Archive for July, 2013
More than 60 of us filled the courtroom, and spilled into the overflow trailer, at Ft. Meade last Thursday (July 25). The chief prosecutor for the government, a sneering Major Fein, in closing argument called Bradley Manning a “traitor” for the first time, and also a “hacker,” an “anarchist,” and a “humanist who does not care about humans.” He mentioned Julian Assange – who is not publicly indicted with any U.S. crime – dozens of times.
The government’s claim is that when Manning was sent to Baghdad in fall 2009 as a 22 year old Army intelligence specialist, he went to work “for Wikileaks,” digging through classified documents to supply material for Wikileaks’ “Most Wanted” List for 2009. Fein claimed that Manning “chatted” with Julian Assange about what he could supply Wikileaks, and that both Wikileaks and Manning intended to make the material available to “the enemy,” specifically, Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula via the internet.
The danger in this characterization of Manning and Wikileaks’s actions or intentions, beyond it being clearly false and unsupported by any evidence, is that any information posted on the internet, or in print, could be argued, under the same logic to be intentionally directed at “the enemy.” The government claims that information from Wikileaks was found in possession of Osama bin Laden when he was executed in 2011. They do not say if information from any other news sources were also found. The chilling prospect, of treason charges against journalists, is not so remote, says Glenn Greenwald:
“Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler explained in the New Republic in March why this theory poses such a profound threat to basic press freedoms as it essentially converts all leaks, no matter the intent, into a form of treason.”
Sitting about ten feet behind Bradley — who is not allowed any contact, eyes or otherwise, with supporters — we ached with anger and sorrow. His last few weeks in a room with people besides other prisoners and guards are passing, with the threat of life + 154 years in prison hanging heavy.
On Friday, we rushed to get one of the 36 passes to be inside the courtroom for Defense Attorney David Coombs’ closing argument. We were buoyed by the appearance on Thursday of a full-page ad “We Are Bradley Manning” in the New York Times, tangible evidence of the millions supporting Bradley worldwide.
The drama of Coombs’ conversation with the judge — which is how he approached his closing argument — surpassed that of July 8, when he opened the defense case by showing the footage from Collateral Murder, or the Apache video, as it’s called in the government’s exhibit. I’ve showed this video dozens of times to audiences from middle-school to churches, and to people on the street who wanted to watch it, to learn. Coombs chose the three excerpts to show that always get people the most upset, directing the judge to try and see the scene as Bradley first saw it in fall 2009. At that time Reuters, for whom two of the men killed on screen worked, had still not been allowed to know what happened, though they had gone through “proper channels” for two years in a Freedom of Information Act request.
Bradley learned that, saw the footage, and decided that the public, particularly those of us in the U.S., needed to see it too. I’ll turn the story over to Kevin Gosztola, who has covered this story diligently, and cogently, for years. See Clips from ‘Collateral Murder’ Video, Defense Attempts to Show ‘Truth’ About Bradley Manning, and watch the three clips that Coombs showed and the significant parts of Coombs’ explanation to the judge about what the clips represent.
In arguing that Russia should send Edward Snowden back to the U.S. to face charges for exposing, from inside the NSA, a vast surveillance network on whole populations, Attorney General Eric Holder was in the ironic position of alleging that:
“I can report that the United States is prepared to provide to the Russian government the following assurances regarding the treatment Mr. Snowden would face upon return to the United States,” Holder wrote. “First, the United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States.” In addition, “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.”
Here are layers of irony, in brief:
1) Most countries in the world don’t have the death penalty, oppose it, and know the U.S. kills by far more people per per capita than any country, even including the countries which also use the death penalty.
So, for Holder to have to pledge that the U.S. won’t seek the death penalty for Snowden is quite an admission, but one masking the real horror of 1,340 killed since the 1976 when the U.S. Supreme Court made the death penalty legal again.
2) “Torture is unlawful in the United States,” says Holder, which shows you what the law is good for.
3). “Torture is unlawful in the United States,” says Holder, which is exactly why the Bush regime set up Guantanamo and a whole system of indefinite detention and torture outside U.S. borders.
Edward Snowden explained on June 10 that he knew what could happen at the hands of the U.S. and then elaborated on his knowledge of what had been done to Bradley Manning while in pre-trial custody, and before a huge outcry that forced the Obama administration to move him out of solitary confinement. We all fear for Snowden’s future, regardless of where he finds refuge, because as he said:
“You can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk, because they’re such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningful oppose them. If they want to get you, they will get you in time.”
Here is someone who knows the risks, and chose to come forward so that the public could be informed about illegal surveillance by the U.S. government. In the process, over and over again, that same government must be exposed for illegitimate suppression of dissent and protest.
Last Friday, President Obama, apparently responding to pressure, made an unexpected statement about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. He expressed understanding that Black people feel “a lot of pain around what happened here.” He promised no systemic remedies, saying that such decisions are left up to the states, and putting the responsibility of “each of us to do some soul-searching.”
Cornel West, on Democracy Now! Monday, went right after Obama’s statement:
“President Obama has very little moral authority at this point, because we know anybody who tries to rationalize the killing of innocent peoples, a criminal—George Zimmerman is a criminal—but President Obama is a global George Zimmerman, because he tries to rationalize the killing of innocent children, 221 so far, in the name of self-defense, so that there’s actually parallels here.”
It’s well worth watching, or reading the whole exchange. Immediately Dr. West caught all kinds of criticism, for criticizing the President — a situation I personally identify with. I heartily support and agree with Dr. West’s comments. I would like to hear what you think.
Food for Thought & Action:
Expanded U.S. Targeted Killing, Drone War & Secret Operations.
See the leaked Pakistani document detailing many more civilian deaths in US drone strikes in Pakistan, released Monday by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
“Drawn from field reports by local officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the document lists over 70 drone strikes between 2006 and late 2009, alongside a small number of other incidents such as alleged Nato attacks and strikes by unspecified forces.
“Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated by the leaked report to be civilian victims. Some 94 of these are said to be children.”
A Promise Two Months Ago to Release Prisoners & Close Guantanamo.
No prisoners released since the President said he would relax restrictions on cleared Yemeni prisoners. Federal court decisions in favor of the prisoners’ rights against the government practice of force-feeding and genital searches have brought no relief. Joe Nocera, noticeably anguished, wrote Tuesday morning in The New York Times:
“There is one person who could get them out tomorrow — if he chose. That same person could stop the military from force-feeding the detainees. I am referring, of course, to President Obama. Yet despite decrying the Guantánamo prison, the president has refused to do anything but stand by and watch the military inflict needless pain and suffering, much of it on men who simply shouldn’t be there. Indeed, in many of the legal briefs filed on behalf of Guantánamo prisoners, the defendant is Barack Obama.”
An Expanding System of Mass Incarceration in the U.S.
In the Democracy Now! interview, Dr. West said,
“we’re talking about legacy of the white supremacy. We’re talking about a criminal justice system that is criminal when it comes to mistreating poor people across the board, black and brown especially…I just never forget Brother Carl Dix and others…we protested [stop-and-frisk by NYPD] and went to jail and then went to court and was—had a guilty verdict, right? That week, the president came to New York and said, “Edward Koch was one of the great mayors in the last 50 years,” and then said, “Michael Bloomberg was a terrific mayor.” Now, this is the same person saying we’ve got to care for black boys, and black boys are being intimidated, harassed, humiliated, 1,800 a day. It’s just not a matter of pretty words, Mr. President. You’ve got to follow through in action. You see, you can’t use the words to hide and conceal your mendacity, hypocrisy and the support of criminality—or enactment of criminality when it comes to drones, you see.”
Prosecution and Persecution of Whistle-Blowers
“Will you press for the justice of Trayvon Martin in the same way you press for the prosecution of Brother Bradley Manning and Brother Edward Snowden?” So you begin to see the hypocrisy.”
Glenn Greenwald writes,
“The Obama White House yesterday told Russia that it must not persecute “individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption” – as Bradley Manning faces life in prison for alerting the world to the war abuses and other profound acts of wrongdoing he discovered and as the unprecedented Obama war on whistleblowers rolls on. That lecture to Russia came in the context of White House threats to cancel a long-planned meeting over the Russian government’s refusal to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to the US to face espionage charges.”
Vast Government Surveillance on Whole Populations
Remember when Obama said that he doesn’t want people to feel like “Big Brother” is watching us? “in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential, you know — you know, program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.” And we find out, as this scandal unfolds, that all date is being vacuumed up and held, forever, in a global “Stand Your Ground” justiication, because “it keeps us safe.”
All of the above, and more, are why we drafted indictments against the US government for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Read and share with others.
“I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son” said Barack Obama a day after the verdict of “not guilty” in the George Zimmerman trial. “we are a nation of laws, and the jury has spoken.”
Attorney General Eric Holder assured the NAACP that he is concerned about the case, and that “the Justice Department has an open investigation into it.”
The message here is that we — those righteously outraged at the stalking death of a black youth being justified by a jury — should remain calm. And we are told to wait on justice at the hands of a system built on slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration. Our protests are the problem, not the underlying injustice, particularly according to Democratic Party leaders, whose purpose is to keep us passive, while they appear to “handle” the problem.
Turning your attention back to 2009, Barack Obama took office in the wake of — and because of — the disaster of the Bush regime laying waste to whole countries, attacking civil liberties, and establishing a system of indefinite detention, black sites, rendition and torture which affected tens of thousands of prisoners. Obama famously said he wanted to “look forward, not backward,” and starkly disappointed people who were under the illusion that justice would be served on the Bush regime — or at least someone in charge of torture — by the new administration.
Obama and Holder did make some promises which turned out to be aimed at pacifying critics. The Justice Department “investigated” the CIA torture in Guantanamo, captured on videotape, allowing the perpetrators to get away with destroying the tapes. They decided not to release the photos of the military torture at Abu Ghraib. The Justice Department, presumably, looked into the legal justification, practice, and individual orders and responsibility for a wide range of illegitimate actions, known to be against international law, involving thousands of victims.
And then, snooze, they found nothing really wrong, or at least nothing they would prosecute. See Justice Department Ends Investigation on Alleged Use of Torture by CIA.
It’s the same old story. The rights of people under the empire don’t matter. And Trayvon Martin, to quote the 1857 Dred Scott Decision of the US Supreme Court, will likely be found to have “no rights the white man was bound to respect.”
I am not exaggerating here. WHEN has a federal investigation brought justice in a situation where crimes have been carried out, supported, or excused by government?
We indict the U.S. government. Example: For the mass incarceration of over 2.4 million people in the United States, mainly Black and Latino, a program with a genocidal impact against these groups, including torture, solitary confinement, and unjust executions.
On Monday, July 8, Bradley Manning’s defense began with what was surely one of the most intense and unusual openings in U.S. military or civilian court history. Almost without introduction, the 39 minute version of Collateral Murder was played on five screens, while the military judge seemed to read along from the chilling transcript. The more frequently viewed 17 minute version has the Apache helicopter attack on a group of Iraqis, including a cameraman and reporter working for Reuters. But the prosecution, for unfathomable reasons, insisted that the longer version, which includes another horrific attack from the Apache on an apparently unarmed Iraqi.
There were tears in the full court room at all the appropriate points. 25 of Bradley’s supporters were allowed in the public seats at any one time, switching with 52 others who filled the overflow trailer. We succeeded in having the largest turnout to date to support Bradley at trial, including many who were coming for the first time, 24 of us from New York. The security detail counted and re-counted, short of badges, nervously herding the overflow.
The Collateral Murder footage was what made us support Bradley before we had any idea he existed. On April 5, 2010, when Wikileaks first published the video which they named Collateral Murder, we knew it was a myth-breaker for those who still thought the U.S. was in Iraq to “save” lives and help people. The Standard Operating Procedure of U.S. war-fighting in contested urban areas of occupation came through strongly enough visually. Add in the callous, outrageous chatter of the gunners – which was what Bradley testified this past February caught his attention and horrified him — and you have crimes of war writ large.
This footage figures importantly in the U.S. case against Bradley, as they argue he intentionally released it and other material to Wikileaks, knowing it would get into the hands of “the enemy.” But the defense presented testimony that the footage had already been in the public domain, was no longer classified, and that Bradley was not collaborating with Wikileaks, but rather leaked the material to them when other news organizations didn’t respond to his entreaties to publish the real story of the Iraq & Afghanistan occupations.
Col. Morris Davis was brought by the defense to speak to another contention of the prosecution, that leaking the Guantanamo Detainee Assessment Briefs caused harm because “the enemy” could read them. Davis, a military lawyer and law professor now at Howard, was put in charge of the whole military prosecution structure at Guantanamo in 2005, but quit in protest in 2007 because he said it would be impossible to promote just prosecutions. He was the author of the Close Guantanamo petition on Change.org in May, which more than 200,000 people signed. Ed Pilkington wrote in The Guardian:
Davis said he had also checked against information provided in newspaper articles, a docu-drama called The Road to Guantánamo and a book, The Guantánamo Files, that was published three years before the WikiLeaks disclosures. He said he had concluded that “if you watch the movie, read the book and the articles, you would know more about them than if you read the detainee assessment briefs”.
Davis testified that the DAB’s were almost useless to the prosecution, because they were so hastily and casually constructed. We learned Tuesday that the five DAB’s picked out by the prosecution — although of course this was all kept secret in the courtroom — included Shaker Aamer. Aamer is outrageously, still at Guantanamo after eleven years, although he was cleared for release by Bush in 2007, and again in 2010. Three others were members of the Tipton 3, featured in the film The Road to Guantanamo, who got out years ago, and in our friend Andy Worthington’s book. None of the erroneous and incomplete information gathered by US intelligence years ago could have any relevance now compared to actual journalism.
The Justice Department has an ongoing grand jury investigation into Wikileaks and Julian Assange, and an active interest in the case against Manning, as a route to potential prosecution of Wikileaks. There was testimony today by defense witness Harvard professor Yochai Benkler who contends that Wikileaks is a legitimate news organization, thereby entitled to First Amendment protection, and not “the enemy” Manning is charged with aiding.
Kevin Gosztola noted,
What happens here will create precedent for pursuing future whistleblowers or leakers. Depending on how WikiLeaks ends up being cast in the ruling, it may become a factor in how the US government continues its investigation and potential indictment of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, WikiLeaks staffers or volunteers connected to WikiLeaks.
The defense rested on July 10, after ten witnesses testified. The court martial resumes at 3:00 pm Monday July 15, with more motion arguments, and an expected rebuttal from the prosecution. There may be more from the defense before the Judge announces decisions on the 22 charges. Then the trial moves to the sentencing phase, which will likely involve weeks more of arguments.
Stay tuned for another call-out for maximum support at the trial.
These reporters have been at the trial every day:
Coverage from Associated Press and The New York Times has been occasional.
Is it true that “protest for justice doesn’t do any good?” No, a thousand times, no.
People in groups, in the streets – or in state houses screaming — articulating a strong political message changes the terms of how people see things, bringing out viewpoints that are not given voice in managed debate in ruling class media. People arguing passionately for a cause and sometimes putting their lives on the line – especially when their message hits deeply at a sharp fault-line underlying conflict in a society – can change how whole societies view whether what a government is doing, or not doing, is legitimate.
Street protest is not the only element needed for major social change, but it’s the one feature of mass political mobilization that’s essential. It’s so essential that people in most of the world know to gather together, raise demands, and make noise, marching together to show determination and urgency.
Two recent examples from within the United States:
One. In spring 2012, when the news spread that 17 year old Trayvon Martin had been shot in the heart by a vigilante, wanna-be cop named George Zimmerman, and that no charges had been filed in the killing, it struck a nerve. Was the life of a young black man really worth… nothing and of no consequence? Hundreds, then tens of thousands rallied, marched, made popular a hoodie as a symbol of protest, and demanded Zimmerman be charged.
That is the only reason there’s a trial going on now in Florida. And if the prosecution failed to put on a case convincing the jury beyond a reasonable doubt to convict, there better be more protest (see stopmassincarceration.org).
Two. Texas legislators tried to push through a law against abortion after 22 weeks, which would close down most of the women’s clinics, and enforce motherhood for thousands of women. Wendy Davis filibustered, and women — I know because I have friends who did this — jumped in their cars and drove from all over the state to fill the State House in support. This support for abortion galvanized others to stay up all night, and led to much different headlines. The bill, at that point at least, was stopped.
Just as important, people began to feel like the troops had finally come out to change the terrible direction of anti-abortion legislation, finally, and are echoing it elsewhere (see stoppatriarchy.org).
There is no substitute for determined protest against the outrages which come at us. The actions of a few can ignite the outrage of many. Otherwise, the status quo holds, and people conclude “there is nothing you can do.”
And it’s particularly important to come out at certain moments when days and hours matter.
Such as when the government of the world’s largest empire revokes the passport of a whistle-blower who happens to have exposed vast criminal surveillance of whole populations by that government, and threatens the governments of any country who might provide him asylum.
We learned while in a strange, airless, windowless trailer-like military court at the infamous Ft. Meade, during the trial of Bradley Manning on Thursday, June 28, that the U.S. military has blocked access, worldwide, for anyone in the military to the website of The Guardian, apparently in reaction to the leaks by Edward Snowden on vast surveillance of whole populations by the National Security Administration. Ironically, or not, Ft. Meade is the home of the NSA.
The criminals, according to the U.S. government, are the leakers such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden and journalists such as Glenn Greenwald who publish the information about U.S. war crimes which we, the public, are supposed to support, or, at least ignore. The “enemy” is us, the public, explicitly, in the case of Bradley, who is charged with “aiding the enemy.”
This is all backwards, to risk understatement. The crime of aggressive war is the supreme war crime. To have waged such a war, destroying a country’s infrastructure, society, displacing millions, displacing and killing uncounted numbers — and all on the basis of lies, as was the U.S. war on Iraq — is the criminal offense we should be trying the leaders of the Bush regime for.
Instead, Bradley Manning, a private who joined to pay for college, sent to a Forward Operating Base outside Baghdad, is facing charges for which the U.S. government wants him in prison for life, and which could potentially lead to the death penalty. Preliminary hearings went on for many months, during which, last February, Bradley made a declaration taking responsibility for sending classified documents to WikiLeaks. The prosecution will finish its case against him this week, charging, most seriously, that he “aided the enemy.”
History is being made in this courtroom, but as is often the case in the proceedings of empire, on the surface, the proceedings are banal. The judge takes pains to point out Bradley’s rights as accused, all the better to not be reversed in an appeal. The large team of prosecutors comes and goes with stacks of files, as if this is business as usual, and as if “justice” will be served. Each morning the lead prosecutor informs the judge of how many members of the media and the public are present. There is a lot of talk about the rights of the public, while the public is searched, told not to talk, and treated as the “enemy” we are.
Bradley is charged with leaking “Cablegate” files, and specifically 117 of them, as allowed by the judge last week. Kevin Gosztola notes that these aren’t the cables that made news when released. He speculates on why these documents, which concerned countries all over the world including Iraq and Afghanistan, were charged:
Peter Van Buren, a former Foreign Service Officer for the State Department who helped lead two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in rural Iraq from 2009-2010, told Firedoglake that none of the cables from the US Embassy in Baghdad that Manning is charged with disclosing to WikiLeaks jump out at him as “anything special or concrete.” He suggested that many of them were reports done by State Department employees as if they were journalists.
The fact that none of the cables appear to be any that received widespread attention in the media when WikiLeaks published them is, to Van Buren, a possible symptom of the State Department’s “schizophrenia about WikiLeaks.” They have wanted to claim the release of cables was an “incredible crime against the US government” while at the same time wanting to “reassure” leaders of countries around the world that the “really important stuff was protected” and not compromised.
The prosecution attempted to get the judge to allow them to submit tweets from WikiLeaks as evidence that Bradley was working with WikiLeaks, providing what they asked for. We learned that the prosecutors hadn’t subpoenaed Twitter for those records, and had someone find them on Google, perhaps because they know they don’t have to work very hard here to get a “guilty” verdict from the military judge. The judge did deny one 2009 WikiLeaks tweet into evidence, but allowed others.
A small defense victory Thursday came when the judge seemed to indicate she’ll allow them to submit evidence arguing that the Collateral Murder video of the July 2007 Apache helicopter attack killing 12 Iraqi civilians was no longer “classified” by 2010 when Manning sent it to Wikileaks. It’s worth noting that this footage was sought by Reuters, (who employed two of the men killed in the attack) for three years, unsuccessfully.
The most interesting testimony Friday was from Col. David Miller, who had commanded Manning’s brigade in Iraq in 2010, which was assigned to “Operation New Dawn,” the U.S. cynical attempt to “teach” Iraqis to provide their own security, as he explained. Miller told how he thought Manning, who had once briefed him at Ft. Drum before deployment was smart, but that the whole unit “took a hit” and that he was “stunned” when he learned of the charges against Manning. “The last thing I anticipated was an internal security breach from one of our own.”
Nathan Fuller, writing for the Bradley Manning Support Network, wrote:
On cross-examination, Col. Miller testified that there were no restrictions on surfing the SIPRNet, the military’s Secret-level internet, where he perused the State Department’s Net-Centric Diplomacy Database. He also said that soldiers were allowed to download files to their computers and to digital media, such as CDs, and there were no restrictions on the ‘manner’ in which a soldier could download. This refutes the claim that by using the download-automating Wget program, Manning exceeded his authorized computer access.
NOW: Take-home message:
The prosecution will rest July 1 or 2. After the holiday weekend, on Monday July 8, the defense will begin. Let this be a day where the prosecutor has to tell the judge that the media trailer is full; the public seats are all taken, and the overflow trailer is also full. If you can’t get to Ft. Meade, join in the conversation online; send donations; talk to everyone you know about this case, and why telling the truth should not be a crime.
And, order a copy of Collateral Murder to show, to project outside, to share. What is so dangerous about this footage that Bradley should spend life in prison for releasing it? It shows war crimes, done in our name.
Finally, consider Julian Assange’s comments on the trial:
This is not justice; never could this be justice… The verdict was ordained long ago. Its function is not to determine questions such as guilt or innocence, or truth or falsehood. It is a public relations exercise, designed to provide the government with an alibi for posterity. It is a show of wasteful vengeance; a theatrical warning to people of conscience.