Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Bradley (a.k.a. Brianna) Manning
“Truth-Telling Is Not a Crime”
Manning’s face in the banner
Nemo in the pen
Anokai Casey with chalk
March leader Cecile Veillard
“Arrest war criminals … ”
“Free Manning” banner
Veterans for Peace flag-bearer
A support demonstration for U.S. Army private first class Bradley Manning, who is being charged with “aiding and abetting the enemy” by providing extensive information about U.S. foreign policy and military actions to the now-defunct Web site WikiLeaks, drew 100 people to the streets of Hillcrest in San Diego June 1. The action was part of an international day of support for Manning timed to commemorate the third anniversary of his arrest on June 1, 2010, and also to come on the eve of his court-martial, which began June 3.
“This day of protest began 13 hours ago in Canberra and Sydney, Australia,” said Joe Cruz of San Diego Veterans for Peace at the start of the rally. “Then it moved to Korea, where freedom fighters demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy. Then it moved west to Heidelberg, Germany, where I was stationed when I was in the U.S. military, and to Amsterdam, London, Wales, and then across the ocean to Hartford, New York, Boston, Maine and even Tampa, Florida. Then it came west to Phoenix and then to California, in San Diego, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and now San Diego.”
Manning’s plight has gripped anti-war activists and other progressives worldwide despite minimal coverage by the corporate media. It was dramatized as part of the San Diego action. Organizers set up an outdoor pen of wooden standards and cord made to look like barbed wire, and a volunteer activist named Nemo stood inside the pen in an orange garment that resembled a prison jumpsuit. The pen was 6’ by 8’ — the size of the cell in which Manning has been held in solitary confinement for much of the time he’s been in custody. But since the event was outdoors and in a public place, they could not have Nemo be naked — as the real Manning was forced to through much of his incarceration, supposedly to keep him from killing himself.
The action began with Nemo reading some of the 10,000-word statement Manning himself presented in court on February 28, when he acknowledged providing WikiLeaks with U.S. military and State Department cables but denied aiding and abetting the enemy. Manning explained how his job as an intelligence analyst for the Army gave him access to State Department communications.
“With my insatiable curiosity and interest in geopolitics, I became fascinated,” Manning recalled. “I read not only the cables on Iraq, but also about countries and events I found interesting. The more I read, the more I was fascinated by the way we dealt with other nations and organizations. I soon began to think the documented back-door deals and seemingly criminal activity didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world. … The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion this was the type of information that should become public.”
“This is one American solider,” Joe Cruz said of Manning. “We have over 5,000 [U.S.] soldiers killed [in Iraq and Afghanistan] and we have killed up to 1 million Iraqis. Why all this fuss about one man? It’s a symbolic case. It’s because we are all Bradley Manning. The war against Manning is a war against all of us, against a security state, a surveillance state.” Cruz compared the Obama administration’s war against whistleblowers and their subpoenas for information from the Associated Press and Fox News to the tactics of the East German intelligence agency STASI, which spied on everybody in the country (or tried to) and let them know it in order to intimidate them into silence.
“Just three months ago, our media felt Bradley Manning was not a major story,” Cruz said. “Then they found out at the AP, Fox News and CNN that they were being targeted for doing their duty as journalists. It’s about more than Bradley Manning. It’s about the principles we hold dear.” Cruz also noted that the oath one takes to join the U.S. military — which hasn’t changed between his enlistment in 1962 and Manning’s in 2006 — “is not an oath to the Commander in Chief, nor to Congress, nor to God. It’s an oath to the U.S. Constitution, to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And that Constitution has been violated by the fascist war parties in Washington, D.C.”
A number of speakers cited other individuals who have attempted to resist U.S. militarism and the growing power of the American surveillance state and have suffered for it. Pat Grayson of the San Diego Coalition to Free Manning mentioned the late Aaron Swartz, Internet entrepreneur and inventor of the RSS data-management system, who killed himself last January while facing up to 35 years in prison for allegedly hacking into the database of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to steal articles from medical journals. She also mentioned another Internet activist, Jeremy Hammond, who is currently being held in prison pending trial for allegedly exposing the activities of Strategic Forecasting, Inc., also known as Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation that Barron’s magazine called “the shadow CIA.”
Grayson noted that, like Manning, Hammond is being held without bail, “which is unheard of, because the government doesn’t want them to defend themselves. Jeremy Hammond is in jail for stealing e-mails from a secret corporation that is monitoring private e-mails and selling information to other corporations and the government. … This corporation was going after civil-rights, animal-rights and Occupy activists.” According to Grayson, the judge in Hammond’s case, Loretta Preska, has a conflict of interest since her husband, Thomas Kavaler, had one of the e-mail accounts Hammond is accused of disclosing and also shares clients with Stratfor, but she has refused to remove herself from the case.
Alfie Padilla, who identifies as a male-to-female Transgender person and works as volunteer coordinator for the Hillcrest-based Queer rights organization Canvass for a Cause (CFAC), focused on Manning’s own gender identity. Though most accounts of Manning’s case — including the official Bradley Manning Support Group and its Web site, www.bradleymanning.org — refer to him as a male and use Bradley as his first name, Manning made contact with a gender-identity counselor on the Internet in November 2009 and discussed his desire to transition to female. Other chat logs indicate that Manning decided on “Brianna” as her feminine first name, which has led some of Manning’s supporters not to identify Manning by a first name at all and to use gender-ambiguous language like the ordinarily plural pronouns “they” and “them” to describe Manning.
“One of the most emotional times in my research on Manning was when I read a quote that they didn’t mind going to jail but they didn’t want pictures of themselves as a man plastered all over the media,” Padilla said. She called Manning’s incarceration and trial “an intentional attack on Queer and Trans people by the state. The state wants to make it seem like a random person did this, but Manning is one in a long line of Queer people who stood up for the truth. The Queer movement is not just corporate people and celebrities.”
Long-time San Diego peace activist Lynn Gonzalez talked about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and told the story of Omar, a former Marine she became acquainted with when he called the hotline she staffs for disaffected servicemembers. When he was sent to Iraq in the early years of the war, Omar “got off the plane in Baghdad and was shipped right to Falloujah and put under constant combat stress for three weeks,” Gonzalez recalled. “He didn’t even have a chance to shower. He was in the trenches as a sniper when a woman darted out. He shot her before he realized she was a woman. Then he had to listen to her scream for hours before she finally died. No one in his unit could risk coming out for her body.”
Omar’s PTSD first kicked in in 2004 when he was still in Falloujah, Gonzalez recalled. “He was sleepwalking, breaking bottles and cutting himself with the edges,” she said. “He was sent home, and at first he just wanted to go back to his unit. Then I finally got him to go to the psych ward at Balboa Hospital, and when he got out he wanted nothing to do with the Marines anymore. In fact, he even gave me the keys to his car so I could pick it up for him at Camp Pendleton, since he didn’t want to go back there.”
According to Gonzalez, servicemembers who get PTSD generally get it from guilt feelings over innocent civilians they killed. “War is an aberration,” she said. “We are not meant to be killing each other. It’s hard for a lot of people [in the peace movement] to maintain sympathy for the soldiers because they’re the ones doing the killing, but all those in war are victims. Wars are fought by the 99 percent for the benefit of the 1 percent.” Gonzalez closed by mentioning another victim: Kimberly Rivera, a U.S. war resister who fled the military, went to Canada, then was deported to the U.S. by the Canadian government and is now in the Miramar brig in San Diego County awaiting charges. She’s also separated from her four children, two of whom are Canadian-born.
Attorney Charlie Pratt, a long-time Queer activist, talked not only about Manning and Rivera but also fellow attorney Lynne Stewart, whom he’s known for 40 years — and who is currently in prison for violating so-called “special administrative measures” in connection with representing Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, convicted of masterminding the first attempt by terrorists to blow up the World Trade Center in New York in 1993. The “special administrative measures” were supposed to prevent her from relaying any communications between her and Rahman, ostensibly to keep him from using her as a conduit to relay instructions to his followers to commit terrorist acts — but Stewart pointed out they also prevented her from telling Rahman’s followers not to get involved in terrorism.
Stewart is suffering from severe breast cancer, and her supporters have alleged that her cancer was allowed to become terminal after she was refused medical treatment in prison. Pratt called the government’s attack on her, and their refusal to give her compassionate release, “pure persecution” and part of a campaign to silence all dissent against the U.S.’s war policy. “Everyone has a time in their life as an activist when you have to stand up,” Pratt said. “We have to stick to our principles, suck it up, be brave and understand not to separate Bradley Manning, Lynne Stewart and Kimberly Rivera from the rest of us. We owe them. We can stand up and we must stand up.”
After the rally, participants staged a march to the military recruiting office near the Uptown District shopping center. They marched in the street and, to make it difficult for the police to push them back to the sidewalks, marched against the direction of traffic. The action ended at about 3:30 p.m., though some people reconvened later that night for an Overpass Light Brigade display of lights spelling “Free Manning” from the 10th Street Bridge, aimed at the drivers on the 163 freeway below.