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Bradley Manning Trial: After 3 Years, Army Whistleblower Begins Court-Martial Shrouded in Secrecy

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More than three years after he was arrested, Army whistleblower Bradley Manning goes on trial today accused of being behind the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history. Manning faces life in prison for disclosing a trove of U.S. cables and government documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. On Saturday, hundreds of Manning supporters rallied outside the barracks at Fort Meade, Maryland, where the trial will be held. We’re joined by two guests: Firedoglake reporter Kevin Gosztola, who is at Ft. Meade covering the trial, and attorney Chase Madar, author of “The Passion of Bradley Manning.”

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StoryApr 29, 2011Glenn Greenwald: Obama’s Comments on Bradley Manning Mark “Amazing Amount of Improper Influence” in WikiLeaks Case
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today marks the first day of the military trial of Private Bradley Manning, accused of disclosing a trove of U.S. cables and government documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history. Bradley Manning is 25 years old. He has already pled guilty to misusing classified material he felt, quote, “should become public,” but has denied the top charge of aiding the enemy. For much of the last three years since his arrest, Bradley Manning has been kept in harsh military detention, including many months in solitary confinement, prompting the U.N.’s top torture expert to criticize the U.S. for “cruel and degrading” treatment. He could face life in prison, possibly the death penalty.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the barracks in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the trial will be held, to show their support for Manning. Protesters included Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Bradley was an extraordinary American who went on record and acted on his awareness that it was wrong for us to be killing foreigners. He was not doing it only for American citizens, although—I’ll come back to that in a moment—I think he saved American lives, but he was concerned that the people of the world should be informed of the way, as he put it, the First World, or the West, he said, treats the Third World. And, of course, these Europeans are not in the Third World, but they do have an interest in the fact that America has been asking for—acting for a long time, and above all, in the last decade, as if the lives of foreigners meant nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Ellsberg, speaking Saturday at a protest in support of Bradley Manning outside Fort Meade.

Last month, a military judge ruled that some testimony in Manning’s trial will be kept from the public. Colonel Denise Lind granted the government’s request to call 24 witnesses behind closed doors. The Obama administration has argued for the secretive testimony by citing the need to protect classified information.

The trial begins today, is expected to run to the end of August. A leaked audio recording emerged earlier this year of the statement Manning delivered at his pretrial hearing at Fort Meade in February. Manning acknowledged he gave the classified documents to WikiLeaks and explained what he wanted people to learn from his revelation. It is not an easy, clear recording, so listen carefully.

BRADLEY MANNING: I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure-cooker environment of what we call “asymmetric warfare.”

AMY GOODMAN: The audio isn’t clear because it was leaked, but Bradley Manning explained that he wanted the American people to know, quote, “that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure-cooker environment of what we call,” he said, “'asymmetric warfare.'”

Well, to talk about this trial, we’re joined by two guests. We’re going to begin at Fort Meade at the trial site by Kevin Gosztola. Kevin has been blogging about the trial. He’s a civil liberties blogger at Firedoglake and co-author of the ebook Truth and Consequences: The U.S. vs. Bradley Manning. He’s a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights that challenges government secrecy in Manning’s court-martial, as, by the way, is Democracy Now!

Kevin, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain today, this morning, what exactly is happening at the trial. It was very unclear what would happen for the journalists, for how this trial will be covered.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, I expect that we’ll have some sort of opening arguments that will have any sort of housekeeping issues that have to be dealt with before they can really proceed with the trial. And what I can tell you about the media, having just come in, is that there happens to be an overwhelming amount of media. I don’t think that the military were prepared to handle as many cars as were coming, even though they—you know, they granted 70 requests, and the number was that there were about 350 or so requests that were put in to the military for credentials. And you’ve had people turned away and denied access. Importantly, for this issue of the media, you’ve got the story of this court—this crowd-funded court reporter or stenographer that Freedom of the Press Foundation funded, happens to actually be going in, is going to be using the credentials of the Bradley Manning Support Network in order to be covering the proceedings today.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to say, Kevin, you’re reporting to us from your car right outside the proceedings. Explain what is at stake today and what you expect will happen in this first day of the trial.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, there’s a lot that I’m going to find out here when I get off of this segment with you, because I have not received the morning briefing. The military did not advertise what exactly the first day is going to be about. But what I can tell you from my experience covering this since December 2011, because this has been one of the longest court-martials that I’ve ever—seems fairly long, and in the first day, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. They’ll establish the business. And what we know is that there’s probably going to be some kind of an entering of the charges. Manning probably will be read his rights. I think that the first day could be pretty standard, and maybe the word would be “perfunctory.”

AMY GOODMAN: Among the protesters outside Fort Meade, Maryland, on Saturday was Sarah Shourd. She was jailed for 14 months in Iran after she and two other Americans, Shane Bauer and now her husband—who is now her husband, and Josh Fattal, were detained by Iranian border forces on July 31st, 2009, for allegedly hiking across the Iraqi border into Iran, which they don’t believe is the case. She spoke to Al Jazeera from the protest.

SARAH SHOURD: My name is Sarah Shourd. I’m an author and an advocate against the use of solitary confinement. And I was held as a political hostage by the Iranian government for 410 days in solitary confinement, along with my now-husband Shane Bauer and my friend Josh Fattal.

Bradley Manning doesn’t deserve to be in prison. And I know what it’s like to sit in a prison cell and know that you don’t deserve to be there. Bradley Manning was held for nine months in extreme conditions of solitary confinement, very similar to my own conditions in Iranian prison. We were both under lockdown 23 hours a day, with—under sensory deprivation. There’s really no way to describe the depth of loneliness. You really just have to get through one day at the time, and every day is a monumental task.

*But the fact that people are coming out for Bradley Manning—and I’m sure he knows about it, word will get to him—I’m sure will give him the strength that he needs and help remind him that a lot of people really appreciate what he did for our country and for the world. It’s a level of bravery and heroism that really takes—takes me aback.

PROTESTERS: Free Bradley Manning! Free Bradley Manning! Free Bradley Manning!

SARAH SHOURD: Bradley Manning is a modern-day hero. And the Obama administration is on the wrong side of history when it comes to the persecution of Bradley Manning.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined right now by Chase Madar. He is the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the WikiLeaks Whistleblower. And he’s blogging about the Manning trial for The Nation magazine. He’ll be covering the court-martial from the courtroom next week. He is with us right now, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with Democracy Now!, Firedoglake and others, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights that challenges government secrecy in Manning’s court-martial. Chase, the significance of what is happening today?

CHASE MADAR: Well, the court-martial of Bradley Manning is really the last ugly chapter of our sordid and ugly Iraq War. A war that we rushed into catastrophically, in no small part because of extreme government secrecy, is now ending in the trial of a truth teller behind a veil of extreme government secrecy. Now, none of the CIA torturers, much less Bush and Cheney, were put on trial, but Washington has finally found a scapegoat in a young Army private who leaked these important documents. Now, to put things in perspective, this is the biggest security breach in U.S. history, but it’s also less than 1 percent of what Washington classifies in a given year. It has not put us on the brink of total transparency. It has not caused diplomatic Armageddon. And there is no concrete evidence whatsoever that any civilian or soldier has been harmed by the leaks. On the other hand, we have a very clear understanding of what the Iraq War was really all about and what our Afghan War is still all about. And the leaks have sparked important debates and even reforms, and in the case of Tunisia, did help spark an uprising that overthrew a hated dictator there. What’s not to like?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, last week, Democracy Now! spoke to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He spoke to us from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he’s been holed up for 11 months to avoid extradition to Sweden. He fears that, from there, he would then be extradited to the United States, where he fears a grand jury has secretly indicted him for publishing the diplomatic cables leaked by Bradley Manning. Assange talked about the implications of Bradley Manning’s trial.

JULIAN ASSANGE: He’s also facing a quite decent chance of life imprisonment. And the life imprisonment charge comes from a very new ambit claim of the Pentagon, that is—and the Department of Justice, that is, communicating with a journalist is communicating to the public, is communicating to al-Qaeda. And there’s no allegation that Bradley Manning intended to communicate to al-Qaeda. The only allegation is that he indirectly did so as a result of communicating with journalists, who communicated to the public. If that precedent is allowed to be erected, it will do two things. Firstly, it means it’s a potential death penalty for any person in the military speaking to a journalist about a sensitive matter. Secondly, it also embroils the journalist and the publication in that chain of communicating, they would say, to the enemy, and therefore making them susceptible, as well, to the Espionage Act, which also has capital offenses. And that is part of the U.S.—that latter part is part of the U.S. attack on WikiLeaks, including myself.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Julian Assange speaking to Democracy Now! last week from the Ecuadorean embassy. Ecuador has granted him political asylum, but the British government threatens to arrest him if he steps foot outside the embassy to try to go to Ecuador.

Meanwhile, a New York Times op-ed suggested when government secrets are leaked, responsibility lies with the whistleblower alone, not the media that publicized their leaks. Max Frankel, The New York Times Washington bureau chief during the Pentagon Papers leak, said, quote, “When the government moved to prosecute Ellsberg, we felt no obligation to assist him. He was committing an act of civil disobedience and presumably knew that required accepting the punishment. We were privately pleased that the prosecution overreached and failed, but we did not consider ourselves his partner in any way.” Chase Madar, your response?

CHASE MADAR: Well, this is just a shocking betrayal of an important source. Both Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning have supplied the world’s greatest newspapers and magazines with cover stories and headlines that number in the thousands. And it’s just shameful the way The New York Times, in particular, has turned on Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks and has made an actual point of sliming both of them with the insinuations that Bradley Manning did what he did because he’s weird or because he’s crazy or gay, or gay and crazy. Enough of this. This is an important act that has enlightened the public, and we have paid a very heavy price in blood and money, and inflicted horrible destruction around the world, because we did not know what our government is doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Gosztola, in the car outside the Fort Meade courtroom, describe for us what that courtroom is like and who can actually go into the courtroom where Bradley Manning is being tried and what you’re allowed to bring with you in terms of taking notes, reporting out. I mean, the audio we just played of Bradley Manning was not authorized, of course. It was forbidden. But someone actually recorded his voice. Talk about where the reporters will be and how you’ll convey information through this trial.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, first I’ll say quickly that the military’s view of freedom of the press is such that they have told us the media center is a privilege, not a right. And they have also said if there is a leak again, everyone will feel the pain, and they want us to police ourselves and be informing on our fellow journalists, which I take—I don’t like this at all, and I completely oppose.

But I should say that, going into it, there are going to be 70 seats inside of a media center. People will watch a feed from the courtroom. They will have 10 media that will be allowed to go into the court proceeding and see whatever is going on, you know, how the public gallery is responding, how the prosecutors and the judge are interacting. Inside the media center, you can use your laptop, you can use your computer, but inside of the courtroom, you have to only limit yourself to pen, pencil, paper, which makes it hard, especially if what you’re doing is online. And that’s part of the challenge. Part of the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit is just the fact that the judge continues to not make court records available so that we can, the day of, do the most extensive reporting that we should be doing on Bradley Manning’s court-martial.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase Madar, if you’d like to wrap up with why you not only are covering this but chose to write a book on this, and what you think are the significant facts, as this trial begins, for people who don’t know that much about Bradley Manning to understand.

CHASE MADAR: People need to understand that the idea that government should be as open and transparent as realistically possible, this is not some crazy new idea that was schemed up by a bunch of computer hackers at Julian Assange’s kitchen table a few years ago. It’s a very old idea. It’s a very good idea. And it was James Madison, the primary author of our Constitution, who wrote over 200 years ago that a popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prelude to a tragedy or a farce, or perhaps both. The last 10 years of U.S. foreign policy have been a tragic farce. If we’re going to snap out of it and stop making poorly informed decisions that wind up in catastrophe, we need to know what our government is doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase Madar, I want to thank you very much for being with us, The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the WikiLeaks Whistleblower, is our guest. Kevin Gosztola, speaking to us directly from the trial, from Firedoglake.

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