There was an old 1978 Saturday Night Live skit that hit dangerously close to the truth about how modern US society deals with those it fears. Steve Martin, playing a 12th century judge, Theodoric of York, is confronted with the case of a woman, Lorraine Newman, charged with being a witch. With the townsfolk calling for her to be burned at the stake for “consorting with the devil,” he says the only way to determine her guilt or innocence is to put her in the “trough of justice” -- a deep vat of water into which her bound body will be cast. Theodoric advises the woman that she has “nothing to fear” since if she is guilty her body will float, rejected by the waters of justice, but if she’s innocent she will sink. When her body sinks, leaving just a few rising bubbles which indicate she has drowned, Theodoric announces: “Ah! Not guilty!” Leaving her in the tank, he then moves on to the next case.
The trial of Pvt. Bradley manning has far too much in common with this skit to be funny. Manning, a young man of principle who said he had decided to release hundreds of thousands of documents exposing the true brutal nature of the US war on Iraq and the so-called war on terror, as well as the self-serving crudeness and imperial corruption of US global diplomacy, stood accused in a military court of hugely inflated “crimes,” including causing death and injury of American troops, aiding the enemy, harming America, and treason. The judge, Col. Denise Lind, proved to be an even a more ludicrous mockery of justice than Martin’s Theodoric of York. Blatantly promised a big promotion by the Obama Pentagon as an inducement to assure her reaching a guilty verdict against Manning, she assured that the trial was conducted largely in secret, and denied all efforts by the defense to have Manning freed based on the year he spent being tortured and held without charge by his military captors in what was a transparent effort to get him to cut a deal blaming his document release on the organization Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange.
In the end, Manning was tossed into the trough of justice and found duly guilty of all but the most specious and overblown charge of “aiding the enemy,” and was left to face a possible 90 years in jail which, for a 26-year-old man, would be a life sentence.
At that point, Manning had two choices. He could stand his ground, insist as he had through the course of the trial and earlier in his on-line chats, that his actions had been motived by the noble goal of exposing the crimes of the military and the government, and take the consequences, or he could lie, claim that he had been deluded, mentally ill, and the victim of parental abuse, and plead for the mercy of the court. Understandably, given the way the authorities had stomped on him for the past several years, Manning chose the second alternative and made a fawning and pathetic apology for all his actions, and begged for mercy. Rather than sink to the bottom of the trough of justice, he allowed his body to float, in hopes that he would not be burned at the stake.
It remains to be seen whether the judge or a higher authority will respond to his abject submission to the government’s will by giving him a lighter sentence, or whether he will nonetheless be symbolically burned at the stake by being locked away in Leavenworth for the rest of his life. Either alternative is possible.
~ from Salem on the Potomac by Dave Lindorff ~
Back in the 90s, I was a staff member of Oregon PeaceWorks. We had an young intern -- she later became a staff member too -- who I sort of mentored. I say "sort of" because I learned a lot more about about dedication and courage from her than she learned from me!
She went down to Fort Benning, Georgia two years in a row to protest against the School of the Americas. The first year she crossed the line unto military property and received a letter from the government that said, if she did it again within a year or two, she would face imprisonment. Undeterred, she crossed the line the very next year and was summarily arrested.
Though initially released on bail and allowed to come home, she had to fly back for court. She was looking at the strong possibility of 6 months at a federal penitentiary. My 18 year old friend -- who had never lived on her own -- was staring at the possibility of her first experience away from home being spent in a jail cell.
When it came time for her to address the judge, she could have thrown herself on the mercy of the court and said that she had felt pressured by the group to violate the order against her. But that is NOT what Chani did. She delivered an eloquent speech about the human rights abuses that have been borne by the School of the Americas all throughout its history. She said that, as a person of conscience, she willfully defied the order against her and she wasn't about to plead for mercy. She spoke out for the thousands of people brutalized by the students of the School of the Americas -- people who had neither standing nor a voice.
Not surprisingly, she was sentenced to 6 months.
How I wish Bradley Manning had made the same kind of statement! But I am not here to criticize him. It's easy for me to say he should have said this or that. I'm not facing life in prison! Who knows what any of us would do in his circumstances. I might like to think -- owing to my unique personality -- that I would have delivered a scathing critique on the federal government's immoral and unethical behavior, but I understand that is nothing more than fanciful thinking.