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Chelsea Manning - The Price of Conscience
By William Potvin
Military whistleblowers deserve our commitment. They are heroes and we need more of them. Without exception, they are routinely ground up by the very system that they have sincerely attempted to steer back onto its moral and constitutional course.
Chelsea Manning, currently serving a 35-year sentence in Leavenworth is the whistle-blower that first got my attention over three years ago. As long as she is doing time, she must not be forgotten. I would like to tell her story, particularly because our current administration shows no signs of relenting on its record-breaking war on whistleblowers.
When Chelsea (then Bradley) released the "Collateral Murder Video" to WikiLeaks, it was done out of a sense of consciousness that such actions by our troops are ugly, immoral, illegal and deserve to be viewed by the American public. (If not viewed yet, Google it now.) Although not on a par with the My Lai Massacre, it depicts the slaughter of innocent civilians (including two Reuters employees), and even the shooting of rescue workers using a stretcher. The incident was hidden from Reuter's inquiries about their lost people. We all pay for this shit and are told our defense dollars are used to make us more safe.
Bradley was so troubled by this and other acts that were being perpetrated on innocent peoples that he made the decision to break his oath to the Army. He saw that we are making enemies displaying our military might and covering up most every act. In communicating this information, Bradley was, in my mind, an American hero.
I recall that my original hope was that Manning's family was the type that nurtured moral values, and Bradley, having a strong sense of "right and wrong" could not live with the observations he made as an analyst. Turns out that Manning's home life in Oklahoma was far from nurturing. It was dysfunctional. His father was a federal employee and his mother a Welch citizen. My theory is that Bradley was especially sensitive towards bullying. Think of a male in our culture at 5' 1-1/2" and 110 lbs.
One story that sticks out was that on a summer visit to Britain, the youngsters there, with an opportunity to pick on a little American, orchestrated an event on a camping trip in which they pulled camp in the middle of the night, leaving young Manning to wake up in his pup tent in the woods all alone. More cruel than fun.
When Pfc Manning began to view Army activities that were cruel, illegal and immoral, he became distraught, especially after attempting to use the chain of command to correct the situations. Road blocked... what else is new?
Manning planned to contact both the New York Times and the Washington Post to air these disturbing activities. Unable to establish credibility with our less-than-inquisitive great newspapers, Bradley released the information to Wikileaks, the international journalistic organization. None of the information was top secret. It has been described as embarrassing to the Army with no major downside. At no time did Manning ever attempt to sell information to an enemy, yet he was charged under the Espionage Act of WWI for "aiding the enemy." In his conversation with another young hacker-type, Adrian Lamo (the one that turned him in), Manning made it clear that his reasons were idealistic and sound when he said, "I want the public to have a debate about these activities."
When describing Manning's actions, the great Daniel Ellsberg (releaser of the Pentagon Papers in 1972 that helped end the Vietnam War), stated that he had been waiting for 40 years to hear a person say, "I'm willing to go to prison or even be executed" to uncover war crimes. This is how Ellsberg felt back then.
When Manning was pulled in, the abuse escalated. Bradley was treated worse than a traitor. There were Congressmen and pundits that called for Manning's execution, including Mike Huckabee, an ex-presidential candidate and Governor of Arkansas. After being caged like an animal, Manning was sent to the brig at Quantico, VA and spent about nine months in solitary confinement undergoing what used to be called torture before Bush/Cheney took charge. The Constitution was shredded as a "speedy trial" was ignored and "innocent until proven guilty" was buried and forgotten.
Currently, there is a top notch civilian defense team that has been put together to take a broader look at the many gaffes that the Army trial brought to bear.
In light of the fact that all government employees swear an oath to uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, it is pretty evident that "the system" is chock full of persons more allegiant to their paychecks than to their oath. Manning should not have to suffer for this criminal abandonment of the Military Code of Justice. He was used as an example to anyone else in the military.
Because of the catastrophe at My Lai, and its release to the public, while I was at Fort Riley in 1972, we were shown a series of films produced by the Army that suggested that your moral convictions were to be respected and following illegal orders was not acceptable. At the time, it felt like we were actually attempting to get it right. Now we see people doing the right thing paying truly unreasonable penalties. Edward Snowden was highly aware of the Manning situation, (as well as other whistleblowers), and he was smart enough to find another way.
When Manning's trial finally occurred in June/July 2013, the Army made a farce of our system of Justice. Manning's military lawyer David Coombs did the best job he could do with hands tied behind his back. The Kangaroo Court came down with a 35-year sentence for a young person that had more moral development and conviction than any of her superiors all the way to the top. Eventually, Chelsea issued a moving Request for Pardon to President Obama, saying:
"When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal."
This is beautiful stuff that President Obama, with a significant Constitutional background, should honor.
Final comment: Fat chance.
For anyone interested in how a bus full of New Englanders made the trip to support Pvt. Manning, and check out a 29 minute video capturing the event from June 1st, 2013. Search for "Bradley Manning Bus Trip and Rally."
William Potvin served one tour in 'Nam (May 1970 to March'71), with the 65th Engineer Battalion 25th Inf. Div., as a Sp 5 demolition specialist for the 2nd half of my tour. He finished Army duty at Fort Riley, KS in the 1st Inf. Div. And E.T.S.'d in March 1972.