By Ann Wright
On behalf of US Army Private Chelsea Manning (previously known as Bradley Manning), I want to thank the International Peace Bureau for its award of the Sean MacBride Peace Award to Private Manning. When Chelsea was told by her lawyer that IPB had selected her as the recipient of this year’s award, she was overwhelmed that such an organization would recognize her actions as actions for peace. She knows the history of the MacBride Peace Award, in honor of Sean MacBride, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, founding member of Amnesty International and a tireless advocate for peaceful resolution of conflict. Private Manning recognizes the works of previous awardees and is deeply honored to be included in their ranks.
As you know, Private Manning is not here to receive the award in person as she is incarcerated in the US military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas after she was sentenced on August 21, 2013 to 35 years in prison for giving over 800.000 pages of government documents known as the Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Diplomatic files to the online publishing organization Wikileaks. Materials Private Manning provided documented human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law by US military, by Iraqi and Afghan military forces operating alongside US forces, and by military contractors. The files included reports on illegal and inhumane battlefield actions and previously unseen footage of journalists and other civilians being killed in US helicopter attacks, information which should have been made available to the public.
Private Manning said she acted on the belief that she could spark a meaningful public debate on the cost of war, and specifically on the conduct of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said she did not intend to harm the United States, but wanted to have information about the wars more transparent to the American public. In her February 28, 2013, 10,000 word statement to the court, Private Manning said, “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.” http://www.bradleymanning.org/news/bradley-mannings-statement-taking-responsibility-for-releasing-documents-to-wikileaks
Private Chelsea Manning’s sentence of 35 years is one that we would have expected for someone who disclosed information in order to harm the United States or who disclosed information for monetary game. Private Manning did neither.
Private Manning’s attorney David Coombs, wrote in a letter to the Secretary of the Army for a pardon and/or commutation of Chelsea’s sentence that, “Although the government is entitled to protect sensitive information, the documents in this case did not merit protection. Many of the documents released by Private Manning were either unclassified or contained information that the public had a right to know. None of the disclosed documents caused any real damage to the United States. Instead, these documents simply embarrassed our country by revealing misconduct by the Department of Defense and unethical practices by the Department of State. We rely upon whistleblowers, even in those instances that might cause embarrassment, to keep our government accountable to its people. Private Manning is a military whistleblower. She disclosed documents that were vital for a public healthy public debate about our conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan, our detention policies in Guantánamo, and our diplomatic activities around the world. The sentence given to her by the military judge grossly exaggerates the seriousness of her conduct. It will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on future whistleblowers and damage the public’s perception of military justice.”
Civil rights organizations have criticized the harsh sentence given to Pvt. Manning. Lisa Clayton, who co-directs the Brennan Center for Justice, Liberty and National Security program, called the 35 year sentence unprecedented and stated “it is dramatically longer than the longest sentence previously ever received for disclosing classified information to the media, which was two years."
Ben Wisner, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology project, said "a legal system that does not distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability."
Ana Fitzgerald, the director of Amnesty International's Research and Crisis Response, said "Chelsea Manning should be shown clemency in recognition of her motives for acting as she did, the treatment she endured in her early pretrial confinement, and the due process shortcomings during her trial."
While Chelsea Manning faces many years in prison for the public disclosure of documents to WikiLeaks, numerous high-level officials have never been held accountable for the grave human rights violations committed during the United States war on terror including kidnapping, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention and torture.
Documents released by Wikileaks were published in numerous national newspapers as Chelsea had hoped, citizens around the world read how many of their governments cooperated with the United States in kidnapping, imprisonment and torture in US war on terror—and were outraged as she had been.
Private Manning has already paid a heavy price for her whistleblowing. She has been held for more than three years in military confinement. A substantial portion of that confinement was spent an unlawful solitary confinement at Marine Corps base Quantico. She endured a three-year protracted legal process and faced a meritless charge of aiding the enemy, which the court dismissed for lack of evidence.
The MacBride Award will encourage and hearten Private Chelsea Manning while she is in prison.
Again, on behalf of Private Chelsea Manning, I want to thank the International Peace Bureau for selecting her as the recipient of the 2013 Sean MacBride Peace Award.
(NOTE: Ann Wright was asked to receive the Sean MacBride on behalf of Private Manning. She spent 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She also was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and resigned in March, 2013 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She is a member of the Private Manning Advisory Board.)