Timothy Lawson spoke to Jim Richardson, a member of Sydney Solidarity for Bradley Manning, about the group’s campaign work. This interview was sent to us by Mr. Lawson, for publication on WL Central.
Can you tell me about the Sydney Solidarity for Bradley Manning group?
Bradley Manning is a US army soldier accused of passing information to WikiLeaks, including the “Collateral Murder” video of an American airstrike that killed two journalists and nine other Iraqis and wounded two children; the Afghan War Diary; the Iraq War Logs; and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables, many of which reveal vast differences between the public statements and the actions of numerous governments.
Manning was arrested in May 2010, and from July 2010 to April 2011 was held waiting trial in maximum security under widely criticised conditions at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia.
He is facing charges carrying sentences of up to 52 years jail, and, in theory, the death penalty. After worldwide outcry, on April 20, still awaiting trial, Bradley was moved to a new military remand prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where his detention conditions seem to be better.
Sydney Solidarity for Bradley Manning is a small, informal, self-organised group, currently of six people. Michele, our founding member, started things going in March 2011, with a rally in support of Manning in Sydney’s Martin Place.
It was cold and wet but 50 people were there; David Shoebridge from the Greens spoke.
Several people volunteered to help Michele. We organised a bigger rally as part of a worldwide solidarity weekend, on April 10, 2011, in Town Hall Square, with speakers on international law, academic freedom of speech, whistleblowing, and again David Shoebridge. We had support from the Sydney WikiLeaks Coalition. We gained some more members then.
Our goals are to draw attention to Bradley Manning’s legal case and the circumstances of his detention; to campaign for a fair trial and eventually for his freedom; to raise awareness of his heroism, if he is the leaker, in exposing apparent war-crimes and government misdeeds; and to canvas the broad associated issues of whistleblowing, open democratic governance instead of secrecy, and the role of the media and the people in checking abuses of power.
There’s information about the group and our activities on our website: http://syd4bradley.posterous.com/
What rallies or campaigns are coming up in the near future that people can get involved in? In what other ways can people get involved?
A pre-trial court hearing for Manning is expected sometime in June. We will hold a rally or “vigil” in Martin Place when that’s announced or commenced, possibly at short notice.
The next event after that we’re working on will be a forum, to be held in the evening in central Sydney, we hope on August 2. Details will be available soon on our website http://syd4bradley.posterous.com/events.
We’d love it if people in Sydney who would like to support Manning would come to these events. There are a number of further things you can do:
Amnesty International has expressed concern, calling the Quantico detention conditions harsh and punitive, and 295 American legal scholars signed a letter in April 2011 saying the conditions amounted to a violation of the U.S. constitution. Can you further describe these conditions?
[US journalist] Glenn Greenwald was probably the first person to draw wide
attention to “the inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention” at
Quantico, in a Salon.com article in December 2010.
Greenwald described those conditions as constituting “cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture”, and “likely to create long-term psychological injuries”.
Here are some of the details, taken from the American legal scholars’ letter you mention:
An 11-page letter from Bradley, prepared with assistance from his lawyer, described continually repeated rejection of requests for his removal from “Prevention of Injury” status, despite support for this removal by Quantico brig psychiatrists; and a series of incidents in March 2011 where he was stripped of all clothing at night and forced to present for morning inspection totally naked.
In addition, at Quantico Bradley was denied unmonitored visits from anyone except his lawyer; all other visits were recorded.
Official, unmonitored visits were denied for the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez; Congressperson Dennis Kucinich; and a representative from Amnesty International.
It does not seem to be clear yet whether such visits will be permitted now
Bradley has been moved to Fort Leavenworth.
Do you believe the horrendous conditions Manning was kept in at Quantico were devised to put pressure on him to implicate Julian Assange?
Given the pressure and physical torture that we know have been inflicted on detainees held by the US elsewhere, for example at Guantanamo Bay, such an intention is not out of the question.
A more general level of cruelty in American penal institutions, combined with animus against Manning for his alleged actions, may be a less Machiavellian explanation.
Whatever the motive, and although the effect on his mental health may have been severe (with his friend and visitor David House saying that by January 2011 Manning appeared “catatonic” and had “severe problems communicating”), his treatment at Quantico does not seem — as far as we know at present — to have resulted in him revealing information or evidence about Julian Assange or the leaks.
On May 24, PBS-Frontline aired a sweeping documentary on Bradley Manning. WikiLeaks was upset with how it was portrayed in the documentary. Do you think the documentary was beneficial or counterproductive?
The Frontline documentary WikiSecrets, and a subsequent May 27 video by the *Guardian* with the extraordinary title — complete with question mark — The Madness of Bradley
Manning?, are representative of a general tendency of a large proportion of the mainstream media to focus on issues of personality rather than principle or politics, let alone philosophy.
Julian Assange has questioned the accuracy of parts of the so-called chat-logs published by Wired. But if they do genuinely express Manning’s thinking, his reasons for leaking materials arose out of his observation of oppression in Iraq, and are based on his desire for “people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public”.
It is not beneficial for an understanding of why Manning may have been the main WikiLeaks whistleblower for the press instead to try to trace his alleged actions to his childhood, his gayness, or his private history.
These films and other denigrations (not to mention associated personal attacks on Assange) have been widely criticised, for example by Greg Mitchell in The Nation, and the US Bradley Manning Support Network.
We have a short post on our website called “Why Blow the Whistle?” along these lines too.
We hope that people will see through trivialisations by the media, and instead focus on the revelations of the leaks themselves, and the challenge they pose to militarism and governmental secrecy.
Bradley Manning has been accused of undermining national security in the US. What do you think about these claims?
While the leadership of the United States sees its national security and national interest in waging wars in other parts of the globe and in [the] dominating exploitation of world resources, exposure of its military and diplomatic crimes will indeed be against that selfish interest.
If instead realisation develops in the US and elsewhere that this is one finite planet, where we all have a common interest in peace, sustainability and sharing, then Bradley Manning — if he is in fact the source of the leaks — will be thanked and celebrated as a hero well into the future, for allowing people everywhere to see truths which help set them free, no longer to be deceived or manipulated by their governments, but to decide their own and the world’s destiny for themselves.