Chelsea Manning locked down again


Chelsea Manning outside “A Night for Freedom” in New York City 2018 PHOTO/Wikipedia

(Chelsea Manning was released in released in may 2019 after 62 days. Ed.)

In the USA of 2019, truth itself has become a radical act, and to be motivated by belief, instead of profit and corporate power is, to say the least, rare. Chelsea Elizabeth Manning is indeed one of those rare examples of a 21st century truth teller who has been jailed once again–having already served seven years in Leavenworth, two years in solitary– for standing up for what she believes. That Manning, who transitioned into womanhood behind bars, was taken into custody and locked down again on International women’s Day, is almost overwhelming.

“In solidarity with many activists facing the odds,” Manning told the Court, in her public refusal to appear before the grand jury investigating Wikileaks,  “I will stand by my principles. I will exhaust every legal remedy available.  My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.”

In 2013, Manning made available  thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks that revealed the abject brutality of the policies that US military commanders were using in order to pacify the Iraqi population. Among the most damning was top secret video footage that came to be known as “Collateral Murder”, which revealed a US helicopter gunship getting the go ahead to gun down innocents, including a couple of journalistS from Reuters.  

Manning was found guilty of espionage and in August 2013,  sentenced to 35 years in Fort Leavenworth. On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s remaining sentence, and she was released from prison on May 17, 2017. Less than two years later, Chelsea Manning is back behind bars, staring at an indefinite jail sentence, which could last the length of as many witch-hunt grand juries that prosecutors want to convene in holding Manning’s  political feet to the fire.

I spoke to Emmy Award-Winning Filmmaker and legendary Muckraker, John Pilger on March 12th about the re-imprisonment of Manning, and what it portends for our country and our world, that someone such as Manning should be derided and  locked down again, instead of being celebrated  as the rare example of someone standing by the courage of her convictions.

Dennis Bernstein: It is good to talk to you again John, but the occasion is troubling. Chelsea Manning back behind bars, jailed on International Women’s Day.  Before being taken into custody, she told the court and the world:  “… I will stand by my principles… I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.”  Manning is back in jail now facing those consequences. Give us your gut response. What is happening here. How do you see it.

John Pilger:  Here is someone saying publicly that they are prepared to go to prison in order to stand by their principles!  In one sense, it is thrilling to hear Chelsea Manning say that, but of course there are great dangers for her personally.  She needs particular care in prison.  The justice of her being sent to prison is especially telling.  It seems that in the United States these days any injustice is okay.  This injustice goes back to an archaic relic of the twelfth century, when the first grand jury was implemented by King Henry II in England.  He used it for enforcing what he called “the king’s peace.”  It persisted in common law jurisdiction throughout the world but was abandoned as something out-of-date.  In Britain it was abandoned in 1948.  The only two countries that kept it were the United States and Liberia.  It is not at all like the common conception of a jury trial.  When the US government wants to prosecute politically, it uses a grand jury in the eastern district of Virginia, a dormitory town for the national security establishment of the United States: the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon.  All living side by side in suburban bliss.  That’s who make up these grand juries.  They have star chamber powers.  For one thing, you give up your right to silence, the very basis of justice.                                                                     

For this judge to jail Chelsea Manning for contempt, it is the system that is jailing him which is contemptible.  This is important to understand:  It is abusing the law in order to catch people for political reasons.  The problem is that the government cannot concoct a satisfactory charge against Julian Assange.  With espionage you have to prove deliberate intent and so, once it goes into a courtroom, it is certain to fail.  So they have tried to concoct other charges.  Of course, Julian Assange has committed no crime.  He’s done no more than the New York Times did and many other newspapers in the United States and around the world, by publishing the leaks.  As for Chelsea Manning, she was very open about what she had done.  She was in the literal sense a conscientious objector.  She was affronted by what she saw as an intelligence officer in Iraq and she exposed the practices, particularly the “Collateral Murder” video.  What they tried to do was make a direct connection in her trial between her and Julian Assange.  Well, they failed.  Yes, she leaked it through WikiLeaks, but WikiLeaks has an encryption system that allows people to leak material anonymously.  So on WikiLeaks’ end, they don’t know who it is.  They tried to show there was a direct link between WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning, that there was a conspiracy, but they couldn’t do it.  All they are doing is interrogating Chelsea Manning all over again.  What they are doing is relying on one’s normal flawed memory so that they can trip her up.  But she has answered all the questions.  I think it is wonderful to hear Chelsea Manning’s resolve, that she is prepared to be imprisoned again in order to stand by her principles.  

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