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Manning Supporters Are Loud and Online

12/06/2013 na edição 750

Call it Pfc. Bradley Manning Inc.

As the widely anticipated trial of Private Manning — the former Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking classified government documents — opened at a military base in Maryland on Monday, a grass-roots activist network has already blossomed in his support.

The Bradley Manning Support Network has a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Web site with a correspondent who has covered all the legal proceedings at Fort Meade, Md., where the court-martial is begin held.

Many on the political left have embraced Private Manning as a whistle-blower and a hero since his arrest three years ago. Supporters include Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

More than 20,000 supporters have raised $1.25 million for his defense, according to the group’s Web site. Dozens of them, holding placards defending Private Manning, stood in the rain at Fort Meade’s main entrance on Monday.

A crowd of several hundred people had turned out two days earlier, on a sizzling Saturday afternoon, many of them just off chartered buses the came from as far away as Connecticut and upstate New York, to march in front of the base, which is also home to the National Security Agency.

Protesters on Saturday carried signs, some reading “Free Bradley” and “Bradley Manning: Jailed for Exposing War Crimes.” One woman pounded a kettle drum and joined a chant, “Obama, let Bradley go!”

“People came from great distances to stand with a true American hero,” Jeff Paterson, director of the Bradley Manning Support Network, said on the organization’s Web site.

On Sunday, Mr. Ellsberg joined a panel discussion in Washington about how Private Manning’s trial and his transfer of hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic and military documents to WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy group, had affected press freedoms. The relationship between the news media and government has become a hot topic over the government’s tactics in leak investigations, including secretly obtaining phone logs for reporters at The Associated Press and Fox News.

Private Manning’s treatment by his former jailers at the Marine base in Quantico, Va. — he was kept in isolation and stripped of his clothing at night as part of suicide-prevention measures —- led to international protests.

Private Manning’s supporters are fusing 1960s-era antiwar feelings with social media to raise money, champion his cause and organize protests. They are holding three dozen protests around the world this week as his court-martial gets under way.

Over the next several days, rallies are scheduled in Australia, Canada, Germany, Britain, Italy and South Korea, as well as in about two dozen American cities, including Phoenix; Los Angeles; Hartford; Tampa, Fla.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Honolulu, according to the group’s Web site.

Some security experts say such an outpouring is rare for a criminal defendant.

“If you think of previous Espionage Act cases, it is quite uncommon for a defendant to have a community of support,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist with the Federation of American Scientists.

“When Aldrich Ames was put on trial, there was no one outside the court chanting ‘Free Aldrich,’ ” said Mr. Aftergood, referring to the C.I.A. officer who sold the agency’s secrets to the Soviet Union three decades ago. “He was viewed unambiguously as a bad guy.”

It is unclear whether the vocal support will help Private Manning at trial.

“There’s at least a possibility that the insistence of viewing Manning as a hero could end up hardening the position of prosecutors determined to refute that view,” Mr. Aftergood said. “It further polarizes an already divided perception of the case.”

 

 

***

What Is in Bradley Manning’s Leaks, Anyway?

Por Chase Madar [The Nation, 6/6/13]

Courtroom action is adjourned until next Monday, June 10, giving us a chance to pause and take a good look at what this court-martial is really all about: the leaks themselves. Too often, the content of the leaks—thousands of stories of individual lives destroyed or damaged by war—gets subsumed in the drama surrounding the leaks—Manning, Assange, Wikileaks and their travails. Michael Arria at Vice Motherboard has an excellent analysis of this tendency to overlook the leaks’ content, including a good brisk run-down of some of the major leaks, lest we forget.

In Slate, Ryan Gallagher efficiently lists ten significant revelations in Slate while Alex Kane in Mondoweiss focuses on what Manning’s documents have taught us about Washington’s relations with Israel and Palestine. The Nation has run excellent analyses of the leaks about US policy towards Haiti—how the State Department, for example, lobbied on behalf of garment-making corporations to keep the minimum wage down in Haiti, poorest country in the Americas. Corporate influence on US foreign policy will not surprise anyone, but it is richly instructive to read primary sources on how, for instance, Big Pharma gets the US State Department to eagerly do its bidding. (Ask yourself: does anyone in your extended family benefit when Washington tries to export our godawful intellectual property regime for meds to other countries? Didn’t think so.)

Many journalists, authors and advocates have made thrilling use of the material Manning declassified. I’m thinking of the splendid new book Useful Enemies by David Keen, all about the counterintuitive dynamics of modern warfare. Or Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s controversial (and I think, quite excellent) new book, Going to Tehran, which finds much dreary evidence in the leaks that the Obama administration never made any good faith effort to open diplomatic relations with Iran. And the leaks have fueled the first-rate reporting of Jeremy Scahill, The Nation’s own national security correspondent and author of the new hit Dirty Wars (the film of which opens this weekend in New York):

“It would be impossible to quantify the significance of Wikileaks not just to my or your work but to the world’s understanding of US covert and overt operations. It was the most significant document dump in modern history. It altered history. It was like an earthquake. It was the most real confrontation of American empire certainly since the Pentagon Papers but it may prove to be more significant. The idea that you had a democratisation of classified documents and access to them, you can go in and search any country and figure out what the US relationship is with various political forces or factions. I dug deep into the relationship between the US and Somalian warlords. I found individuals who were on the CIA payroll because of Wikileaks and went and found them and got them on record. I would never have known that these people even existed but for Wikileaks.”

In the course of my researching my book on Pfc Manning, the most moving tribute I heard, bot to the leaks and the young man behind them came from Haitian-American community activist Tony Jean-Thenor, who told me that the leaks are of immense value to everyone in the Haitian diaspora and homeland. “Bradley Manning will be alive for generations and praised for what he did to help, not only Haitians but oppressed people all over the world.”

Reading this leaked material is not a privilege, and it’s more than a right: it is an obligation, the duty of any American with access to an internet signal and a browser. If we ever want a foreign policy that serves the interests of the 99 percent, step one is to put on a pot of coffee or crack open a beer and read up on your Wikileaks!

 

 

***

Manning trial has cloak-and-dagger feel

Por David Dishneau e Eric Tucker [Salon, 5/6/13]

Pfc. Bradley Manning’s court-martial over the leak of hundreds of thousands of classified documents has been all about secrecy and security, and his trial has taken on a cloak and dagger feel, too.

Large parts of the proceedings are expected to be closed to the public. Many documents have been withheld or heavily redacted. Photographers were blocked from getting a good shot of the soldier and even some of Manning’s supporters had to turn their T-shirts inside out.

Military law experts say some of it is common for a court-martial, while other restrictions appear tailored to the extraordinary nature of the case, which has garnered an outpouring of support from whistleblowers, activists and others around the world.

“I think the judge is very concerned about not turning this trial into a theater, into a spectacle,” said David J.R. Frakt, a military law expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a former military prosecutor and defense lawyer. “I cannot remember a situation where there was such a high degree of civilian interest, people not affiliated with the military, having intense and passionate interest in the outcome of the case.”

Manning is charged under federal espionage and computer fraud laws, but the most serious offense the military has accused him of is aiding the enemy, which carries a life sentence. His supporters call him a hero; opponents say he is a traitor for leaking the material the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

A female soldier who was punched in the face by Manning was expected to be the next witness Wednesday. Jihrleah Showman was one of Manning’s supervisors while he was an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010. She testified at an earlier hearing that he punched her during one of several violent outbursts that she witnessed while serving in his unit both before and after their deployment.

The trial for the soldier from Crescent, Okla., began Monday under a barrage of heavy restrictions.

Manning supporters wearing “truth” T-shirts had to turn them inside out before entering the courtroom. The shirts were made by the Bradley Manning Support Network in early 2012 as an alternative to “Free Bradley Manning” T-shirts banned from early pretrial hearings, spokesman Nathan Fuller said.

The military allowed the shirts Tuesday. Army spokeswoman Col. Michelle Roberts said the earlier decision made “out of a concern for public safety and to remove a potential cause for disturbance among members of the public.” She said leaders assessed the situation and decided they were OK.

Since the case began, reporters covering hearings have been asked to sign a document saying they would withhold the names of spokespeople on-site because the military said some people directly involved in the case had received death threats. The Associated Press signed the document to be allowed to cover the trial, but the news organization is protesting it.

Photographers looking to snap pictures of Manning on Monday missed the soldier leaving the courtroom because he was blocked by military police. On Tuesday, Manning was not surrounded.

The military also relaxed rules Tuesday about interviewing spectators outside the courtroom.

Courts-martial don’t have a roadmap for guaranteeing public access like civilian courts, military law experts said.

The security in the Manning case appears determined to minimize distractions and maintain law-and-order — even if that means throwing up roadblocks to a public accustomed to transparency, experts said.

“I don’t think it’s good to turn the environs into an armed camp unless it is literally unavoidable,” said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School. “People do occasionally act out in courtrooms, both spectators or witnesses or the accused, but I’m sure that the Army knows how to maintain order, and I’m not sure that it’s necessary to do it with as heavy a hand as seems to be implied here.”

Manning, 25, has admitted turning over hundreds of thousands of classified documents. His lawyer has called him a “young, naive but good-intentioned” soldier, but prosecutors say he put secrets directly into the hands of Osama bin Laden.

His trial, which is being heard by a judge instead of a jury, is expected to run all summer. Parts of it are expected to be closed.

At a pretrial hearing in April, the military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, released written copies of two rulings to reporters. It was the first time since she got the case in February 2012 that she had made her written orders publicly available on a same-day basis.

The lack of public access to rulings and motions is being challenged in federal court by the Center for Constitutional Rights, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and a handful of journalists. Thirty news organizations, including the AP, plan to file a brief this week supporting the case.

In February, the military began releasing Lind’s older rulings amid numerous Freedom of Information Act requests.

The court considers some documents so sensitive that they are stored off-site at locations in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia. They will remain there, and even any appellate judges would have to travel to locations such as the Central Intelligence Agency to read them.

Philip Cave, a retired Navy judge advocate general, said it’s not uncommon for portions of military trials to be kept away from the public.

“Does that automatically mean that there’s a lack of transparency or that there’s kind of hiding the ball going on? I don’t think you can argue that,” said Cave, who is now a military defense lawyer. “Then again,” he added, “I don’t necessarily believe my government. I do think they over-classify things.”

The military released about 550 documents Tuesday, including a photo of a noose Manning made from a bedsheet while he was being detained in Kuwait shortly after his arrest in May 2010.

The noose was presented as evidence at a hearing in December regarding Manning’s confinement at a Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., to show why jailers there considered him a suicide threat.

For nine months, Manning was held alone in a windowless cell 23 hours a day, sometimes with no clothing. Lind later ruled Manning had been illegally punished and should get 112 days off any prison sentence he receives.

Army spokesman George Wright said there was “no specific trigger” for the release of documents, but the military had been working to process as many records as possible.

 

 

***

Bradley Manning’s day in court arrives, but focus is on spymasters

Por Richard McGregor e Geoff Dyer [Financial Times, 7/6/13]

The slight, pallid figure of Bradley Manning was barely visible in a hearing room filled with uniformed military lawyers, brisk government officials and a gaggle of his supporters as his court martial opened this week.

His trial, too, at Fort Meade, a sprawling defence base housing the US Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, the electronic eavesdropping body, north of Washington, is taking place largely off the radar.

Manning has already pleaded guilty to divulging a trove of 700,000-odd classified documents, and videos, to WikiLeaks, which founder Julian Assange’s organisation later gave to the media, and published online.

He now faces an additional, much more serious set of charges, including aiding the enemy and endangering national security, which would deliver him life in prison if found guilty.

Three years after his arrest in Iraq, where he was stationed as a military intelligence analyst, his trial for the biggest leak of classified documents in US history is already setting precedents for the severity of the state’s response.

But uncomfortably for the White House, Manning’s day in court has arrived with an explosion of controversy over the administration’s pursuit of leakers and the secret data mining programmes of US intelligence agencies.

An outspoken critic of George W Bush’s “war on terror” as a candidate, Mr Obama has retained and even extended the national security state he inherited, and in the case of leakers, taken an even harder line.

The problems of balancing a free press with keeping secrets is bedevilling the Manning trial, with prosecutors estimating about 30 per cent of proceedings will be shut, to protect classified evidence and the identity of witnesses.

Only a handful of journalists are allowed into the courtroom itself, after passing with an escort through two sets of sniffer dogs, with most of the press following the hearing from a small lecture hall some distance away.

The military refused to provide transcripts for the trial’s proceedings, prompting the private Freedom of the Press Foundation to raise money to hire stenographers and make their work publicly available.

A band of the army private’s backers, the Bradley Manning Support Network, wearing T-shirts embossed with the word “Truth”, gather at the court each day with the grim camaraderie of people bedding down for a long journey.

Jeff Paterson, a convener of the group, said the proceedings, which the judge says will run for about three months, were unnecessary, because of the earlier guilty plea. “But the military does not agree that would be sufficient,” he said.

Prosecutors have tried to paint Manning in early evidence as someone who plotted from the start to download secret data to leak it, to buttress the charge of endangering national security.

The defence has parried by focusing on Manning’s competence, and how anyone in his unit was able to surf the network of classified information, known as SIPRNET, they used for their work.

Asked if there was any limitation on what an analyst could download from SIPRNET and put on a CD, Kyle Balonek, a warrant officer and one of Manning’s supervisors, replied: “Only the size of the CD, sir.”

Army Specialist Jihrleah Showman, another supervisor, testified that Manning spoke often about politics, his enjoyment of “martini parties” in Washington, mixing with the top brass and his skills with computers.

“He indicated to me that the passwords [of defence portals in SIPRNET] were not complicated and he can always get through them,” she said.

A number of officers testified about Manning’s skill as an analyst. “I’ve seen a lot of organised soldiers, but not that level of detail to the type of information that he had in [his] folders,” said Hondo Hack, chief warrant officer.

While the military believes Mr Manning should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law given the sheer scope of the leak, civil liberties groups believe that the trial could set a damaging precedent for freedom of speech.

In order to make its case that Mr Manning “aided the enemy”, the prosecution has sought to demonstrate that Osama bin Laden was interested in some of the information that was leaked. However, some lawyers believe that this could potentially criminalise the publication of any information that could be damaging to the US.

 

 

***

Silencing the Whistle-Blowers

Por Eyal Press [The New York Times, 28/5/13]

LAST week Pfc. Bradley Manning returned to court for his final pretrial hearing in the WikiLeaks case, an appearance that has renewed debate about how to balance the imperatives of national security against the rights of whistle-blowers.

But while Private Manning’s ordeal has received exhaustive news coverage, it may ultimately have a less profound bearing on this tension than a barely noticed memo quietly released by the Obama administration earlier this year.

Issued on Jan. 25, the memo instructs the director of national intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management to establish standards that would give federal agencies the power to fire employees, without appeal, deemed ineligible to hold “noncritical sensitive” jobs. It means giving them immense power to bypass civil service law, which is the foundation for all whistle-blower rights.

The administration claims that the order will simply enable these agencies to determine which jobs qualify as “sensitive.” But the proposed rules are exceptionally vague, defining such jobs as any that could have “a material adverse impact” on national security — including police, customs and immigration positions.

If the new rules are put in place, national security could soon be invoked to deny civil servants like Franz Gayl the right to defend themselves when subjected to retaliation. Back in 2010, Mr. Gayl was accused of engaging in a pattern of “intentional misconduct” and suspended from his job. A Marine Corps adviser who had been deployed to Iraq in 2006, Mr. Gayl claimed he was being punished for publicly disclosing that Pentagon bureaucrats had ignored battlefield requests for mine-resistant armored vehicles, at a time when roadside bombs were killing and maiming soldiers.

Like many whistle-blowers, Mr. Gayl appealed to the Merit System Protections Board, an independent, quasi-judicial agency created in 1978 to safeguard the rights of civil servants, which ordered him to be reinstated.

Mr. Gayle isn’t alone. In the past decade, whistle-blowers have exposed everything from the Bush administration’s efforts to censor reports on climate change to the Food and Drug Administration’s failure to stop the sale of unsafe drugs like Vioxx.

Almost invariably, those who have spoken out have faced harsh reprisals, a problem addressed by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, a landmark bill passed by Congress last year that provides compensatory damages to whistle-blowers who win their cases after an administrative hearing. President Obama signed the law; he also issued a directive calling for new whistle-blower protections for employees in the intelligence community.

How valuable will the president’s steps be if, in the future, government agencies can simply dismiss insubordinate workers by declaring them unsuitable for an amorphous pool of “sensitive” jobs without having their decisions independently reviewed?

It’s not just whistle-blowers who would be affected. To understand the potential scope of the Jan. 25 memo, consider the case of Berry v. Conyers, involving two low-level Defense Department employees — one an accounting technician, the other a commissary stocker — who were suspended and demoted after their jobs were declared “noncritical sensitive.” The Jan. 25 memo was issued one day after a federal appeals court announced that it would review an earlier decision that went against the employees.

Whistle-blower advocacy groups immediately called foul, saying the memo would effectively eliminate the enforcement of all civil service rights.

In response, the Justice Department inserted a sentence into its brief in the case, noting that the defendants were not whistle-blowers, and that it was not seeking to undermine the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. But the brief did not explain what rights whistle-blowers in “sensitive” jobs would have if an agency targeted them in the future.

The Obama era has been a strange time for whistle-blowers. Agencies with investigative powers have become more responsive to tips from whistle-blowers. Important new laws have been enacted.

Yet during Mr. Obama’s first term, a record number of national security officials were prosecuted for allegedly leaking classified information to the press, a zeal that continues today, with aggressive tactics employed to locate officials who leaked information to Fox News and The Associated Press.

The administration apparently strongly supports whistle-blower rights — except when that support collides with its desire to appease the national security establishment.

It is surely too late for Mr. Obama to convince anyone that he intends to run the most open and transparent administration in history, as he promised to do at the outset of his first term. But it is not too late for him to issue a public statement, or another memo, affirming his refusal to undermine the landmark protections for federal workers he signed into law last year.

Eyal Press is the author, most recently, of “Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times.”

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