Joanne McNeil (an occasional Reason contributor) reports from the Bradley Manning trial for Jacobin magazine, with some interesting observations, starting with the fact that he seems to have a lot of older fans, with:
a third of the people attending the trial as spectators could remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor as clearly as 9-11. And quite a number more looked like retired boomers. Has AARP thrown its weight behind hacktivist causes? Were they cypherpunks in elaborate disguise?
I started talking with a retired woman who drove down from Pennsylvania. I asked how she felt about the prosecution's depiction of WikiLeaks as a terrorist abettor. "Well, I'm not as concerned with that," she said. "I'm here because they were torturing that kid."
McNeil notes that this trial, of great importance to citizens' and the press' relationship with government and government crimes, isn't getting the attention it deserves:
How many people even know the trial is happening? Manning was held for three years without a trial. That is plenty of time for the public to mistakenly assume there was already a court decision and sentencing. And why did they try this case at all? Manning already pled guilty to 10 charges and faces up to 20 years. The remaining charges are bizarrely exaggerated. Using flimsy circumstantial evidence, the government is trying to argue that publishing documents on the internet assists terrorists. And for that they could lock him away for life….
The prosecutors are in their early 30s — nominally "digital natives" — and should know better. "Do you know what WGet is?" they interrogate a witness, as if it is malicious spyware and not an everyday command line program. The government is capitalizing on asymmetric tech literacy and the failure of language when old laws are applied to the internet. At the peak of this absurdity: WikiLeaks cables are still formally classified, so despite being readily available to anyone with internet, closed sessions are required to discuss them.
Perhaps you heard the audio of Bradley Manning's court statement last November. That was leaked. No other recordings or visuals have come out of the trial, with the exception of courtroom sketches. Now imagine if there were a livestream. And imagine if everyone had tuned in to watch Yochai Benkler's gripping expert witness testimony on July 10th. He argued on behalf of the decentralization of media in the digital age, the blurred lines between activist and journalist, and that WikiLeaks was "providing a discrete but critical component of what in the past was always integrated in a single organization."….
Why did the prosecution ramp up charges against Manning? "Aiding the enemy" might have resulted in the death penalty. The answer came from Benkler under cross-examination. Summarizing an article he wrote, he explained in court, "it's very hard to suppress information once it's on WikiLeaks and that the core target needs to be on trust as the center of gravity. In other words, to undermine the concept that WikiLeaks is a place where a leaker can go and trust that they won't be revealed. So in order to prevent this distributed leaking, it's necessary to increase the fear, as it were, or the constraint on potential leakers."
That's justice in America: increasing the fear that anyone might help American citizens or journalists might have a chance of learning what's being done in our names, on our dimes.
Part of the public campaign against Manning is based on the notion that he, well, he just ain't right:
Manning was tortured in part because he signed a few letters from the brig as "Breanna Elizabeth." Marine Corps Master Sgt. Craig Blenis defended his cruelty in a December pre-trial hearing. Coombs asked why the marine thought Manning's gender dysphoria should factor into his "prevention of Injury" status. Blenis answered because "that's not normal, sir."
But it is normal. Manning's gender identity is as normal as his computer use. Using WGet, believing WikiLeaks to be a reputable news source in 2010, listening to Lady Gaga, identifying as a gender different from your assigned sex— this is all normal. It just might take another generation to see this. What is out of the ordinary about Pfc Bradley Manning is his extraordinary courage.
Reason.TV was live from the Manning trial a few weeks ago: