on pardoning american heroes

This Op-Ed in the LA Times got me thinking a lot about something. I encourage you to read that first before reading on.

I think the author there covers the main reasons. Chief among them: Edward Snowden is a heterosexual man.

I fully support what both Snowden and Manning did, so it’s not really an issue of one being better than the other or more worthy of praise or pardon. I think they both should be pardoned. They both need to be pardoned.

The fact that Chelsea Manning is a transgender woman is definitely at the heart of this. While she was locked away for a few years pre-trial (something that is literally unconstitutional), the government worked very hard to smear her. They described her as having serious mental disorders.

As it turns out, her mental disorder can best be described as being transgender.

This matters a great deal for a few reasons.

First, the government outed her as transgender.

Second, they used this as a framework to explain that her motives were petty defiance stemming from her mental instability.

Third, and perhaps worst of all, this became the public narrative surrounding Chelsea Manning.

Fourth, Chelsea was not allowed to speak on any of this. She was often held in solitary confinement (torture) or was denied access to journalists.

She had to watch from prison (where she was being held without charge for well over the allotted 120 days, which is unconstitutional) as pundits picked apart her life. From her sexuality to her alleged motives.

It was, for these reasons, that she faced the trial as Bradley Manning. She and her lawyers decided they did not want the government to use her gender identity against her.

The fact that it’s even possible to smear someone based on their gender is astounding. The public’s discomfort with transgenders is well known. We’ve seen actual laws come into place regarding where they are allowed to use the public restroom.

So maybe it isn’t surprising that the US government used this as a tactic to attack her character. Maybe it’s unsurprising that it worked. But that doesn’t make it any less disgusting.

But let’s talk about the mechanics of a Hollywood biopic. Because, really, that’s what’s shining a light on Edward Snowden at the moment. But even before that, there was the documentary CitizenFour, which is an amazing film that I highly recommend.

Why was Chelsea Manning treated differently?

There are a few obvious reasons. For one thing, she made no grand escape. Chelsea Manning leaked information to Wikileaks, who then worked with several news organizations to release the information. It should be noted that Manning first reached out to news organizations. She wanted to disclose the information right to journalists.

She was ignored.

So she went to Wikileaks.

This isn’t exactly riveting screentime. Sure, they could make it that way, but Manning didn’t hack through government databases. She took readily available information and secretly sent it to Wikileaks, who then, in conjunction with places like the New York Times, released it to the public.

Once she was imprisoned, Chelsea Manning faced extensive cruel and unusual punishment for years before her trial. That’s not even an exaggeration.

Solitary confinement for months at a time. Sometimes she was stripped naked and left naked in her cell.

Human Rights organizations, world leaders, activists, and academics have written letters, pleaded, and demanded that she receive better treatment, but this was largely ignored.

Compare that to Snowden’s story.

Snowden learned an important lesson from previous US whistleblowers. From Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, he learned that he couldn’t just go to his superiors to let them know that what the NSA was doing was unconstitutional and illegal. From Chelsea Manning he learned that he had to be out of reach before he disclosed the information or he would sit in prison for years. Potentially the rest of his life.

So he made his escape.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I understand it has the feel of a spy thriller. And it kind of sounds that way!

Maverick government employee steals secrets, escapes abroad, then releases secrets to journalists, and finally puts his own name on those documents, in order to take control of the narrative before the US government could smear him, the way it smeared Manning.

I think it’s true that we wouldn’t have Snowden without Manning. That Manning’s actions seem daring and thrilling makes it all the more appealing to a mass audience. Add to that a love interest, in Snowden’s long time girlfriend, and the fact that Snowden has had the freedom to speak extensively about what he did, why he did it, how he did it, and has been able to be a regular commentator about privacy, national security, and human rights for years since his disclosure.

To put it simply, Snowden became a household name. Even people who don’t follow politics are aware of him. Some think he’s a traitor while others a hero, and still others are wholly indifferent to him as a person. But there was a built in audience for him. An audience that he is allowed to cultivate by virtue of not being in prison.

Add to that the documentary, which is thrilling and amazing and informative, and you have an easy road to make him a movie with a certain level of mass appeal, or at least mass interest.

But when I say Chelsea Manning, most people need to wikipedia her name to even know who I’m talking about. Even people who have followed Snowden’s disclosures may be unaware of who Chelsea Manning is and what she did.

Being imprisoned took the narrative out of her hands and into the hands of her captors. More than that, the collaboration of the pundit class with our military’s agenda makes this kind of story easy to ignore and hide from the general public.

So Chelsea Manning was ignored and continues to largely be ignored.

How do you film the last six years of her life?

One prison cell after another. Solitary confinement. Her trial, which was a military tribunal so no reporters were allowed to even take notes, seriously hampering any kind of transparency. In fact, many have described it as a kangaroo court. To many, including Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, it appeared that Assange was being tried in absentia along with Manning.

Without evidence–or rather, refusing to allow evidence to the contrary–they described Manning’s disclosures as aiding the enemy and seriously endangering the lives of US soldiers and intelligence officers.

None of which was proved because none of that was true. In fact, just the opposite. She made it safer for everyone by exposing US war crimes.

After her trial, she came out as transgender, was imprisoned in an all male prison. She had to petition and fight to receive gender transition medication, which they outright refused at first. For the last three years, Manning has been refused to be moved to a female prison. Refused to grow her hair out. Refused, at times, access to her medication and to be able to undergo gender affirming surgery. This led to her attempting to commit suicide, which she’s facing even more charges for.

This isn’t exactly a sexy narrative to play out on screens across america. A nation still actively at war in the Middle East. Now in even more countries than when Manning disclosed our war crimes. A public that believes we should continue these wars. A government that plans on expanding them still further.

To me, these are the reasons there has been no huge movement to grant Chelsea Manning a pardon.

  1. She’s a transgender female.
  2. Lack of visibility
  3. Her disclosures are even more damning to the US

My hope is that Snowden receives his pardon. But my greatest hope would be that Chelsea Manning also receives a pardon. Her plight is far greater than Snowden’s and she faces far more barriers to freedom.

If President Obama pardoned both, it would do a lot to lessen the great damage he has done to freedom of the press.

Sign the petition to free Edward Snowden.

Sign the petition to free Chelsea Manning.

something positive

It’s a pretty shit day, but I thought I’d share a few positive things.

EFF [Electronic Freedom Frontier] won its case against the government, which will lead to the release of the FISA court ruling that says the NSA surveillance is unconstitutional. Read the full thing here.

For over a year, EFF has been fighting the government in federal court to force the public release of an 86-page opinion of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Issued in October 2011, the secret court’s opinion found that surveillance conducted by the NSA under the FISA Amendments Act was unconstitutional and violated “the spirit of” federal law.

Also, this great speech by an intern for Teach for america:

Also, this is a pretty depressing but ultimately hopeful look at what the labor movement is and why it matters:

Oh, also, Part XV of (  ) is now up at Manarchy Magazine. Only five more days of this.

Read here.

And, because I can’t help it, just a few very depressing things. I won’t say much about them, just post the links.

Obama DOJ asks Courts to Grant Immunity to the Bush Administration for War Crimes on the same day Bradley Manning was sentenced for exposing those war crimes.

Syria just keeps getting worse.

US military blocks Guardian site for soldiers abroad.

Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to make a purely positive post.

I hope.

For now, keep dreaming. Keep fighting.

bradley manning sentenced to 35 years

Which is tragic. I don’t even really know what to say about it except that it’s actually less than I expected. He’s been accused of espionage, which assumes that there’s someone he’s selling these to, when, in reality, he disclosed them to everyone. Because of this ruling, journalism is a crime. Whistelblowing is treason. Exposing warcrimes is a worse offense than committing warcrimes.

If you’ve been following my facebook, twitter, or even blog posts here, you know that I stand with Bradley Manning. You may have even seen my name in the New York Times alongside Noam Chomsky and others. This is a dark day for america.

The fight begins again today. It extends endlessly.

Livestreaming post-sentencing press conference with David Coombs, Manning’s attorney.

Perhaps he’ll win the Nobel Peace Prize, which he deserves.

I don’t know. This is all quite depressing.

I’m thinking of you, Bradley Manning. Almost always. Hopefully we can get this mess straightened out.

But what’s to be expected when war criminals try the innocent?

Bradley Manning Support Network.

Links to coverage:

Democracy Now! They’ve been covering Bradley Manning for years and it’s probably the best place for information.

Reports here and here.

Outcry here and here and here.

Twitter.

And everything Glenn Greenwald.

And a petition here.

There’s so much more to say. And so many other reports to be read about this. Just google Bradley Manning and you’ll get millions upon millions of hits. Just start reading, if you don’t know already.

–Update 15:08–

David Coombs read Bradley Manning’s statement after being sentenced to 35 years. Here’s the transcript:

The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps—to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

Copied from Democracy Now!

Great article about all the things Bradley Manning has done for us.