Veterans for Peace Stand Up For Bradley Manning


Over 250 activists from all over the U.S. gathered in Leavenworth, Kansas on Saturday, June 4, 2011 to protest the incarceration of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been held for over a year without trial for allegedly releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks, including a video documenting what many are calling war crimes. “This is a huge issue for the veteran community,” says Will Stewart-Starks, Plains regional coordinator for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). “We stand in support of Bradley Manning and we believe that his indefinite detention is illegal and that his indefinite detention does not protect us here at home.”

 

Manning has been held without trial since May 2010. He was held in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia from July 2010 until his transfer to Leavenworth in April 2011. Stewart-Starks says the Manning case sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country: “I think that it flies in the face of American values. We need everyone to understand that and fight for due process of law.”

 

Veterans For Peace (VFP) organized the protest that began with a rally in Bob Dougherty Memorial Park before a march to the gates of Leavenworth Prison for a two-hour vigil.
Eighty-six- year-old Sally-Alice Thompson made the trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to show her support for Manning. A WWII veteran herself, she came not just for herself, but for her husband of 61 years who died of Alzheimer’s seven days earlier. Donald Thompson, 87, was a Purple Heart WWII veteran. “He fought against fascism and against government mind control,” Sally-Alice says, adding that she worries that the United States is now doing the same things they fought against during WWII. “We need to not submit to fascism” she says.

 

Ed Flaherty of Iowa Chapter 61 Veterans for Peace agrees. “If we wind up convicting him of treason for releasing information about war crimes, what some people feel we fought for in World War II and the Nuremberg principles and all of the Geneva Conventions, let’s just throw them away,” Flaherty says.

 

What is a soldier to do when he becomes aware of war crimes? Bob Meola of the War Resisters League says like every American soldier, Manning took the oath to defend the Constitution and that once a soldier knows of a war crime, he has a duty to report it. “If he did what he is accused of, then he is an American hero and a patriot and he should get a Congressional Medal of Honor for telling the American people about war crimes,” Meola says. 

 

Among the thousands of documents Manning allegedly released to Wiki Leaks, a video called Collateral Murder shows U.S. soldiers in an Apache helicopter fatally shooting over a dozen unarmed men on the ground in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.

 

After the rally, protestors marched to Leavenworth Prison chanting, “I am Bradley. You are Bradley. We are Bradley Manning” and “What do we want? Peace and Freedom. When do we want it? Now.” Across the street, a small group of counter protestors held signs calling Manning a traitor. “He did not commit treason,” says Flaherty, noting that the documents Manning allegedly released had a lesser security classification than the ones Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971. “Ellsberg is recognized rightfully as a hero, at least by anyone who knows anything. Even Defense Secretary Gates says there has been no harm to people in the armed forces or our ‘allies’ in Iraq or Afghanistan, as a result of what Bradley Manning released.”

 

Jeff Strottman came from Iowa City with Flaherty to support Manning. An active member of AFSCME for many years, Strottman sees the connection between Manning and union organizing. “The main thing he is in prison for is whistle-blowing and one of the things workers have trouble with in the workplace is whistle-blowing,” Strottman says. “Both are supposed to be protected actions and rarely seem to be so.”

 

Ralph Earls and his wife Roma of Baldwin City, Kansas say they think people who reveal the truth should be rewarded not punished. “Especially people who are in a position that is ruled by the uniformed military code of justice that makes it clear to every soldier that their true loyalty is to the United States of America, to the Constitution, and that overrules everything else,” Earls says. “Their loyalty is to the people and the people needed to know the truth about what was going on in this war.”

 

Brian Terrell visited Afghanistan on a peace mission in March where he found that the WikiLeaks revelations were no surprise to the Afghan people. Though he was not there when Rolling Stone published the article that described the shooting of children and the mutilation of corpses, Afghans he is in contact with say they can’t consider these incidents a few bad apples because this is what the occupation is made of. “It’s keeping the American people from knowing what we need to know to be an informed electorate,” Terrell says.

 

Manning has been charged with “transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system in connection with the leaking of a video of a helicopter attack in Iraq in 2007,” and “communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source and disclosing classified information concerning the national defense with reason to believe that the information could cause injury to the United States,” between November 19, 2009, and May 27, 2010. In March, the government issued 22 additional charges against him. “If we really believe what he has done or has been suspected of doing actually frees us as a society, that it creates the transparency we need to make correct decisions, then we need to fight for him,” says Stewart-Stark. “We need to fight for due process of law.”

 

An artist who graduated with a fine arts degree from Kansas University, Stewart-Stark does organizing for IVAW on the side, but would like to do more. “The great thing about veterans is that they know about sacrifice,” he says. “A lot of the men and women here came because they know about sacrificing for the principles and the heart of this country. And it is important for those of us in the community who think we have no time, to find time. There is no reason why very single American cannot get behind this issue.”

 

Though most of the media continues to overlook the Manning case, public pressure succeeded in getting him out of solitary confinement where his treatment was described by many of his supporters as torture. Amnesty International and Psychologists for Social Responsibility both sent letters to Secretary Gates calling for an end to the inhumane treatment of Manning.

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Gloria Williams is a freelance journalist, activist, and member of the War Resisters League. For more information on the case, go to www.bradleymanning.org. Photos by Williams.