| When Truth Becomes an Enemy of the State: Bradley Manning on Trial!

When Truth Becomes an Enemy of the State: Bradley Manning on Trial ~ Michael RatnerTruthout.

Yesterday, after three years of confinement, Pfc. Bradley Manning finally went on trial in a military court at Fort Meade, Maryland. But it is less a real trial than it is a trial run, an experiment on how to make an example out of a government whistleblower, intimidate journalists’ sources, and make journalists and publishers targets.

What Manning did for his country was priceless, and for that he will pay a heavy price. Here’s a young soldier who put his future on the line so Americans had a chance to see the human and moral cost of the wars their government is waging. Manning’s information shaped the American public’s understanding of the ongoing wars and the way the press reports on these conflicts. This shift in perception is largely responsible for US troops finally coming home. Manning now faces a life sentence and the most serious charge against him carries a potential death penalty.

Government prosecutors will try to prove Manning had reason to believe his actions would aid the enemy. In his testimony earlier this year, Manning explained his political motivation, arguing that he had hoped to “spark a domestic debate” over current US wars and saying that he did so to have a “clear conscience.”

In a telling sign of just how fair of a trial Manning will get, the military judge already ruled that almost all questions and evidence the defense can raise about Manning’s intentions for acting are irrelevant to the trial. The judge has also stated that two dozen prosecution witnesses will testify behind closed doors. Many of these will be discussing the WikiLeaks documents available to all everywhere, except in the courtroom, since the government still considers them secret.

WikiLeaks and Julian Assange were threaded through the prosecutor’s opening, with speculative claims that Manning was taking direction from WikiLeaks and Manning looked for what to disclose on the WikiLeaks most wanted list. Manning’s lawyer repeated that he acted on his own and was not taking direction from WikiLeaks. The “wanted” list was actually an open Wiki list contributed to by human rights groups and others. This effort to brand Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as “conspirators” has been the government strategy from the beginning and has had its latest reincarnation when the FBI in an affidavit claimed FOX reporter James Rosen was a co-conspirator or aided and abetted his source. Sadly, that seems to be the dangerous direction the government is taking in its efforts to squelch truth-telling.

The military judge has also determined that court documents and transcripts, even of her own rulings, will continue to be unavailable to reporters and the general public. Manning’s supporters crowd-funded stenographers to make up for the lack of transcripts, but last week the court denied them press passes. Yesterday, one of the stenographers was able to get in after the Bradley Manning Support Network gave up their pass for the day. There is no guarantee any stenographers will be allowed on future dates, and the same goes for most of the 370 media organizations that have requested access, most of whom did not get it.

Center for Constitutional Rights is suing the military judge in Manning’s case in an attempt to make public the documents in the case. We cannot afford to let the government get away with these amateur-hour procedures designed to discourage press coverage of the most important state secrets trial since the Pentagon papers.

Everyone who cares about the future of this country needs to learn about this case and get involved in Manning’s defense: make his case in the court of public opinion, call on newspapers to carefully scrutinize how this trial is being handled and drive a meaningful public debate about the morality of Manning’s actions.

Truth is a condition for government accountability. Bradley Manning is facing the most severe punishment for a journalistic source in this country’s history because truth itself has become an enemy of our state. Exposing the truth about government misconduct does not make one a traitor; turning your back on truth-tellers like Manning does.


free bradley manningA

| Breaking Private Manning!

Breaking Private Manning ~ Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional RightsCenter for Constitutional Rights.

Bradley Manning is being punished – and tortured – for a crime that amounts to believing one’s highest duty is to the American people and not the American government.

bradley manning

Bradley Manning

By the time the 23-year-old soldier’s court martial starts on February 4, 2013, Bradley Manning will have spent 983 days in prison, including nine months in solitary confinement, without having been convicted of a single crime. This week, in pre-trail hearings, a military court is reviewing evidence that the conditions under which he has been held constitute torture. These conditions include the nine-month period spent 23 hours a day in a six-by-eight-foot cell where he was forbidden to lie down or even lean against a wall when he was not sleeping – and when he was allowed to sleep at night, officers woke him every five minutes – and where he was subjected to daily strip searches and forced nudity. The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture has already found this amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and possibly torture.

For almost three years Manning has endured intense physical and mental pressure, all designed to force him to implicate WikiLeaks and its publisher Julian Assange in an alleged conspiracy to commit espionage. It is also a message to would-be whistleblowers: the U.S. government will not be gentle.

“[If] 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, D.C.… what would you do? … It’s important that it gets out…it might actually change something… hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms…”

These are purportedly Manning’s words*, and that is change many of us would like to believe in: that if you give people the truth about their government’s unlawful activities, and the freedom to discuss it, they will hold their elected officials accountable.

But it is one thing to talk about transparency, the lifeblood of democracy, and even to campaign on it – in 2008, candidate Obama said, “Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal” – and another thing to act on it. On a fundamental level, Manning is being punished, without being convicted, for a crime that amounts to having the courage to act on the belief that without an informed public our republic is seriously compromised. Or, as he is quoted saying, for wanting  people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

The U.S. government is intent on creating a portrait of Manning as a traitor who aided and abetted Al Qaeda by releasing classified information into the public domain. But what actually occurred was that documents were sent anonymously to WikiLeaks, which published them in collaboration with The New York TimesThe Guardian and other news media for the benefit of the general public, much like the Pentagon Papers were published a generation ago.

The emails the prosecution is using to try to prove Manning was the source of the leaks also depict the side of the story they want to hide, that of a young soldier grappling with the dilemma of a would-be whistleblower who knows he is taking great risks by exposing the state-sponsored crimes and abuses he witnessed, the “almost criminal political back-dealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises,” as he is quoted describing them to the confidant who ultimately betrayed him.

“I will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens.”  One can’t help wondering what Manning must think now, after so long under such brutal conditions of confinement. Did he expect the government to punish him in such a disproportionate and unlawful manner?

Manning’s abusive pre-trial treatment is a clear violation of the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and even U.S. military law. In fact, Manning’s defense attorney David Coombs is arguing in the pre-trail hearings this week that in view of this blatant disregard for his client’s most fundamental rights, all charges should be dismissed.

The government claims this was all done to prevent Manning from committing suicide, though any rational observer might point out that these conditions are more likely to drive someone to suicide than keep him from it. The more likely explanation is the obvious one: the government wants to break Manning enough to force him to implicate WikiLeaks and Assange, and make enough of a show of it to deter other whistleblowers. At stake is the foundation of our democracy, a robust free press, and the fate of a true American hero.

*Disclaimer: Bradley Manning has not been convicted of any charges, nor has he admitted to any of the allegations against him. Likewise, he has not acknowledged the chat logs that purport to be his words.


Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents WikiLeaks and Julian Assange as well as other journalists and major news organizations seeking to make the documents from the Manning trial public.


| Zionism undermining US civil liberties isn’t kosher: Holy Land Five appeal on using ‘secret foreign evidence’ in US courts!

Holy Land Five appeal could set precedent on using ‘secret evidence’ in U.S. courts ~ Mondoweiss.

On Monday the Supreme Court is expected to decide if it will hear an appeal that could overturn the conviction of the co-founders and chief staff of the Holy Land Foundation, a Texas-based humanitarian organization and once was the largest Muslim charity in the United States.

Defendants Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad el-Mazain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader, Abulrahman Odeh, or the Holy Land Five, were charged under the Material Support to Terrorist Act with the enhancement of the Patriot Act and convicted in 2008. Yet the sentences of 65-years and life, followed a first trial in 2007 that ended with a hung jury. The guilty verdict came after post-9/11 legal changes, which criminalized charitable donations to the besieged Gaza Strip, even though the Holy Land Foundation was donating to the same zakat charities that the U.S. government supported via USAID.

“This decision will come after 11 tumultuous years of raids, trials, arrests and appeals. This will be the last legal recourse for my father who is currently serving a sentence of 65 years,” said Noor Elashi, daughter of Ghassan Elashi at a press conference in New York City on Thursday.

“On the day that my father was arrested he managed to look into my eyes and say, ‘keep your head up high because your father did nothing wrong,'” continued Elashi.

The Holy Land Five’s appeal could be a game changer in how “terrorism” cases are prosecuted. During the 2008 trial, for the first time in a U.S. criminal court “secret evidence” was used by an anonymous source. A so-called Israeli intelligence expert testified under a pseudonym and said that the defendants had ties to Hamas. How did “Avi,” the Israeli intelligence officer, prove a “terror” affiliation? Elashi told me, while on the stand Avi said he “could smell Hamas.”

Attorney Michael Ratner says that Avi’s testimony violated the defendent’s sixth amendment right to face their accuser. This “screams to be heard by the Supreme Court and be reversed.” Relying on intelligence from a foreign country also reflects a troublesome sharing of intelligence between nations. If the Supreme Court decides to uphold the convictions it will mean that in future terror cases due process will be abandoned for an Israeli military court style system, which regularly imprisons Palestinians on secret evidence.

“We will look back on this period, not just the Holy Land Five, but the cases from the NYPD, down here with the Third Jihad, all they way to drone killings in Pakistan, we will look on this as probably one of the darkest, if not the darkest, periods of our history. And sadly, sadly, Noor’s father is paying the price of 65 years in jail,” said Ratner.

“Remember Baba,” said Elashi concluding her speech on Thursday, “we are approaching not the end, but the beginning. And you will remain in the consciousness of many until the day you are exonerated.”

h/t Annie Robbins.


Holy Land Foundation Press Conference from Sparrow Media on Vimeo.