On February 28, 2013 at Fort Meade, in a military courtroom, Bradley Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, admitting to sending classified materials to Wikileaks but denying the most serious charge of “aiding the enemy.” According to the Bradley Manning Support Network, Bradley was authorized to read a 35-page personal statement for nearly two hours in the courtroom explaining and defending his whistleblowing and the need for transparency in government. In his statement, Manning told of his horror at seeing the Collateral Murder Video – one of the documents that Manning released which showed soldiers in a U.S. Apache helicopter indiscriminately murdering over a dozen people in Iraq, including civilians and two Reuters’ employees, photojournalist Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh. Manning said that the gunner in the video who wanted to shoot the wounded, “seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”
The Bradley Manning Support Network says that Manning is pleading guilty to having unauthorized possession of various classified documents and willfully releasing those documents to an unauthorized person (Wikileaks). He is not pleading guilty to the charges against him that say the documents were related to national defense or that the disclosure of such documents could be used to harm the United States or to aid enemies of the United States. Manning stated,
“I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information…this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”
In the courtroom Thursday, Manning said he knew he was violating the law when he released the documents to Wikileaks – which in addition to the Collateral Murder Video include the Iraq War Logs revealing thousands of cases of torture and abuse filed against coalition forces in Iraq and revealed an additional 15,000 civilian deaths to the known body count of over 150,000, roughly 80% civilian – but he released them anyway. Why? In Manning’s own words while talking to someone via internet chat, he said, “I want people to see the truth…regardless of who they are…because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” He continued, “it’s important that it gets out…I feel, for some bizarre reason…it might actually change something.” Manning explained in the chats that he wanted the information to spark public debate and worldwide discussions and reforms about the way we act in combat. In the chats, he said,
“hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time…say, 8-9 months…and you saw incredible things, awful things…things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC…what would you do?”
Judge Denise Lind will ultimately decide whether or not to accept the guilty plea. If accepted, the charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison. If the prosecution decides to pursue a court-martial on the other 12 charges, Manning could face a possible life sentence. A life sentence for exposing war criminals and pulling back the curtain on the horrors of war. Where Bradley Manning should be lauded and met with the highest of accolades, he is being punished most severely by the United States government and the Obama Administration, which has charged six people under the Espionage Act of 1917, more than all of his predecessors combined.
Yet even while the draconian government cannot seem to understand the value of truth-telling and whistleblowing, comfort can be found in the fact that people all over the world are protesting this injustice. Last Saturday, on February 23rd, protests were held all across the nation and around the globe to mark Bradley Manning’s 1,000th day in prison without trial. More than 70 events took place, from Washington D.C. to Seattle, to Paris, to Sydney, supporters gathered in rain and shine to speak out against Manning’s unjust imprisonment and harsh treatment.
In Philadelphia, protesters lined the streets in the pouring rain with signs saying things like “whis·tle·blow·er, noun: a person who informs on another or makes public disclosure of corruption or wrongdoing. See also: hero, patriot.” Protesters of all ages gathered, displaying their messages on home-made signs and passing out fliers to passersby. While all who attended were passionate and vocal, it was Dorothy Babb of Montgomery County, age ten, who attended the protest with her mother Christina and younger sister Violet, age seven, who explained the issue best when asked why she thought this was important to protest. She said, “Because he was put in jail for releasing something that mattered…and he did a good thing. He shouldn’t have been put in jail.” Her one message to Bradley Manning if she could speak to him: “You did something really, really good.”