Bradley Manning: a show trial of state secrecy.
The US government’s suppression of all accountability and transparency in prosecuting the WikiLeaks suspect is totalitarian.
On 24 April, a hearing in one of the most important court martial cases in decades will take place in Fort Meade, Maryland. The accused faces life in prison for the 22 charges against him, which include “aiding the enemy” and “transmitting defense information”. His status as an alleged high-profile whistleblower and the importance of the issues his case raises should all but guarantee the proceedings a prominent spot in major media, as well as in public debate.
Yet, in spite of the grave implications, not to mention the press and public’s first amendment right of full and open access to criminal trials, no outside parties will have access to the evidence, the court documents, court orders or off-the-record arguments that will ultimately decide his fate. Under these circumstances, whatever the outcome of the case, the loser will be the transparency necessary for democratic government, accountable courts and faith in our justice system.
In the two years since his arrest for allegedly leaking the confidential files that exposed grand-scale military misconduct, potential war crimes and questionable diplomatic tactics, army private Bradley Manning has been subjected to an extremely secretive criminal procedure. It is a sad irony that the government’s heavy-handed approach to this case only serves to underscore the motivations – some would say, the necessity – for whistleblowing like Manning’s in the first place.
The most well-known of the leaked files, a 39-minute video entitled “Collateral Murder”, depicts three brutal attacks on civilians by US soldiers during the course of just one day of the Iraq war. The footage, recorded from the cockpit of a US Apache helicopter involved in the attacks, shows the killing of several individuals, including two Reuters journalists, as well as the serious injury of two children. Beyond the chilling images of US soldiers eagerly pleading for chances to shoot, the release of this footage placed a spotlight on the military’s blatant mischaracterization of the events, in which a spokesman claimed that there was “no question” that the incident involved engagement with “a hostile force”, and underscores the vital role that public scrutiny plays in government accountability.