Two important developments, one conclusion: #FreeChelseaManning

This important announcement was delivered by lawyer David Coombs on prime-time US television the morning after his client, Pvt. Manning, was sentenced to 35 years detention in a military prison.

As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.

Thank you, Chelsea E. Manning

As Amy Davidson of The New Yorker put it, “In becoming Chelsea, Manning seems to say that life doesn’t end with a long prison sentence–which in itself is brave.”

Allowing for time served and deducted, David Coombs predicts that his client will be able to apply for parole in seven years’ time.  (This interview, conducted by Alexa O’Brien yesterday, is well worth watching in full). In the meantime, Coombs has pledged to fight for his client’s right to receive hormone therapy at Fort Leavenworth.

Yesterday, the Private Manning Support Network and Amnesty International launched a campaign for a Presidential Pardon for Chelsea – or, at the very least that her sentence be commuted to time served. I encourage all those reading this blog to sign that petition.

A note on names

It is important that all supporters of Chelsea Manning recognise her wishes and I wanted to say a few words about how this blog intends to do that. From now on, this website will have a home at www.ukfriendsofchelseamanning.org. Its masthead has also been changed.

The blog now called UK Friends of Chelsea Manning was set up in January 2011 to campaign for Chelsea Manning’s release from the inhuman conditions of solitary confinement imposed on her in the Quantico marine brig. It sought to do this primarily by involving the UK Government in her case. This was achieved in early April 2011.

As such, this is largely an archival site. Within its archives are an almost day-by-day account of what happened during that busy period. The blog also details early developments in the Manning support campaign, especially as they happened in the UK. External links to this site dating from that period redirect to either blog.ukfriendsofbradleymanning.org or the underlying wordpress.com address ukfriendsofbradleymanning.wordpress.com.

For reasons of continuity and preserving that historical record, I have decided to maintain both these addresses and mentions of Chelsea’s historical name as they appeared before today’s announcement. References to Chelsea from this point on will always use her preferred name and the female pronoun.

Update (26/8)

The Private Manning Support Network have made a formal announcement about their change of name here. Note that PVT Manning will remain correct style until her sentence has been served and she is formally discharged from the military.

Current Bradley Manning Resources

As may be obvious, this blog hasn’t been updated in a while. That may or may not change as Bradley Manning’s court martial proceeds at Fort Meade but, in any case, the following list of resources are essential reading on the current situation:

Court Martial Transcripts

Freedom of the Press Foundation are crowdsourcing a team of stenographers to cover the court martial. Files of morning and afternoon sessions are being uploaded here daily.

In addition, useful livetweeting and/or daily roundups of proceedings at Fort Meade are being produced by Nathan Fuller for the Bradley Manning Support Network, Chase Madar for The Nation, Rainey Reitman for Huffington Post, Kevin Gosztola for FireDogLake and Alexa O’Brien. For visuals, your one-stop shop is Clark Stoeckley.

Pre-Trial Documents

Full transcripts of the pretrial phase can be found at Alexa O’Brien’s website, which includes a wealth of useful analysis and background information (the witness profiles and reconstructed appelate list are especially useful if you plan on delving into the full detail).

Bradley himself made two statements during the pretrial phase, which are both indispensible reading. The first dealt with the pre-trial treatment Bradley Manning experienced at the marine brig at Quantico (contemporary coverage of which is extensively covered in this blog’s archives) and Camp Arifjan in Kuwait (which had not previously been entered onto the public record).

The second statement, which has been justly celebrated, is Manning’s “naked plea” – presented as such in order to introduce discussion of morality into a legal process that admits of none.  Miraculously, audio of this important historical document is also available, courtesy of an unknown observer of the proceedings.

A partially complete collection of court orders and submissions from the pre-trial phase has today been released by the US military.  That this has happened is largely thanks to those who have fought in the courts for access to documents that should have been publicly available for many months.

If you’re pushed for time, the two Manning statements are where you start.

What we’re learning from the pre-trial hearings

On Friday, the fourth in a series of pre-trial hearings concluded at Fort Meade, Maryland. These hearings have focused on the extent of the charges Bradley will face and the failure of the prosecution to hand over to the defence the information they have asked for in order to make their case. We are only about half of the way through this process with Bradley’s court martial now not due to begin until November at the very earliest.

Despite the best efforts of the US military authorities to inhibit reporting of proceedings (efforts which have now led to legal action being launched by the US Center for Constitutional Rights and others) some information about what is happening is getting out, thanks in no small part to the efforts of activists and citizen journalists who have been attending the hearings and publishing their own reports.

In most court cases, you’d expect an official transcript and court documents to be made available by both sides. In this case, the only official information we have comes from the defence – and the extent of what has been allowed to be released has frequently been argued over in the courtroom. The extent of the secrecy is, of course, revealing in itself.

What else have we learned from proceedings to date?

Key documents have been withheld from Bradley’s defence, with the prosecution playing legal and semantic games to avoid disclosing information that has been requested from them. At the last round of hearings, the defence won the right to see part of the US Government’s WikiLeaks impact assessments – but were told they had to travel hundreds of miles to collect them, even though there was a copy in the courtroom.

Writing a blog could mean you’re aiding the enemy. In refusing to dismiss the most serious charge Bradley faces, that of “aiding the enemy”, military judge Denise Lind has allowed the US government to pursue an argument that the ALCU have argued is “breathtaking”:

… if the government is right that a soldier “indirectly” aids the enemy when he posts information to which the enemy might have access, then the threat of criminal prosecution hangs over any service member who gives an interview to a reporter, writes a letter to the editor, or posts a blog to the internet.

Indeed, the US military has announced plans to step up surveillance of its personnel.

Even bearing in mind the difficulties of reporting, mainstream US coverage has not been all it might be.

***

The next motion hearing starts on 25 June. In London, a solidarity vigil will be held outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square – check the calendar or wiseupforbradleymanning.wordpress.com for further details.

Update

The US Government has now responded to the CCR’s petition for greater transparency in the ongoing proceedings, arguing that reporters are free to make Freedom of Information Requests. This is a process that can take considerable time and is as such of little use to journalists who need to file reports while proceedings are actually happening. As Kevin Gosztola writes at firedoglake:

… practically speaking, the government obviously does not care if reporters are able to report on the court martial or not.

Writing to Bradley Manning – new details

Bradley Manning has been transferred from Fort Leaveworth for the purposes of his arraignment at Fort Meade, Virginia.  It is not known whether he will remain in Virginia while awaiting his court-martial, which is expected to get underway in August.

David Coombs has posted Bradley’s new contact details over at his blog:

The new mailing address for PFC Manning is the following:
Commander, HHC USAG
Attn: PFC Manning
239 Sheridan Ave, Bldg 417
JBM-HH, VA 22211
As previously noted, PFC Manning is eligible to receive mail from anyone who wishes to write to him. However, the confinement facility does place certain restrictions on what can be sent to PFC Manning. The facility will reject any mail that violates postal regulations or contains obscenity, blackmail, contraband or threats. In addition, the facility has the following restrictions:
a) PFC Bradley Manning cannot receive any cash, checks, or money orders. Due to this additional restriction, our office will ensure that PFC Manning has sufficient funds in his detainee account to purchase items.
b) Photographs are only accepted if printed on copy paper. A maximum of six (6) pages are allowed. Pictures on photograph weight paper are not allowed.
c) Incoming mail will be returned to the sender if, in the opinion of the facility, such mail falls into any of the following categories: 1) Contains inflammatory material or advocates escape, violence, disorder or assault; 2) Directly or indirectly threatens the security, safety or order of the facility; 3) Contains coded or otherwise undecipherable language that prevents adequate review of the material; 4) Is received with “Postage Due”; or 5) Contains items of contraband.

US Ambassador confronted with calls to “Free Bradley Manning”

OccupyLSX to host solidarity rally on 17th December

A beefed up City of London police presence greeted Occupy London activists demanding the freedom of Bradley Manning on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in London yesterday (Thursday). US Ambassador Louis Susman was attending the annual Thanksgiving service at the cathedral along with a sizable number of US ex-pats.

US citizens living in this country were also among those demanding the freedom of Bradley Manning. Anthony Timmons, a member of the OccupyLSX tranquility team said: “The weight of public opinion is with us as we stand up for Bradley Manning.  Not only that, fifty of the US’ top congressional scholars – including Laurence Tribe, the top Harvard academic who trained Barack Obama-  agree that Bradley Manning must face a fair public trial, not a military tribunal.”

Bradley Manning, raised in Wales and a UK citizen by virtue of his mother’s nationality, has been imprisoned for the last 18 months in Baghdad, Kuwait, Quantico and Leavenworth. The treatment meted out to Bradley in Quantico prompted the official interest of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the British and German governments and sparked off demonstrations across the world. That international solidarity campaign contributed to Bradley’s move to improved prison conditions this April. [1]

Bradley has been charged with 23 offences in relation to the release of video footage of a US war crime in Baghdad and US embassy cables, including one of “aiding the enemy,” which potentially carries the death penalty. This week, the US Department of Defense announced that Bradley’s courts-martial process will begin with a preliminary hearing at at Fort Meade, Maryland on 16th December – the day before Bradley’s 24th birthday. [2]

A day of international solidarity has been called for 17th December and Occupy LSX at St Paul’s is proud to be hosting the London action. [3] Natalia James, a supporter of Occupy London said: “We do not know if Bradley is guilty of what he is accused of but, if he is, he is a true hero. Holding public institutions and governments responsible for their actions is a vital part of the fight for real democracy and few figures exemplify that more than Bradley Manning, who has managed to achieve that even while being in prison. That is why Bradley’s cause is so important to us here at Occupy London.”

Notes

[1] Bradley Manning’s family welcomes news of his move to prison in Kansas

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/20/bradley-manning-family-move-kansas

Unmonitored access to detainees is essential to any credible enquiry into torture or cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, says UN torture expert -

http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11231&LangID=E

[2] Law Office of David E. Coombs – Article 32 hearing

http://www.armycourtmartialdefense.info/2011/11/article-32-hearing.html

[3] Occupy LSX solidarity rally for Bradley Manning – http://events.bradleymanning.org/occupylsx/occupy_lsx_solidarity_rally_for_bradley_manning

Michael Moore on Bradley Manning

Thanks to Code Pink for this video from Michael Moore’s book launch in New York last night (Tuesday), where he was asked about Bradley Manning.

What can we do to make sure Bradley Manning receives a fair trial?

That’s a very good question. I hope all of you know about Bradley Manning – if you don’t you should get on it tonight and read about it.  This is very sad that he’s taken the fall for doing something that, allegedly, he felt was right and good for the country.

In another era, Daniel Ellsberg was lauded for it.  In this era, Bradley Manning doesn’t have the support of the media that supported Daniel Ellsberg.  I think you need to write letters, if you’re not on the internet, I think you need to organise people to inform them of this… We have a problem because we have a media that does not want to respond to this.

Council of Europe report: the world is “indebted” to Bradley Manning

As just reported by the BBC, Council of Europe special rapporteur Dick Marty – best known for his reports on European complicity in extraordinary rendition – has presented his draft report on the “abuse of state secrecy and national security” to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.  Marty’s report makes clear the importance whistleblowers play in keeping democracy alive and his expression of concern about Bradley Manning’s treatment is incredibly important.

The full report may be read here, but here’s the relevant passage:

Finally, the fundamental role played by whistleblowers must not be forgotten. Their importance of their contribution is in fact proportionate to the extent that secrecy is still imposed. It is not exaggerated that, still today – and in some cases even more so than in the past – we are confronted with a real cult of secrecy; secrecy as an instrument of power, as Hannah Arendt reminds us in the citation at the very beginning of this report. It is therefore justified to say that whistleblowers play a key role in a democratic society and that they contribute to making up the existing deficit of transparency. We said so before: the Assembly’s reports of 2006 and 2007 and, more recently, the revelations concerning “black sites” in Lithuania are due to a large extent to honest officials who, for ethical reasons and taking great risks, could not and would not take part any longer in illegal activities or cover them up by remaining silent. In this connection, we should also remember Bradley Manning, the young American soldier accused of providing Wikileaks with a large number of confidential documents. High-ranking American officials and numerous voices of international public opinion have expressed indignation at the inhuman and degrading treatment which Mr Manning is said to have undergone. It will be up to the courts to judge. But we cannot ignore that according to the very accusations made against him we are indebted to him for the publication both of a recording of a helicopter attack in Iraq, in which the crew seems to have intentionally targeted and killed civilians. The video  recording seemingly indicates a deliberate criminal act which deserves at least an investigation, which, without this indiscretion, would have never been requested. This is a classic example of an illegitimate secret. In addition, the publication of a large number of embassy reports has allowed us to learn significant details of important recent events and which are obviously of general interest. We must not forget either that these publications have brought numerous confirmations of findings included in the Assembly’s reports of 2006 and 2007 on the CIA flights and secret prisons. All those who at the time called for “proof, proof!” have in any case been well served.

The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly will debate the report in the first week of October.

Update

The story has now also  been reported at Business Insider and the Bradley Manning Support Network have issued this statement.