by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
“Americans Have a Right to Know”
“I Am Bradley Manning”
“Bradley Manning, American Hero”
“You Are the Resistance”
Gabe Conaway (right) and a police officer
A committed group of about 75 San Diego activists turned out on the corner of Sixth and University in Hillcrest Tuesday afternoon, July 30, to protest the conviction of Army Private First Class Bradley Manning on 19 of 21 counts, including espionage, for his role in leaking classified material for print and Internet publication. Manning’s case has been a cause célèbre since he was arrested three years ago and charged with releasing U.S. diplomatic documents and footage of American soldiers allegedly committing war crimes in Iraq to the WikiLeaks Web site.
Manning became a controversial figure, hailed as a hero by some Americans and denounced as a traitor by others. During the three years he was held in prison before trial, he was put in solitary confinement, his clothes were taken away and he was forced to sleep naked, uncovered, on a concrete floor. U.S. authorities said this was done to prevent Manning from committing suicide.
Variously identified as a Gay man and a male-to-female Transgender person — Manning reportedly embraced a female identity, “Brianna,” in some of his e-mails to friends before he was arrested and cut off from virtually any contact with the outside world — Manning has been hailed as a “Queero” by progressives and radicals in the Queer community. He’s also frequently been compared to Edward Snowden, who earlier this year leaked the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of records of virtually every telephone call made in the U.S. — and who fled the U.S. after his leaks, first to Hong Kong and then to Russia, rather than face Manning’s fate.
During his court-martial before Col. Denise Lind — Manning and his attorney, David Coombs, chose to have him tried by a single judge rather than the usual panel — she acquitted him of the most serious charge against him, “aiding the enemy,” which could have meant a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. But the charges on which he was convicted could carry a sentence of up to 138 years, which in practice would amount to the same thing. “We won the battle, but we need to go out and win the war,” Coombs said in a post about the verdict on the Bradley Manning Support Network Web page, www.bradleymanning.org. “Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire.”
The July 30 rally in San Diego was put on by the San Diego Coalition to Free Bradley Manning in association with other progressive, peace and Queer organizations. It was MC’d by local organizer Gabe Conaway of Canvass for a Cause (CFAC), who was able to include not only live speakers but also statements of support for Manning from organizations and individuals all over the world. Among them were the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Manning’s family, and investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald (who did the interview with Edward Snowden that led to the revelation that the NSA is spying 24/7 on the phone calls of all Americans) and Jeremy Scahill.
Conaway kicked off the rally by reading the statement from the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, Ben Wizner. “While we’re relieved that Mr. Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act,” Wizner said. “Since [Manning] already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information — which carry significant punishment — it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”
The first live speaker, veteran San Diego Queer attorney Charlie Pratt, picked up on that theme when he called Manning’s court-martial a “show trial.” “The Obama administration wanted to put Bradley Manning’s head on a pike as a warning to us all,” Pratt said. He called for a campaign of letters and e-mails to the Public Affairs Office of Major General Jeffery Buchanan, who as the so-called “convening authority” of Manning’s court-martial has the authority to reduce Manning’s sentence after Judge Lind imposes it. Buchanan can be e-mailed at email@example.com or reached by phone at (202) 685-2900. He also suggested that people picket military bases to demand justice for Manning: “I live near Miramar and there’s a place to vent your feelings about the military.”
Local activist Anoki read a statement from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who called the verdict against Manning “the first-ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower. It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short-sighted judgment that cannot be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is ‘espionage.’ … The Obama administration has been chipping away democratic freedom in the United States. With today’s verdict, Obama has hacked off much more. The administration is intent on deterring and silencing whistleblowers, intent on weakening freedom of the press. The U.S. First Amendment states that ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.’ What part of ‘no’ does Barack Obama fail to comprehend?”
Philip Rockwell, radio personality who hosted a show on the now-defunct Air America affiliate in San Diego, pointed to a statement Obama posted on his Web site, change.gov, during his first Presidential campaign in 2008 praising whistleblowers. The statement, which was quietly removed from the Obama site in June 2012, said, “Often, the best source of information about waste, fraud and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayers’ dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblowing laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse of authority in government. Obama will make sure federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblowers’ claims, and ensure whistleblowers have full access to federal courts and due process.”
Obama’s record as President, Rockwell said, has been exactly the opposite. “There has been no ‘change’ whatsoever” from the anti-whistleblower policies of the George W. Bush administration, he claimed. “When we elected the President on the basis of ‘change,’ it’s not ‘change’ to drop bombs from drones on civilians.” Rockwell also argued that the mainstream corporate media have served the cause of the national security state by “dumbing down” the American people and getting them to accept gross violations of their constitutionally protected civil liberties.
“Bradley Manning is a hero,” Rockwell said. “He showed us things the Bush crime family should have shown us. He showed us films of [U.S. soldiers gunning down Iraqi] people who had cameras — not guns — slung across their backs. The people who did that one are walking around free. The Bush crime family is walking around free. Bradley Manning chose to tell the truth because the mainstream media have been taken over. The media are spinning [the Manning case] the way Obama wants it spun.”
Holly Hellerstedt of CFAC read a statement from the Center for Constitutional Liberties, which represents WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill and other journalists and activists challenging the U.S. military establishment. The Center’s statement pointed out that the 1917 Espionage Act under which Manning was convicted “is a discredited relic of the World War I era, created as a tool to suppress political dissent and anti-war activism, and it is outrageous that the government chose to invoke it in the first place against Manning. Government employees who blew the whistle on war crimes, other abuses and government incompetence should be protected under the First Amendment.”
“Watching and listening to the Bradley Manning verdicts on [Amy Goodman’s radio program and video Webcast] Democracy Now! was frustrating,” said Chris West of the San Diego Coalition to Free Bradley Manning. This was because his acquittal on the “aiding the enemy” charge was announced first — then his conviction on almost all the other charges. “Bradley Manning took the chance of having one person decide his sentence,” West explained. “He put his neck on the line and he may get 138 years in prison. The good news is he’s successfully attacked the government and their attempt to suppress any information whatsoever. Is this America? Do we care about each other? We need to keep up the pressure.”
After a speaker read a short statement of support for Manning from Tom DeChristopher, environmental activist who served five years in prison for disrupting an oil and gas lease sale by making phony bids, Activist San Diego (ASD) acting executive director Martin Eder came up to promote his group’s KNSJ 89.1 FM, a new alternative radio station in San Diego County that is presenting progressive programming. “This is all really about freedom of information and the right of the American people to know about the crimes being committed in their name,” Eder said. “Bradley Manning is a testament to those of us willing to put our names on the line to create a real people’s democracy.”
CFAC activist Shelby read a statement from Amnesty International’s senior director of law and public policy, Widney Brown. “The government’s priorities are upside down,” Brown said. “The U.S. government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence. Yet they decided to prosecute Manning, who it seems was trying to do the right thing — reveal credible evidence of unlawful behavior by the government. … Since the attacks of September 11, we have seen the U.S. government use the issue of national security to defend a whole range of actions that are unlawful under international and domestic law. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning’s trial was about sending a message: the U.S. government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behavior.”
“We have witnessed an attack on an individual who blew the whistle on war crimes,” said Josh Funn of the San Diego chapter of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). “It’s also an attack directly on everyone here. They want to stop the free flow of information because they do commit war crimes. They kill innocent babies with drones. They’re trying to say investigative journalism is ‘aiding the enemy.’”
“We’re standing witness to our government painting a picture for us,” said Sean Bohac, president of SAME Alliance — a radical Queer organization formerly known as San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality. “We have to stand up and say, ‘Hell no!,’ to the picture the government is painting for us.”
The rally closed with a reading of a statement from Bradley Manning’s family thanking the activist community for their grassroots support of him. “While we are obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts,” the Manning family statement said, “we are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform.”
The family thanked attorney Coombs and Manning’s military lawyers, Major Thomas Hurley and Captain Joshua Tooman, and added, “Most of all, we would like to thank the thousands of people who rallied to brad’s cause, providing financial and emotional support throughout this long and difficult time, especially Jeff Paterson and Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network. Their support has allowed a young Army private to defend himself against the full might of not only the U.S. army but also the U.S. government.”
To Lobby the Army to Free Bradley Manning:
The following statement has appeared on the Web page of the Bradley Manning Support Network, http://www.bradleymanning.org/featured/urgent-call-in-demand-maj-gen-buchanan-free-bradley:The military is pulling out all the stops to chill efforts to increase transparency in our government. Now, we’re asking you to join us to ensure we’re doing all we can to secure Bradley’s freedom as well as protection for future whistleblowers.
Major General Jeffery S. Buchanan is the Convening Authority for Bradley’s court martial, which means that he has the authority to decrease Bradley’s sentence, no matter what the judge decides. As hundreds of activists join us in DC today to demonstrate at Maj. Gen. Buchanan’s base, Ft. McNair, we’re asking you to join our action demanding he do the right thing by calling, faxing, and e-mailing his Public Affairs Office.
The convening authority can reduce the sentence after the Judge makes her ruling.
Let’s Remind Maj. General Buchanan:
- that Bradley was held for nearly a year in abusive solitary confinement, which the UN torture chief called “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”
- that President Obama has unlawfully influenced the trial with his declaration of Bradley Manning’s guilt.
- that the media has been continually blocked from transcripts and documents related to the trial and that it has only been through the efforts of Bradley Manning’s supporters that any transcripts exist.
- that under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) a soldier has the right to a speedy trial and that it was unconscionable to wait three years before starting the court-martial.
- that absolutely no one was harmed by the release of documents that exposed war crimes, unnecessary secrecy and disturbing foreign policy.
- that Bradley Manning is a hero who did the right thing when he revealed truth about wars that had been based on lies.
Please help us reach all these important contacts:Adrienne Combs, Deputy Officer Public Affairs (202) 685-2900 firstname.lastname@example.org
Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, Public Affairs Officer (202) 685-4899 email@example.com
The Public Affairs Office fax #: 202-685-0706
Try e-mailing Maj. Gen. Buchanan at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling him at (202) 685-2900
The Public Affairs Office is required to report up the chain of command the number of calls they receive on a particular issue, so please help us flood the office with support for whistleblower Bradley Manning today!
Emotional Tale Grips Crowd at Martin Rally
Ten days before the Bradley Manning rally, on July 20, about 100 activists met on the lawn at San Diego City College to protest another trial they regarded as a miscarriage of justice: the acquittal on all counts of George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin to death on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, who claimed to be part-Latino but was generally perceived as white, shot and killed the unarmed Martin, who was African-American, but pleaded self-defense under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law and was set free by a six-person jury, five of whom were white.
One of the rally speakers, Ashley Brickes of the United Domestic Workers’ union, quoted a statement Zimmerman allegedly made when he was arrested in which he told police, “Those fucking punks, those fucking bastards, they think they can get away with anything.” Zimmerman was supposedly talking about Black people, but most of the speakers seemed to believe it was Zimmerman and other whites who can “get away with anything” as long as their victims are African-Americans or other people of color.
The most gripping tale told at the Martin rally was from the opening speaker, who identified himself only as Valentín from Riverside County. “It’s been almost a year since my daughter was killed by a federal agent” in Chula Vista, Valentín said. “We have never got a response — not from the federal government and not from the Chula Vista Police Department. I’m not looking for vengeance; I’m looking for justice. I am sorry again to see a young man being killed, whether he was white, Black or Latino. He should never have died. People are taking the law into their own hands, with no training” — a reference to Zimmerman’s membership in a Neighborhood Watch organization and his claim that the sight of a young Black man wearing a hoodie and walking late at night through a mostly white neighborhood was “suspicious.”
According to Valentín, when he contacted the Chula Vista Police Department and tried to get them to talk about his daughter’s death, they blamed the victim. “They told me, ‘In every family there’s always someone that gets in trouble. Your daughter was in the wrong place,’” he recalled. “By the time this lieutenant finished speaking, I felt like I had to apologize for my daughter being born.”
Valentín said he felt sorry for Trayvon Martin’s parents because “I know their pain. … They put nine shots in my daughter’s body at close range, and they try to tell me they had the right to do that. There’s no report from the Chula Vista Police Department. They’re doing this because they can get away with it. They say, ‘I have a badge, I’m the government, and I’ll do this because I have the right.’ … I’m glad you guys are gathering here today. It’s going to take people to make the government change their ways. They are servants. You guys put them in power. You have the power, not them.”
Another speaker, Tokyo Abraja, told a similar story about the death of a relative at the hands of law enforcement. “My brother was killed in L.A.,” she said. “I watched when four bullets were put in his back, and the police said it was ‘self-defense.’ We have killers walking the streets, and if we don’t change it, it will continue. … I will be that one voice in a million to speak for my brother. Let Trayvon’s death be a wake-up call for everyone.”
“We should be mindful of the ways to promote safety for all our children,” said rally speaker Amber Burnell. “If our leaders will not, we will do this on our own. Trayvon Martin’s death was a senseless crime. … We are all equal, despite where we live or how we were raised. I stand here to demand changes in the judicial system. I stand in solidarity with my brother, an inmate in the Pelican Bay SHU [Special Housing Unit, a euphemism for solitary confinement], and the 100 others who are on a hunger strike. My brother and these others are entombed in a box, being physically, psychologically and emotionally tortured. Change is coming. Stay strong and united, today, tomorrow and always.”
Other speakers from progressive organizations linked the racism allegedly behind Martin’s killing and Zimmerman’s acquittal to what Amelia Ortega of the women’s group Affirm called the U.S. government’s “war against people of color, immigrants, women and youth.” Ortega contrasted the treatment of Zimmerman with that of African-American woman Marissa Alexander, who fired a gun to warn off an allegedly abusing husband, pleaded justification under the Florida “stand your ground” law but was convicted and sentenced to prison; and CeCe MacDonald, a Black Transgender person in Minnesota who pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter after she used scissors to defend herself against Queer-bashers.
Two union leaders, Brickes and Alex Hernandez of the historically progressive International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), also spoke. “We don’t want anyone else to suffer,” Hernandez said. “We were founded on blood in the 1930’s to bring equal rights for workers. We’re a family union, and a lot of our friends suffered a lot to bring workers’ rights and rights for everybody. We are one of the greatest unions because we were founded in blood. If somebody is suffering — if another union is suffering, we are there. We are here today to support Trayvon Martin.”
The plan was to follow the rally with a march, and the final scheduled speaker, San Diego NAACP chair Christine Griffin, “read” the crowd as so impatient to march that she canceled her speech and used her time at the microphone to organize the march. Though the July 20 action was part of a national mobilization to support Martin and protest the freeing of his killer, local organizers plotted a long march route that took the protest past the city’s biggest public event, Comic-Con. They walked from City College to the San Diego Convention Center and then through the Gaslamp District, encountering many people dressed in superhero costumes or carrying Comic-Con swag bags.
At one point the protesters became part of a three-way traffic jam between them, Comic-Con attendees and a Fundamentalist Christian group staging their own protest against Comic-Con. The Christian protesters brought along boilerplate signs describing a wrathful, judgmental, condemnatory Jesus but not making it clear just what they had against Comic-Con. Judging from prior protests, though, it seems they object to the sympathetic depictions of the supernatural and the occult in many of the popular comics, movies and books promoted at Comic-Con.
As the Trayvon Martin demonstrators marched through the Comic-Con crowds and passed the Fundamentalist protesters, they improvised slogans with Comic-Con themes, like, “No justice, no comic books,” and declaring themselves part of the real “Justice League.” Later, as they walked through the Gaslamp and saw many people with Comic-Con badges and bags patronizing the outdoor seats at local bars, the marchers started calling, “Out of the bars and into the streets!” — ironically echoing one of the classic Queer liberation slogans of the early 1970’s.
For more information on the next nationwide mobilization for Justice for Trayvon Martin visit: http://peoplespowerassemblies.org/aug-28-mobilization/
WEDNESDAY AUG 28
STOP THE WAR ON YOUTH OF COLOR
JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON MARTIN –
‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ LAWS!
JOBS & EDUCATION
NOT MASS INCARCERATION!
NOT MASS INCARCERATION!
END RACIAL PROFILING OF ALL FORMS!
STOP RACIST POLICE TERROR INCLUDING STOP-AND-FRISK!
STOP RACIST POLICE TERROR INCLUDING STOP-AND-FRISK!
IMMIGRANT RIGHTS NOW
A LIVING WAGE AND UNION RIGHTS
FOR LOW-WAGE AND ALL WORKERS!
FOR LOW-WAGE AND ALL WORKERS!
On Wed., August 28, after we’ve marched in Washington on Aug. 24 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the great march against racism in Washington, D.C., led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the People’s Power Assembly Movement calls on activists across the U.S. to hold local JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON MARTIN ASSEMBLIES, including rallies, speak-outs, marches in public squares or in front of federal buildings or local police headquarters.
One of the most memorable lines of Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Monument to over a quarter of a million freedom marchers, was, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The Trayvon Martin verdict is only the most recent sign that Dr. King’s dream is still a nightmare for Black and Brown youth.
There is a racist war against Black & Brown youth
Youth of color are routinely profiled by the police, security personnel and self-appointed vigilantes like George Zimmerman. Trayvon Martin has become the face of the many young people who have been stopped-and-frisked and sometimes beaten and killed by the police. The police and the courts have created racially motivated drug laws that have been used as an excuse to incarcerate a huge percentage of young generations of Black and Brown youth. These same youth have the highest unemployment rate, and the jobs they are forced to take are low-wage jobs without benefits, rights or union representation. The anti-youth war also includes massive cuts in education, including school closings in Black and Brown communities. We must turn our anger over the lynching of Trayvon Martin into a new nationwide struggle to stop the war against Black and Brown youth. This is the best way to honor the legacy of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.