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One year in jail, Bradley Manning is a hero

Blowing the whistle on war crimes is no crime.

By Peter Tatchell

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.

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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.

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