Bradley Manning’s court martial begins

Naomi Spencer

After 1,100 days in prison, Army private Bradley Manning faced a military court martial Monday. Day one of the trial, like the months’ long series of pre-trial hearings before it, was characterized by government secrecy, vindictiveness and lies.

Manning, accused of leaking some 700,000 military and diplomatic files to whistleblower organization WikiLeaks, faces a possible life sentence if convicted on 20 charges, the most serious of which is “aiding the enemy” under the Espionage Act. The Obama administration prosecutors argue that Manning knowingly provided intelligence information to al Qaeda because anyone, including terrorists, could access it on the WikiLeaks web site.

In a statement before military judge Colonel Denise Lind in February, Manning explained that he transmitted the material in order to expose the crimes of the US government and military being carried out in the name of the American people. His aim, he said, was to spark “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.”

Guardian/BBC report lays out US policy of torture, murder in Iraq

Naomi Spencer

An investigative report by the British Guardian and the BBC’s Arabic language service links top US officials to atrocities carried out by Iraqi police forces after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. General David Petraeus and Bush-era Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, among others, worked directly with US officials overseeing death squads, secret prisons, and torture practices in US-occupied Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died and millions were displaced as a result of the chaos that the atrocities produced.

The memos and reports featured in the Guardian /BBC documentary come from the 2010 leak attributed to Army Private Bradley Manning and published by WikiLeaks. The Obama administration has protected the officials linked to the abuse, many of whom remain on the government payroll; David Petraeus was Obama’s CIA director until last November.

The Guardian /BBC report, published as a documentary, focuses on the role of retired Colonel James Steele, who worked with Petraeus and Rumsfeld. A Special Forces veteran of Vietnam, Steele was sent in 1984 to El Salvador, where he trained and directed counterinsurgency operations. As many as 70,000 left-wing opponents of the Salvadoran regime were murdered by government death squads.

In 2004, amid rising armed resistance in Iraq and rising antiwar sentiment in the US, the Bush administration turned to the “Salvador option.” The methods Washington used in the 1980s in Latin America were quickly recycled into assembling Shi’a-majority death squads targeting Sunni Iraqis—who were at the time the heart of the anti-occupation insurgency.

John Negroponte, the head of the US embassy in Honduras in the 1980s, was appointed ambassador. David Petraeus was given command to oversee the creation of a new Iraqi military police force.

Obama on gun control: Expand surveillance and police powers

Naomi Spencer

"[A large amount of] ammunition has been solicited by the DHS. Within the next 4 years, they expect to acquire 200,000 million rounds of .223 rifle bullets. For training snipers, DHS have ordered two types of .308 caliber rounds – blanks and 168 grain hollow point boat tail ammunition. This new purchase adds to the 1.8 billion rounds of ammunition they have solicited for months in preparation for...something." (Susanne Posel)

Flanked by schoolchildren to evoke the December 14 Newtown, Connecticut school shooting, President Barack Obama announced a raft of gun control proposals Wednesday. In addition to legislative proposals for Congress, Obama signed 23 executive orders during a news conference at the White House.

The plan, drawn up by a task force headed by Vice President Joseph Biden, includes the expansion of FBI databases to include background checks on all individuals seeking to purchase a gun and a ban on military-style assault weapons.

Since the tragic tragic mass shooting by 20-year old Adam Lanza, including the killing of 20 children, nothing has been said in the political establishment and mass media about the underlying causes of such actions: social dislocation, inequality and above all the militarization of American society.

On the contrary, the new gun control measures are primarily aimed at expanding the powers of the state over an increasingly polarized and unstable society.

Bradley Manning: I just thought I was going to die in that cage

Naomi Spencer

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is heavily guarded as he is led
out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md.
(Photo: © N/A)

Private Bradley Manning took the stand Thursday at an Army pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, to speak on his lengthy pre-trial detention. It is the first public statement from the accused whistleblower in over two years.

The 24-year-old private, accused of the largest leak of government and military documents in history, has been imprisoned without conviction for 917 days.

“I was in a pretty stressed situation,’ Manning told the court, describing the days after his May 2010 arrest. He was kept for weeks in a “segregation tent” at Camp Arifjan, an Army installation in Kuwait. “I had no idea what was going on with anything. I was getting very little information,” he said.

As his isolation deepened, Manning said, “I began to really deteriorate. I was anxious all the time about not knowing anything, days blend into night, night into days. Everything became more insular.” He said he was filled with thoughts of death in his confinement: “My world just shrunk to Camp Arifjan, to that cage,” Manning testified. “I just thought I was going to die in that cage. And that’s how I saw it—an animal cage.”

Conditions were appalling. At one point, Manning fainted from the heat and dehydration. Guards prevented any interactions with other detainees, refusing to take him out of his cell, and denied him access to a phone to call his family. “I didn’t have a good understanding of the reasons,” Manning said. “Someone tried to explain to me but I was a mess. I was starting to fall apart.”

Several times a day, guards did a “shakedown” of his cell, ripping apart everything. Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, asked him if he had any memory of a breakdown he suffered on June 30, 2010, which Coombs described as “screaming, babbling, banging his head against the cell.” Manning stated, “I knew I had just fallen apart, everything is foggy and hazy at that point.”

Bradley Manning hearing focuses on unlawful pre-trial punishment

Naomi Spencer

The Army’s pre-trial hearing resumed Tuesday against Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old private who is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military and government documents to the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks.

Manning is expected to speak this week about his nine-month confinement at the Quantico, Virginia Marine Corps prison. There he was held in isolation in a 6-by-8-foot cell more than 23-and-a-half hours a day. He was made to stay awake from 5 in the morning until 10 at night with nothing to do, forbidden even to exercise. Guards ordered him to strip naked and stand in humiliating positions in their presence. He was denied such basic items as eye glasses and bedding.

Manning’s testimony will be the first public comment by the former intelligence analyst in more than two years.

The pre-trial proceeding, known as an Article 32 hearing, is scheduled to run through Sunday, December 2 at Fort Meade, Maryland. It is the last in a long series of hearings before a full court-martial trial scheduled for February 4. Manning elected to be tried by a military judge, rather than by a jury.

Manning faces possible life imprisonment if he is convicted of “aiding the enemy” under the Espionage Act. He faces 22 separate charges for allegedly accessing classified information while stationed in Baghdad in 2009-2010.

Many of the files Manning is accused of leaking document war crimes by the US military, most notably a video published by WikiLeaks under the title “Collateral Murder” that captures a 2007 US helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians that left 12 dead, including children and two Reuters journalists. The military had characterized all of the dead as “enemies killed in action.” Other documents from Iraq showed tens of thousands of previously unreported civilian deaths and a formal military policy of covering up torture, rape and murder.

Tuesday’s proceedings focused on the testimony of commanders at Quantico. Wednesday will center on the testimony of behavioral health specialists at the brig.

No prison time for Marine charged in Haditha massacre

Naomi Spencer

As part of a plea deal, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, leader of a Marine squad responsible for the 2005 slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians, will spend no time in a military prison. Wuterich, 31, pleaded guilty on January 23 to a single charge of negligent dereliction of duty for his role in the massacre in Haditha and its subsequent cover-up.

The Marine faced a sentencing hearing Tuesday at Camp Pendleton, California. Previously indicted on unpremeditated murder charges in 19 of the 24 civilian deaths, counts carrying a maximum sentence of 152 years in prison, Wuterich was allowed to walk free. He still faces possible reduction in pay and rank. During proceedings Monday, the court did not discuss a discharge for Wuterich, who has remained on active duty since the massacre.

The Haditha case was the longest running criminal prosecution against military personnel involved in the Iraq War and Wuterich was the last man among the original eight facing charges in the case. Six other Marines had charges dismissed, and one Marine was acquitted.

The plea agreement of Wuterich brings the three-and-a-half-week long court martial to a close, thereby suppressing more details about the killings, one of the worst atrocities committed by US soldiers against civilians since the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

As in other atrocity cases related to the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan—among them the Abu Ghraib torture case, the Blackwater killings of Baghdad’s Nisour Square, the Afghan “kill team,” and others—the outcome of the Haditha killings absolves higher level military and government figures of any responsibility for the consequences of policies that low-ranking military personnel carry out. Like the massacre itself, the outcome of the case underscores the criminal character of the wars and the political establishment behind them.

Wuterich pleaded guilty to the minor charge of negligent dereliction of duty for ordering the squad to “shoot first and ask questions later” on the night of November 19, 2005. Although the rampage began after a convoy in which the Marines were traveling was struck by a roadside bomb, testimony of the men make clear that Wuterich and others were knowingly slaughtering innocent bystanders with no provocation.

The Outlook for the New Year

Paul Craig Roberts

Americans seem to welcome the era of tyranny into which they are now entering.

This past year has not been a good one for the 99%, and the new year is likely to be even worse. This column deals with the outlook for liberty. The next will deal with the economic outlook.

The outlook for liberty is dismal. Those writers who are critical of Washington’s illegal wars and overthrow of the US Constitution could find themselves in indefinite detainment, because criticism of Washington’s policies can be alleged to be aiding Washington’s enemies, which might include charities that provide aid to bombed Palestinian children and flotillas that attempt to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.

The Bush/Obama regimes have put the foundation in place for imprisoning critics of the government without due process of law. The First Amendment is being all but restricted to rah-rah Americans who chant USA! USA! USA! Washington has set itself up as world prosecutor, forever berating other countries for human rights violations, while Washington alone bombs half a dozen countries into the stone age and threatens several more with the same treatment, all the while violating US statutory law and the Geneva Conventions by torturing detainees.

Washington rounds up assorted foreign politicians, whose countries were afflicted with civil wars, and sends them off to be tried as war criminals, while its own war crimes continue to mount. However, if a person exposes Washington’s war crimes, that person is held without charges in conditions that approximate torture.

Manning prosecution lays basis for terror charge against WikiLeaks founder Assange

Naomi Spencer

In pre-trial proceedings against Army Private Bradley Manning at Fort Meade, Maryland this week, the Army’s lead prosecutor presented evidence purportedly linking Manning directly to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and alleged that by publishing documents leaked by Manning, WikiLeaks and Assange had aided terrorists, including Al Qaeda.

The proceedings concluded Thursday after less than a week of hearings. Manning is charged with leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including evidence of US war crimes, to WikiLeaks.

The closing arguments of Captain Ashden Fein make clear that the United States government is seeking to use its prosecution of Manning, a 24-year-old soldier and former intelligence analyst, to lay the basis for extraditing Assange to the US and either prosecuting him as a terrorist or locking him away indefinitely in a military prison without any recourse to the courts or due process.

The attempt of the prosecution in the Manning case to make an amalgam between Manning, Assange and Al Qaeda is particularly ominous given the passage last week of the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes authorization for the US president to order the indefinite military detention without trial of anyone, citizen or non-citizen, whom the president names as a terrorist.

Assange is currently in Britain, appealing to Britain’s Supreme Court an extradition order to Sweden on the basis of trumped-up sex charges. If extradited to Sweden, Assange will likely face extradition to the US.

Accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning held in solitary confinement

Naomi Spencer

Army Private Bradley Manning, accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has been held in solitary confinement by the military for more than seven months.

Manning, who has not been convicted of a crime, has been imprisoned since May at the Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. Prior to that the 22-year-old intelligence specialist was held in a military prison in Kuwait, where he was also kept in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is widely acknowledged to be a form of torture. Severe isolation leads to psychological trauma, despair and mental illness. While routinely employed in the US prison system, the treatment is banned as a cruel and unusual punishment in many countries.

By all indications, the Obama administration and the military are subjecting Manning to this treatment in the hope that, after being incapacitated and made pliant, he will accept a plea deal in exchange for implicating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange so that the US can prosecute the latter on conspiracy charges.

On Friday, the British Independent reported that the US Justice Department has offered Manning a plea bargain, which would involve him being transferred to civilian custody, in return for him naming Assange as an active collaborator in obtaining the leaked files.

Manning was detained after WikiLeaks released the “Collateral Murder” video last April. The video contains footage shot by a US attack helicopter of a massacre of civilians and journalists carried out in Baghdad in 2007. The Army private is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents and other material that show the massive scale of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, expose corruption and lies, and document war crimes.

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