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Show trial for WikiLeaks whistle-blower

Patricia Mallow

February 13, 2012

On Saturday December 17, Bradley Manning, the accused WikiLeaks whistleblower, turned all of 24. It was the second day of his Article 32 hearing (the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing) and, while inside the military courtroom evidence was being heard in order to determine whether the case would proceed to court martial, a highly spirited crowd of over 300 supporters (including myself) were demonstrating outside the main gates of the Fort Meade, Maryland base where the proceedings were being held.

At the end of the speeches and musical performance by David Rovics, Manning’s supporters sang “Happy Birthday.” If the outcome of the hearing is any indication, Pfc Manning is facing a possible lifetime of birthdays unjustly incarcerated.

On January 12, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, the investigating officer who presided over the Article 32 hearing, made the formal recommendation that Manning face court martial on all 22 offences for which he was originally charged, including the most serious, and controversial, “aiding and abetting the enemy.”

For the United States Government, the enemy that Manning “aided” in allegedly downloading and turning over to WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of classified documents (many of which detail incidents of civilian deaths and cover-ups in the war on terror) was al Qaeda; for his supporters, the real enemy is the United States Government. Indeed, for many people, veterans in particular, Manning is a hero.

The problem, beyond the laying of such severe charges, is that Manning stands little chance of a fair court martial.

At the outset of the Article 32 hearing, lead defence counsel David Coombs moved for Almanza to recuse himself on the grounds that he might appear biased to “a reasonable person.” No wonder. Almanza, an Army reservist, is also a prosecutor with the Department of Justice, which is conducting a separate criminal investigation of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

This means that Almanza’s boss is Barack Obama who has already said publicly that Manning is guilty, prejudicing the case before it even began.

But aside from “wearing two hats,” as Coombs put it, Almanza denied all but two of the defence team’s list of 38 witnesses while allowing all 20 witnesses for the prosecution.

Thus excluded from the testimony were expert arguments that the leaked documents didn’t warrant top-secret classification as no damage was done. Contrary to the government’s claim that Manning “has blood on his hands,” there has not been a single recorded instance of harm done to civilians or soldiers as a result of the documents being in the public domain.

Meanwhile, those with real blood on their hands are going free. Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich admits to ordering his subordinates to shoot 24 Iraqi civilians.

The seven men under his command have all been cleared, while Wuterich has simply been demoted and given a suspended 90-day confinement. Members of the Bush administration, who launched the Iraq War that killed a million people, have never been brought to justice.

If Manning’s court martial is prosecuted in the same fashion as the Article 32 hearing, in other words, as a show trial, it will be readily apparent that “military justice” is but a cruel oxymoron.

For full coverage of the hearing and updates on the case, visit

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