Looks can be deceiving.
When you see photos of Army Specialist Bradley Manning, the fresh, slightly pudgy-faced 23-year old private who has spent the last seven months in solitary confinement, first in Kuwait and later at the Marine base at Quantico, VA, enduring the tender mercies of military guards, you don’t get the sense that this is someone who could withstand a lot of pressure and physical and mental abuse.
But it turns out he’s one tough hombre. Manning, according to his attorney, to a friend who has been allowed to visit him, and to activists who have been demonstrating outside Quantico for his release from this private hell, he has been subjected to sleep deprivation, has been barred from exercising in the slightest, and recently was improperly placed by the Quantico base commander on suicide watch–meaning his clothing was removed, and also his reading glasses–as punishment for “disobeying” orders of the guards. (After news of this order, and publicity about it, the commander rescinded it, and was citicized by the Pentagon for allegedly overstepping his authority, an indication that public pressure in this case can help.)
The aim of all this abuse, which is now being investigated by a UN human rights investigator, has been blatantly to crush his spirit, in hopes of getting him to agree to implicate Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks organization, in inducing him to leak the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, and the visual tapes, of Iraq and Afghan war reports, helicopter murder, and US State Department cables, all of which have been undermining the US war effort and the US diplomatic agenda.
They are failing, because apparently Manning, who reportedly had been troubled by evidence of US war crimes in Iraq that he knew about and had been unable to interest superiors in, is not caving in to the pressure, and is not playing the US government’s and military’s sick game.
In a story aired yesterday, NBC news Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reports that the Pentagon acknowledges that its investigators “have been unable to make any direct connection between” Manning’s alleged leaking of the documents in question, and Assange.
That sure puts a big crimp in plans by the White House and the so-called US Justice Department to try and bring up Assange on charges of espionage under the antiquated and thoroughly discredited Espionage Act of 1917–a law famously misused to prosecute, convict and jail Socialist Party leader and presidential candidate Eugene Debs for giving a speech trying to dissuade American men from responding to the government’s World War I recruitment campaign.
Pvt. Manning, whatever his fate at the hands of his military overlords, will someday be hailed as one of America’s heroes. Confronted by the overwhelming might of the most powerful war machine the world has ever known, and by a government that long ago tossed out any semblance of conscience or morality, he has stood his ground, refusing to lie on the promise of leniency.
What the Obama administration, and President Obama as direct boss of the AG’s office and as commander in chief of the military, has been doing in Manning’s case–holding him in solitary confinement in a Marine brig, subjecting him to conditions that the world and international and US law recognize as torture, denying him the right to a speedy trial or court-martial on a charge of allegedly leaking secret documents–all in the attempt to wring a false confession out of him, is exactly what was done for years in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.
We Americans of a certain age, myself included, were brought up on stories of the Stalin show-trials, where people would admit to the most ridiculous charges after months of torture and abuse.
How pathetic that now our own government is playing the same sickening game.
And how inspiring, that in Pvt. Manning these criminals have met their match.
Without Manning being willing to claim that Assange lured him or paid him to betray his duty, the government can have no espionage case. Nor can it even try to accuse Assange of theft of government “property,” if said information was simply provided to his organization gratuitously, as he has long insisted was the case. (Assange says he didn’t even know Manning, and still has no idea whether Manning was even the source of the documents WikiLeaks has been releasing to the consternation of the US and other governments. He insists it came from another party altogether.)
This is, of course, not only a story about the torture and heroic resistance of one low-ranking military person. It is also the story about a truly outrageous and anti-democratic effort by the US government to destroy a legitimate public information outlet–WikiLeaks–and personally destroy or “neutralize” its founder and leader, the Australian journalist Assange.
It was widely reported last year that when Assange and Wikileaks first de-scrambled and released the horrifying video of footage from a US helicopter gunship depicting in graphic detail the slaughter of a group of unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad, including two employees of the news organization Reuters, that the Pentagon had sent its agents “hunting” for him. Later, after WikiLeaks had dumped thousands of pages of military action reports from the Iraq and Afghan Wars, and then began releasing secret State Department cables, the government began a campaign of pressuring banks and the Visa and Mastercard organizations not to process donations to WikiLeaks. The process has largely worked, shutting down most fundraising for WikiLeaks. (You can still donate to support Wikileaks thanks to two banks in Iceland and one in Germany that have not bowed to that pressure. For information go to:www.wikileaks.ch/support.html)
The government also went after the companies, like Amazon, whose servers were putting WikiLeaks on the Internet, which would have shut the document-publishing site down completely, except that hundreds of sites around the world offered their services as mirror sites, plus a small political party in Switzerland offered their server. (You can go to Wikileaks’ site and read the leaked documents first-hand at www.mirror.Wikileaks.info)
It seems increasingly evident that the US is also behind the current legal travails of Assange, who is currently under house arrest at the home of a supporter in the United Kingdom, where he is fighting extradition to Sweden to face questioning on very suspicious claims of sexual misconduct involving two Swedish women, at least one of whom has links through her brother to US intelligence services, and whose joint attorney was involved in assistant the US with the CIA rendition of several Swedish residents, who were subsequently subjected to torture in Africa. As the British feminist organization Women Against Rape has declared, the charges against Assange, and the effort by Swedish authorities to use an Interpol Red Alert and a European warrant to incarcerate Assange are highly suspect. They state on their website, www.womenagainstrape.net “Women who are fighting for justice for themselves or their children are astounded at the zeal with which Julian Assange has been pursued. Questions need to be asked about the authorities’ motivation when men who pose an obvious immediate danger to women and girls are treated more leniently.”
These actions, like the torture and prolonged confinement without trial of Pvt. Manning, are all the tactics of a totalitarian state. They are exactly what is done in countries like China, Iran, and Burma.
To have them done in our own country, which boasts abroad and to young students here at home of our traditions of free speech, of justice and the right to a fair and speedy trial, and of our vaunted First Amendment, with its guarantee of freedom of the press, should appall and outrage every American citizen.
For information on a true American hero, Pvt. Bradley Manning, and on how to help support him, go to: www.bradleymanning.org
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-supported online alternative newspaper.