The US does nothing to punish those guilty of war crimes or Wall Street fraud, yet demonises the whistleblower
Over the past two and a half years, all of which he has spent in a military prison, much has been said about Bradley Manning,
but nothing has been heard from him. That changed on Thursday, when the
23-year-old US army private accused of leaking classified documents to
WikiLeaks testified at his court martial proceeding about the conditions
of his detention.
The oppressive, borderline-torturous measures to which he was subjected,
including prolonged solitary confinement and forced nudity, have been
known for some time. A formal UN investigation denounced those
conditions as "cruel and inhuman". President Obama's state department
spokesman, retired air force colonel PJ Crowley, resigned after publicly
condemning Manning's treatment. A prison psychologist testified this
week that Manning's conditions were more damaging than those found on
death row, or at Guantánamo Bay.
Still, hearing the accused whistleblower's description of this abuse in
his own words viscerally conveyed its horror. Reporting from the
hearing, the Guardian's Ed Pilkington quoted Manning: "If I needed toilet paper I would stand to attention and shout: 'Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!'"
And: "I was authorised to have 20 minutes sunshine, in chains, every 24
hours." Early in his detention, Manning recalled, "I had pretty much
given up. I thought I was going to die in this eight by eight animal
The repressive treatment of Bradley Manning is one
of the disgraces of Obama's first term, and highlights many of the
dynamics shaping his presidency. The president not only defended
Manning's treatment but also, as commander-in-chief of the court martial
judges, improperly decreed Manning's guilt when he asserted in an
interview that he "broke the law".
Worse, Manning is charged not only with disclosing classified
information, but also the capital offence of "aiding the enemy", for
which the death penalty can be imposed (military prosecutors are
requesting "only" life in prison). The government's radical theory is
that, although Manning had no intent to do so, the leaked information
could have helped al-Qaida, a theory that essentially equates any
disclosure of classified information - by any whistleblower, or a
newspaper - with treason.
Whatever one thinks of Manning's alleged acts, he appears the classic
whistleblower. This information could have been sold for substantial
sums to a foreign government or a terror group. Instead he apparently
knowingly risked his liberty to show them to the world because - he said
when he believed he was speaking in private - he wanted to trigger
"worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms".
Compare this aggressive prosecution of Manning to the Obama
administration's vigorous efforts to shield Bush-era war crimes and
massive Wall Street fraud from all forms of legal accountability. Not a
single perpetrator of those genuine crimes has faced court under Obama, a
comparison that reflects the priorities and values of US justice.
Then there's the behaviour of Obama's loyalists. Ever since I first reported the conditions of Manning's detention
in December 2010, many of them not only cheered that abuse but
grotesquely ridiculed concerns about it. Joy-Ann Reid, a former Obama
press aide and now a contributor on the progressive network MSNBC,
spouted sadistic mockery in response to the report: "Bradley Manning has
no pillow?????" With that, she echoed one of the most extreme rightwing
websites, RedState, which identically mocked the report: "Give Bradley
Manning his pillow and blankie back."
As usual, the US establishment journalists have enabled the government
every step of the way. Despite holding themselves out as adversarial
watchdogs, nothing provokes their animosity more than someone who
effectively challenges government actions.
Typifying this mentality was a CNN interview on Thursday night with
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange conducted by Erin Burnett. It was to
focus on newly released documents revealing secret efforts by US
officials to pressure financial institutions to block WikiLeaks' funding
after the group published classified documents allegedly leaked by
Manning, a form of extra-legal punishment that should concern everyone,
But the CNN host was completely uninterested in the dangerous acts of
her own government. Instead she repeatedly tried to get Assange to condemn the press policies of Ecuador,
a tiny country that - quite unlike the US - exerts no influence beyond
its borders. To the mavens of the US watchdog press, Assange and Manning
are enemies to be scorned because they did the job that the US press
corps refuses to do: namely, bringing transparency to the bad acts of
the US government and its allies around the world.
Bradley Manning has bestowed the world with multiple vital benefits. But
as his court martial finally reaches its conclusion, one likely to
result in the imposition of a long prison term, it appears his greatest
gift is this window into America's political soul. article by Glenn Greenwald