Update 12:15 p.m.: Pfc Bradley Manning today was acquitted of aiding the enemy, but was convicted of five counts of espionage and five counts of theft.
Editor’s Note: Pfc Bradley Manning will learn today whether he has been found guilty by a military judge of aiding the enemy. OKC-based citizen journalist Rena Guay attended the Manning trial last month and filed this report that appeared in the July print edition of The Observer.
BY RENA GUAY
Bradley Manning, the Army private being court-martialed at Ft. Meade for giving classified documents to Wikileaks, among other charges, was born in Crescent, OK and lived there most of his life until he was a teenager. Whatever you think of him, if you are from or live in Oklahoma, he is one of us, a native son.
Crescent is a small rural town about 40 miles north of Oklahoma City. It could easily serve as Mayberry if they wanted to remake the Andy Griffith Show. But like that fictional TV town, Crescent may not be as simple a place, nor its people as conforming, as stereotyping would indicate.
Bradley Manning had a difficult childhood there, according to written accounts, but he seems to have developed a strong sense of justice, and a commitment to truth.
His supporters – and I am one of them – consider the Oklahoma native to be a whistleblower who exhibited those “simple” values when he exposed war crimes and diplomatic misdeeds. They think that rather than being charged and tried, he should be thanked and honored.
Unlike Bradley Manning, I’m not an Oklahoma native. But since moving here in 2003, I’ve learned about the state’s radical history and progressive heroes, and found others who, like me, seek to reveal and reinitiate some of that progressive radicalism for our time.
I guess that’s why I have always felt a responsibility to defend Bradley for what I consider a brave and democratic act, and why I felt called to go to Ft. Meade and sit in the courtroom for a few days at the start of Manning’s court-martial on June 3.
And, perhaps more important, I wanted the Bradley Manning support network to know that despite Oklahoma’s current conservative politics, many Oklahomans consider Manning a hero.
So go to Ft. Meade I did. My trip was funded by the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild. I serve as executive director of the former and as secretary of the latter; both are strong supporters of Bradley Manning, and involved with the Bradley Manning Support Network. The Observer provided a press pass.
I arrived in time to attend the June 1 march and rally outside Ft. Meade, along with about 1,000 supporters. Being among so many other Manning supporters was affirming, since our local events had involved only about 20 folks at most [our work has been done primarily through e-mail and social media]. Loud and colorful, the march included contingents from Code Pink, Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Leading the march was a large banner held by some notables in the wider peace and justice activist community, who also have been very vocal about their support for Manning, including Col. Ann Wright, Lt. Dan Choi and Daniel Ellsberg.
At the rally at Ft. Meade’s main gate, Ann Wright began her speech by asking where we had traveled from to be there, and I yelled “Oklahoma” immediately, which she graciously repeated into the microphone. Daniel Ellsberg, who was the featured speaker at the rally, also mentioned that Bradley was from Oklahoma, at which point I whooped loudly, to supportive laughter. My personal mission was accomplished!
Finally, it was time for the court martial to begin. On Monday, June 3, I trekked to Ft. Meade again, to make my way to the courtroom. But instead I got a reminder of military insistence for documentation. I did not have the contract for my rental car, therefore was not able to enter the base.
I would have to wait for the next day to witness the court-martial, but I did follow the news via Twitter that my colleagues were facing a new development in the Army’s strict control of the courtroom. The simple black and white “truth” t-shirts, which had been almost a uniform for supporters during the many pretrial hearings, were now banned! To get in the courtroom, all who had worn them for Day 1 had to turn them inside out – a perfect example of how erratic and nonsensical much of the proceedings seemed.
On Day 2, my paperwork in hand, I got on base. We stood in line to be scanned [no weapons, no electronics] before we could be cleared for the courtroom. The previous day’s t-shirt issue was topic No. 1, but then we learned that Judge Lind had lifted the ban [probably initiated by some hyper base official] and the “truth” shirts could now be proudly worn as we sat in support of Manning and his legal team.
Once in the courtroom, I made my way to a seat in the third row on the defense side. I was about 10 feet directly behind Bradley Manning. It would have been nice to tell him that Oklahoma was “in the house” but of course I didn’t. He appeared very calm, and remained so throughout all my time observing. Under the circumstances, I found that remarkable, and a testament to his inner strength.
Around me in the galley were folks from Mexico, Germany and many other countries where Bradley Manning is far better known and his action more appreciated than in the U.S.
This makes me ask, rhetorically, why aren’t more Americans here? The answer, I’m afraid, might take a book or two.
As at the rally on Saturday, the international media outnumbered U.S. outlets, though during the first week the New York Times – the “newspaper of record” – did deign to send someone.
The media was ensconced at another location on the base where they observed court proceedings through closed circuit TV. Among them were the independent journalists and bloggers, like Alexa O’Brien and Kevin Gosztola, who have been covering the story for years and whose reporting has put their “professional” counterparts to shame.
Being in the live courtroom is dramatic and exciting, and an experience I won’t soon forget, but I found it is not the best way to follow the action. Some of the attorneys are soft-spoken, and the judge seems to be, no disrespect intended, a mumbler.
On the afternoon of my second day [Day 3 of the trial], I moved to the overflow trailer just outside the courtroom, where I got the same feed the media was getting, and then I understood why they would forgo the live action. With the judge’s bench and the podium mic-ed, and a boom over the room, the sound is superb and several cameras give you close-ups of the speakers, as well as the exhibits.
In this article, I can’t begin to address the actual arguments in the case, but I want to suggest some excellent websites where each day of the trial is reviewed, in varying levels of detail. You can find that info on the MLTF website, www.nlgmltf.org/bradley-manning, or by e-mailing me at email@example.com. You will also find a list of books and other resources on the Manning case. And of course, at www.bradleymanning.org there is everything relevant to the support campaign, including how you can contribute to the legal defense.
I’m extremely glad that I made the effort to attend Bradley Manning’s court martial, even for only three days. I became even more committed to organizing support here in Bradley’s home state, where I hope someday his name and contributions to global peace are proudly remembered by all Oklahomans.