Bradley Manning is back in court today. It is the continuation of the pre-trial hearing that began in December to find out what charges will be brought against him when he eventually goes to trial. Also last week marked two years spent in custody without having been charged. It was in June 2010 that Bradley was arrested and detained in Baghdad.
For those who don’t know, Bradley Manning was an intelligence analyst in the US army who is accused (and almost certainly guilty) of leaking to Wikileaks thousands of classified documents revealing atrocities committed by the US military in the Iraq war, most famously the video “Collateral Murder”, which depicts a US Apache helicopter killing 11 civillians and wounding 2 children totally outside of any form of combat, including a van that had stopped to help the initial victims.
I’ve written about Bradley Manning on this blog before here, and you can even see on youtube a clip of me playing a song I wrote about him. But in both cases I wrote more about the response from governments and their deliberate suppression of the truth. This is all still worth talking about, but I feel like I would also like to write about Bradley Manning himself and how the heroism of his actions has inspired me.
Because Bradley Manning is not just a part of some political issue. Bradley is a living, breathing person; flawed and doubting like the rest of us; who in the face of everything took a courageous stand to act on his conscience despite knowing the horrific consequences he would face.
And when I say in the face of everything, I mean everything. Bradley was not some Hollywood heroic figure with nothing to fear. Bradley is a 5’2”, of pretty frail build, 22 year old, homosexual in a foreign country away from any support networks.
If you think it would be hard to be gay in the US army (and you would be correct in thinking that), it’s even harder to be transgender. Which Bradley, or Breanna Manning as they (from now on I will use the gender neutral pronoun “they”) sometimes refer to themselves, is.
The transcripts of the witness accounts in the December hearing confirm that Bradley/Breanna had no friends in the army and no counselling or support from either peers or superiors. And that’s just the witnesses called by the prosecution. Most of the defence’s witness applications were rejected by the court.
In fact, Bradley/Breanna faced open hostility from other soldiers they were stationed with. It’s little wonder they were clearly (from the behaviour reported in the trial) struggling with mental health issues, which went completely without help or referral from superiors. One of the most remarkable things about those court transcripts is just how erratic Bradley/Breanna’s behaviour was, and yet absolutely nothing was done about it. I guess that’s just expected in the army, especially when you’re gay and disliked by most of your fellow soldiers.
It’s in the middle of all this that Bradley/Breanna was completely shattered by the injustice that they witnessed in Iraq and the atrocities perpetuated by their own nation. And rather than be complicit or settle for defeated silence, Bradley/Breanna decided to do something about it.
Leaking those documents to Wikileaks was not something that could just be done in a moment of spite or uncertainty. It was weeks of painstaking, nerve-wracking work, done totally in secret and at great risk. The files were even kept on a cd marked as “Lady Gaga” to stop other troops from looking at it and discovering them. The leaking of those cables was a deliberate and heroic act of listening to their conscience and acting in the face of injustice.
And after all that, done in a brutal military environment with no moral or physical support, Bradley/Breanna reached out to confide in one person they thought they could trust – former computer hacker Adrian Lamo. Who not only was a fellow hacker, but also promised Manning complete confidentiality. Of course, as history will show, Lamo was an FBI informant and a man of very few moral values himself. Within weeks of saying “i wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press”, Bradley Manning was being arrested and taken to prison, where they would spend the next nine months in solitary confinement.
US military prison is not a hospitable place. It’s not even subject to the meagre regulations that normal US prisons are. While in solitary, Bradley/Breanna was at times kept naked 24 hours a day and woken repeatedly during the night by having a flashlight shone in their face.
The US has never signed any kind of ant-torture convention, meaning that being tortured by the US army is as bad a kind of torture as anywhere in the world, the end result of decades and millions of dollars worth of research into torture techniques. And yet through all this Bradley/Breanna has never been broken, refusing to name any other names and in the latest report from their family, still having their “spirits up” after now over two years’ imprisonment without charge and no release in sight.
The story of Bradley/Breanna Manning is the story of injustice on many levels. It is the story of an empire built on violence and greed using whatever means possible to suppress the truth about its actions. It is the story of what will happen to those who dare to challenge the status quo. It is the story of countless powerful people who are willing to sit by and let an innocent person rot away their life in jail.
But it is also the story of heroism – of a young person who stood up for justice at personal cost and is now paying a price most of us could never even imagine. Of a mere mortal like the rest of us, whose actions transcended the self-interest of humanity and will hopefully be remembered forever. And it’s not something from a history book – it’s happening right now, as 24 year old Bradley/Breanna faces the prospect of spending the rest of their life in prison for daring to speak the truth.
In a time when the truth is being actively attacked and repressed, it is a time for heroes to stand up and act for something greater than themselves. Bradley/Breanna Manning is evidence that despite all our shortcomings and our fears, acts of greatness are possible.
In their chats with Adrian Lamo, Bradley/Breanna wrote “God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” They wanted the truth to be discussed. It’s our job to make sure that the discussion continues.