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Our Media Access Action in the Manning Case

Message Marc Ash
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Source: Reader Supported News 
This undated photo released by the U.S. Army on June 4, 2013 shows a noose made from a bedsheet by Pfc. Bradley Manning while he was detained in Kuwait shortly after his arrest in 2010. (photo: U.S. Army/AP)
This undated photo released by the U.S. Army on June 4, 2013 shows a noose made from a bedsheet by Pfc. Bradley Manning while he was detained in Kuwait shortly after his arrest in 2010. (photo: U.S. Army/AP)

Reader Supported News has filed an action with the Army court at Fort Meade, Maryland, alleging our organization was denied media credentials to cover the court-martial of Bradley Manning.

Bill Simpich, our attorney, has written at some length regarding the merits of the case and the facts, and there will be more to come from him in the days ahead.

What makes media access so central to the Manning case is that -- at its core -- the Manning case itself is a media access case. What Julian Assange did and what Bradley Manning is accused of doing is to bring evidence of war crimes into the light of day. That is the type of journalism the US is literally dying for. It is oxygen for a democracy on life support.

What the case is clearly not about is "aiding the enemy." Whether or not Bradley Manning coordinated his actions with Julian Assange remains to be determined. However, the government certainly has not presented any evidence that Pfc. Manning or Mr. Assange coordinated their actions in any way with anyone the government defines as a "terrorist." The intent of Mr. Assange and perhaps Pfc. Manning was to bring these documents to the public's view. So far, no evidence of intent to aid the enemy on the part of Assange or Manning has been presented by the government.

Part of the methodology employed by the military to manage the media is "vetting." Before you qualify to have access to the trial of Bradley Manning or the siege of Fallujah, or any documentation of who is being killed and why, you must first be vetted. Vetting is obviously not a clearly defined term or process. It can entail a wide variety of procedures and be motivated by an unlimited array of agendas. One of the most essential questions we are asking the Army is: What are the criteria? So far, that question remains unanswered.

Starting with the first Bush administration's invasion of Kuwait and Iraq, the US military began to institute a far more aggressive and coordinated campaign of media control. Gone were the days when journalists could simply arrive in the region of conflict and -- if they chose to accept the dangers -- place themselves in as close proximity to the conflict as they were prepared to go.

From the Civil War to Vietnam, stark images and accounts of the horror of war have served as jolt of reality to Americans who would otherwise have formed their perceptions of war through exposure to commercial news accounts. The camera in particular has proved as powerful as any weapon of war.

To understand the US government's fear and loathing of media interaction with their wars, it is critical to understand how important media coverage was to the strategy of Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese. Ho understood that the North Vietnamese had little chance of defeating the overwhelmingly superior US Military. But he also understood that the American public, through images of the true impact of the conflict, could be brought to reasonably reject the violence. Ho made the camera his most powerful weapon against the Americans, and the American military would never forget it.

In 1991, former CIA director and then-president George H.W. Bush set out to make sure his Gulf War would not be cast in an unflattering light. Suddenly war correspondents were corralled, herded, and directed by the military. For their safety, of course. The US military had developed a robust public relations component to its campaigns. Media was seen as a potential tool of the enemy and a force that could move the hearts and minds of civilians and turn the tide of military campaigns. The Pentagon began to develop strategies to control the media component. Controlling media coverage became "an extension of the battlefield."

Enter the Australian. Julian Assange decided to get off the media tour bus. He would not be herded into the safety of the press corral. Assange chose instead to place himself in close proximity to the conflict. Assange began a high-profile campaign of disseminating documents to the public that were embarrassing to empire builders. Bradley Manning stands accused of providing Mr. Assange with classified documents that appear on their surface to make crimes of war public.

All of this evolves the ongoing conflict between those who pursue social and economic agendas through military means and those who stand opposed with sharp lenses.

We at Reader Supported News feel it is imperative to stand for the freedom of the press, however inconvienient that may be in the short term for the military.

The military is historically quick to point out that they are fighting for our freedoms. They would do well to remember what those freedoms are.

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Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, now the founder, editor and publisher of Reader Supported News: http://www.readersupportednews.org

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