The ongoing persecution of WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning

Kim Doyle – 9 Feb. 2012

The ongoing persecution of WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning The fallout from the largest leak of government secrets in US history continues. While ordinary people were outraged by the litany of abuses and atrocities documented by WikiLeaks, the governments that committed these crimes continue to add to the list, persecuting those that reveal their vile dealings.

Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old solider turned whistleblower, faced a pre-trial hearing in December at Fort Meade, Maryland, to determine whether he will be court martialled for his role in the historic leaks.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange awaits the outcome of his extradition appeal to the British Supreme Court, and the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks continues to suffer under a financial blockade.

The pre-trial hearing was the first time Manning has appeared in public since his arrest in May 2011. Despite being imprisoned for 10 months, this is the first time he has seen the inside of a courtroom.

The hearing, much of it conducted in secret, has found “damning” evidence that Manning may have been motivated by political conscience – which is more than can be said for the prosecution. A file on a computer used by Manning and allegedly sent to WikiLeaks stated: “This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time. Removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetrical warfare.”

Manning faces 23 counts, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, for allegedly providing WikiLeaks with more than 250,000 classified documents, diplomatic cables and videos. The most serious charge is “aiding the enemy”, which will most likely carry a sentence of life imprisonment.

It is important to remember the nature of Manning’s crime. He is accused of releasing the notorious “Collateral Murder” video which shows US troops in an Apache helicopter indiscriminately firing on unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007. A dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, were killed.

The murder of foreign civilians rarely considered a crime by the US establishment; neither are the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. The crime that earned Manning 10 tortuous months of solitary confinement at Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, was telling the world the truth.

On the same day that Manning’s pre-trial hearing commenced, the British Supreme Court announced it would hear Julian Assange’s extradition appeal. The two-day sitting on February 1 and 2 was to decide whether a prosecutor had sufficient authority to order Assange’s extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of sexual assault, although he has not been charged. It will most likely be several weeks before a verdict is delivered. If extradited he risks being “temporarily surrendered” to the US, where he could face imprisonment under Guantanamo-style conditions or worse.

The US state has not only persecuted Manning and Assange, but attacked the very existence of WikiLeaks – cutting funding, shutting down servers and persecuting its members.

WikiLeaks was forced to suspend its activities last October due to the financial blockade of donations that has been in place since 7 December 2010. The blockade has been imposed by Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union who have used their economic power to choke the site, destroying 95 percent of revenue and costing the site tens of millions of dollars. The blockade came into force within ten days of the launch of “Cablegate”, the US diplomatic cable leaks, as part of an orchestrated political assault that included senior right wing US politicians and media pundits publicly calling for the assassination of WikiLeaks staff.

In December, even before a verdict or extradition to Sweden, the Australian government indicated that it is unlikely to interfere should the US extradite Assange, an Australian citizen, from Sweden: “Australia would not expect to be a party to any extradition discussions that may take place”, said then Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

Department of Foreign Affairs documents confirm that on December 7 last year, the Australian embassy in Washington verified that the US Justice Department was performing an “active and vigorous inquiry into whether Julian Assange can be charged under US law, most likely the 1917 Espionage Act”.

The grand jury inquiry, rumoured to be taking place in Virginia, has been conducted in secret without any rights of access by Assange or his lawyers.

Many fear that the purpose of this inquiry is to prosecute Assange for “conspiracy to commit espionage” based on the hypothetical allegation that he “coached” Manning to leak documents.

This has also been a focus of Manning’s pre-trial hearing. Assange and WikiLeaks were represented at the hearing by a lawyer for the Centre for Constitutional Rights, who was denied full access despite the Centre’s argument that “the proceedings are clearly closely linked to a grand jury in Virginia reported to be issuing subpoenas for information on our clients”.

Manning’s own defence team confirmed that he is being pressured to implicate Assange in the US Justice Department inquiry.

The injustice of the system is obscene. The whole power of the state has been brought to bear on WikiLeaks. Julian Assange has been pursued across international borders via Interpol, extradition orders, arrest warrants and subpoenas – every legal manoeuvre the global establishment can throw at him. Lawyers defending Manning and WikiLeaks are lucky to be allowed access to the proceedings. This is very much their game; the State can invent and ignore laws where it pleases.

But history remembers whistleblowers more kindly than the administrations that persecuted them.

Daniel Ellsberg, the former pentagon analyst who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, has called Manning a hero: “I think Bradley Manning, if he is found to have been the source of this, will deserve our thanks and certainly has my admiration.”

The persecution of WikiLeaks has divided those who have an interest in the establishment and those who do not. While the governments and corporations that persecute WikiLeaks have found allies in right wing ideologues and the legal system, supporters of WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning have been found in the Occupy movement and grassroots defence campaigns around the world.

Occupy protesters and supporters of Manning have made common cause:

The Bradley Manning Support Network stands in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement… We share a common commitment to exposing the corruption of corporate power upon our democratic system.

On the second day of Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing Occupy protesters from Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and other cities rallied in their hundreds at Fort Meade to show support for Manning.

Ordinary people around the world, including in Australia, have demonstrated they have no interest in their governments’ dirty dealings and marched in support of WikiLeaks, just as they had previously marched against the Iraq war.

If WikiLeaks published pro-war propaganda like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation does, it would not be undergoing an economic blockade. If WikiLeaks, rather than revealing the dirty secrets of our governments for free, published the intimate details of ordinary people and crime victims for money – like Murdoch’s News Corporation did in the phone-hacking scandal – Julian Assange would simply be slapped on the wrist.

But Murdoch is one of the largest capitalists in the world and his papers champion just about every reactionary cause you could poke a stick at.

WikiLeaks exposes the farce of hypocrisy and injustice that parades as democracy under capitalism. There are two sets of laws, one for the rich and powerful who profit from the atrocities exposed by WikiLeaks and another for the rest of us who have no interest in war.

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