There were many memorable images from last Sunday’s protest aimed at calling attention to the plight of a gay service member accused of treason by the federal government, but two images stood out above all others.
The line of riot police, hooded with glass visors and carrying truncheons and heavy shields, standing silent at first, shoulder to shoulder, buffed out with padded body armor, flanked by other riot police with lunging dogs, and other hulking men carrying automatic weapons, and even an armored Humvee, its engine running, and the full line now several hundred strong.
The other image appeared peaceful. A line of demonstrators walking forward, toward the police, linking their arms also, but singing while walking down Virginia Route 1, not carrying weapons but bouquets, to deliver flowers to the foot of the Iwo Jima monument there, the replica statue at the gates of the Quantico Marine Corps Base.
MORE IN THE BLADE: SUPPORTERS WORTY ABOUT TORTURE IN BRADLEY MANNING DETENTION
That’s where PFC Bradley Manning has been held in solitary confinement for eight months in pre-trial detention, waiting for the charges against him to be presented, including one carrying the death penalty. Manning is the accused whistleblower, the alleged source of the explosive Wikileaks revelations from secret documents released by Julian Assange, that detail case after case of alleged U.S. government misconduct.
Manning, a gay man, is accused of “aiding the enemy,” and has been “tortured” while in custody, according to his attorney, in an alleged attempt to wring a confession from him. A court martial could lead to life in prison or possibly execution.
About 500 protesters chanting “Free Bradley Manning” had met several hours earlier on a muddy field a few hundred yards away from the monument and the gate, now both walled off by police barriers to prevent the crowd from entering the base.
It began as demonstrations usually do, with a raised platform, and microphones and speakers, amid banners and placards. Speakers included Marine Corps veteran and famed Vietnam War-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who released to Richard Nixon’s great embarrassment the Pentagon Papers; retired Marine Corps Captain David McMichael, now 83 but still ramrod straight, whose last post was as a company commander at Quantico; Army Colonel, retired after 29 years in uniform, and former State Department official, Ann Wright; and Manning’s close personal friend, David House, an expert on information economics, who met Manning in January 2010 at an open-house meeting of a group of computer technology enthusiasts at Boston University.
Manning’s arrest as a suspect accused of handing over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, came in May 2010 when he had returned to his duty station as an Army intelligence analyst stationed with a combat team near Baghdad. Those charges came in July last year, updated this month with further charges including the capital one of “aiding the enemy.” The first of the Wikileaks cables were published in February 2010, with newspapers including the New York Times publishing the rest from November onward.
Manning has never said he was the source for the documents, written by 250 embassies and consulates in 180 countries, which had been downloaded from SIPRNet, the classified State Department computer deposit for diplomatic cables. But he is alleged to have contacted a former computer hacker, Adrian Lamo, and sent him several encrypted e-mails and then chatted with Lamo online. Lamo later told the FBI that Manning had basically said that he was the Wikileaks source.
Those documents included military war logs and documents from both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as the so-called “Collateral Murder” video, shot from a U.S. military Apache helicopter gunship in July 2007 of an airstrike and published by Wikileaks in April 2010, showing the deaths of civilians including two journalists for the Reuters news agency.
Below are excerpts from some of Sunday’s speeches.
“I feel shame as a Marine myself that members of the Marine Corps are torturing Bradley Manning by keeping him in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, and sometimes forcing him to sleep naked and stand in the nude for inspection …
“President Obama could stop that with one phone call,” continued the 72-year-old Ellsberg, as cries from the crowd of “yes, he can” echoed among other shouts of “shame.”
While saying that the burden of proof is on the authorities to prove that Manning passed the classified documents to Wikileaks, something Manning hasn’t admitted, Ellsberg declared of Manning that “if he did do what he’s charged with, then Bradley Manning is an American hero,” noting of himself, that “while this may sound self-serving or boastful, but I was the Bradley Manning of my day … I was called a traitor, as he is, and Bradley Manning is no more of a traitor than I was, and he’s not, and I’m not!”
“Thank you all for being here, this has become a notorious event and cause celebre around the world.” He then expressed his personal “outrage at the way the prosecution of Bradley Manning is being conducted, and the harsh conditions in which he is being held, so severe as to violate both U.S. and international law, and you could call it torture.”
McMicheal read further from his letter to the president about Manning that “the lesser evil is not a good enough reason to support you again,” and that in 2012 he would, though “a loyal Democrat,” oppose Obama for re-election.
“I’m horrified at how a member of the U.S. military is being treated, right here at Quantico, and we want this stuff to stop! Let’s get Bradley Manning fair treatment while he’s in pre-trial detention, so he can get an honest trial, and he should be treated with respect” until his trial, instead of with “cruel and unusual punishment.”
“It’s stuff like this that gives Bradley Manning hope, and when I tell him there are people like you in the ‘transparency’ movement, his eyes light up. If he’s guilty of the things he’s charged with, if he’s the man who released the Wikileaks documents, I consider him a hero of the highest order … and he is not an exception, as a whistleblower, but he is a herald of things to come. … I hope Barack Obama is listening to this!”
Later, House told the Blade that Manning “considers himself to be a very ethical person and an American patriot,” and that “he’s a very humble, intelligent and kind individual.”
After the speakers finished and the rally ended, an event orchestrated beforehand with police authorities, including those from the Virginia State Police and the Prince William County Police, allowed six activists, including Ellsberg, McMichael and Wright, to pass through police barriers, cross Route 1, and approach the Iwo Jima statue. However, they were kept back from entering Marine Corps Base property and were forced to toss their bouquets of red and white carnations through an opening onto the base of the statue.
Then they sat down, in the middle of the highway, and then, at the mournful sound of a bugler, the assembled crowd burst through the barriers and thronged onto the highway joining the six, and many of them also sat down. And for two hours the chants and songs and prayers were heard, until finally, after the protesters refused to vacate the intersection, the police moved in and arrested one by one about 30 of those still seated, including Ellsberg and Wright, on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly, and impeding access to the road.
Marine Col. Thomas V. Johnson, a spokesperson for the base, said access to the Iwo Jima memorial was denied because protest activity is not permitted on base grounds. But he also said that, “we’re pleased that people were able to express their First Amendment rights in a manner that did not infringe upon base property.”