There’s a lot of things, if I could I’d rearrange: on Bradley Manning pt 2
August 20, 2013 Leave a comment
Yesterday, during its closing arguments, prosecution against Pfc. Bradley Manning said the following: “If youbetray your country, you do not deserve the mercy of a court of law.”
Prosecution has obviously very little and extremely restrictive understanding of what constitutes the law, what constitutes one’s own country, or what it takes to “betray” it.
…No, it isn’t heads or tails. Whatever happens, it is by my agency that everything must happen. Even if he let himself be carried off, in helplessness and in despair, even if he let himself be carried off like an old sack of coal, he would have chosen his own damnation: he was free, free in every way, free to behave like a fool or a machine, free to accept, free to refuse, free to equivocate: to marry, to give up the game, to drag this dead weight about with him for years to come. He could do what he liked, no one had the right to advise him, there would be for him no Good nor Evil unless he brought them into being…condemned forever to be free.
Bradley Manning was given the opportunity to read a statement to Judge Lind, to the court, to the press that was covering his “trial”, to the Wikileaks presence, to anyone in the world who would lend an ear and listened. It has been deemed an apology, because he did use the words “I am sorry”, but what I read through it is the sorrow of a young man who realised he may have fallen on deaf ears. It is our responsibility to make Bradley Manning understand that his actions and his years in solitary confinement have not been in vain.
Bradley Manning is sorry; sorry to have hurt the Department of Defence, as if it was a homogenuous entity that could feel, that could love and hurt, that could make decisions according to a conscience it has several times during the trial referred to as a disease. He is sorry to have hurt the United States; another blanket identity that is neither social nor political, neither free nor enslaved, neither clean nor unclean, neither faithful nor a traitor. There is no heads or tail in the Bradley Manning situation; there is no right and there is no wrong, there is simply a path that has been seen, perceived, understood to be the one to take at one specific situation in space and time. A path that clearly has been qualified as unlawful and unauthorized, that has warranted the arrest of a 22 years old young man whose identity he did not even know, and his confinement in conditions that have been decried over the years. If Bradley Manning has anything to be sorry about, it’s having to be there on this stand, inside a uniform that somehow seems too big for him, his frail shoulders barely carrying a gaunt face, eyes too young to truly belong to someone who has gone through the tribulations of answering to their own government, a government at war, in a perpetual, global, endless, ubiquitous, and dirty war. Bradley Manning is apologizing so we don’t have to.
The hardest concept to probably grasp as a citizen and, even more so, a member of the armed forces is the consequences of one’s actions, the responsibility that goes with carrying them through, seeing them through and bearing the burden of their long-lasting repercussions. Bradley Manning believes he did not intend for his disclosure of information to go that far. This will always be debated, and this historical situation will clearly not have a collectively agreed-upon resolve or any sort of closure anytime soon. There is no way of knowing whether releasing footage of cables and their international consequences on western armed forces forcing their way through various battlefields had been foreseen by someone barely out of their teens and not even well-versed into geopolitics. The constant attempt to establish mens rea by the prosecution just fell short of understanding what type of character Bradley Manning is, through lame and insulting means of defaming his identity, insulting his intelligence, and bereaving his family. The question surrounding whistleblowing should never be “how”; disclosure of classified information is just as much a question of information surrounding secrecy. It’s not about contacting Julian Assange or using Wikileaks, which is merely a platform that exposes rather than explains, displays rather than deducts, and supposes rather than proposes. Whistleblowing is about the why. It’s about why this information is so critical to the US Government that they’re willing to imprison a young man for life and isolate him from any support he could possibly get, until his hypothetical future remorse eats him alive.
In the state I was in, if someone had come and told me I could go home quietly, that they would leave me my life whole, it would have left me cold: several hours or several years of waiting is all the same when you have lost the illusion of being eternal.
His apology was just as much of a question. If he referred to “broader consequences” of his actions – beyond his regimen, beyond his military, beyond the territorial borders of the United States – with the vague, flimsy and clearly fluid grasp that one could hope to have in an era of extraterritoriality – Manning provided a statement that could just as well be ended with a question mark as it did a period. Manning asked, out loud, how he could have ever thought he could “change the world for the better”. Prosecution was right: Manning is conscience-afflicted. Even after three years of detention, of isolation, of confinement and humiliation, Manning is still asking the one question that motivates every single individual, regardless of their race, gender, creed, profession, or better yet, country of citizenship: what could they possibly do, as citizens of a world they no longer understand, to make a profound and lasting impact on the future generations? What means do we have at our disposal, lawful or otherwise, to enact those changes and enshrine them so they are respected? There are no whistleblowers in the military because armed forces have a goal. They have a clear objective, and they abide by it. There are given orders, and a narrative, and they stick to it, as they force themselves through hostile territories, uncertainty, sudden drop in life expectancy, and the dull yet piercing sound of a grenade exploding nearby. We have to provide our foot soldiers with a story broad enough to encompass the stench of rotting dead bodies and the despair of a seemingly endless tour. We have to let our soldiers know there is a reason. If any citizen living in peace time is entitled to live a life free of strategy and focus, if so is their wish, a soldier is tied to action through pure, absolute necessity. Manning questioned that necessity. Manning questioned the resolve, unjustified the body count, and defaced the national modus operandi surrounding the wars it was spreading like wild fire. Manning may not know if there is a reason to live, but he knew there was no reason to die.
It’s strange what confinement does to inmates. Truth is manipulated and distorted until guilt, even an artificial one, seeps in. In solitary, where no one can confront one’s truth to their own, one’s story to their own, or cross-examine information received through the unilateral communication of their defence counsel, we try to understand the reason why we’re here. Punishment needs to be understood. We need to, somehow, have done something to deserve it. What the prosecution tried to make Bradley Manning understand through this whole ordeal is that no one was suing him because they wanted to, out of sheer sadism, or because they were the apparatus of a tyrannical regime. They enshrouded themselves – falsely, absolutely falsely – into the legitimacy of the law so their actions against Manning would gain the authority they would otherwise not obtain. A Kafka novel based on judge, judgement and execution, “In the penal colony”, offers the scene of a journalist coming to explore a penal colony in a faraway land, in which a Commandant had enforced a strange but apparently effective means of punishing his inmates: the Harrow. The explorer, having never seen penal reformation before, had questions, but the Commandant always shakes them off, with staunch certainty, claiming, “My guiding principle is this: Guilt is never to be doubted. Other courts cannot follow that principle, for they consist of several opinions and have higher courts to scrutinize them. That is not the case here, or at least, it was not the case in the former commandant’s time.” In other words, unless we believe in the guilt of those judged guilty and sentenced to pain as a result of their guilt, we would not be able to stand it. We must conform to the idea of justice as it performed, otherwise there is no justice at all. As the inmate slowly dies on the torture machine, the Commandant tells the journalist: “it reads, ‘be just’. Surely you can see it now.”
Manning through his young, unsteady hand through the looking-glass of what is essentially an underground society. On one hand, are the actions performed by the government abroad, or even domestically, that must perdure in order to ensure its own perenniality. That those actions are condemned by law, domestically or abroad, does not matter, because the law, by definition, is accessed in a public forum, for the people, as written by the people, and enacted by their own peers. The law is not an instrument of secrecy; it must be accessible to all, because ignorantia juris non excusat. Trying to skirt around the law, walk around it, manipulate it, reword it, reframe it, rewrite it in order to benefit from it instead of using as a tool for blind equality is something any citizen should worry about and pay attention to. Alexa O’Brien, one of the few reporters covering the Manning case, has been extremely vocal about the lack of access to not only military law, which she has been instrumental to deliver to each and every one that followed her – but also the inner workings of the court, Judge Lind, the prosecution, and the situation the defense counsel, David Coombs, was in. A government is yet another tool of the people. It should never force itself or be forced underground under the false pretense of security. There is no such thing as brutal use of force for someone else’s own good, let alone the collective. Freedom of information is the bedrock on which a functioning democracy is based on, and never as much as in the Manning case has the rule of law found such a strong ally as in independent journalism. Manning has been guilty of revealing that justice has been obstructed; O’Brien has taken upon herself, and on her own, to give it a voice, to give Manning a voice, to stand up against the wall of silence we are now facing when entering a court of law.
Manning’s very existence is the contradiction to the prosecution’s statement. Manning did not betray his country; he may have, if so is allowed, betray his country’s interests, and surely there is a penalty for that, but a penalty on halting benefits and hindering mass murder should not carry the life of a man who has barely seen sunlight in years. Manning, regardless of who he is, regardless of where he stands, regardless of what he has done, is, and should be, always, safe in a court of law, to stand, to speak, to provide instruments to his own defense, and be judged by his peers. And judged he has been; through a free-flow of dubious, questionable and extremely biased information; through a chaotic attempt at securing support outside of regular channels; through an increasingly vocal and gracefully, happily, thankful presence of an international community that has seen in Manning the hope of – not stopping the Empire, but simply being a grain of sand in the whirring wheel. Manning held a mirror to Judge Lind, who could barely make any shapes in the reflection, so far away she stands from the broader consequences Manning was referring to. The consequences of Manning’s actions reach far away and beyond the narrow and obsolete statutes of military courts. They belong to any self-empowering, self-respecting international institution that has seen the United States ratify treaty after treaty securing the civil and political rights of all, respecting national sovereignty of foreign governments, and maintaining the world safe from aggression and upholding the sanctity of life. The Manning pill must be a bitter one to swallow; but I will never forget the steel-like, blood-like taste in my mouth the moment I read that line.
A court of law does not provide mercy, or inflict punishment. A court of law only provides what is fair based on presented evidence. A court of law is not an instrument of intimidation, it is an instrument of equality. May those prosecuting Manning for having faith in beliefs he does not even know he holds dear fall short of ever seeing the inside of an international criminal court. Manning will be sentenced, and he will purge his sentence; he may appeal, and the circuit might go all the way to the almighty Supreme Court, where the very definition of the role of a court of law might be once again redefined by a select few who hopefully will have a better grasp on the way a nation is going, once it has violated every principle it once stood for, and once it has betrayed the international community by hiding its actions in plain sight.
Manning did not betray his country; he rose above it.