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The Trial of Bradley Manning — Rule of Law or Rule of Intimidation, Retaliation & Retribution

By Ann Wright

Yesterday, December 16, 2011, 40 supporters of Bradley Manning saw him in person in the military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland and another 60 saw him on a video feed from the court, the first time Manning has been seen by the public in 19 months.  Over 100 other supporters, including 50 from Occupy Wall Street who had bused down from New York City, were at the front gates of Fort Meade in solidarity with Manning.

Bradley Manning Hearing

Hundreds of supporters will gather today, Saturday, December 17, for a large rally and march.

For his first court appearance, Bradley was in what looked to be a new military uniform and typically military, he had a fresh haircut.  He was not in shackles in the courtroom, but it appeared in a photo that he was shackled in the van that brought him to the court. Manning talked freely with his civilian defense counsel and his two military legal counsels.

He did not turn around and look at the people in the court, but as he was brought in and taken out during the various recesses of the court, he no doubt noticed supporters in Bradley Manning t-shirts.

Bradley Manning has been imprisoned for 19 months, since May, 2010, without a trial.  Yesterday, December 16, 2011, an Article 32 hearing began at Fort Meade, Maryland, in which an investigating officer will determine whether there is sufficient evidence of the crimes with which the military has charged him for the case to be referred to a General court-martial.

In July, 2010, Manning was charged with transferring classified information onto his personal computer and communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source.  22 more crimes were charged in March 2011, including "aiding the enemy," a capital offense.  Defense Department prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty. In April, 2011, Manning was found fit to face a court martial.

Defense Challenges Impartiality of Investigating Officer

On Friday, December 16, Manning’s civilian lawyer, David Coombs challenged the impartiality of the investigating officer US Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, citing Almanza’s civilian employment as a lawyer in the Department of Justice which has conducted investigations on Manning, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks. The defense team had requested that 38 witnesses be allowed to testify in the Article 32 hearing. Coombs also said that the decision of Almanza to allow only two defense witnesses other than the10 the prosecution wanted demonstrated a bias by Almanza.

Coombs told Almanza,  “That simple fact alone, without anything else, would cause a reasonable person to say, ‘I question your impartiality.’ ” Stating that his office of child exploitation in the Department of Justice had nothing to do with the Wikileaks investigation or with national security issues, Almanza denied Coombs’ request for recusal.

Almanza told Coombs and Manning, “I do not believe a reasonable person, knowing all the circumstances, would be led to the conclusion that my impartiality would be reasonably questioned.  I thus deny the defense request to recuse myself.”  

After that, Coombs filed a writ with the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to stay the proceedings until a decision can be made on whether Almanza should continue to preside. According to military law experts, the hearing can proceed while the appeals court makes its determination.

Manning under harsh imprisonment at Quantico reeked of intimidation and retaliation

The military’s treatment of Manning has reeked of intimidation and retaliation.

Until citizen activist protests six months ago in March, 2011, brought sufficient attention to the harsh conditions of his pre-trial confinement, the US military was treating  him as if he were beyond the scrutiny of the law — as if he were an "enemy combatant" in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.  Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture expressed great concern about the conditions under which Manning was being held — in a maximum-security, single-occupancy cell, placed on a prevention-of-injury order and allowed to wear only a suicide-proof smock at night.

Independent UN expert on torture calls for unrestricted access to Manning and other US detainees

On July 12, 2011, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, stated that it was "vital for him to have unmonitored access to Bradley Manning." Mendez said,

"I am assured by the US Government that Mr. Manning's prison regime and confinement is markedly better than it was when he was in Quantico, however, in addition to obtaining firsthand information on my own about his new conditions of confinement, I need to ascertain whether the conditions he was subjected to for several months in Quantico amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For that, it is imperative that I talk to Mr. Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid."

At the request of Mr. Mendez and after several meetings, the US Department of Defense said it would allow him to visit Mr. Manning, but warned that the conversation would be monitored.

Mendez said such a condition violated long-standing rules that the UN applies for prison visits and for interviews with inmates everywhere in the world. On humanitarian grounds and under protest, Mr. Mendez, through Mr. Manning's counsel, offered to visit him under these restrictive conditions, an offer Manning declined.

Mr. Mendez said, "The question of my unfettered access to a detainee goes beyond my request to meet with Mr. Manning -- it touches on whether I will be able to conduct private and unmonitored interviews with detainees if I were to conduct a country visit to the United States."

Additionally, Mr. Mendez has requested several times since his appointment in November, 2010, that the US Government allow him to visit the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, the US government has not responded to his requests.

Best Military Legal System in the World?

Despite the military’s mantra of having the best military legal system in the world, the past treatment of Manning—keeping him in solitary confinement, forcing him to stand naked while in pre-trial confinement and the lack of compliance with the norms of the military legal system of a "speedy" trial have added to the low points of Abu Gharib and Guantanamo in the history of military “justice.”

The federal courts have long established mechanism of dealing with classified information in national security cases. 

The military’s contention that it took 19 months to figure out how to try him while protecting classified materials reeks of intimidation, retribution and retaliation.   


About the Author:  Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war.  She is a member of Veterans for Peace and is on the Advisory Board of the Bradley Manning Support Network


photo by Linda Swanson

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If Bradley Manning had handed weapons secrets over to an enemy during a war that would be one thing, but he didn't. He gave information, some of which had already been given out, about acts within our government of international and in some cases domestic crimes. Had he withheld this information, he could easily have been charged with criminality - far more easily than now. Congress has, however, despite the length of time involved, still not seen fit to call any of our conflicts a "war". It's just as well - they haven't been wars, but illegal invasions and occupations for oil profits going to giant multinational corporations. Considering he did this during an administration that has been just slightly more friendly to whistlebowers than Lenin was, it was a courageous act! This was all information about things being done in the name of the government - and so in the name of We the People - that were morally reprehensible. Things like that tend to grow when they're left in the darkness. For someone with some moral character to stop wrongdoing, it must first become known, and in these instances, that could only ever happen if it came to someone like Mr. Manning, whose moral character and love for his country required him to act, as he did, within the law, though law, it seems, can always be twisted. It is being twisted in order to prosecute this loyal and courageous young man who did what many people who were much higher up in rank and standing than he is all failed to do.  

The Founders clearly believed that classification of things such as this was wrong; as Mr. Manning said, this was information that belonged in the public domain where America could deal with it as it should have been dealt with. He fulfilled his oath of service. Those who are pushing for as punitive a sentence as possible for acts that were not crimes are the ones who should be on trial along with those who committed the acts that were exposed. Look at a partial list again:

The leaked documents include information about the following:
1. There is an official policy to ignore torture in Iraq.
2. There is an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives.
4. The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.
5. The U.S. Government withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and
innocent Iraqi civilians.
6. The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.
7. The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali.
8. U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan.
9. The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.
10. The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing
11. Known Egyptian torturers received training from the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.

(This list came from:

There are criminals who are operating within our government, doing things in our names that we are ultimately responsible for! Bradley Manning did America a service that deserves appreciation. Unfortunately it appears that there are more criminals in the Pentagon and in high office than there are men and women of conscience with morals that aren't based on convenience, no matter who gets hurt - or killed. They are the ones who are after this young man! Service in the military does not absolve anyone of crimes committed under color of authority, and such criminals cannot legally order others to commit crimes. That is what this case is about. I'm a wartime veteran myself, like my father and mother, my brother and most other male relatives for as far back as I can trace. We all joined up on our own, not because we were drafted. We believed in the same things Bradley Manning believes in: honor being one of the most important. I have to hope that somewhere in the system there are a few people whose own honor and understanding of the importance of whistleblowing such this will require them to act, correctly, freeing Mr. Manning and hopefully going after the ones who committed these crimes and are using this attack on a loyal and courageous young man to hide their own guilt behind. If there is not anyone like that, it says something terible about our military, and about our government. It says that liars, murderers, torturerers and thieves are all we have in high office in my country, including in the military, and that leaves us all, at home and abroad, vulnerable to victimization by them for their own personal profit in money or power. I find that horrifying!


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