”. In response, the government said that it will continue to prosecute Manning for all 22 charges.
Manning spent two hours giving his statement to the court. He gave background on his motives for releasing military documents to WikiLeaks. He spent some time explaining how during his work in Iraq, as an intelligence analyst, he started studying documents released by WikiLeaks in November 2009.
Many may be surprised by Bradley's admission that he found WikiLeaks material useful for his job: “During the searches of WLO [WikiLeaks Organization], I found several pieces of information that I found useful in my work product in my work as an analyst, specifically I recall WLO publishing documents related to weapons trafficking between two nations that affected my OP. I integrated this information into one or more of my work products.”
Manning's continuing research convinced him that WikiLeaks had been misrepresented by the military and that it, “seemed to be dedicated to exposing illegal activities and corruption” like other news agencies. His curiosity led him to get involved in chat room discussions on WikiLeaks.
Manning's objective was to find out how and why it obtained military/diplomatic documents. He became involved in discussions on geopolitical events and information technology topics such as encryption.
Deciding to leak
During this period, he made back-up copies of the Iraq War and Afghanistan War logs as part of a process of backing up information. He had no intention of releasing this information, which he now believes “are two of the most significant documents of our time”.
In January 2010, he went on mid-tour leave and took copies of these military documents with him on a laptop. He tried to discuss the possible release of the documents with his boyfriend but this did not get him anywhere.
A blizzard left him stuck for most of his leave at his aunt's in Maryland, where he spent much time pondering and debating what to do with the information he had in his possession. Manning said he became “depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year” in Iraq. He noted how US military counter-insurgency operations,” became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists”.
Manning tried to contact several news outlets, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. After these failed efforts, he decide to release the Iraq War and Afghanistan War logs to WikiLeaks.
Manning said that his intention in releasing the documents was, “to spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan”.
“I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to re-evaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment every day.”
Exposing war crimes
In his statement, Manning explained why he released footage of the infamous Apache helicopter attacks upon civilians and Reuters journalists in Baghdad on 12 July 2007. Nine civilians were killed along with two journalists. The video includes internal commentary by the soldiers who joke about the dead and dying civilians.
The US military stated at the time that its troops were engaged in combat with “hostile forces”. Manning was appalled by the, “seemly delightful blood-lust” of the soldiers who, “dehumanised 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, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”
Manning also explained why he released documents exposing the repressive actions of Baghdad Federal Police in Iraq. Apparently, he had been called upon to help the Special Unit of the Baghdad Federal Police in identifying political opponents of the Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki.
Political opponents of the regime were producing literature that exposed the,”corruption within the cabinet of al-Maliki's government and the financial impact of his corruption on the Iraqi people”.
Manning said that when he pointed this out to his superiors, he was told to “drop it” and help the police find print shops that were creating “anti-Iraqi literature”. He said he was unable to do this as such people would have been tortured and probably killed.
Later in his statement, Manning explains why he released diplomatic cables of the Department of State. He said: “The more I read, the more I was fascinated with the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations.
“I also began to think the documented back-door deals and seemingly criminal activity that didn't seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.”
Manning explained how he was not prepared to release diplomatic cables that could have hurt the United States. He said: “I believe that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States. However, I did believe that the cables might be embarrassing, since they represented very honest opinions and statements behind the backs of other nations and organisations.”
Manning observed that while the diplomatic cables are in many respects a catalogue of gossip, the world would be a better place, “if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other. I thought these cables were a prime example of a need for a more open diplomacy.”
Manning finished his statement by pointing out the circumstances behind his release of the video of a US bombing of Afghani civilians in May 2009. This massacre of 140 Afghani civilians gained world wide media coverage at the time.
He pointed out how he had many online conversations in secure chat rooms with someone from WikiLeaks who may have been Julian Assange or Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Manning said “no one associated with the WLO” pressured him “into giving more information”.
“The decisions that I made to send documents and information to the WLO and the website were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
The US government is engaged in an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers. The successful prosecution of former CIA analyst John Kiriakou, for exposing torture as official government policy, is a good example of this. Manning's case is exposing how far the US has gone down the road towards becoming a totalitarian state that will brook no dissent or exposure of its illegal activities.
Journalist Alexa O'Brien has covered the Manning case from the start. As she points out, the persecution of Manning is one of the most important civil rights cases since 9/11.
In her blog, she said: “At issue in the Manning trial is the danger posed to democracy and the rule of law by the government's expanding control over information in the digital age; and the use of prejudicial prosecutions that turn whistleblowing into treason and journalism into espionage or an act of war.”