On March 8th, Chelsea Manning was jailed in Virginia for refusing to participate in a grand jury. In a statement posted to her Twitter account, Chelsea wrote the following about her arrest:
“I will not comply with this, or any other grand jury. Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly-stated ethical objections to the grand jury system…..I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been historically used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech.”
Chelsea Manning was first imprisoned by U.S. government in May of 2010 after she provided documents to WikiLeaks revealing war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning also leaked information revealing the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. These leaks included evidence of torture and the killing of civilians by US troops. She spent all of the Obama administration behind bars. She was finally released from prison in early January 2017 when, in the last days of of his term in office, President Obama commuted her sentence, following sustained pressure from activists. The leaked documents reveal many violations of national and international law; however, Chelsea Manning remains one of the only people to face legal consequences as the result of these leaks.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their administration have never been indicted. They will never go on trial, and they will never face consequences–under the current system–for their actions. They are responsible for the torture and murder of thousands of civilians but they will never be punished. This is, of course, not shocking. We know that politicians don’t face consequences for their wrongdoings. We know that elected leaders can actively and intentionally lie to the public and nothing will be done. Meanwhile, Manning is continually being punished for bringing to light US war crimes and forcing them into the public consciousness. The position of the judicial system is clear: if you show the workings of the state, the state will come after you with all they have. Even now, after her original sentence has been commuted, the state continues to pursue her and demands that she testify in secret hearings about events that she has already gone on the public record about.
The threat posed by Manning is clear. With her initial release of information to Wikileaks, she revealed the realities of an imperialist state engaging in brutal war crimes. The evidence she provided flies in the face of any attempt by the US government to paint themselves as democratic or humanitarian, as they are currently attempting to do in Venezuela. If Manning is allowed to “get away with it,” then other whistleblowers will feel emboldened. This latest arrest is just one step on a long road of persecution of Chelsea Manning, and other whistleblowers, against the state.
Chelsea Manning’s imprisonment is a slap in the face to liberal notions of free speech. Where, then, are the “free speech defenders” and “first amendment absolutists”? Manning took a political stand peacefully, calmly, and bravely. Where are the liberal believers in “civility” when it comes to civility for Chelsea Manning?
The Manning case makes explicit the subtext of so much of mainstream political discourse: the right to free speech is not protected when it comes to speaking out against imperialism and U.S. imperialism will always be the third rail of mainstream politics. The same patience, civility and respect for “first amendment rights” that the mainstream media and political class affords the far-right is being withheld from Manning. Even the much-ballyhooed “socialist left” of the Democratic Party–Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders–are silent. The treatment of Chelsea Manning, like the treatment of many before her, is a message to all who expose the crimes of U.S. imperialism. Silence from our elected officials, in this situation, is consent. Bernie and AOC are consenting to the treatment of Chelsea Manning and sending a message to all those whistle-blowers who might also want to expose the horrors of imperialism: the “socialists” will not have your back. This reveals their true political allegiance: to the state, rather than to its victims and those who expose imperialist actions.
Chelsea Manning is a political prisoner who is being used as an example to all those who might dare to question the imperialist actions of the state. We know what sort of treatment she is likely to receive in custody, and we know that this “contempt of court” charge is a blatant excuse for targeting her. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Chelsea Manning.