Rule of Law Abandoned in Bradley Manning Prosecution

by , September 14, 2012

Bradley Manning’s critics need to be more careful if they want to accuse him of breaking the law. The real outrage is the way prosecutors and the military more broadly have handled his case: the Marines and Army have violated their own code of justice in several ways, for several months, precluding a fair trial and making a mockery of the rule of law.

The complaints of critics reveal the fundamental hypocrisy in Manning’s case — the rule of law is not applied evenly. While war criminals, torturers, and known murderers walk freely, the military is aggressively punishing the messenger who exposed heinous crimes and rampant abuse. Prosecutors go beyond disciplining a soldier for stepping out of line, attempting to associate whistleblowing with terrorism by charging Manning with “aiding the enemy.”

The most prominent injustice is what drew many to Manning’s plight in 2011: his abusive, brutal, and illegal treatment at the Quantico Marine brig. Against nine months of recommendations of brig psychiatrists, Bradley was allowed only 20 minutes of sunshine each day, was kept in solitary confinement, was put on prevention of injury watch, and was forced to stand nude nightly. The military says these conditions were in Manning’s best interest, that he was a suicide risk and without this treatment he would’ve harmed himself.

Newly surfaced emails reveal the truth: that three-star Lt. Gen. George Flynn, removed from Quantico and likely taking orders from the Pentagon, ordered Manning’s abusive treatment and ignored psychiatrists to keep Manning in solitary confinement. Such treatment is clearly punitive and therefore a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, is motioning to dismiss charges based on this punitive treatment on Nov. 27. We’ll see if Judge Lind will hold the Marines accountable.

By the time that motion is argued, Manning will have spent 919 days in prison without a court-martial. A speedy trial would’ve started nearly two years ago. Instead, delay after delay pushes litigation back further. Critics note that David Coombs had to ask for several delays, pushing the trial back himself. But in several cases, delays arose because the prosecution explicitly withheld basic documents that were material to the defense. For example, on July 26, at 7:50 p.m., just hours before the defense filed the motion to dismiss based on pretrial punishment, the prosecution handed over 84 emails relating to that punishment and revealed that there were 1,290 more, which it later turned over in court. The prosecution sat on those emails for at least six full months before giving them to the defense at the eleventh hour, forcing Coombs to delay litigation of the motion to dismiss.

Similarly, the prosecution stalled in handing over thousands of discovery documents regarding the State Department’s reaction to WikiLeaks’ releases, and it only did so when Lind finally forced its hand.

But how can Lind fairly adjudicate a trial that has already been ruled on by her superior officers? In April 2011, President Obama, commander in chief of the Armed Forces, whom all inferior officers answer to, decreed that Bradley Manning “broke the law.” Echoing his commanding officer in March 2012, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Manning “did violate the law.”

Dempsey and the president should take note: it is unlawful command influence and a direct violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for either of them to have declared Bradley Manning guilty before trial. Both officials may say their comments were offhand, but the message has been clearly sent to the judge, Col. Denise Lind — to rule in favor of Bradley Manning is to contradict your commanding officers.

So throughout these lengthy pretrial proceedings, Pfc. Manning’s due process rights have been denied or infringed upon in many ways. But even before the process began, we knew that the rule of law was not being applied evenly. Instead, it’s aggressive prosecution for the conscientious soldier and leniency or full immunity for officials in power.

Look at the treatment given to the war criminals that Manning exposed.

None of those revealed in the “Collateral Murder” video to have killed innocent Iraqi civilians and their rescuers have been prosecuted. None of the soldiers who handcuffed and summarily executed an Iraqi family, including women and toddlers, are on trial. Those who have been caught committing mass atrocities have been given light punishment, if any. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, ringleader of the “Kill Team” in Afghanistan that murdered unarmed civilians and took their body parts as souvenirs, is in prison but is eligible for parole in less than 10 years. Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who ordered the 2005 Haditha massacre that killed 24 innocent Iraqis (including children), got no jail time at all. None of the Marines who carried out the killings were even prosecuted.

Several more WikiLeaks revelations uncovered criminal acts. Hillary Clinton ordered U.S. officials to spy on members of the U.N. U.S. officials covered up child abuse by Afghan contractors. The former president of Yemen took credit for attacks in his own country carried out by the United States. None of them face trial.

So much for the rule of law that Bradley Manning’s critics tout so widely. Those who commit war crimes get leniency or a welcome-home golf tournament; those who expose war crimes face life in prison without parole, and solitary confinement before trial to boot.

Originally published by NewMatilda.com.

Read more by Nathan Fuller