Editor’s Note: Guest contributor Kevin Young was in attendance at a rally a few weeks ago outside Quantico, the military base where Bradley Manning is being detained and, allegedly, mistreated. His account, as well as his photographs from the rally, are below. This is usually where a news organization says the views and opinions of the contributor are his own and do not reflect the views and opinions of the publication…but not this time.
Bradley Manning is the 23-year-old Army Private accused of leaking many of the US military and diplomatic documents released through the organization Wikileaks. Starting in April 2010, Wikileaks has released hundreds of thousands of files providing irrefutable evidence of US torture, civilian killings, and contempt for democracy around the world.
Although no court has convicted Manning of a crime, the Obama administration has held him in solitary confinement for the past ten months. On March 2, the Army brought 22 additional charges against Manning, including “aiding the enemy.” He is now confined to a cold, tiny cell in a military prison in Quantico, Virginia, where in recent weeks he has been forced to strip naked every night. Psychologists for Social Responsibility have criticized Manning’s treatment as “needless brutality,” and human rights organizations like Amnesty International have condemned it repeatedly. The UN Rapporteur on Torture is currently looking into Manning’s treatment.
The brutal treatment of Manning is appalling, but is hardly surprising given the government tradition of repressing dissent. Although US citizens enjoy civil liberties not present in many other countries, the US government has never willingly tolerated serious threats to state secrecy and impunity. Interestingly, many politicians and pundits have been calling for Manning’s prosecution under the Espionage Act—the draconian 1917 law that criminalized criticism of the First World War, and which remains in effect today.
Dissent is especially dangerous when it takes the form of whistleblowing—insiders defying orders and exposing evidence of their institutions‘ crimes. And disobedience within the military is a particularly serious threat. Military regulations are designed to scare soldiers into robotic obedience of orders. But a disobedient soldier can undermine the ethic of unquestioning obedience that is central to the system.
On Sunday, March 20th, hundreds of protesters demonstrated in support of Bradley Manning outside the Quantico, VA, prison where he is being confined. Former US soldiers from Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and March Forward led the demonstration, with a group delivering flowers in honor of Manning to the prison entrance. The protesters then pushed back a long line of heavily-armed police and sat down in the middle of the highway intersection adjacent to the gate. The police eventually arrested about three dozen people for peacefully occupying the highway.
When people like Bradley Manning risk their careers, reputations, and personal safety for the sake of justice, the rest of us have a moral duty to show solidarity with them. But solidarity is not just a thankless obligation—it can have a very powerful impact, strengthening the morale of the persecuted rebel and thereby encouraging others to follow suit. David House, a friend of Bradley’s who has been among the few visitors allowed to see him, told me during the rally about the miserable conditions in which his friend is being held. “But when I tell him how so many people on the outside are supporting him, his eyes light up,” he said. “It means more to him than anything in the world.” Solidarity is a powerful thing.