After enduring nearly three years of detention, at times under torturous conditions, on February 28 Army Private Bradley Manning confessed that he had provided WikiLeaks a trove of military and diplomatic documents that exposed U.S. imperialist schemes and wartime atrocities. Manning’s guilty plea on ten of 22 counts against him could land him in prison for 20 years. But this pound of flesh is not enough for the imperialist rulers, who not only seek vengeance but are also determined to silence anyone perceived as an obstacle to their designs for world domination. A day after Manning confessed, military prosecutors announced plans to try him on the remaining counts, including “aiding the enemy” and violating the Espionage Act. Trial is expected to begin in early June. If convicted on these charges, Manning faces life in prison.
In lifting a bit of the veil of secrecy and lies with which the capitalist rulers cover their depredations, Bradley Manning performed a great service to workers and oppressed around the world. All who oppose the imperialist barbarity and machinations revealed in the material he provided must join in demanding his immediate freedom. Also crucially important is the defense of Julian Assange against the vendetta by the U.S., Britain and their cohorts, who are attempting to railroad him to prison by one means or another for his role in running WikiLeaks.
In a 35-page statement he read to the military court after entering his plea, Manning told of his journey from nearly being rejected in basic training to becoming an army intelligence analyst. In that capacity he came across mountains of evidence of U.S. duplicity and war crimes. The materials he provided to WikiLeaks included military logs documenting 120,000 civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and a formal military policy of covering up torture, rape and murder. A quarter-million diplomatic cables address all manner of lethal operations within U.S. client states, from the “drug war” in Mexico to drone strikes in Yemen. He also released files containing assessments of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These documents show that the government continued to hold many who, Manning stated, were believed or known to be innocent, as well as “low level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence.”
The Pentagon declared war against WikiLeaks following the release of a video, conveyed by Manning, of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter airstrike in Iraq that killed at least 12 people, including two Reuters journalists. American forces are then shown firing on a van that pulled up to help the victims. Manning said he was most alarmed by the “bloodlust they appeared to have.” He described how instead of calling for medical attention for a seriously wounded individual trying to crawl to safety, an aerial crew team member “asks for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he can have a reason to engage.”
By January 2010, Manning said, he “began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year” and decided to make public many of the documents he had backed up as part of his work as an analyst. Manning first offered the materials to the Washington Post and the New York Times. Not getting anywhere with these pillars of the bourgeois press establishment, in February 2010 he made his first submission to WikiLeaks. He attached a note advising that “this is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.”
The charge of “aiding the enemy”—i.e., Al Qaeda—is especially ominous. This used to mean things like military sabotage and handing over information on troop movements to a battlefield enemy. In Manning’s case, the prosecution claims that the very act of publicizing U.S. military and diplomatic activities, some of which took place years before, amounted to “indirect” communication with Al Qaeda. Manning told the court that he believed that public access to the information “could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” He hoped that this “might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment everyday.” But by the lights of the imperialists’ war on terror, any exposure of their depredations can be construed as support to the “terrorist” enemy, whoever that might be.
The Pentagon intends to call no fewer than 141 witnesses in its show trial, including four people to testify anonymously. One of them, designated as “John Doe,” is believed to be a Navy SEAL who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. “Doe” is alleged to have grabbed three disks from bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound on which was stored four files’ worth of the WikiLeaks material provided by Manning. Also reportedly retrieved from bin Laden’s hard drives was a trove of American porn videos. Are Obama & Co. planning to put the owners of Vivid Entertainment in the dock as well?
Nor do charges under the Espionage Act have to have anything to do with actual spying. The law was one of an array of measures adopted to criminalize antiwar activity after U.S. imperialism’s entry into the First World War. It mandated imprisonment for any act deemed to interfere with the recruitment of troops. Among its first and most prominent victims was Socialist Party spokesman Eugene V. Debs, who was jailed for a June 1918 speech at a workers’ rally in Canton, Ohio, where he denounced the war as capitalist slaughter and paid tribute to the leaders of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Dozens of Industrial Workers of the World organizers were also thrown into prison. So broad was the law’s reach that Robert Goldstein, producer of the movie The Spirit of ’76, was convicted and originally sentenced to ten years on the grounds that the film’s depiction of the brutality of British soldiers during the American Revolution would undermine support for a U.S. wartime ally!
In the early 1970s, the Nixon government tried, unsuccessfully, to use this law to go after Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times shed light on the history of U.S. imperialism’s losing war against the Vietnamese workers and peasants. Obama has happily picked up Nixon’s mantle. Manning’s prosecution will be the sixth time the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act against the source of an unauthorized leak of classified information—more than the combined total under all prior administrations since the law’s enactment in 1917. As we have repeatedly stressed, Barack Obama, who came into office with broad support from liberals and the left, is simply carrying out his duties as Commander-in-Chief, stepping up attacks on democratic rights to pave the way for further imperialist depredations and attacks on the workers and oppressed at home.
Noting his initial uncertainty about releasing the diplomatic cables, Manning remarked that he had “once read and used a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.” He added, “I thought these cables were a prime example of a need for a more open diplomacy.”
Behind the imperialists’ diplomatic skullduggery—conducted at times with and at times against one another—is their drive to exploit the world’s workers and oppressed in accord with their distinct interests. The Obama administration’s vicious retaliation against both Manning and Assange shows that nothing in this regard has changed since revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky in November 1917 described secret diplomacy as “a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests.” Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the 1917 October Revolution, made this point in a statement he issued as Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the newly fledged Soviet workers state. Trotsky was announcing the publication and abrogation of secret treaties hatched by the prior tsarist regime as well as the bourgeois Provisional Government with their imperialist allies.
One of the first acts of the Soviet government was to issue a decree on peace removing Russia from the slaughter of interimperialist World War I and demanding of all belligerents a “just, democratic” peace without annexations or indemnities. The Soviet newspaper Izvestia soon began publication of treaties concluded during the war. Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party was driven by the perspective of world proletarian revolution. Indeed, the October Revolution was a beacon of liberation for the exploited and oppressed in the advanced capitalist countries and in the colonial and semicolonial world. Along with the Soviet government’s renunciation of predatory agreements reached by prior regimes, the publication of the treaties helped spark waves of struggle by those under the boot heel of the imperialists, whose dirty deals were now laid bare.
For proletarian revolutionaries, the materials provided by Manning are of real value in opening the eyes of the world’s working people to the systematic violence and lies that prop up capitalist rule. Opponents of imperialist occupations and war must be won to the understanding that it will require a series of socialist revolutions to put an end to the capitalist order. It is to provide the necessary leadership to the proletariat in this struggle that we are committed to forging Leninist-Trotskyist parties around the world.