The quiet prosecution of Bradley Manning
Private Bradley Manning is not a household name in Canada. Actually, he is not that well-known in the U.S. either - despite the dogged coverage of various activists and journalists. (New York lawyer Chase Madar has also written a book and a grassroots support group, "Save Bradley Manning," has 66,136 Facebook "likes.")
Manning is the 25-year-old soldier who pleaded guilty Feb. 28 to providing classified government documents to WikiLeaks - a crime that could put him behind bars for 20 years. The most well-known leak was of U.S. soldiers celebrating airborne killings in Baghdad, which claimed the lives of civilians, including Reuters' photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and 40-year-old driver Saeed Chmagh.
He has been heralded by some as our generation's Daniel Ellsberg, who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers concerning the Vietnam War. Ellsberg said as much in a Huffington Post column last week praising Manning. "I believe Bradley Manning is the personification of the word whistleblower," he wrote.
To others, Manning is a troubled soldier and a traitor.
Indeed, a Rorschach test - for those who have heard of him anyway.
The case continues as Manning still faces a June trial for the crime of "aiding the enemy," and, he faces a life sentence if convicted.
Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote recently about the lack of media coverage, noting that the secrecy surrounding the case prohibits even transcripts being released.
NPR's "On The Media" also explored why there has been so little coverage in an interesting discussion with Arun Rath, who reports for PBS Frontline. Rath says if it weren't for the tenacity of three independent journalists - Alexa O'Brien, Kevin Gosztola and Adam Klasfeld - who have covered the pre-trial hearings at Ft. Meade, Md. there would be even less known about the case. The three are admittedly sympathetic to Manning and therefore the coverage reads more as columns, but as O'Brien notes, she also wears the hat of court reporter, writing transcripts since the U.S. government refuses. Rath addresses this with On The Media host Brooke Gladstone:
ARUN RATH: Well, like you said, they don’t pretend to be objective at all. These are people that do believe Bradley Manning is a hero and come from that perspective. But here’s – here’s Alexa’s response to that.
ALEXA O’BRIEN: I’ve thought about it quite a bit because this question oftentimes comes up, you know, with the sort of pejorative-ness of being an independent journalist. And my response is there's nothing more objective than a transcript.
Award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras (also on the FPF board) and Jenny Perlin have turned the recording into a 5-minute film (below), which has so far garnered more than 200,000 YouTube hits.
"For me, it's all a big mess," Manning is heard telling the military court in explaining his reaction when he first saw the Baghdad video, "and I'm left wondering what these things mean, and how it all fits together."
Michelle Shephard is the Toronto Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm