As Bradley Manning Sentence Nears, Supporters Want Lenience
WASHINGTON—After military judge Col. Denise Lind began deliberating on Bradley Manning’s trial Friday July 26, Manning supporters rallied in cities around the world.
According to the Bradley Manning Support Network, people demonstrated for Manning in over 20 cities in the United States, and in cities in other countries including London, Paris, Rome, Frankfurt, Seoul, and Perth.
Outside Washington’s Fort McNair over 80 people rallied on July 26. Protesters waved banners and chanted ‘Free Bradley Manning’ with a specific target in mind. They were near the office of Major General Jeffrey Buchanan who, as the convening authority in Manning’s court martial, has the power to affect his sentence.
Emma Cape, campaign organizer with the Bradley Manning Support Network, said they were calling on Buchanan to use his authority to reduce any sentence handed to Manning. She noted that the military base would be receiving thousands of phone calls and emails requesting the same.
“We demand justice for this country,” she told the crowd, “Major General Buchanan, he has spent his time, he has been punished enough, free Bradley Manning!”
The support network raises funds for Manning’s legal expenses, provides transcripts from the court proceedings and organizes events to raise awareness, among other things. Board members include ‘Pentagon Papers’ journalist Daniel Ellsberg, former Senator Mike Gravel, who entered the Pentagon Papers into the public record, and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.
The Pentagon Papers were a classified study of America’s involvement in Vietnam, commissioned by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Daniel Ellsburg, who helped write the study, gave them to the New York Times in 1971. At first, publication of the documents was halted. Then the Supreme Court allowed it to resume.
Lind is due to deliver a verdict as early as Monday, concluding a seven-week court martial at Fort Meade in Maryland. Once that verdict is announced the sentencing phase of the court martial will begin, likely on Wednesday, July 31.
Private First Class Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked over 700,000 classified military documents to Wikileaks. He has been charged with 22 offenses. Of those, “aiding the enemy” is the most serious.
The 25-year-old army intelligence officer has already pleaded guilty to 10 offenses, including breaches of military discipline and good conduct, which could see him sentenced to 20 years. If convicted of the more serious charge, he stands to spend the rest of his life in jail.
Whistleblower or Traitor
In closing arguments last week the prosecution and defense teams focused on Manning’s character.
The prosecution refuted the defense’s line that Manning was a whistlebower, painting the young private as an attention seeker with “evil intent.” According to prosecutors, he knowingly leaking information to Wikileaks so that it that would get into enemy hands.
“He was a traitor, a traitor who understood the value of compromised information in the hands of the enemy and took deliberate steps to ensure that they, along with the world, received it,” said Army prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein.
Manning’s lead defense attorney David Coombs, accused the prosecution of taking Manning’s words out of context to create a negative image.
“He’s not seeking attention. He’s saying he’s willing to accept the price,” for his actions, Coombs said.
“That is a whistleblower, period. That is somebody who wants to inform the American public.”
Supporters say Manning did not commit treason but acted because he wanted to make a difference.
It was “the right thing to do,” Iraqi born Farah Muhsin Al Mousawi said at the rally. In her opinion, Manning told “the truth to save the lives of your people and mine.”
Al Mousawi, who works with US veterans of the Iraq and Afghan war, called for a review of laws about classified information.
“I would like to see justice dealt with properly and correctly,” she said at the rally. “People like Bradley Manning are afraid of speaking the truth because they are afraid to be prosecuted.”
Owen Wiltshire, web manager for the Bradley Manning Support Network, flew from California for the event. He believes government handling of Manning’s case points to inadequacies in the system, which he links to the ongoing fight against terrorism.
“There is a Constitution to puts checks and balances on the government. I think that has definitely got lost with the war on terror,” he said.
“I am not convinced that it is helping or making it more secure by doing these things, and there has been no debate about that,” he added.
Wilshire’s comments echo concerns raised last week about the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for greater transparency. A bill to limit NSA bulk collection of phone calls was also introduced in the House. While the bill did not pass, it gained bi-partisan support and was defeated by the slimmest of margins.