Today is Chelsea Manning’s birthday, and on this day people from across the world are sending her well wishes. From celebrities, to NGO’s, to countless social media posts across the world, the international community is honoring her sacrifice and in a way, mourning the injustice of her trial.
How serendipitous that the redacted Torture Report was released just last week. Roughly three years ago, Wikileaks released the Iraq War Logs thanks to Chelsea. We knew then, not now, that the United States facilitated, trained, and outsourced torture. From the Chelsea Manning Support Network:
There is an official policy to ignore torture in Iraq.
The “Iraq War Logs” published by WikiLeaks revealed that thousands of reports of prisoner abuse and torture had been filed against the Iraqi Security Forces. Medical evidence detailed how prisoners had been whipped with heavy cables across the feet, hung from ceiling hooks, suffered holes being bored into their legs with electric drills, urinated upon, and sexually assaulted. These logs also revealed the existence of “Frago 242,” an order implemented in 2004 not to investigate allegations of abuse against the Iraqi government. This order is a direct violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, which was ratified by the United States in 1994. The Convention prohibits the Armed Forces from transferring a detainee to other countries “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” According to the State Department’s own reports, the U.S. government was already aware that the Iraqi Security Forces engaged in torture (1).
The Chelsea Manning Support Network summarizes quite well what was brought to light due to her act of conscience. From Chelsea we also learned:
- The American defence contracting firm Dyncorp in Afghanistan were complicit in child trafficking activities in Afghanistan.
- The American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay held mostly innocent and low-level operatives.
- Both the Bush and Obama administration had lied in saying that there was no official civilian casualty count in Iraq from American military activities, there was in fact an official government tally from 2004 to 2009 that reached 109,000 people, 66,081 being civilian.
- The State Department backed opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law, where the factories of Nike and Nautica make mass profits off cheap labor and induced poverty.
- Although the United States had publicly shown unwavering public support for the oppressive President Ben Ali in Tunisia, leaked cables showed that they would not in fact support the regime in the event of a popular uprising.
- Egyptian tortures under the autocratic Mubarak regime were directly trained by the FBI.
- A secret document signed by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton authorized US diplomats to collect DNA samples from top UN officials as well as UN representatives from other nations. They were also ordered to collect credit card and secure passwords, in obvious direct violation of UN Conventions.
- The Atomic Energy Agency warned both Japanese and American government officials about the seismic threat at Fukushima
- The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President Saleh to cover up the secret drone bombing campaign, as a cable revealed that the Saleh would “continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
And of course, the most famous reveal was the leaked Apache helicopter video:
U.S. Military officials withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and innocent Iraqi civilians.
The “Collateral Murder” video released by Wikileaks depicted the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including two journalists working for Reuters. The Reuters news organization has repeatedly been denied in its attempts to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters photographer and his rescuers. Two young children who were present in the attempted rescue were also seriously wounded. Ethan McCord, a U.S. army soldier who can be seen in the video carrying wounded children to safety, has said that whoever revealed this video is a “hero.”
Every. single. one. of these are significant revelations. Just like letting the American public know that they we’re being secretly spied upon like the leaks of Edward Snowden, these revelations allowed the public to understand what is being done in their name. Later expanded upon, it is important to note that there was never any proof publicly provided whatsoever of damage done by these revelations or any other provided by Chelsea. With the current reputation of military officials (the lies revealed by the torture report, former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ first order being told to treat the drone program ‘as if it didn’t exist’, to name only a few) it is simply not enough to allude to damage or state that it was revealed behind closed doors. These leaks did lead to private defence contractor resistance movements in Afghanistan, continuing public attention on Guantanamo Bay, shifting American and Iraqi public opinion on US intervention, and the overthrow of Ben Al in Tunisia. The lies and war crimes facilitated by both the Bush and the Obama administration have yet to be held to account.
In understanding Chelsea’s detainment and trial, one has to consider the work of Alexa O’brien, a journalist who was in the court every day of her trial live-tweeting and reporting to the public. The same newspapers and media outlets that profited greatly off Chelsea’s disclosures largely ignored the proceedings until the verdict was announced. Recently Alexa O’brien spoke at the Catalunya Parliament on the 12th of December about Chelsea’s disclosures, detainment, and trial. Considering the length of this article, I debated whether or not to transcribe this speech in full, but I find the summary so on point that it needs to be written down:
“ Good day to everyone, it’s an honor to be here.
After Wikileaks published the Iraq War Logs which Chelsea Manning had disclosed, Amnesty International and the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Torture urged the US President Barack Obama to order an investigation into the complicity of US forces in handing detainees over to the Iraqi security forces in Iraq, who then tortured them. It was reported that US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, and that behavior seemed systematic and normally unpunished.
A 2006 diplomatic cable that Manning disclosed to WikiLeaks referred to the killing of an Iraqi farmer and his family by US forces. US officials declared that the allegations that the troops executed the family and hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike were absolutely false. The author of the cable, however, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary and Arbitrary Executions wrote in that cable that autopsies carried out at the hospital revealed all the corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed. The night raid by US forces had killed eleven people, including an elderly woman in her seventies and a five month old baby. There was never a response to the cable by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur.
During Chelsea Manning’s pretrial confinement she was stripped of her underwear, forced to stand naked at attention, and held 23 hours a day in a six by eight cell, under 24 hour surveillance by prison guards whom she was forced to say she was ok to every five minutes. As we know from the previous speaker, she was not permitted to speak to other prisoners and was held in essentially solitary confinement. But during the day she was also not permitted to lay down or to lean her back against the wall, she had to sit on the edge of her bed for her waking hours with her feet touching the ground.
After public outcry she was granted more recreation time, but for her first half of her pre-trial confinement she was only granted twenty minutes outside per week. She was escorted outside of her cell for the one hour that she was outside, or the twenty minutes per week of “sunshine call” , what they call recreation outside. She was in full body restraints, so her arms and legs were bound. The restraints prevented her from being able to stand up on her own, so while she was on this recreation call, two guards had to stand next to her so she wouldn’t fall down. Prison commanders kept her in these conditions against the recommendation of the prison’s own mental health professionals, who said that Manning was not a threat to herself or others, and that her status should be downgraded.
The US Army judge at Manning’s court martial would not permit the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to testify at her trial. The judge ruled that the United Nations did not posses the force of law and was not controlling in legal determinations in American courts. The military judge at her court martial did rule that her pre-trial confinement was illegal but she only granted Manning 112 days reprieve on a 35 year sentence. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture would have testified that US officials told him that Manning’s confinement conditions before her trial were imposed on her on account of the seriousness of the charges of which she was accused of. In other words, what you and I would consider pre-trial punishment, which is illegal. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture ruled that Manning’s treatment was cruel and unusual.
Whistleblowers in the US military intelligence sector have no, none, legal means of publicly disclosing classified information about how the state illegally or wrongfully employs violence. The lack of transparency at her court martial raises serious questions about the justice of her conviction. Transparency is vital to the publics perception of the legitimacy of a criminal proceeding. The failure to allow the public access to the court documents at her trial caused irrevocable harm to the public’s right to understand and scrutinize the proceedings. The public was denied access to 30,000 pages of court documents until 18 months into the legal proceeding, which lasted 20 months. The public did not even have an official transcript of how Manning plead to the charges, and there were 22 of them so it was very complicated.
The military judge also ruled that Manning’s good motive to inform the public was not relevant at her trial. Manning’s motive therefor could not be used to mitigate the accusation against her, drawn from the language of the Espionage Act of which she was charged, that she had reason to believe that her actions would harm the United States.
Her trial reflects President Barack Obama’s unprecedented campaign against US whistleblowers, employing the Espionage Act of 1917, a statute intended to prosecute spies. The US Department of Justice argues in another espionage case that leaks to the press are a greater threat to society than when spies provide classified information to a foreign government.
We often hear in the media that Manning was less responsible than Edward Snowden who released information, or disclosed information about US mass surveillance. Because Manning, it’s alleged in the press, dumped material on to the internet. But this accusation by the press does not hold up under the facts of what actually occurred at her court martial, because Manning was only charged under the Espionage Act for approximately 240 documents out of the 750,000 that she disclosed and the documents she disclosed had already been widely disseminated amongst at least half a million government employees and federal contractors.
The documents actually charged against Manning under the Espionage Act, which number approximately 240, would presumably carry the weight of harm that could happen to the United States based on the Espionage Act language. When the charged documents are examined they included a diplomatic cable relating to malaria updates in Kingston, Jamaica, and three detainee assessment briefs from Guantanamo Bay for three UK residents who were held and released without trial or charges from Guantanamo Bar, they’re called the Tipton Three. According to military prosecutors at Manning’s court martial the UK residents, the Tipton Three, are considered terrorist recidivists because they are “former detainees involved in anti-American propaganda or criticism, by which military prosecutors mean documentaries that advocate for the closing of Guantanamo Bay.
So in addition to Manning’s good motive being excluded as not relevant at trial, the evidence about the actual lack of damage from the release itself was also considered not to permissible and not relevant. So in other words, Manning was convicted to 35 years in prison on a probable harm standard, not actual damage, and sentenced to 35 years on potential risk which the US Defence Intelligence Agency determined was low to moderate. Despite Manning having been held longer than any accused awaiting court martial in known US military history, the military judge ruled that her speedy trial rights had not been violated.
But this court martial is really about more than Chelsea Manning, it’s really about you and I. Because Manning was charged with Aiding the Enemy, which is one of two offences under the US Uniform Code of Military Justice, which applies to any person and not just military personnel. Her prosecution, even though she was acquitted, set a very broad legal precedent in the United States. All a prosecutor would have to prove in any future legal case against a whistleblower or a publisher, is that the accused knew that the enemy of the United States, or a former adversary to the United States, used the media organization’s platform to collect intelligence.
The state itself does not have an ethical or moral imperative. The verdict of the ages is that the legitimacy of a law or a policy and the state derives itself from it’s dependance on the public conscience. So caught in an expanding, secret, and amoral US executive, Manning’s conscience compelled her to appeal to a higher law, which is the public conscience. And for that reason I urge you to pressure the US administration to pardon her and release her immediately.
Chelsea Manning’s pretrial confinement was criminal. She was tortured and being held for over 1,000 days without trial is a war crime, even by military standards which state that no American can be held for over 125 days without trial. The fact that Chelsea was convicted on “future harm” should enrage the American public. How Orwellian has the court system become? How much power are we giving the US administration to decree what the future entails? How will this look under future administrations?
In the greater context, we must look at the implications of the trial on the future of reporting. On the future of what the public will know of American foreign policy overseas. The majority of people can see how continued torture and indiscriminate killing of families in mass begets radicalization against those participants. This cycle will continue if no light is shed, the public are kept at bay, and we are continually stonewalled against understanding what is being done in the name of the American public.
What does the future look like if cases like this continue? If we turn a blind to the exploitation of the 1917 Espionage Act against whistleblowers? Well, turning a blind eye to war crimes such as torture lead us down the path to drone warfare. I write about the program, the indiscriminate killing of civilians and children (age 12 and up males are immediately considered enemy combatants) in my previous article, and how this secretive program continues to violate international law and degrade any evolution of international peace. I also write about what conditioning the operators go through on the inside. What position are we putting young men and women continually in if we continue to allow the criminalization of whistleblowing? If there is a “I support the troops” ribbon sticker on the back of your car, consider what future lies before them in an ever expanding and profiteering warmachine that has currently no sufficient accountability.
With the Executive Branch expanding as well under president Obama, who also continues to bloat the National Defence Authorization Act, we have an administration that still operates with little to no oversight. They are able to not only continue facilitating torture through blacksites around the world, but now conduct aggressive first-strike bombing campaigns in undesignated warzones, with no approval necessary by congress. This also means with complete disregard to the American public, and many would argue is unconstitutional.
If we continue down this path of ignorant non-action towards the aggressive acts of the US administration around the world, it’s important to mention one thing that is on the horizon: autonomous killing robots. I wish I was kidding, but the technology already exists. In 2013 a coalition of NGO’s including Human Rights Watch and PAX formed the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. In mid-November of this year UN member states held a meeting in Geneva to discuss the obvious concerns with humanitarian and international law.
If a future that looks straight out of the X-men comics with the use of Sentinels is just on the horizon, we need to come together and fight for press freedom. That starts with stopping the atrocious exploitation of the 1917 Espionage Act by calling for reform. True investigative journalism can not happen without the protection of whistleblowers and veterans who are willing to speak out. We must continue to organize public pressure on the US administration to release Chelsea, as what she did was for the public and the world’s perception of American military activities looks utterly lost if we don’t fight her unjust trial and the implications that currently sustains for anyone who attempts to shed light on illegal actions by the state.
After everything Chelsea has been through, she is still advocating on behalf of those disenfranchised. Earlier this month, wrote a piece in The Guardian for transgendered service members, people who must hide their identity and are at risk for discrimination and psychological harm.
In an interview published on Dec 16th by Amnesty International, Chelsea answered an important question for us all:
What would you say to somebody who is afraid to speak out against injustice?
First, I would point out that life is precious. In Iraq in 2009-10, life felt very cheap. It became overwhelming to see the sheer number of people suffering and dying, and the learned indifference to it by everybody around me, including the Iraqis themselves. That really changed my perspective on my life, and made me realize that speaking out about injustices is worth the risk. Second, in your life, you are rarely given the chance to really make a difference. Every now and then you do come across a significant choice. Do you really want to find yourself asking whether you could have done more, 10-20 years later? These are the kinds of questions I didn’t want to haunt me.
We will continue to fight for your freedom Chelsea, and your conscience continues to empower, motivate, and mobilize people around the world. I shutter to think of the world and what the state of American foreign policy would be like if you had never taken that step. So much brutality would have continued unnoticed and unrecognized. We both turned twenty seven this year, and we won’t be joining that famous club. You have saved lives and you will be free.
Thank you Chelsea.
By Michelle Segal , Kraken
Here is a list of resources for more information:
Donate to Chelsea’s Defence Fund – If you can, this is the greatest way to support the ongoing legal struggle for Chelsea’s freedom.
Alexa O’brien’s Manning Files – This is her website, and it includes timelines, charges, unofficial transcripts of the trial, legal battles, and more.
Alexa O’brien Interviews David Coombs – David Coombs was Chelsea’s lawyer during her trial and this interview is crucial to understanding even further how twisted the court proceedings were.
Amnesty International’s Action to Free Chelsea Manning – Join Amnesty International in collective action to Free Chelsea Manning
The Guardian: Chelsea Manning – An archive of articles published by The Guardian about Chelsea Manning
….and although its past midnight here on the east coast, I know it’s still your birthday on the west.