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.

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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.

walruses-arenot-too-big-to-love

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.

An Urgent Appeal to All Members of U.S. Democratic Party Clubs

             The events of the last year have been quite dramatic even in the context of the last decade.  With the unexpected rise of the Occupy movement we have seen another powerful indication that the American people will no longer stand idly by while multinational corporations and their allies corrupt the basic tenets of our democracy.  At the same time we have also witnessed some of the most profound challenges to our most basic political liberties.  With the passage and signing of sections 1031 and 1032 of the National Defense Authorization Act, America has now been declared a “battlefield” and the standing practice of the president to indefinitely detain any individual without trial has been codified into law.  Furthermore, it has been revealed that the executive branch is now overseeing a secret committee which is ordering the assassination of U.S. citizens without trial or so much as formal charges.

            It should be evident that such provisions and practices are anything but trivial matters.  These extraordinary presidential powers are nothing short of dictatorial and entirely unwarranted.  Despite president Obama’s signing statement in regards to the aforementioned provisions of the NDAA, the simple legal existence and general acceptance of these practices by the highest powers in the U.S.is the death knell of democracy.  The response from every true progressive and loyal Democrat must be a resounding, “This shall not stand!”

            What I am to ask of you is no simple matter, but it is desperately necessary.  I am calling on all U.S. Democratic Party Clubs to send formal resolutions denouncing the signing of the NDAA, and the twin evils of indefinite detention and execution without trial.  This call in and of itself should never be difficult, indeed it should be something that should be done regardless of any impediment if one is truly dedicated to the principles of self-rule and political liberty.  However, it is unfortunately the case that this will require you to rebuke a president who is popular within your party during an election year.

It is highly unfortunate that such a trivial matter should stand in the way of doing what is right and necessary.  For whatever reason, the abuses which were so widely and justly criticized by the party during the Bush administration are now ignored under the present.  While it is understandable that it is difficult to criticize an individual who has achieved so much, while facing opponents so depraved as those in the Republican party, neither should impede the necessary defense of the core tenet of our Democracy.  No individual in our nation should have the ability to deprive any of us of our liberty or our lives without a fair trial by a jury of our peers.

For those party organizations which are noble enough to take up this call, know that you will receive sharp opposition from all corners of your party.  When this happens be sure to point out how vital it is that these issues be discussed immediately.  Ask your comrades in the party what a president Romney, Santorum or Gingrich would do with such unrestricted power.  It is likely that you will face opposition so vehement that the question of the membership of your club may come in to question.  If this is to happen, it is at this point that the question must be asked as to why it is worth supporting a party that would sacrifice its most core principles to have a member residing at a house on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  I would hope that this is a conversation that no one within the party will have to undertake.

I urge those members of the party reading this appeal to reject the petty partisan concerns of electability in a presidential election season.  Is the campaign for one political office so important as to sacrifice the freedom of the common man and woman?  The office of the president is vastly out of reach to those who are not rich and powerful.  What hope do we stand if we sacrifice all our liberties for the hope that those elite who vie for the office will respect our petty concerns such as to be held innocent before proven guilty?  Can we trust our present and future presidents to responsibly wield ultimate power?  I would hope that you realize the answer to these questions, and I beg you all to do what is right.