The wrong direction

2013-08-23 10:11

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Simon Williamson

On Wednesday Chelsea Manning (previously Bradley Manning; Manning now lives as a woman) was sentenced to 35 years in prison by a military court.

It was with precise, reactive and irate fervour that the US prosecuted Manning, who released hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks, and showed the ugly and dangerous face of some US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And it was an ugly face: Within the documents was a clip of US soldiers shooting at nine men presumed guilty of something, although two of them were a Reuters journalist and photographer. The tranche included records about the men imprisoned in the nefarious Guantanamo Bay dossier, many of whom will not be charged, tried, or released. The leaks displayed how the US turned the other cheek while Iraqi security forces tortured prisoners. They documented the previously unreported slaughter of thousands of civilians. A cable showed the Obama administration complicit in trying to quash an investigation into Bush-era officials.

Revelations included then-Yemeni President lying about US drone strikes within his country, claiming they were of his administration; how German officials capitulated when the US asked them to go easy on an investigation into how CIA agents abducted a German citizen. Add how former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spent the years atop the Pentagon talking garbage to the press and how the US embedded troops with the Pakistani military in spite of what the Pakistani government was saying.

Not fixing what's broken

Believe it or not, the list runs on like a Buthelezi speech.

While the anti-leak knee-jerk reaction was to immediately begin complaining about what damage this could do to US national security, "US officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone's death." (Although that article is from 2010, the maxim remains true three years later.)

Instead of rushing to fix what Manning and Wikileaks showed was broken, the US government and military instead came down on Manning like a piano dropped from a building.

A United Nations investigation claimed the conditions under which Manning was imprisoned could constitute torture, in particular an 11-month stretch where Manning was kept in solitary conditions for 23 hours a day, much of which Manning was forced to spend naked. Manning was also not allowed to speak to the UN investigator looking into his treatment, which, the investigator concluded, is a violation of human rights. For this, Manning's sentence was reduced by a paltry 112 days. If that doesn't discourage the government from flouting human rights, I'm not sure what will.

The Obama administration has already prosecuted four leakers under the Espionage Act, having gone after seven - more than double the total of all administrations since 1917 combined (that's 16 presidents). Aside from its most recent verdict, it managed to show prospective leakers just how cruelly they will be stored in a government facility, should they decide to go public with their concerns.

While this verdict continues the government's aim of firmly prosecuting leakers (unless it is information the government wants leaked, a common practice), in an attempt to scare people from doing so, there is another highly hypocritical angle here that should make citizens fear: the US government's stubborn refusal to criticise itself, and the lame oversight it claims oversees its illegal actions.

Intimidation effort

That the Obama administration would chase those who violated human rights, killed civilians, permitted torture and lied to the world with the zeal it attempted to smash Manning is but a dream.

Instead, the US has spent the years since the Wikileaks drop doing its best to make sure that abuses are no longer reported on.

And that intimidation effort is working rather splendidly. One needs to merely ask the Associated Press, Fox News, New York Times journalist James Risen, former FBI translator Shamai Leibowitz, former National Secutity Agency executive Thomas Drake, CIA veteran John Kiriakou, Glen Greenwald's boyfriend David Miranda, and Edward Snowden.

And Chelsea Manning, someone who revealed repulsive and banned things the US government was doing, who will live at the United States Penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for the foreseeable future.

Read more on:    un  |  wikileaks  |  chelsea manning  |  edward snowden  |  us  |  espionage

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