I take it as a given that Bradley Manning was one of the sources of the classified material Wikileaks published about our war efforts in Afghanistan and the seamier side of American diplomacy. Hence, the military hearings underway laying bare the association between the two men hardly surprises. The proceedings against Manning are but a prelude to the main event: United States of America v. Julian Assange.
That will likely be the trial of this century.
Manning is a private in the United States Army. He was one of tens of thousands of Americans permitted access to confidential documents. He stands accused of sharing these documents with Assange and Wikileaks. He faces a military court martial, and could conceivably be sentenced to death for aiding the "enemy".
I regard Manning as something of a hero. Moreover, Assange ought not to be tried and accused of crimes in our courts. He ought instead to be the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. Broadcasting the truth about what our government does is not a crime. Transparency is an imperative that the digital era cannot defeat. It is foolish to try.
Time Magazine’s person of the year was simply "The Protestor." It was an apt choice: 2011 saw spontaneous expressions of dissent on the streets of countries as different as Yemen, Russia and the United States. What unites the people of the world now is instant access to information. No government, no institution, owns the truth.
Yes, Manning appears to have disobeyed military orders and laws designed to keep the truth a closely held secret. But these laws are too frequently misapplied. Mountains of paper are deemed classified each year. There is no one, really, who can say with authority what our government is doing to whom in our name. There are just too many firewalls keeping inquiring eyes in the dark. The separation of powers doctrine was supposed to keep government divided against itself so that the people remained fee.
Today the government behaves as if it owns the continent. There are secret prisons, off-the-book operations and agencies that even Congress has difficulty learning about, and now threats of indefinite detention of those deemed enemies by executive decree. The military often looks less like protectors against foreign enemies than it does the security force for the one percent. Manning is a hero for crossing a line. The government’s savage treatment of him – holding him in isolation, depriving him of timely counsel or access to the courts, and now this military tribunal with power of life and death over him is but a prelude to what awaits us all if the government is permitted to grow, like a fungus, each year, forever feeding on secrets it is afraid we will learn.
American troops left Iraq this week. There were no weapons of mass destruction in the country when we invaded. It was a lie sold to the American people to justify a war. How many dead boys served that lie? How many dead and maimed Iraqis bear the stigmata of our lies?
Manning told the truth, and for this our government may well crucify him.
Once the evidence of Manning’s association with the founder of Wikileaks has been laid bare, the United States will move heaven and earth to bring the Australian here for trial under the Espionage Act and other federal statutes designed to protect the veins of deceit that nourish the national security state.
Assange now sits in Britain, on house arrest as the British courts consider whether he should be extradited to Sweden to stand trial for having what amounts to intemperate sex with a couple of Swedish women whose ports were available to many a call. I’ve never been to Sweden, so forgive the stereotype: Is this the same Sweden that celebrates a certain worldly licentiousness? Why is Sweden pimping for Uncle Sam?
If Assange is forced to go to Sweden for trial on these trumped up sex charges, he most likely will be rendered to the United States faster that a border patrol agent can say: "What nice eyes you have." Once he hits our shores, a warrant will await him, and then trial. Lawyers from Assange are monitoring the Manning hearings, gathering information on the storm to come. I envy them the coming fight.
When Clarence Darrow spent years a century ago defending labor leaders against the predations of corporations and the government bought and paid for by those corporations, he stood on the threshold of history. He saw a future in which working men were more than pawns of those who paid their salaries. The McNamara trial in Los Angeles, the trial of Bill Hayword for the murder of Idaho’s governor, the scores of battles against the use of injunctions to prevent working people from organizing, these were heroic struggles that helped define a nation for decades thereafter. Many scorn labor unions today. But few who do would enjoy the affluence they now take for granted without the struggle for decent working conditions and a living wage.
What will this century say as it closes? Will it look back to our time and see a stirring, a quickening of the collective pulse of ordinary people not content to be treated as mere means to the ends of those with wealth, power and prestige? Will dreamers continue to risk all, as Manning has done, to the revolutionary idea that the truth shall set you free?
I am rooting for Assange and he has not yet been charged. I am rooting for Assange because what he represents is new wine in old skins. Far from being over, history begins anew. So put the truth on trial, and let’s fight to make the power of truth greater than the dead hand of government. Dare we occupy the courtroom?