One year in jail, Bradley Manning is a hero

Blowing the whistle on war crimes is no crime.

On 26 May, Private Bradley Manning will have been held in US military detention without trial for one year. He faces a battery of charges, including "aiding the enemy" – a crime punishable by execution under US law.

What was Manning's crime? As well as allegedly releasing classified diplomatic cables that exposed the hypocrisy of top US officials, it is alleged that he blew the whistle on war crimes and cover-ups by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. If this is true, the man is a hero. He is a defender of democracy and human rights. His actions are based on the principle that citizens have a right to know what the government is doing in their name.

Manning should not be in prison. The charges against him should be dropped. Instead, the US should put on trial those who killed innocent civilians and those who protected them.

Even many Americans agree that Bradley Manning is a true patriot, not a traitor. He reveres the founding ideals of the US – an open, honest government accountable to the people, which pursues its policies by lawful means that respect human rights. At great personal risk, he sought to expose grave crimes that were perpetrated and then hidden by the US government and military.

These are the characteristics of a man of conscience, motivated by altruism. Any misjudgements he made in his alleged release of certain documents are far outweighed by the positive good overall. Thanks to Manning, we, the people, know the truth.

"Cruel, inhuman and degrading"

Critics say that WikiLeaks was sometimes indiscriminate and even reckless in its release of certain documents. This may be true in a small number of cases. Regardless, these releases were done by WikiLeaks, not by Manning. He allegedly passed the information in good faith. He did not publish the documents. WikiLeaks did. Manning cannot be blamed for any shortcomings in the way WikiLeaks released the information.

For nine months, 23-year-old Manning was imprisoned in harsh, inhuman conditions at the Quantico marine corps base in Virginia.

He was subjected to long periods of solitary confinement and many extreme deprivations, which amounted to pre-conviction punishment. This mistreatment was condemned by more than 250 of America's most eminent legal scholars.

The abuse of Manning constituted illegal "cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment", contrary to the UN Convention Against Torture and to the Eighth Amendment to the US constitution. It is arguable that President Obama should be indicted by the International Criminal Court. He bears direct personal and legal responsibility for the mistreatment of Manning. He knew about it, publicly endorsed it and did nothing to stop it.

After worldwide protests, Manning was recently transferred to a standard medium-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where his treatment has significantly improved.

He is being held on the, as yet, unproven allegation that he leaked classified US military and diplomatic documents that were subsequently released by WikiLeaks. These documents exposed US war crimes, as well as US foreign policy dishonesty and duplicity.

Covering up slaughter

Manning is a humanist and a man with a conscience. When he discovered human rights violations by the US armed forces and two-facedness by the US government, he was shocked and distressed. He became disillusioned with his country's foreign and military policy, believing it was betraying its professed democratic and humanitarian mission.

The abuse that first triggered Manning's disillusionment came when he was posted to Iraq in October 2009 as an intelligence analyst. He was appalled to discover US military collusion with the repression of dissent in Iraq; in particular "watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police . . . for printing 'anti-Iraqi' literature".

The offending literature exposed corruption in the US-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. When he complained that US forces should not be assisting in suppressing free speech and peaceful protest, he was told to keep quiet and that the US armed forces in Iraq should be doing more to silence opponents of the Maliki regime.

He was further outraged to discover top-secret video footage of a US Apache helicopter attack that gunned down 11 Iraqi civilians in 2007, including two Reuters journalists and men who had gone to the aid of the wounded. Two children were also gravely injured when the US helicopter opened fire on their van. The video records US soldiers laughing and joking at the killings, and also insulting the victims.

The video of the massacre can be seen here.

This slaughter had previously been the subject of a cover-up by the US armed forces, which claimed dishonestly that the helicopter had been engaged in combat operations against armed enemy forces.

It is only (allegedly) thanks to Bradley Manning that we now know the truth about this killing of innocent civilians – and about the killings of hundreds of other civilians in unreported and undocumented incidents.

Manning is a US citizen but also a British citizen through his Welsh mother. Since he has been in detention, he has received no British consular support. Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, have failed to help him. They have never spoken publicly against his maltreatment nor, as far as we know, made any private appeals to the US government and military to halt the abuse that Manning suffered at Quantico.

So much for the coalition's professed commitment to human rights and civil liberties.

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner.

TAKE ACTION – What you can do:

1. Write to Bradley Manning. Send him your support: PFC Bradley Manning 89289. Fort Leavenworth Military Detention Centre, 830 Sabalu Road, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, KS 66027, USA.

2. Sign the petition in support of Bradley Manning.

3. Ask your MP and MEPs to urge the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to ensure a British consular visit to Bradley Manning, and to press the US government to drop all charges and release him. You can email your MP and MEPs direct through this website.

4. Phone or write to the US embassy in London – 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE (tel: 020 7499 9000).

5. Write to President Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC20500, USA.

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org His personal biography can be viewed here: www.petertatchell.net/biography.htm

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One Day Without Us reveals the spectre of Britain without immigration

Imagine a country without its NHS workers, its artists and even its consumers. That's why immigrants are striking today. 

What’s the best way of making yourself heard in politics? Protesting in the street, or contacting the media? Writing to politicians? A badge?

One option, of course, is to walk out - and give people a chance to recognise what they’d be missing if you weren’t there. In the labour movement, that’s long been an option – a last-case option, but an option nevertheless – when your contribution isn't being recognised.

A strike is a tit-for-tat negotiation and a warning shot. “I’ll work properly when you employ me properly”, it says, but simultaneously: “Here’s what you’d lose if I stopped”. Done right, the worker’s absence can shift the power balance in their favour.

Normally, people strike according to their role, in pursuit of certain conditions – the tube strikes, or last year’s teacher's strike.

Yet there is also a long and rich history of walk-outs whose terms are broader and boundaries hazier. One of the most famous is surely the 1975 Women's Strike, in Iceland, during which 90 per cent of the country's women refused to participate in either paid or unpaid work.

In 2016, the formula was repeated in Poland, where women went on strike to protest against a draconian change being proposed to the country's already-strict abortion laws. (It worked.)

Immigrant strikes, too, have a history. In 2006, for instance, a coalition of Los Angeles Catholic groups, unions and immigration reform groups proposed a boycott in opposition to a bill which, among other things, called for new border security fences to be built between America and Mexico. (Ahem.)

The action grew to become a national event, and on May 1, the “Great American Boycott” took place, with immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere leaving work, skipping school and refusing to buy or sell goods.

Now, with Donald Trump in the White House and Brexit looming, some have decided it’s time for another strike. Enter “One Day Without Us”.

Today, immigrants here in Britain will strike not for pay conditions or holiday allowances, but for basic recognition and respect. Across the country, businesses will close and immigrants will leave work, many of them to take place in alternative actions like rallies or letter-writing campaigns.

The name of the protest pulls no punches. This, it says, is what it would be like if we all went away. (Subtext: “like some of you want”.)

Because – and let’s be honest here – it’d be bad. In hospital this summer, I was treated by migrants. After 24 hours in NHS, I took a count, and found that only about one in five of the staff who had treated me were identifiably English. Around 4.6 per cent of NHS staff nationally are from the EU, including 9 per cent of doctors. Immigrants clean buildings, make our food, and provide a whole host of other vital services.

One Day Without Us, then, could do Britain a huge favour - it provides us with a quick preview function before anyone ups and leaves for good, taking the heart of our health service, or our food supplies, with them.

In recognition of this, some businesses are actively giving their workers the day off. One 36-year-old owner of a support services company, for instance, is giving her staff a paid holiday.

“Not all my colleagues are taking up the offer not to come in”, she explained. “Some, both British and foreign-born, would prefer to work. That’s fine, I wanted to give colleagues the freedom to choose.

 “It will cause some inconvenience and I’ve had to explain to clients why we aren’t offering all our services for one day, but I feel doing this is the only way to show how much this country relies on migrants. I may be a businesswoman, but I’m a human being first, and it hurts my heart to see how foreign-born colleagues are being treated by some people in the current political climate."

The woman, whose staff is 65 per cent foreign born, has asked her company not to be identified. She’s heard her staff being abused for speaking Polish.

Of course, not everyone is able to walk out of work. I write this from Chicago, Illinois, where last week activists participated in an American predecessor to One Day Without Us called “Day Without Immigrants”. Type “Day Without Immigrants" into Google followed by the word "Chicago" and you will find reports of restaurants closing down and citizens marching together through the city.

But search for just "Day Without Immigrants", and the top stories are all about participants being fired.

One Day Without Us, then, encourages any form of engagement. From human chains to sessions during which participants can write to their MP, these events allow immigrants, and supporters, to make themselves known across the country.

Businesses and museums, too, are involved. The Tate, for instance, is offering free tours showing visitors artworks created or influenced by migrants, showing Londoners which of the paintings that they’ve seen a dozen times only exist because of immigration.

Because paintings, like people, come from everywhere, whether or not you remember. Britain is a mongrel country, and so its art and culture are as mongrel as its workforce: a persistent thread through the country’s history.

We risk a lot forgetting this. At its best, assimilation provides a way of integrating without forgetting one’s own unique identity. In a world where immigrants risk threats or violence, however, invisibility can be the best option. For some, it is better not to be recognized as an immigrant than be abused as one.

Those of us who don’t risk threats have a duty to recognise this. I dislike the glibness of “we are all migrants” – maybe, technically, but we’re not all getting slurs shouted at us in the high street, are we? Still, I also don’t like anyone forgetting the fact that their existence, in all probably, is contingent on someone once being given clemency in a place that was their own. The movement of people is woven into the fabric of society.

Of course, it is impossible to say how successful One Day Without Us will be, or how many people’s lives will be directly affected. But I hope that, even as a gesture, it works: that people think of what would be missing from their lives without immigration.

We ignore it at our peril.

You can view all the One Day Without Us events on the organisers’ website, or contribute to a fund to support businesses which are closing for the day here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland