The Political Prosecution of Chelsea Manning

The woman formerly known as Bradley Manning.

The woman formerly known as Bradley Manning.

This past Wednesday transgender U.S. Army whistle-blower Chelsea Manning (formally Bradley Manning) was sentenced to 35 years for leaking classified material. The 25 year old former intelligence analyst has spent the past three years in a military jail awaiting trial, a year of which in solitary confinement under conditions which the UN special rapporteur formally declared as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” after a 14-month investigation. The material that Chelsea Manning led to a wide array of disturbing revelations on U.S. foreign affairs and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These revelations range from unrestrained violence from military contractors, that the US has held more than 150 innocent people in Guantanamo for years due to a lack of proper investigation, and that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton authorized diplomats to spy on UN leaders in violation of international law. Through Manning’s leaks the world has been granted access to vital information on the motivation and actions of the most powerful military and economic force in the history of mankind.

Despite furious condemnation by government officials and claims that Mannng’s leaks would lead to the deaths of coalition troops and informants, and even speculation in some corners that the leaks could lead to war; none of this has come to pass. Even a prosecution witness who lead the task force in the response to the Manning leaks, Ret. Brig. General Robert Carr, was forced to admit that there is no conclusive evidence that anyone has been harmed as a result of the leaks. Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on record stating that the descriptions of the leaks have been “significantly overwrought”, and on the leaks themselves, “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest”.

So if the leaks provided by Manning have been so benign to the US, why is she facing the prospect of spending the next 35 years of her life in prison?

Because this prosecution of Manning has nothing to do with the prospect of “harming national security” or “putting the lives of civilians and soldiers” at risk. It has everything to do with the fact that Chelsea Manning has embarrassed powerful people and has threatened the interests of the ever growing national security state. Agencies such as the NSA, the CIA, the DoD; and corporations such as Haliburton and Academi (formerly Xe Services LLC, and before that Blackwater), have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not want the possibility that their officials could be held accountable, even if their actions are blatantly illegal and immoral. This emerging form of an American police state not only does not want it’s actions to remain secret, but it does not even want their to be a public debate on whether their tactics are compatible with a democratic society. The 35 year sentence is a strong message by those operating in positions of authority, and that message is “pay no attention to the men behind the curtain”.

Democrats and other such supposed “moderates” have claimed that Manning deserves her sentence, as in the words of president Obama: “We’re a nation of laws, we don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.” These arguments assert that even if Manning’s decision was morally valid, that her actions are still illegal. The fact is that government employees in military and intelligence agencies have extremely limited recourse to so-called “proper channels” to expose government misconduct. Even worse is what channels do exist are fraught with danger for the whistle-blower. Case in point is former NSA analyst Thomas Drake. After attempting to utilize protections afforded under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act in regards to a software program he believed was being promoted for political reasons and potentially violated the fourth amendment, the government alleged he “mishandled documents” and was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act. Despite most of the charges being dropped Drake was forced to undergo a paramilitary raid of his home, years of trial and legal fees, and was blacklisted by the federal government. He now is an extremely overqualified wage worker at an Apple store in Oregon.

What is particularly outrageous about Obama’s statement in regards to Manning is that his own administration doesn’t seem to mind foregoing prosecution if their backers on K street or wall street break the law. When the bank HSBC was caught knowingly laundering drug money for violent Mexican drug cartels, who unlike Manning have been linked to innocent (and not-so innocent) people being killed, the justice department under Obama appointed Eric Holder simply declined to prosecute anyone. Apparently we are a nation of laws, unless you’re too big to jail; in which case we’ll let you off the hook and let you keep breaking the same law.

It is still possible for Obama to provide clemency for Chelsea Manning, and there is a petition urging him to do so being put forward by Amnesty International. It is now up to the Obama administration to finally do the right thing, and free Chelsea Manning.


America’s Zimmerman-Like Foreign Policy

The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman has become another disappointing, yet pivotal moment in America’s long and troubled racial history. This moment marks a new dawn for civil rights in the country as groups such as Florida’s Dream Defenders move to transmute national outrage into long overdue action on issues which have plagued black communities, but have been nary a blip on the media’s collective radar. However, as America is finally aroused to the plight of many of it’s own citizens highlighted by the bigotry clearly on display in Sanford, Florida; the American people remain in a state of slumber to the same bigotry being enacted abroad by it’s own elected government.


It’s been over a year since the New York Times published a detailed article on the Obama administration’s use of secret “kill lists” and the foreign policy equivalent of Zimmerman’s brand of vigilante “justice”; the signature strike. “Signature strike” is the term the CIA uses for the remote assassination of unknown individuals who fit a classified “pattern of life” that supposedly indicates terrorist activity. This “pattern of life” analysis used to direct these mass killings is virtually unknown to the public. Furthermore, the Obama administration’s legal justification is similarly evasive and has drawn critical attention from legal experts and prominent human rights organizations.


From what limited information the public has on this policy, it appears that the president and the CIA are targeting unknown, supposedly “suspicious”, darker skinned individuals in the world’s “bad neighborhoods” such as Yemen and Pakistan. Replace “hoodie” with “keffiyeh” and George Zimmerman with a predator drone, and you have a similarly nauseating mix of bigotry, ignorance, and paranoia inspired violence, that African Americans have been forced to endure since before America was a concept. The parallels are more than simply symbolic however.


The manifold indignities and horrors heaped upon black communities by a pointless “war on drugs”, are the domestic equivalent of the “war on terror” that America has exported to Muslims throughout the world. Both are wars on vague concepts that have no conceivable means of victory, fueled by propaganda that implicitly assumes that millions are merely potential “criminals” or “terrorists”. Incidents like Trayvon’s death and the killing of 16 year old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki by American drone strike are not isolated incidents, but rather the inevitable result of a militarized culture that allows free reign to for-profit prisons and secret death squads.


So far the United States has done a poor job of addressing these violent failings. While Trayvon’s untimely death holds the potential to galvanize Americans into finally addressing the hereto unmentionable nature of it’s continuing racial inequality, there is far less hope that Americans will act to correct the symmetric evil embedded in their foreign affairs. The treatment of Trayvon is instantly recognizable by many Americans, whereas the experience of a foreign government incinerating entire neighborhoods to get to a person they do not like, is not. Whether Americans can successfully challenge the racist and violent minds which dominate their increasingly unified political parties is an open question, but it doubtful that the answer is one that people from Afghanistan to Yemen would care to wait for.


Banks Are Too Big to Jail, We’re Too Small to Bail

In Highgate Cemetery, Karl Marx is spinning in his grave so vigorously that his corpse could power half of London. It’s not simply that the ruling financial elite have so openly declared themselves beyond the laws and regulations of us peasants and our “democracy” (see citigroup’s Plutonomy Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances memo). It’s not just the craven corruption of our legislators and politicians. No, I’d imagine what is causing this philosopher’s powerfully pendulous predisposition is how easy it has been for our ruling class to keep us silent. Usually this level of naked exploitation requires more than a few baton swats at anarchists and a presidential election to keep people from demanding justice when a system is so broken.

So US democracy is dying, obviously the only moral course of action is to make a secret memo on how to make money off of this.

So US democracy is dying, obviously the only moral course of action is to make a secret memo on how to make money off of this.

Truly, our reaction to the latest scandal by HBSC was nothing short of pathetic. This major banking institution reached a settlement deal last December of $1.92 billion (a mere 11% of what it made that year) after it was caught laundering money for vicious Mexican drug cartels, among other crimes. This settlement includes no criminal charges for anyone involved, despite being caught red handed for directly funding some of the most violent terrorists in the world. HBSC had already set $1.5 billion aside for settlements such as this, showing not only was the bank fully aware of the crime it was committing, but that this “record breaking” settlement is nothing to the financial giant.

Even President Obama and the Justice Department, who claimed to be blind to the massive fraud of the 2007 housing crisis had to admit that HBSC had flagrantly violated the law. They just wouldn’t do anything about it. The administration simply said that if they prosecuted the bank it could collapse the entire economy, because HBSC could lose it’s banking license. Essentially the message was, “HBSC is too big to jail, and we aren’t going to do anything about making it small enough to not fund terrorism with impunity, sorry”. Yet instead of demonstrations and demands this HBSC scandal became just another short lived headline, now already forgotten by many, if ever known well enough to be forgotten.

Despite this, the penalties for those of us who aren’t running major banks are outrageous. It’s well known that being merely caught possessing drugs is a felony that can result in a jail term of years or even decades. Many communities throughout the US are suffering from needlessly crowded prisons, burdened by unemployment from the black mark of felony convictions, yet apparently the drug war is only worth fighting when the people going to jail aren’t of the financial aristocracy. What more needs to be said about how little the people enforcing the drug war actually care for the stated purpose of their mission when they support such blatant double standards?

It should be obvious to everyone that not only should a bank be too big to fail, it should most certainly not be too big to jail. One would wonder why in a country whose polity are so obsessed with the size of government, so few seem to be concerned with private sector groups so large as to be beyond the law. The HBSC scandal is one of the clearest indications that so much of the concerns of our establishment; such as the wars on drugs and terror, are in fact nothing more than means of creating an aristocracy of finance. Men and women picked more often by virtue of birth than worth, well beyond our laws and protected by a militarized police force and the secret policing agencies of the NSA and CIA.


Why would you want to regulate Walrus love?

Our generation, as oblivious and pampered as it is, has largely slept through these changes either unwilling or incapable of providing adequate resistance. Occupy was one of the brief flashes of potential all too easily brought low by demonstrators who couldn’t organize and a bloated police force organized to put down demonstrations. I wish I could say how this problem can be challenged, some obvious course or brilliant strategy, but quite frankly I’m pretty much as lost as the rest of us. What I do know is that we won’t find answers from the likes of Obama, the Democrats, or the Republicans. Those who are active politically need to stop getting pulled into the infantile game of American political campaigns. You’re more likely to find better leaders at a horse race and the coverage in the media is about the same. Maybe the first step isn’t a revolution, but just no longer wasting our votes and our time in a system run by those who are not shy about telling us how beneath their notice we are.

The Arab Spring is Warmer than the American Winter

Recently in light of the conflict in Mali several articles in major US newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Times, have attempted to connect the “Arab Spring” of 2011 with the perceived increase in fundamentalist Islamist activity in North Africa. The argument made by these commentators is that the break down of strong governance in the region led to the ability for fundamentalist groups to organize and ethnic tensions to boil over into open conflict. This echoes earlier criticism of the various mass movements in the US media, where elites expressed wariness at the supposed influence of Islamist groups which often opposed American backed dictators and interests.

Like any major political upheaval the events of the Arab Spring have been followed by instability and uncertainty. However, the recent events in Mali and Benghazi have less to do with the Arab Spring directly, and more to do with the US response to the Arab Spring, specifically the Libyan offensive. The Obama administration’s war effort in Libya was not only blatantly unconstitutional, but it also appears that the offensive is directly responsible for exacerbating ethnic tensions in Mali and leading to the arming of Islamist rebels with a large supply of sophisticated weaponry.

I don’t think I’m qualified to judge whether intervention in Libya was successful in achieving a humanitarian mission in protecting Libyan civilians, but it is pretty clear that the events in Libya have had negative consequences for Mali. It also appears that these consequences were given little consideration by NATO in the aftermath of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011. What is particularly certain, is that the our country’s reaction to the Arab Spring shows a profound problem with the state of American democracy and the way we view the world.

As mentioned earlier, the decision to go to war was made unilaterally by the president and largely approved of by his supporters, who had a mere three years earlier bitterly complained about the Bush administration’s willingness to violate our nations laws, make major decisions in secrecy and otherwise abuse the power of the presidency. No effort has been made in the wake of the Libyan offensive to curtail the power of the president to engage in what are clearly acts of war without the consent of the American people. Regardless of whether the Libyan offensive was a justifiable use of force, the decision to go to war should be a more carefully considered decision and should certainly not be the decided at a presidential whim.

Furthermore, the Libyan offensive outlined a major problem with how Americans view the world. The Arab Spring was often described in the media as something that happened spontaneously as a result of popular unrest. The cause of the unrest was rarely discussed, but even at the time the largest indication was that an increase in food prices caused by poor agricultural planning and water allocation was the main culprit in finally providing the pressure to oust dictators who had otherwise successfully ruled for decades. Despite this obvious cause and the solution in desperately needed infrastructure development and dealing with the rampant speculation on Wall Street which saw Egypt’s food prices double as a result, the American media obsessed on the role of American media technology such as Twitter and Facebook. The American response wound up being what it has always been in the Middle East, cynical defense of American interests through handpicked dictators whenever possible and military action in the guise of higher ideals.

Attempting to stop civil wars with drone strikes only seems to spread the problem to other countries. If our wars in the last half century should have taught us anything, it is that attempting to win an asymmetrical war through air strikes only leads to our opposition thriving from the ever constant recruitment provided by the remnants of our “collateral damage”. Also, what does it say about us when our “humanitarian intervention” is obviously designed to ensure that our soldiers are as far removed from combat as possible, even if it means that our intervention will be less capable of preventing the spread of violence and death of those we supposedly came to protect.

These are all questions we should ask ourselves before we decide to jump head first into another “intervention”. 

Outrage Over Hagel’s Nomination Highlights U.S. Foreign and Domestic Policy Failures

President Obama’s appointment of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel is the latest in the bizarre kabuki theater of modern U.S. politics. Virtually every media outlet in the nation has highlighted arguments in defense of, and opposition to, Hagel’s nomination (including Central Florida Future’s Ana Eskamani). Despite the outcry from LGBT groups and the hardline Israeli lobby (the latter for not being sufficiently humble to Israel’s influence within Washington), the appointment of Chuck Hagel doesn’t really mean much. As a senator Hagel faithfully supported increases to an already unsustainable defense budget, supported the Patriot Act (and it’s reauthorization in 2006), and generally acted within the acceptable bounds of a mainstream American politic whose views on it’s military are thoroughly warped. In short, Hagel was a largely average American senator who will likely do little to change American defense policy or our relationship with other countries.

The problem with the outrage over Hagel’s nomination is that it is thoroughly misplaced. As Obama nominates Hagel for Defense secretary, he has also nominated the current Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and former Bush official John Brennan. Brennan was considered for the same post last year, but withdrew his name from consideration after public pressure due to his support for the Bush administration’s policies of torture and extraordinary rendition. In his current position Brennan has been involved in some of the most odious policies of the Obama administration abroad including “signature strikes” (killing unknown targets because they might be associated with forces engaged with the U.S.), indiscriminate use of drones on civilian populations (including mourners at funerals and rescue workers), and the power to assassinate anyone, at anytime, anywhere in absolute secrecy.

This time around there has been a much more muted reaction to Brennan being considered for the powerful post of CIA director, apparently overshadowed by the overwrought condemnation of a thoroughly average former senator. In addition there has been a deafening silence from liberals and members of the Democratic party. These once staunch opponents of executive overreach and loyal supporters of American civil liberties seem to have lost their nerve on these issues now that the White House is occupied by an erudite liberal instead of a cartoonish caricature of Texan conservationism. It is galling hypocrisy on the part of the Democratic party and Obama supporters that they are unwilling to oppose policies they would have launched rightful indignation toward simply because they now are the ones implementing them. Imagine the outrage of liberals had it been revealed that George W. Bush and Karl Rove (instead of David Axelrod, Obama’s Rove who attends the meetings to decide who to assassinate) had secretly decided to assassinate an American citizen without trial or even charges of a criminal act. The backlash would have been so powerful it could have been felt from the moon.

The leadership this country desperately needs on issues of defense and national security will not come from the likes of Hagel and Brennan. Both nominees seem unwilling to accept that the U.S. attempt to actively inject its military throughout the globe is suffering from the same kind of overreach encountered by previous empires such as Great Britain and Spain. The policies spawned by the likes of Brennan are not only immoral, but ultimately inflame anti-American sentiment world-wide. Furthermore, the aforementioned policies and the secrecy surrounding them are a severe danger to American democracy and our basic legal rights.

Israel and Syria: The Dangers of Superpower Influence

It’s almost impossible to have a sane conversation in the US about the never ending conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Inevitably your audience will decide that you are in either the Israeli or Palestinian camp and treat you with nearly unlimited amounts of scorn. With this in mind I’m going to try and defy this convention, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my attempt is completely dashed against what appears to be an ironclad law of nature. Let me set the stage with my interpretation of the conflict in Israel: this conflict is an asymmetrical one with actors that are too multifaceted to effectively assign blame to either side.

The Israelis are more than the IDF and the Palestinians are more than Hamas (even within these organizations there is a wide spectrum of honorable to truly inhuman actors); but ultimately the IDF has more firepower and is quite willing to use it indiscriminately; and Hamas is quite willing to make up for this imbalance of power by targeting civilians. Regardless of the power imbalance, both the IDF and Hamas are intentionally drawing innocent civilians into the conflict. Both sides sacrifice innocent lives to blame the other and to perpetuate a fantasy world where they are the innocent victim and the other is a monstrous army of evil unwilling to negotiate peacefully.

Like virtually all intractable ethnic conflicts the killing in the occupied territories will not be brought about by either of the actors. It will require outside pressure from the international community on both sides to force a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, like Russia’s relationship to Syria, the United States stands as impediment to peace by protecting one side of the conflict for personal gain. In Syria, international opinion has run counter to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, yet is largely distrustful of the loose coalition of rebels opposing him. Russia, long having supported Syria as a foothold for Russian power projection into the middle east, have stymied a peaceful solution by opposing any resolution that might harm the position of the Al-Assad government and by extension the influence Russia has historically leveraged over Syria.

In a somewhat analogous situation, the US has shielded Israel from the negative opinion of the international community, providing military technology, weapons, and 21% of the Israeli military budget with virtually no conditions as to how this aid is to be used. The US supports Israel for virtually the same reasons that Russia has historically supported Syria, as a practical and ideological foothold for American power projection in the middle east. The US has made statements recognizing the negative role Russia plays in influencing Syrian violence by protecting Al-Assad, yet has been completely blind to the negative role that the US plays in Israel by providing nearly unconditional support to Israel. This hypocritical and destructive influence needs to end.

Granted this is a difficult proposition, however the first step is in enforcing restrictions in US military aid to Israel. When Israeli military leaders engage in campaigns such as Operation Cast Lead and the current attacks in Gaza, they ensure that organizations like Hamas respond with violence. As long as this situation persists, there is no way to begin a dialog with the Palestinian people and militant factions will continue to draw power from the many people associated with “collateral damage” from IDF military campaigns. Unfortunately, such restrictions on military aid can only restrain the most egregious actions of Israel and will have little effect (if any) on the criminal actions on the Palestinian side by itself. This crucial first step would need to be followed up by intense pressure on Hamas and their regional allies to stop their attacks on Israel.

The only humane path will require sacrifice from all actors. The US needs to recognize that it has to jeopardize our relationship with Israel by not treating her like a spoiled child. Israel need to realize that it will have to either secede some of her territory to a Palestinian state or end the Jewish state and accept Palestinians as full citizens. The Palestinians need to accept that not only is Israel not going anywhere, but also that attacking Israel’s civilian population will only perpetuate the suffering of the Palestinian people by ensuring military backlashes from the Israelis.

Safety or Domination: What is Our Military Budget For?

The US military is a subject Americans love to talk about, unfortunately it isn’t a subject that we like to think about.  Fortunately, since our military is a volunteer one that is only a problem for the less than 1% of Americans in the military, or the people in the 130 or so nations with US military bases on their soil.  The average American citizen can remain blissfully thoughtless as to what our military does, well at least until they have to pay for the approximately $700 billion/year military budget plus the $3.7 trillion spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (so far…).  However, it is an issue that demands critical thought, because it is an issue with deep moral ramifications for our country.  It is a question of whether we view our military as a force to protect us from harm or one to enforce our will on nations and dominate their peoples.

The United States is by far the most prolific military spender, outspending more than the next 13 countries with the highest military budgets in the world.  In terms of total military spending worldwide the US accounts for 41% of the total figure.  Yet some people do not seem to believe that we are spending enough on our military.  In regards to the automatic defense cuts which would go into place if congress were unable to compromise on a budget last year, vice presidential candidate and supporter of said automatic cuts Paul Ryan said the following in his recent debate with Vice President Biden,

“We should not be imposing these devastating defense cuts … When we show that we’re cutting down on defense, it makes us more weak. It projects weakness. And when we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us.”

The Romney / Ryan campaign has instead proposed increasing the already bloated military budget by a projected $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years by enforcing a minimum of a base defense budget (note: this does not include war spending) equal to 4% of the US GDP.

Obviously, increasing this budget would require cuts from other programs or increased taxes.  While the classic “butter vs. bullet” debate surrounding the issue of cutting spending for social programs and public goods (ie. roads, schools, power plants, etc.) to pay for military spending is debate worth having, there is a question which is almost always ignored in the mainstream media debate.  That is, “why do we have a military anyway”?

If the military is simply an organization for the defense of the American people, it is far more than we need, even to simply scare off any thought of aggression against us.  The 5,000 nuclear warheads our military has at its disposal, enough to make the planet uninhabitable for humanity, should be far more threatening to any attacker than a massive complex of worldwide US military bases . It is also deployed in such a manner worldwide that is too costly and provokes a great deal of anger among the populations of our allies and our occupied territories.  The only logical conclusion is that the military is not being deployed simply for our defense, but for a more sinister purpose, as a means of subjugating foreign populations and threatening nations to comply with our will.

What does a military memorial like this one really stand for? (Credit: Melissa McDermott)

This isn’t to suggest that those who are serving in the military are necessarily complicit in this.  Most of the people serving in the military do so to acquire a college education or to serve the stated purpose of our military, to serve the American people.  However, those in charge of our military policy feel that America has an implicit right to not only place our security above that of others, but our interests as well.  People, particularly soldiers and veterans, need to speak out against this domineering use of our military.  Otherwise when memorials like the one on UCF’s memory mall taint the honor of those who have served to defend us, by standing not just for our freedom, but for the freedom we deny others.