I sat in the courtroom all day on Wednesday as Bradley Manning's trial wound its way to a tragic and demoralizing conclusion. I wanted to hear Eugene Debs, and instead I was trapped there, watching Socrates reach for the hemlock and gulp it down. Just a few minutes in and I wanted to scream or shout.
I don't blame Bradley Manning for apologizing for his actions and effectively begging for the court's mercy. He's on trial in a system rigged against him. The commander in chief declared him guilty long ago. He's been convicted. The judge has been offered a promotion. The prosecution has been given a playing field slanted steeply in its favor. Why should Manning not follow the only advice anyone's ever given him and seek to minimize his sentence? Maybe he actually believes that what he did was wrong. But -- wow -- does it make for some perverse palaver in the courtroom.
This was the sentencing phase of the trial, but there was no discussion of what good or harm might come of a greater or lesser sentence, in terms of deterrence or restitution or prevention or any other goal. That's one thing I wanted to scream at various points in the proceedings.
This was the trial of the most significant whistleblower in U.S. history, but there was no mention of anything he'd blown the whistle on, any of the crimes exposed or prevented, wars ended, nonviolent democratic movements catalyzed. Nothing on why he's a four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Nothing. Every time that the wars went unmentioned, I wanted to scream. War was like air in this courtroom, everybody on all sides militarized -- and it went unnoticed and unmentioned.
What was discussed on Wednesday was as disturbing as what wasn't. Psycho-therapists, and relatives, and Bradley Manning himself -- defense witnesses all -- testified that he had been wrong to do what he'd done, that he'd not been in his right mind, and that he is a likable person to whom the judge should be kind.
Should likable people get lesser sentences?
The prosecution focused, with much less success I think, on depicting Manning as an unlikable person. Should unlikable people get heavier sentences?
What, I wanted to scream, about the likability of blowing the whistle on major crimes? Shouldn't that be rewarded, rather than being less severely punished?
There were some 30 of us observing the trial on Wednesday in the courtroom, many with "TRUTH" on our t-shirts, plus six members of the news media. Another 40 some people were watching a video feed in a trailer outside, and another 40 media folks were watching a video in a separate room. The defense and prosecution lawyers sat a few feet apart from each other, and I suppose the politeness of the operation was preferable to the violence that had led to it. But the gravity of threatening Manning with 90 years in prison seemed belied by the occasional joking with witnesses.
Before he'd become a criminal suspect, Manning had written in an online chat:
"If you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time" say, 8-9 months" and you saw incredible things, awful things" things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC" what would you do? . . . or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter . . . things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people . . . say" a database of half a million events during the iraq war" from 2004 to 2009" with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures" ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?"
Manning made clear what his concern and motivation were:
"i think the thing that got me the most" that made me rethink the world more than anything . . . was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police" for printing 'anti-Iraqi literature'" the iraqi federal police wouldn't cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the 'bad guys' were, and how significant this was for the FPs" it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki" i had an interpreter read it for me" and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled 'Where did the money go?' and following the corruption trail within the PM's cabinet" i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on" he didn't want to hear any of it" he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees""
Manning wanted the public informed:
"its important that it gets out" i feel, for some bizarre reason . . . it might actually change something . . . i just" dont wish to be a part of it" at least not now" im not ready""