Bradley Manning’s Support System

by , July 17, 2012

This is the first in a series of profiles and interviews Antiwar.com is conducting this summer with activists who have made it their life’s work to challenge the mighty bulwarks of the U.S. national security state.

The Bradley Manning Support Network’s legal fund to aid Manning in the fight of his life is running in the red.

According to Courage to Resist (which hosts the legal fund on behalf of the Network), the fund received $12,252 in June, but it’s not keeping up with expenses. Aside from the $140,000 it has given over to Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, for direct legal fees, it is has spent $359,246 to date on a massive public relations, education and outreach campaign to keep Manning’s name and his cause front and center. As a result, the network has overspent $33,910 of the available funding — $21,000 of that in June alone.

As Manning arrives back at Fort Meade in Maryland for his court-martial hearings this week (updates here), the network’s primary goal is to maintain a vigil of support outside the courthouse and to encourage activists and journalists to keep an eagle eye on the proceedings. There were weekend occupations scheduled for the Los Angeles federal courthouse and the federal courthouse in Atlanta on Friday July 13 and a rally for Manning before the opening of the hearing yesterday (June 16) at Fort Meade.

Supporters at Fort Meade

These pre-trial hearings are scheduled to go on through Friday and will center on motions regarding several of the key charges, including the most damning one, Title 10, Article 104 of the U.S. Code, which is “aiding the enemy,” specifically that Manning, by allegedly downloading and leaking hundreds of thousands of secure government documents to WikiLeaks, did “without authority, knowingly give, intelligence to the enemy through indirect means.”

Coombs, who has been sharing his motions with the network, published here, is arguing that the jury must be instructed that according to applicable case law and court-martial rules, the following:

In order to find the accused guilty of giving intelligence to the enemy through indirect means, you must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had actual knowledge that he was giving intelligence to the enemy through the indirect means. An accused has actual knowledge that he is giving intelligence to the enemy through indirect means only when he knowingly and intentionally provides intelligence to the enemy through the indirect means. Providing intelligence to a third party with reason to believe that the enemy might receive it, could receive it, or even would likely receive it, is insufficient. Rather, you must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused, using the third party as a mere conduit, knowingly and intentionally gave intelligence to the enemy. That is, the accused must have used the third party for the purpose of giving the intelligence to the enemy. If you find that the accused honestly believed that he was giving intelligence only to a third party and that he was not giving it to the enemy, you must find the accused not guilty of the offense of giving intelligence to the enemy through indirect means.

This is a critical distinction for the jury to contemplate since this is the most serious charge, the punishment for which could mean the death penalty for Manning.

San Francisco

Another key motion to be debated this week is the issue of harm. Anyone following the Manning case is aware that government officials have made a big noise about the damage Manning’s alleged leaks have made to national security and U.S. diplomacy. The defense gained a big victory last month when the judge ordered the government to hand over a number of government agency assessments — including the CIA, FBI, and state department — that reportedly indicate the actual damage was minimal. That is likely why the prosecution does not want to argue the issue of harm in the court-martial, and precisely why Coombs wants to raise it decisively.

While Coombs is fighting for Manning’s life inside the courtroom, the support network has been struggling with other journalist-activists to make the hearings as transparent as possible. If one of the network’s missions is to keep Manning in the media spotlight and the public well-informed about the proceedings, the fact this is a military trial, with its own rules about transparency, is one of the greatest obstacles his supporters have yet to overcome.

For example, responding to a petition by a number of journalists for access to real-time, unclassified court filings like court transcripts, copies of motions or court orders — information reporters get as a normal matter of course in civilian courts — the government said the public can go right ahead and made their requests through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Now, everyone knows that process is as slow as the dirty brown Potomac River current in August, and used most often by the government to control and frustrate the outcome of even the simplest investigations. As writer Kevin Gosztola pointed out:

Obviously, if one agrees news reporting happens in real time as events are unfolding, it should not be reasonable for anyone in government to suggest that reporters could FOIA material and then wait for it and produce a news story on what happened later. By then, the next phase of the court-martial could be happening. The trial might even be over. Manning might be convicted and in jail and then, who cares what the judge had to say about whether he, in fact, “exceeded authorized access” or not?

Manning’s trial is scheduled for September, but with all the legal wrangling, could easily be pushed back to the winter of 2013, making it even more difficult to keep the public’s attention on the case and the funding stream steadily flowing to defend him, say supporters.

Indeed the mission to save Bradley Manning is a race against time and even more importantly, against a wall of secrecy. And apathy. Antiwar.com reached out via email to Nathan Fuller, writer and editor for the Bradley Manning Support Network, on these pressing issues this week:

Antiwar: I noticed by the figures on the Courage to Resist website that the legal fund needs money. Do you find it hard to keep attention on the proceedings and on Manning? What are you doing to keep the contributions coming in?

Fuller: The military has a bigger legal team, virtually unlimited resources, and no time constraints in prosecuting Bradley Manning. David Coombs, on the other hand, has a small legal team, financed by grassroots donations around the world, and an urgent interest in protecting Bradley’s right to a speedy trial and limiting his jail time. So the military is happy to draw this trial out as long as possible, attempting to drain the defense’s resources and elongate Bradley’s pretrial confinement. Prosecutors know full well that come trial time, media interest in Bradley’s case — and the various ways the military has deprived Manning of his rights — will intensify.

Still, the donations have been inspiring. People from around the world give what they can to provide Bradley the legal counsel of his choosing. We’re currently working on several fundraising projects that we hope will bring us back in the black. We’re coordinating non-hearing related events as well to bring attention to Bradley’s case, such as marking the anniversary of the Afghan War Diary and promoting his Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Please see our fiscal report and then consider donating to Bradley’s defense fund. Every donation helps.

Antiwar: Not everyone is keeping up with the trial today — can you tell me a little bit about what is going on, particularly any major motions, victories or defeats for the defense, and, what we might expect at the July 16th hearing?

Fuller: In the defense’s most recent victory, Judge Lind ordered the prosecution to account for months and months of mishandling its discovery obligations and failing to provide the defense with documents related to alleged harm caused by WikiLeaks’ releases.

This July 16-20 hearing features some defense motions that touch on major issues, which we highlighted in a preview. Bradley’s lawyer David Coombs argues that the prosecution’s “aiding the enemy” charge uses an interpretation that’s more harsh than that used to prosecute suspected terrorists. In another motion, Coombs moves to block the prosecution’s motion to preclude discussion of that damage from these proceedings.

One reason it’s difficult for those interested to keep up with Bradley’s legal proceedings is that the government is conducting much of the trial in secret, refusing to provide transcripts or make basic records public. A broad-based contingent of media outlets is protesting that secrecy.

Antiwar: David Coombs in a statement in early June, acknowledged the breadth of support from the Network — not only through donations to the legal defense fund, but in maintaining a presence at the Fort Meade hearings. How much do you think Manning is aware of the massive movement in his defense, here and throughout the world?

Fuller: Coombs’ statement includes direct word from Bradley himself, expressing gratitude for his steadfast supporters, and Coombs has spoken with supporters during hearing recesses to express how thankful he and Bradley are for how devoted supporters have been.

In a recent Guardian article, Bradley’s aunt said that Manning remains confident in his legal team. So though you’d expect a 24-year-old to wear down after two years in jail, half of that in solitary confinement, without a trial, Bradley is still in good spirits thanks to those who’ve shown their support. I’ve seen him in the courtroom at each pretrial hearing, and Bradley still looks strong and confident despite everything he’s up against.

Antiwar: What do you say to people who think that Bradley Manning broke the law and violated his security clearance by downloading reams of classified and secret government documents, and that he should not expect leniency, no matter how noble his intentions?

Fuller: Soldiers have an official obligation to report wrongdoing. Chat logs reveal Bradley knew things he saw constituted war crimes, corruption, and abuse and that he therefore felt compelled to reveal them to the American public.

Another thing to consider is whether most of these documents should have been classified in the first place. President Obama’s Executive Order 13526 clearly states: “In no case shall information be classified… in order to: conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency… or prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.” Many documents Manning is accused of releasing do not fall under these requirements.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, those who say Bradley Manning broke the law must apply the law evenly. Documents attributed to Pfc. Manning show very clear violations of the law, such as U.S. soldiers’ summary execution of Iraqi civilians, and none of those soldiers have been prosecuted.

Furthermore, commander-in-chief Barack Obama and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey have both broken military law by declaring Bradley Manning guilty before his trial. They’ve illegally prejudiced the trial with undue command influence, yet neither of them will be brought to account.

Antiwar: One of the things that I think trip people up with the Manning case is unlike Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked key evidence that the government had lied to the public about the Vietnam War, Manning allegedly released hundreds of thousands of documents not knowing what was even in most of them. Some say it is harder to call it “whistle-blowing” when many of these individual documents ostensibly served no explicit purpose, unlike, say, The Pentagon Papers. How do you respond?

Fuller: One must remember when comparing the widely praised Pentagon Papers release with Bradley’s alleged release is that the Pentagon Papers were Top Secret and that everything Manning is accused of releasing is either marked Secret or lower.

I’d point you again to the chat logs for the best proof of Bradley’s whistle-blowing intentions. Bradley says he saw “almost criminal back dealings,” how the “Third World is exploited by the first,” and that he hoped the release of this information would provoke “worldwide debate, discussions, and reforms.”

Furthermore, the size of WikiLeaks’ releases shows just how much of America’s wars are conducted in secret. The United States classifies more information than ever before. This graph shows the drastic jump in classified documents in recent years, approaching 80 million documents in a single year. Daniel Ellsberg released 7,000 documents, but the comparison with WikiLeaks’ releases must be proportionate and acknowledge how extensive American secrecy is today.

Antiwar: Thank you so much.

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