The prosecution of the whistleblower and alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning is an exercise in intimidation, not justice
After 17 months of pre-trial imprisonment, Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old US army private and accused WikiLeaks source, is finally going to see the inside of a courtroom. This Friday, on an army base in Maryland, the preliminary stage of his military trial will start.
He is accused of leaking to the whistleblowing site hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, war reports, and the now infamous 2007 video showing a US Apache helicopter in Baghdad gunning down civilians and a Reuters journalist. Though it is Manning who is nominally on trial, these proceedings reveal the US government's fixation with extreme secrecy, covering up its own crimes, and intimidating future whistleblowers.
Since his arrest last May in Iraq, Manning has been treated as one of America's most dastardly traitors. He faces more than 30 charges, including one -- "aiding the enemy" -- that carries the death penalty (prosecutors will recommend life in prison, but military judges retain discretion to sentence him to die).
The sadistic conditions to which he was subjected for 10 months -- intense solitary confinement, at one point having his clothing seized and being forced to stand nude for inspection -- became an international scandal for a US president who flamboyantly vowed to end detainee abuse. Amnesty International condemned these conditions as "inhumane"; PJ Crowley, a US state department spokesman, was forced to resign after denouncing Manning's treatment. Such conduct has been repeatedly cited by the US as human rights violations when engaged in by other countries.
The UN's special rapporteur on torture has complained that his investigation is being obstructed by the refusal of Obama officials to permit unmonitored visits with Manning. (Even the Bush administration granted access to the International Red Cross at GuantÃ¡namo.) Such treatment is all the more remarkable in light of what Manning actually did, and did not do, if the charges are true. For these leaks have achieved enormous good and little harm.