Yesterday, after three years of confinement, Pfc. Bradley Manning finally went on trial in a military court at Fort Meade, Maryland. But it is less a real trial than it is a trial run, an experiment on how to make an example out of a government whistleblower, intimidate journalists’ sources, and make journalists and publishers targets.
What Manning did for his country was priceless, and for that he will pay a heavy price. Here’s a young soldier who put his future on the line so Americans had a chance to see the human and moral cost of the wars their government is waging. Manning’s information shaped the American public’s understanding of the ongoing wars and the way the press reports on these conflicts. This shift in perception is largely responsible for US troops finally coming home. Manning now faces a life sentence and the most serious charge against him carries a potential death penalty.
Government prosecutors will try to prove Manning had reason to believe his actions would aid the enemy. In his testimony earlier this year, Manning explained his political motivation, arguing that he had hoped to “spark a domestic debate” over current US wars and saying that he did so to have a “clear conscience.”
In a telling sign of just how fair of a trial Manning will get, the military judge already ruled that almost all questions and evidence the defense can raise about Manning’s intentions for acting are irrelevant to the trial. The judge has also stated that two dozen prosecution witnesses will testify behind closed doors. Many of these will be discussing the WikiLeaks documents available to all everywhere, except in the courtroom, since the government still considers them secret.
WikiLeaks and Julian Assange were threaded through the prosecutor’s opening, with speculative claims that Manning was taking direction from WikiLeaks and Manning looked for what to disclose on the WikiLeaks most wanted list. Manning’s lawyer repeated that he acted on his own and was not taking direction from WikiLeaks. The “wanted” list was actually an open Wiki list contributed to by human rights groups and others. This effort to brand Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as “conspirators” has been the government strategy from the beginning and has had its latest reincarnation when the FBI in an affidavit claimed FOX reporter James Rosen was a co-conspirator or aided and abetted his source. Sadly, that seems to be the dangerous direction the government is taking in its efforts to squelch truth-telling.
The military judge has also determined that court documents and transcripts, even of her own rulings, will continue to be unavailable to reporters and the general public. Manning’s supporters crowd-funded stenographers to make up for the lack of transcripts, but last week the court denied them press passes. Yesterday, one of the stenographers was able to get in after the Bradley Manning Support Network gave up their pass for the day. There is no guarantee any stenographers will be allowed on future dates, and the same goes for most of the 370 media organizations that have requested access, most of whom did not get it.
Center for Constitutional Rights is suing the military judge in Manning’s case in an attempt to make public the documents in the case. We cannot afford to let the government get away with these amateur-hour procedures designed to discourage press coverage of the most important state secrets trial since the Pentagon papers.
Everyone who cares about the future of this country needs to learn about this case and get involved in Manning’s defense: make his case in the court of public opinion, call on newspapers to carefully scrutinize how this trial is being handled and drive a meaningful public debate about the morality of Manning’s actions.
Truth is a condition for government accountability. Bradley Manning is facing the most severe punishment for a journalistic source in this country’s history because truth itself has become an enemy of our state. Exposing the truth about government misconduct does not make one a traitor; turning your back on truth-tellers like Manning does.