Great news from the White House, as, in the dying days of his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the former Army intelligence analyst responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.
I regard the Guantánamo files as a hugely significant resource, which, unfortunately, have been used by right-wing, Islamophobic magazines and websites in an effort to justify the continued existence of Guantánamo. Like Biblical fundamentalists, who swear that everything in the Bible is true (and who, as a result, are unable to recognize its many contradictions), the right-wing defenders of Guantánamo fail to recognize the huge number of contradictions in the files.
Any intelligent analysis of the files instead reveals the extent to which they lay bare the cruelty and incompetence of the authorities at Guantánamo, providing the names of the many unreliable witnesses, who, as a result of torture for other forms of abuse, or being bribed with better living conditions, or simply through exhaustion after seemingly endless — and pointless — interrogations, told their interrogators what they wanted to hear. And the interrogators, of course, wanted whatever information would make the prisoners appear significant, when, in truth, they had been rounded up in a largely random manner, or had been bought for bounty payments from the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, and very few — a maximum of 3% of the 779 men held, I estimate — genuinely had any kind of meaningful connection with al-Qaeda, the leadership of the Taliban, or any related groups. Most were either foot soldiers or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressed up as “terrorists” to justify a dragnet, from September 2001 to November 2003 (when the transfers to Guantánamo largely ended) that is primarily remarkable because of its stunning incompetence.
I began a detailed study of the Guantánamo files leaked by Manning after their release in 2011, but exhaustion, and a lack of funding, prevented me from analyzing more than the 422 files I covered in detail in 34 articles totaling over half a million words, which are available here, although I do believe that my work on the files constitutes important research. One day I hope to complete the project, but even if I don’t, the files Manning released will provide historians with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the extent to which the so-called intelligence at Guantánamo is a house of cards built on torture and lies, and we should all be grateful to her for leaking them in the first place — just as there are reasons to be grateful for all the other documents she leaked.
Reporting the commuting of Manning’s sentence, Charlie Savage in the New York Times described how Obama’s decision “rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.,” adding “She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.”
Savage also noted how this, and a pardon for Gen. James E. Cartwright, “the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with reporters to FBI agents investigating a leak of classified information about cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program,” were “a remarkable final step for a president whose administration carried out an unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaks of government secrets. Depending on how they are counted, the Obama administration has prosecuted either nine or 10 such cases, more than were charged under all previous presidencies combined.”
Obama also “commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was part of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that carried out a string of bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” who had been held long after the other members had been freed, and “also granted 63 other pardons and 207 other commutations, mostly for drug offenders.”
Manning will be freed on May 17, 2017 rather than in 2045, with a senior administration official explaining that the 120-day delay was “part of a standard transition period for commutations to time served, and was designed to allow for such steps as finding a place for Ms. Manning to live after her release.” Charlie Savage added that the commutation “also relieved the Defense Department of the difficult responsibility of Ms. Manning’s incarceration as she pushes for treatment for her gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery, that the military has no experience providing.”
Several Republican lawmakers criticized the commutation, as did president elect Donald Trump, but Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward — lawyers representing Manning — were euphoric.
“Ms. Manning is the longest serving whistleblower in the history of the United States,” they stated. “Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we’re delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation.”
Unlike Manning, no pardon will be forthcoming for Edward Snowden. On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest “discussed the ‘pretty stark difference’ between Ms. Manning’s case for mercy and Mr. Snowden’s,” as the Times put it, adding that, “While their offenses were similar, he said, there were ‘some important differences.’”
“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said, whereas “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”
Mr. Earnest also noted that “while the documents Ms. Manning provided to WikiLeaks were ‘damaging to national security,’ the ones Mr. Snowden disclosed were ‘far more serious and far more dangerous.’”
When Manning decided to make public files she uncovered, as Pfc. Bradley Manning, on duty in Iraq, she wrote at the time that she hoped they would incite “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.”
Charlie Savage noted that the disclosures “set off a frantic scramble as Obama administration officials sought to minimize any potential harm, including getting to safety some foreigners in dangerous countries who were identified as having helped American troops or diplomats,” adding that prosecutors, however, “presented no evidence that anyone had been killed because of the leaks.”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
I’m delighted to be cross-posting below an interview conducted by my good friend The Talking Dog (functioning below the radar under a pseudonym in New York City) with another good friend, Army Maj. Todd Pierce (retired), who, as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, was part of the defense team for two Guantánamo prisoners charged in the military commissions — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul (still held) and Ibrahim al-Qosi (released in 2012).
Todd became fascinated by the philosophical origins of the Bush-Cheney military commissions in the Nazi era, and efforts to justify the commissions through a warped interpretation of US Civil War precedents. Since retiring, he has continued to pursue these interests, and has also become part of Sam Adams Associates, who describe themselves as “a movement of former CIA colleagues of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, together with others who hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power,” and who, every year since 2002, have presented the Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence to whistleblowers — most recently to Chelsea Manning, at an event in Oxford that I attended in February.
I do hope you have time to read the interview — which also includes Todd’s latest thoughts on the case of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who has been successfully appealing against his 2008 conviction and life sentence — with profound repercussions for the entire military commissions project, which, it should be noted, should never have been revived by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the first place.
If you enjoy it, please share it, and please also follow the links I’m posting at the end of this article to the Talking Dog’s extensive archive of interviews about Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last Wednesday (February 19), I was delighted to travel from London to Oxford to attend the presentation of the Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea Manning — or rather, to Chelsea’s old school friend Aaron Kirkhouse, who received the award on Manning’s behalf. Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) was, of course, given a 35-year sentence in August for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.
I had been invited by Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and prominent peace activist, who I met for the first time in Berkeley, California in October 2010, as part of Berkeley Says No to Torture Week, and by Todd Pierce, a recently retired military defense attorney, who worked on a number of Guantánamo cases involving men facing military commissions trials, and who has been a friend for many years. Also speaking at the event for Chelsea Manning were Ann Wright, former US Army colonel and former State Department official, who was one of only three US officials to resign over the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and who I had also met in Berkeley in 2010, and two people I had not met before — the former British ambassador Craig Murray, and MI5 whistleblower Annie Machon.
It was a powerful event, presided over by Ray, who made us all feel at home in the Oxford Union, and introduced the various speakers prior to the presentation of the award to Aaron Kirkhouse on Chelsea’s behalf. Read the rest of this entry »
Six weeks ago, on June 26, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, initiated by the United Nations in 1997, on the 10th anniversary of the the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, I posted the first half of a newly released documentary film, “Culture of Impunity,” for which I was interviewed along with the law professor and author Marjorie Cohn, the professor, author and filmmaker Saul Landau, the author and activist David Swanson, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch and Stephen Rohde of the ACLU.
The documentary, which looks at the many ways in which the most senior figures in the Bush administration — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — have escaped accountability for the crimes committed in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks, was produced by Alternate Focus, which describes itself as “working for peace and justice by offering the American public media which shows another side of Middle Eastern issues,” and I was interviewed for it in April.
The producer, John Odam, has just sent me a link to the second part of this powerful documentary, on YouTube, which I’ve made available below, along with the first part. It features all of the experts interviewed in the first half, as well as Stephen Zunes, a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday evening, I spoke to RT about the verdict in the trial by court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, following his conviction on 20 charges, including espionage and theft, which was announced by the judge in his case, Army Col. Denise Lind, on Monday. My five-minute interview is available below, via YouTube.
Significantly, Judge Lind refused to convict Manning on the most serious charge — that of “aiding the enemy,” which the prosecution had tried to claim proved that Manning had “general evil intent” when he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified US government documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.
However, that was the only good news on Monday, as Manning still faces 136 years in prison based on the other charges, which is a horrendous situation. Asked about it, I explained that it is an unacceptable ruling for whistleblowers, motivated, as Manning was, to make available information that is in the public interest — about war crimes, for example — that the US government wanted to keep hidden, and I also pointed out how the mainstream media evidently agreed, having used what he leaked to sell newspapers and attract viewers for news programs for many months in 2010 and 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, just before the defense rested its case in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, I was delighted that my book The Guantánamo Files was cited as a significant source of reliable information about the prisoners in Guantánamo — more reliable, in fact, than the information contained in the previously classified military files (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) leaked by Manning and released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.
The trial began at the start of June, but on February 28, Manning accepted responsibility for the largest leak of classified documents in US history — including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files.
When Manning accepted responsibility for the leaks, the Guardian described it as follows: “In a highly unusual move for a defendant in such a serious criminal prosecution, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges out of his own volition – not as part of a plea bargain with the prosecution.” The Guardian added that the charges to which Manning pleaded guilty “carry a two-year maximum sentence each, committing Manning to a possible upper limit of 20 years in military prison,” but pointed out that he “pleaded not guilty to 12 counts which relate to the major offences of which he is accused by the US government. Specifically, he denied he had been involved in ‘aiding the enemy’ — the idea that he knowingly gave help to al-Qaida and caused secret intelligence to be published on the internet, aware that by doing so it would become available to the enemy.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, as the trial of Bradley Manning finally got underway at Fort Meade in Maryland, nearly three years after the military analyst was first arrested for the biggest leak of classified documents in US history, I was asked to take part in a radio show on Voice of Russia, the radio station whose UK studio is in St. James’s Square in central London.
The show was entitled, “Bradley Manning and the nature of intelligence,” and involved guests in three studios — in Washington D.C, Moscow and London. It was 45 minutes in total, but the London segment has been made available as an audio file, and can be listened to, or downloaded here.
I appeared in London alongside John Gearson, Professor of National Security Studies, and Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London, and our host was Hywel Davis.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak about the importance of Bradley Manning’s whistleblowing, and to explain why I believe that, although he obviously disobeyed the rules governing the behavior of US military personnel, the attempt to claim that he was “aiding the enemy” is absurd, and the military — and the Obama administration — should, at most, have settled for the 20-year sentence that is the maximum punishment for the crimes to which Manning has already agreed. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday (June 3), three years and one week since he was first arrested in Kuwait, the trial by court-martial begins, at Fort Meade in Maryland, of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower responsible for making available — to the campaigning organization WikiLeaks — the largest collection of classified documents ever leaked to the public, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the classified military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released in April 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner (see here for the first 34 parts of my 70-part, million-word series analyzing the Guantánamo files).
To highlight what the Bradley Manning Support Network describes as a trial that “will determine whether a conscience-driven 25-year-old WikiLeaks whistle-blower spends the rest of his life in prison,” an international day of action is taking place on Saturday, June 1. See here for a full list of events worldwide.
At Fort Meade, the day of action will begin at 1pm — see the website here, and sign up on the Facebook page. There will be speakers at 1.30pm, a march at 2pm, and more speakers at 3pm. Speakers “include Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower; Ethan McCord, the soldier who saved the children attacked in the ‘Collateral Murder’ video released by WikiLeaks; Col. Ann Wright, the most senior State Department official to resign in protest of the Iraq war; Sarah Shourd, hiker imprisoned by Iran turned prisoner rights activist; and Lt. Dan Choi, prominent anti-Don’t Ask Don’t Tell activist featured on the Rachel Maddow show.” Read the rest of this entry »
A year ago yesterday, I embarked on a huge and ongoing project — to photograph the whole of London by bike. A year and a day later, I have taken around 13,000 photos, and have published nearly 1,700 on Flickr. As it happens, my time has been so consumed of late with my ongoing campaign to close Guantánamo — where the prison-wide hunger strike, now in its fourth month, has finally awoken the world to the ongoing horrors of the prison — that I have not had time recently to publish photos from this project, although I have continued to take photos on an almost daily basis. I am currently organising the photos by area — largely, in fact, by postcode — as I work out how best to show them and to market them, but to mark the anniversary I will soon be posting a selection of photos from the first year of the project – and if anyone has any good ideas abut how to take tis project forward, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
In the meantime, I realised that today — May 12 — is the first anniversary of an event organised by the worldwide Occupy movement (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York), and that I had photographed the event that took place in London, and so, to coincide with that anniversary, I’ve put together a selection off photos from the various political campaigns and protests I’ve been involved in over the last year. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE MAY 7: It has just been confirmed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will now be taking part in this event, via video link from the Ecuadorian Embassy, from 7.30 to 8.15pm.
It’s almost three years since Pfc. Bradley Manning, who had been working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, was arrested by the US military and imprisoned in Kuwait for allegedly making available — to the campaigning organization WikiLeaks — the largest collection of classified documents ever leaked to the public, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the classified military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released in April 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner (see here for the first 34 parts of my 70-part, million-word series analyzing the Guantánamo files).
In July 2010, Manning was transferred to the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia, where the conditions of his confinement began to cause international concern. I first wrote about his case in December 2010, when he was being held in solitary confinement, in an article entitled, “Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?” and I followed his story into 2011, and his transfer to less contentious conditions of confinement in Fort Leavenworth on April 20, just five days before WikiLeaks released the Guantánamo files.
In the last two years, I have largely deferred to other writers, researchers and activists, dedicated to Bradley Manning’s story, to cover developments in his case, particularly relating to a series of pre-trial hearings. His trial begins on June 3 (preceded by an international day of action on June 1), and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to revisit his story this Wednesday, May 8, at an event in London organized by Naomi Colvin and Katia Michaels, at which I am honoured to be sharing a stage with Chase Madar, the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, and Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier and conscientious objector. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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