December 5, 2012 · 3 Comments
By Murray Polner:
My copy of the Friday, Nov.30 New York Times arrived late. Since I knew that Pvt. Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing was already underway at Ft. Meade near Baltimore, I wondered why so little had appeared in the Times about the case.
I’ve been interested in the Bradley Manning case since it was announced that he had been arrested in May 2010. Chris Floyd’s exemplary recent article in NYTeXaminer showed how the Times has missed the story, especially Manning’s first public remarks at his hearing when he spoke for hours.
He faces very serious charges for “aiding the enemy”—the enemy no doubt Julian Assange of WikiLeaks who is currently languishing in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London—for allegedly sending him hundreds of thousands of confidential military and government files. Manning also supposedly passed on to him the video “Collateral Murder,” which showed a U.S. helicopter firing at Iraqi civilians and killing 12 including two children and two Reuter journalists. Among other charges he is threatened with prosecution for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, Woodrow Wilson’s punitive measure designed to punish WWI draft and war resisters.
I decided to email the Times’ Public Editor asking why the paper had so little coverage. Her office responded almost immediately and told me that day’s edition had a piece on page 3. After the paper arrived I read an AP dispatch that barely covered the pre-trial and its implications.
I then emailed the Public Editor again. “That was only a thin AP report,” I wrote. “Shouldn’t the Times send a reporter to cover the entire case? Is it not newsworthy? I think it is.” Much to his credit Joseph Burgess of the Public Editor’s office promptly answered: “I will follow up with The Times to see whether they plan to have any changes in coverage in the coming days.” As of December 4 nothing has appeared (though the paper properly featured a lengthy report on Dec. 4 about the pre-trial hearing of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the military psychiatrist who is accused of murderous attacks at Ft. Hood). As for the Times, I could only find Ginger Thompson’s December 20, 2011 and Charlie Savage’s November 9, 2012 fairly thorough pieces both of which attempted to mention some of the thorny issues at stake. Even so, given the fact that Manning was about to appear and testify for the first time since he was imprisoned 918 days earlier. I had assumed, mistakenly, that the paper would follow-up on Savage’s article.
Manning is the 24 year old Catholic son of a broken marriage between a Welsh mother and Oklahoma father. He enlisted in the army in 2007 and soon began exhibiting many personal problems. Still, on the verge of a possible discharge because of unpredictable behavior, he was instead trained as an intelligence analyst and even received a top secret classification for Defense and State Department security clearance and assigned to Iraq’s Forward Operating Base Hammer.
Manning claims to be a whistleblower, driven by his conscience at what he believed were incidents of torture and killing in Iraq. The prosecution on the other hand asserts that he violated his code as a soldier and also endangered American lives. At his hearing Manning also accepted blame for the unauthorized distribution of classified materials but testified that he only did it as an act of conscience and his ethical beliefs and not for any of the reasons alleged by the U.S. Government. Whether he is a military whistleblower in the tradition of two brave Vietnam War soldiers Hugh Thompson and Ron Ridenhour, both of whom refused to remain silent about the My Lai Massacre and acted to denounce the crime, the criminals and superiors trying to cover-up the crime, is impossible to say at this point. Since this was a pre-trial hearing these claims and counter-claims will be judged later if the case ever goes to trial.
Whistleblower or not, he first came to international attention and earned widespread sympathy because of the brutal handling he received at the hands of his jailors— obviously obeying orders from on high—in the Marine Corp’s Quantico brig where he was placed in solitary confinement for nine months supposedly to prevent him from killing himself. His clothing was taken away, his prescription glasses removed, and he was forced to stand at attention until 5:00 am. Manning was, he has claimed, kept from contact with people, guards checking him every five minutes while a fluorescent light just outside his small cell shone in his eyes as he tried to sleep. Floyd’s article has some revealing examples offered by Manning such as being refused toilet paper and being chained whenever he was allowed out for a brief period. Was all this done to deter a possible suicide or simply to cover up possible U.S. and Iraqi war crimes and intimidate future leakers? The military psychiatrist attending Manning called the conditions of his imprisonment “unprecedented.” Amnesty International had another word for it: “Inhumane.” The UN’s special rapporteur on torture agreed. And in a widely publicized announcement, P.J. Crowley, the State’s Department spokesperson courageously denounced Manning’s treatment and “resigned.” For whatever reason, President Obama didn’t think so. In March 2011, answering a question from ABC’s intrepid Jake Tapper at a White House press conference, the President replied that the Pentagon had assured him that Manning’s treatment in prison was “appropriate and is meeting our basic standards.” The next month, at a San Francisco fundraiser in April 2011, the President criticized Manning because he “broke the law” by releasing secret documents. All this before Manning had ever been tried and found guilty. Perhaps a member of the Times’ Washington bureau should be instructed to raise the issue again.
Anyone interested in non-official versions need to turn first to the British Guardian where its former foreign editor Ed Pilkington, now its New York correspondent, has covered the case in great and searching detail. CNN covered it well too. But one needed to visit websites and bloggers such as Consortium, Common Dreams, FAIR, Democracy Now!, Firedoglake, Institute for Public Accuracy, Salon, Antiwar, Information Clearing House and others for lots of information. Obviously, they are clearly supportive of Manning but they do mention facts one can rarely find in the mainstream media and TV, not to mention the Times.
Ray McGovern, an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the early ‘60s and a CIA analyst for 27 years, covered the hearing in ConsortiumNews.com. McGovern wrote: “It is a bitter irony that Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, whose conscience compelled him to leak evidence about the U.S. military brass ignoring evidence of torture in Iraq, is himself the victim of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while other military officers privately took note but did nothing.”
The Times and indeed all of us need to ask why such drastic treatment of a lowly private? Who if anyone ignored his complaints of torture in Iraq? And why is Pvt. Bradley Manning so important, so vital to national security, that he merits worse treatment than that accorded murderers and child rapists? Or than those in high places in Washington who once swore that Saddam Hussein harbored WMDs and sent in the troops for yet another U.S. invasion of a foreign country? What awful, terrible secrets has he spared the American people from learning? Aren’t these a proper story line for the Times to investigate in its daily or Sunday magazine?
The Times could also consider reviewing the only published book about the case, Chase Madar’s “The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story of the Suspect Behind the Largest Security Breach in U.S. History” (OR Books, 2012). It’s ardently pro-Manning so why not a searching review of the book? Isn’t this another way to properly start covering the case of Bradley Manning?
Murray Polner is co-author, with Jim O’Grady, of “Disarmed & Dangerous,” a dual biography of Daniel and Philip Berrigan.