The alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower, detained and abused for two years in prison, now on secret trial, defends all our freedoms
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, The Guardian, May 30, 2012
Little did I know when I was helping with the preparations for making public the historic leak “Collateral Murder” – the 2007 footage of a US Apache helicopter firing at and killing a group of people claimed to be insurgents, which included a Reuters journalist, released by WikiLeaks in 2010 – that the person possibly responsible for the courageous act of bringing the war crimes exposed in that video into the public domain, where it belonged, would end up in a military prison, even subjected to torture for months. Today marks two years of imprisonment of Private Bradley Manning. Two years out of his 24 years is a long time in military prison. His treatment has been highly controversial, every step of the way.
Following every bit of information available during the first few months of his ordeal made it clear that the US government was going to use Manning as a warning to anyone else who might feel compelled to report on war crimes, or any other crimes they witness from within the system.
Because of courage and creativity of activists, Bradley Manning has not been forgotten, even if that was the aim of authorities, and he never shall be forgotten. His case has been largely shunned by most of the mainstream media, especially in the US. This needs to change, because if he is indeed found guilty of being a whistleblower of such magnitude that it shook the entire secrecy machine of our world out of its comfort zone, his acts would need to be honored as an inspiration to change the way governments hide the reality of their actions from the people they are supposed to be serving and informing.
Manning should not be convicted in secret: the media should be given access to the court filings; and the media should be pushing harder for the first amendment of the US constitution to be honored in the Manning case. The state should acknowledge its responsibility towards its citizens and honor the promises of the current president, Barack Obama, of a more transparent state. Let the sunshine in, Mr President: if you have nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear.
Blow the whistle, goes the warning, and you will be buried alive by the state, shredded by the same secrecy machine a whistleblower would try to expose.
Reporter Kevin Gosztola describes the bizarre situation at the Manning trials in his article “Why I am Challenging Secrecy in Bradley Manning’s Court Martial”:
“Reporters have come together multiple times during hearings in the past months to compare notes because we are unable to reference anything after the proceedings for the day are over to verify that what we heard was written down properly. The scene is like one you might see in a high school classroom when students are asking each other if they were able to get down what the teacher said because it might be in an exam.
“Of course, members of the press don’t need to know this information to pass any test. They want to know this information so the public can know what is happening in one of the most significant cases in US history.”
One of Manning’s most visible supporters is the world’s best known whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg. It is worth remembering what he did and why, and at what level, because there has been much confusion about the parallels between the two. This was clearly demonstrated by President Obama when he said the cases were “not” similar because “Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified the same way.” The fact of the matter is this: the material disclosed in the Pentagon Papers leaked by Ellsberg was designated “top secret”, the highest secrecy designation under law, whereas the material allegedly leaked by Manning to WikiLeaks was marked “secret” or “classified” – among the lowest-level secrecy designations. Yet Obama himself declared that Manning “broke the law” – months before the pre-trial hearings. It is obvious to anyone who cares to look into the Manning case that he will not get a fair trial if for no other reason than that the head of state has already declared he is guilty.
It is of the utmost importance that we do not cave into the fear the US government is trying to impose against whistleblowers and WikiLeaks. The main lesson in this saga is that governments should be open, be accountable, and understand they are not to govern but to serve those who put their trust in them. The trial, Manning’s treatment, and the lack of accountability of those who have had their crimes exposed by the digital files Manning is accused of leaking, has put the US in the same global category as China, with its authoritarianism, secrecy and fear-mongering.
The land of the free has long gone into a cloak of dark secrets which most people in America would never accept if they knew. If freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of information are taken from the marginalized few, you will never know when you will be next: do nothing and when they come for you, there will be no one left to defend you.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a poet who has served since April 2009 as an MP in the Icelandic parliament for the Movement, a political movement for democratic reform beyond party politics, which she helped create. Birgitta was chief sponsor for the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), and is chair of the International Modern Media Institute. She is also on the Bradley Manning advisory board