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The Arraignment of Bradley Manning

Placing my coat and purse on the bench, I heard something like, “No sleeping, no sunglasses, no tampering with gadgets.”  I looked up as the soldier continued, “If someone has the urge to sleep, please stand up.”

Then, I saw him, the young hero with pale skin, short hair, and those eyeglasses. He sat nearby, about eight feet from me.

Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused WikiLeaks whistleblower and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was arraigned at Fort Meade, today, February 23rd.

I was writing yesterday—a piece I almost finished. About Santorum and a Santorum supporter’s suggestion for female contraception—an aspirin placed between two tightly closed knees impossible to pry open for sex.  About extremism.  I abandoned it.

Because I took a detour to check email and saw an announcement about Manning.  Immediately, I called Baltimore peace and justice activist Max Obuszewski for information.  Max said he planned to be outside the gate at Fort Meade, at a rally for Manning.  When I told him I wanted a courtroom seat, he said he’d contact someone who was going early enough, a friend who, also, wanted to observe the arraignment.  Early morning, David Eberhardt, a published poet and antiwar activist, phoned.  We made plans to leave at 10:00.  Security would be search-and-seizure rigid.

During the drive, David talked about his incarceration at Lewisburg Federal Prison. He, along with Father Phillip Berrigan and two others (the Baltimore Four), poured blood on draft files in 1967 to protest the Viet Nam war.  I told David about nephew Chase and my participation in the peace movement.

After going through one checkpoint and arriving at the court parking lot, David and I were surprised to see only one other person waiting to secure a seat. Michael Ratner, an attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, introduced himself. A few minutes later, William Wagner arrived, followed by Cathie Phelps. By the time we reached another security checkpoint, several others had gathered.

“I’m here as a mom and to support whistleblowers who make a difference,” Cathie told me.

“I’m here as a mom.” I said this over and over as I watched Manning. And, then, I wondered what he was thinking, feeling.

What are you thinking, right now?  What are you feeling? You look so innocent, so young.  Like a little boy.  You look too young to have a driver’s license, too young to enlist, too young to be on trial, too young to think about the implications of a life sentence.  You could be my son.  You could be anyone’s son.  Over and over.  And, then, you are my son.  You are my son. I would be proud to say that you are my son.

The military legalese, briefly, would interrupt my thoughts—article 104 or 134. But I’d return to “you are my son.”

And, then, an external voice penetrated, this time with words recognizable, yet unfathomable.  One of Manning’s attorneys talked about the trial date and that Manning has spent 635 days in confinement.  That by the time Manning stands trial, the number of days may exceed 800. This I understood with vivid clarity.  And it belies due process.

Finally, I heard “recess.”  Were we going to take a break and return for more of this?  I asked David.  He didn’t think so, and as we stood to leave, he shouted, “Judge, isn’t a soldier required by law to report a war crime?”

She didn’t answer.

Missy Beattie creates memories in Baltimore.  Email:  missybeat@gmail.com.

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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