Thursday, September 15, 2016

Manning, Snowden, Assange: Three Bright Stars To Lead Us

How Chelsea Manning sees herself. By Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Chelsea herself,
commissioned by the Chelsea Manning Support Network, 23 April 2014.
With all the fuss about Oliver Stone’s film SNOWDEN this week my thoughts have turned increasingly toward the martyrdom of Chelsea Manning. Along with Julian Assange, Manning and Snowden form a constellation of stars that will illuminate the heavens as long as history endures. Which may not be all that long at the rate we’re going.

Chelsea Manning is similar to Ed Snowden in more ways than one, but it is she who felt compelled to go on a five-day hunger strike at Leavenworth prison demanding the right to treatment for gender dysphoria; Snowden lives in relative freedom in an apartment in Moscow with his girlfriend. Chelsea reports having experienced gender dysphoria from a very early age and that her father often beat her as a child for not being masculine enough. 

After being duped by an online “friend” she revealed her role in sharing evidence of U.S. Army war crimes, including but certainly not limited to the attack on Reuter’s employees and their would-be rescuers in the streets of Baghdad. The video of that attack includes the crude, contemptuous commentary of boys in a helicopter shooting down at human beings and is known by the name “Collateral Murder.”

For many of us, the “Collateral Murder” video is the very emblem of the rapacious U.S. foreign policy that has dominated this century: wanton killing of civilians and journalists in an oil-rich country that had nothing to do with the staged terror events of 9/11.

The silent killer riding the helicopter is the moral injury that leads so many U.S. veterans to suicide, more than 20 per day currently.

After Chelsea was accused of sharing truth via Wikileaks she was first kept in a cage in the desert in Kuwait for several very hot days and nights; she has reported that she expected to die there. In light of how events unfolded since, I imagine she might sometimes wish that she had.

Stateside, she was incarcerated at Quanitico prison on a Marine base in Virginia. A long bout of solitary confinement where she was kept in solitary for months, deprived of her clothing, forced to wear an abrasive garment alleged to prevent suicide, and then awakened by guards once an hour 24/7 to check if she was “okay.” Being woken up over and over for no reason alone is enough to make a person feel psychotic and hopeful for the release of death.

Bear in mind, all of this happened before Manning was convicted of anything.

Her recent hunger strike at Leavenworth followed a suicide attempt which followed administrative punishments for being found in possession of LGBT literature, and toothpaste that was past its expiration date. Manning has been forced to keep her hair military-man short, and until her hunger strike has been refused gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy. These are now promised as a result of the hunger strike; also promised is more solitary confinement.

To say that Chelsea Manning is a martyr to the cause of transparency and upholding the fine ideals of the U.S. constitution would not be an exaggeration.

Image source: "Snowden: Most Wanted Man In Word Wrapped In US Flag" by Kevin Zeese
If Snowden is seen as a winner, at least by filmmaker Stone, and Manning as a martyr, Assange falls somewhere between the two. He, too, has suffered mightily for his role in creating the mechanism whereby the people find out what evils the U.S. government has actually been up to. Holed up in the London embassy of  the nation of Ecuador, which granted him asylum if he could only get there, the Australian citizen dares not emerge lest he be immediately arrested on charges of Swedish “rape” (i.e. intercourse-without-a-condom) and then extradited to the U.S. to be tortured like Manning. No one would choose to live as Assange has done these past several years, but he has several advantages that Manning doesn’t, not least of all the ability to continue his history-changing work via the information engine Wikileaks.

Assange and Snowden continue to “appear” at various international conferences in absentia by means of technology. Manning’s public profile is much more limited due to her incarceration in a maximum security federal prison. All three stars publish regularly in mainstream and alternative media outlets, continuing to share their thinking on the state of information freedom and the civil liberties eroding before our very eyes on a daily basis. 

Stone’s portrayal of Snowden as an idealistic militarist who continued engaging the ethical aspect of his life’s work -- until he found himself holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room, fleeing for his life -- redeems itself from the book it is party based upon, a book that irritates Assange. It also resonates with Manning’s story. Both swore to uphold the constitution; both responded to their own moral injury when it became apparent that their work for the military and/or its contractors (Snowden’s employer Booz Allen Hamilton is an intelligence subcontractor for the NSA, a branch of the Pentagon) grossly violated that constitution.

There are unsung whistleblowers amongst us who, I am happy to say, I will not be able to write about because they remain undiscovered. The noteworthy whistleblowers from the earlier years of my time on the planet continue to inspire -- Daniel Ellsberg, Erin Brockovich, and many who are less celebrated but no less important.

Blowing the whistle on torture can lead directly to being tortured yourself. This is the lesson that the U.S. government strives to teach to potential Mannings, Assanges and Snowdens who lie awake at night struggling with their consciences and wondering whether to risk sacrificing their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for the greater good.

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