There is scarcely anything more surreal than seeing someone jailed on what for the world at large, appears to be a technicality steeped in subterfuge. Things become all the more surreal when one realises that the person in question came to public attention because she exposed the mendacious behaviour of her own government and the war criminality of the armed forces in which she once served. The person in question is Chelsea Manning and she is once again in jail.
Manning rose to prominence when she blew the whistle on US war crimes during the war in Iraq. In 2010, she leaked classified information to Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, which then published the revelations for the world to see. In 2013, Manning was sentenced to thirty five years in prison for leaking the information to Wikileaks, but after serving seven years in what has been described as torturous conditions, Manning was freed in May of 2017 when President Obama commuted her sentence.
Manning has always stood by her decision to give Wikileaks the information that opened the world’s eyes as to the true nature of US militarism in the 21st century and she has likewise stood behind her relationship with Wikileaks. It is because of the second principled stand, that she now finds herself behind bars once again.
The US is currently conducting a secret grand jury investigation against Julian Assange and Manning has been called to testify against the Wikileaks founder. As a matter of principle, Manning has refused to do so as she has stated that she is opposed to any secret court sessions which cannot be transparently scrutinised by the public and that furthermore, during her own trial, she has already answered (under oath) every conceivable question about her contact with Wikileaks.
In spite of this, Manning has once again been imprisoned and according to reports, she will not be released until she agrees to testify or until the secret grand jury investigation is over.
While the specific issues facing Manning and her lawyers involve the technicalities of the judge’s ruling, more broadly, the following issues are at hand:
1. The fundamental rights of Chelsea Manning, who is defending the traditional privilege of non-disclosure in respect of the relationship between a whistle-blower and a journalist
2. Protecting Manning from what in the eyes of the wider world appears to be a wholly disproportionate punishment for taking a principled stand to defend her integrity and that of Julian Assange
3. The long term systematic harassment at the hands of state institutions, of someone whose own torturous experiences are well documented
Apologists for the unethical persecutions of Manning and Assange will doubtless hide behind a wall of inhumane legal jargon. But the fact of the matter is that when whistle-blowers in nations weaker than the US do what Manning did, the US has often used military force as a means of altering the situation on the ground. For Manning, the situation on the ground is one of the most barbaric harassment, deprivation of liberty, a total affront to the values of human dignity, journalistic freedom and the rights of whistle-blowers that one could imagine.
Had Manning been a member of Saddam’s military, or Assad’s military, or Milošević’s military, the US media and political establishment would be calling her a hero. But because she exposed the criminal behaviour of the US military, her plight is either being ignored or otherwise distorted, while her upstanding personal character is being maligned.
At a human level, Chelsea Manning deserves better. There are drug dealers, rapists and murderers who have been treated with less severity than a person whose only crime was actually a virtue – the exposure and disclosure of genuine criminal acts.
As such, Chelsea Manning’s detention is an affront to human decency and the most fundamental concept of human rights at a universal level. Manning was a whistle-blower, Assange amplified the truths that she exposed to the wider world and both have been systematically persecuted as a result. As such, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council hasn’t called an emergency meeting to deal with the situation, tells one everything that needs to be known about just how pathetic most international human rights bodies truly are, when confronted with the might of the nation that will seemingly stop at nothing to destroy Assange, Manning and exiled whistle-blower Edward Snowden.