As President Obama was signing a federal whistle-blower protection law on Wednesday, Pfc. Bradley Manning was appearing before a military court in Fort Meade, Md., only a marathon’s distance away.
Manning has been held for more than two years after being arrested in May 2010 and accused of releasing files to Wikileaks. The data, smuggled out of his Iraq office in jewel cases labeled “Lady Gaga,” showed the infamous “Collateral Murder” video.
Even now, as the military court hears that the commander of the Quantico, Va., Marine brigade was not prepared for a lengthy stay by a high-profile prisoner, there is no definite date for Manning’s court martial.
This week a hearing officer has heard that a military dentist overruled two military psychologists who said Manning was no threat to harm himself. He was put on suicide watch, which permitted jailers to make him sleep naked, so he wouldn’t use his underwear band to hang himself, Courthouse News Service reported.
Manning’s supporters consider him a war hero for exposing the killing of civilians by two US Army helicopter crews in Baghdad. Joined by several Nobel Peace laureates, Manning’s supporters believe his treatment amounts to torture meant to blackmail him into betraying Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
During an earlier hearing, in which Manning lawyer David Coombs argued his right to a speedy trial had been denied, the case’s first presiding officer said he had routinely granted prosecutors’ requests for delays. He said he generally only checked the requests for typos and punctuation.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, defendants are entitled to speedy trial, similar to civilians. Unlike civilians, however, soldiers are in effect required to report war crimes if the image of the military is at risk.
Coombs also is arguing that if not torture, Manning’s treatment certainly was punishment. Military law does not allow punishment before a trial.
If, as expected, the court allows the court martial to proceed, it is not expected to start until February of next year, the Guardian reported. Manning may testify this week for the first time since his detention, the Washington Post reports.
In Washington, meanwhile, Obama supporters were crowing about his signing of the long-delayed protection for federal employees who report wrongdoings. The Government Accountability Office praised the passing of the whistle-blower legislation after 13 years.
The Manning case has become a parody of military justice with defense lawyers and psychiatrists and psychologists ridiculing the Army's claim that it was protecting him from harming himself with a suicide watch that included requiring him to sleep naked.
The Nuremberg war crimes trials established that soldiers should not obey orders that will result in war crimes.
The military has been faced with a series of civilian murders, both at home and abroad, some resulting from soldiers being deployed too many times. At the same time the military is trying to persuade Afghanistan that the US goal is to protect them, these killings lessen credibility. Punishing Manning for trying to do the right thing is the worst possible message we could send.
In addition to these crimes there has been an escalating rate of suicides and sexual assaults. These events suggest an all-volunteer military has not produced a professional force that can handle fighting better than draftees.
The fiascos involving US commanders, especially Gen., raise questions about the security of turning our military over to what some would call mercenaries.