Accused Wikileaker to Have his Day in Court

Did Bradley Manning Blow Whistle on Shady Dealings at Shannon Airport?

Guest article by Gerry Condon (Veterans for Peace)

After 18 months in prison, Bradley Manning, the young American soldier accused of leaking thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks, will finally have his day in court.  Next Friday, Dec. 16, Private First Class Manning will appear before a military judge for a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, not far from Washington, DC.  The “Article 32” hearing, expected to last 4 or 5 days, will determine whether there is enough evidence against Manning to go ahead with a military court martial.  Prosecution and defense lawyers will reveal their respective strategies for the first time.

The Army has charged Manning with several crimes, the most serious of which is “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense that can be punished by death.  Army prosecutors say they will not seek the death penalty; they would apparently be content to put Manning behind bars for most of the rest of his life.

“This is the most important whistle-blower case in the U.S. since 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War,” says Jeff Paterson, a key activist in the Bradley Manning Support Network.   “Most military court martials are finished in one or two days” says Paterson.  “Bradley Manning’s court martial is expected to go on for several weeks. “

Manning’s court martial may not even begin before next summer.  Questions regarding classified information, and who on the legal teams should be allowed to see it, have made for a complicated scenario and a painstakingly slow process.  Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, has recently complained that he is being denied access to information that is critical to Manning’s defense.

Legal scholars and human rights activists have also raised concerns about the Army’s harsh treatment of the young soldier.  For eight months, Manning was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, subjected to forced nudity and deprived of exercise, a blanket or a pillow.  An international outcry successfully ended the Army’s torturous treatment of Manning, the extent of which has yet to be thoroughly investigated. 

Just last week, 64 Members of the European Parliament sent a letter to President Obama, the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon, supporting the request of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to have an un-monitored meeting with Manning.  Thus far, several requests by the UN Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, have been denied by U.S. authorities, without explanation.

The documents that Bradley Manning is accused of releasing to Wikileaks include daily Army digests of the U.S. wars against and occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Army’s own diaries reveal the routine killing of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, many more they have publicly acknowledged.  They also reveal the regular cover-up of civilian killings.  In other words, the U.S. Army’s own reports reveal the routine commission of war crimes.  To graphically illustrate this point, Wikileaks also released a U.S. Army video that shows unarmed civilians in Baghdad being gunned down by U.S. soldiers from an Apache helicopter. The Collateral Murder video, which has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, was released in April 2010.  Several weeks later, the Army arrested PFC Bradley Manning, a low-level intelligence analyst working in Iraq.

It is not a crime to reveal evidence of war crimes.  It IS a crime, however, to cover up evidence of war crimes, as the U.S. Army has apparently done.  Bradley Manning has admitted to nothing, so the burden of proof is on the U.S. Army.  If he actually did what he is accused of doing, he should be seriously considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Instead, he has been imprisoned and abused for eighteen months.

Wikileaks’ release of a huge trove of State Department documents has also been attributed to Bradley Manning.  Over two hundred fifty thousand diplomatic cables, with a low level “Confidential” and “Secret” classifications, are now available for public perusal.  The diplomatic cables are primarily comprised of US embassy reports on their dealings with governments around the world.  Many of the cables reveal duplicitous and undemocratic dealings, and their release has caused a furor in several countries.  For example, a U.S. Ambassador’s comments on the gross corruption of Tunisian government leaders fed the outrage that led to a mass uprising in Tunisia, the first blow of the “Arab Spring.” Embarrassing cables have also led to the withdrawal of several U.S. diplomats from their posts.

In Ireland, people were outraged to learn that the Irish government had been actively encouraging the U.S. military to continue using Shannon Airport, a civilian airport, as a stopover for U.S. troop flights to the U.S. occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Further undermining Irish neutrality was evidence of CIA “rendition flights,” involved in illegal kidnappings and torture of people suspected of links to terrorism.

BRADLEY MANNING AND SHANNON AIRPORT – IRISH NEUTRALITY VIOLATED

Ever since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the neutrality of the Irish people and state has been grossly violated by the U.S. military and the CIA, with the active collaboration of several Irish governments, despite the loud protests of the Irish people.

The presence of CIA so-called “rendition flights,” used for the illegal kidnapping, transit and torture of people suspected of links to terrorism, has also been documented by local Irish activists at Shannon Watch.

Now it turns out the accused Wikileaks whistleblower, Bradley Manning, has connections to the controversial use of Shannon Airport by the U.S. military.  Jetf Paterson of the Bradley Manning Support Network has confirmed that the troop plane that carried Manning to Iraq stopped over at Shannon Airport.

And secret U.S. State Department cables, purportedly released by Bradley Manning to Wikileaks, have provided the Irish people with an inside look at how their political leaders have encouraged the U.S. military to continue its use of Shannon Airport, despite large protests, civil disobedience actions and even a court ruling in favor of The Pitstop Ploughshares, a group that physically damaged a plane and the landing strip at Shannon Airport.

“The cables from Dublin show a nervousness amongst Americans regarding the use of Shannon for their troop and cargo movements, and amongst Irish politicians and officials regarding rendition flights,” according to John Lannon of Shannon Watch. ”This is not surprising given that public opinion and international law was against both - and they all knew it.”

Here is one example from November 2006:

Classification:  CONFIDENTIAL

Subject: THE AMBASSADOR AND FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSS SHANNON, NORTHERN IRELAND

Created:  3 Nov 2006

Released:  22 Jul 2011

Summary:  November 1st meeting between the US Ambassador and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern. Ahern urged cooperation so that there were no "surprises" regarding US military use of Shannon. The Irish Parliament had required him to explain previous US failures to notify transits involving weapons and military prisoners. He was due to address EU Parliament on rendition and he planned to use the US assurances argument. Ahern conceded that the fault for not seeking full information on material/passengers lay with Irish government. The Ambassador said he was appreciative of use of Shannon and that they plan to coordinate the media strategy. Ahern said their "outreach" diffused the public criticism over the June transit of a Marine prisoner. The Pitstop Ploughshares acquittal was also discussed - Ahern said it had "seriously disturbed the Irish Government Cabinet" but that there was no means to overturn the jury decision. The Minister for Justice Michael McDowell had been asked to examine ways to close off the "legal loopholes" exploited by defence lawyers. The Ambassador wanted to prevent future action to disrupt military operations at Shannon. Ahern says security has been upgraded and "protest movement appeared to be losing steam" (quoting a sparsely attended rally on 28th Oct).

Access to SIPRNet, the classified network from which Bradley Manning supposedly downloaded this massive quantity of information, was greatly expanded during the George W. Bush administration, purportedly to facilitate information-sharing between the U.S. State and Defense departments.  It is believed that as many as 500,000 people could possibly have access to this information, including private intelligence contractors.  Questions of whether this information should have been classified and to what extent it was really protected will no doubt be raised at the historic court martial of Bradley Manning.

The Bradley Manning Support Network, formed shortly after Manning’s arrest in May 2010, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in small donations from people around the world to pay for Manning’s legal expenses.  The Support Network also coordinated the successful campaign to win better conditions of imprisonment for Manning.  Thousands of people around the world keep up to date with developments at its excellent website, www.bradleymanning.org.

You can see all the Wikileaks cables regarding Shannon Airport here.

To find out what you can do to stop the scapegoating of Bradley Manning, go to www.bradleymanning.org.

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