Curtain Raiser

Trying the Messengers, Colltalers

It’s almost ironic that in an era of so many apparent choices to communicate and express ourselves, much of what we may tell each other may not just be sold and traded without us knowing it, but also incriminate us and throw us under the heavy wheels of draconian rules.
Consider the court martial of First Class Pvt Bradley Manning, for instance, which starts today, just over three years since he was arrested in Iraq, on May 2010, for passing classified material to whistleblower-extraordinaire site WikiLeaks.
Since then, both Manning and the site have been the target of a massive effort to characterize the release of over 250 thousand cables, exchanged between the U.S. State Dept. and diplomatic missions around the world, as an act of high treason, liable to prison term.
Both have, in fact, began to serve time even before their cases have been tried, Manning by spending three years incommunicado and with no chances of making his case in the court of public opinion, as his accusers have, and the site by being all but shut down.
Meanwhile, claims of possible abuses by the U.S. military, and nonchalance displayed by some diplomatic corps about their hosts, exposed by the cables, have remained largely downplayed in the media, despite being a huge source of hostility against the U.S. around the world.
That the media had been utterly irrelevant to pursue such claims then, when some of those revelations helped fuel the Arab Spring, and now, when another wave of protests threatens to stir the regional pot again, this time in Turkey, should be no surprise.
From the start, the case of United States v Pvt Manning has been largely played out below the fold of major publications, including the New York Times and U.K.’s The Guardian which stamped the cables on their front cover, often following the entertainment news of the day.
Also, completely alienated from the main core of the arguments to be considered by the court martial are his personal motivations, which as far as we know, come from the highest moral aspirations: to produce a needed, non-violent change, by an act of transparent courage.
Such act, if the law indeed proves that he was the source of the leaking, has been all but vilified by his military accusers, following a curious detour from its main merit: prosecutors have indicated that they’ll mainly focus on Pvt Manning’s breaking the Army’s rules.
Thus, while his case seems to encapsulate a number of transfixing issues of our time, most of them have all but shoved aside. We may have a problem when citizens choose to exchange their right to speaking truth to power for a false sense of security.
In fact, we can hardly say at this point that we’re safer now than we’ve been before, or that we simply don’t understand why the U.S. remains curiously vulnerable to bombings, poison letters, and hatred, despite spending more than any other nation in defense.
Despite the attempt at turning Pvt Manning’s trial into a ultra-secret but ultimately bureaucratic legal ‘correction,’ what’s at stake here is the ability of people to act upon their conscience, and not just because they’ve signed a paper saying that they wouldn’t.
While no one knows whether he’ll be found guilty in any of the 22 offenses he’s been accused of, many scholars and human rights experts are concerned about the possible characterization of his leaking relatively innocuous data as ‘aiding the enemy.’
More of these so-called enemies have been killed either by troops or drones since 2010 than ever, often along with their families and tribal communities. And for all we know, no U.S. personnel on the field or undercover has been hurt by Pvt Manning’s actions.
Or so we’re led to believe, for otherwise, that’s what one would expect to be the tenor of this military trial, right? Instead, there’s a huge chance this trial’s proceeding will reach the public just like those heavily redacted documents, if it’s up to the prosecution.
But only if to pay our respects to this 25-year old soldier, with a previous spotless record of service to this country, let’s hope justice will prevail, and that we get a glimpse of what means to go after the messenger while trying to redact the message.
And just so we won’t skip a beat, the Obama administration is again playing second-fiddle to overzealous hawks, who always find public interest on their actions annoying. Once again, our constitutional president will miss a golden opportunity to match action to words.
While they try to put the genie back into the bottle, at taxpayers’ expense, we sure hope the trial of Pvt Manning become a watershed moment for the confluence where fighting the good war doesn’t mean to abstain from pursuing truth and accountability.
This week, good luck out there in that job hunt, everybody. WC

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