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Friday, 17 December 2010

Griff says; The truth will set you free

I think we are all pleased and relieved that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has finally been released from custody in time for Christmas. Hopefully, he can now go on to successfully refute the allegations against him. However, there is someone else I'd like to write about tonight, someone who is in some senses the forgotten man of this entire episode; Private First Class Bradley Manning (pictured). An article on pfc Manning couldn't be more timely as today he is 'celebrating' his 23rd birthday at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico where he has been held in solitary confinement since July 29, 2010.

For those of you unfamiliar with his story, Manning was an intelligence officer assigned to a support battalion with the Contingency Operating Station Hammer, in Iraq. US army agents arrested Manning in May 2010 based on information received from federal authorities provided by an American informant, Adrian Lamo, in whom Manning had previously confided. Lamo said that Manning claimed, via instant messaging, to be the person who had leaked; a video of the Granai airstrike , around 260,000 US diplomatic cables and the notorious "Collateral Murder" video. This last is a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people on July 12, 2007, in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff. Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded. The US military had previously refused to reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured. After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement". Please watch the video and make your own mind up. I must stress, however, that the video is extremely disturbing. It is worth noting that although this video is now in the public domain, the Apache crew and those behind the cover up depicted in the video have yet to be charged. Private Manning, on the other hand, continues to be held in solitary confinement and denied exercise. Additionally, he is under a suicide watch, a status most often used as an excuse to humiliate a prisoner by stripping them of their belt, shoelaces, and anything sharp or breakable while implying (to them and to anyone outside) that they are not in their right mind. Manning's lawyer expects a court martial in the Spring of 2011. If convicted of all charges, Manning can expect a maximum jail sentence of 52 years.
If Manning did release this information to Wikileaks then technically he is in breach of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, specifically; communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source. There is a wider sense of justice, which we can apply here, however. I believe that when a government secretly engages in such consequential activities as aggressive wars, justified by at best questionable and at worst fabricated intelligence, covert bombings and assassinations, and diplomatic maneouvering designed to support such global meddling, the people in whose name that government acts – and who could suffer retaliation – have a right to know. Manning may have, allegedly, broken US military law but in doing so he has blown open the furtive, cloak and dagger machinations of supposedly democratic governments and exposed them for the corrupt, self-serving, military-political-economic elites that they are. So tonight, the Streetlamp would like to remind you all of the continuing travails of this man who sought to bring this information to the public at such extraordinary personal cost. So, what was Manning's motivation? Why would he take such a risk, and how many of us could say we'd do the same? Perhaps these extracts (below) from his messages to Lamo in May of this year best convey the ideals that we should all seek to serve:

(2:21:32 pm) Manning: its sad

(2:22:47 pm) Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious

(2:23:25 pm) Manning: i could've sold to russia or china, and made bank?

(2:23:36 pm) Lamo: why didn't you?

(2:23:58 pm) Manning: because it's public data

(2:24:15 pm) Lamo: i mean, the cables?

(2:24:46 pm) Manning: it belongs in the public domain

(2:25:15 pm) Manning: information should be free

(2:25:39 pm) Manning: it belongs in the public domain

To assist Private Manning, please see

I'd like to finish by offering a beautiful song from a band that normally wouldn't make it into a 'Griff says' piece. The song is Soldier's Poem by Muse and it is written from the perspective of a soldier who cannot find a reason to explain why he has repeatedly risked his life and exposed himself to horror for an uncomprehending and complacent public. According to Muse's Dominic Howard; “It’s about a soldier in prison, who feels abandoned by a country that’s falling apart."

Quite. Tonight, as we think about Bradley Manning languishing in prison, it's worth considering whether, in the words of the song, "you think you deserve your freedom". If you do, and if you think that those, like pfc Manning, who have made the greatest sacrifices to protect that freedom also do, then please consider those small acts that you can perform in the fight for truth and justice. If you think that it's wrong that "There's no justice in the world" then you don't have to accept that it will always be that way. You can fight back. The recent, massive, extra-judicial intimidation of WikiLeaks is an attack on democracy. We urgently need a public outcry for our democratic rights to a free press and freedom of expression. Never has there been a more vital time for us to do so. That's why I would encourage you to sign the Avaaz petition to stop the crackdown and then copy and paste and forward the link to the petition (below) to everyone you know.

Also, find out how you can support Bradley Manning here.


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