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On Manning.

It’s hard to write about Bradley Manning. I’ve composed more than one lengthy, impassioned post about Manning, and deleted it; we’ve heard things about or from Manning that we weren’t supposed to hear, and we’ve heard lots of things about Manning that may or may not be the truth, and addressing those things publicly — in any of the various ways that they are actually being construed — may actually put Manning in danger.

But let’s start with the most important thing, something simple: Bradley Manning is accused of trying really, really hard to do the right thing.

Bradley Manning is nobody special. He was an ordinary, unexceptional person, enlisted in the US Military, as many people are, and he allegedly found out that the military was doing something which — though we all might have suspected or feared or heard about it — betrayed its most basic promise. The promise that this was war, not murder. I mean, this is what you have to believe, if you’re going to hand a bunch of people guns and train them to kill, if you’re going to give people all of these incredibly powerful weapons in the first place: If you are going to have a military, you have to believe that the weapons and killing-people skills of that military are not going to be used to just gratuitously murder people. And it’s been proven wrong before, and we all have every reason to know that it’s often wrong, this belief, but we have to believe it if we are to justify the existence of a military. Because the other option is realizing that we’ve just sent Death out there, that we’ve just unleashed a ton of highly armed people onto a country where they can now do anything they want to anyone they want. We’ve sent murder. And rape: Rape happens a whole, whole, whole lot, in war. I want to believe that my country, at least, would not support that.

But here’s what they think happened: Manning found out that US soldiers had shot and killed civilians who did not return fire. There was a video: Not just words, but a chance for people to see it happen. He decided that people ought to know that it was really happening. And whatever you think of what he did next, in this version of the story, it can’t really be denied: He tried to do the right thing.

There are supposed to be protections in place, when you do the right thing. When you find out that something has gone wrong, and you tell people about it. If there weren’t protections for whistleblowers, there would be no way for corruption or injustice to be exposed. People would be too scared to tell anyone what they saw, whatever it was. It’s kind of a basic principle of society — it’s what they fucking tell us to do in those Bush-era subway ads, the ones everybody makes fun of. “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.” Don’t be quiet if you have reason to believe people could get hurt. But there are no protections in place for Bradley Manning.

[To go, for one moment, to the Julian Assange rape case that has little or nothing to do with this issue: One way I've been trying to explain why exposing those women's names is wrong, to people who don't have a tremendous amount of involvement with the issue, is to talk about the first episode of The Wire. Which I feel like everyone has seen. Remember it? Where a guy got murdered, and several people saw it, and D'Angelo was about to go to jail for it, because come on, he killed somebody in front of a lot of people? But when it came time to testify against him, nobody would. People just suddenly forgot what they saw. Because the Barksdales were making it clear that if you testified against D'Angelo, you would face serious consequences. Just some simple threats; that's all it took to throw the whole trial off-course. And then, of course, one man decided to testify anyway -- maybe he's reckless, maybe he's brave, maybe he's just fucking fed up with people not talking; you get the sense that all three of those things are true, to varying degrees -- and he got murdered for it. We all saw that, right? At some point, a friend of yours told you to watch The Wire because it was so great, and you watched the first episode, and you noticed how scary and unfair that whole situation was?]

[So, like, in the case of rape -- every rape case, and particularly high-profile ones, and particularly this here Assange one, whether or not Assange is guilty -- the women are like the witnesses. (The crime would be, basically, "pointing out that rape happens sometimes.") And all of us are the Barksdales. We find out who they are, we just send a few simple threats, because that's all it takes, and then the witnesses don't talk, and the trial can't happen. We're the Barksdales. Unless we choose not to be. It's such a common way to behave that we have to make the choice not to do it -- we have to be D'Angelo, basically, we have to be like "this is so fucked up I don't even know what to do about it, but I don't want to live like this any more," and defect, and pay our own high price. But that's what "rape culture" means, if the term is too jargon-y for you: It means that you are the Barksdales in the first episode of The Wire.]

[And another thing that is like the first episode of The Wire is the case of Bradley Manning. In this case, the US government is the Barksdales. Manning would be the one who testifies. And all of us? We're the ones being warned not to talk.]

And here’s the thing: When we talk about WikiLeaks, we talk about the public, and our right to know, and transparency, and government secrets, and government force. But Julian Assange? Is not precisely an accurate representation of “the public,” or at least not the vast majority of it, and Julian Assange is not providing the information WikiLeaks puts out there. That has no bearing on the charges he’s facing, or on his guilt or innocence in regard to those charges: It’s just true. Julian Assange has made himself the enemy of several governments, but Julian Assange also has considerable connections and resources with which to mitigate the force those governments bring to bear upon him. Julian Assange is not “the public,” not most of it, because Julian Assange has a staggering amount of privilege that he can call upon when necessary.

Bradley Manning is the public. Bradley Manning is not famous, Bradley Manning is not rich, Bradley Manning is not getting paid $1.5 million to write the memoirs of Bradley Manning, and Bradley Manning did not spend his Christmas in a mansion eating turkey and enjoying fine wines in the company of his friends and fans. Bradley Manning spent his Christmas in a cell. The same cell in which he is always locked, alone and under conditions that would drive anyone to incredible despair and distress, the cell where he is being, frankly, tortured — isolation, forced lack of exercise, possibly sleep deprivation — and where he has been for a very long time.

I mean, what we have here is a case where it looks like someone saw an injustice, made it as public as possible, got hugely and inhumanely punished for it, had a friend turn on him — he went to a friend for help, to talk about what he was going through; that is part of why he’s being tortured right now — and eventually got his personal shit* dragged all over the Internet, to boot.

I am very sympathetic to this situation.

So, yes. It’s not okay for me to be making fun money off t-shirt sales, if I’m not supporting Bradley Manning. And for the next week, all of our proceeds for the t-shirt sales will be going to his defense fund. It looks like, right now, we’ve raised a little over $50 (t-shirt commissions are not the most lucrative thing in the world) which is as much as I donated to RAINN. But RAINN was matching donations. If you would like to donate to the defense fund without buying yourself a silly t-shirt, you can do so here. But also? This goes to Manning, for a week. Because he deserves it. Because the Barksdales are fucking scary, in that first episode, and I don’t want to be a part of that. Because no-one should ever be punished or hurt for trying to do the right thing.

*Which I’m not publishing comments about, for the reasons outlined above. I’m also trying to purge my archives of allusions to it.

18 Comments

  1. Ros wrote:

    Thanks for this. I don’t need another silly tshirt, and money is kinda tight, but I donated – because of everything you said above.

    You’re absolutely right. And I can’t admire what people like him have done and not doing anything.

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink
  2. x7o wrote:

    I think you can make your point about Bradley Manning without making any comparison with Julian Assange. Julian Assange’s moral standing is irrelevant to the matter of Manning. I don’t know why you brought it up.

    Nobody supportive of Wikileaks, least of all Julian Assange, is making light of Manning’s plight. I don’t see how that he was under house arrest in better conditions than Manning’s incarceration entitles us to make light of his situation.

    Bradley Manning’s plight is better stated in its full factual horror without reference to the rest of this story.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink
  3. Sady wrote:

    @x7o: Except it’s not. Except we have been fighting, and we have been threatened and attacked to an extreme degree, for stating the mere POSSIBILITY that Assange could be capable of good things and also bad things, and we have been subject to UNBELIEVABLE hostility for merely saying that he’s not automatically innocent of rape charges (and nor is he automatically guilty). And meanwhile, Manning gets tortured.

    AND MEANWHILE. Manning gets tortured.

    Like: Leaving aside any reference to sexual assault, look at Roman Polanski. And then look at the “registered sex offenders” I can see pictures of by Googling the map of my area. 99% of the “registered sex offenders,” I would estimate, are men of color. And they live in the poorer areas of town. That doesn’t mean that poor men of color are more likely to commit sexual assault; what it means is that they are more likely to get convicted for it. What it means is that they couldn’t afford the lawyers to get them off the hook; what it means is that they didn’t receive the social support that white or well-off men received; what it means is that, if they got convicted, they couldn’t flee the country and live a life of luxury somewhere else. (A man of color that I know referred to the Assange case as “the litmus test for whether white people will believe that other white people might be capable of rape.” And he didn’t have any opinion on Assange’s guilt or innocence EITHER, just so you know; he was just sick of hearing that guys who looked like him were definitely guilty, and guys who looked like Assange were definitely innocent.) What it means is that a certain sort of person gets convicted and registered, and that a certain sort of person ends up at a luxurious European location. And 99% of all the celebrity speeches and support are directed at the rich guy in the mansion, and how we ought to support him. Bernard-Henri Levy doesn’t write internationally publicized editorials in support of poor men of color accused of sexual assault. He only writes editorials in support of Roman Polanski.

    This isn’t even about sexual assault. This is about class, and who gets a defense, and who gets support, and who doesn’t.

    And all of these people? Are talking about how we need to support poor mansion-bound Julian Assange. And they’re saying that “support” means “assume the accusers are lying.” I refuse. I will not be a part of that, because almost everyone who tells the police that he or she was sexually assaulted is called a liar, and harassed for it, so that he or she cannot take the case to trial. I will not assume Assange is guilty, and I will not assume he’s innocent. I. WILL. NOT. I will not join with the bullies on that one.

    And meanwhile, Manning gets fucking forgotten. Even though we know that, even if Manning is guilty of exactly what they are saying he is guilty of, Manning did not do anything but try to do the right thing. If he’s guilty, he is only guilty of observing murder, and reporting it. Which should never, ever, EVER be a crime.

    Manning is accused of whistleblowing. Assange is accused of sexual assault. Guess who’s in a mansion right now?

    Another reason why this is relevant. Just so you know.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink
  4. snobographer wrote:

    x7o – she’s not saying that Assange is making light of Manning’s plight, just that he’s a Barksdale.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 1:23 am | Permalink
  5. College Lady wrote:

    Hi Sady!

    So I am finding your site via Greg Mitchell’s Wikiblog on the Nation. Anyway, a few thoughts:

    1. Thanks SO MUCH for bringing up Bradley Manning. You’re not the 1st I’ve seen do it, but I really hope that more people appreciate the role he has played here and how severely he’s suffering for it.

    2. In addition to donating some money for the defense fund, you could also consider, or more importantly direct your readers towards either signing the petition they have on that site, which will send a letter to Quantico on Bradley’s behalf, or getting involved in other direct action locally. As an activist myself, I know one can never have enough cash on hand – but Bradley really needs vocal defenders and visibility in communities in addition to legal help.

    and 3., here’s where you might disagree or get ticked at me, and if so i apologize in advance. we’re going to divide this comment into sub categories.

    3a. I am SO impressed with your work regarding Misters Moore and Olbermann regarding #mooreandme, and generally bringing attention to rape culture issues that have arisen regarding the whole Assange case.

    3b. I think your work has paid off, because I am seeing the issues discussed far and wide and in many circles on the internet. Not in the mainstream media save Ms. Maddow really, but my expectations of MSM are low in general, and besides, no one interested in Wikileaks-related issues is watching them anyway.

    3c. Personal experience alert! No generalities meant to be extrapolated: Now that the ideology behind the #mooreandme campaign is visible and has been discussed in many spheres, i am quite pleasantly surprised to see how *few* people are failing to make the distinction between the Assange/wikileaks vs. Assange/rape charges.

    3d. I know that because of your campaign, you’ve probably seen the brunt and gamut of the losers that are still unable to make that distinction. This really sucks, and you have my solidarity 110% – however, I think to some extent there’s a place for adopting a ‘don’t feed the trolls’ attitude here.

    3e. A lot of the folks obsessed with Wikileaks and Assange are not obsessed with them for the right (“right”) reasons – or more shortly, it’s dumbarse hero worship that doesn’t think about culture or society or the importance of wikileaks or the importance of fighting rape culture or anything like that. most of these people are just sexist trolls.

    so finally, 3f. while we can and should fight the ideology of the trolls whenever possible, feeding them is not going to help us promote feminism.

    therefore, for the different reasons i’ve outlined, i do agree with x70 that the two bracketed paragraphs regarding assange are somewhat unnecessary for this post. i like the barksdale metaphor but i think it would be better served by a more nuanced discussion of privilege and how it works, rather than just the “we’re all the barksdales” punchline. the people that get are going to have to divide their attention to both the issues of rape culture and of bradley’s torture, and the people that don’t get it are probably going to be made a bit uncomfortable.

    so the moral of the story is one i think is the major theme of the whole wikileaks saga: eyes on target. if you’re going to talk about bradley, talk about bradley. rape culture? talk about rape culture.

    there are a lot of targets to aim at, and people are quite capable of appreciating all of them, but razor focus is important.

    the end!

    (if you’ve read to the end, i will just fall over dead from appreciation :-)

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 2:22 am | Permalink
  6. Harry Shearer wrote:

    Sady, look at a similar map for people serving hard time for possession of marijuana. The same class pattern occurs, regardless of crime. OJ beat a murder rap because he was a rich celebrity who could afford the “Dream Team” of legal eagles. And, rape or murder, presumption of innocence should still apply.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 4:17 am | Permalink
  7. joe wrote:

    I’m with you but I do feel conflicted about NOT releasing information to protect potential victims of a crime, but YES releasing information that might protect service men and women in harms way if you see what I mean

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  8. Sady wrote:

    @Harry: I’m not really sure that you read my comment, or my post, correctly.

    1. Your “map of people serving hard time for marijuana” point is something that anyone who knows anything about race and class in America is well aware of. It’s such a common part of how racism and classism manifest in America that we shouldn’t have to spell it out, but yes, it’s a valid point, so let’s spell it out: People of color and/or the poor are far more likely to get convicted, to serve harsher sentences, etc. Which is why I wrote, “this isn’t even about sexual assault. This is about class, and who gets a defense, and who gets support, and who doesn’t.”

    2. As you note, the very rich are more likely to be acquitted for crimes. (Which is why I wrote “it’s about class,” and “they didn’t receive the social support that white or well-off men received.”) But we really don’t want to point to the O.J. trial to argue against the influence of racism when it comes to criminal investigations or trials, right? He was a black man accused of violently assaulting a blonde white woman with whom he was involved, and a white man, which ties into some very deep white racist anxieties, and a very substantial amount of racism was aimed at him. We all know who Mark Fuhrman is, I would assume. And we presume OJ’s guilt — not unreasonably, I might add. Aside from the entire book about killing them, he was found guilty in the civil trial. But your comment heavily implies his guilt in the sentence directly preceding the one that’s about “presumption of innocence.”

    3. “Presumption of innocence” doesn’t actually mean what you’re using it to mean here. It means that the law has to operate with restraint in its handling of the accused. It doesn’t mean that we all have to make ourselves believe that he is actually innocent. For one, that’s impossible. You actually can’t make people think or believe anything. For two, every case is different. The guy who is found covered in blood with a gun in his hand next to his girlfriend’s corpse after the neighbors heard him screaming “I’LL KILL YOU” gets the same presumption of innocence as a guy whose girlfriend is found dead after a two-week absence and he’s got a mildly faulty alibi and maybe people saw them arguing quietly in public, once. We have to treat both those guys the same way when it comes time to investigate them or put them on trial. But the neighbors are going to think whatever they want. Because it’s POSSIBLE that someone else snuck in through the window with a gun, shot her, put the gun in the guy’s hand, then got back out the window and ran away so fast that he was nowhere in the vicinity when the police came, and it’s POSSIBLE that nobody except for the accused saw him entering or leaving, and maybe it’s even POSSIBLE that all of this happened in the 2.5 seconds between the noise of him screaming “I’LL KILL YOU” and the noise of the gunshot. But you can’t force the neighbors to ASSUME that’s true.

    “Presumption of innocence” also doesn’t mean that ANYONE has to act as if there’s NO POSSIBILITY for the crime to have occurred. If we all had to actually believe in someone’s innocence, to the point that we’re unwilling to admit the possibility of a crime, then we would be morally obliged not to put that person on trial or investigate the alleged crimes in the first place. “Presumption of innocence,” actually — I’m not a lawyer, and I’m probably badly paraphrasing an actual lawyer who explained this — just sort of means “maybe he did it, maybe he didn’t, we have to find out before we decide what to do next, so let’s have the fairest investigation and trial possible.”

    As maybe a moral, ethical, personal thing, it’s not OK to argue that someone IS UNDENIABLY GUILTY in public, particularly when the details of the case have been so obscured or misreported everywhere. But it’s also not okay to argue that someone IS UNDENIABLY INNOCENT and that the accusers MUST BE LYING, especially if you’re only willing to hear one side of the story. I think it’s okay to say that the charges deserve to be taken seriously, and that Assange could be either guilty or innocent. My actual position is just that the guy could be guilty, or he could be innocent, but I want him to face trial.

    4. Rape is actually different, just experience-wise and in the way that it’s treated culturally, than most other crimes. And it’s really complicated to go into, just in the space of a blog comment, and also, I’ve been writing about it for the past month non-stop and I’m exhausted to the point that I actually can’t think very clearly on the topic any more. But, a few differences: I’m not going to face an incredible amount of vilification if I say that a random mugger beat me up for no reason. No-one is going to harass me or send me death threats if I say that I forgot to lock my door when I took the dog out, and that when I came back from walking the dog, my TV was gone. Which is why it’s okay for the papers to print my name in the unbelievably fascinating “someone stole my TV” story. Because I don’t face consequences for being the victim of a potential crime. However, if I report that I was raped, you will IMMEDIATELY see a vast machine of social ostracism, shaming, blaming, and smearing form around me and my allegation. Just as you have seen it in the case of the women in the Assange case. So that’s one of the differences. (Also, if I get murdered, no-one’s going to say that I just regretted being dead and decided to cause a big ruckus about it and ruin some poor guy’s life.)

    Also, if you are who you say you are (you never know, on the Internet) and the same “Harry Shearer” I’m thinking of, I really enjoy your work a whole lot, and you’re really talented. So I’m sorry we met over this, but hi, in any case.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  9. Sady wrote:

    @Joe: I hear you, which is why I wrote “whatever you think of what he did next.” I’m open to the argument that Manning perhaps acted very, very recklessly and didn’t think this through, but he was trying to act as a whistleblower, and we’re meant to have protections for those.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  10. JeninCanada wrote:

    Rock the fuck on, Sady. Well said as always.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  11. Xenu01 wrote:

    @College Lady:

    I am not sure what you’re saying here. #mooreandme was successful to a degree, so Sady Doyle can only talk about rape culture? Because I think that pinpointing women, particularly feminist women, into writing about one issue and one issue only, is hardly fair and one of the reasons that feminism still exists.

    So hi and welcome to this blog. If you read the archives, you will find that Tiger Beatdown covers a range of issues from rape culture to Weezer and other things not falling between those two poles without diminishing any of them. And I for one support the continuance of that.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  12. katiemonstrrr wrote:

    Thanks for reminding me to make a donation to Manning’s defense fund. Going to couragetoresist.org and seeing how much people have already donated was wonderful.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink
  13. Dawn. wrote:

    Well said, Sady. I absolutely LOVE your comparison between the first episode of The Wire and the seriously fucked up situation re: Bradley Manning. It does say a lot about us, and none of it’s good.

    I can’t afford to donate right now, but I signed the petition via Stand With Brad and e-mailed it to a few people.

    P.S. The Wire is one of the best TV series EVER. Period.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  14. SMadin wrote:

    I’ve been waffling a bit on whether to buy that mug or not, but I’ll definitely give to the defense fund. Thank you for the reminder.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Permalink
  15. Thomas Yonan wrote:

    America has been involved in two senseless and rapacious wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars violate the U.S. Constitution and international humanitarian law.

    Bradley Manning did the right thing by exposing war crimes and duplicitous U.S. diplomacy. Not only did Manning do the morally correct thing, he did it in a way that was effective. He deserves the highest praise for both what he did and how he did it.

    Manning is a true American hero, while our presidents have been guilty of war crimes. I should say Manning is the man.

    Every U.S. soldier who stands on sound principles, plus the ideas and ideals of the U.S. Constitution as originally intended, should support Manning.

    Many thanks to Sady for writing the article “On Manning.”

    Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 1:21 am | Permalink
  16. InfamousQBert wrote:

    i love the shirts, but can’t justify buying one right now. i did make a direct donation to the defense fund, though. thanks for bringing it to my attention. hopefully, i’ll be able to buy a shirt or something soon.

    Friday, January 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  17. Ellie wrote:

    so finally, 3f. while we can and should fight the ideology of the trolls whenever possible, feeding them is not going to help us promote feminism.

    1. It’s rude to show up in someone’s house and criticize their decor.

    2a. See #1 and extrapolate to showing up on someone’s blog and telling them what to write about and how to write it.
    2b. Especially when the blogger is a feminist blogger fighting the whole PLANET telling women what they *should be* writing about/doing/thinking/feeling/paying attention to.

    3. As to whether calling out bullshit is helping *us* promote feminism, it is and does. That’s the point of being a feminist–calling out the bullshit.

    The notion that feminism needs to be kept under glass and used only in an emergency lest we anger potential allies is ludicrous. If someone’s that easily turned off they’re not really a potential ally, s/he’s just another dork looking for an excuse to ignore what women have to say.

    Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  18. Well said, Sady. I absolutely LOVE your comparison between the first episode of The Wire and the seriously fucked up situation re: Bradley Manning. It does say a lot about us, and none of it’s good. I can’t afford to donate right now, but I signed the petition via Stand With Brad and e-mailed it to a few people. P.S. The Wire is one of the best TV series EVER. Period.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink