Michael Ratner offers context for Bradley Manning’s conviction and discusses possible outcomes of his upcoming sentencing
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s good to be with you, Jaisal, and The Real News, of course.
NOOR: So, Michael, the trial of Bradley Manning–there’s a trial you’ve been closely following. The judge is expected to rule on Tuesday. Can you give us the latest?
RATNER: Yes. Well, as you said, I represent Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. And, of course, Bradley Manning is alleged to and has admitted in court that he was one of the sources for WikiLeaks, some 700,000 documents that he uploaded to WikiLeaks that were documents that he took when he was in the military. He is on trial now at Fort Meade. I’ve been attending, on and off, the trial.
The verdict is expected on 22 counts that he’s been charged with on this Tuesday, July 29. As I said, there’s 22 counts. He’s pleaded guilty to ten lesser included counts. One of those has been accepted by the prosecutor and the judge. So the judge on Tuesday will come down with the other 21 counts. That’ll be very interesting and obviously very important.
It will not be the sentencing yet. What happens is, after the verdict, they go into a sentencing phase in which both sides call witnesses for either increasing the sentence on the prosecution side or mitigating the sentence on the defense side.
I should say, of the accounts that he’s charged with, without the most serious count, which is aiding the enemy–aiding the enemy carries life in prison. It carries a death penalty. But the prosecutor has said he hasn’t asked for the death penalty. The judge could give the death penalty despite that. I think that’s unlikely. But that carries a life sentence. The other 21 counts together carry 154 years of a sentence, so that Bradley Manning is very likely to be subject to a very high possible sentence. What sentence he’ll get I think is unpredictable, but he’s certainly, I think, going to be subjected to a very, very high possible sentence.
Last week, I went to two days of summation, two solid days, really, of hearing first the prosecutor, then the defense on the next, on Friday, and then the rebuttal. And it was one of the more disturbing times I’ve spent in court, particularly Thursday, when the prosecutor was giving his summation, because he really dragged Bradley Manning through the mud, smeared his character, did everything but talk about the whistleblowing that Bradley Manning did.
What he basically said is Bradley Manning did what he did to be famous. He was an anarchist, Bradley Manning, of which there is no evidence at all, that he was a traitor, and that he was not a whistleblower. And it didn’t make any sense, even without hearing from the defense. Clearly Bradley Manning is a whistleblower. A whistleblower is someone who takes true–who gives truthful public information about matters of public importance, particularly matters having to do with human rights violations, criminality of a government, or corruption. There’s no doubt Bradley Manning is a whistleblower.
But also, the whole idea that Bradley Manning was doing what he did to become famous [incompr.] on one hand, the prosecutor keeps saying he’s doing this to become famous, he’s doing it for self-aggrandizement, etc., and on the other side, he says Bradley Manning is trying to hide his tracks, he’s wiping his computers, he wants to remain anonymous, he didn’t want to come out. So how does it make any sense that he wanted to do this because he wanted to be famous, when at the same time he was trying to do everything not to be known? So that didn’t make any sense at all. None of that made any sense.
Then the prosecutor also claimed that WikiLeaks, the organization I represent in the United States, were not journalists, that they were what he called information anarchists. And he tried to paint them essentially as co-conspirators with Bradley Manning. He tried to say that Bradley Manning took orders from WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, who was never really proven to be part of who Bradley Manning talked to. It was something called the Press Association, which is not necessarily Julian Assange. But that’s what the prosecutor kept trying to say. He tried to say that Bradley Manning took orders from Julian Assange, of which there is no evidence at all. And he used that by pointing to something called “the wanted list”. There was posted on a WikiLeaks site, apparently, in 2009 a list of different documents WikiLeaks was interested in having. There were some 70 documents from the United States. There were also hundreds of others from other countries and other states, a big long list. And somehow the prosecutor said, well, that’s the list that Bradley Manning used. When the evidence later came out from the defense counsel, the defense counsel said, yeah, this is some employee that WikiLeaks had, because of the 74 documents that were up on the list, the American documents, Bradley Manning was only able to search for four of those documents. So it made no sense at all.
But the real feeling I had: it was an entire day of hearing the prosecutor just demean Bradley Manning and what he did. And you came away from it saying, here’s a man, Bradley Manning, who gave us the Iraq War Logs that pointed out that 20,000 more civilians were killed in Iraq than the U.S. government had admitted, a revelation that actually meant that Iraq refused to sign a status of forces agreement with United States, which was a driving force in getting the United States out, because the U.S. troops were not going to be given immunity by Iraq. So you have the man sitting in court who did that, the man who Tunisia itself said that his documents began some of the Arab Spring, and the man who brought us the “Collateral Murder” video, the video if of the Apache helicopter killing and killing the Reuters journalists and others on the ground. You don’t hear any about that. You only hear about these efforts to smear this really American hero, Bradley Manning.
So that was a day in which I walked away saying, this is just awful that the government is doing this to this young man who’s done so much good for all of us.
The next day it was very different, Friday. David Coombs, Bradley’s lawyer, got up and he said, look it, we’re going to hear–there’s only one truth here. What you heard from the prosecutor is not the truth. The truth is in the evidence and is in what the judge can look at and see. The truth is that this was a sincere man who wanted to do good for his country, who wanted these issues debated, who saw things he didn’t like that were horrible, that were serious human rights violations, and wanted those revealed.
And he went through the evidence on that. Before Bradley Manning went to Iraq, he said he was going because he wanted to help protect his fellow soldiers, he wanted to protect all people in the world. When he was in the middle of doing what he was doing, he had these chats with someone who became an informant, Adrian Lamo, who was an informant, and he said to Lamo, I’m doing this because of the horrible things I’ve seen. And afterwards, of course, when Bradley Manning pled guilty to ten of the lesser included counts, he gave the politics behind everything he did.
So David Coombs painted a very, very different Bradley Manning and one that I think is the actual person who that was. He pointed out that how could he have been out for fame, but that he was this sincere young man. And he also pointed out that Bradley Manning did not simply, as the prosecutor said, upload hundreds of thousands or millions of documents indiscriminately to WikiLeaks, that he had access to millions and millions of documents, some of them that actually could have conceivably been harmful to the United States, like the names of the numbers of human intelligence or what are really the informants for the United States. He did not take those, did not send those up to WikiLeaks. So this was a man who knew what he was doing, didn’t want to harm the United States, but wanted a public debate out there.
And this man was no traitor, David Coombs said. The story about him being a traitor was that he said to one of his supervisors, when she pointed to a flag on her shoulder, what do you think of this flag, and he says, I don’t care at all about that. And the lawyer proved that that was just made-up story. She never reported it up the chain of command. She never wrote it down in her reports. Just made up. So we heard all of that.
And then we heard–and I’ll focus in this last part of this about the aiding the enemy charge, because that’s the life imprisonment charge. That’s the charge that can get all of us. That’s the charge that if they convict Bradley Manning of that, it will be one of the most serious blows to American journalism that has ever taken place, much less to Bradley Manning, who could do life in prison for it. That’s the charge that said that if Bradley Manning or anyone communicates with the enemy and gives them intelligence, they can get life in prison. And what the judge did in this case is she took out the intent requirement that you have to actually intend to aid the enemy. Simply publishing it in WikiLeaks or The New York Times and the enemy reading it and your having knowledge that the enemy might or probably or would read that in some way is somehow aiding the enemy, even though your entire purpose, your entire purpose is to give the American people and others information about what the crimes of our own government are. If that charge is upheld–and it’s already been watered down to a point that’s a disaster for journalism–if it’s upheld, it will end whistleblowing, because that’s a death penalty charge. It’ll end people like–publishers like The New York Times or WikiLeaks taking a risk on publishing anything, ’cause they’ll be seen as indirectly aiding the enemy through their publications.
So I don’t know what the outcome’s going to be tomorrow. I’m hopeful that the worst charges won’t–that he won’t be convicted of the worst charges. But that the whole trial’s occurring is a travesty of justice. I know who should be in that defense box. That should be the people who did the murders in the “Collateral Murder” video, the people in this country who carried out torture, the people who got us into the illegal Iraq War, and the people who committed the very crimes that Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks had exposed. That’s who should be there. So it’s unfair trial from beginning to end. Let’s just hope for the best and stand with Bradley Manning.
NOOR: Michael Ratner, thank you so much for this really important update. And we’ll keep following this story. Thank you so much.
RATNER: Thank you, Jaisal.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.