As the long trial of Bradley Manning gets underway this week, I want to add my voice to the millions who stand with him and the thousands who protested his imprisonment over the weekend, and thank him for his brave act, and urge that all charges against him be dropped. Releasing information on war crimes, as the saying goes, is not a war crime. He should be released immediately.
Manning faces decades in prison, and perhaps life in prison, for allegedly leaking a video of a U.S. helicopter attack that killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians to the website Wikileaks. Two Reuters reporters were killed, and at least two children were also severely wounded. Manning is also suspected of leaking tens of thousands of U.S. reports about its war in Afghanistan, explicitly describing civilian deaths and cover-ups, corrupt officials, and U.S. collusion with warlords.
Manning was horrified by the killing of civilians and believed that war crimes were being covered up, so he took action. That does not make him a war criminal.
"I believed that if the general public had access to the information," Manning said in court recently, "this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general. I felt I accomplished something that would allow me to have a clear conscience."
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Obama, and their colleagues -- not Manning -- should stand trial as war criminals. War itself should be on trial.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. killed hundreds of thousands of people, including countless civilians and children, and violated international law, yet the military establishment plans to throw the book at this 25-year-old private who took action to expose the truth of our killings.
The military media propaganda machine is stirring up many lies about Manning. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the effect of WikiLeaks' releases on U.S. foreign relations "modest." There is no evidence that any one was hurt by it.
Meanwhile, Manning's treatment in prison was unconscionable. In his first 10 months, he was locked in solitary confinement and practically tortured. United Nations representative on torture Juan Mendez was prevented from visiting Manning, but after a 14-month investigation called the Obama administration's treatment of Manning "cruel and inhuman." Because of the protests on his behalf, he was eventually moved to better circumstances at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Daniel Ellsberg, who faced life in prison four decades ago for releasing the Pentagon Papers exposing U.S. war crimes in Southeast Asia, has been speaking out diligently on Manning's behalf. I think we should listen to Ellsberg's assessment. "[We] both felt the horror of reading about deceptive, and even criminal activity," Ellsberg wrote recently: "We both felt the public needed this information and should have had it years ago. So we both released classified documents about a bloody, hopeless war. Such criminal, dangerous, and deceptive behavior by the government can only be changed if Congress and the public are informed of them. And when official secrecy allows the government to cover these facts up, the only way to bring them to the public is to break secrecy regulations."
"In releasing documents and videos to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, Manning made an enormously positive impact on world events," Ellsberg writes. "He revealed the terrifying misdeeds by American and coalition forces, such as the 2007 Baghdad airstrike that targeted and killed at least 12 Iraqi civilians. He opened a new pathway for truth and justice to reach the world, perhaps preventing the next unjust war from ever beginning. He even helped inspire a new, global movement for openness and democracy, ringing out from Tahrir Square to Wall Street. To me, and many others, Bradley is a hero."
What can we do to support Bradley Manning? For starters, we can join the Bradley Manning Support Network (at www.bradleymanning.org). We can pray every day during this trial for Bradley Manning, for his release, for new breakthroughs of truth for peace and for an end to our wars.
In particular, I wish church people and churches would speak out on behalf of Bradley Manning. He has taken the strongest stand possible against war, and paid with it by his freedom. He needs our prayer and vocal support.
We might recall that the nonviolent Jesus did not bless war, killing, or injustice. He always sided with children and the victims of empire and spoke truth to power. Jesus himself resisted the imperial system of greed and violence and was arrested, tried and executed as a threat to empire. That's why I think every Christian who dares to follow the nonviolent Jesus should side with Bradley Manning -- and Julian Assange -- in their campaign to expose war crimes. We, too, need to denounce our war crimes, help stop the killings, resist this culture of war, try to relieve unjust suffering, care for the earth, and help make peace with humanity. Change will only come if there is a nonviolent grassroots movement that demands change.
The truth will set you free, Jesus taught. We can be grateful to Bradley Manning for he has showed us the truth about ourselves and what is being done in our names. Let's hope his fearless act of truth and conscience will wake us up to put an end to the crime of war.
May the God of peace bless Bradley Manning, everyone in the court, the press and the military, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and all of us, that we might learn the truth and welcome the freedom of peace and nonviolence.
[This first appeared in The National Catholic Reporter, at www.ncronline.org, on June 4, 2013.]