The media is ablaze right now with discussions about Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber, and whether or not he should receive a fair trial as an American citizen. A few politicians and general lunatics have called for torture, military tribunals, and even “a July 4 celebration of stringing this son-of-a-b-tch up in the Boston Common and letting the crows pick on his rotting flesh.” (That last one is courtesy of Ted Nugent). And despite not being read his Miranda Rights, it does seem that, at the least, Tsarnaev will receive a trial-by-jury. How fair that trial will be remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: The only reason Tsarnaev is getting this fair trial is because this case is so predominantly in the public’s eye.
Certainly, it stands to the symbolic greatness of a country who promises a fair trial-by-jury to all of its citizens, regardless of the hideousness of the crimes committed. Unfortunately, this promise is only rhetorical and applies only when it serves the purposes of the power elite. Tsarnaev will get his promise of a trial with a jury of his peers, yet, behind the scenes, the Obama Administration and those in power wage a secret war against whistleblowers that the public does not see.
While the media focuses on Tsarnaev and his eventual trial, Bradley Manning is spending his 1,059th day in detention without trial. On May 29, 2010, Manning was arrested. For the first ten months of his detention, he was kept locked in solitary confinement, was denied social interaction, exercise, and sunlight, and at times forced to stay completely naked, treatment that the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, called cruel and inhumane.
Manning’s crime that has caused him to spend three birthdays in prison without trial: releasing classified military documents to the news source Wikileaks that show, among other things, a U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down over a dozen people in Baghdad in 2007, including civilians and two Reuter’s employees, photojournalist Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh, now dubbed the Collateral Murder video. Also released were the Iraq War Logs, chronicling reports from 2004-2009 of thousands of cases of prisoner torture and abuse filed against coalition forces in Iraq. The reports include gruesome description of people being whipped with cables, sexually assaulted, urinated on, and hung from the ceiling on hooks. In addition, the War Logs added 15,000 civilian deaths to the known body count, totalling over 150,000 people, of which about 80% were civilian.
Manning has since pled guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, including releasing the documents, but did not plead guilty to the most serious of charges, aiding the enemy. His court date is scheduled for June 3rd, and instead of trying this American citizen in a civilian court with a jury of his peers, as we apparently will with Tsarnaev, Manning’s guilt or innocence will be decided by military judge Col. Denise Lind, a decision that could mean a life sentence for Manning, just 25 years old.
Clearly, Manning’s treatment while in solitary confinement, his over 1,000 day detention without trial, and the very fact that he is being prosecuted, rather than held up as a heroic soldier who blew the whistle on war crimes, is unjust enough. Yet these facts are made worse by the fact that the government is blocking full access to Manning’s trial and has effectively silenced his voice from the mainstream media. During Manning’s pretrial hearing, recordings were banned but a secret recording of Manning’s statement was later released, prompting a response from a military spokesperson saying that the media center at Ft. Meade was “a privilege, not a requirement,” and that “privileges can be taken away.” Following his pretrial hearing, a lawsuit brought on by the Center for Constitutional Rights and a group of journalists seeking access to documents and transcripts in the court-martial proceedings for Manning was rejected by the court.
The secret recording of Manning’s statement marked the first time that Manning was able to defend his decisions to release the documents to Wikileaks. When he spoke of the Collateral Murder Video, Manning described his alarm at watching U.S. soldiers gun down the people on the ground. What was most alarming, he said,
“was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the aerial weapons team—they appeared to have. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as, quote, “dead bastards,” unquote, and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in a large—in large numbers…For me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”
Manning also spoke of his desire to bring these issues to the general public to spark debate about the role of the U.S. military and our foreign policy:
“I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables, this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the debate—that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment every day.”
And this is exactly why the government has worked so hard to silence Manning and hide him from view of the general public. Debate. Asking questions. Questioning our role abroad. Understanding the complexities of war. These things do not serve the purposes of the power elite. We are meant to see things simply; matter-of-factly. We’re told that modern war is clean. Efficient. Targeted. We don’t see the civilian toll, not only in the numbers of dead, but also in the legacy that war leaves behind. In Iraq alone, for example, recent studies have been released concerning the enormously high rates of cancers, birth defects, and infant mortality in the Iraqi city of Fallujah due to the use of depleted uranium in U.S. weapons during our involvement there.
We are not meant to see the true costs of war. It has been all but removed from our view and our every day lives, and that is precisely how The Empire wants it. If Bradley Manning can be rendered invisible, than so too can the questions that he and the documents he released have raised. Dzokhar Tsarnaev will receive a trial, as he should. But let’s not be fooled about what is happening to our rights in this country. If Manning can be silenced, if debate and questions can be censored, if the media can be gagged, then our empirical wars can be waged across the globe without restraint.