WASHINGTON -- Cornel West joined a panel discussion organized by the Bradley Manning Support Network on Sunday to defend the Army leaker and connect him to the larger struggle for justice.
"We have to be willing to tell the truth across the board," said West, a noted scholar, activist and professor at Union Theological Seminary. "That's what Bradley Manning is all about."
Manning's prosecution for pulling back the curtain on U.S. military and diplomatic operations, West suggested, is indicative of an even broader assault on civil liberties. "In many ways, [Manning] is an extension of us at our best. And not just us, an extension of the brothers and sisters of black America," he said.
Manning, who was convicted on six counts of espionage and 13 additional charges last week, is currently awaiting what could potentially be a 90-year sentence for disclosing thousands of documents to WikiLeaks -- including airstrike videos, diplomatic cables and Army reports.
"If Larry Summers went to jail, he would be pardoned," joked West, contrasting the slim chance that Manning will receive a pardon with President Barack Obama's defense of the potential Federal Reserve chairman, with whom West famously argued.
Heated discussion among the panelists drew cheers from the hundreds of Manning supporters in attendance, as West, former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges and Bradley Manning Support Network blogger Nathan Fuller discussed Manning's arrest within the context of such topics as National Security Agency surveillance, inner-city decay and the use of drones.
"That's precisely why the Bradley Manning moment is so crucial," said West. "It's against the backdrop of a Supreme Court gutting the voting rights. It's against the backdrop of brother Trayvon Martin ... But you can't talk about Trayvon Martin unless you talk about Abdulrahman [al-Awlaki], the brother who was killed by a U.S. drone. There's a connection between George Zimmerman in Florida and U.S. drones dropping bombs on innocent, precious human beings."