Friday, August 23, 2013

We Survive By The Stories We Tell Ourselves #FreeChelsea @xychelsea

In honor of the news that Chelsea Manning's sentence was commuted yesterday to time served, I am republishing this blog post from August, 2013. 

Another soldier in trouble was in court this week: Sgt. Robert Bales, the fall guy for a massacre of civilians in Afghanistan that many felt could not possibly have been carried out by one person acting alone. Nonetheless, he is the lone man on trial for murdering sixteen people, nine of them children, in the dark hours before dawn March 11, 2012 in Panjwai, Kandahar.

Survivor Mohammed Haji Naeem cried as he testified about watching one of his children die after being shot by Bales. According to Common Dreams writer Sarah Lazare, he said in the trial:
"I have nerve damage and stutter since I was shot. I wasn't weak, but since this bastard shot at me I'm almost like nothing now."
The story that the U.S. government would like us to believe is that this is a lone gunman-type episode, where a soldier snapped and began harming civilians in an indiscriminate rampage.
 Grave sites from the Panjwai massacre.
Source: Mamoon Durrani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The U.S. government does not want us to see the Panjwai massacre as part of an overall pattern of wanton violence and destruction of human life in Afghanistan -- or other countries where the U.S. claims it has strategic interests.

But the soldier formerly known as Bradley -- now Chelsea Manning as she prefers to be called -- provided thousands of pieces of evidence that this was hardly a standalone tragedy. In fact, it was her revulsion at taking part in a military that produced atrocities like torture or the casual killing of innocent people that she says motivated her to release the trove of files on war crimes catalogued on the Wikileaks site as the Afghan War Logs. Files that are just the tip of the leaked iceberg.

As Fukushima melts down and the ice caps dissolve with the promise of multiple heat waves to come; as the planet is fracked and its potable water supply is compromised; as children are gassed to death in Syria, and Gaza is isolated yet again, and wars rage on in so many countries it would be hard to list them all, some ask:

Why lavish so much attention on one white soldier who was subjected to the kind of imprisonment and mistreatment that is commonly visited on people of color in the incarceration nightmare that  the U.S. has become?

I tell part of her story because Chelsea Manning is hugely important as a whistleblower who brought us many, many inconvenient truths about our national government in action around the planet. Here from blogger Greg Mitchell (co-author with Kevin Gosztola of a book on Manning):
First, just a very partial list from "Cablegate" (keep in mind, this does not include many other bombshells that caused a stir in smaller nations abroad): 
-Yemeni president lied to his own people, claiming his military carried out air strikes on militants actually done by U.S.  All part of giving U.S. full rein in country against terrorists.
-Details on Vatican hiding big sex abuse cases in Ireland. 
-U.S. tried to get Spain to curb its probes of Gitmo torture and rendition. 
-Egyptian torturers trained by FBI—although allegedly to teach the human rights issues.
-State Dept memo: U.S.-backed 2009 coup in Honduras was 'illegal and unconstitutional.'”
-Cables on Tunisia appear to help spark revolt in that country. The country's ruling elite described as “The Family,” with Mafia-like skimming throughout the economy. The country's First Lady may have made massive profits off a private school. 
-U.S. knew all about massive corruption in Tunisia back in 2006 but went on supporting the government anyway, making it the pillar of its North Africa policy. 
-Cables showed the UK promised in 2009 to protect U.S interests in the official Chilcot inquiry on the start of the Iraq war.
-U.S. pressured the European Union to accept GM — genetic modification, that is.  
-Washington was misled by our own diplomats on Russia-Georgia showdown. 
-Extremely important historical document finally released in full: Ambassador April Glaspie's cable from Iraq in 1990 on meeting with Saddam Hussein before Kuwait invasion.
-The UK sidestepped a ban on housing cluster bombs. Officials concealed from Parliament how the U.S. is allowed to bring weapons on to British soil in defiance of treaty. 
-New York Times:  “From hundreds of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest man is a distinct outlier.”
-Afghan vice president left country with $52 million “in cash.”
-Shocking levels of U.S. spying at the United Nations (beyond what was commonly assumed) and intense use of diplomats abroad in intelligence-gathering roles. 
-Potential environmental disaster kept secret by the U.S. when a large consignment of highly enriched uranium in Libya came close to cracking open and leaking radioactive material into the atmosphere. 
-U.S. used threats, spying, and more to try to get its way at last year's crucial climate conference in Copenhagen. 
-Hundreds of cables detail U.S. use of diplomats as “sales” agents, more than previously thought, centering on jet rivalry of Boeing vs. Airbus. Hints of corruption and bribes. 
-Millions in U.S. military aid for fighting Pakistani insurgents went to other gov't uses (or stolen) instead. 
-Israel wanted to bring Gaza to the ”brink of collapse.”
-The U.S. secret services used Turkey as a base to transport terrorism suspects as part of its extraordinary rendition program.
These are the stories that the corporate press largely fails to tell, and that the U.S. government wants to prevent being told. Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing the information that allows investigative journalists to uncover the ugly truth. She should be pardoned, or at the very least have her sentence commuted to time served. You can sign a petition calling for a pardon here.

The gender change installment in Manning's story was not entirely a surprise, but it comes at a time when the focus was on the 35 year sentence. For me, it is a story that could explain why Manning comforted defense attorney David Coombs as they left the courtroom. Coombs was thinking about at least a decade in jail prior to being able to apply for parole; Manning may have been thinking about finally shedding an identity that had burdened her since childhood. She must have looked forward to creating an enormous space for psychic freedom while her small frame remained imprisoned.
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

Coombs may have advised his client about the best time, strategically speaking, to release the photo shown above (which Manning had sent to a superior in the Army) and to announce the name and gender change.

According to New Yorker writer Emily Greenhouse:
Gender dysphoria is a classified medical disorder, and the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over the military court in Maryland, where Manning was sentenced, has recognized that. In a unanimous decision in January, a three-judge panel concluded that denying a transgender prisoner a sex-change operation amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

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