Local activists respond to Bradley Manning verdict

Jeff Paterson, an organizer with the Bradley Manning Support Network and Courage to Resist, didn’t hesitate when asked for his initial reaction to the verdict declared for whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning on July 30.

“We’re relieved,” Paterson said. “There was a very real possibility that a military judge would convict Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy,” but the 25-year-old U.S. Army private was acquitted of this charge. “So in that sense, we dodged a bullet.”

But Manning was still found guilty on five espionage charges, and five theft charges. Not to mention held in solitary confinement and reportedly “kept naked and tortured emotionally before his trial began in June.”

A month-long sentencing process follows the verdict, and for the charges he was found guilty of, Manning could still face a life behind bars. “We think any more time than he’s served is outrageous,” said Paterson.

Paterson was among a crowd of supporters who convened at Market and Powell Streets July 30 for a rally and march staged in response to the verdict. With chants of “prosecute the war criminals, free Bradley Manning!” and “whistleblowing is not a crime!” protesters marched up crowded Powell Street during rush hour.

“We need to know the truth in this society,” a march participant who introduced herself as Caroljean said, as she peered through the eyes of a Bradley Manning mask and explained that she was there because “we are all Bradley Manning.” Caroljean added, “Whistleblowing is an American democratic right, and if it isn’t, then we don’t live in a democracy anymore.” She’d attended a Buddhist candlelight vigil the previous night, she added, “to support him and give him strength for today.”

Paterson noted that he had traveled to Fort Meade to witness much of the trial. Getting into the courtroom required going through three layers of security, he said, and he’d noticed private security guards in plainclothes trailing him as he came and went. (In a recent interview on Democracy Now, independent journalist Alexa O’Brien noted that she and other journalists who reported on trial “had armed guards roaming the aisles, actually standing behind reporters, peering into our computers, coming every five minutes behind us.”)

But when he heard Manning testify on the stand about why he did what he did, Paterson said, “for those of us who spent so much time working on his behalf, it was an important moment to hear why he felt it was worth risking his life” to carry out the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history.