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Real courage under fire

As WikiLeaks founder Julan Assange works on his appeal in London against extradition to Sweden, Private First Class Bradley Manning will begin another 23 hour day in a 6ft by 12ft cell in the Marine Corp base at Quantico, Virginia. Only Manning now also faces the death penalty.

Accused of leaking thousands of government cables to WikiLeaks, 23-year-old Manning was this week also accused of “aiding the enemy”. Which enemy, you may ask? Unspecified, although it could be WikiLeaks, which US secretary of State Clinton has accused of launching an "attack on America".

Manning’s support group website says, “exposing war crimes is not a crime”. Tell it to the Marines, as the saying goes. They have thrown the book and more at Manning at the behest of the Obama administration, locking up Manning 10 months ago while repeatedly trying to break his spirit.

On the evening of 2 March, Manning was stripped, left naked in his cell all night and forced to stand at attention for the facility’s five a.m. wake-up call, says his lawyer David Coombs, who said this “type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification”.

The next day, Manning was handed 22 additional military charges as part of his court martial process. They come on top of initial charges of having illegally obtained 150,000 secret US government cables and handing more than 50 of them to an unauthorised person. A provisional hearing is set for May or early June.

Manning is accused of being the source of WikiLeaks disclosures of US state secrets. They include aerial footage of a US military attack on civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan war logs and thousands of US embassy cables. He is being held in Quantico in conditions that have elicited protests from numerous organisations, including his own supporter networks and Amnesty International. The UN is investigating whether his treatment, which includes being held in his 6ft by 12ft cell for 23 hours a day, amounts to torture.

David House, one of few people to have visited Manning in prison, told the Firedoglake news website that the "aiding the enemy" charge was similar to Richard Nixon's treatment of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers which detailed America’s war in Vietnam. Nixon accused Ellsberg of "providing aid and comfort to the enemy". House said: "Today we see the Obama administration continuing the legacy Nixon started by declaring whistleblowers as enemies of the state. It is a sad and dangerous day for transparency advocates everywhere."

Assange yesterday described Manning as an "unparalleled hero" and “America's foremost political prisoner” and someone who had helped change the course of history. “Look at what's happening in the Middle East as a result of some of the material we've been publishing," he added.

Manning is undoubtedly a political prisoner, as Assange says. But bodies like Amnesty International, which are quick to adopt prisoners of conscience around the world, have limited their protest to the conditions Manning is being held under. If they want to be considered an impartial organisation, Amnesty ought to get off the fence.

In the age of the internet and social networks, state secrets are harder to hold onto, which is simply great. US power, control and influence is ebbing away, and Washington doesn’t like it. So Manning is being made a scapegoat for US policy disasters and cover-ups. We should all salute his courage under fire.

You can send Manning messages of support by writing to:

Bradley Manning
c/o Courage to Resist
484 Lake Park Ave #41
Oakland CA 94610

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
4 March 2011

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