“Apoplectic with hope” — this was how I described my state of mind as I read Alexa O’Brien’s tweets out of Fort Meade announcing the verdict in United States vs. Bradley Manning. In that first “not guilty” verdict there was an adrenaline-filled moment when I thought perhaps this story would not end as I’d resigned myself to it ending. But as details came back in rapid-fire bursts, so too did the guilty verdicts, and the instantaneous analyses thereof, and the “breaking news” alerts on my phone, and the story of Bradley Manning’s trial resumed its sadly familiar narrative.
The moment of a judicial verdict is, in a news cycle, a climax in the narrative. For a little while, in its aftermath, it’s unpacked in a number of ways: the ruling itself is unpacked by legal experts, the press coverage is unpacked by media experts. Sometimes, the resonance of a ruling is unpacked in the streets by the public, in elation or outrage.
Courtrooms are not spaces for outrage or elation. In a court of law, political issues and emotionally charged stories are stripped of their rancor and turned into syntax. Outrage becomes something forensic, clinical, drawn out over an interminable period of time. On the occasions I’ve been in a courtroom I sometimes wonder if this is actually what people mean when they cry out on the streets that what they want is “justice” and that they want it now. Perhaps they meant they wanted a highly technical reinterpretation of events and that they wanted it to be rescheduled, repeatedly.
I’d only been able to attend one day of Manning’s trial. The disparity between the issues within the documents Manning released (such as government accountability and due process for detainees) and those at hand in court (definitions of command-line tools, whether or not Bradley Manning may have read questionable tweets by WikiLeaks) was stark. I walked away from it with the belief that the fact Manning was being tried in a military court at all meant in one way that he’d already lost. The release of classified material by Manning was a challenge to the legitimacy of institutions all over the world that maintain power by brute force and secrecy. And yet the very institution at the heart of this critique, the one with everything to lose, is the one that gets to decide if his trial is fair and impartial. Then agan, who could possibly provide a fair and impartial analysis of Manning’s actions, given the vastness of the data released and its international reach?
We accept the idea of the judicial process — of government processes in general — as tedious and forensic as a necessary inevitability. If the process is dispassionate, then, the theory goes, it is fair. But within that tedium, within semantics and syntax, lies more insidious logic that allows abuse of power to go unchecked. For instance, it’s this procedural logic that allows Internet access for the press at Fort Meade to be severely limited — it’s not a Horrible Government Conspiracy, it’s the furloughed Comcast contractors (by the same system that also furloughs FOIA officers, which prevents release of documents in the public interest). There’s no one person to blame for this, per se, but the government certainly benefits if the trial remains difficult to access because of information logjams. The familiar media narrative around a court case rarely bothers to ask whether the court or the government itself is part of the problem — it may critique a judge, it may critique a decision, but rarely is the foundation brought into question.
Despite my lack of faith in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in the days following attending the trial I desperately wanted to be back at Fort Meade. I wanted to be among the people who have given not just this past summer but entire years of their lives to Manning’s case. I wanted to drive Fort Meade’s bizarre suburban landscape, home to the NSA and more seemingly benign things like a movie theater showing The Internship. I wanted to have my bag searched by bored-looking young men in an air-conditioned trailer. I wanted to cross paths in the base PX with contractors and soldiers who couldn’t care less about the court martial. I wanted to face Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil straight in the eye and tell its story, join the chorus of people who have been telling its story again and again until maybe the story took hold, and as a public we’d realize what was happening and we’d stop it.
Col. Denise Lind had prohibited both prosecution and defense from submitting evidence about the actual harm or impact of Manning’s leaks and from considering his motives during the trial. It’s now, during the sentencing phase, that motives and impact will be considered in court. Perhaps now the image of impartiality can be pierced. Perhaps I’ll be as surprised as I was upon seeing the first “not guilty” verdict, and the court will acknowledge that the world has changed since WikiLeaks published Manning’s documents, and that the government and military must change accordingly.
In all likelihood, United States vs. Bradley Manning will continue to serve as a smokescreen for justice and, worse, establish greater precedent for practices that have stifled and will continue to harm journalists, whistleblowers, activists and the American public. Because meanwhile, Fort Meade will continue to function. The construction at Fort Meade of new NSA buildings will be finished, and while congressional hearings about the NSA’s actions continue so too will its expansion. The Comcast contractors and the FOIA officers will continue to be furloughed, and tedium will continue to be the preferred tactic of the U.S. government for publicly cracking down on dissent.
And I will keep trying to tell this story until it takes. I went to Fort Meade to bear witness and because I felt a responsibility to Manning for being someone who had taken a risk greater than I could ever imagine. After the experience I feel an even greater responsibility to support others taking such risks (many of whom acted after, and were inspired by, Manning), and to take risks myself. In the face of procedural banality from a state desperately trying to maintain a legitimacy it lost a long time ago I am, and continue to be, apoplectic with hope.
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For those of us at Meade on Tues., there was a bit of happiness abt the one verdict- Max O praising Lind’s backbone and last night at Busboys and Poets in DC, Rosalie Riegle calling it a victory…I’d say, of sorts. We all know it isn’t a victory.”Our” U S is easily the new Rome- and we are- in the movement- a bit of a remnant- like early Xtians. Rosalie spoke to a group of 30 last nite at Busboys and Poets (8/1)- please get her two books- Doing Time for Peace and Crossing the Line- with interviews from persons who have spent time in prison for peace. I was able to mention Art Laffin’s book a chronology of the Plowshares actions and as well the recent movie on the draft actions- “Hit and Stay”- u can google it. The Transformation Plowshares 3 postcard ws passed around- see their website and write Judge Thepar. Persons from Code Pink, the War Resisters League, DC’s Catholic Worker were present and a real sense of community achieved. Malachy McBride stressed the words from the angels “Be Not Afraid” and I realized that Bradley is freer than a lot of us and certainly most amuricans. I hope he realizes it. What was it St. ?, the lady saint said before the lions, was it at Corinth? Something like “Bring it on”.
It was Saint Perpetua at Carthage.
There has always seemed to be an inverse relationship between citizen participation in activism and the government with the degree of punishment suffered by whistleblowers. What is new is the inverse relationship between loyalty to the two party system and consistent citizen participation in activism and the government. For as long as both the Republicans and Democrats have electoral immunity, things will continue to proceed as they are now with more power and less accountability being awarded to those with wealth and power.
Ingrid… brilliant analysis, penetrating & brilliant. Kudos! My hope is that you continue the good fight. I’ve pretty much given up. The Oligarchy’s incessant propaganda is so thick in America, their Divide & Conquer strategy (& you’re right, it’s NOT a conspiracy…it’s right out in the open) so successful, and the distractions of Bread & Circuses so prevalent that the general public appears to be forever lost in apathy, or ignorance, or fear. Maybe I’m wrong; for the sake of my grandchildren, I hope so. Ike was right: “…we should guard against the unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, of the military-industrial complex…”.
It isn’t just the incessant propaganda we are battling, it is the values of the audience that makes the propaganda so effective.
Regarding giving up, think of the joy we would miss if those who have taught and challenged us the most to think differently had given up.
All due respect, Curt…
As a Zen Buddhist, I have no desire to battle the “values of the audience”. People are free to hold whatever values they wish, as long as the manifestation of those values does not infringe on the genuine rights of others. Opposing oppression is one thing; social engineering is quite another.
At 70 yrs of age, my main activity in Life now is art, painting. It’s a refreshing joy compared to fighting the Oligarchs; nevertheless, from time to time I do like to stick my toe back in the political waters. Unfortunately, I’m discouraged by the fact that most Americans are STILL stuck in the dead political paradigm of Conservatives v. Liberals and/or Repubs v. Dems. The new paradigm is the Oligarchy v. the rest of us…it has been so for many years.
Thanks for your comment. Happy Trails
Understand but challenging people to change is not necessarily social engineering. And to construct a system that fits around some harmful desires only creates a harmful system.
My last word on this topic—
I’ll let you be the judge of that.
It’s back to abstract painting for me.
thank u scott-
curt’s comments seem, to me, convoluted, obtuse, perhaps??? capable of being worded in a simpler way?
Perhaps. I’m getting the hint of possible proselytizing from Curt in the future…in a judgmental way. I could be wrong.
All I know is, Manning, Snowden, Assange, Ellsberg, & many others are heroes of the first order for exposing the Oligarchy’s shabby actions. Both FDR & Mussolini defined Fascism as: the power of the State married to the power of Big Business. That’s exactly what we’ve had in the USA for decades. Their secrecy only compounds their criminal actions.
Dave… I left a comment on your website.
You are mistaken. My point is simply this, it isn’t just gov’t that has to change, it is us. We have to demand a more participatory gov’t and we need a stronger sense of collectivism. These were to the two main points of the Occupy Movement encampments.