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 Day 19

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Manning's Punishment is an Affront to Democracy

35 Years for Exposing Us to the Truth

by BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR

As of today, Wednesday 21 August 2013, Bradley Manning has served 1,182 days in prison. He should be released with a sentence of time served. Instead, the judge in his court martial at Fort Meade, Maryland has handed down a sentence of 35 years.

Of course, a humane, reasonable sentence of time served was never going to happen. This trial has, since day one, been held in a kangaroo court. That is not angry rhetoric; the reason I am forced to frame it in that way is because President Obama made the following statements on record, before the trial even started:

President Obama: We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate … He broke the law.

Logan Price: Well, you can make the law harder to break, but what he did was tell us the truth.

President Obama: Well, what he did was he dumped …

Logan Price: But Nixon tried to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg for the same thing and he is a … [hero]

President Obama: No, it isn’t the same thing … What Ellsberg released wasn’t classified in the same way.

When the president says that the Ellsberg’s material was classified in a different way, he seems to be unaware that there was a higher classification on the documents Ellsberg leaked.

A fair trial, then, has never been part of the picture. Despite being a professor in constitutional law, the president as commander-in-chief of the US military – and Manning has been tried in a court martial – declared Manning’s guilt pre-emptively. Here is what the Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg had to say about this, in an interview with Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow! in 2011:

Well, nearly everything the president has said represents a confusion about the state of the law and his own responsibilities. Everyone is focused, I think, on the fact that his commander-in-chief has virtually given a directed verdict to his subsequent jurors, who will all be his subordinates in deciding the guilt in the trial of Bradley Manning. He’s told them already that their commander, on whom their whole career depends, regards him [Manning] as guilty and that they can disagree with that only at their peril. In career terms, it’s clearly enough grounds for a dismissal of the charges, just as my trial was dismissed eventually for governmental misconduct.    But what people haven’t really focused on, I think, is another problematic aspect of what he said. He not only was identifying Bradley Manning as the source of the crime, but he was assuming, without any question, that a crime has been committed.

This alone should have been cause for the judge in the case to rethink prosecutors’ demand for 60 years in prison. Manning himself has shown throughout the trial both that he is a humanitarian and that he is willing to serve time for his actions. We have to look at his acts in light of his moral compass, not any political agenda.

Manning intentions were never to hurt anyone; in fact, his motivation – as was the case for Ellsberg – was to inform the American public about what their government was doing in their name. A defense forensic psychiatrist testified to Manning’s motives:

Well, Pfc Manning was under the impression that his leaked information was going to really change how the world views the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and future wars, actually. This was an attempt to crowdsource an analysis of the war, and it was his opinion that if … through crowdsourcing, enough analysis was done on these documents, which he felt to be very important, that it would lead to a greater good … that society as a whole would come to the conclusion that the war wasn’t worth it … that really no wars are worth it.

I admit that I share the same hopes that drove Manning to share with the rest of the world the crimes of war he witnessed. I am deeply disappointed that no one has been held accountable for the criminality exposed in the documents for which Manning is standing trial – except him. It shows so clearly that our justice systems are not working as intended to protect the general public and to hold accountable those responsible for unspeakable crimes.

I want to thank Bradley Manning for the service he has done for humanity with his courage and compassionate action to inform us, so that we have the means to transform and change our societies for the better. I want to thank him for shining light into the shadows. It is up to each and everyone of us to use the information he provided for the greater good. I want to thank him for making our world a little better. This is why I nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, for there are very few individuals who have ever brought about the kind of social change Manning has put in motion.

The wave of demands for greater transparency, more accountability, and democratic reform originate with Manning’s lonely act in the barracks in Iraq. He has given others – such as Edward Snowden – the courage to do the right thing for the rest of us. The heavy hand dealt Bradley Manning today is a massive blow against everything many of us hold sacred – at a time when we have been shown how fragile and weak our democracies are by the revelations of, first, Manning, and now, Snowden.

There is no such thing as privacy anymore; nor is there such a thing as accountability among our public servants. Our governments do not function for the benefit of the 99%. If Manning had received a fair sentence that was in proportion to his supposed crime – which was to expose us to the truth – then there would have been hope.

Instead, we are seeing the state acting like a wounded tiger, cornered and lashing out in rage – attacking the person who speaks the truth in order to frighten the rest of us into silence. But to that, I have only one answer: it won’t work.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a poet who has served since April 2009 as an MP in the Icelandic parliament for the Movement, a political movement for democratic reform beyond party politics, which she helped create.

This column originally appeared in the Guardian.