“God damn it, Kyle. All right, ha-ha-ha, I hit ‘em…”
Today a military judge convicted Bradley Manning of espionage while acquitting him of the “more serious” charge of aiding the enemy. Manning, a twenty-five year old army private, had earlier released documents that expose U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including video footage of American soldiers gunning down Iraqi children. While these incriminating documents were being published by Wikileaks, the military retaliated by confining Manning to an eight-by-eight foot cage. This punishment was meted out even before formal charges were filed against him, and would set the tone of the Manning odyssey. Deprived of the legal right to a speedy trial, he would wait three years before seeing his day in court. During this period of Kafkaesque torment, he was assumed guilty before proven innocent, subjected to treatment which both the dictates of international law and commonsense call torture. This included eleven months of solitary confinement in a small, windowless cell, as well as subjection to sleep-deprivation regimens and what CIA torture handbooks call “self-inflicted punishment” – that is, being forced into debilitating stress-positions for extended periods of time.
Having witnessed the great evil that lies within America’s heart of darkness, Manning had decided to follow the demands of his conscience, letting the world know what was really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan under the new American mandarins. Graphic video-footage, photographs and mountains of documents irrefutably proved what groups like Human Rights Watch had long been saying, but what the government had long denied: countless innocent people were being senselessly and, in many cases, gratuitously murdered by American forces overseas. Having unmasked these crimes, Manning was immediately subjected to them himself, becoming a victim of U.S. terrorism. Like 10,000s of Iraqis imprisoned at Abu Ghraib prison, Camp Bucca and elsewhere, he was subjected to psychological and corporeal torture, all under a sordid veil of secrecy and (illegal) executive prerogative.
“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.” Another soldier: “Nice.”
If it had been long understood that the wars were justified with lies – the alleged presence of WMD and Saddam Hussein’s supposed connection to al-Qaeda – the Wikileaks revelations made it crystal clear that the actual prosecution of the wars was patently criminal. Again, the illegality of the wars had long been confirmed. The concept of “preemptive war,” i.e., the “Bush Doctrine” which the Iraq war was based on, is in practice identical to a “war of aggression,” the main crime that the Nazi regime was convicted of at the Nuremburg Trials. So again, the illegality of the war was never in doubt. If George Bush leaves the country, for instance, he will have to be careful since if apprehended by a foreign power he may be tried for war crimes and/or crimes against humanity on the basis of international law. What Manning did do, though, was provide unimpeachable evidence showing that the content of these already illegal wars is itself criminal.
It is difficult to stress enough the Kafkaesque character of Manning’s experience. Indeed, if Kafka had written a story with as many legal mishaps, loopholes and aberrations of justice as plague the handling of the Manning case, his story would have been ridiculed as a boorish melodrama. After unveiling the truth, Manning was brutalized with punitions that are outlawed under the Geneva Conventions, U.S. military law and the U.N. Convention on Torture. Then he was told that the criminal organization whose dirty deeds he had exposed – and which had subsequently tortured him – would decide his “guilt” or “innocence.” That is to say, the criminals would decide his guilt or innocence in exposing their own crimes. After exposing the crimes of the military, he was to be judged by a military tribunal. There was to be no jury, no public scrutiny and no chance of appeal. Heck, he was not even allowed to bring the documents to court that he had released – you know, the reason he was being prosecuted in the first place. Their content, he was told, was “irrelevant.” Despite their being “irrelevant,” they must have been important; after all, he was eventually convicted of “espionage” because of their “irrelevant” content.
A van comes to pick up the bodies of the deceased and wounded. Overhead, a soldier looks at the computer screen before requesting permission to “engage.” “Come on, let us shoot!”
What makes the charge of “espionage” so interesting, however, is the fact that the law cited as the basis of this charge is the Espionage Act of 1917. This law was passed by the Wilson administration during WWI to quell any and all dissent against the war. Whether someone actually committed a crime because of their opposition to the war was irrelevant; one only had to express opposition to the war to be found guilty. Obviously, this law tore the First Amendment to shreds. Under it, people were jailed simply for sending letters to newspapers which criticized the war. Intellectuals and activists like Eugene V. Debs, for example, were thrown into the slammer solely for delivering speeches which were critical of the conflict – one which virtually all historians now agree was a senseless, futile and willful orgy of human carnage. One movie producer, Robert Goldstein, was even sued because he promoted the movie The Spirit of ‘76 on the American Revolution. The government was afraid that the film’s patriotic rendering of the conflict would stir up anti-British sentiment, now America’s ally in arms. Rather tellingly, the court case was titled the United States vs. The Spirit of ’76. There are some things you just can’t make up. Today most historians and legal scholars view the Espionage Act as a piece of legal sophistry, that is, a law based of political expedience rather than sound jurisprudence. In any case, it is totally unconstitutional.
That the charge of “espionage” is entirely based on the Espionage Act of 1917 is, consequently, illuminating. The use of this law is a startling admission of Manning’s innocence: he is guilty of nothing other than his opposition to America’s illegal wars; and there are no other grounds for convicting him of a crime other than this principled opposition. None of the people who were charged of “espionage” during WWI were secretly disclosing secrets to the enemy – you know, what “espionage” actually means. Instead, “espionage” meant that they opposed the war and had the audacity to voice this conviction. This peculiar interpretation of the word espionage is the same used in the prosecution of Manning. In other words, he is guilty of nothing other than opposing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the very law used to convict him admits this explicitly.
“Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield! Ha-ha!”
And the trial of Bradley Manning stands in stunning contrast to the absence of any trial against those who instigated or prosecuted these two wars; those who committed the ultimate war crime of starting two “aggressive wars.” If a policeman, for instance, kills someone whom he suspects is armed and aiming to attack him, but this proves to be untrue, the policeman is guilty of homicide. Bush and Cheney said that Saddam Hussein had WMD and supported al-Qaeda, two allegations which turned out to be false. Yet in acting on these allegations – ones which the government had drawn out of whole cloth – over one-million Iraqis died and the country was plunged into unimaginable chaos. If a public official like a policeman is to be held accountable for the death of one person based on false grounds, then surely Bush and his cronies should be held accountable for the deaths of over one-million people on grounds that they cooked up – in other words, that they lied (or should we say perjured) about.
A tank arrives at the scene. “I think they just drove over a body.” Another solider asks, “Really?” Chuckling, he replies, “Yeah!”
So if we were to write a synopsis of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it might appear as follows. Both wars were illegal from the start and justified by lies devised by people who had spent the greater part lives studying the law and how to get around it. Those who fabricated the lies came out of the conflicts scot free; one even built a library for himself. The Iraq war ended after the illegality of the war had finally been seared into the public consciousness and the truth had been unveiled by a quiet, unassuming private who had not studied the law, but who instead followed the demands of his conscience and simple human decency. For following the law of his conscience and disclosing the truth he was tortured, savaged and maligned by the same government and press which had sold the public the lies that had started the war. The death of over one-million Iraqis and only God knows how many Afghans were “irrelevant” they said. For he was guilty of a greater crime, that of “espionage” – in other words, telling the truth. But this was to be expected. After all, how were a government, press and citizenry which had built their lives around lies to understand the value of truth? The value of one-million human lives?
Two wounded children are found lying in the van, now riddled with bullets, its decrepit chassis lying on the side of the road.
His accusers took him to court after beating him brutally, jailing him and cursing his name. A sad, almost wistful smile appeared on his face as he heard the sentence read. He had come into their world to bring peace where there was conflict, truth where there was great darkness. Yet, he had been rejected, even by those whom he had come to save. So they crucified him for speaking the truth, not for anything else. He had committed “espionage.” Above his head, the judge wrote that his crime had been speaking the truth. No, his accusers said, do not say that he spoke the truth but only that he claimed to speak the truth. The judge faced them. What has been done is done, he said. And so they ran his name through the mud, traded scoops and watched with unrestrained glee as he bore his fate. He was suffering for their lies, their crimes, their sins, a burden which he took on without complaint.
“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.” “That’s right.”
Note: The italicized portions of the text are lines taken from a video that was released by Manning to Wikileaks. It can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rXPrfnU3G0.
Note: This is the first part of a series on "undesirable" citizens and their importance to human society.