Monday, March 21, 2011

At Quantico

Several hundred people gathered at Quantico Marine Base where Bradley Manning was in his 297th day of imprisonment. Visitors report that Brad says he is kept in solitary confinement all but one hour a day, and that guards wake him several times each night. Recently we heard that he was forced to strip and to sleep naked, or in a tunic like the one below, which he refused because it was so stiff and uncomfortable. He's already without pillow or sheets. Further, he is required to rise at 5am and stand outside his cell, still naked, during morning inspection.

If you have ever studied fascist regimes, then conditions of arbitrarily cruel and unusual treatments that seem to have no purpose other than psy-ops may sound familiar. (Right now I'm in an airport cafeteria with regular announcements from Homeland Security that our threat level is at orange today. 'Nuff said.)

Bradley is reported to have told a visitor that he believes the nakedness was added to his torture regime  after a demonstration of support outside Quantico. I was a little concerned that another demonstration would just makes things worse for the hero who leaked the “Collateral Murder” video, but Medea had assured me that people who were in touch with Bradley's people knew he wanted Codepink and the rest to be there.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of Bradley in detention. He's a symbol of so many of the things that are terribly wrong with our nation: the shredding of the Constitution, the blatant hypocrisy of the former professor of constitutional law in the White House, the fierce attacks on people whose alleged crimes are bringing the people authentic information. Couple this with the refusal to prosecute even a single one of the war criminals who lie us into wars against Iraq, Afghanistan – and now Libya – and it's clear that, in our country at least, it's much safer to be a warmonger than a whistleblower.

As I headed to Washington DC this weekend I donned my Free Bradley Manning t-shirt, and, when I stopped along the way to see my son, he showed up wearing his Free Bradley shirt, too. Cool.

It was an emotional rally, probably because of our awareness of the prisoner, isolated, so close and yet so far. We were in Prince William County, Virginia, and news that the police presence there would be aggressive understated the case. We were faced by about 60 police and military personnel including mounted police, riot police with shields and helmets, police with German shepherds, police with their faces covered holding assault rifles, regular police, and undercover police  – who were fairly obvious.

The event was well organized by Courage to Resist and Veterans for Peace, and after a rally we marched down to a spot within sight of the Iwo Jima memorial outside the Quantico gates. A number of people were planning to risk arrest by crossing the road with flowers to lay at the memorial. Halfway across they sat down in the road – which the police had closed after several hours of letting motorists drive by and see our messages –  and the rest of us gathered around chanting “Stop torture now” and “Free Bradley Manning.” There was a lot of energy in the chanting and we kept it up for more than an hour.

Alternative press were out in droves, photographing and interviewing a diverse crowd of oldsters, youngsters, and agents provocateur. I got my picture taken quite a few times after I stripped off my outer layer of clothing and stood in pale pink top and tights with tighty whitey style briefs over them. I held a sign with a large pink whistle and the slogan “Protect the truth” for a while, but eventually helped hold up faux prison bars and a large banner about protecting the whistleblowers.

At one point the riot police advanced with their shields forward and began pushing the crowd backwards, ramming the bars we were holding. There didn't seem to be any real purpose to their pushing us back since they had shut down the streets long since. Later, someone told me that people had been putting Free Bradley Manning stickers on their shields. So maybe they were pissed off about that. Some of the protesters were angry, too.

Two different people told me they saw police pick off a young woman from the very edge of the seated  crowd, four on one, and whisk her away before anyone could react. On the whole it had the feeling of a charged standoff with the crowd chanting and roaring energetically, and the cops fidgeting, videotaping, and glaring. Need I report the helicopter hovering overhead?

The police and military tactic of instilling fear through intimidation was no good. Larry, who has been at several of the demonstrations, said today's was by far the biggest (we guessed around 300 people) and most enthusiastic. Eventually, though, the buses came, and those of us with other places to get to boarded them with regret. I glanced back at the clump of maybe 100 people still in the street. “I'm sorry to be leaving them,” I said. Other people agreed.

I comforted myself with two thoughts. First, I knew that support had been organized, and I had just experienced it myself the day before. Secondly, many vets who were seated on the tarmac were also vets of civil disobedience arrests. Ann Wright, my shero, was among them. I brought a smile to her face with my silly fake nude outfit. And for that, I am thankful.

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