We are in Cuba. More specifically, 14 members of Witness Against Torture are in the Department of Guantanamo, at the Mirador overlooking the U.S. Naval Base. We are being hosted by the staff of La Gobernadora restaurant and lounge. From the lookout, we can see the U.S. base that has occupied more than 100 square kilometers of Cuban land for more than a century. We can orient ourselves toward the camps where the Abd and Mohammed and their brethren are being held. We are camping. We are praying. We are acting. We are transforming a random international tourist spot — one more site to click photos, drink a beer, and move on from before heading to the beaches — into a place to honor and connect and extend ourselves toward the men our nation has demonized and then forgotten.
Am I the only one who finds it deliciously ironic that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange objects stridently to how he is portrayed in the new movie, The Fifth Estate? The film, which hits theaters in wide release today, turns its attention to the organization best known for publicly sharing otherwise confidential information of various governments, including our own.
Assange is clearly a study in eccentricity. From his tow-headed locks to his lock-down work environment, he fascinates as often as he infuriates. To demonstrate their displeasure about the coming film, WikiLeaks actually leaked the screenplay to the public ahead of the movie release and has published numerous corrections they deem necessary to more accurately reflect history. They have also labeled the movie "irresponsible, counterproductive and harmful,” adjectives made that much more poignant, given that similar epithets have been leveled at WikiLeaks for their own work.
But despite this latest round of drama revolving around WikiLeaks and its lightning rod of a front man, the question still remains:
Is WikiLeaks good for America?
A military judge ruled Tuesday that Pfc. Bradley Manning was not guilty of aiding the enemy. In 2010, he was arrested for allegedly passing classified materials to the website WikiLeaks. If Manning had been found guilty of aiding the enemy, he could have been sentenced to life in prison. The sentencing phase of the trial will begin Wednesday.
The New York Times reports:
Private Manning had already confessed to being WikiLeaks’ source for a huge cache of government documents, which included videos of airstrikes in which civilians were killed, hundreds of thousands of front-line incident reports from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, dossiers on men being held without trial at the Guantánamo Bay prison, and about 250,000 diplomatic cables.
But while Private Manning had pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the charges he was facing, which could expose him to up to 20 years in prison, the government decided to press forward with a trial on a more serious version of the charges, including “aiding the enemy” and violations of the Espionage Act, which could result in a life sentence.
According to Gil Bailie’s groundbreaking book Violence Unveiled, the word myth stems from the Greek wordmu. Those two Greek letters combine to form the powerful concept behind all myths. Mu means “to close” or “to keep secret.” Bailie claims that “Myth closes its eyes to certain events and closes its mouth.” Myths are the lies and the cover-ups that we tell about our own violence. Truth, on the other hand, works against myth to reveal our violence.
Ancient cultures told their myths, of course. Unfortunately, we moderns, who think we’ve progressed so much since our ancestors, tell our own myths. The United States government’s military trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning is a case in point.
Manning’s Leak to WikiLeaks
In 2010, Manning was arrested and accused of the worst military crimes, including espionage and aiding the enemy. He secretly released an extensive archive of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Some believe Manning is a traitor, while others believe he is a heroic whistleblower. As the New York Times reports, “There is no doubt that he did most of what he is accused of doing, and the crucial issue is how those actions should be understood.”
On Saturday, Feb. 23, Bradley Manning marks his 1,000th day in prison without a trial. Manning, the 23 year-old Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks while stationed in Iraq, spent a full 600 days in prison before he even saw a judge, even though military law requires arraignment within 120 days of a person being detained. (Amid the material that Manning released was the now famous video showing two American military helicopters shooting civilians in Baghdad in 2007, killing two Reuters journalists.) During his confinement, Manning has been subjected to abuse and humiliating treatment.
Amnesty International wrote, “We’re concerned that the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning are unnecessarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment by the US authorities. Manning has not been convicted of any offense, but military authorities appear to be using all available means to punish him while in detention. This undermines the United States’ commitment to the principle of the presumption of innocence.”
U.S. law is based on the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Our Constitution guarantees all persons in U.S. custody (not just citizens — Cole, D., Enemy Aliens, 2003) the rights to due process of law, humane treatment, and a speedy and public trial. Bradley Manning is only one example of how the U.S. is failing our own constitutional standards.
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WikiLeaks takes away the excuse of ignorance about military abuses abroad.