7 December 2012

Accused of Lifting Veil on U.S. War Machine

Bradley Manning Pretrial Hearing: Drop All Charges!

DECEMBER 4—Army private Bradley Manning spoke publicly last week for the first time since he was detained in May 2010 for allegedly handing over a trove of classified documents to WikiLeaks that exposed U.S. imperialism’s schemes and wartime atrocities. Charging Manning with 22 offenses including espionage and “aiding the enemy,” military prosecutors are threatening him with life imprisonment, having decided not to pursue the death penalty. Taking the stand at a hearing on a defense motion to dismiss all charges on the grounds of unlawful pretrial punishment, Manning recounted the torturous conditions of his confinement, which one prison psychologist described as worse than at Guantánamo or on death row. The hearing is continuing as we go to press.

The suffering and deprivation inflicted on Manning is meant as a message: the U.S. imperialists will not tolerate any light shed on their workings. This vendetta was also designed to break him so that he would implicate WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to the U.S., via Sweden (see “Hands Off Julian Assange!” WV No. 1010, 12 October). In the past week, protests demanding Manning’s freedom have taken place from the court site, Fort Meade near Baltimore, to Berlin and other cities.

Last month, Manning offered to accept responsibility for providing, as an act of conscience, at least some of the 250,000 diplomatic cables, 500,000 Army reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and video from Baghdad that WikiLeaks made public. Shortly before Manning testified last week, the presiding military judge accepted the framework that would allow him to plead guilty to some lesser charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 16 years. Manning has not yet filed a formal plea. Even if the plea were to be accepted, Manning still faces trial on the maximum charges unless the case is dismissed and could receive a life sentence if found guilty of only one of them. The court martial is now slated to begin in March.

If Manning did make available the material attributed to him in the tentative plea, he provided a major service to working people and the oppressed the world over. In seeking to galvanize proletarian opposition to the capitalist order, we welcome even a slight lifting of the veil on the imperialists’ war machine. The video Manning is accused of leaking shows an Apache helicopter gunning down and killing at least 12 people in Baghdad in 2007, including a Reuters journalist and his driver, while the pilots laugh and gloat. The war logs document 120,000 civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and a formal military policy of covering up torture, rape and murder. The cables address all manner of lethal operations within U.S. client states, from the “drug war” in Mexico to drone strikes in Yemen.

With over 20 supporters attending the court hearing, Manning detailed the depravity of his enraged military jailers. His first two months in custody were spent in what Manning described as an “animal cage” in Kuwait, where he was kept isolated and disoriented. “I just thought I was going to die in that cage,” he told the court. Returned to the U.S., he was thrown into what he called “a shark-attack environment” at the Quantico Marine brig in Virginia, where he was kept for nine months. He spent at least 23 hours a day alone in a six-by-eight-foot cell with no window or natural light, forbidden to exercise, lie down or even lean against a wall if not sleeping. Even when he was allowed to sleep, he was periodically awakened by guards who also subjected him to daily strip searches and forced nudity.

Quantico commanders justified their handling of Manning by classifying him first as a “suicide risk” and then putting him on “prevention of injury” status. While Manning had been driven to despair by the unrelenting abuse he suffered in Kuwait, at least 16 official reports from brig psychiatrists at Quantico concluded that Manning was not a threat to himself or others. Nevertheless, his status did not change until he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth in April 2011 amid international condemnation of his treatment. By the admission of the colonel in charge of Quantico at the time, a blind eye was turned to these reports because a staff dentist made assessments more to the liking of the brass!

Court documents show that one base commander instructed staff to “do whatever we want” to Manning. The parameters of the torture regime were run up the chain of command to the Pentagon. Meanwhile, the handprint of the White House is all over the case. With a push from the Obama administration, Manning was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, with the Commander-in-Chief himself declaring last year that Manning “broke the law.”

The government is intent on painting a portrait of Manning as a traitor who aided and abetted Al Qaeda, with the judge even giving the go-ahead to prosecutors to introduce the contents of Osama bin Laden’s hard drives. The prosecution does not feel compelled to present evidence that any tangible aid was provided to an “enemy.” Rather, it argues that it is sufficient to establish that Manning knew that U.S. adversaries could access the information that was now in the public domain. Thus Washington equates disclosure of classified information by “whistleblowers,” journalists or anyone else with treason. And by the lights of the “war on terror,” an “enemy” could mean virtually any opponent of the U.S. government.

It is the norm for the imperialists to accompany their depredations around the world with official silence and secret dealings. In 2011 alone, U.S. officials classified more than 92 million documents. Revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky observed in November 1917: “Imperialism, with its dark plans of conquest and its robber alliances and deals, developed the system of secret diplomacy to the highest level.” Opponents of imperialist occupations and war must be won to the understanding that it will require a series of socialist revolutions around the world to put an end to the capitalist order, which maintains itself through systematic violence and lies. 

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1014, 7 December 2012)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.