On a day when the anti-war movement in the US showed some signs of life, a military whistleblower, Lawrence Rockwood, took a stand in solidarity with a young solider who is traveling a path quite similar to his own. Bradley Manning is the young soldier that Rockwood spoke about during a meeting at the Peace Pentagon organized by the Socialist Party USA yesterday after the anti-war demonstration. Manning is accused of stealing thousands of secret files from the US military and passing them on to the Wikileaks website. He is currently being held in a detention center in Quantico, Virginia in conditions that some commentators have described as torture.
Rockwood offered a unique perspective on Manning’s case. In 1994, Rockwood was a US Army counter-intelligence officer sent to Haiti in an operation that was supposed to restore democracy to the country. As in other political transitions, those in power sought to use the transition to settle political scores. Right-wing groups used the ensuing chaos to carry out the torture and murder of supporters of ex-President Bertrand Aristide.
Rockwood understood that as an occupying army, the US military had a duty under the Geneva Conventions to protect civilians. This perspective, instilled into the fourth generation military officer, led him to conduct what the Army called “unauthorized” human rights inspections of Haitian jails. These inspections uncovered horrific acts of torture and abuse, all done while the US military occupied the country.
Rockwood was immediately taken into custody and, much like Manning, he became a military whistleblower by describing the inhumane and illegal acts carried out by the Haitian right-wing under the watch of the US military.
Rockwood was able to present himself in public – in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, in a high-profile appearance on 20/20 and eventually in his book Walking Away from Nuremberg. On the other hand, the US Government has isolated Manning from the media so, “we don’t have his words.” As a result, any speculation as to what Manning’s motive was or even whether he did or did not carry out the act of passing along the secret files remain a mystery. Rockwood presented Manning as something of an “accused hero.”
Keeping Manning from the media and visitors is a part of the “suicide precautions” that the military has imposed on him. Again, Rockwood’s case offers an interesting counterpoint. Not only did Rockwood not spend one day in jail, he was not even handcuffed when he was taken into custody. Manning now faces full-body cavity searches, 24-hour surveillance and the humiliating experience of being paraded around naked by his jailers.
Manning’s treatment “is really without precedent.” Rockwood not only blamed the military, but also focused on the role of the psychologists and psychiatrists who must have signed off on the suicide precautions. He noted the sharp debate that occurred inside the American Psychological Association about the collaboration between practitioners and the military in instances of torture. Rockwood described the detention of Manning as another example of this unethical combination.
For Rockwood, it is critical to support Manning since, if it is indeed true that he passed along the secret files to Wikileaks, Manning “threatens the basic infrastructure of our secrecy industry.” And it is this secrecy industry, much more than even the military industrial complex, that presents the greatest threat to democracy throughout the world. “No matter what good our country can do in the world,” Rockwood stated “it is being undermined by the secrecy industry.” As a result, the US peace movement should not just focus on “bringing the troops home,” but on “ending war as a way of life.”
Rockwood closed his presentation with a series of provocative comparisons. Why, he asked the crowd, was Bradley Manning in jail while Colin Powell is presented as an American hero? Similarly, who has contributed more to the defense of democracy, Bradley Manning or the torture memo author John Yoo? Answering these questions will go a long way to determining the future of democracy in this country.
The urgency of Manning’s case was brought home during the conversation after the presentation. Proceedings are expected to begin sometime in May or June of this year and he could face his court-martial in November. Rockwood stated repeatedly that Manning faced espionage charges that could result in the death penalty. He advised activists in the crowd that efforts to embarrass the government during his own case proved to be the most effective solidarity tactic. For instance. Rockwood was given an award by the American Civil Liberties Union that helped to increase the pressure on the US military.
It was also noted that Manning is, very clearly, “Obama’s prisoner.” The President could free him with one short executive order, yet Barack Obama has chosen to remain silent to the abusive conditions Manning is held in. With a presidential election coming up in 2012, the case of Bradley Manning may prove to be a sore spot for a president seeking a second term.