24-hour protest marks 1,000 days of captivity for Bradley Manning
Supporters of Army PFC Bradley Manning gathered in front of a military recruitment center in Long Beach yesterday to mark Manning’s 1,000th day in military custody without a trial.
Manning, 25, is accused of turning state secrets — the largest leak in U.S. history — over to the website WikiLeaks. Among the 22 charges against him is that of “aiding the enemy.” If found guilty, he faces life in prison. (The government has stated it will not ask for the death penalty.)
Held in concert with over 70 other protests around the world, demonstrators yesterday demanded the immediate release of Manning. Also, because the materials that Manning is accused of leaking revealed injustices and duplicity on the part of the U.S. and foreign governments, protesters further demanded that action be taken against the people responsible for such acts.
“What really gets to me is how they have come down on all of the whistle-blowers, yet none of the perpetrators they have been blowing the whistle against have been held accountable,” said Sanchez, a demonstrator who asked his full name be withheld.
Sanchez also expressed his frustration over what he feels is the media’s failure to uncover much of what Manning allegedly brought to light. He wants greater transparency in government and was thankful for the release of documents.
“How else are we going to be able to find out what it is that our government is doing, if it isn’t through this type of whistle-blowing?” he said.
Aside from the infamous video showing Iraqi civilians being killed by an Apache gunship, there are hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, Afghan and Iraqi war logs and videos that Manning allegedly sent to WikiLeaks.
Some of the diplomatic cables reveal an image of the U.S. government that differs widely from the one presented to its public. For example, they have shown:
- Most of the men incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay were innocent or low-level operatives.
- The U.S. brought cluster bombs onto British soil, which violated a treaty that bans the housing of such weapons, and that U.K. officials concealed this from Parliament.
- The U.S. government did in fact keep count of civilian causalities in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the Bush and Obama administrations saying otherwise.
- The U.S. government was aware that Shell Oil Co. had placed moles within the Nigerian government.
- American forces were ordered not to investigate allegations of torture by Iraqi detainees.
- Since at least 2006, the U.S. government had been funding political dissidents in Syria.
- The U.S. government pressured Spanish courts to drop investigations of torture at Guantanamo Bay.
- The U.S. government used threats, spying and other tactics to influence the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen.
The cables also showed widespread malfeasance on the part of foreign governments, which is believed by some to be largely responsible for the Arab Spring that toppled several governments.
Even the Vatican wasn’t spared. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had apparently linked Catholic Church leaders in Venezuela with the privileged and well-to-do. Cables revealed that the Vatican wanted the U.S. to counter Chavez’s influence in his own country.
Cops maintained constant surveillance of the 30 or so demonstrators at yesterday’s action, which was held in front of the Armed Forces Career Center. The protest was planned to go on for 24 hours. Within minutes of setting up their action, protesters were approached by Long Beach police, who informed them that it is illegal to sleep on the sidewalk. Protesters said they would stay the night, even if they had to go without rest.
Ty, an 11-year-old whose mother requested his surname be withheld, began to write “Free Bradley” on the sidewalk with chalk when he was stopped by cops. According to police charged with monitoring the demonstration, chalking is considered vandalism in Long Beach. It led to a brief stand-off as protesters attempted, but failed, to reason with an officer on the grounds that the Supreme Court has twice ruled in favor of protecting political speech written with sidewalk chalk.
Ty said he had written on the sidewalk with chalk before, about nine times or so in his life, though not associated with protests. He had never been stopped.
“It made me mad,” he said. “I should be able to draw with chalk.”
Despite the warning, some chalking occurred again later by others. Mostly though protesters banged on pots and pans to draw attention and handed out pamphlets.
Josh Dufour helped promote yesterday’s demonstration, which was sponsored by Free Bradley Manning So Cal. He considers Manning to be a hero.
“He is a soldier who stood up for democracy and stood up for truth and what is right,” he said. “If people don’t stand behind him, then we don’t deserve, as a public, to have real people like him standing up for us.”
Dufour said he comes from a family that spans many generations of military service. He thought long and hard about Manning’s alleged actions before supporting him. He said he would never have advocated on Manning’s behalf if his alleged release of classified information had threatened national security or caused anyone harm.
“His information was all just about the travesties that we were committing in the war and the fact that we weren’t even acknowledging that we were committing war crimes,” he said.
Along with demanding Manning’s freedom, his supporters have also decried the way he had been treated while in captivity. For 11 months, without having been charged with a crime, he had been kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, without sunlight, under constant surveillance and barred from exercising. He was denied pillows or bedsheets — though he was never on suicide watch — made to strip naked each night and his sleep was regularly interrupted.
In March of last year, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, accused the U.S. government of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” in Manning’s case, according to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. Since then, the conditions of Manning’s incarceration have improved.
The military’s treatment of Manning has Pat Alviso concerned for other soldiers who may be considering speaking out against military crimes. She said it was important for people to defend Manning, so that military families will know their loved ones will not be criminalized and ill-treated for following their conscience.
“If we don’t look out for [Manning] … where are they going to get the courage to speak up?” she said.
Alviso is a member of Military Families Speak Out. Her son, a Marine, has served five tours — two in Iraq and three in Afghanistan. She knows, she said, that soldiers are expected to follow orders and obey the chain of command, but said there is another issue at play with whistle-blowers. She cites the Nuremberg Trials where the defense of Nazi war criminals, that they were following the orders of their superiors at the time, was not accepted by the court.
“The same thing goes here for us. … You need to follow your conscience above your commitments to the military,” she said. “That is what I personally believe what Bradley Manning did.”