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My Turn: ‘Prisoner Without a Name’

This past weekend my husband and I were dining with local and international friends. I was mentioning an interview I had recently heard on Harry Shearer’s “Le Show” with Alexa O’Brien. Ms. O’Brien is an independent journalist who is, uniquely, covering the Bradley Manning pretrial hearings.

In my recollection of the interview to my guests, I had voiced my concern about the virtually complete silence that the press has taken regarding this trial, which challenges the foundations of a individual’s right to inform fellow citizens of activity which “would harm the country,” even if it’s perpetrated by one’s own government.

My local guest looked at me incredulously, asking: “Who is Bradley Manning?” If you, dear reader, do not already know who Bradley Manning is, I urge you to find out a little more about this young man/soldier who is on trial for violating the “Espionage Act” in supplying WikiLeaks with sensitive State Department cables, the classified videos of the 2009, B-1 Bomber “Granai Airstrike” killing approximately 86 to 147 Afghan civilians (mostly women and children) and the AH- 64 Apache Helicopter “Baghdad Airstrike” that killed two Reuters photojournalists and a number of civilians.

The jockeying for secret court sessions in the pretrial phases, and very sparse media coverage with the exception of Ms. O’Brien, will, all but guarantee that you will have access to little information about these unprecedented proceedings.

Pfc. Manning was arrested on May 26, 2010. In July, he was classified as a maximum custody detainee, with Prevention of Injury (POI) status, entailing checks by guards every five minutes. His lawyer, David Coombs, a former military attorney, said he was not allowed to sleep between 5 a.m. (7 a.m. at weekends) and 8 p.m., and was made to stand or sit up if he tried to. He was required to remain visible at all times, including at night, which entailed no access to sheets, no pillow except one built into his mattress, and a blanket designed not to be shredded.

In early April 2011, 295 academics (most of them American legal scholars) signed a letter arguing that the treatment was a violation of the United States Constitution. The public outcry of these extreme prison conditions and Coombs’ efforts, have resulted in improved conditions.

Whether the outcome of this trial recognizes Manning’s whistleblowing under the Freedom of Information Act as the legally sanctioned prerequisite for transparency and accountability of our government or a guilty verdict of misconduct of a U.S. army soldier’s handling of classified information, we may never find out. This pivotal trial may never become part of our main stream news broadcasts because this “Prisoner Without a Name” has become a symbol of the silencing of information on the parts of our judicial system, government and media, and in need of our safeguarding.

Amy Fagin is a visual artist, author and life-long student and educator of genocide living in New Salem.

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