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.