Workers Hammer No. 224

Autumn 2013


Jailed for revealing imperialist crimes

Free Chelsea Manning!

Hands off Julian Assange!

On 21 August, Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison and given a dishonourable discharge from the US military for giving more than 700,000 classified military documents, diplomatic cables and war footage to WikiLeaks. After more than three years of pre-trial detention, she has been demoted and is now incarcerated in a maximum-security military prison.

The persecution of Manning is a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s campaign against whistleblowers. It serves as a warning of what US imperialism has in store for Edward Snowden as well as WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, who remains in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Assange is facing extradition to Sweden on trumped-up allegations of “sexual molestation” and “rape”, which by all accounts boil down to consensual sexual activity, and which Assange rightly fears is simply a pretext to facilitate his extradition to the US (see “Hands off Julian Assange!” Workers Hammer no 220, Autumn 2012). Outrageously, in August the British state detained David Miranda under the Terrorism Act at London’s Heathrow airport, in a vindictive move intended also to intimidate Miranda’s partner, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been instrumental in publicising Snowden’s revelations.

In releasing classified documents to expose inhumanity and torture, Manning performed a service to the international working class. Following the sentencing, Manning issued a courageous statement: “I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope you will support me in this transition.” Despite court rulings that have upheld transgender prisoners’ constitutional rights to receive hormone therapy, the US Army immediately announced that none would be forthcoming for Manning in the all-male Leavenworth penitentiary. Manning’s lawyer David Coombs said that he will “do everything in my power to make sure the Army provides quality care and medication”, a fight the Spartacist League fully supports (see “Free Chelsea Manning!” Workers Vanguard no 1029, 6 September). We oppose the prudery and hatred that transgender people face in this bigoted capitalist society, where they are frequently targets of violent, sometimes murderous, attack.

The article below is reprinted from Workers Vanguard no 1028, 9 August, which predates Manning’s statement requesting to be known as Chelsea.

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Bradley Manning, the courageous and self-sacrificing truth-teller who further revealed the exploitative everyday workings of US imperialism as well as its heinous war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, was found guilty by a military judge on charges carrying a possible 136-year sentence. Imprisoned for more than three years before trial, including torture in solitary confinement, Manning persevered, aiming to change US policy through exposure and public debate.

Manning’s conviction in this court-martial was a foregone conclusion. Indeed, he pleaded guilty to lesser charges that could put him away for 20 years. That was not good enough for the vindictive US government. Now in the sentencing phase, this show trial is a government experiment in political cryogenics to see how deeply it can freeze free speech and dissent by making an example of Manning. It is intended to set the stage for prosecution of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, still sheltered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, while US lawmakers scream for his blood. Throwing the book at Bradley Manning also foreshadows what the US would like to do to Edward Snowden, who was just granted temporary asylum in Russia. Fundamentally, the prosecution of Manning is intended to frighten everyone else into passive acceptance of US outrages at home and abroad.

Manning was not convicted of aiding the enemy. This not-insignificant development was widely applauded by the capitalist press, which felt directly threatened by the prosecution’s assertion that publication of documents constitutes direct or indirect aid to the enemy because someone, somewhere, sometime might use that information against the US government. However, the judge left open the future use of this ominous catch-all by denying a defence motion to throw out the charge. In the end, the court merely found that the prosecution had not proved its case on that count.

Manning’s defence team eventually got the government to name two of the three enemies Manning allegedly aided (Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula), but the third remained classified information. A 27 July posting on the ProPublica investigative journalism website reports that the Pentagon told them that “revealing who we’re actually at war with would do serious damage to national security”. ProPublica added: “The main reason? They think those groups would use the info as good publicity and allow them to recruit more.”

Whether targeted by the CIA or the Pentagon, the people being shot at and bombed are aware that they are being shot and bombed. Some elements in the American ruling class are uncomfortable with the Pentagon’s “logic”. The Obama administration’s fanatical prosecution of whistle-blowers alarms some. Even more are aghast at the revelations by Edward Snowden et al of the boundless domestic spying on the population, which includes them too. This disquiet in ruling circles no doubt had an impact on the judge.

Among other charges, Manning was convicted of six counts under the 1917 Espionage Act. The prosecution reached into a Cold War-era toolkit to construct a red scare and portray Manning as an “anarchist”. Civil libertarians complain that “whistle-blowing” is not spying, and they’re right. But in fact, the draconian Espionage Act has historically been wielded to repress domestic political opposition to imperialist war.

John Reed, a journalist and founding member of the American Communist Party, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for articles against World War I published in the radical journal, The Masses. Reed and others associated with the journal defeated the government in court, but the Feds then yanked the publication’s mailing permit because it “skipped” an issue — the one seized by the government as allegedly seditious! Reed aptly summed up the workings of capitalist “justice”: “In America law is merely the instrument for good or evil of the most powerful interest, and there are no Constitutional safeguards worth the powder to blow them to hell” (“One Solid Month of Liberty”, The Masses, September 1917).

It is urgently necessary to continue to fight in defence of Bradley Manning. The organised labour movement, minorities, all opponents of the depredations of US imperialism have an interest in this fight. As we wrote in “Truth-Teller on Trial: Free Bradley Manning”, (Workers Vanguard no 1026, 14 June): “Lifting the veil on the U.S. war machine was a gutsy act of conscience that objectively helps the victims and opponents of the imperialist system.” Key information from the government’s own sources that Manning provided to WikiLeaks included:

• Iraq war logs, including a civilian death count, showing that for every dead Iraqi officially classified as a combatant, two civilian men, women or children were killed

• US military support to repression of political dissidents in Iraq and Afghanistan and tolerance of torture as policy towards political prisoners

• Guantánamo detainee files showing the innocence of prisoners and their torture by the US military

• FBI training of torturers for the deposed Mubarak regime in Egypt

• State Department-led opposition to raising the minimum wage in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere

• the Obama administration’s drone bombing campaigns in Yemen

• Hillary Clinton’s authorisation of theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA [!]

• the notorious “collateral damage” video showing the military’s blood lust in gunning down Reuters reporters and Iraqi civilians

In publicising this material, and more, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange have helped open the eyes of the working class to the systematic workings of the state run by and for the capitalist class. But as Marxists, we understand that the whole system of capitalist exploitation cannot be changed by simply providing information. This system is based on the exploitation of labour for private profit, buttressed in the US by systematic racial oppression. Imperialist war and subjugation of the Third World are inherent outgrowths of capitalism and will continue until politically conscious workers sweep away the whole system and replace it with an egalitarian socialist society.

Frame-ups and omissions by the capitalist press

The prosecution of Bradley Manning has provided a diagnostic X-ray of the capitalist media. The New York Times, which flatters itself with the motto “All the news that’s fit to print”, did not initially find the hugely valuable and unassailable evidence of US war crimes that Manning offered them “fit to print”. Neither did the Washington Post. So Manning submitted the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and a trove of diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. The Times did not find the lengthy pre-trial detention and torture of Bradley Manning fit to print either; indeed, the paper barely covered the case until its own public editor lodged a protest. Then the coup de grace: upon his conviction, the Times ran a creepy, character-assassinating portrait of Manning as a psychologically unstable social misfit on the front page.

There is a purpose driven by big economic interests that dictates the behaviour of the so-called “free press”. As Bolshevik leader VI Lenin wrote, “Under capitalism, a newspaper is a capitalist enterprise, a means of enrichment, a medium of information and entertainment for the rich, and an instrument for duping and cheating the mass of working people” (“Work of People’s Commissariat for Education”, 7 February 1921). In defence of the interests of their class, the government and its mouthpieces in the bourgeois press portray their opponents as criminal and/or of unsound mind. By its own perverse standards, what the ruling class considers normal is dropping atomic weapons, ordering drone attacks on civilians and unleashing the Lieutenant Calleys who burned down entire villages in Vietnam, and later the kill-crazy mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The government’s need to conduct its dirty work in secret and the subservience of the capitalist media to their masters made it a massive struggle simply to get the news about Manning’s court-martial. Hundreds of journalists were denied media credentials by the Army, including those from Workers Vanguard who managed anyway to get into the Fort Meade courtroom to cover the initial part of the trial.

We are indebted to a few politically committed independent journalists, without whom little to nothing would be known about the dirty war against Manning. For a year and a half, Alexa O’Brien published the only available transcripts of the pre-trial proceedings. Her daily reports from the court-martial punctured the “managed obscurity” (her term), despite intimidation by armed soldiers snooping over her shoulder in Fort Meade’s media pit. Daily trial reports by Nathan Fuller on the Bradley Manning Support Network’s website and by Kevin Gosztola on the Firedoglake website have also been invaluable. Since the US military refuses to release transcripts of the pre-trial hearings and court-martial, the Freedom of the Press Foundation raised funds to hire court stenographers for those sessions that were open to the public.

The fraud of bourgeois democracy

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the US vastly increased its security apparatuses to spy on, well, almost everyone. This created its own security nightmare for the ruling class. The Augean stables of classified information require armies of employees with digital trowels to move the crap around. Close to five million people have security clearances, of which more than 1.4 million are cleared for “top secret” material. Bradley Manning was one with the moral and political conscience to oppose what he discovered US imperialism does every day all over the world, and he had the rare courage to act on his convictions, at great personal sacrifice. His act encouraged Edward Snowden to reveal PRISM — the National Security Agency’s vacuuming of metadata from virtually everyone’s emails and web searches, in cahoots with corporations like Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

Snowden flew to Hong Kong to reveal the nefarious workings of the US intelligence net and then spent more than a month in the transit zone of a Moscow airport while fighting for asylum, which Russia has granted him for one year. The spectacle of Attorney General Eric Holder, who presides over a justice system that massively incarcerates black people and railroads many to death row, promising Moscow that Snowden would not be tortured (like Bradley Manning) or face the death penalty, was a hoot. Here in the “belly of the beast”, it is delightful to see US imperialism get a black eye and have its pretensions to rule the world on behalf of “democracy” further exposed for the lie it is.

There has been vastly more outrage expressed by bourgeois “public opinion” over Snowden’s revelations than Bradley Manning’s because the former hits the wealthy where they live: their emails, their internet search histories, the GPS data on their smart phones. By contrast, Manning was the lowly working-class soldier who was supposed to protect their class privileges by enforcing US domination of the globe.

In These Times, a social-patriotic journal described by the Democratic Socialists of America as “DSA-ish”, defended NSA spying and denounced Snowden. A 2 July article by Louis Nayman headlined “In Defense of PRISM” railed that a government contractor who runs with classified data to “regimes who fine, imprison and rub out public critics” is not a “People’s Hero”. This was a bit much even for the Democratic Party stalwarts of the DSA, which subsequently printed a polite rebuttal to Nayman, who is described as a longtime union organiser. We suggest that Mr Nayman register as an agent of a foreign power in the labour movement — the capitalist class.

Daniel Ellsberg, who more than 40 years ago leaked the Pentagon Papers, exposing the lies designed to cover up what the US was really doing in Vietnam, has laudably and energetically defended Bradley Manning. He expresses the views of civil libertarians who think that the prosecution of whistle-blowers damages US prestige in the world and feel embarrassed by the protests of rival imperialist powers. Cold War liberal anti-Communism dripped from Ellsberg’s article in the Guardian (10 June), which, alluding to the East German state spy agency, was titled: “Edward Snowden: Saving Us from the United Stasi of America”. Ellsberg has no fundamental problem with NSA spying; he just wants an informed public to pressure Congress to keep US imperialism’s bloodhounds on a somewhat shorter leash.

Liberals who uphold the fraud of US “democracy” against Soviet-era and Stasi “totalitarianism” prettify the brutally violent rule of the rapacious US ruling class that Bradley Manning exposed. As Marxists, we value and fight hard for democratic rights, which make it easier for labour and the oppressed to fight in their own interests. What the liberals will not tell you is that democratic rights are extended to the working class and poor as gains of arduous class and social struggles; they are not granted from on high by an enlightened ruling class. Moreover, democratic rights in capitalist society are ephemeral and can be taken away in an instant.

Liberal darling Franklin Delano Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans during World War II, adopting the racist argument that this “enemy race” would soon commit sabotage because they had not done so yet. Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down in Hampton’s apartment in Chicago in 1969 for challenging systematic racist oppression. The same state persecution of anti-racist, anti-capitalist fighters continues today in the frame-up and life sentence of award-winning black journalist and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal and the unspeakably cruel imprisonment of leftist attorney Lynne Stewart, who is dying of cancer. The prosecution of Bradley Manning and the drive to capture Edward Snowden and Julian Assange form part of this larger picture.

As opposed to Ellsberg, who argues that US government overreach carries a whiff of Stalinist rule, we argue that the worst crimes of Stalinism were not ham-fisted repression, of which we Trotskyists were the first and foremost victims, but its appeasement of capitalist rule worldwide by abandoning the proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist goals of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. This led, ultimately, to capitalist counterrevolution and economic immiseration in the former Soviet Union and across Eastern Europe. We Trotskyists fought for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet degenerated workers state against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. Now, without Soviet power to check the hand of Washington, American imperialism is riding unbridled over most of the world. On the domestic front, a prostrate labour officialdom and low tide of class and other social struggle help enable the government to get away with rampant surveillance and the shredding of democratic rights.

The Spartacist League seeks to win opponents of this system to an understanding that it will take a series of socialist revolutions around the world to overturn the capitalist order and establish an internationally planned and collectivised economy based on human need, not private profit. Indeed, communism is America’s and the world’s last best hope.