June 11, 2013
US Army Private Bradley Manning is being persecuted for exposing war crimes committed by the Bush and Obama administrations. Like any criminal, the US government wants its wrongful acts to remain secret; it wishes to make the truth illegal.
On June 3rd, the trial of Manning began. He previously pled guilty to 10 offenses that could collectively bring 20 years in custody, but the military prosecutors were not satisfied. They pursued the capital offense of “aiding the enemy” which can be punished by execution or life imprisonment. This is Obama’s warning to anyone else who is tempted to speak truth to power.
What You Are Told Is On Trial
Bradley Manning was arrested in May 2010 for passing restricted material to the WikiLeaks site, which is dedicated to the free flow of information. The material included videos of American airstrikes on Baghdad and Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables that became known as the Iraq and Afghan War logs.
The American government and military were acutely embarrassed. For example, one video consisted of cockpit gunsight footage from a US helicopter that was involved in the series of July 12, 2007 airstrikes on Baghdad in which an estimated 18 people were killed, including two Reuters war correspondents. The military claimed the dead were armed insurgents, and at least two of them had weapons which is common practice in Iraq. The Pentagon buried the footage by refusing a Freedom of Information request from Reuters. When the video was leaked, it showed an indiscriminate slaughter. Its audio captured the unalloyed joy of the Americans as they killed and an absolute lack of remorse when they realized young children were among the dead.
This video was a turning point for Manning who was shocked by the soldier’s remarks. At his pre-trial hearing, he stated of the leaked material, “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 every day.”
The 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg was a turning point in the Vietnam War because it revealed the depth of lies being told by the American government to the American people. Manning’s act was a turning point in the Iraq and Afghan wars but it had far wider impact. For one thing, it was instrumental in sparking the Arab Spring; one diplomatic cable discredited the Tunisian government by verifying the raw corruption of the President and his family.
Manning’s Unforgiveable Sin
Indiscriminate slaughter and the torture of detainees do not disturb the Obama administration; talking about them does. Manning not only talked but he backed everything up with data. For exposing and embarrassing them, government wishes not merely to punish Manning but to crush him utterly so that his example does not inspire others. To do so, it must make transparency into treason.
The accusation of aiding and abetting the enemy is a drastic and dangerous expansion of the Espionage Act. The exact wording of the charge: “Knowingly giving intelligence to the enemy through indirect means.” Traditionally, direct means have been required; that is, a person directly and intentionally provided intelligence to “the enemy.” The prosecutors now contend that the transfer can be indirect and unintentional. They argue Manning should have known Al Qaeda could access the information; his intention of revealing a war crime to the world becomes irrelevant. The New York Times observed, “This would turn all government whistle-blowing into treason: a grave threat to both potential sources and American journalism.”
The civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald explained further, “[The new legal theory] would basically mean that any kind of leak now of classified information to newspapers, where your intent is not to aid the Taliban or help them but to expose wrongdoing, is now considered a capital offense and considered aiding and abetting the enemy….And that’s an amazingly broad and expansive definition…” The expanded theory becomes a de facto gag order, especially in the hands of Obama who has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous Presidents combined.
There is no question that Manning broke the law. The fault lies not in Manning but in the military. No person nor organization has the right to force a man to surrender his conscience and mutely watch the slaughter of children. He has an inalienable right to speak the truth. To claim otherwise is to argue that a soldier is literally property, a slave of the military and no longer a man.
In Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau declared, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right….Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.” Speaking specifically of soldiers who surrender their conscience, Thoreau continued, “They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? [B]ehold a marine, such a man as an American government can make…a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity…”
Manning has already spent 1110 days in prison, much of it in solitary confinement and other conditions that human rights organizations call torture. Even for the most military of men, 1110 days and the prospect of 20 years more should be enough punishment for the ‘crime’ of retaining a conscience.
What The Trial Means About America
Roger Williams, the Puritan founder of Rhode Island, was America’s first revolutionary. He created the American soul by inextricably linking individual liberty with freedom of belief. In the 1640s, Williams argued passionately for “soul liberty” – that is, an individual’s conscience should be free from outside interference and control. “[T]o force the Consciences of the Unwilling is a Soul-rape,” he declared bluntly. Drawing upon Williams, the contemporary American philosopher Martha Nussbaum further defined “soul-rape” as forcing people “to affirm convictions that they may not hold, or to give assent to orthodoxies they don’t support.”
Williams won the argument, and the First Amendment was the ultimate result. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” The amendment was first in the Bill of Rights because freedom of conscience and speech is the most fundamental of human rights. Around the world, Americans became renowned as a people who bowed their heads and beliefs to no one; they spoke and believed freely. And, so, the world gravitated toward America because of the hunger within human beings to think and decide for themselves. It is a hunger for human dignity.
The persecution of Manning is an attempt to destroy the core of what it means to be American by destroying freedom of conscience and speech. The police and surveillance state of America wants to control information down to the level of reaching inside people’s minds to instill a fear of speaking or deciding for themselves.
Obama is raping the soul of America.
Wendy McElroy is a frequent Dollar Vigilante contributor and renowned individualist anarchist and individualist feminist. She was a co-founder along with Carl Watner and George H. Smith of The Voluntaryist in 1982, and is the author/editor of twelve books, the latest of which is The Art of Being Free. Follow her work at www.wendymcelroy.com.