Chelsea Manning released amid growing attacks on democratic rights in the US

18 May 2017

Chelsea Manning walked out of the US military’s maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in the early morning hours Wednesday after serving a sentence of more than seven years, marked by brutality and ill-treatment tantamount to torture.

Manning’s supposed “crime” was that of exposing to the people of the United States and the entire planet the criminal atrocities carried out by the US government in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Washington’s conspiracies around the world.

It is ironic that the release of the US Army private imprisoned for leaking classified documents received minimal coverage from the corporate media, even as it churned out endless stories covering President Donald Trump’s alleged exposure to Russian officials of classified secrets.

The political crisis in Washington is the product of a bitter internecine struggle between rival factions within the ruling political establishment and the US state apparatus, which are equally hostile to the democratic principles and antiwar sentiments for which Chelsea Manning sacrificed her freedom and nearly lost her life.

Days after her sentencing in August 2013, Manning came out as a transgender woman, but the military held her in an all-male prison, subjecting her to sexual humiliation and denying her treatment for her well-documented gender dysphoria. Much of her imprisonment was spent in punitively imposed solitary confinement. The predictable result was extreme mental anguish, depression and attempted suicide.

Manning’s seven years of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the US military represented the most draconian punishment ever imposed for leaking classified documents in the United States. She was originally sentenced to 35 years in prison in a drumhead military court martial, in which the prosecution pressed for a “treason” conviction, a charge that carries the death penalty.

Whom did Manning “betray”? Certainly not the American people, to whom she helped expose crimes being carried out behind their backs. Rather, her actions cut across the interests of the American capitalist ruling class, which is waging endless predatory wars and building up a police-state apparatus to suppress social unrest and popular resistance at home.

Working as a 22-year-old military intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning became increasingly opposed to the US war and occupation in that country. In early 2010, she provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents exposing Washington’s crimes.

Among the first pieces of this classified material to catch the attention of a wide public was the chilling “Collateral Murder” video. Viewed by millions, the video, recorded through the gun sight of a US Apache helicopter, provides a gut-wrenching exposure, not only of a deliberate massacre of over a dozen unarmed civilians, including two Iraqi reporters working for the Reuters news agency, but of the criminal character of the US war as a whole.

Other documents provided by Manning made it clear that the US was vastly underreporting the number of civilians being killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Manning also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world, which exposed official US lying, efforts to subvert governments, and dossiers on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, showing most of them had no significant role in terrorist operations.

The exposure of these crimes provoked a vindictive reaction from the Obama White House and the State Department, then headed by Hillary Clinton. The persecution of Manning was part of a broader crackdown on whistleblowers—the Obama administration prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined. This crackdown went hand-in-hand with the buildup of a state repressive apparatus that extended from the massive spying on the US and world population to the president’s invoking of the power to order the drone missile assassination of anyone, anywhere in the world.

If Obama commuted Manning’s sentence on his final day in office (adding 120 days onto her time served), it was not out of any last-minute sympathy for the imprisoned soldier’s suffering, or any newfound democratic convictions. It was a calculated political act, aimed at sanitizing the filthy record of his administration and currying favor for the Democratic Party. The conviction and the draconian sentence remain on the books, a brutal warning to anyone thinking of following in the persecuted private’s footsteps.

During the seven years that Manning spent enclosed behind cement and iron bars, the government’s witch-hunt and persecution against those daring to expose its crimes has only intensified.

Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, threatened by a US federal grand jury. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated last month that Assange’s arrest was a “priority,” adding that the US government was “stepping up our efforts on all leaks … whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” This was accompanied by an extraordinary speech by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who branded WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” He declared that Assange “has no First Amendment freedoms” and that anyone who reveals the secrets of the US government is an “enemy” guilty of “treason.”

Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA’s illegal wholesale spying operations, has been turned into a man without a country, living in forced exile in Moscow. Both Trump and Pompeo have publicly called for his execution.

If Manning, Assange and Snowden are compelled to face the threat of imprisonment and even death for lifting the lid on Washington’s dirty secrets, it is in large measure because the corporate media in the United States is fully complicit in these crimes, functioning more and more openly as a propaganda arm of the US government.

In a revealingly hostile response to Manning’s pending release, the New York Times buried an article deep inside its printed addition Wednesday under the headline “Manning Is Set to Be Freed 28 Years Ahead of Schedule.” Presumably the newspaper of record would have preferred she serve her full term.

The Times’s former executive editor, Bill Keller, expressed his attitude toward the WikiLeaks revelations in 2010, while Manning was being brutalized in a Marine Corps lockup in Quantico, Virginia. He described himself as “uncomfortable” with the notion that the Times “can decide to release information that the government wants to keep secret,” a practice that in an earlier period was regarded as the most essential function of the so-called Fourth Estate. He made the Orwellian declaration that “transparency is not an absolute good” and that “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”

Today, the Times’s editorial pages are under the direction of James Bennet, a figure with the closest ties to the state apparatus and the top echelons of the Democratic Party. (His father is a former head of USAID, a front for the CIA, and his brother is the senior senator from Colorado.) The Times churns out war propaganda, while news coverage is, by the paper’s own admission, vetted by the US intelligence agencies. These practices set the tone for the corporate media as a whole.

The suppression of freedom of the press and free speech in the US—epitomized by the relentless persecution of Manning, Assange and Snowden—is driven by the needs of America’s ruling oligarchy, as it seeks to extricate itself from deepening economic and political crises by means of ever more dangerous acts of military aggression abroad, while confronting rising hostility and anger from masses of working people in the US and around the world.

The defense of these rights and the fight against state repression can be waged only as part of the struggle for the independent political mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/18/pers-m18.html

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The NSA and the New York Times

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By our reporter
20 May 2014

One of the most striking aspects of a recent Frontline documentary, United States of Secrets, which aired last week on US public television, is what it reveals about the role of the New York Times covering up for the illegal and unconstitutional activities of the Bush administration. (See: Documentary reviews history of domestic spying under Bush and Obama)

The Times’ Bill Keller in particular tried to nix articles about the illegal program altogether and, when that failed, he warned the Bush administration that the story was going to break. In this manner, he and his collaborators served as accomplices to state crimes.

When the 2004 presidential election was in full swing, two reporters at theNew York Times were contacted by federal government employees with evidence of an illegal, unprecedented and enormous program of domestic surveillance being carried out by the National Security Agency.

Times reporter Eric Lichtblau had been contacted by Department of Justice attorney Thomas Tamm regarding the latter’s knowledge of unwarranted spying through his work as a writer of warrant applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Tamm related that the NSA program in question had caused such an uproar within the DOJ that there was talk of the attorney general being indicted.

Another Times reporter, James Risen, was contacted by National Security Agency employees about the same illegal domestic surveillance program at around the same time. When Risen put the question of unwarranted spying to Michael Hayden himself, Hayden hung up the phone, confirming Risen’s suspicions.

Hayden put the White House on notice of the impending story. Alberto Gonzalez tells Frontline interviewers that the administration was even considering trying to obtain an injunction against any Times article that would reveal the NSA program, an action which is known as prior restraint of freedom of the press.

The White House fortunately found a willing participant for its crimes in theNew York Times’ executive editor Bill Keller, who agreed to a meeting about the matter with the head of the CIA and other officials. Risen was present at the meeting. He was forbidden from writing any notes. Risen and the Times’ DC bureau chief both relate a chilling request from the acting CIA director, posed in hypotheticals. To paraphrase,“if we were conducting this type of program, it would be very important and we would ask the Times not to write about it.”

Keller and the other decision-makers assented, burying the story while branding Lichtblau and Risen as insubordinate. Keller has since stated his belief that part of responsible journalism includes deciding which stories notto print. Keller’s decision to keep the story under wraps served the thoroughly reactionary end of keeping the NSA spying program out of the 2004 presidential election. The American people were thus denied the immediate ability to make their feelings known on the program and the administration at the ballot box.

In the meantime, Hayden was promoted and gained more oversight of intelligence gathering. James Risen ultimately threatened to put his draftTimes article in book form, crediting Lichtblau and exposing the Times’ utter spinelessness. Under this threat, Keller rushed to the White House to alert them to the impending story, giving the administration time to prepare its defense.

This episode serves as a reminder that the New York Times, like the mainstream media in general, works not out of concern for public knowledge. Rather, their role is more akin to media attaché to the military-intelligence complex. As United States of Secrets reveals, whistleblower Edward Snowden quite correctly had no confidence in the Times, taking his massive revelations to other outlets. For that matter, the Times had already established a record of rebuking at least one other important whistleblower, Chelsea (Bradley) Manning.