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U.S. Military Convicts Itself at Manning Trial


By Susan Harman

I just spent the day sitting in a small, unadorned, military courtroom watching one of Bradley Manning's many, many pre-trial hearings, which will stretch out through October. We began the day, 20 of us from the Bradley Manning Support Network, CodePink, Veterans for Peace, and others, holding signs at the busy entrance to Ft. Meade, MD, a huge, sprawling, country club-like campus pretty far from anywhere. Jeff Patterson, of the Support Network, handed out black t-shirts that said "TRUTH," and we put them on over our clothes. After an hour trying to get cars in this military community to honk in support, we went through two searches: first the cars (even under the hood), and then our persons, to get into the courtroom. Each of the military guys was polite and pleasant, as if nothing unusual was going on, when in fact our democracy's on trial.

The courtroom was filled with men in dark blue uniforms with gold epaulettes and medals all over their chests, as well as some in camouflage. The judge was a blonde woman in the usual black robe. And there was Bradley Manning, live, the hero of our times, in the trial of the century. As we all know, he is a very young, cherubic, slight private first class, and today he, too, was in dress blues. It's a serious understatement to say I was immensely moved to be so close to this brave man.

To Bradley's left sat the military lawyer he chose yesterday after firing two others, who said not one word aloud, but only conferred occasionally with Bradley, head to head. To his right sat David Coombs, the ex-military lawyer specializing in courts martial. Since I had communicated frequently with him when all this began, trying to get him whatever help he needed to carry this case, I was very happy to finally meet him. 

The other person that caught my attention arrived late and was instantly recognizable by his bleached-blond hair. He was David House, Bradley's friend and the only person, aside from his lawyers and maybe family, who'd visited him in prison.

The hearing today was a review of several defense motions to dismiss various parts of the charges, and the proceedings were frequently at a level of detail and repetition that was numbing. We all agreed afterwards that Coombs did a very good job, and that the three prosecutors, who tag-teamed each other, were unprepared and fumbled the ball several times.

After several hours of haggling over the distinctions among "classified, sensitive, and intelligence" (which isn't even grammatical), Coombs finally was able to use the need to clarify differing motives as an excuse to give the fictitious example of a soldier eager to give intelligence—not to "the enemy" (whoever that is)—but to us, to America. That was as close as we came to acknowledging the camo-clad elephant in the courtroom, which was thoroughly obscured by the frame of this trial's legitimacy. 

The formality, the uniforms and shiny medals, the interminable minutes of dead silence waiting for the judge to enter the room after the many recesses, the arguments over dancing angels, all conspire to create the illusion of legitimacy, making any questioning of it all seem at best rude and at worst criminal. The elephant, of course, is that Manning acted on the moral imperative to report massive war crimes committed by our country. The wrong party is on trial.

When I realized how down the rabbit hole we were, I began to cry; not in sadness for the boy who has already spent two years in prison, and may spend the rest of his life there, but in frustration at the juxtaposition of the accused and accuser.
We in the audience maintained our respectful silence until the judge called a recess for the day, and then someone shouted, "Thank you Bradley, for speaking the truth!" Someone else also thanked him, and I asked, "When will the military be on trial for war crimes?" When, indeed.










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