Gays at heart of government whistleblowing

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

While Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was preparing for his trial at Fort Meade, Md., a woman declaring, “I am Bradley Manning,” marched outside the U.S. embassy in London. Another woman declaring, “I am Bradley Manning,” marched in Seoul and a man declaring, “I am Bradley Manning,” marched in Berlin.

The demonstrations in solidarity with Manning occurred in 24 cities on four continents on June 1, two days before the Army intelligence analyst went on trial in a military court.

Manning, arrested in 2007 while stationed in Iraq, is on trial for passing more than 700,000 classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks. If convicted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, Manning could be sentenced to life in prison.

The government claims the soldier revealed sensitive information about troop movement, code words and the identity of suspects that endangered lives and possibly reached the now-dead Osama bin Laden.

“This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information onto the Internet into the hands of the enemy,” prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow said on the first day of the trial.

Manning’s defense team, however, maintains that damage from the leak was minimal.

And Manning’s supporters maintain the leaked information exposed war crimes, helped spur an end to the war in Iraq and fueled the Arab Spring.

The openly gay soldier’s arrest and prosecution have not been an issue for the nation’s largest LGBT groups. Searches for “Bradley Manning” on websites for the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, OutServe-SLDN or National Gay and Lesbian Task Force yield no statements, news releases or other references.

The ACLU and Amnesty International, however, have monitored the Manning case.

The ACLU maintains the government is overreaching with the charge of aiding the enemy. “The crux of the government’s case against Manning – that he leaked sensitive documents without authorization – in no way depends on branding him a traitor,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “In its zeal to throw the book at Manning, the government has so overreached that its ‘success’ would turn thousands of loyal soldiers into criminals.”

Amnesty, which has dispatched a monitor to Maryland for a trial that is expected to last until August, has said the government must allow Manning to use a public interest defense. “The court must allow Manning to explain in full his motives for releasing the information to WikiLeaks,” said Anne FitzGerald, Amnesty director of research and crisis response. “Manning should have been allowed to explain how, in his opinion, the public interest in being made aware of the information he disclosed outweighed the government’s interest in keeping it confidential.”

Manning already has pleaded guilty to 10 charges after the judge ruled he could not argue he was acting in the public interest.

Out reporter scoops Snowden

In mid-June, with Manning on trial at Fort Meade, another big whistleblower story broke. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, 29, leaked to the press documents about a U.S. government spying operation to monitor Americans’ telephone and online communications.

Glenn Greenwald, the U.S. journalist who scooped the NSA surveillance story, writes for The Guardian in London and resides in Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian husband because that country recognizes their marriage. Greenwald recently told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that U.S. government-sanctioned discrimination against gays fed his watchdog tenacity. “When you grow up with any kind of real challenge that forces you to evaluate your relationship to these conventions and things that you’re taught … you start to question what that system is,” he said. “Is it really valid in the way that it’s rejecting me or is it the system itself that is corrupted? I think that lends itself to a much more critical eye that you end up casting upon things that you’re taught are indisputably true.”

He’s applied this approach as he’s followed the Manning case, becoming one of the more prominent critics of the government’s prosecution. Greenwald’s focus on the conditions in which Manning was being detained led to an investigation by the U.N. high official on torture and denunciations from Amnesty International and the ACLU, which said that Manning’s treatment “in military custody is in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and serves no purpose other than to degrade, humiliate and traumatize him.”

Greenwald called Manning a “whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives” and “a national hero similar to Daniel Ellsberg.”

The famed Ellsberg supported the Vietnam War until he began working on the secret Defense Department study that became known as the Pentagon Papers, which showed that the U.S. government repeatedly misled citizens about the war. He photocopied the 7,000-page study and provided it to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970 and then provided the papers to The New York Times and other newspapers in 1971. 

The Nixon administration lost its campaign to block the Times from publishing the papers in an epic First Amendment fight, and the 12 felony charges against Ellsberg were dropped in 1973 on the grounds of governmental misconduct against him – misconduct that played a role in the conviction of several White House aides and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, who sought to discredit the whistleblower by circulating rumors of his homosexuality.

Ellsberg also calls Manning a hero and said his trial is one of the “defining issues of the 21st century.”

No pride?

Ellsberg wanted to represent Manning in the San Francisco Pride Parade – before the organizers overturned a committee vote naming Manning the grand marshal.

Both Ellsberg and Greenwald criticized parade organizers for the veto, which was decried as authoritarian, cowardly and a sellout.

San Francisco’s Pride march is among the oldest in the world. Today it draws hundreds of thousands of people and is sponsored by more than a dozen companies, including Clear Channel, Wells Fargo, Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Bank of America.

Earlier this year, there was an announcement that a committee of former San Francisco Pride grand marshals elected Manning to be their 2013 grand marshal.

The vote was hailed by some, denounced by others.

Two days later, San Francisco Pride president Lisa Williams issued a news release stating Manning was not a grand marshal, that his nomination was a “mistake” and that the Pride staffer who prematurely contacted Manning was “disciplined.” The statement said, “Manning is facing the military justice system of this country. We all await the decision of that system. However, until that time, even the hint of support for actions which placed in harm’s way the lives of our men and women in uniform – and countless others, military and civilian alike – will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country.”

Manning’s advocates responded with newspaper op-eds and ads, as well as a complaint to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. The complaint stated, “Because of the extraordinary material he leaked, and because of the way the Pentagon has treated Manning, Manning has become an international cause celebre for human rights activists, the peace movement, LGBTQ veterans and countless academics, intellectuals, artists, scientists, diplomats, etc., who believe that Manning’s actions constitute courageous whistle blowing, and that the Pentagon’s treatment of Manning has amounted to torture under international law.”

The complaint, which was rejected, also said Manning opposed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was twice nominated for a Nobel Peace prize and also was nominated by The Guardian’s readers for 2012 Person of the Year.

The information published by WikiLeaks revealed thousands of reports of prisoner torture filed against the Iraqi Security Forces, including whippings and sexual assaults. Also revealed was the existence of a 2004 order not to investigate abuse allegations, reports that U.S. defense contractors were complicit in child trafficking, that the U.S. government kept a tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan (although the Bush and Obama administration denied there was a count), and that Egypt’s notorious State Security Service received FBI training in Quantico, Va. Perhaps the best-known WikiLeaks release was the classified video in which soldiers in a U.S. Apache helicopter repeatedly ask permission to fire on civilians in New Baghdad and then joke about the 11 dead adults.

Defense attorney David Combs, in his opening statement at the trial, said Manning believed the information he provided WikiLeaks “showed how we valued human life. He was troubled by that. He believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled.”

Some who signed the San Francisco ad, op-ed and complaint, such as Lt. Dan Choi, who was arrested at the White House for protesting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, belong to a new generation of activists.

Progressive celebrities also have taken up the cause. More than 20 actors, authors, musicians and prominent activists – Oliver Stone, Russell Brand, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Moby, Roger Waters, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and Choi – recently appeared in a 5-minute “I am Bradley Manning” video.

Following the controversy, San Francisco resident Eve Ann Greer said she’s attended 20 Pride parades but considered boycotting this year’s event. “The government’s mistreatment of Bradley Manning is absolutely wrong. But the community’s mistreatment really saddens me. We’ve come so far in equality for people but, my God, we’ve lost so much along the way,” Greer said.

Greer said she changed her mind about staying away and instead plans to parade on June 30 with a sign. It will read, “I am Bradley Manning.”

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