Activists from across the country converged outside of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Saturday to oppose the detainment and demand the release, of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old accused by the federal government of sharing previously undisclosed documents to whistleblower web site WikiLeaks.
The event is the first large-scale protest to be held outside of the base since he was transferred there from the US Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia, on April 20. The day-long rally, march and protest featured a variety of speakers, including GI resisters, anti-war activists and veterans, as well as members of the Bradley Manning Support Network, which helped organize the event with the local chapter of Veterans for Peace and other organizations.
For activists at the protest, Manning has become both a symbol of all that is right with whistleblowing and all that is wrong with the federal government.
"Due process and the assumption of innocence are principles we soldiers are sworn to defend, but PFC Bradley Manning has already been declared guilty by our Commander in Chief and subjected to unlawful pretrial punishment," said William Stewart-Starks in a statement, one of the Kansas organizers of Saturday's events, as well as the plains regional coordinator for Iraq Veterans Against the War.
To his supporters at the protest, if Manning is not innocent, then he is certainly a hero. "The information Bradley Manning is accused of releasing should have been in the public domain. Whoever revealed it is an American hero," said Jeff Paterson, who also spoke at the rally on behalf of the Bradley Manning Support Network, in a press release. "Our leaders in Washington need to return to American principles of transparent and accountable government. That starts with protecting - not prosecuting - whistle-blowers and dropping all charges against Bradley Manning."
The notion that the government is at fault was echoed by organizer Emma Cape, an organizer with GI resistor organization Courage to Resist, who works with the Support Network. To her, the fact that the government is prosecuting Manning makes him a symbol of all that is wrong with the government in the post-9/11 era. "There are many issues this case brings up that are emerging issues on the political stage. Take the way he was being incarcerated; it was Guantanamo-like torture. Bradley Manning is symbolic of so many issues and questions. His confinement asks, 'where do we want our participation as citizens to go in US?' Will we concede to the culture of secrecy created by war on terror?" she said by phone on June 3 to Truthout.
Public activism in support of Manning has not been uncommon since Manning first burst into the news. In fact, when Manning was arrested more than a year ago on May 26, 2010, activists and organizations leaped to his defense. The Support Network for instance, is, according to its web site, "dedicated to securing due process and a public trial for PFC Manning - and to eventually winning his freedom."
Paterson of Courage to Resist cites, in a Support Network press release, the relentless pressure by activists following allegations of torture at Quantico as the reason Manning was transferred from solitary confinement there to the medium-custody prison at Fort Leavenworth.
But David Coombs, Manning's attorney, reinforced in a recent statement that the government has not been working in Manning's favor - but against it. On the Support Network's web site, Coombs emphasized that he and his defense team did not learn of Manning's transfer from the government, but through the news. "The defense was not officially notified of PFC Manning's pending move until twenty minutes before the Pentagon's press briefing. This is despite the fact that the Pentagon has 'been thinking about this for a while,'" he wrote on April 19, only a day before the transfer.