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.

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.

Why President Obama Should Pardon Whistle blower Pfc. Bradley Manning

On May 2010, Private First Class Bradley Manning was arrested while on duty in a military base near Baghdad.  It would eventually be revealed that the 22 year old intelligence officer had managed to release 260,000 classified cables detailing US activity in Iraq, Afghanistan, and US embassies from around the world to the pro-transparency organization Wikileaks.  In the coming months, five major newspapers from around the world would chronicle the troubling contents of these cables to the world and an American public kept purposefully in the dark by their own government as to its action’s abroad.  Among the many revelations found in the quarter-million highly classified documents is evidence of US meddling in the internal affairs of foreign democracies such as Haiti and India, the use of American diplomats as spokespeople and spies for corporations such as Monsanto and Boeing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on American diplomats to spy on their UN counterparts, and the US military covering up the deaths of two reuters journalists shot by an American gunship.  Manning’s trial is scheduled for sometime between February 4 and March 15 of next year, where the former intelligence officer faces a possible life sentence.

Bradley Manning was only twenty two when arrested for exposing rampant and unnecessary secrecy within the US military, diplomatic, and intelligence communities. The response of the US military justice system was brutal, placing Mr. Manning into 11 months of solitary confinement under conditions which the head of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Juan Mendez referred to as “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. Mr. Manning was transferred out of solitary confinement as a result of coordinated protests by the likes of the Bradley Manning Defense Network and Firedoglake.

Ever since 9/11, the American government has shown a dangerous increase in the level of obfuscation, willingness to violate US citizen’s civil rights in the name of national security, and complete lack of accountability for high ranking officials.  Whereas in 1991 the US government classified 6 million documents, by 2010 that number had ballooned to 77 million.  Information in these secret documents has been shown to contain blatantly illegal activity by the US government such as the NSA’s warrantless and indiscriminate wiretapping of US citizens (a fact itself disclosed to the New York Times by a government whistle blower).  All of this has developed despite the fact that pre-9/11 intelligence was already aware of a planned attack on the world trade center.

The charges against Manning include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, transmitting national defense information and theft of public property or records.  However, despite the charges high ranking US officials such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Vice President Joe Biden, have downplayed the damage of the leaks, with Mr. Biden going so far as to say, “I don’t think there’s any damage.  I don’t think there’s any substantive damage, no.” in a televised interview with MSNBC’s Adrea Mitchell.  With such high ranking insiders, one is forced to ask not only how Mr. Manning aided the enemy (and if the ‘enemy’ includes the American public), but as to why the information was classified in the first place.

Upon being elected president Obama promised to run the most transparent administration in US history. Since 2009, he has presided over the administration with the highest level of classified documents and the most prosecutions of whistleblowers.

Lost in the debate has been not only that no one has been reported to have been harmed by the leaked cables, but on the obviously altruistic motives displayed by Manning, common to all whistleblowers.  Fellow whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, famous for his release of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war has come to Manning’s defence stating that the release of the cables was “exactly the right thing to do”.  It is for these reasons that President Obama should pardon Bradley Manning, and I believe the argument on why to do so is best expressed by Manning himself in his conversation with the man who turned him into the government, “I want people to see the truth…regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public”.

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.                     

What is Wrong is Wrong Regardless of Season

As we enter into the New Year, six months into the presidential election, I think it is very important that progressives stop and think about what is important and what is not.  The enormous outpouring of money into presidential elections, greatly assisted by the egregious and elitist “Citizens” United decision has exacerbated the already worrying and ever narrowing conception of American government to the executive office alone.  The oversized concern for the executive branch is incompatible with Democracy and has assisted in the frightening concentration of government power into the two hands of the president.  This should be worrying enough for not only to the common man of the 99%, but also to many of those elites in the 1% who would be the first to taste the steel of a hostile administration.  These developments should make all self-identified progressives stop and reflect, in a period where the news media and political campaigns would like nothing more for us to keep marching to their narratives.

The last few years have seen some truly disturbing developments.  The Democratic Party’s control over the legislature and the executive branch was not followed up with anything resembling bold policy.  This allowed the virtually annihilated Republican Party to regroup around the Tea Party, rescue itself from obscurity, and obstruct all but the most conservative of legislation.  Worse yet, much of the progressive energy derived from anti-Bush criticism were sapped by a supposedly progressive president assuming power.  This obsession with the White House and the overconfidence placed in its new tenant’s promises quickly brought an end to the growing anti-war movement along with other progressive causes.

Unfortunately, the majority of candidate Obama’s promises, particularly the most important of them, were quickly dismissed or even opposed by President Obama.  In some particularly alarming ways, President Obama has exceeded Bush in pushing for an all-powerful unitary executive.  Obama has initiated several secret wars such as those in Yemen and Somalia and an open war with Libya without congressional approval and in blatant violation of the War Powers Act.  The one-time constitutional scholar has also approved of measures to declare the United States a “battlefield” and approve of measures to indefinitely detain U.S citizens, even going so far to create a secret committee which has no oversight and deliberates on the assassination of any individual regardless of citizenship or whether they have been even so much as accused of a crime.

Despite Obama’s signing statement on the National Defense Authorization Act (another provision candidate Obama so criticized Bush on), he has opened the door quite widely for the worst imaginable abuses of civil liberties.  It is at this point that as Americans particularly those of us whom identify as progressives, should question what we should be doing in 2012.  No longer should any true progressive support the agenda of an administration which has so violated our basic principles, regardless of his political opposition.  No longer should any true progressive live under the illusion that president Obama would bring about the change we desire if only he could be freed from Republican obstruction.  It should be clear as crystal that an administration which has chosen not only to avoid persecuting Wall Street criminals, but to elevate them to positions of leadership within their ranks certainly has no concern for the >99% of us who haven’t initiated a world-wide financial meltdown.

Many American progressives have not come to these conclusions because they fixate entirely too much on the presidency, as do most Americans.  It is so venerated in our society that it seems as a current that is inescapable.  This current is leading us away from the shore of our vaunted ideals of Democracy and is moving us closer and closer to an ocean of tyranny.  However it is vital that we swim against this current, difficult as it may be, and realize that the modern White House is not an institution which should be sought, but one that should be fought.  No person in a true Democracy should hold the kind of power our president does.

One of the most reliable reactionary tools of the bourgeois in this country has always been the two party system.  It can be seen quite clearly in the fear that a vote not cast for Obama will instead go to one of the uber-conservative cretins which infest the Republican party.  By focusing intensely on this possibility and feeding the never ending horse race which is the presidential news cycle, truly progressive voices become silenced.  Not simply in the sense of losing a potentially progressive candidate, but in also keeping ideas which threaten the status quo outside the realm of consideration.  Thus a “major progressive victory” is the ability for homosexuals to openly serve in our military, bolstering the ability to wage aggressive wars and illegal occupations.  One would hope that progressives have more to offer the LGBT community than opportunity to more comfortably die on some foreign shore in service to the greed of our ruling class.

We must shake off these petty and self-destructive fears.  A better society will not be built from the White House, it will be built by our own hands and in the model of our hopes and dreams.  We have everything to lose by playing into the shell game which is the presidential election. For if we vote for the lesser of two evils it will enshrine the most dangerous elements of the “war on terror” as the bipartisan norm.  Is this truly “winning the White House”?  For to me it sounds like a defeat of everything we stand for.