14 June 2013

Exposed U.S. Atrocities and Lies

Truth-Teller on Trial: Free Bradley Manning!

FORT MEADE—On June 3, the court-martial of Bradley Manning, an army intelligence analyst who released classified information in order to expose the barbarism of U.S. military occupation and domination in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, finally began. In more than three years of pretrial detention aimed at destroying the mind, body and soul of this whistleblower, Manning was held in torturous conditions of solitary confinement, deprived of sleep, clothing and even his eyeglasses, while being taunted and poked at continually by sadistic guards. Yet Manning courageously held fast to his political purpose: to expose evidence of monstrous war crimes and everyday U.S. overlordship of Third World countries.

On Saturday, June 1, some 1,000 supporters rallied in blistering heat outside the Fort Meade Army base near Washington, D.C., to demand freedom for Bradley Manning. Police blocked roads leading to the protest to obstruct people from joining or seeing the rally and march. Print, radio and television journalists from a large number of countries covered the protest, but the only mainstream American media present was the right-wing Fox News. The conspicuous absence of the U.S. capitalist press was consistent with its deliberate efforts to bury Bradley Manning’s case because his truth-telling effectively puts the U.S. government on trial. Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg proclaimed Manning a hero for all humanity, addressing the audience of military veterans, lesbian and gay rights activists, civil libertarians, antiwar radicals and left organizations.

Despite the best efforts of the U.S. government and the subservient “free press,” Manning’s case has become an international cause célèbre. Concluding a 14-month investigation, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture found the United States government guilty of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Manning, violating his physical and psychological well-being and the presumption of his innocence. The German Bundestag and British Members of Parliament went on record protesting the physical and mental abuse of Manning, while hundreds of law school professors signed a letter of protest to President Obama. Meanwhile, the Commander-in-Chief prejudiced the trial by publicly announcing in advance that Manning was guilty. The court-martial opened amid outrage over new leaks exposing surveillance of journalists, ordinary citizens and foreign nationals by the Obama White House, which has ramped up assaults on civil liberties as part of the global “war on terror.”

Manning is charged with 22 counts, including the capital offenses of “espionage” and “aiding the enemy.” Although prosecutors say they are not seeking a death sentence, just entombment for life in a military brig, the judge could still impose that penalty. In a pretrial hearing earlier this year, Manning pled guilty to ten lesser charges that carry a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. But the government has refused to negotiate, prosecuting him to the max in order to terrify others into silent submission. Contrast the prosecution of Bradley Manning, who has harmed no one, with that of Sergeant Robert Bales, who deliberately murdered 16 Afghan civilians last year, most of them women and children. The government has shown compassion for Bales, setting aside the death penalty and entertaining an exculpatory narrative of this killer’s emotional problems. Bradley Manning faces the full force of state repression for exposing heinous actions by the likes of Bales.

The wording in the statute on “aiding the enemy” casts a very wide net that could snare anyone in the government’s sights. It warns that anyone who “gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly” will “suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.” Who is the “enemy”? In the “war on terror,” there is no declared enemy state, there are no defined battlefields, and this government knows no demilitarized zones.

In Bradley Manning’s case, the government asserts that releasing significant activity war logs (“SigActs”) from Afghanistan and Iraq constitutes aiding the enemy because the death raid on Osama bin Laden included capture of a laptop that had allegedly been used to access the WikiLeaks Web site. The London Financial Times (5 June) quotes a lawyer at the Government Accountability Project, who warned of the danger to everyone posed by Manning’s prosecution: “Once the information is on the internet, everyone has access to it, including terrorists and serial killers and all sorts of unsavoury people. If the FT or The New York Times had been found at the bin Laden compound, would that mean the newspapers were also aiding the enemy?”

Certainly the videos and war logs leaked by Manning revealed no secrets to the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan who were the direct victims of the U.S. military’s bloody terror. It is the U.S. government itself, through its drone attacks on civilians, air strikes, butchery and subjugation of entire peoples and nations through imperialist occupations that fuels hatred of America worldwide. Moreover, today’s terrorists were yesterday’s freedom fighters for the U.S. government, which gave immense amounts of “material support” to Islamic reactionaries to kill Soviet Army soldiers in Afghanistan who stood on the side of women’s rights and social progress in the 1980s.

Through the Looking Glass to Fort Meade

The court-martial of Bradley Manning has huge implications for everyone. At stake are the rights to read, write, associate and dissent, the right to a speedy and fair trial, not to mention the right not to be tortured. Yet the court-martial takes place far from adequate public scrutiny. Representatives of the Partisan Defense Committee and Workers Vanguard were among a total of 16 public spectators allowed in the tiny courtroom at Fort Meade (a few more squeezed in if staff or media seats were vacated). Hundreds of journalists were denied press credentials.

The trial was allegedly broadcast to a trailer seating a mere 35 more people, and to a 100-seat movie theater on the base. The Army’s live feed, however, was the audiovisual equivalent of a redacted (blacked-out) Freedom of Information Act file. The sound and picture continually went dead. By coincidence or sick joke, the marquee in front of the theater announced the day’s feature film: Oblivion. (We’re not making this up.) The mere 70 credentialed media were assigned to a distant “pit” that also had an often broken live feed and where blogging, tweeting and broadcasting at will were verboten.

A pretense of transparency covered the secrecy, lending a surreal, topsy-turvy quality to the proceedings. Heavily armed soldiers and poisonously saccharine public affairs officers acted as if they were earnestly serving the public’s needs while in fact denying them. The military judge began the court-martial by soliciting reassurance from the prosecution that, yes indeed, everyone interested in attending the proceedings was accommodated—a blatant lie.

The stalwarts who lined up under heavy guard for hours before the start of the trial each day to snag a coveted courtroom seat were subjected to vehicle inspections and ID checks, frisked, wanded and made to jump daily wardrobe hurdles. Manning’s supporters wore black T-shirts with the word “truth” in blazing white letters. Day one of the court-martial, the decision came down that the word “truth” could not be worn in the courtroom. As the bailiff said, “No attire that detracts from the dignity of these proceedings” would be allowed. So people wore their shirts inside out to conceal the “truth.” But on day two, a smiling soldier gripping an automatic weapon told them: “Y’all can wear your shirts right side out today guys. Isn’t that great?”

In the courtroom, Bradley Manning was kept as isolated as possible from his supporters. He was forbidden even to make eye contact or turn his head to observe those who had traveled from around the country to show their solidarity with him. Military police flanked the divider between the defense table and the public seating, facing down Bradley Manning’s supporters, allegedly for his protection.

Lifting the Veil

A big factor in the Bradley Manning court-martial is the government’s zeal to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to the U.S. via Sweden. Vice President Joseph Biden declared Assange a “high-tech terrorist,” i.e., a man with no rights and a target on his back. The hundreds of thousands of documents released by Manning and published on WikiLeaks have helped expose the everyday workings of the capitalist imperialist system. In addition to the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, diplomatic cables reveal that the U.S. compelled the Haitian government to exempt American manufacturers from raising the starvation wages of Haitian labor from 22 cents to 61 cents per hour, advised the Israelis on how to tamp down an international scandal over conditions for Palestinians in Gaza, among other acts of imperialist statesmanship.

Most spectacularly, in April 2010 WikiLeaks published a video under the title “Collateral Murder” showing the July 2007 airstrike, amid laughter and blood lust, by U.S. servicemen in Apache helicopters against civilians in Baghdad. They killed 12 people in this airstrike, including two Reuters employees, and wounded young children. The U.S. had repeatedly thwarted attempts by Reuters to obtain the video footage through the Freedom of Information Act. After determining that the video was already in public hands (David Finkel’s book The Good Soldiers included a verbatim transcript from the video), Manning sent it to WikiLeaks.

At the court-martial, the prosecution tied itself in a knot of contradictions. It asserted that Manning was taking direct orders from Assange, selectively gathering information from a WikiLeaks “want list” of documents, while simultaneously arguing that Manning harvested a thousand cables per hour from the Internet—hardly a selective search. In a pretrial statement to the court, Manning said that he submitted documents to WikiLeaks only after the public editor for the New York Times failed to answer his repeated messages regarding important information about Iraq and Afghanistan and the Washington Post told him essentially that they could not care less.

Manning made an online submission of the Apache video to WikiLeaks with an attached text explaining that “this is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.” Manning told the court: “I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan everyday.”

The problem for the Army is that Bradley Manning has a moral and political conscience. He enlisted because he naively believed Army propaganda about defending freedom and democracy and inscribed the word “humanist” on the back of his dog tags. When he discovered that the star-spangled pretense to freedom was used to cloak systematic torture, repression and killing, he used his considerable computer skills to expose the truth.

Under skillful cross-examination by Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, prosecution witnesses were compelled to acknowledge that Manning was simply the best, most competent analyst among all the soldiers assigned to intelligence at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq, their “go to” guy whenever competent, well-researched and clearly mapped information was required. Witnesses acknowledged that Internet surfing and downloading were a widespread practice at the base and even encouraged for professional development. Contrary to prosecution allegations of “espionage,” cyber forensics specialists were compelled to admit under cross-examination that Manning’s computers showed no evidence of direct or indirect contact or financial transactions with foreign powers or “enemy” forces and no evidence that he intended to bring harm to U.S. troops or anyone else.

This was confirmed on day two of the court-martial with the testimony of Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker and convicted felon who had allowed Manning to confide in him and then turned him over to the Feds to secure his own advantage with prosecutors. Lamo acknowledged under cross-examination that Manning was not interested in making money by selling secrets to Russia or China. Indeed, the government possesses the entirety of the Internet chats between Lamo and Manning that prove Manning’s innocence of the most serious charges.

Manning sought nothing except to spark a debate in the American public to stop the monstrosities. His messages to Lamo, quoted in Chase Madar’s book The Passion of Bradley Manning (Verso, 2013), included:

“I think I’ve been traumatized too much by reality, to care about consequences of shattering the fantasy.

“I want people to see the truth...regardless of who they are...because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Imperialist System in Advanced Decay

Lifting the veil on the U.S. war machine was a gutsy act of conscience that objectively helps the victims and opponents of the imperialist system. But the workings of this society will not change by making more information publicly available. In that sense, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks activists are hardly radicals. They are defiant liberals with a mastery of Internet communications.

At the right end of the spectrum of Bradley Manning supporters are reform-minded individuals who oppose his persecution because they want to morally rearm the imperialist colossus in order to make it more effective. We stand on the other side, fighting for the class interests of the working people internationally. We appreciate what Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and others, including, now, Edward Snowden, have done because the working class needs to be educated as to the systematic workings of the state run by and for the capitalist class.

As Marxists, we understand that imperialist occupations and wars are inextricably part of the system of capitalist exploitation and not the result of misguided policies. This system is based on the exploitation of labor for private profit, buttressed by systematic racial segregation and oppression that divides the working people. The American government, which pretends it is “by and for the people,” is the executive committee of the capitalist class, whose rule is maintained through the force and violence of special bodies of armed men—the police, military and prisons. Opponents of this system must be won to an understanding that it will take a series of socialist revolutions around the world to overturn the capitalist order and establish socialist egalitarianism through internationally planned and collectivized economies.

To this end, the U.S. proletariat must take a side in defense of the peoples oppressed by the American rulers. In opposing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, we stated that every blow struck against imperialist forces was in the objective interests of the international working class and called for class struggle against the U.S. rulers at home. At the same time, as is evident from the intercommunal slaughter in Iraq and the nightmarish oppression of women in Afghanistan, bourgeois nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists are implacable enemies of the toilers of their own countries. Throughout the neocolonial world, the emancipation of the exploited and the oppressed will require uniting the proletariat in struggle for its own class rule, linked to the fight for socialist revolution in the imperialist centers.

What a Tangled Web They Weave

At a panel discussion of Bradley Manning supporters in Washington, D.C., on the eve of the court-martial, Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department official who was sacked for putting a link to a WikiLeaks posting on his personal blog, described the lunacy about leaks in the Obama administration. Firewalls on State Department computers block employees from looking at WikiLeaks or even BBC or CNN reports that mention WikiLeaks postings of State Department cables that are accessible on the State Department’s own computers (not to mention on smart phones or personal computers). Van Buren dissected the purpose of the madness in a blog post (27 September 2011) about his firing: “DS [Bureau of Diplomatic Security] monitoring my blog is like a small-town cop pulling over every African-American driver: vindictive, selective prosecution.”

Van Buren, who worked at the same base in Iraq as Manning, told the discussion that the question he asks himself now is why didn’t he leak the cables himself. Van Buren proudly turned up for his last day of work at the State Department in a Bradley Manning T-shirt. To his surprise, many co-workers had their pictures taken with him.

Government secrecy is spreading faster than bubonic plague as a result of the race to erect a vast security state after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The WikiLeaks haul is but a tiny portion of the towering mountain range of classified government documents. The number of such documents is itself a state secret, but it is estimated that in 2010 the U.S. was producing an annual avalanche of 560 million pages labeled classified information. Simply to shuffle so much material requires a huge increase in security clearances. A Washington Post study in 2010 concluded that over 854,000 people—more than one and a half times the population of Washington, D.C.—held top-secret security clearances.

Obama has charged more people under the 1917 Espionage Act for releasing information to the public than all prior administrations combined. Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst who famously released the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, which shed light on the U.S. war in Indochina, was the first person prosecuted under the Espionage Act for releasing classified information to the public. An outspoken and tireless advocate for Bradley Manning, Ellsberg remarked: “I’m sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case” (Washington Post, 5 June).

The Espionage Act was one of an array of repressive measures adopted after U.S. imperialism’s entry into World War I to criminalize antiwar activity. It mandated imprisonment for any act deemed to interfere with recruitment of troops. Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs was imprisoned under the Espionage Act and stripped of his citizenship for speaking against the war. Spooked by the Bolshevik Revolution, as well as by domestic unrest and anarchist agitation, in 1918 Congress passed the Sedition Act as amendments to the Espionage Act, making it a crime to criticize the “U.S. form of government.”

Ellsberg’s 1971 prosecution took place in the context of convulsive social struggles that wrested gains in this country, especially the civil rights and Black Power movements. Most importantly, the losing U.S. war in Vietnam was changing the political climate and relationship of forces. The fact that America was getting its ass kicked engendered a defeatist wing of the bourgeoisie, which was willing to cut U.S. losses in Vietnam following the destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party—then the largest such party in the capitalist world—in a 1965 coup and subsequent bloodbath encouraged by Washington. Liberals like those who run the New York Times, which printed the Pentagon Papers leaked by Ellsberg, thought the U.S. should “bring the boys home.” The Vietnamese workers and peasants were soon successful in driving out the militarily and economically mightier U.S. imperialists.

As Marxists in the belly of the beast, “our boys” were the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) fighters, who were fighting for social revolution. In the context of a draft army, our comrades accepted conscription with their working-class brothers and fought for soldiers’ civil liberties and to win servicemen to the revolutionary internationalist understanding that the enemy was U.S. imperialism, not the NLF. Soldiers whose views the Spartacist League supported issued the G.I. Voice newsletter, which demanded the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all American troops from Vietnam and other occupied countries, an end to racism in the armed forces and an end to deployment of GIs against strikes and political protest at home. Advice to inductees in the very first issue of G.I. Voice (February 1969) resonates in the Bradley Manning case today: “Our position is that while we are in the Army we must obey all legal orders. At the same time, we are citizens and do not give up our Constitutional rights because we put on a uniform.”

There is no conscription today and we do not volunteer to serve for U.S. imperialism. We recognize, however, that the armed forces include many thousands of working-class and minority men and women who end up there because this capitalist society offers them no jobs or affordable education. Their disaffection with the military is expressed in statistics of desperation. Suicide is now the leading cause of death among active duty troops, including those in combat.

Outside the court-martial, Afghanistan war vet Jacob George spoke with WV about the impact Bradley Manning’s actions had on him and other veterans. He and other mostly Southern vets launched ARTTE (A Ride to the End). They bicycle around the country to play bluegrass and folk music, speaking out against the war. He said people “would listen to the music but they weren’t too awesomely impressed about the message. Nor was the media willing to give it much coverage. When the Afghan War Logs were released later on in 2010, overnight the national discourse and the public attitude about the war in Afghanistan shifted. All of a sudden, people wanted to hear what we had to say.” He continued, “I definitely saw a shift after Manning released that information, and it also contributed to my healing, because as a veteran it gave me a voice.”

American “Democracy”: Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie

With his silver-tongued double-speak about “justice” and “freedom,” Obama, who was vaulted into office with the overt or backhanded support of the reformist left, has enhanced the repressive state machinery inherited from George W. Bush and put his own stamp on the global “war on terror.” The administration’s Tuesday power breakfasts draw up kill lists for targeted assassinations and drone attacks, like the one in September 2011 that killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. And Obama is largely given a free hand to do so by Democratic Party-loyal liberals, black elected officials and labor misleaders. Obama stands in a long tradition of Democratic presidents who shredded civil liberties at home while escalating American military intervention around the world.

The “progressive” Woodrow Wilson—an ardent segregationist—led the U.S. into World War I. Establishing the League of Nations (predecessor to the United Nations), which Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin called “a den of thieves,” Wilson blathered that “diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.” Meanwhile, his Espionage Act and Sedition Act gave the government wide latitude for censorship. He also signed an executive order requiring all public employees to “support government policy; both in conduct and in sympathy.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was at the helm of U.S. imperialism in World War II. FDR established the classification of government information in the modern era and expanded the definition of military installations to include any commercial manufacture of munitions or equipment for the Army or Navy, thus ratcheting up repression of labor in the burgeoning defense industries. Under FDR, people of Japanese descent were defined as “an enemy race,” and Roosevelt had everyone fitting that description removed to internment camps. In August 1945, knowing that Japan was ready to surrender, Roosevelt’s Democratic successor, Harry S. Truman, dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, annihilating the civilian population. With Executive Order 9835, Truman established the Federal Employee Loyalty Program to investigate and deny employment where “there is a reasonable doubt as to the loyalty of the person involved.”

As Leon Trotsky, co-leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution alongside Lenin, observed, “Imperialism with its dark plans of conquest and its robber alliances and deals, developed the system of secret diplomacy to the highest level.” It took a bourgeois social revolution, the great French Revolution of 1789, to establish the Archives Nationales for the express purpose of enabling the people to keep an eye on the government. When the workers came to power in Russia, one of their first orders of business was to open the files of the former capitalist government and publicize the truth behind its lies and diplomatic secrets to the workers of the world. It will take a proletarian socialist revolution in America to get the whole truth about U.S. imperialism’s global and domestic machinations and put an end to the exploitation and racist oppression of capitalist class rule. The Spartacist League is dedicated to building the Marxist revolutionary workers party necessary to achieve this purpose. 

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1026, 14 June 2013)

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